The fizz of summer

As I write this, the Atlanta Braves have the best record in the National League and the second-best in the majors. From this unbiased observer’s perspective, the World Series is a virtual lock for the Braves. Therefore, we must start planning now for the ladder of celebrations to come. The natural celebratory beverage of choice (“The Natural,” get it?) is bubbly.

Compiling the best regular-season record in the Eastern Division of the National League gives you a berth in the playoffs. The baseball season is a grueling 162 games, fraught with slumps, injuries and stomach-churning personnel decisions. Winning the East is big, but it’s just a pit stop on the way to the Big Dance, so our wine can’t be too fancy.

Since we’re talking about the American pastime, let’s pick domestic bubbly. J Vineyards in Sonoma County, Calif., make some of the most elegant sparkling wines I’ve ever had from anywhere. At a recent gathering of bubble heads, I opened J’s 2004 Late Disgorged Brut ($90). It took everyone’s breath away. We’ll consider this for the championship, but for getting in the playoffs we’ll pop the cork on J’s Cuvée 20 ($28). Affordable and easily enjoyed by infrequent bubbly imbibers as well as aficionados, this is our choice for the first rung of the celebratory ladder.

Next up, the Divisional Championships. The first round of the playoffs whittle four National League teams down to two. Winning this round — while necessary — is somewhat unfulfilling, which reminds me of cava. Don’t take this the wrong way, lovers of cava — the sparkling wine of Spain and easily the best value in the wine world — but I’ve yet to have a cava that has taken me to the heights of Champagne.

I buy cava; I love cava. Cava is the wine of picnics and Chastain concerts. Cristalino Brut ($8) and Segura Viudas Brut Reserva ($9) are regularly on my shopping list. Considering the importance of our march to the World Series, we’ll up the quality while keeping our eyes on the prize (and our budgets!). Let’s choose Segura Viudas’ Aria Brut ($12). A lovely sparkler to drink, but inexpensive enough to pour on second baseman Dan Uggla’s head.

When the Braves are crowned the 2013 National League champs, I want a long draught of something special, but I’m at odds on this pick. My new favorite Champagne is Chartogne Taillet’s Sainte Anne ($48) from the village of Merfy. Powerful yet elegant, it reminds me of Jason Heyward’s swing. However, it’s hard to deny Henri Billiot’s Brut Réserve ($50) from the amazing village of Ambonnay in Champagne. Complex and ever-changing in the glass, it is something to behold whether you’re celebrating or not. Since there are no ties in baseball, we’ll go with the Billiot, which fans will have an easier time finding.

For some it’s Krug. For others, it is Dom Perignon, Cristal or even Armand de Brignac’s Ace of Spades. For me, the Holy Grail of sparkling wine is Champagne Salon. Ridiculously expensive at $320 a bottle, it has simply taken me to places no other Champagne (or practically no other wine) has. Winning the World Series (or your own personal victories) is reward enough for the dedication and hard work it takes to stand alone on the final rung of the ladder of success. Rather than viewing this as an extravagance, it is simply pairing the best of times for any baseball fan with the best possible wine.

Gil Kulers is a certified wine educator and a consultant for a metro Atlanta wine shop. You can reach him at

H. Billiot Fils, Brut Réserve, Champagne


Two Thumbs Way Up

Intense aromas of green apple, toasted bread with tons of bright citrus, which ebbed a bit after opening. Lots of fresh citrus on the palate with a playful note of cherry, but also measured chalk-like, mineral notes, baked apple, brown bread and crème brulée that woke up as the wine warmed.

Note: Wines are rated on a scale ranging up from Thumbs Down, One Thumb Mostly Up, One Thumb Up, Two Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Way Up and Golden Thumb Award. Prices are suggested retail prices as provided by the winery, one of its agents, a local distributor or retailer.