Last year for the holidays we asked sommeliers to share their holiday plans and the bubbles they’d pour for those occasions. The takeaway was an obvious one: Sommeliers drink way better than most mortals, but as the profession dictates, they’re more than happy to share their secrets.
We ring in this new year with new personnel. They too know how to party, and have access to some of the finest sparkling wines in town, with a wide range of styles. What has shifted are the occasions themselves, a reminder that celebrations, like the families who throw them, are often very particular and very unique, peculiar to place and the people on hand to celebrate. The libations, naturally, follow suit.
Imagine that you’re Piero Selvaggio, for example — if you can. He’s been the proprietor of the Italian restaurant Valentino in Santa Monica for 45 years; he’s written one of the greatest Italian wine lists in California, long before there were Italian wine lists of much consequence in California. He’s had a hand in shaping and influencing the Italian sparkling wine market here long before the demand for Proseccos, Lambruscos and Franciacortas became practically unslakable. Many of that country’s finest sparkling wine producers have become his friends.
“Many of the wines I pour for the holidays,” Selvaggio says, “I pour them on a personal basis, because they are the wines of my friends.”
Unsurprisingly, Valentino is open on New Year’s Eve. On that night Selvaggio will be pouring his friend Maurizio Zanella’s elegant Ca del Bosco Cuvée Prestige Franciacorta; he’ll be pouring the wines of Ferrari, from the Trentino winery owned by his friends the Lunelli family. He’ll pour wines from the first family of Sonoma sparkling wine, the Sterlings, owners of Iron Horse and longtime patrons of Valentino — the 2013 Russian Cuvée, the richest from their lineup, will flow freely that night.
On New Year’s Day, Selvaggio gathers his family for barbecue and pool time, and they drink magnums of Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, from his friend Antonio Bisol. “Prosecco is a wine you can drink all day,” says Selvaggio. “We do the whole Prosecco series with Bellinis, fruit drinks, peaches, blueberries, like an Italian sangria, little fruits that go so well with the bubbles.”
Danielle Francoise Fournier oversees the wine program at the bustling Koreatown restaurant Here’s Looking at You, where she sells plenty of Champagne. But by day she sells the wines of Michael Skurnik Imports, a collection anchored by the portfolio of Terry Theise, curator of one of the finest small-producer Champagnes in the country. Needless to say, she has a leg up.
Fournier and her husband, the actor Neil Colin, have a very particular holiday tradition. One holiday a few years ago they were apart for separate family celebrations. While Colin’s family was eating lobster in Manhattan, Fournier’s family was eating pizza upstate. Somehow their tradition has evolved into a concatenation of the two, such that the holiday meal always involves both lobster and pizza, often together, though this year, Fournier’s mother-in-law is preparing Lobster l’Americaine, and pizzas showered with shaved truffles.
Fournier selects sparkling wines to cover this gamut: a non-vintage Cremant de Loire from Domaine de Saint-Just, a sparkling Chenin Blanc (and a glass-pour at Here’s Looking at You). “This wine has an earthy quality that works nicely with food, especially something like mushroom and truffle pizza,” she says.
And she’ll bring two Champagnes, the Bouchard Roses de Jeanne Blanc des Noirs, a single vineyard wine (the lieux-dit Val Vilaine) with remarkable tension and purity — and the Premier Cru Grand Cellier from Vilmart & Cie., a rich, oak-aged Champagne made by Laurent Champs. “It’s so opulent and refined,” says Fournier, “it’s going to complement the lobster perfectly.”
Henry Beylin, the beverage director for the Gjelina family of restaurants in Venice, comes from Russian heritage, so ringing in the new year often involves more vodka than sparkling wine. He’s usually asked to bring cider for the occasion and prefers New York ciders, from Aaron Burr and Sundstrom in particular, because they still use apple varieties (Pippins, Spys, Roxbury Russets) that he feels are best suited for complex, bottle-finished ciders.
Of course, since most of his family is preoccupied with spirits, Beylin says that “bringing Champagne means bringing something I want to drink.” This year if he’s obliged to share it’ll be a Blanc des Blancs Extra Brut Cuvée Jean Fannière from Varnier Fannière, “with its very interesting note of cream and white chocolate,” he says. “It’s completely unique, serious, thought-provoking, delicious.”
The other wine, Champagne Doyard, ‘la Libertine,’ is something of a unicorn in California, a doux or sweet Champagne made with considerable sweetness. “Doyard might be the only ones making Champagne like this, a style that hearkens back to the 18th century, when folks weren't so afraid of sweetness in their wine,” says Beylin. “It's deeply colored, spicy, earthy, yeasty and completely carries that duality of many great wines — enveloping the palate but doing it with grace and with light-of-touch. The sweetness isn't really a focal point. it just carries all these aspects to the fore. Magic.”