J Vineyards Cuvée 20 Brut

J Cuvée 20 Brut ($28)

The Holiday That Must Not be Named makes its annual appearance this month, which means the insecure among us will be scrambling to show their devotion to the people closest to them. Let it not be said that I don’t feel their pain.

One sure bet: sparkling wine. Nielsen reports that the week around Valentine’s Day is the fourth biggest sales period for bubbly after New Year’s, Christmas and Thanksgiving. When buying bubbly, you can divide it into three groups — cheap, more expensive, and Champagne prices:

• $10 or so: I’m a huge fan of Casteller ($12), a Spanish sparkling wine or cava — crisp but a little more complex than most Spanish sparkling wine. The Italian Nino Franco Rustico is a Prosecco ($12) with lemon-lime fruit. It’s especially fresh and effervescent for a Prosecco, and surprisingly well done.

• $10 to $20: Domaine Sangouard Crémant ($17) is from the Burgundy region of France, with tiny bubbles that don’t quit and an almost spiced baked apple flavor. Truly a wonderful wine. Parxet Cava Cuvée 21 ($15) is more open than $10 cavas like Cristalino, with a bit of yeast on the nose and a tropical middle.

• $20 and up: California’s J Vineyards Cuvée 20 ($28) shows up a lot on lists like this, and it’s easy to understand why — always well made, with bright, crisp green apple fruit and lots of sparkling-ness. The Argyle Brut from Oregon ($27) has long been a favorite — very clean and almost austere. Beware older vintages, which sit in warehouses and turn flat and flabby.

Jeff Siegel writes about wine and neighborhood dining news every Friday


Ask the wine guy

Q: What’s the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine?

A: Legal-ese, mostly. A U.S.-European Union trade agreement has defined terms for products like this, so that only sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France can be called Champagne. It’s the same reason that prosciutto made in Iowa can’t be called Proscuitto, which is limited to the pork product made in that part of Italy.

ASK The Wine Guy taste@advocatemag.com


With your wine: Not just chocolate chip cookie brownies

This variation takes a tried and true recipe to the next level — even sweeter and richer and more decadent. Feel free to experiment with a variety of different flavored chips.

Grocery List

1 1/8 c all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick butter, softened
3/8 c granulated sugar
3/8 c packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 to 1 1/2 c chips (chocolate, butterscotch, white chocolate, and the like)
1/2 c chopped pecans


1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease 8×8 pan.

2. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl. Add the egg, beating well. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Spread into prepared pan.

3. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars.

Makes about two dozen, about 30 minutes