New Year's Eve. You're drinking champagne. Problem is, when it comes to buying champagne – or its budget-conscious sibling, sparkling wine – for this celebratory night, most guys just grab a bottle they heard mentioned in a hip-hop song. And that usually leads to an overpriced bottle whose only pop is its cork. There's a better way.
"It can be hard to navigate the [champagne and] sparkling wine aisle – but there are certain ones that just have something special, just a celebratory feel to them," says Eric Railsback, a sommelier and part owner of Les Marchands wine bar and shop in Santa Barbara, California. "Above all, they taste amazing." Here, he's given us his favorite picks – exemplary French champagnes and sparkling wines that you'll be happy to ring in the New Year with. "They're common enough French labels that you should be able to find them at a good local wine store, but they're all from smaller houses and very high quality."
What's the difference between champagne and sparkling wine? Champagne is only made in the Champagne region of France – elsewhere, makers can claim to use the "champagne method" – and sparkling wine can be a simpler product that is often not made according to the time-consuming champagne process. (Read the label to learn more.) But both are bubblies and just right for New Year's Eve. Let our list be your guide.
Vilmart Champagne Coeur de Cuvée 2004
New Year's Eve only comes around once a year, so if you haven't dropped all your dough on holiday gifts for family and friends, look for this vintage: Vilmart Champagne Coeur de Cuvée 2004. "It's rich and nutty," says Railsback, "with oak and toastiness, and they only bring the best fruit for the vintages. They don't make it every year." He recommends pairing it with big, masculine dishes such as fried chicken or steak. [$145; wine-searcher.com]