It was pitch black as we made our way down the cliffside path.
I carried the flashlight and my friend carried the champagne flutes and a cold bottle of Roederer NV Brut. We found a bench halfway down the cliff and settled in to wait. Before long, we heard the cries from the hotel above: “Happy New Year!”
Another hotel launched fireworks across the bay, and the commotion awoke the frogs who chimed in. It was New Year’s Eve, 2000, and a perfect start to the Millennium on the Mendocino coast.
This isn’t everyone’s idea of the great New Year’s Eve, but after working in restaurants for so long, it seemed pretty darn nice to me. I had have too many New Year’s Eves working 14 hours on my feet, maybe getting a lukewarm glass of flat fizz for my troubles. Now that I’m out of the business, I enjoy the night a whole lot more.
Here in Seattle, I’m lucky on New Year’s Eve. I just step outside my door to see the fireworks set off from the Space Needle. There‘s a free – flowing party in my building, as we roam from apartment to apartment, everyone offering bubbly and bites to eat.
It’s always interesting to sample the different sparkling wines on offer, as everyone’s taste and pocketbook are different.
Personally, I’m a Veuve Cliquot gal. I adore the yeasty overtones of this true French Champagne, made in the traditional method. The Vintners create an acidic still wine from the first fermentation in the tank. Then they bottle it with a small amount of Liquor de Tirage – a mix of sugar and yeast that prompts the second fermentation in the bottle.
The bottles are stored at an angle, neck down and turned occasionally to encourage the dead yeast cells, or “lees” to settle in the neck. After aging, the neck of the bottle is frozen in a brine to keep the yeast cell plug in the neck, then it’s quickly opened and the ice plug with the yeast cells is ejected.
The “dosage” is added – wine with some sugar, which determines the final sweetness level of the Champagne, and the cork is inserted.
If you see “Methode Champenoise”, or “Traditional Method” on a bottle of sparkling wine, it was made with the secondary fermentation in the bottle.
French Champagne with it’s toasty overtones goes best with oily, salty and creamy foods. Perfect with caviar, smoked fish (smoked sturgeon is divine) creamy cheeses and fried foods, it’s great for New Year’s Eve hors d’oeuvres. Last year, one neighbor paired it with homemade potato chips sprinkled with sea salt – an amazing combination.
One neighbor is fond of Asti. Made in the Piedmont area of Italy, there are two types: Moscato d’Asti, lightly sparkling, low alcohol and actually tasting of grapes, and Asti Spumante, which is lightly sweet with a bit more sparkle. Both are made via the “tank” method, where the wine is first fermented to 6% alcohol and chilled to stop fermentation. More yeast and some sugar are added to produce the second fermentation, and then the wine is bottled with the bubbles intact.
These sweeter sparklers are wonderful with light desserts, especially berries. We’ve had it with berry tarts, almond cake, and lemon bread pudding.
Some neighbors serve Prosecco, an Italian sparkler made with the Prosecco grape, in the “tank” method. Proscecco has very fine bubbles or beads as they’re called in the wine trade. It often has delicate peach aroma and taste and is a bit tart.
Prosecco is fantastic with salted almonds, smoked salmon, Chinese dumplings and Prosciutto with melon.
A favorite stop on our rounds is the neighbor who makes Champagne Cocktails. She shared a few of her recipes with me:
Classic Champagne Cocktail: drop a white sugar cube in the flute, and add a splash of Angostura Bitters. Top up with Champagne, pouring slowly at first so the drink doesn’t foam up.
Kir Royale: is made by adding a splash of Crème de Cassis (blackcurrant liquor) to a glass of Champagne.
Black Velvet: (popular in the Northwest) is created by pouring a half glass of Stout beer in the flute, then topping up with Champagne. Holding the glass a little sideways reduces the foaming effect.
Our house favorite is the Poinsettia is 1/3 glass cranberry juice, ½ ounce Cointreau, and Champagne. It’s a beautiful pink color, sweet, tart, and very refreshing.
Of course, the classic Mimosa mixes fresh squeezed orange juice and Champagne.
As we apartment hop, the tiny explosions of bubbles on our tongues mimics the fireworks launched from the Space Needle. The party goes on well into the morning with plenty of toasts and catching up with neighbors. If we over - imbibe, well, we’re not driving, and it’s usually pretty quite around here the next day!