Wine tastes are certainly subjective, and few things in wine are more subjective than champagne and sparkling wine.

Is it acceptable with food? How sweet should it be? Throw in the upcoming holiday season, when bubbly takes the forefront, and the only way to navigate these fermented shoals was to convene a tasting panel to taste a variety of sparklers.

The members, who met at our super secret sipping headquarters under the tightest security, included former Advocate restaurant critic Lynne Kleinpeter; Mack Turner, the dashing president of the Lou Ann Homeowners Association; and husband and wife reconteaurs Jim and Cathy Frisinger, who will drive anywhere for a good meal. We sipped a variety of wines, from the $3.99 Andre Extra Dry to a $33 Pommery made in the heart of Champagne. Our conclusions:

There is hope for the price conscious. The Andre was very fruity. But the best value was the Cristalino Brut ($5.99), a Spanish sparkler that manages to taste more expensive than it is, with a little fruit and a touch of champagne style.

The star of the evening was a Segura Vidas Brut Reserva Heredad ($20) from Spain’s heralded Cava region. This is a tremendous value – not much acidity, so you can drink it with chicken or fish, but classy enough to ring in the New Year.

The Pommery Brut Royal is everything Champagne should be, a tight, bubbly wine that smacks your mouth with flavor. This is the kind of wine that people at chi-chi holiday parties sip, making small talk while trying not to spill on their designer dresses.


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