Aldo Sohm, the aptly named wine director of Le Bernardin, was the 2008 winner of the “Best Sommelier in the World” award given by the World Sommelier Association. He is the man—and as such, Eat Like a Man's official wine guru. What with New Year's Eve right around the corner, we felt a need to get some Champagne advice from our resident expert.
The big brands you know are all good, but they aren't necessarily the best. They spend a lot of money on marketing campaigns. Are they the most exciting champagnes? No. But you're safe with them, though you won't learn about what great champagne is all about—why it's special. If you can afford it, buy Cristal or Bollinger. Then you really know what's going on.
Of course, if you really want to go crazy, you can start getting into vintage Dom Perignon. Technically all Dom Perignon is vintage champagne. They don't make it in bad years. But the really good years—wow. But those are for very, very rich people.
They may not be as famous as Dom Perignon or Cristal, but there are a lot of little growers in Champagne. Because all their grapes come from one small area, they have more distinctive tastes. Chartogne Taillet, Agrapart, Moncuit, Pierre Peters, Vilmart... all those houses produce champagne wines that are focused and fresh. There's just a kind of richness that comes from the way they're made, and from where they're made.
Rosé Champagne isn't for New Year's Eve. To me it's for Valentine's Day, you know? It's fresh and fruity. But some are fantastic, especially for the money. Louis Roederer is totally inexpensive for what it is. It's $72 for a vintage champagne. That's a steal.
Champagne should be served at 46 degrees. The cooler it is, the more you are restraining the flavors. It's like drinking whiskey—when you add ice cubes you mute the taste.
Don't drink champagne from flutes. It should be drunk in a wine glass. When you drink from a flute you are caging the flavors. They need a little more room.
"Brut" isn't any kind of mark of excellence. It just means that the wine is sweeter. You just don't recognize it because it's balanced by a lot of acid. To me, I like drier champagnes. Confusingly "extra brut" doesn't mean sweeter; it means drier. Dryer champagne is more refreshing. It's more festive and keeps your palate clean and excited. That's why it's so often served at parties and celebrations. The bubbles are part of that. You have to sip it a little at a time. That's what champagne is for.
It's not that I don't like Prosecco. It's just that the way it’s made is different and it's from a hotter area. It's softer, sweeter—it doesn't really have very complex flavors. It's simple, put it that way. Champagne is more complete. But that doesn't mean Prosecco is bad.
If I'm going outside of Champagne, I might look to Cremant de la Loire from Chidaine. You find it in the Loire valley. Val de Mer Cremant de Bourgogne is all chardonnay, but spectacular for the money. I mean, a huge bargain. Going outside of Europe, there are some very good sparkling wines from New Mexico. Gruet doesn't cost a lot, but it's solid. That's a good way to go if you want to stay in America. Going up to California, I like Iron Horse.
courtesy of Esquire magazine