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Holiday game night: how to make your party sparkle: follow our plan for playing "guess the bubbly.".

From thanksgiving through New Year's, people drink far more sparkling wine--from all over the globe--than they do any other time of year. Most of us, though, can't tell the difference between a cava (Spain's main bubbly), say, and any other bottle of bubbles. A little focused tasting of the main high-quality types available here--West Coast traditional-method sparklers, French Champagne, Spanish cava, and Italian prosecco--will quickly clarify the differences, reveal personal preferences, and turn a holiday gathering into a tasting party that will be fun for wine lovers and neophytes alike. We've come up with a plan.

The party plan

The evening has two parts: Guests first get acquainted with the different bubblies, then they taste them "blind."

Buy two different bottles of each type of sparkling wine, plus a lineup of hors d'oeuvres that make terrific pairings (see below). When guests arrive, set out some cold nibbles and pop open the first four bottles (one of each kind, with labels in full view). Pass out copies of our "Wines at a Glance" chart (page 96), which maps key traits among the sparklers, and have everyone smell and taste each to see if they can pick up the yeastiness in Champagne, the crisp dryness of the West Coast sparkler, or the faint rubber aroma in cava (quite appealing to some people). Prepare for surprises--who knew that, on average, Champagne is sweeter than good domestic bubbly?

Once everyone is familiar with the personality of each region's wine, bring out the last four bottles, bagged and numbered 1 through 4, for a blind taste test. Have partygoers rate their characteristics on the tasting sheet, from low to high. (Meanwhile, set out warm appetizers.) Finally, have the group take a stab at identifying the bottles--then reveal and toast the winning palates.

Shopping list

On the wine side, you need two bottles of each type of bubbly (our picks below are all classic versions of their style). For nibbles, traditional salty, spicy bites are great with sparklers; their bright bubbles cut through the richness.


Champagne Pol Roger Brut Reserve "White Foil" ($50)

Champagne Taittinger Brut La Francaise ($60)

West Coast sparklers

Laetitia Brut Cuvee (Arroyo Grande Valley; $25)

Roederer Brut (Anderson Valley; $22)


Naveran Brut 2013 Cava ($17)

Noa de Bohigas Cava ($28)


Adriano Adami "Bosco di Gica" Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG ($18)

Ruggeri 2013 "Giustino B." Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG ($32)

Bubble-friendly bites

Oysters on the half-shell with red wine vinegar mignonette Potato chips Deviled eggs

Mini blinis with creme fraiche and salmon roe

Cheese (brie, parmesan, and manchego) with crackers and a sweet-tart relish such as fig with balsamic vinegar

Crab and spicy tuna sushi rolls with wasabi and pickled ginger

Vietnamese shrimp spring rolls with red chile dipping sauce

Mini spinach quiches Stuffed mushrooms

Bonus: Any of our recipes for crab dishes (see page 68) would be perfect with these sparkling wines.


Sparklers are often served in tall flutes-ideal for preserving bubbles, less so for releasing aromas and flavors. Shallow coupes are adorable but lose bubbles too fast. Small white-wine glasses compromise between revealing a wine's personality and hoarding its effervescence.

Game Night Tasting Sheet

Pour a taste of sparkling wine from each of the blinded bottles. Smell and taste each one, considering the characteristics listed below, and rate each low, medium, or high. Then compare the profile you've come up with for each wine to the "Wines at a Glance" chart (below). Try to identify which is the Champagne, West Coast sparkler, cava, and prosecco.

Wines at a glance

This chart overlays the profiles of four types of sparkling wine so you can quickly tell which is the sweetest, for instance (prosecco), or which has the yeastiest character (Champagne). The distinct marker for cava, as you can see, is a faint rubber aroma. Our chart is based on analyses done by Christian Roguenant, who has made sparkling wine on several continents (beginning in Champagne) and is now winemaker for Niven Family Wine Estates in Edna Valley, California. You can often catch him at Sunset events leading sparkling wine tastings. NOTE: Of these four types of sparkling wine, only prosecco is not made using the traditional Champagne method, which creates the bubbles through a second fermentation in the bottle--resulting in yeastiness from the lees (spent cells). Prosecco's second fermentation happens in a large tank, which accounts for its lack of complexity and yeast/soy character.

Photographs by THOMAS J. STORY
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Author:Schneider, Sara
Date:Dec 1, 2015
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