TSG Tip: Selecting Champagne

From holiday parties to festive brunches to ringing in the new year, there will be plenty of opportunities to pop corks over the next couple of weeks, but knowing which bottle of bubbly to purchase as a hostess gift or pair with a midnight toast can be tricky. To help demystify the process of selecting a sparkling wine, we asked Meghan Hardgrove, General Manager and Sommelier at retail wine bar Wine on High in Columbus, Ohio, to share recommendations for what to give, serve, and sip.

Focus on the region. Whether you’re shopping for yourself or others, Hardgrove says to let geography be your guide. She encourages shoppers to seek out bottles from Prosecco and Trento in Italy; the Loire Valley and Champagne in France; and Napa Valley and the Finger Lakes in the United States. “These regions produce excellent wines,” she says.

Stop stressing over the perfect gift. For those who agonize over what to present to the hostess at a holiday gathering, Hardgrove offers this helpful reminder: “Everyone loves free booze.” Also, feel free to refine your selection based on packaging. “It’s okay to pick a bottle because of its label,” she says, adding that during the holiday season winemakers often create fun labels and/or wine bags to make their products even more gift-worthy.

Decide when to splurge and when to go for a steal. Think you have to spend a fortune to get a decent bottle of bubbly? Think again. There are delicious sparkling wines at a variety of price points. Here are Hardgrove’s high- and low-priced picks:

  • For the hostess: Splurge on Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut, which comes in gift bags/boxes that are on sale for approximately $60 throughout December. Go for the steal with Chandon Brut featuring a beautiful label by Rebecca Minkoff, which retails for roughly $20.
  • For serving at a cocktail party/holiday gathering: Splurge on a sparkling rosé, which is enjoying an increase in popularity, with a (still reasonably priced) bottle of Haute Couture Rosé by Jean Claude Boisset for approximately $25. Go for the steal with Prosecco, which is the number one sparkling wine purchased in the U.S. due to its high quality and excellent price point. Try one by Chloe, La Marca, and Stella, which sell for about $15 per bottle.
  • For popping open at midnight on New Year’s Eve: This is the perfect opportunity to go for a sparkler from the Cremant in France’s Loire Valley, which Hardgrove praises for its creaminess, finesse, and elegant bubbles. Splurge on Henriot Souverain Champagne, a grower’s champagne that has notes of white flowers and crème brûlée that retails for about $50. Go for the steal with Baumard Turquoise at roughly $25 per bottle, or Gérard Bertrand Brut, which sells for approximately $20.

Know how to pop the cork like a pro. Admit it: between the potential spray factor and the fact that people tend to congregate around a bottle of bubbly as its being opened, it can be intimidating to be the one handling the cork. For those charged with bottle-opening duty, Hardgrove offers these pointers: “First off, remove the foil and keep your thumb over the cork at all times. With your left hand, remove the cage and place a dishcloth or napkin over the cork (this will catch the cork). Turn the wine in your left hand while your right hand holds the cork. Once you feel the cork loosen, gently glide it out. You should hear a slight sigh—a loud pop means you let the good bubbles out. Remember to never point the wine towards anyone. Instead, point the bottle straight to the ceiling to reduce the risk of injuries due to flying corks.”

TSG Tip 240 from Meghan Hardgrove, General Manager and Sommelier at Wine on High in Columbus, Ohio. Wine on High is featured in The Scout Guide Columbus.