Subhead: We tracked down deals on champagne and other sparkling wines

Subhead: We tracked down deals on champagne and other sparkling wines

Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!” are the astonished words legendarily uttered at the hallelujah moment when a French monk called Dom Perignon (name sound familiar?) realized he’d invented champagne over 300 years ago.

As the story goes, the Dom had accidentally re-fermented a batch of wine and, by doing so, energized still alcohol with fizz by trapping carbon dioxide gas into it (fermentation is live yeast converting sugar into alcohol plus CO2, but primarily the gas is allowed to bubble out of the liquid).

I love how the Dom’s poetic phrase and fantastic tale fabulously encapsulate the romance and “special occasion-ness” associated with champagne.

Not to go Grinch on you, but the truth is that oft-told story is just a fantastical fable.

The monk’s subsequently debunked starry quote and bogus eureka drinking incident are assuredly apocryphal (the Dom actually spent a long time trying to prevent secondary fermentations from occurring).

Does this bubble-bursting info for a minute diminish the intoxicating allure of champagne? Of course not. But it does bring up the issue of truth versus legend.

Here are some more truths:

1) Not all sparkling wines are actually champagnes, as that beverage’s name and the painstaking production of the rightfully revered legitimate stuff—which must originate in its eponymous region of France—is rigidly controlled and always damn expensive (the cheapest authentic French champagnes sold in Columbus typically hover around $40-$50 per bottle, and that’s retail).

2) Wisely chosen and smartly quaffed Italian proseccos, Spanish cavas and “American champagnes” (due to a kooky loophole, U.S. producers can legally call their unqualified sparklers champagne—but nobody else can) will all deliver the celebratory effervescence everybody loves and craves this time of year, but they’ll do it without siphoning off a painful pool of your holiday-gift-buying budget.

3) I’m going to reveal some terrific restaurant deals on a frothy range of gassed-up vinos—from bubbling glasses to foaming cocktails to bottles of the genuine article.

THE DEALS!

I’ll start off with an insider-y secret at our serene and esteemed The Refectory. If you peruse their wines-by-the-glass list, you won’t see any true champagnes.

Yet when you actually ask a server if she offers any, she’ll answer in the affirmative and then pour you a flute of something elegant (often an artisanal “grower” champagne, i.e. one with distinct flavors linked to its site-specific origins and that the restaurant sells for around $100 per bottle) at unbeatable prices (say, $12-$17).

This by-the-glass selection, which practically changes daily, has included a yeasty, citrusy and bracingly dry Pierre Gimonnet and a beautiful, complex and fruit-kissed Chartogne-Taillet rose.

For something less intense—and expensive ($7 at happy hour, $11 otherwise)—try a crisp and refreshing glass of Domaine Carneros (the Napa Valley expression of an honorable French champagne house) at swanky but lively Mitchell’s Ocean Club. The wine is light-bodied but dry, yeasty and tight enough to just about pass for the real deal.

For something over-the-top—nearly literally, in an “Uncle Fester” sorta way—the Ocean Club’s giggly Berries and Bubbles cocktail ($13) overfills the bill.

Fashioned with another Californian with a famous French cousin (Domaine Chandon) and tasting like spiked berry lemonade, it magnifies the bubbles with dry ice chunks that hilariously make the libation percolate and smoke like a witch’s cauldron.

Downtown’s dark and jazzy Sidebar 122 prepares a pretty nice classic “champagne” cocktail ($12). It’s a lemon rind-garnished flute-y glass of Casteller cava splashed over a bitters-soaked sugar cube that flavor-wise recalls an enlivening, bone-dry Sprite.

Bottle-wise, comfy and casual Giorgio offers a cute “bambino” (two to three glasses) of Riondo prosecco for $8. It’s a simple but pleasing green apple-hinting drink.

Full bottle-wise, you cannot beat the rock-bottom prices at our most purely Columbus restaurant, Alana’s. Econo-minded oenophiles should try the surprising New Mexican Gruet ($19) or the ravishing Raventos cava ($25), while go-for-brokers might target an austere Pol Roger ($130—and that’s a bargain).

I’ll end on another secret in the key of cheap. The beloved and hip Betty’s in the Short North sells that famous French thoroughbred, Veuve Clicquot, for the excitingly near-retail price of $60. Try it with Betty’s Crabby Patties, Potato Pancakes or, hell, even the nachos!

WINE PAIRINGS

Sparkling wines aren’t just for holiday toasts—most good champagnes and cavas are versatile enough to be drunk before, during and after meals.

Smaller-bubbled champagnes have high acidity and a palate-scrubbing fizziness, which makes them particularly fun when paired with something fatty. They pair surprisingly well with silly snacks like popcorn and potato chips (plus there’s something perversely uproarious about sipping expensive wines with cheap munchies).

As for generally larger-bubbled proseccos, do as the Italians do and drink ’em as aperitivos or with light appetizers (think that old-school boot-country classic, prosciutto with melon).

Photos by Jodi Miller