Sparkling wine — please don’t call it Champagne unless it’s made in that specific region of France — is one of the still-hidden joys of Long Island. These five favorites were all made using the best-known method, Méthode Champenoise, as in Champagne: To make wines in this style, the grapes are picked earlier than usual to preserve natural acidity and made into a bone-dry base wine. From there, sugar and yeast are added to the bottle to start a second fermentation.
Those yeasts eat that sugar, producing alcohol and the carbon dioxide that makes the wine sparkling. After the yeasts have done their work, the lees — the dead yeast cells — are removed from the bottle, a process called disgorgement. Finally, a dose of sugar or grape juice may be added to sweeten the wine before the bottle is re-corked and closed with a wire cage.
Drink these wines before holiday meals (maybe while you’re cooking) or during them. Sparkling wine is incredibly versatile because their bubbles and acidity keep your palate fresh and prepare it for the next bite of whatever you’re eating.
Lieb Cellars | 2017 Estate Sparkling Pinot Blanc ($38)
The classic grapes of Champagne are chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier; this brisk bubbly is unique in its use of 100% pinot blanc. Juicy pear fruitiness is made more complex by layers of toasty lees, Golden Delicious apple, and saline minerality. The mid-palate is gently creamy, but fresh acidity brings verve to the crisp finish.
Sparkling Pointe | 2016 Brut Nature ($42)
It’s impossible to talk about Long Island sparkling wine without talking about Sparkling Pointe, the only local winery that focuses exclusively on the style. Their newest release is a “brut nature”-style bubbly made without the dosage. The result is a wine that is extremely dry but far from harsh or austere.
Paumanok Vineyards | 2015 Blanc de Blancs ($45)
Made from 100% chardonnay, this classy sparkler was aged three years “en tirage” — meaning the wine spent three years in the bottle before disgorgement. This vintage is a bit leaner and brighter than previous vintages, making it perfectly suited to pair with oysters or other shellfish.
Macari Vineyards| 2018 Horses ($26)
Here is something completely different — a 100% cabernet franc rosé sparkler. This is the best vintage of this wine in a couple of years, with clean red berry-tinged fruit and subtle savory edges of earth and herbs that remind you that this is cabernet franc. It’s particularly well-suited to dishes built around turkey or duck or even slightly funky goat cheese.
The Lenz Winery | 2014 Cuvée ($40)
Made from 100% estate-grown pinot noir grapes, this wine is fresh and focused with a flavor that suggests white and red cherries and yeasty, just-baked brioche. People don’t talk about drinking sparkling wine with red meat much, but this wine can stand up to it, while also enhancing simple seafood preparations or creamy pasta dishes.