Celebration season is upon us, and corks are flying. More bubbles are sold during the holidays than any other time of year. During the two-week period between Christmas and New Year’s in 2016, sparkling wine sales surged 272 percent, according to the analytics company Nielsen.
In the U.S., the Beverage Trade Network says bubbles are on the rise overall, which means, now more than ever, it’s important every restaurant have a sparkler or two on the list.
While George Parkinson, sommelier for Princeton, New Jersey’s The Peacock Inn, is partial to sparkling wines produced méthode champenoise—the traditional method, fermented in bottle—that does not mean that all sparkling wines on his list have to be Champagne. In fact, he argues for having a little sparkling something in every category. “A good wine program should offer a brut, brut rosé, blanc de blanc, cava, sec or semi-dry opportunity for people who don’t like the dryness of Champagne, and prosecco in all its forms,” he says. He pours sparkling wines from all corners of the world, including a sparkling Grüner Veltliner from Austria and a brut rosé from South Africa.
Come the holidays, however, guests tend to be more inclined to order special, big-ticket wines such as Billecart-Salmon from Champagne, says Parkinson. “The brut rosé drinkers out there drink a lot of Billecart-Salmon, and they drink a lot of it at the holidays,” he says. “People will go out of their way to find it at the holidays.” While the wine isn’t on his list all the time, he always pours it by the glass for $40 at the holidays.
Petra Polakovicova, wine director of San Francisco’s EPIC Steak, echoes Parkinson’s sentiment. “For the holidays, my experience is that people are not afraid to spend a little bit more, so I would say go for the tête du cuvées—the best Champagne from a house—or vintage Champagnes, which are more rare,” she says.
For more budget-friendly options Polakovicova suggests turning to grower Champagnes. Growers are Champagnes produced by the farmers who, for years, have sold their grapes to the big wine houses. Now, they are holding some of the grapes back and producing their own Champagnes, often times as cuvée—sparkling blends meant to reflect the vineyard owner’s own style or distinct vineyard details. Grower Champagnes come from Champagne and are made using the same traditional method as big names such as Taittinger and Veuve Clicquot, but are often a fraction of the cost. For her part, Polakovicova is especially fond of Pierre Gimonnet & Fils, Henri Goutorbe, Champagne Corbon, and Vilmart & Cie.
“Champagne is great, but I’m a cheapskate,” says Eduard Seitan, partner at One Off Hospitality Group and wine steward of Chicago’s avec. Why spend top dollar on Champagne, he asks, when there are so many other options? The key to choosing a sparkling wine—especially at a lower price—is to go for those made in that traditional method, Seitan says. It doesn’t have to be from Champagne. As long as it uses that method, it could be from the Loire Valley, Illinois, or Greece and still be good.
Outside the box
In Florida, according to Mike Lischak, beverage director for Fort Lauderdale’s The Balcony, rosés are hot, and that includes sparkling rosés. It’s a trend he expects to continue, even into the holiday season.
That trend fits nicely with the one wine Kathryn Sullivan Alvera, managing partner of Chicago’s Marchesa, always has on her holiday list: Banfi’s Brachetto d’Acqui Rosa Regale, from Piedmont, Italy. Ruby red in color and full of bubbles, the wine thrills her as much for its appearance as its palate. “It goes great before dinner or after as a treat,” Alvera says. “It’s festive. It makes you feel like you’re having a party.” Plus, what’s more in keeping with the season than a sparkling wine the color of Santa’s suit?
Beyond the holidays
The trick to selling more sparkling wine during the holidays, says Parkinson of The Peacock Inn, is to do the legwork, find unusual bottles, and use them to elevate guests’ appreciation for sparkling wine outside of the holiday season.
One of best ways, say the pros, for moving bubbles year-round is by putting them in cocktails, like a French 75.
Equally effective, says Lischak, is making ordering bubbles—or more bubbles—easy. At The Balcony, Lischak starts every table off with a complimentary toast of New Mexico-made Gruet’s brut. Whetting the guests’ appetite for bubbles in this way has increased sparkling wine bottle sales at the restaurant overall.