"Cristal Forever, play the crib when it's mink weather."
Jay-Z penned that way back in the mid 90's it felt like the truth, and
sounded like a damn good plan, especially on New Year's Eve.
Fast-forward a decade or so and the economy is in the toilet, Mr.
Carter has declared war on the brand he made big, and nobody is
buying Champagne. The boom years are over for the world's finest
sparklers, and the fourth-quarter '09 has been so bad that many
importers are sending the stuff back to France, to make room in their
warehouses. After expanding vineyard sites, upping production and
jacking up prices, the Champenoise are feeling the bitter bite of
hubris this winter, and who's to say if and when they'll rebound?
But passing New Year's without the bubbly would be like celebrating without the ball in Times Square, or the increasingly awkward Dick Clark.
So what are people popping these days to let the good times roll?
Spanish Cava, like the ubiquitous Freixenet, and Italian Proseccos are
a dime a dozen, and many can be had for less than 10 bucks.
Unfortunately, many of these are on the insipid side, and often have an
unpleasant cardboardy finish, not to mention the wicked hangover they
leave you with the next day. No, for my money, French is still the way
to go, and one of my all-time favorites, Saint-Meyland Brut, can still be
had for a song.
Made by Caves de Musigny in the region of
Bourgogne, Saint-Meyland has most of the pedigree of it's high end
cousins, without the price tag. Like Champagne, this wine relies
heavily on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, and it is fermented in the
same manner, using the methode traditionnelle. All bubbles are not created equal, and it is generally accepted that those attained by the Champagne method wherein the second fermentation occurs in the bottle, are by far the most long lasting and pleasant. Also, that
second dose of yeast in the bottle imparts toasty, bready flavors to
the wine, which are much harder to achieve through other means.
upshot? Saint-Meyland comes pretty damn close to the good stuff. After
popping, the wine pours a pretty lemon yellow with golden highlights.
Toasty pear notes dominate the nose, with mild notes of quince and
apple sauce. More apple flavors accent the attack, which is carried by a
fine mousse of tingly, well-formed bubbles. Bready yeast, cider, and
black pepper lead the middle to a dry, lemony, herbaceous finish.
I picked up my bottle at Connecticut Avenue Wine and Spirits for $12.99, but it should be pretty readily available at most of your better local retailers. If you're looking for a last minute selection that won't break the bank, keep an eye out for this bright blue label. To end a year where even ballers aren't partying like ballers, Saint-Meylandis super appropriate. Drink up, and Happy New Year!
Next to wearing funny hats, the midnight kiss, and rampant hangover and regret inducing behavior, drinking Champagne is one of our most beloved New Years Eve traditions. Invented in the 17th Century and popularized by nobles and ne'erdowells over the intervening years, Champagne is now the quintessential party beverage. And why not? Champagne, with its distinctive "pop" and dancing bubbles, is one of the only alcoholic beverages with its own special effects!
Those special effects come at a price, you know; Champagne is expensive, and increased hype and growing interest from the Asian markets have not made it any cheaper. Not that the cost isn't at least partially justified, as the Champagne production process — aka "Methode Champenoise" or "Methode Traditionnelle" — is extremely labor intensive.
After growing grapes to a very specific low-sugar, high-acid level of ripeness, winemakers ferment them into a base still wine, just like any other. After aging, the wine is transfered to an extra strong, pressure resistant bottle. Following a brief resting period, each bottle is dosed with liqueur de tirage, a precise measure of yeast and nutrients, which, over the next few weeks, will mix and yield a secondary fermentation in the bottle. Whereas in normal fermentation, the resulting CO2 is released into the atmosphere, this time the gas is retained in solution, corked under pressures up to 90 PSI. Though the process is now highly mechanized, the overhead is still much higher than with normal wines.
There are other methods for getting bubbles in the bottle: some wines undergo a similar process in bulk tanks, and others are carbonated by the same methods employed by Coke and Pepsi. In the French region of Champagne, the place where all real Champagne is born, these practices are outlawed, as they yield a less rich, less bubbly product. Thankfully, these restrictions don't go both ways, so the Methode Champenoise is free for anyone to use. While production is costly, about half of Champagne's prohibitive cost comes from prestige pricing and the improbable cost of vineyard land in the Champagne region. Outside the region, in almost all the world's wine producing nations, sparkling wines are made using Methode Champenoise which can be had for a fraction of the price.
In France, wines made outside the Champagne region, but up to similar standards, attain the honorific "Cremant." There are hundreds out there from all over the country. Some of the best come from the region of Bourgogne, where such wines are made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, two of the noble varietals used in Champagne. One of my favorite producers is Bailly Lapierre, brought in locally by William Harrison Imports. This great producer of Cremant de Bourgogne is based out of Chablis, a mere 70 miles south of Champagne. The house makes a wide range of dry sparkling wines, including a great Chardonnay for about $18. This wine has rich, yeasty flavors along with surprisingly vibrant apple and pear fruit. The same producer's basic cuvee, the Saint Meyland Brut, is perhaps the best sparkling value in town, widely available for about $12. This wine is made with an ample portion of Gamay, the fruity grape of Beaujolais, and as such has a great red berry quality on the nose, despite its pale yellow color and dry finish. Some restaurants around town have been known to serve this wine for $50; there is a reason that they get away with this, so pick this one up if you want a cheap, versatile sparkler good for both toasting and hangover-assuaging mimosas.
Most people know Prosecco, the dry, slightly flowery, well priced Italian sparkler. While these are exclusively made with the aformentioned tank, or "charmat" method, there are some Italian spumantes made in the Champenoise style. Perhaps the best known, and my personal favorite, is the Ferrari Brut from Trentino in northeast Italy. Like most Champagne, this wine is made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and has a great "bottle bouquet;" or, that distinctive yeasty-toasty quality that makes Champagne so appealing. This bottle's naturally high acidity makes it a great match with oysters and other raw bar fare, and gives great Champagne-like flavor for about $20.
Because the Aussies are best known for balls-to-the-wall, hugely extracted reds, I was surprised to find a brilliant little Methode Champanoise sparkler from the giant conglomerate Taltarni. This large firm produces a number of wines, most pretty run of the mill, excepting the Taltarni Brut Tache. This $20 sparkler is made from all three Champagne grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier), to which a tiny amount of Pinot Noir wine is added, to give it a hint of a pink accent. This wine is full bodied for a sparkler, yet balanced, with a dry, slightly citrusy finish. This one is great with a wide number of fish dishes, but also easy to enjoy on its own.
The unique growing conditions that sparkling wine grapes prefer (hot days, cold nights) mean that you may find them coming from the strangest of places. While touring the American southwest in the early 1980's, former Champagne producer Gilbert Gruet and his family fell in love with the grand vistas and inexpensive land prices. The clan promptly relocated, and started producing high quality, Champagne quality sparklers in 1987. Now, Gruet is a major player, producing over 80,000 cases per year. Thanks to a dedication to quality, low land value and ideal conditions, Gruet wines are cheap (most about $15), widely available, and of notably high quality. Their latest Blanc de Noirs is definitely a crowd pleaser, offering up just the right combination of toast and berries. For those that prefer a bit more strawberry, try their new Rose, which has a beautiful deep pink color and finishes pleasingly dry.
Whatever your holiday bubbly, be careful: Champagne corks kill more people every year than lightning, don'cha know? Okay... I know that isn't really proven, but when you are working with 5 atmospheres of pressure (that's three times the pressure in your car tires!), it doesn't hurt to take precautions, so keep that sucker out of the freezer, and if you have to aim for someone's face, aim for Ryan Seacrest. He is no Dick Clark, dammit, and he never will be!
With 2008 approaching fast, here's a list of restaurants open on New Year's Eve where you may enjoy ringing in the New Year.
Vermilion will be offering a prix fixe menu of 5 courses, for $80 pp. Wine pairing is available at $30 pp. Seatings will be on the half hour starting at 6pm.
Restaurant Eve's Bistro will be offering a 3 course menu for New Year's Eve, for $85 pp. Eve's Tasting Room will be offering a 7 course meal for $165 pp.
Majestic will be offering a 3 course dinner for $65 pp.
Willow will be offering a tasting menu. To reserve, you will need to go to Willow's website and sign up for the "friends of Willow" list. The menu and pricing will be emailed, along with information on when to book your reservation on New Year's Eve.
2941 will have 2 seatings- the first seating will be a 5 course menu for $110 pp. The second seating will be a 7 course menu for $140 pp. Wine pairing is $65.
L'Auberge Chez Francois began taking reservations this week for New Years Eve. From 5-5:30 pm, they will offer their regular menu. The 8:45-9 pm seating will be offered a "Gala Dinner" estimated to cost $150- $160 pp.
Hank's Oyster Bar- see The District
The Carlyle Club's inaugural New Year's Eve will feature a first seating beginning at 5:30. This option will offer a 4 couse meal, a glass of champagne and DJ for dancing for $79pp. The second seating at 7:30 will be black-tie optional and will feature a 5 course dinner, valet parking and The Tommy Dorsey Band. At midnight a champagne toast and party favors will be offered.
Farrah Olivia is offering an 8 course dinner for $100pp.
Dino will be offering a 5 course feast for $75 from 5-6:30pm and a kids menu will be available during this time. After 6:30 the 5 course feast is $95 pp. Wine flights are available for $40 and $81.
Komi will be offering 10-12 courses for $155 pp. Wine pairing is $90.
Citronelle will offer a "reception" dinner, with the reception starting at 7:30 pm and ending at 8:30 pm. Dinner is then served and capped off with a champagne toast at midnight. There will be a DJ for entertainment. The cost is $300 pp, not including wine.
CityZen will offer a 9 course menu for $200 pp, with wine pairing at $105 pp.
Hook will be offering a 5 course menu for $80 pp, and wine pairing for $70 and $130 pp. Seatings are at 5:30 and 8 pm.
Marcel's will have 2 seating- the first is from 5:30-7 pm and the second is 7 pm and later. The first seating will be offered a 3 course meal for $95 pp. The second seating will be offered a 5 course meal for $135, including a glass of champagne.
Palena will be offering a 5 course menu for $110, with several choices for each course.
Central is offering a 5 course menu with 2 seatings. The first seating is from 5:30-7 and is $75 pp. The second seating, including a glass of champagne, is $95 pp.
Equinox is offering a trio of amuses upon arrival. Two dining options are available. A 4 course menu is available for $90 pp, with wine $140 pp. A 6 course menu is also available for $125 pp, with wine $185 pp.
Mendocino Grill will be open however the menu is still being decided.
1789 will be serving
open and serving from their regular menu a five course menu for $95 pp, $135 with wine pairing. Seating is available from 5-11pm. At midnight, diners will ring in the New Year with a champagne toast and party favors.
Vidalia will be open and will likely serve a prix fixe menu which the chef is still working on.
Nage will offer a Seven Deadly Sins Menu with a champagne toast at midnight. The seven course menu is $85 pp and includes a champagne toast at midnight. The a al carte menu will also be available.
D'Acqua will have a $75 pp- 8 course prix fixe menu with traditional "cotecchino y lenticche" which is sausage and lentils symbolizing good luck and wealth. A Prosecco toast will be offered at midnight.
Butterfield 9 will offer Strolling Musicians and Creative Cuisine. The 4 course prix fixe menu is $115 pp and will include dishes such as oxtail canneloni and arctic char with lobster fondue.
Cafe 15 in the Sofitel Lafayette Square will be offering a gastronomic evening for both adults and children. For the adults, a 7 course prix fixe menu will be capped off with a Moet & Chandon toast at midnight. For the children, there will be a 5 course dinner to introduce them to a tasting menu, begining with an amuse bouche and ending with a pastry delight. The children's tasting menu is $50.
Cafe Atlantico will have a 4 course tasting menu from 5:30-6:30 for $50 pp. From 7:45-10pm, Head Chef Katsuya Fukushima will offer an 8 course tasting menu for $95 pp. A DJ and party favors will add a festive air to the evening well into the wee morning hours until "last call" at 2:30am.
Jaleo, all three locations, will offer an a la carte menu from 5-7pm. A second seating will be at 9pm when a holiday menu will be offered at $85 pp. This will include dessert and cava for toasting. 12 good luck grapes will be presented at midnight. Also included are festive hats for guys, and roses for the gals. Wine flights will be available.
Oyamel will feature entertainment including hits from the 80's and 90's as well as Mexican music. The first seating beginning at 5:30 pm will offer an a la carte menu. A second seating, beginning at 9pm ,will offer unlimited small plates, party hats and a champagne toast at midnight.
Zatinya will have 2 seatings and entertainment. The first seating is from 5:30- 7:30 and the second seating is from 9-11pm. For $95, you can get unlimited mezze and a glass of sparkling wine. Wine pairing will be available for $20. Belly dancers will perform at 9 and 11 pm. A DJ will entertain from midnight to 2am.
701 will offer two seatings. The first seating from 5:30- 7:30 will feature a special New Years Eve menu as well as an a la carte menu. The second seating is from 8-11pm and will offer a 4 course celebration menu for $100 pp. Both seating will include a glass of champagne and party favors. A 4 piece band will entertain throughout the evening and valet parking will be complimentary.
Ardeo Restaurant and Bardeo Wine Bar will offer a first seating from 5:30-7:30pm. First seating guests will have an a la carte menu. Second seating guests will be offered a 4 course menu for $65pp. which will be available until 11pm.
Bombay Club will offer a 4 course menu served family style for $55pp. Live piano music and a champagne toast will also be provided. Valet parking is complimentary.
The Oval Room will have 2 seatings. The first seating is from 5:30-7:30. The second seating, from 8-10pm will offer a 4 course menu for $85pp. Also included in the second seating are a glass of champagne, party favors and valet parking.
Hank's Oyster Bar will offer reservations starting at 5:30. Chef Leeds will have the full a la carte menu as well as seafood specials (depending on what's fresh). Walk-ins welcome too. DC and Old Town Alexandria locations.
Mendocino Grille and Wine Bar will offer an a la carte menu in addition to a 5 course tasting menu for $75pp. Wine pairing is $50pp.
Brasserie Beck will have 2 seatings. The first seating will be from 5-7pm and will feature a 4 course menu for $95pp. The second seating, from 8:30- 10:30pm will feature a 5 course menu at $125pp. Valet parking is $7.
Morrison-Clark Inn will offer a 6 course menu, including a champagne toast for $125pp.
Oya will offer a $30 prix fixe menu and full sushi menu from 5-7pm. From 8:30-10pm, Oya will offer a 5 course chef's menu for $125pp. Wine pairing is $30.
New Heights will offer a 3 course dinner for $60pp, and a 4 course dinner for $70pp. Choices include Meyer Ranch Pave of Beef "Rossini" with Salt-Cured Foie Gras and Madeira Sauce and Meyer Lemon Pots du Creme with Poppyseed Shortbread. Both options include a complimentary champagne toast.
Johnny's Half Shell will be offering an a la carte menu and entertainment from the Jimmy Burrell Jazz Quartet. Parking is complimentary.
Indique Heights will have a special buffet for $95 pp. There will be festive Indian food with demonstrations, music, dancing, 2 cocktails party favors and a champagne toast at midnight.
Ray's The Classics will be open New Year's Eve serving dinner from their regular menu.
David Craig will be offering a prix fixe dinner, estimated to cost between $70-$100 pp, depending on the number of courses the chef decides to make.
Blacks Bar and Kitchen will be offering a tasting menu, which has not been finalized yet. Last year the cost was $99 pp.
Nicaro will have $75 prix fixe menu with 4 to 5 courses and choices for each course. A champagne toast at the end of the night.
I've received many emails on this topic lately, so rather than bothering to return all of those emails, I thought I'd just post something on the subject and save myself a little time...
A Christmas Eve buffet will be available from noon to 8PM. Menu is on the 2941 web site here. 2941 is not open on New Year's Eve.
Check out Equinox's Christmas Eve menu featuring many incredible options like Cream of Chestnut Soup, Maple Glazed Muscovy Duck with Leg Confit, Mustard Crusted Rack of Lamb, and Eggnog Ice Cream. It won't be cheap, but it'll sure be good. Full menu on the Equinox web site here. On New Year's Eve, a six-course tasting menu will be offered for...well, the web site doesn't say.
Bringing a traditional meal normally served in Italy on Christmas Eve to DC. From the Dino web site, "The
Feast of the 7 Fish is is an all seafood meal that usually includes
fried fish, seafood soup, ravioli and a whole fish." A limited version
of their regular menu will be available as well. See the full "Feast of the Seven Fish" menu here which will be available the 22nd through the 24th. On New Year's Eve, Dino will be offering a five-course menu for $85 a person. I'd spend time describing the menu, but you can easily read how fun it sounds here.
Fahrenheit at the Ritz Carlton in Georgetown
Open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day offering a four-course dinner both days. Call (202) 912-4100 for reservations. They're also open New Year's Eve and Day, but no menu is available on their site.
Evening Star Cafe
Evening Star Cafe, one of my favorite restaurants in Virginia, is open New Year's Eve and will be offering a five-course tasting menu for $85. Their menu for the evening is on their web site here.