They say the age of decadence is behind us, but who am I to follow trends? I recently paired a from-scratch Caesar salad with Möet & Chandon Impérial Champagne NV on a school night … just because. As the kids fought over risotto (ah, my foodie tots), I noted the wine's golden hue, persistent bubbles rising to the surface like synchronized swimmers, and a nose of sweet Carolina biscuits. The silky-cottony texture led to contrasting flavors of firm mango, mouthwatering lime and kiwi. Bring on the homework.
By now, most everyone with a semester abroad under their belt knows that, technically, champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France, and that sparklers from elsewhere abound. Check the aisles for New Zealand, Virginia, California, New York and value-priced selections such as Spanish cava or Italian prosecco. Francophiles can even explore champagne alternatives without changing flags: Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux is excellent and can be a third of the price. Sparkling wine is perhaps the greatest of aperitifs: It opens the appetite. But how do you discern quality beyond price? A sparkler should be clean, subtle, vinous and refreshing. Look for small bubbles from the bottom of the glass to the surface, forming a circle at the top. On the tongue, they should feel creamy and silky, not coarse like diet soda. And if the finish doesn't last at least as long as my 3-year-old's attention span, it's of lesser quality. Also, pink does not equal plonk: It's pretty in the glass and damn tasty. Sparkling rosé should be a lovely salmon or cinnamon color; the greater intensity of the color, the fuller the wine.
Once you master dry bubbly, look for racy colors, dessert sweetness, or geographical intrigue. Oysters, caviar and popcorn (seriously) are classic pairings, but what about chocolate? Pop a fizzy sweet red (try Banfi Rosa Regali for less than $20) at the end of a meal or during a romantic moment, and you'll be a hero. Make sure it's properly chilled, though.
‘Tis the season for house parties and family visits, so in lieu of yet another scented candle, spark the fun with Möet's Bucket of Bubbles gift set (shown above). Cleverly presented in a clear case that doubles as an ice bucket, it costs $34.99 and includes four mini flutes. Yes, just as beer seems to own Independence Day, bubbliciousness dominates New Year's. But make it one of your own resolutions to tipple sparklers long before and after the 31st.