Drink the stars

Champagne is obviously the first choice, but more reasonably priced cava from Spain, frizzante from Italy or even local bubbly will also get your guests into the festive mood.

Cava 521 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Cava 521
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The invention of champagne is usually credited to a French Benedictine monk, Dom Pierre Pérignon, who, as the legend goes, discovered the méthode champenoise around the end of the 17th century. Dom Pérignon is also credited with announcing his discovery by saying, “Come quickly, I am drinking the stars!”
True champagne is produced only in the Champagne region of France. Its production is very carefully controlled and the output limited. And while the taste of a great bottle of champagne really is like “drinking the stars,” the price can be quite stellar too.
Brut Yellow Label Veuve Clicquot is appreciated by those who wish to enjoy fine French version of the style. It is very popular and relatively low priced compared to other champagnes in its level. Dominated by Pinot Noir, this wine has a firm structure, rounded with a touch of Pinot Meunier. The Wine Spectator wrote that “there’s plenty of finesse in this smooth-textured Champagne, whose flavors evoke apricot, peach and vanilla. Racy, with snappy acidity providing energy and driving the flavors to a long conclusion. 91 points.”
I absolutely adore not only the taste but also the famous yellow label. The price is a little steep, although compared to other highly regarded labels, it makes a great choice for an important celebration. Imported by France-Israel. Get it at good wine stores (NIS 315).
Cava times
For good sparkling wines at affordable prices, travel south to Spain. Their sparkling wines, called cava for the cool cellars in which they are stored, have been around for quite a while too. There are hundreds of cavas producers in Spain, and flavors range from brut (dry) to seco (sweet) and semi seco. Here are just a few choices:
Vilarnau Brut NV (non-vintage)
 Produced in the heart of Catalonia, in a region that produces excellent quality grapes. Faithful to the craftsman method used to prepare cavas, Castell de Vilarnau produces marvelous sparkling wine, aged 24 months in the bottle. Clean and fresh aromas with a hint of fruit, this sparkling wine is very well-balanced. The New York Times critic called it “a happy wine” and rated it “best value… the Vilarnau Brut was unmatched in its light, bright frothiness.” (NIS 55).
Faustino Cava Brut Reserva
Faustino is a prominent winery in the Rioja valley in Spain. Its history dates back to 1861, when the father of the family purchased an estate with vineyards in the area. The Brut reserva is kept in the cellars for at least 24 months. It is pale, bright, straw-colored with small enduring bubbles which form a crown. Hints of vanilla and lime, it is lightly acidic and elegant, revealing fruit in the finish. (NIS 49.90 at Derech Hayayin and other wine stores)
Bach “Extrisimo” Brut Nature/Semi Seco, NV
The Bach brothers were in textiles before they decided to produce wines. That’s why they chose to call their cava Extrisimo – like the best cotton in Spain. The method is traditional and the wine is aged at least nine months. In the nose: green apple and citrus, butter and yeast. The sweetness is delicate and it is good served as an aperitif or with cake. Imported by The Scottish Company, get it at wine stores and delicatessens. (NIS 27; for New Year get four for NIS 100).

Real Imperial Brut Selection and semi seco
Two cavas joined Hakerem Real Imperial series of kosher wines, produced in Spain by the Covides winery for the Israeli market. The semi seco made from the traditional grapes for cava is fruity and elegant, and is aged 12 months. The Brut is made from Macabeo, Parellada and Xarello grapes. (NIS 45 each).
Whatever your budget, celebrate the New year with some festive bubbly. If you choose local or Spanish cavas, you’ll find that “drinking the stars” doesn’t have to cost the earth.