It was three Decembers ago that my husband and I were in a wine store outside our usual orbit, and happened upon an $11 French sparkling that we adored—and thought was underpriced by at least 30%.
"Oh, man! Let's get a bottle for tonight."
"And an extra, just for fun."
"We have Teo's party this weekend. Let's make it three."
"And we should bring something to your office gig. Four..."
Minutes later, we were walking out the door with not four bottles but 12—an entire case.
Now, as a spirits writer and a mixologist, respectively, my husband and I are prone to over-buying wine—especially sparkling wine. But we absolutely flew through that box of 12 bottles, quicker than we could have anticipated. And now we can't start the holiday season without a case (or, ah, two) on hand.
Sure, some of these bottles we drink ourselves. But bubbles are versatile. When I'm running out the door to meet my brother's fiancée's mother, who would never greet you in December without a Christmas gift in hand? I can return it in kind, with a bottle of bubbles.
Did you decide, on a giddy whim, to impulse-buy a Christmas tree and host an impromptu tree-trimming party, with no time to shop? Bubbles. Forgot about that friend's end-of-year get-together, and you're already running late? Stick a bottle of bubbles in your bag. Neglected to buy a present for that one cousin who shows up to family gatherings at the last minute? Slap a bow on a bottle of bubbles. Making the punch at your office holiday party, and realize it's flat and uninspired? Not with a bottle of bubbles poured in.
With the obvious caveat that not everyone drinks, even the most casual imbiber tends to appreciate a bottle of sparkling wine. It's not like giving a bottle of Scotch or gin that, if not to their taste, will get abandoned at the back of a cabinet. It's inherently festive; if nothing else, they'll open it at New Year's. And, thanks to a funny quirk of the American psyche, French bubbles in particular just feel fancier—even if it's a Crémant de Limoux that's a steal at $13.
Sparkling wines are also tremendously food-friendly—you can serve a glass as an aperitif, and continue pouring the bottle through the entire meal. Not too many wines can take you from a cheese plate through a roast goose all the way to pecan pie or chocolate cake.
Sure, you can settle for buying a bottle at a time, but most wine stores will give you a pretty solid case break—10% off amounts to more than a bottle's worth. And here's the truth: Not every wine store sells good sparkling. There are excellent Proseccos and Cavas, and there are also deeply mediocre ones, many of them still sold in that $10–15 range, because when people want bubbles, they're often not too picky. Even if you're used to throwing a bit of money around on your wine, odds are you're not impulse-buying a whole case of real Champagne, which starts around $40 a bottle and climbs from there.
What to Buy
I'm partial to French sparkling wines from outside the Champagne region—meaning no offense whatsoever to Champagne, which I adore—because they tend to be screaming values.
When we buy a case, it's often Bourrasque Sparkling Wine Brut, which you can find for as little as $10–12; a 100% Chenin Blanc from the Loire, it's dry and minerally and pairs well with absolutely everything. While we're talking Loire, Domaine d'Orfeuilles Vouvray Brut is another incredible value at around $12, pleasantly toasty/brioche-y, with small, poppy bubbles.
The French region of Limoux claims to have invented Champagne-style sparkling wine in 1513, and it does indeed produce excellent bubbles. The "Thomas Jefferson" Crémant de Limoux Brut (around $15) from Gérard Bertrand is a perfect example, with fine bubbles and a honey/green apple acidity. The Chardonnay-based Bailly Lapierre Crémant de Bourgogne Réserve is another delightful French pick, often between $15 and $17, nicely dry and very drinkable.
Some Cavas are a little dull and one-note for my taste, but there are two I adore (and, yes, occasionally buy cases of): Dibon Cava Brut Reserve from a Spanish natural-wine maker, with an eye-catching orange label and rarely priced above $12, and Anna de Codorníu Blanc de Blancs (around $12–14), which, unusually for Spain, is made primarily from Chardonnay.
If you're not looking for a whole case and instead need just a few adult stocking stuffers, go smaller: Union Wine Co. sells 375ml cans of Underwood Bubbles, a perfect half bottle's worth that's bright and floral, with a hint of tropical fruit. And, of course, for individual gifts, you can always go higher on the price scale. I'm particularly fond of Argyle's Oregon sparklings (from $28) and the Champagne-style wines from Iron Horse Vineyards in California (from around $40). Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé (around $80) is a Champagne gold standard, and it's the bottle I'll often wrap up for my husband when I don't know what else to get him. If you can go north of $100, the limited-edition Champagne Bollinger Rosé 2006 (about $110), one of the only vintage rosés produced in the brand's nearly 200-year history, is a ridiculous showstopper, and comes in a gorgeous custom case to boot.
But investing $150 in a case of less expensive sparkling instead—that's a holiday gift you're just giving yourself. And if you don't go through it all by Christmas? Conveniently, the holiday season ends with the biggest bubbles-drinking night of them all.