With clearer night skies and twinkling lights, the holiday season brings with it a natural sparkle and lightness. Every night feels like a little celebration, and indeed, as the year draws to a close and loved ones and friends gather together, there can be much to toast to.

So, if you're not already stocking up on it, let's discuss why sparkling wine (we’ll get to why it isn’t all champagne in just a second) should and can be your standalone wine beverage and your number one cocktail ingredient as well. With nearly as much variation as white wine, sparkling wine offers a tremendous variety of flavor and dryness, as well as an effervescence that opens up more subtle notes of other liquors.

Become a sparkling wine expert this year with these tips, tricks and trivia.

All that Sparkles is Not Champagne

Deep down inside, we all know that saying French words makes us feel fancy. While “champagne” might be properly anglicized by this point, it's important for us to use the term with care. The designation of champagne is reserved for sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France. And, champagne is almost always produced using one (or more) of three permitted grape varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. 

This might seem like splitting hairs, but when a region has such a long tradition and strict quality standards, it’s an important way to protect producers and consumers. France actually calls Champagne an official designation of origin. For those 21 and older, you can learn all about the reasons and requirements behind this appellation at the official website of Champagne.

If you’re unsure of what to call it, look at the bottle (which won’t say “champagne” unless it’s officially champagne) or the region on the wine menu. 

So, What's Brut vs. Champagne

  • There is no difference in the making process of champagne and a Brut except that Brut is devoid of sugar called extra dry champagne while champagne contains sugar to make it palatable.
  • The initial name for dry champagne was originally brute to reflect the severe taste of the champagne.

How Do I Open Sparkling Wine?

If you think soda bottles are under pressure, you should try a bottle of sparkling wine. The famous scene of folks spraying coaches, couples and crowds with spewing bottles of foam is a classic scene of celebration, but probably not appropriate for every occasion.

First things first: whatever you do, do not use a corkscrew.

Most sparkling wine will contain a mushroom-shaped cork secured into the bottleneck by a thin wire “cage” and foil. The simplest, cleanest method is to untwist the wire. Often times, simply loosening this will allow the cork to gently pop out. If not, wiggle it a little.

For those celebration sprays, give the bottle a really good shaking, loosen the tie, and press firmly against the cork with a slight forward thrust. Aim away from faces! The immense pressure inside the glass bottle will give you a fireworks display of sparkling wine. You can spray it by placing your thumb firmly on the bottle mouth.

But What About the Sword?

To borrow another Francophonic term, the crème de la crème often enjoy a very sophisticated champagne popping experience at hotels and fine dining restaurants. Sabrage is an old tradition where a brave soul with steady hands slides a sharp blade against the bottle neck, resulting in the slight breakage of the glass and a faint stream of bubbly goodness.

The St. Regis hotel group recently partnered with Christofle to create a $25,000 wine saber that will make your feel like a member of the first estate in the French Revolution, though I think they fared less well with swords.

Explore St. Regis’ tips on sabering your sparkling wine, as well as other classy evening rituals.

Mix it Up

This will undoubtedly offend some purists; after all, sparkling white and rosé wines are so often quite delicious all by themselves. But the carbonation and dryness of a good sparkling wine, or bubbly as we sometimes like to call it, can offer so much to a cocktail. Here are a few of my favorites:

French 75 (Food and Wine)

Bellini (The Drink Blog)

Spiced Apple Cider (Dishing Up the Dirt)

Rosemary Sparkler (Feast and West)

Cheers, everyone!