Nothing rings in the holiday season like a little bubbly

Quick! What is the first beverage you think of when celebrating around the holidays?

If you answered Champagne or any other sort of sparkling wine, you are not alone. Though reports vary, each year an estimated two-thirds of the sparkling wine consumed in this country is done so in and around the holiday season.

Heck, the mere thought of a popping cork brings enthusiastic smiles to just about anyone who enjoys a little vino.

More quality choices of sparkling wines are waiting to be the focus of celebratory toasts than at any other time in history, so if you are interested in trying something different, it is highly likely you will end up with something special.

Take Brachetto d’Aqui (pronounced bra-KET-o D’A-quee), for example. Made from the brachetto grape and hailing from the Piedmont region of northwest Italy, this ruby red, fully frothing style of sparkling wine simply looks like the holidays in a glass.

Brachettos shed a lovely aroma of freshly crushed strawberries and usually has just a hint of sweetness to match. The only thing more incredible than the striking visual presentation and approachability of these wines is the fact that they haven’t fully caught on in this country yet. Sort of like the fried turkey phenomenon, I recommend jumping on the brachetto bandwagon early so you can brag to your friends in a couple of years about how long you’ve appreciated these gems. Though most grocery stores don’t carry them, most wine shops do, and at very affordable prices to boot.

For a more traditional approach to bubbly, take a look at Gloria Ferrer from the Sonoma side of the Carneros region, just north of San Francisco. The domestic arm of popular Spanish sparkler Frexinet (pronounced fresh-in-ET) came to being in the early 1980s when the Ferrer family visited the cool Carneros region with hopes that it might become home to a future winemaking endeavor. Land was purchased, vines were planted to pinot noir and chardonnay, and Jose Ferrer named the first sparkling wine operation in the Carneros region after his wife, Gloria.

Nearly three decades later, Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards consistently produce some of the best sparkling wines in the United States. Judges at the 2009 San Diego-based Critics Challenge International Wine Competition certainly agree, awarding eight of the winery’s nine entries gold or platinum medals.

In particular, the Gloria Ferrer NV Blanc de Noirs has received stunning accolades this year, especially considering the price point of under $20. The aforementioned competition awarded the wine a Critics Platinum, and The Wine News rated it at 94 points.

Rare indeed will a wine receive such consistently high praise at this price point and be widely available as well. Beverages and More carries the wine, as will most wine shops and some grocery stores.

No matter if you reach for something new or the tried and true, think bubbly this holiday season and toast your friends and loved ones to a healthy and prosperous 2010.

Mark Stuart is a certified wine professional, educator, judge and columnist. Please send your story ideas or feedback to