It's true, certainly, that the vast majority of sparkling wine sales in the United States happens in the last quarter of the year, that is, the holiday season fo October, November and December. Sales also spike around Valentine's Day and it's easy to see why: what goes better with romance than a glass overflowing with bubbles?
I'd like to take the opportunity of this "in-between time" to advocate for more regular consumption (and, almost by definition, enjoyment) of sparkling wine. There are two primary reasons for this. First, sparkling wine is a largely underappreciated partner to food. Second, sparkling wine simply puts people at ease.
What makes sparkling wine such a good partner to food? It has to do with its acidity. Much sparkling wine — whether it's from Germany or the Anderson Valley of California or the Champagne region of France — is grown is relatively cool climates and is harvested early. That imparts a high amount of acid to the grapes, and it's acidity in a wine that makes it food-friendly.
And what is it about sparkling wine that puts people at ease? Personally, I just think of sparkling wine and I start to giggle. And I'm not even a big giggler. Anecdotally, also, I've handed people a glass of sparkling wine at parties and I've literally watched their tense shoulders and facial muscles relax. Sparkling wine is a happy wine.
When many people think of sparkling wine they right away think of champagne from the Champagne region of France. The catch is that it can be quite expensive, which adds to its categorization as "special occasion" beverage. The good news is that you can find sparkling wine that is neither champagne nor expensive.
Take asti and prosecco, two sparkling wines from Italy that are often terrific values. Asti, which means "frizzy" or "frizzante" in Italian, comes from the Piemonte region of Italy. It is made from Muscat grapes, which will give this mildly-sparkling wine its floral and peachy aromas. Prosecco, on the other hand, is produced mainly in the northern Veneto region of Italy from Glera grapes.
Two less well-known sparkling wine producers are Germany, where the sparkling wines are called Sekt or Deutscher Sekt, and England. Riesling is a popular grape in Sekt; what distinguishes a Deutscher Sekt is that the grapes were grown in Germany (as opposed to being imported from France, Italy, or Spain). The price and quality of Sekt ranges widely but many brands retail for $12 or less.
Newer to the market is a sparkling wine from England called Nyetimber. The United Kingdom is not the first country to come to mind when it comes to wine but, given the effect of global warming and given sparkling wine grapes' natural affinity for cooler climates, winemakers are securing more and more vineyards in southern England.
Nyetimber, for example, comes from West Sussex in the southeastern corner of the country. It's a very dry sparkling wine with small and persistent bubbles. Serving it, or even choosing it from the shelf, is a unique and unconventional (read interesting and enjoyable) choice.
The Mendoza region of Argentina is also beginning to make its mark with sparkling wines. Like their still wines, Argentinian sparklers can be excellent values and their overall quality is improving steadily.
But you don't have to stray very far at all for high-quality sparkling wine. Westport Rivers, located on the southern shore of Massachusetts in Westport, produces a number of exceptional sparkling wines, one of which is carried as the house sparkler at Boston restuarant, L'Espalier, owned by chef Frank McClelland of Essex. Westport Rivers' website offers creative and extensive food pairing ideas, which reinforces the idea that sparkling wines make for wonderful dinner companions — at any time of the year — and you don't have to break the bank to get them.
Cathy Huyghe is a regular Times columnist. A resident of Manchester, she is the founder of Red White Boston, which links wine seekers to the wines they seek. Find out how online at http://theredwhiteboston.com.