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Five Nice Bottles of Budget-Friendly Bubbles to Cleanse Yourself of 2020 Forever and Welcome the New Year

1:46 PM PST on December 29, 2020

    [dropcap size=big]N[/dropcap]ot that many noisy celebrations ago I took a hand at sabering a bottle of Billecart-Salmon Champagne as the clock counted down. It was messy and fun. 

    This year is different. 

    This will not be a moment tingling with fondness for moments past. I’m looking for a cleanse, an exorcism—and also a reorientation toward something hopeful. Bubbles are the perfect way to do that. They can seem like something insubstantial, an excuse for a toast. But the force of good can somehow be captured in the light fizz of a pétillant, a seasonal beer, or a local cider. 

    As I set out to find a handful of choices in a city where patio heat lamps are secured like wilted bouquets, I’m looking for bottles that radiate positivity. It might be an overlooked region or grape, it might be a business tenacious in this hard moment, or a tradition I can get in on without overspending. I’ll probably muster some nostalgia as the old calendar fades but whatever sparkles across my palate will also reassure me of better days ahead. 

    Sidonio DeSousa, Branco Brut Nature, $19, Eve Bottle Shop 

    White strawberries with a hint of vanilla bean combine in this Portuguese sparkler that Nathaniel Muñoz sells at Echo Park’s Eve Bottle Shop. A native of City Terrace with accreditation from the Court of Master Sommeliers, Muñoz has an all-encompassing palate that keeps six-packs of Tecate in the cooler next to a bottle of the un-oaked Hanzell Chardonnay and sees the map not as differences between cultures but as affinities between soils. 

    So Garnacha from Baja’s Hugo D’Acosta is compared to one from Spain’s Priorat region and the bone dry finish of this blend of Bical, Maria Gomes, and Arinto grapes in Portugal’s Bairrada region to the mineral drive of vineyard-designated Chablis. Originally, the store was supposed to be part of a one-two punch with Bar Avalon next door. (The restaurant received a glowing Los Angeles Times review in early March.) 

    With the shutdown, the 12-member crew was furloughed, Chef Joshua Guarneri pivoted to volunteering at No Us Without You, a food distribution program for undocumented restaurant workers, and Muñoz’s championing of small producers like DeSousa became more urgent than ever.  “Because it’s not Champagne, because it’s not Chardonnay or Pinot Noir,” he says naming two of the three grape types from which Champagne is made, “You have underrepresented grapes in an underrepresented region giving you value, deliciousness, and something unique.”

    Available at Eve Bottle Shop at 2112 Sunset Blvd. Suite J, Los Angeles, CA 90026, and also online

    Nuit Blanche.

    Nuit Blanche, Blanc de Noirs, Bernard Vallette, $24, Helen’s Wines

    A deep respect for tradition shines through in the wines of French, small-producer winemaker Bernard Vallette.  That might include winemaking techniques (he makes some reds in a centuries-old earthen amphora) and agricultural practices, such as enhancing biodiversity by planting trees around the 7 acres of vineyards he farms north of Lyon (gaining him Demeter certification). “You won’t believe it’s not Champagne,” said Helen Johannesen when I picked up a bottle from her stamp-sized store at the back of Jon and Vinny’s on Fairfax.  She was right. Stored heirloom apples and a note of toasted brioche glow in a bottle of Gamay—a red grape—blanc de noirs (depending on the vintage he also makes blanc de blancs, a mix of white grapes including Auxerrois, Roussanne and Marsanne) with the signature complexity of flavors associated with bottle age. But there was also a pep, a vivacity held in the effervescent mousse that intrigued me. When I reached Vallette by phone in his winery he hinted at what it might be. “When the winemaker is happy to go to the vineyard,” he said, “It can be tasted.”  

    Editor’s note: Both of Helen’s shops are currently out of this wine but L.A. Taco has confirmed that a delivery “is imminent” and can arrive any moment now.  

    412 N Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036

    11938 San Vicente Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90049

    Hard Pear Cider, $15, Camarillo Cider House

    The ciders that Jennifer and Frank Hules produce from a Camarillo business park evoke the glowing tradition of farmhouse orchard drinks. They’re delicate and slightly hazy from light filtration, and full of fruity nuances because they’re not pasteurized (which means they have to be kept cold). Michigan Northern Spry apples go into one of their hard ciders (7 % alcohol), while the pleasing bitterness of hops shines through another flavored with apricots—making it perfect for a beer lover who may not want the gluten of a brew. 

    Camarillo is not just a place of outlets but still an agricultural town where eucalyptus windbreaks shield fields, so the local strawberries that go into a summer bottling help root the small business in place. More seasonal though is hard pear cider. In the best tradition of bubbles, the fruit glows from within, the robe is golden, and the brut-like zing makes it a perfect pairing for nibbles. I’m thinking of something with a creamy mouthfeel and just a little funk, like queso fundido with chorizo or, for a splurge, a wedge of leaf-wrapped Rogue River Blue. 

    Available at Camarillo Cider House at 930 Flynn Rd # F, Camarillo, CA 93012.

    Photo via Vin de California.

    Violette, Vin de California, 2020, Sparkling Zinfandel, $27, Good Luck Wine Shop

    Sommelier-turned-winemaker Adam Vourvoulis has always loved regional wines made to be drunk young—they lack airs, fuel conversation, and pair beautifully with food. So this September, after tracking down the grapes a Contra Costa church was selling (he hauled up the 5 freeway in a rented flatbed to get them) he pressed the grapes in the back of the Pasadena wine store he operates with his wife, Kate, and set out to see what would happen if he bottled the juice before fermentation had stopped and there was still a little residual natural sugar left. The result is glorious. It speaks to the long history of Zinfandel in California but with a modern indie spirit.  

    When you pull the cork—Vourvoulis recommends serving it really, really cold—the bubbles immediately start rising up the bottleneck. It’s red wine but spritzy, a Zinfandel full of plummy tones but also wearing a fun hat that says, “Where’s the charcuterie board?”

    Available at Good Luck Wine Shop at 3225 E Foothill Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91107 and at Sara's Market in City Terrace at 3455 City Terrace Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90063.

    Photo via Ogopogo Brewing.

    Kikimora (Belgian Winter), Huay Chivo (Imperial Stout), $12, Ogopogo Brewing

    Winter beers are fabulous because they bring out all the coffee and caramel notes darkly malted barley can take on. Ogopogo, a brewery in an industrial street off San Gabriel Boulevard, straight up represents the tradition with its always revolving selection of dark, silky brews. Huay Chivo, an Imperial Pastry Stout carries the subtle tug of Mexican vanilla planifolia orchid in its mix. Kikimora—like the Chivo, named for a goblin-like figure, though this one is Slavic—is a Belgian Dubbel, amber-colored but brightened by notes of lemon and orange zest, cinnamon stick, and coriander. 

    The taprooms of L.A. have always been happy places of dartboards and cornhole tournaments, where there’s talk of hop varieties and yeast strains around a grill set up in the back. To see them struggling during shutdown sucks. But Ogopogo is making the best of it with the warm welcome it offers even if you can’t yet sip on site. Rita was holding down the counter when I visited, filling and sealing the 32-ounce crowlers (that’s a growler in a can) available for takeout. She offered me one of the cupcakes from @keep_on_bakingg she’d picked up for anyone who came in and I took my first bite in the parking lot. Finished with crumbled Abuelita chocolate and washed down with the Huay Chivo, I rested on the ‘hood. It tasted like hope. 

    Available at Ogopogo Brewing at 864 Commercial Ave, San Gabriel, CA 91776.

    Note: Call each shop to confirm holiday hours before going!

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