If you're trying to find Riddling Widow, a tiny new bar tucked beneath a restaurant called The Bourgeois Pig near Manhattan's Washington Square Park, be advised that you may find yourself wandering. The bar's website simply says, "Through the RED door." But once you've walked through said door (whether you set out that night to or not), you feel like you've found an uncovered gem that feels rare in the New York of 2015.
The tiny space has the look of a 1970s bar in a friend's parent's basement—complete with brocaded velvet-lined high-top chairs—which just so happens to have a highly curated menu that celebrates Champagne and sparkling wines. Beverage director Tanner Walle says the list of 50 or so bottles was chosen with the idea of "extreme examples of expressions of terroir from around the world," like a smoky sparkling wine from Sicily, where the grapes were grown near Mount Etna.
Even the bar's name is a play on bubbly: It comes from a riddling rack (where bottles of bubbly sit and are turned while they ferment) and the French word veuve, meaning "widow," which Champagne houses tacked onto their names after male winemakers passed on and their widows took over (ever heard of Veuve Clicquot?).
So when it came time to figure out which bottles we wanted to uncork this New Year's Eve, we knew just where to turn. Here, Walle shares his five favorites.
Duc de Romet, Brut Prestige, Blanc de Noirs, NV, $34
"This is a grower Champagne," Walle says, meaning the grapes are grown by the winemaker himself, rather than by a separate grower. "It's the truest expression of terroir" and something that normally knocks up the price, but not in this case. "There's no better bottle of Champagne for New Year's Eve. Pair it with oysters or clams casino; any seafood would be awesome," he adds.
R.H. Coutier, Brut Rosé, NV, $40
This is a "wonderful example of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with round big bubbles; it's very light and beautiful," with a color that's somewhere between "orangish and electric pink," Walle says. And its pink, green and gold 1920s throwback label makes it the perfect thing to take to a stylish dinner party.
Clotilde Davenne, Crémant de Bourgogne Rosé, NV, $20
"This is a delicious youthful sparkling rosé from a rock star female winemaker in Burgundy," Walle says. The highly praised bottle is a Pinot and Chardonnay blend that's "youthful and really dry" that hints at ripe red fruit and is an "affordable crowd-pleaser."
2011 Ruppert-Leroy, Martin Fontaine, Blanc de Blancs, $79
Take this pricier bottle along to the party hosted by your enophile friends, because it's sure to impress, Walle says. "It's 100 percent Chardonnay and 100 percent sass. . . . It's totally a cult wine that's on everyone's radar as the hot shit. It's fairly new to the city." Its acidity and weight also stand up well to roasted meat dishes, so it's perfect for that dinner party hosted by a friend who can seriously cook.
Fagher, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, Le Colture, NV, $15
This is the bottle to pull out after midnight: "If the night goes on, and people got a little booze in them, this is a good thing to supplement with. It's super accessible and makes everyone really happy." Bonus: It's super affordable, typically selling for around $15 or less, so it's great for a house party where all the booze will be set out on a table.
2011 Hermann J. Wiemer, Cuvée Brut, NV, $32
Walle's list wouldn't be complete without a shout-out to a local New York producer, and Hermann J. Wiemer happens to also rank up there nationally. This cuvée brut "is the perfect balance of fruit and minerality," he says.
And one final word of wisdom: "Don't be afraid to splurge on a bottle of good stuff. You're a lot cooler for it, and New Year's is a time to share really good wine with friends."
Thinking of serving a sparkling cocktail this New Year's Eve? Check out TT Drinks Editor Jim Meehan's wintry concoction right here.
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