The festive season is upon us once again. Inevitably, the question most asked is: 'Which bubbly should we celebrate with?' The usual response is: 'The best one, of course.'
The reality, however, is that wines given the seal of approval by judges seldom reflect the appropriateness of the occasion. The smartest wine lovers know very few bad wines are made these days, only wines that are consumed at the wrong time with the wrong food and, worst, by the wrong people. A funky sparkling with big bubbles is more of a general crowd pleaser, while something more refined is better with a romantic, candle-lit dinner. These three wines differ in taste and price, but are delicious in their own way for Christmas and beyond. Let's raise a toast for a happy 2009.
Carpene Maltovi Prosecco di Conegliano Cuvee Brut, Veneto, Italy
Yes, that faithful old prosecco - the famous and versatile Italian sparkling wine. The Carpene Maltovi label has been around for at least 15 years and always been carefully nurtured by the folks at Castello del Vino. It's fruity, extremely easy to enjoy and is my choice for this Christmas. At this price point, the only other options are inferior and sickly sweet Australian sparkling wines and some tough and acidic French sparklers. It's fruity and balanced, with plenty of bubbles to keep the palate entertained.
Available for HK$110 from Castello del Vino (tel: 2866 0577)
Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, Reims, France
This new kid on the block has very quickly won a loyal following in Hong Kong. The new clear glass bottle is striking and classy, and the liquid inside is every bit as smart. However, I am afraid that it is too delicious now for many even to consider ageing, although blanc de blancs, or champagne made solely from chardonnay grapes, can usually age for a couple of decades. This Ruinart is perfect for that romantic dinner for two, especially if there is sushi and sashimi on the table, or thin shavings of Iberico ham. The flavours are subtle and they require some focus, but it certainly won't distract from your special someone.
Available for HK$600 from Moet Hennessy Diageo (tel: 2976 1888)
Champagne Salon 1997, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Champagne, France
The name Salon justifies some words in this column. It's worshipped by those who know it and is the holy grail to those who haven't yet tasted it. This pure chardonnay from the best vineyard is simply stunning; it's rich without being clumsy, penetrating without being sharp. The 1997 vintage was cool and slightly wet - not the best vintage on record overall, but for Salon those are the type of conditions that benefit the winemaker's style. It's a super-deluxe champagne. No one will blame you if you want to keep it all for yourself.
Available for HK$2,480 from Altaya (tel: 2523 1945)