A Guide to Choosing the Perfect New Year’s Eve Bubbly

Wine Director Billy Woon shares his expert tips and go-to favourites

Senior Sommelier Billy Woon

A classic New Year’s Eve selection, bubbles are known as the celebratory beverage. But when it comes to choosing, chilling and serving a crowd-pleaser, it’s easy to get overwhelmed! We tapped Wine Director Billy Woon to share his expert tips on all things sparkling wine ahead of the big ball drop. Here’s what he had to say:

Champagne vs. Cava vs. Prosecco. Can you explain the difference?

Let’s start with Champagne and Cava. The most significant difference is place of origin. Champagne must be from the Champagne region of France and Cava comes from Spain. Both are produced using the Traditional Method whereby the second fermentation takes place within the bottle itself. It’s a labour-intensive process that results in finer, more persistent bubbles and added complexity. Grape varietal can differ too.

Prosecco is a completely different style of sparkling wine. It is produced in Veneto, Italy utilizing the Charmat or Tank Method where the second fermentation takes place in pressurized stainless steel vats to accentuate the peachy quality of the Glera grape. Wines using this method are often fruity and slightly sweeter with less of the rich, creaminess you might find in Champagne or Cava.

What’s the best way to tell if a bubbly is going to be sweet or dry?

If the label indicates “brut” or “extra brut”, you’re looking at a dry style. Also, If the alcohol percentage is under 11%, you should expect some residual sweetness – especially for wines around 5 or 6%.

How do you feel about sparkling rosé? Appropriate for New Year’s Eve?

I love dry (brut) sparkling rosé – definitely!

How reasonably priced can you go without compromising taste? And how much do you need to spend if you want to “splurge”?

For me, $20 to $30 at the LCBO is a good starting point. You can find some great alternatives to Champagne in the form of Crémant from Bourgogne (a.k.a. Burgundy) and Alsace. Ontario sparkling wines are also fantastic value when produced in the Traditional Method. Niagara and Prince Edward County have the ideal climate for it!

How does the taste of expensive vintage champagne differ from those you might find at the liquor store?

Top-of-the-line vintage-dated “Prestige Cuvées” like Cristal, Dom Pérignon, and Krug see significant aging in the cellar prior to their release. As a result of bottle age, certain aromas and flavours can come to the forefront, like almond pastry, bitter chocolate and hazelnut to name a few.

When it comes time serving wine, what is the ideal chilling time? Is it ever acceptable to put a bottle in the freezer in a pinch?

I recommend chilling your bottle in the fridge for at least 4 hours. Or, you can use an ice bath (a mixture of water and ice) for 30 minutes. You can use the freezer, too! Just don’t leave it in much longer than 30 minutes or your bottle may crack and you will have a mess to clean up.

What are the best glasses for serving your bubbly? Does a flute really improve the tasting experience?

Quite the opposite, actually! Flutes are great if you want to preserve the bubbles in the glass, but they also inhibit the aroma and flavour of the wine, especially for older bottles. A standard white wine glass filled to no more than a third of the way is best in my experience.

Everyone loves a dramatic bottle pop on New Year’s Eve. Any tips for mastering the pop?

Actually, going for a big, dramatic pop is never a good idea because it kills the bubbles! Here’s what I do:

    1. Remove the foil.
    2. Loosen the cage by turning the tab six and a half times while keeping your thumb on top of the cork/cage. Use your free hand to help with this. For safety reasons, do not remove your thumb from the top of the cage until the cork is out.
    3. Bring the bottle to your chest at a 45-degree angle while directing the cork away from yourself and others. Do this while keeping one hand on the cork/cage and the other hand gripping the bottom of the bottle.
    4. Slowly twist the bottom of the bottle away from the cork/cage until the pressure gently eases the cork out. The cage will help you grip the cork while it starts to ease out. With practice, you can do this with no sound at all!

What about pouring? Are there any techniques to keep in mind to achieve the perfect pour?

Pour slowly and let the bubbles dissipate before pouring more. Fill halfway at most.

Can you recommend some of your favourite budget-friendly and splurge-worthy sparkling wines?

My pleasure! Here are a few I would recommend:

Best Bang for Your Buck

NV Ferrari Trento Brut (Trentino-Alto Adige, IT) ~ $30.

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2017 Cuvée Catharine Estate Blanc de Blancs ‘Carte Blanche’ (Niagara, ON) ~$50.

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The Ultimate Splurge

Louis Roederer Cristal Brut Champagne ~$450.

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All-time Favourite

2008 Bollinger R.D. Extra Brut Champagne ~$460.

While not currently available at the LCBO, find it at Aera and Canoe.

What about recommendations for what to drink when dining out?

Here are a couple I would order again and again:

2016 Rotari Trento DOC Rosé (Trentino-Alto Adige, IT)

Find it by the bottle at The Joneses and Aera.

Juvé & Camps Cava Gran Reserva Brut Nature Reserva de la Familia (Cava, ES)

Find it by the glass at Aera.

Any parting words?

When it comes to sparkling wines, peruse the Vintages section at the LCBO. There is often more to choose from than the LCBO general list. And don’t be afraid to try something new! When you can, local wineries are also a great treasure trove.

Cheers and happy New Year!