When it’s time to toast a special occasion, no drink feels as celebratory as sparkling wine. We’ve asked some of our favorite sommeliers for their best advice on selecting the perfect bottle of bubbly for any situation—whether you’re attending a big bash, hosting the party yourself, or spending the evening with a special someone. And of course we couldn’t resist asking: What type of bottle would they serve to impress each other?
Bobby Stuckey, Frasca Food and Wine, Boulder CO
For the Host: Pierre Péters Les Chetillons 2002 Blanc de Blancs because many people can go and grab one of the big names that you can see in any wine shop around the world, but few can curate a great single vineyard chardonnay-based Champagne like Rudolph Peters does with Chetillon.
For Your Guests: First of all, make sure it's in large format. Chartogne-Taillet is a really great Growers Champagne from Merfy—it’s affordable enough that you can pour for a group at a party, and so festive in a magnum.
For Your Date: Louis Roederer 2006 Brut Nature. A great non-dosage, crisp, minerally, electric Champagne. And it doesn't hurt that the label was designed by Phillipe Starck, which brings a sexiness to the typically subtle Champagne label.
For Other Sommeliers: Philipponnat Clos des Goisses—a historic site that has been making single vineyard Champagne since 1935. It's great for wine geeks because you can drink wonderful Champagne, but geek out about terroir, just like great Burgundy.
Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey helped The French Laundry win a James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Wine Service 2000 before opening Boulder, Colorado’s celebrated Frasca Food and Wine—another winner of the James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine Service in 2013.
Elizabeth Huettinger, Addison at Grand Del Mar, San Diego, CA
For the Host, and For Your Guests: Both of these get the same answer—impressing people is much more about your audience than about your personal tastes. A few great options:
1. Go big or go home—buy a magnum or large format bottle, which will serve not only as a display piece, but also will be able to be enjoyed by multiple people in that party. Plus, not many people think about bringing magnums, so your bottle will absolutely stand out.
2. Go with a big name, because it’s something that your guests or hosts will remember. My pick would be Louis Roederer Cristal Rosé 2006; it really is outstanding even with all the hype.
For Your Date: Well, I would pick something with more personality and sentimentality, maybe a birth or anniversary year. Mine would be 1985 Krug. Bonus, you can never go wrong with Krug.
For Other Sommeliers: I would go with a very obscure, grower-producer with age, and probably a Special Club. I just brought in 1997 Grongnet Special Club and it is phenomenal; this bottle shows advanced age, with over 12 years in the bottle—richer, nuttier characteristics here, with beautiful baked golden apple.
After working under famed Master Sommelier Christopher Miller at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Beverly Hills, Elizabeth Huettinger is now leading the charge in San Diego as Wine Director of Addison at Grand Del Mar, a winner of the prestigious Wine Spectator Grand Award; she also runs the beverage program at their new sister restaurant in La Jolla, Bijou French Bistro.
Jessica Brown, Spotted Pig, The Breslin, and John Dory Oyster Bar, New York City
For the Host: Whatever bottle you bring, it should be with the intention that it is for the host to open at a later date, not at the party. I like to bring something that is going to stand out, so I always go for a rosé sparkling wine or Champagne, such as Champagne Savart Bulle de Rosé. Savart is a producer that is just starting to gain great recognition, but you still don’t see it everywhere, so it’s unique and the quality for the price is a great value. People still associate rosé only with summer (it does not go out of season!) but it is incredible all year-round, with food or just on its own. Don’t fall for the old myth that rosé is sweet, and for all you fellas out there, remember, “real men drink pink.”
For Your Guests: For a party you have to think quantity and quality. You want there to be plenty to go around, especially if it’s delicious! Serving things in Magnum is always festive and impressive. My Husband is also in the wine industry (Thomas Pastuszak, who gives his own answers below) and at our wedding this summer we served Pierre Péters Cuvée de Réserve out of magnum. Everyone loved it, and we have a lot of discerning palates amongst our friends. If you want to splurge, go for their vintage cuvée, Pierre Péters Les Chetillons 2007 in Magnum.
For Your Date: Bubbles in general are always romantic. Pink bubbles though, are for sure the way to my heart.
For Other Sommeliers: Bringing a Growers Champagne (Champagne from smaller, indie producers) is always a good choice. You can ask for these at any wine shop—Growers Champagne is very popular in the wine community. A Growers Champagne is literally a producer that is growing their own grapes and making wine from them as an inclusive estate, as opposed to buying grapes from someone else. The most famous big Champagne houses—think Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot—buy their grapes. While these wines are still great, there is something a bit more unique about a Growers Champagne. They express more terroir and individual character and depth, because it is all about the site on which the grapes are grown and an attention to farming, instead of being blended together from many different farms and areas. They are also usually a much smaller production and sometimes harder to find. This wasn’t a common thing ten years ago, but today a lot of them are gaining recognition. Some of my favorites producers are Agrapart & Fils, Larmandier-Bernier and Ulysse Collin.
A native of the Finger Lakes wine region in upstate New York, Jessica Brown has worked at some of the buzziest restaurants in Manhattan, including Torrisi, Parm, Scarpetta—and even did a stint in the Hamptons as a sommelier at Nick & Toni’s—before settling into her current role as the Wine and Beverage Director of April Bloomfield’s entire restaurant empire.
Michael Muser, Grace, Chicago
For the Host: If I'm out to impress a host, I would definitely stick with a Champagne that has label recognition—something they'll see and immediately connect with as a special occasion wine. I'm not sure any Champagne in the world does this quite like Dom Pérignon.
For Your Guests: When I have guests and I want to impress them, I often pour sparkling wines from outside of the Champagne region; I like to show the complexity and diversity of sparkling wines being made elsewhere in the world. My pick for this category is Ferrari Perlé, a sparkling wine made of 100% Chardonnay in northern Italy.
For Your Date: For a romantic date, I would pour Andre Clouet. This Champagne, for me, is a little off the beaten path. It's not readily available in every market in the U.S. but I have a bit of a personal love affair with this Champagne house.
For Other Sommeliers: For a room full of experts, you have to find something way off the beaten path, something relatively rare, or with a little bit of age on it. For me, that's a Paul Bara Special Club 2002. This wine is absolutely extraordinary—it goes way beyond the boundaries of what traditional Champagne is. It's complex, lives long on the palate, it swims in the world of dairy, bread, brioche, crème brûlée, croissant crust...and still manages to maintain its effervescense in a refined mousse. (Geeky enough?)
Michael Muser first garnered acclaim as the Wine and Beverage Director of The Peninsula Chicago, where he first met executive chef Curtis Duffy—who he joined at Michelin-two-starred restaurant Avenues before the pair opened the Michelin-three-starred Grace in 2012.
Aldo Sohm, Le Bernadin and Aldo Sohm Wine Bar, New York City
For the Host: I always bring Krug Grande Cuvée NV. Krug is one of the best Champagne houses (rightfully so).
For Your Guests: Dom Pérignon ‘04—it's a quite exclusive product and recognizable Champagne brand, plus it tastes really good!
For Your Date: Louis Roederer Brut Nature ‘06—a newly launched product from Roederer and what a Champagne! Roederer is extremely respected among the Champagne Houses and more so by the Growers Champagne Producers. It's so complex and delicious, you can sip it all night long.
For Other Sommeliers: Agrapart Minéral ‘07—wine geeks love Growers Champagnes these days! To me, Pascal Agrapart produces one of the finest examples!
Aldo Sohm was honored as “Best Sommelier in the World” by the World Sommelier Association in 2008. With a long list of accomplishments, he’s currently the wine director of Le Bernardin, which opened Aldo Sohm Wine Bar this past September as its first and only spinoff property.
Thomas Pastuszak, The NoMad, New York City
For the Host: Whenever my friends host a party (especially one for New Year's Eve), they tend to have a plan of action when it comes to food and wine—so instead of bringing them something to throw into the mix for that night, I prefer to gift them something that they can enjoy in the future, to remember the special occasion. Vintage Champagne from smaller grower-producers in Champagne is a great example—they age well when stored properly (on their side, in a cool, dark place) and evolve into more complex, unique wines than when they are first released. I'll gift a nice bottle such as Chartogne-Taillet ‘Cuvee Les Barres’ Brut 2008 to my host and give them a card saying something like “Open on your next Birthday!” That way, they'll have that delicious bottle ready and waiting to celebrate their next occasion, and will remember me thinking of their own personal celebration when they pop the cork.
For Your Guests: I love to introduce my guests to delicious sparkling wines that offer awesome value, at very approachable price points—for instance, Crémant de Bourgogne and Cremant du Jura are both categories of French sparkling wines made in the style of Champagne, but from Burgundy and the Jura in southeast France. Delicious, vibrant and soulful bubbles that often don't cost more than $20 per bottle in the store—trust your local shop to recommend a few to you, or try some of my favorites: Parigot & Richard Brut Blanc de Blancs NV and Domaine Rolet Brut 2008.
For Other Sommeliers: My sommelier and wine professional friends have tasted through so many different categories of sparkling wine in their lives, but most haven't had a chance to taste a very special wine that we recently crafted for The NoMad—since opening the restaurant in 2012, we've been collaborating with one of our favorite Finger Lakes producers, Hermann J. Wiemer, and together, we made a beautiful Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine inspired by the great examples of Champagne. We named it 'Back to Zero,' inspired by the Rolling Stones song, and it's a bone-dry, zero-dosage bubbly that is refreshing, mineral-driven and yeasty, and pays homage to the sparkling wine-making pioneers that helped create New York's upstate wine region in the late-1800s—we're so incredibly proud of this project, and as a wine geek myself I know I'd be pumped to taste it. It's history in a bottle!
A rising star in the wine world, Thomas Pastuszak helms the wine program at New York City’s The NoMad after cutting his teeth at Colicchio & Sons. Currently studying for the Master Sommelier certification exam, Forbes magazine listed the 29-year-old as one of their “30 Under 30.”