With Valentine’s Day as your cover, there’s no better time to enjoy some sweet sparkling wine without fear of appearing unsophisticated.
Just remember that the language of sparkling wine, like the language of love, can be complicated—even idiotic sounding—and “extra-dry” is not the driest level of sparkling wine; it’s just less sweet than “sec.” Observing the woefully underappreciated tradition of popping a bubbly to celebrate being alone and unloved? Even better. Hit the sweet sauce.
Iron Horse 2012 Winter’s Cuvée ($65) If this evocatively titled cuvée smells a little like a spicy, boozy Tom and Jerry, that’s not just a fireside fantasy—each vintage is spiked with Pinot Noir brandy the winery made back in 1987. But it’s just a little of a good thing, and plays well with notes of nutty almond paste and flaky croissant. A cool stand-in for hot apple cider, it’s tangy like Granny Smith apple and not over-sweet, and may be available at the tasting room only—when it’s available. ★★★½
Toad Hollow Risqué Sweet Sparkling Wine Limoux ($15.99) This wine may look a little flaky at first glance, all but saying “Do you like to party?” on the front label and then oversharing on the back, admitting to a “doux” level of sparkling wine sweetness at 11.5 grams of sugar per five-ounce serving, but only 6 percent alcohol by volume—or 7.9 percent, according to the tech sheet. It’s made from the Mauzac blanc grape in the “méthode ancestrale,” which is French for the way people been doing it a long time. Maybe I’m easy, but I think this import is super fun: aromas of burnt wood turn into toasted almonds in a sweet pasty, and an ennobling hint of seashell saltiness underlies sweet Golden Delicious apple flavor. ★★★
Iron Horse 2012 Russian Cuvée ($44) Still made to commemorate the custom bubbly that Iron Horse delivered to the Gipper-Gorby meet-up in the 1980s, this sparkler lets your dearest know you “trust but verify.” Showing a little sweetness on the finish, this brut-level wine seems conservatively styled, and has served as a toasting wine at the White House for five consecutive administrations—thus far. ★★★
Korbel Extra Dry ($11.99) Herbed with rosemary, just a little honeyed like a fine mead (an excellent alternative to sparkling wine, by the way—try Marin County’s Heidrun sparkling mead), this straightforward wine has only 1.5 percent sugar. If you just want to skip to the secs, Korbel has those too, plus an even sweeter cuvée they call “sweet cuvée.” ★★½
Sofia Blanc de Blancs ($19) Wrapped in pink cellophane and bearing a back-label warning to not use a corkscrew on it, this simple pleasure is surely aimed at the hearts of special-occasion sparkling wine drinkers with its sweet, apricot and honey flavors. ★★½