There’s nothing quite like it: the unmistakable pop of a sparkling wine cork. Chances are that there’s a celebration when you hear that sound. Weddings, anniversaries, promotions and the launching of ships all demand bubbly wine.  

Sparking wine goes hand in hand with a toast. Congratulatory or honoring, a raised glass is matched with a few words or a heartfelt speech. 

New Year’s Eve is the big occasion for this ritual. In gatherings large or small, that glass of wine marks the turning of the year.  

You may have noticed that I’ve so far avoided the word Champagne. It is, of course, the classic wine for toasting.  But as the French will eagerly tell you, not all sparkling wine is Champagne. They’ll also tell you that the best sparkling wine comes from the Champagne region north of Burgundy – and they’re right. 

Prosecco is popular year round.

They’re reluctant to admit, however, that perfectly good, sometimes great, sparkling wine comes from lots of places around the world.  Spain is a big producer of Cava; Italy has Prosecco; and Germany makes Sekt.  Other regions of France, like the Loire Valley, make bubbly wine too.  California is so well suited for it, that many of the big French companies have thriving subsidiaries there.

There’s a sparkling wine for every price point, from $10 on up. Like so many things, you get what you pay for and brands are important. Hand-crafted sparklers are made with the best grapes in a labor-intensive, expensive process that yields distinctive character. 

Wines can be made with the same care anywhere, but more often, less costly bulk processes are used outside of the Champagne region. These wines are fine and can represent good value but don’t have the nuance and cachet of the Champagne method. 

The familiar names of the big Champagne companies are well known: Moët, Veuve Clicquot, Bollinger, Mumms, and most famous of all Dom Pérignon.  Each house has its own style and fans who favor it.  Vintage Champagnes are at the top of the prestige heap – expensive, well-dressed, and delicious.  

Brut (dry) and Extra Brut (slightly sweet) are the most commonly seen styles.  Rosé (usually referred to as pink) is pretty and festive. A tall, narrow flute that shows off the color and bubbles is the best glass for the task. 

In recent years, there has been a trend toward “grower” Champagnes.  Instead of selling their grapes to the big houses, Champagne vignerons are making distinctive, small-production wines under their own labels. 

Mike Pelletier at Fountainhead Wines in Norwalk recommends two grower bottlings: The pinot noir based Marie Weiss Champagne Brut ($38) or Vilmart & Cie Grand Cellier ($77) fermented in oak barrels for a rich “toasty” style. 

Grower Champagne

French Champagne makers that have set up shop in California include recognizable brands like Domaine Chandon, Mumm Napa and Roederer Estate. Schramsberg is an excellent all-American brand made in the northern tip of the Napa Valley.  Domaine Ste. Michelle is a popular choice from Washington State. 

The New Year’s wine is only half of the celebratory equation.  A good toast completes the picture.  Short and to the point, long and entertaining, or somewhat garbled after a long evening, toasts run the gamut. 

I’m not good at lengthy and entertaining toasts, but I’ve heard some just as good as stand-up comedy.  I admire those who speak comfortably in public and pull it off.  

Fear not.  If public speaking is not your thing, help is available.  

A number of reference books supplying ready made toasts and advice on giving them are at hand. “Rising to the Occasion: The Best Toasts for Any Celebration” by Paul Dickson has examples from the famous and anonymous plus tips on delivery. It even has glasses of bubbly wine on the cover.  

Nancy Tupper Ling and June Cotner have put together “Toasts: The Perfect Words to Celebrate Every Occasion” to help the hesitant make a good impression.

Here’s an anonymous old one I might use: “May you always have love in your heart and Champagne in your belly!”

With a bottle of bubbly and the right words, New Year’s Eve is a snap. 

Frank Whitman can be reached at