By Terry Sweeney
Now I’m no “fizzicist” but I am quite fond of sparkling wines and champagne with their festive little pearls of CO2 that happily tickle my nose and help me forget I have no health insurance.
Perhaps it’s the elegance of the slender glass flute that reassures me that in my hand I hold a liquid invitation to leave the ordinary behind and celebrate the extraordinary. Dirty dishes, mounds of bills, and a cat that has suddenly taken to pooping on my beautiful white chenille bedspread in the guest room are all magically dismissed from my world and shown the door (especially the cat!). A magic flying carpet of bubbles will take this Happy Wino up, up, and away this holiday season — and maybe you too if you climb aboard one of these fizzy floats.
Now, since I am half-Sicilian, I must start with that Italian court jester of bubbles — Prosecco. A dear, depressed friend of mine affectionately calls it “Prozac-co” and relies on it to get through the not-always-so-cheery Christmas season. Don’t get me wrong: it’s great fun to hear sleigh bells ringing and go dashing through the snow. However, for those of us who now know that Santa’s not really coming to town and for whom the days of train sets and shiny new bikes and piles of beautifully wrapped toys are long gone … well, we need a little help. And for typically under $15 dollars a bottle, you can get it from a Prosecco from the Veneto district of Northwest Italy. Fresh and citrusy with hints of pears or melons — sometimes dry (labeled Brut), sometimes deliciously fruity (confusingly labeled Extra Dry) — Prosecco is always a guaranteed mood elevator and a reminder not to give up no matter how much sad sappy Christmas muzak you are bombarded with in every store on God’s earth. (Are ya listening, Publix?! )
One important Happy Wino footnote — a delightful concoction of peach puree mixed with Prosecco is called a Bellini. It’s one of Venice’s most famous cocktails and was invented in Harry’s Bar, which still exists. Serve it to your guests in your home or better yet, say “screw-em” and fly to Venice and go on a Bellini bender until Christmas is over!
Of course, not to be forgotten is my other favorite sparkler from the country of Spain — Cava. You’ve seen it in supermarkets and dozens of liquor stores in that dark, mysterious-looking, jet-black bottle with that unpronounceable name — Freixenet (Fresh-shun-nett). Made in the Penedes region around Barcelona, this is probably some of the best value bubbly you can find. Made like champagne with the “‘methode champenoise,” it comes in some delightful variations from super dry to super sweet, and is a great aperitif for any holiday party. Pair it with something Spanish like marcona almonds or Spanish olives or even better with a tall good-looking Spaniard … if you can find one.
This of course leaves us with the one and only (drum roll!) that sparkling French superstar — Champagne! Breakfast, lunch, dinner, I can’t think of a meal it doesn’t raise out of the gutter and place on a glistening throne of bubbles. New Years Eve without Champagne? No way! Not after the year you’ve had! (or maybe that’s just me I’m talking about). My favorite affordable Champagne is Pol Roger. For me, it’s bubbly grape juice of the gods. Of course my friend Mariah Carey (who doesn’t know I call her my friend, so please don’t tell her I throw her name around) favors Cristal at $280 a bottle and loves to start her day by drinking it in Mimosas with orange juice. Perhaps that’s how we should all get our Vitamin C.
Still, it’s up to you which of your fancy French friends you want to spend Christmas and New Years with. Maybe it’s Veuve Cliquot, maybe Moet & Chandon, or Perrier Jouet, or Bollinger, or Tattinger or, “oh mon dieu — I’m parched!” I fill a glass and raise it to my lips and sip. And suddenly somewhere I think I still hear Christmas music playing, but wait, it’s not sad, it’s the Champagne of Christmas carols — “Joy To The World!” Happy New Year, Happy Winos! Cheers!