This, of course, is the time of year for popping corks from bottles of bubbly. And after everything that 2020 threw at us, we all deserve something great in our glass.
Here are 19 standouts — they’re listed alphabetically — from all over the world (Champagne! California! Argentina! Texas!) and at a range of price points.
Some of them are classics and others will likely be unfamiliar. It doesn’t matter: Any one of them will help elevate your holiday table and ring in 2021 with style, elegance, and a whole lot of deliciousness.
Balletto 2014 Brut Rosé Methode Traditionelle Russian River Valley
Savory, mature, and leesy on the nose, with toasted chestnuts and bakery aromas that show excellent maturity, yet the palate is zipped through with assertive acidity that sparks flavors of wild strawberries, tart red cherries, a hint of pomegranates, and toasted multi-grain bread with just a bit of honey on the otherwise subtly saline finish.
Bending Branch Texas Frizzante Rosé Wine 2019
Yes, it’s from Texas, and yes, it’s produced from Tannat: None of this is necessarily expected. But guess what? The wine world is a big, wonderfully varied place, and this bottle is lovely. A generous, effusive nose bursts with strawberries, cherries, and something that reminds me of Big Red gum in the best possible sense. The palate follows suit, with exuberant, unabashed fruit and excellent energy. After the first sip, I had an unavoidable craving for dry-rubbed and smoked ribs.
Champagne Ayala Brut Blanc de Blancs 2013
Wonderful concentration, with gentle toastiness and a hint of coffee hovering at the edges of lemons, apples, and lemon curd. This is creamy and incisive at the same time. This finishes chalky, taut, and energetic with just a slight honeysuckle and almond lift on the finish. So elegant and energetic.
Champagne Besserat de Bellefon “Triple B” Brut Nature 2015
This certified organic Champagne is a great example of why I’ve become such a fan of Besserat’s bubblies over the years: Each sip is toasty and deep, with such rich, nutty aromas, complicated by apple cider, toast, and the charred outside of a marshmallow, and then a palate more in keeping with the Brut Nature style, yet not an acid bomb by any stretch, with hard apricots and nectarines, crunchy green apples, a hint of spice, oyster-shell minerality, lemon, and fabulously fresh acidity.
Champagne Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Nicolas Francois 2006
So much coiled energy and tension, especially for a wine that was 11 years on the lees. Aromas of lemons, hard apples and nectarines, caramel, and honeysuckle and orange blossom tee up a palate of concentration, minerality, and length, with apple fritters, Seckel pears, persimmons, a hint of golden chanterelles, honey tuilles, phyllo dough in the oven, brown butter, and Mandarin oranges. This is great right now, but will continue to age brilliantly for another decade-plus if you choose.
Champagne Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV (Laid in chalk cellar in 2013, disgorged in 2018)
That classic deep core of toastiness is here, as expected from Heidsieck, joined by lemon clotted cream, roasted chestnuts, and subtle salinity. These precede a palate of vivid acidity cutting through transporting flavors of caramel, preserved lemons, yellow plums, persimmons, and a touch of espresso oils and white chocolate to the toastiness that linger through the vivid finish.
Champagne Henriot Millésime 2008
Brioche with pear butter on the noise, joined by mashed persimmons, toast, and a hint of oyster shells. These precede a palate of wonderful energy yet such delicious autolytic notes, with lemon marmalade and mashed pistachios dancing with preserved lemons, slate-like minerality (especially on the finish), and flavors of candied ginger.
Champagne Lanson “Green Label” Brut NV
Certified Organic by Ecocert, this is a wonderful Champagne that, in its counterpoint of bright citrus and crunchy apple aromas and undertow of leesiness, possesses a real sense of coiled energy. These translate to a palate of richness and breadth that carries energetic acidity and flavors that run the gamut from persimmons and papayas to honeysuckle and candied orange peels. It’s remarkable.
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Brut Millessime 2008
Warm biscuits, shortbread, and brown butter on the nose, as well as a hint of apple fritters and mashed pears, turn to a palate of persimmons, apple fritters, minerality, and a salinity on the finish. There is also a hint of red berry fruit—cranberry and tart cherry primarily, perhaps from the Pinot Noir. I love the juxtaposition between the creamy texture and the buzzsaw of lime-like acidity cutting through the middle.
Champagne Laurenti Grande Cuvee Brut NV
Gorgeous aromatics of lemons, pistachio, verbena, and a touch of fresh-baked baguette. On the palate, this is lively and vinous, with a distinct honeyed character to the quince, persimmons, and pistachios, all lifted on the white-flower-flecked finish. Elegant, exuberant, and detailed.
Champagne Leclerc Briant Brut Rosé
Disgorged in February 2019 and based on the 2016 harvest, this is brilliant with wild red berry and cherry pit aromas joined by wild strawberries and multigrain toast. On the palate, this shows so much red berry fruit, amazing orange-like acidity, and incisive minerality. Hints of rose hips, rhubarb, and citrus pith run clear through from the mid-palate to the finish. Excellent concentration and liveliness.
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d’Or Brut 2008
Deeply toasty and evolved, with ambrosial aromas of apple fritters, sweet spice, a deep vein of minerality, and hard stone fruit with just a hint of coffee, teeing up a palate of excellent and well-concentrated acidity, lemon verbena, fresh ginger especially on the finish, a hint of lemon blossoms and almonds, and lemon-lime fruit. Wonderful, and still has 15 years of evolution or more left.
Domaine Bousquet Brut NV Tupungato — Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina
Beautiful watermelon pink color to this Pinot Noir and Chardonnay blend, which boasts fresh-picked ripe red cherries and wild strawberries, a touch of yeastiness, and mouthwatering acidity that brings to mind pink grapefruit. This is like a secret weapon to pairing with holiday meals: Honey ham? Roasted turkey? Sweet or spiced sauces? Yes, and with ease! This is gulpable.
Goldeneye Brut Rosé Sparkling Wine 2016 Anderson Valley
Burnished onion skin color, with aromas of cherries and the suggestion of yellow plums and apples, and then a palate of effusive cherry fruit and mouthwatering acidity, yet then on the finish the minerality sweeps in. I love the zip of spice that continues to build from the mid-palate through the finish. Great concentration, too.
Graham Beck MCC Blanc de Blancs 2015
Overtly delicious notes of shortbread and buttery biscuits, candied ginger, bright, preserved lemons, and stone fruit are anchored by a pulse of nuttiness. There is a reason that Graham Beck is one of the great benchmarks of MCC, and it’s evident in every sip here.
Riverbench Pinot Meunier Brut 2017 Santa Maria Valley
Cranberries, blueberries, and crunchy apples are joined by beautifully calibrated toastiness, which itself has a phenomenal counterpoint of bright acidity that carries tart berries bursting with freshness and energy. Wonderful now, and with the potential to evolve for another decade-plus.
Roederer Estate Brut Rosé
Given its rosé character by the addition of Pinot Noir, which contributes to aromas of savory cherries and pits, with a hint of apricots, raspberries, and a palate full of energy and verve, with flavors of blood oranges, pomegranate seeds, red cherries, and a hint of multigrain toast. I can’t get enough of the concentration, weight, breadth, and balance here.
Schlumberger Grüner Veltliner Brut Klassik 2017 Niederosterreich, Austria (Methode Traditionelle)
Open-knit aromatics of spring flowers, lemons and their oils, and delicate spice precede a palate of liveliness and presence, with excellent acidity and a seam of spice structuring a sparkling wine flashed with notes of honey, honeysuckle, candied ginger, gentle grass notes, and yellow plums, as well as a distinct mineral note on the finish. So food-friendly, too!
Sea Smoke Sea Spray Blanc de Noirs 2015
Rich and biscuity-y on the nose, with hints of coffee and a touch of wild-berry preserves. The palate is cut through with fine-bead bubbles, and at five years of age, this is wonderfully savory, almost a touch saline, boasting cranberry acidity and a hint of cherry pits, crunchy autumn apples, and a nod in the direction of citrus pith bitterness and almonds, all finishing crisp and mineral. A remarkable sparkling wine.