Christmas and New Year's Eve were big celebrations when I was growing up in the Midwest. Our house was the roomiest in my extended family so my folks often served as host.
There was so much food and drink. We always had seafood on Christmas Eve, usually shrimp with lots of Mom's secret cocktail sauce. (This was small town Indiana in the late 1960s and early '70s, so that was a big deal at the time.) And cheese balls, lots and lots of cheese balls. There were more pies than a reasonably healthy group of human beings should be able to consume in a single evening without feeling lightheaded.
Cocktails ruled the evenings, as well as a punch bowl filled with lime sherbet and 7-Up that was so sweet that my teeth throbbed. There was a fifth of Smirnoff at the bar that made it palatable for the adults.
Bubbly, it goes without saying, would have been ideal those evenings. It would take me another 15 or 20 years to introduce that tradition. Family gatherings are more intimate now and the quality of bubbly has improved significantly.
As Wine Spectator's lead taster for California sparkling wine, I review about 100 sparklers a year. Below, I've picked seven of my favorite California bubblies from the past year. Each one is distinctive and worth seeking out for the holidays. WineSpectator.com members can read the full reviews by clicking each link.
Domaine Carneros Blanc de Blancs Carneros Le Rêve 2009 (93 points, $105)
Laser-focused and sleek with lemon, crème brûlée and mineral notes.
Iron Horse Wedding Cuvée Green Valley of Russian River Valley 2012 ($44)
Delicate rose petal and crisp strawberry and apple accents.
Gloria Ferrer Brut Rosé Carneros Late Disgorged 2012 (93, $47)
Lovely strawberry and brioche notes mix with peach and ginger flavors.
Korbel Natural Russian River Valley ($16)
A lively quaff with spice apple and roasted almond accents.
Mumm Napa DVX Napa Valley 2009 (92, $65)
Impeccably focused and elegant with lemon zest and crushed stone notes.
Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley L'Ermitage 2009 (92, $48)
Luxurious, with toasty brioche, mineral and lemon brulee flavors.
Schramsberg Brut Rosé 2013 (92, $41)
Sleek and expressive, with floral strawberry and spicy vanilla accents.