Champagne Washington D.C.
Photo: Courtesy of Marcel’s

Bubbly Always Sparkles in the City

Gone are the days when champagne and other sparkling wines were only consumed on birthdays, New Year’s Eve, and anniversaries. Sparkling wine is in its heyday, and its popularity is showing no signs of fading. Nearly every restaurant and bar in the city offers a selection of sparkling wines, and many of them have several options by the glass. And it’s not just the big name producers you’ll see; it’s getting easier to find a variety of styles, including grower champagne, food-friendly pét-nat, hipster cava and small-production prosecco. Sparkling wine has always been appreciated as a great aperitif, but popularity has been growing as casual diners and industry professionals alike have recognized the nearly endless food pairing possibilities of sparklers. From potato chips to elevated haute cuisine, traditional Italian, Spanish tapas or Asian fusion, it seems sparkling wine truly matches with just about everything.

Though the sparkling wine scene in DC continues to evolve, it’s by no means a totally new scene. Marcel’s in Georgetown is one of the few remaining traditional fine dining establishments in the city, as restaurants trends toward being more urban. Marcel’s is home to one of the largest champagne collections in the city, and there’s no doubt that this is the place to treat yourself to some truly world-class champagne producers – Krug, Ruinart, Moët & Chandon, Dom Pérignon and La Grande Dame are just a few key players on the “by the glass” list. On “National Champagne Day” in October, the restaurant hosted a champagne-pairing dinner and featured a special champagne flight at the bar, both of which were a resounding success and attracted a wide variety of ages and occupations. In light of this, the restaurant plans to begin hosting a monthly “Champagne Night,” so keep an eye on their website and social media for details.

Another sure sign that sparkling wine is on the rise in the city: the founder of Bon Vivant DC, Alison Marriott, and Young Winos of DC, Jess Hagadorn, recently joined forces to found the first official DC Champagne Week, which took place in November. Their shared passion for the wines and people of France’s Champagne region fueled their desire to bring this event to the city. The celebration included a grand tasting event with eight champagne producers at the Daughters of the American Revolution O’Byrne Gallery, a seasonal pairing dinner at Ripple and a terroir-focused class.

Sparkling wine is in the spotlight at some soon-to-open enterprises, which should come as no surprise in a drinking scene well acquainted with focused bars. Consider sherry at Mockingbird Hill, whiskey at Jack Rose Dining Saloon and Barrel, and cider at ANXO Cidery & Pintxos Bar, to name but a few. 1230 Restaurant & Champagne Lounge is opening soon in Shaw – hopefully by year’s end – and there are whispers that another sparkling wine-focused joint may also be opening soon.

For those who can’t wait, one current hotspot for sparkling wines in the District, notably champagne, is the popular wine destination Proof. Brent Kroll, formerly with the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, recently joined the team as general manager, working alongside wine director Joe Quinn. Kroll weighed in on the growing influence of sparklers in the city.

On Tap: Any favorite spots for sparkling wine in DC?
Brent Kroll: For an extravagant selection, I look to Plume at The Jefferson or Marcel’s. For every day, I like the value-driven sparkling wine at 2 Amys.

OT: Have you noticed changes within the DC scene as far as interest in sparkling wines?
BK: Grower/farmer champagne is still trending. It’s really great value due to the lack of marketing, but just like with larger producers, it can be hit or miss. The competition [with grower champagnes] is causing big houses to get pretty aggressive with pricing, and the bidding war for “by the glass” placements is going to get even more intense – to the point where a glass of champagne won’t be outrageously more expensive than other sparkling wine selections.

OT: Do you have a favorite sparkling wine and food pairing?
BK: I love Fiorini Lambrusco di Sorbara with charcuterie for a daily basis type of pairing.

OT: Any new sparkling wine producers or regions we should keep on our radar?
BK: Keep an eye out for Brazilian sparkling wine led by the unbelievable Cave Geisse!

So while it’s true that sparkling wines shouldn’t be just for the holidays, there’s no better time to try some new styles to share with friends and family this season. No matter if you’re celebrating the New Year or just celebrating a Tuesday, having a pre-dinner drink or an elaborate wine pairing dining experience – popping a bottle of bubbly is always in order. What more convincing do you need?

A Quick Guide to Styles of Sparkling Wine

A type of Spanish sparkling wine
Most cava comes from northeastern Spain and must be made in the traditional method. Primary grapes used are parellada, macabeo and xarel-lo.

Sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France
The main grapes used are chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. While other regions often use the same grape types and method to create bubbles, these wines cannot legally be called champagne.

A traditional method sparkling wine from a region in France other than champagne
For example, Crémant de Bourgogne is a sparkling wine from Burgundy, France.

A sparkling red wine from the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy
Made from a grape of the same name, lambrusco can be made in the traditional or tank method, and can range from dry to sweet.

Pétillant-naturel, a natural sparkling wine made in the méthode ancestrale fashion
Unlike with traditional method sparklers, a second round of sugar and yeast is not added to the still wine to create bubbles; rather, bubbles come from trapping the CO2 in the bottle during the first alcoholic fermentation. This is a lightly effervescent style, and often cloudy.

An Italian sparkling wine
Prosecco must come from the Veneto region in northern Italy and is usually made using the tank, or charmat, method. Prosecco must be made using 100 percent glera grapes.

Tank/Charmat Method
The method used to make prosecco and many large-production domestic sparklers
The secondary fermentation, or addition of sugar and yeast to still wine to create bubbles by trapping CO2, takes place in a large, sealed tank; once the wine is sparkling, it is filtered and bottled.

Traditional/Champagne Method
Method in which secondary fermentation takes place inside the individual bottle.
This is the method used to make champagne, crémants, cava and a number of quality domestic sparkling wines.


Tess Ankeny

Tess has been writing wine-related features for On Tap since 2014. She is a Certified Sommelier (CS), Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and a Certified Wine Educator (CWE).