Bubbly 2002!

Bad ideas can be terribly enlightening, don't you think?

I had a doozy of a bad idea last week: I figured I'd find some Champagnes and sparkling wines to recommend for New Year's. I didn't have time to put together a full-blown tasting, so I thought I'd just put some of my favorites on a table and taste those and find my super-favorites among them. Don't ever do this; it's like trying to select your four favorite toes.

It was also a little embarrassing and unnerving, because my heart literally (literally!) leapt with joy to see all those darlings gathered--and what the hell is that? Last time I checked, I was on my way to being a cool American writer, and cool American writers have desk drawers with bottles of rye and don't have hearts that leap with joy at the sight of rosé or blanc de noirs. So what happened here, and who authorized this? One day you're just drinking a lot of wine and the next you're all fey and Continental? Does this mean I have to put away my Raymond Chandler books, my adolescent dreams? Because I'll tell you, life does not seem hard-bitten or morally ambivalent when you're looking at a tableful of Champagne; it seems pretty damn wonderful and blessed.

It particularly seems wonderful and blessed with a glass of Egly-Ouriet in your hand. Egly-Ouriet is a small grand cru Champagne from 100 percent biodynamic vineyards in the villages of Ambonnay and Bouzy, and boy oh boy is this stuff dazzling. The grand cru rosé ($35) is 100 percent pinot noir and glows with an apricot light. The smell of apples practically jumps from the glass, but the taste is broad, deep, and well balanced; it's as mellow as a nap in autumn sunshine, and utterly appealing. The blanc de noirs "Vieilles Vignes" ($39), meanwhile, has bread dough, straw, and maybe a little vanilla in the nose, but it's full-bodied, yeasty, full of finesse and subtlety, and finishes forever. It's just a profound Champagne, and better than plenty of bottles three times the price.

Which is exactly what I want to say about Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut NV ($19).

Oh, that miracle Mirabelle. Schramsberg is a Napa Valley winery with exotic garden jungles planted around storybook gingerbread Victorian buildings and Champagne caves that stretch for musty miles into adjoining mountains. I like everything that comes from Schramsberg. All their bubbly wine is made with wild yeast and has an evocative sweaty, lemony shadow to it that I find seductive. I think it's that wild yeast that does it, in the same way an artisanal bakery's boule tastes better than a loaf of bread made with grocery-store yeast packets. Mirabelle is Schramsberg's budget wine, but it doesn't taste very budget: A bit of grapefruit, pineapple, and yeast in the nose, leading into a well-built wine with fine, little-bubble texture that dances in the mouth. You don't see this wine around much, though I can't imagine why: I see it mostly at MGM Liquor Warehouses, and it's worth a trip. (They also carry higher-end Schramsbergs, also worth it.)

Too, I tried my old-reliable cheapie, Seaview Brut ($9), an Australian bubbly that has been my favorite budget sparkler for a while now (and remains a damn sight better than Domaine Ste. Michelle, which has been getting thinner, tarter, and more unpleasant with each passing year). This was pretty prestigious company to try the stuff in, but I was impressed with it, in an old-reliable sort of way: It's a sweet, fruity, nicely acidic, well-balanced, likable wine, if not a particularly fascinating one. But still, for nine bucks, who's complaining?

I'm certainly not. My bad idea turned out to yield gold: I cannot remember the last time I was so grateful to be alive, so happy to be possessed of the standard-issue pleasure-sensing devices of mouth and nose and brain, so looking forward to the future as I was contemplating and sipping from these favorite Champagnes and sparkling wines. And I can't recommend highly enough that you avail yourself of the same. Happy New Year!

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