With New Year's Eve fast approaching, it's a good time to talk about champagne and sparkling wine. (Note: Just so you know, you can't call it champagne if it didn't come from that region in France.) Bubbly is my personal drink of choice for any occasion (I'm fancy like that)—and it's also the reason I dread New Year's Eve. Someone inevitably ends up popping a bottle of Cook's or Andre ( shudder ) or J Roget, and the night goes south from there. If you routinely consume those $4.99-ish brands without consequence, I salute your wallet and your stomach—but not your palate.
Not all bubbles are overly sweet and headache-inducing—and they're also not as expensive as you might think. Sure, you can put Dom Perignon in your flute, and it'll be good. It'll also be the most unnecessary expense you'll make in 2013. So, please, be a good host / party planner and check out these places before ringing in the new year. Our hangovers thank you.
Village Vino: Craft champagne. Take a minute and let that phrase sink in. I didn't know it existed until I met Rita Pirkl, owner of Village Vino (4095 Adams Ave. in Kensington). I thought Veuve was as good as it got. I had no idea I could get bubbles from small, family-owned grower-producers (meaning, the people who produce the champagnes are also growing their own grapes. The same can't be said for the Moets and Mumms of the world—not that there's anything wrong with them). I. Was. Wrong.
Open since summer of 2012, Rita and Village Vino have been slowly educating champagne lovers on these brands, some of which make only 10,000 cases—total. These are rare, special champagnes. (When the menu tells you to "Celebrate Every Day With Sexy Bubbles," you know you're in for something good.) But Rita is committed to making them accessible to you, without the pretense and without wreaking havoc on your wallet.
If you have a particular liking for sparkling rosé (I do), a bottle of German-made Over the Moon—the producer of which is being kept a secret, sorry—goes for $23. If you buy it to-go, subtract $10 (same goes for any bottle you take out the door). So, for $13, you can drink some of the best sparkling rosé in the world. How about some of the best prosecco in the world, from Villa Sandi? Yeah, also $13 to-go. Kinda makes Veuve unnecessary, right?
If you can make it out of the house on New Year's Day, stop by for a bubbles brunch. You'll leave with a completely different opinion of what it really means to like and drink champagne.
Jayne's Gastropub: One of the biggest complaints among champagne lovers is that it's hard to find a good glass or bottle when you go out to dinner. It's just not the focus of most restaurants' wine lists. The same can't be said for Jayne's Gastropub (4677 30th St. in Normal Heights). It'd be so easy to overlook since its name suggests, well, a pub. Open since 2007, it has what's obviously a carefully curated bubbly list, which features these grower-producers you've just learned so much about.
Co-owner Jon Erickson loves wine, and he pours what he loves. Thankfully, that includes J. Lassalle (do not confuse this with J Roget, please), helmed by a mother-daughter-granddaughter team that produces what's easily one of the most complex but drinkable champagnes on the planet. There is no mass-produced champagne out there that tastes like this. Tip: Jon says Jayne's will be packed on New Year's Eve, so make your reservations now. Check jaynesgastropub.com for details on the prix-fixe menu. You won't want to miss him sabering (as in, with a saber, aka large knife) a bottle of fancy bubbly outside on the sidewalk—a New Year's Eve tradition.
The Wine Bank: Need a last-minute bottle or five? Don't have time to really investigate what's out there and need a tried-and-true brand? OK, then. When you get to the Wine Bank (363 Fifth Ave., Downtown), walk downstairs, take a right, then another right. Stop. Behold a glorious, floor-to-ceiling display of champagne, sparkling wine, cava and prosecco.
Need a quick recommendation or a more in-depth overview of what's what? No problem—the staff knows its alcohol. (Fun fact: Lanson is the official champagne of the British royal family. They tell me it's good.) I'm a dry to extra-dry kinda gal, so I opted for the Nicholas Feuillatte Brut. For $39.99, it's not as bone dry as Veuve (nor as expensive)—and the taste should please everyone at the party.