Savvy Sipping Into The New Year

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Across the world tonight, many will bring in 2009 with a toast. Wine maven Callie Crossley, author of the wine blog The Crushed Grape Report, shares tips on how to break open the right bubbly with out breaking the bank.


And, of course, we're about to say goodbye to 2008, and many of us will be popping open bubbly drinks to welcome the New Year. But given the state of the economy, we were wondering if it is possible to indulge the spirit without breaking the bank.

So in continuing our winter sipping series, we're going to tell you about some budget-friendly ways to entertain with bubblies on a budget. Our guide is Callie Crossley. She's the author of the wine blog The Crushed Grape Report. Callie, welcome back.

Ms. CALLIE CROSSLEY (Blogger, The Crushed Grape Report): Hi.

MARTIN: So, Callie, what have you been drinking since we've talked to you last?

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, I've been tasting quite a bit. I confess. I've had sort of a bubbly streak. And so, I've been doing high-end, low-end and then everything in between, and also the gift drinks are the best because you don't pay anything. They're free.

MARTIN: True. Now, I know this is a question you get all the time, but I have to ask. What's the difference between sparkling wine and champagne?

Ms. CROSSLEY: Champagne comes from the Champagne region of France. Anything outside of that region has to be called sparkling. Now, there are a few companies where you're going to say, well, I saw it, and it said champagne on it, and I know it can't come from France. So, a couple of companies have got sort of a grandfather rule years and years ago, and they, you know, and then there's some people that just do it illegally.

But basically, sparkling wine is everything that has produced any sparkling bubbly wine outside of the region of France. And that includes other regions of France that make a sparkling. They can't call it champagne either.

MARTIN: Well, who is this? So they have like champagne police that go around writing you a ticket for saying something's champagne that's not champagne?

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, rightly so. France is quite proud of the work their winemakers have done to really make very, very fine champagnes, and they want to protect that brand.

MARTIN: Now, just the whole sparkling wine, champagne is associated with luxury. Is it a fool's error to even think that you can have an affordable sparkling beverage that's going to be delicious?

Ms. CROSSLEY: You definitely can find budget bubblies. They're everywhere. And the best thing about it is that, as other countries have stepped up and really improved the way that they create sparkling wines, there are some great ridiculously-priced - from a budget standpoint - sparkling wines that everybody can indulge in, and that's what makes it so great. So there's, you know, while you may want to have Dom Perignon in your glass, you don't have to have it if you want to have a very tasty bubbly wine.

MARTIN: How little can you spend to have a decent bottle?

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, the Cavas from Spain are generally 9.95 or below. If you get it on sale, you can pay less. You know, in these days and times, maybe it's shot up to amount to 11 or so but, you know what? You should look around because they are really pretty inexpensive.

MARTIN: OK. So let's - shall we try some? And I have a designated sipper here with me, our planning editor, Luis Clemens. Those who know me know that I am not much of a drinker. So, I think it's helpful to have some, you know, expert assistance in this important assignment. So...

LUIS CLEMENS: I'm happy to carry my weight and your weight for you.

MARTIN: What's the first one we want to try? It's from Spain. I think you picked a - what? Luis, what is it? What's the first one Callie picked for us?

CLEMENS: Well, first, we've got a Prosecco, actually, a Martini Rossi.

MARTIN: Oh, so we're doing Italy first. OK. Hmm.

CLEMENS: And it's a Vino Frisante, which sounds wonderful even if it doesn't taste wonderful. We'll see in a sec.

MARTIN: OK. And what defines a Prosecco? Is that just a (unintelligible)?

Ms. CROSSLEY: Yes, from Italy, that's what it is. It's just an Italian sparkling wine, and people have really sort of rediscovered Prosecco in the last couple of years. It's just a tasty, bubbly, and it's - again, it's got a great bottom-line price, and it gives you a lot of what you would get or what you would hope to get from a good bubbly, which is - it has a very clean taste, kind of lemony palette-cleansing, and it's refreshing and a tiny bit of toastiness.

MARTIN: All right. Let's try it. This is it?

CLEMENS: It's the first one.

MARTIN: OK. Let's open it up.


MARTIN: All right. Cheers.

CLEMENS: Cheers. Salute.



Ms. CROSSLEY: No bubbles?

CLEMENS: Not enough.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Hmm. Now, there are some that would describe Proseccos as on the frizzante end of bubbly range, meaning, fizzy and not really bubbly. But, you know, it depends on the kind that you happen to get, you know. It depends on the bottle because I've had some Proseccos that are pretty bubbly and others have just a little bit fizzy, so you may have gotten one that's just a tiny bit fizzy.

CLEMENS: Fizzy is what it tastes like I think.

MARTIN: Plus, it might be better if we didn't - we weren't using mouthwash cups to sample. I don't know? It might add to the ambiance, but, Luis, what's the next one?

CLEMENS: We have the Cava Brut Reserva Gran Hesta.

MARTIN: So, Callie, what do you think we should be experiencing with the Cava?

Ms. CROSSLEY: The Cava is crisp and also has a lot of palette-cleansing properties in it, too, because of the fizziness. It might be a little almondy and also a little cirtusy. So, it's kind of a combination of nut and lemony, if you will. And that's what makes it so wonderful in the last swallow that you take.

MARTIN: OK. Let's open it up.


MARTIN: Cheers!

CLEMENS: Salute.

MARTIN: What do you think?

CLEMENS: It taste like childhood. It reminds me of what my mother served at Christmas and New Year. I think it was Cava, and that's what it tastes like.

MARTIN: Well, that's a nice memory.


MARTIN: That's a nice memory. OK...

Ms. CROSSLEY: And, Michel, Cavas are all the rage now. Everybody's into Cavas now because they can't believe that you can get a good bubbly at a - the price point from some place else other than here.

MARTIN: OK. And there's a third one you have over there. What's that?

CLEMENTS: We have a California Brut Classic Chandon Sparkling Wine.

MARTIN: OK. Tell me about that.

Ms. CROSSLEY: The closer you get to kind of a toastiness in the taste, the better the wine is. Chandon's been around for a while, so I think they've achieved more of a toastiness than perhaps some of the others. But it's all a matter of preference.

Some people don't like it that toasty. They prefer to have kind of a lemony, citrusy pear, just aromatic smell and a crisp taste. The crispness is what you want because that's what makes champagne or sparkling wine, in this case, go with almost anything.

MARTIN: OK. Let's open it up. OK. All right. OK. We have a little pour there. All right, there you go.


MARTIN: What do you think, Luis?

CLEMENTS: No, I'm sticking with the Spanish Cava.

Ms. CROSSLEY: And you know what, that's...

MARTIN: You can't compete with memory.

Ms. CROSSLEY: No. That's true. You can't compete with memory because I have a lot of wines that I just like, and maybe they're not so great anymore, but I still really appreciate them.

MARTIN: Now, what's the best way to serve a sparkling wine, Callie?

Ms. CROSSLEY: If you want to preserve your bubbles, you know, you want to have a flute as opposed to - well, first of all, your mouthwash, let me just say. So...

MARTIN: I just want people to know, we're just not living high off the hog here. We're taking the budget bubblies idea seriously. But perhaps, you know, if we were serving this, we should spring for some flutes. I think that would have been a nice touch.

Ms. CROSSLEY: That would have been a nice touch because then you can preserve the bubbles. The thing is that what makes a really, really fine champagne - fine champagne are really tiny bubbles. You're not going to get so many tiny, tiny bubbles at this price point. You're going to get larger bubbles. So, hey, preserve all the ones that you have in that glass and enjoy it. When you have a glass that allows for the bubbles to dissipate, then it's - what was the point of having a sparkling wine? You want to keep the sparkle in as long as you can.

MARTIN: Now, you also encourage people to try new things. I understand that there are also sparkling red wines.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Australia really has pretty much the market on the sparkling red wines. They do something called a sparkling Shiraz, and you can find that all over the place in most wine stores that carry a good section of Australian wines. It's an acquired taste for people, but it's kind of interesting, and I have to say hmm, I like this. So, this was interesting to me to taste a variety of those wines.

Then there of course are the sparkling roses because, as you know, we have rose champagne, so you can have sparkling roses, as well. And those are quite tasty, too. But again, a sparkling rose is not necessarily sweet. It can be dry, as well. And then there are the sparkling roses that are sweet, and they're sweet and sparkling and delicious, usually paired with desserts. So you have a full range of trying any of these beautifully-colored wines.

MARTIN: If I can only get Shirley Temples to get some respect, right, I think we'd be OK. What are you going to be serving New Year's, Callie?

Ms. CROSSLEY: I have a kind of a special fondness for (unintelligible) so I'll probably go that way. I also like gossei(ph), though I'm not buying their very expensive bottle they just came out with. Schramsberg, there's another one, and Roederer. I like a - actually, there's high-end sparkling and - I don't even have to go to the champagne. But if I'm going to go to a champagne, I probably going to be doing the (unintelligible).

MARTIN: Excuse us. Callie Crossley is the author of the wine blog, the Crushed Grape Report. She's also a member of the Boston Wine Writers. She joined us from member station WGBH in Boston. Cheers, Callie, and thank you.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Cheers to you!

MARTIN: And finally, before we cap off 2008, we want to hear what you have in store for the new year. Is there something you are resolving to do differently in 2009? What events led you to make a change and how do you plan to stick with it?

To tell us your New Year's resolutions please visit our website on the Tell Me More page at, or you can call our comment line at 202-842-3522. That number again is 202-842-3522. And please remember to tell us your name and where you live. Tune in next week, and you might just hear your resolution on the air.

And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Happy New Year! Stay safe everybody so we can talk more tomorrow.

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