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A New Year's Guide to Bubbly

Although early and perhaps over-hyped fears of a world-wide shortage of great Champagnes don't seem to have been borne out, there's no question that a lot of sparkling wine will go down the hatch on Dec. 31, 1999. With the calendar turning over to the Year 2000 on a very special New Year's Day, wine lovers around the world will be popping corks.

In this special Wine Lovers' Page feature, we present new tasting notes on Piper-Heidseick Champagne Brut, the Champagne that Consumer Reports magazine recently declared the best among 20 Champagnes and sparkling wines. We also briefly summarize the results of that article, and offer links to many other Champagnes and sparkling wines that I've tasted over the past year. Finally, for your convenience, here's a look at our quick tutorial on safely uncorking sparkling wine.

Let the revelry begin!

A top-rated Champagne

Piper-Heidseick Piper-Heidseick non-vintage Champagne Brut ($29.99)
Clear pale gold, with frothy, short-lived mousse and a stream of pinpoint bubbles that literally lasts for hours. Delicious "biscuity" and milk-chocolate scents over fresh apples. Full and rich in flavor, creamy and tart; tart green apples in a long finish. Complex and well-balanced wine, a very good buy, at least by the pricey standards of real Champagne. U.S. importer: Remy Amerique Inc., NYC. (Dec. 17, 1999)

FOOD MATCH: A perfect food wine with a delicate fish entree, John Dory fillets sauteed with butter and lemon.

Consumer Reports rates bubblies

Consumer Reports magazine, using two unnamed "wine experts," rated about 20 Champagnes and other sparkling wines in its November 1999 edition. The anonymous panel evaluated the wines five separate times in random order and came up with the following ranking: (The following summary is published as a fair-use news account. The full article may be available at www.ConsumerReports.org, which requires registration and payment of a fee.

EXCELLENT
Piper Heidsieck Champagne Brut ($28)
Moet et Chandon Brut Imperial Champagne non-vintage ($35)
Mumm Cordon Rouge Champagne Brut ($27)
Taittinger La Francaise Champagne Brut ($35)
Domaine Carneros by Taittinger Brut 1993 ($20) (the highest-rated non-French bubbly, and at $20, rated a "best buy."
Moet et Chandon Cuvee Dom Perignon ($115)

VERY GOOD
Piper Sonoma Select Cuvee Brut ($16)
Moet et Chandon Brut Imperial Champagne 1993 ($41)
Perrier-Jouet Champagne Brut ($32)
Taittinger Millesime Champagne Brut 1992 ($51)
Domaine Ste. Michelle Cuvee Brut ($10) (Washington State; the highest-ranked "moderate price" wine)
Mumm Cuvee Napa Brut Prestige (California) ($16)
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut Yellow Label ($40) (Lowest-ranked "expensive" wine)

GOOD
Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut (Spain) ($8)
Andre California Champagne Brut ($4)
Chandon Brut Cuvee (California) ($16)
Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut ($16)
Tott's California Champagne Brut ($6)
Korbel California Champagne Brut ($11)
Cook's California Champagne Brut ($5)

Other recent sparkling-wine tastings

Also see Champagne or Nothing!, Randy Caparoso's column from the Honolulu Advertiser; and Nigel Lelew's columns on Millennium Eve! (Delta Radio) and An Alternative Millennium Party! (Haselmere Herald).

Safely uncorking sparkling wine

Popping a sparkling wine cork is fun, but letting it fly with a bang isn't really a great idea. You might break the china, poke out a pal's eye, or, in any case, make a mess and waste good wine. So here's my alternative method for opening bubbly--a trick that will impress your friends because you end up nonchalantly holding the cork safely in your hand!

Make sure the wine is ice-cold, and avoid shaking the bottle.

Carefully peel the foil and unwind and remove the wire cage that holds the cork in place.

If there's any gunk around the cork, wipe it off with a damp cloth or paper towel.

Now, here's the trick: Assuming you're right-handed, grip the bottle with your right hand and hold the cork tightly with your left, either bare-handed or using a cloth or paper towel. Hold the cork steady while you gently twist the bottle. The cork will ease loose with a soft hiss, and you'll find yourself holding the cork in one hand and an open bottle in the other.

Happy New Year!

Have you tasted these wines?
E-mail me your tasting notes,
and I'll consider adding them to this page.

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All my wine-tasting reports are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores.

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