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Champagne, by any name, is the toast of New Year's Eve

Bubbly is the drink of New Year's, whether you love the holiday or hate it. As the famed champagne widow Madame Lilly Bollinger put it, "I drink Champagne when I'm happy. And when I'm sad."

Incidentally, bubbly is Champagne only when it's made in the French region by that name. Elsewhere in France it is vin mosseux. In Germany it is sekt. In Italy it is spumante. In Spain it is cava. In Russia it is often called shampanskoye, although that irks the French because it's too close to "champagne." In the Americas, Australia and South Africa, it is sparkling wine. In all those places it is a cheerful friend.

Then there's the hot new thing — prosecco. It's the name of a grape in northern Italy and the semisparkling wine that's made from it. Prosecco is usually inexpensive, has bubbles under less pressure than other sparkling wines and often is slightly sweet. Every trendy bar has it.

Bubbly sweetness levels are confusing: Brut is usually the driest; extra-dry is actually slightly sweet (go figure); sec in the French means "dry," but when applied to bubbly means medium-sweet; demi-sec, which literally means "half-dry," in bubbly means quite sweet; and doux is the sweetest bubbly, a dessert wine.

Enough confusion: Here are some nice bubblies I've tried lately. (If you can't find the exact ones at your wine shop, ask for help. The proprietors should be able to point you to a similar bubbly in a similar price range.)

Highly recommended

Nonvintage Va di Vi, by Gloria Ferrer, Sonoma, Calif. (89 percent pinot noir, 8 percent chardonnay, 3 percent muscat): fine, active bubbles, intense black cherry flavors with a hint of sweet apricots from the muscat; $22.

Nonvintage Scharffenberger Brut Sparkling Wine, Mendocino County, Calif. (67 percent chardonnay, 33 percent pinot noir): tiny bubbles, toasted brioche aroma, tropical fruit flavors, creamy and smooth; $19.

Nonvintage Maschio dei Cavalieri Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, Italy: aromas and flavors of ripe apricots and peaches, soft bubbles, lightly sweet, long finish; $10.

Recommended

Nonvintage Anna de Codorniu Brut Cava, Spain: (70 percent chardonnay, 30 percent parellada): big, soft bubbles, aromas and flavors of tropical fruit and minerals; $15.

Nonvintage Anna de Codorniu Brut Rose Cava, Spain: big, active bubbles, crisp and dry, with tart cherry and cranberry aromas and flavors; $15.

Nonvintage Rosa Regale Brachetto d'Acqui DOCG, by Banfi: big bubbles, soft, sweet black raspberry flavors, crisp, medium-sweet; $20.

Woodbridge Extra Dry Sparkling Wine, by Robert Mondavi, California (98.5 percent chardonnay, 1.5 percent viognier): big, active bubbles, sweet golden apple and vanilla aromas and flavors, medium-sweet dessert wine; $10.

2002 Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvée Sparkling Wine, Sonoma (67 percent pinot noir, 33 percent chardonnay): lots of tiny bubbles, rich red fruit flavors with a hint of tart citrus, long finish; $32.

Multivintage Roederer Estate Brut Sparkling Wine, Anderson Valley, Calif. (60 percent chardonnay, 40 percent pinot noir): tiny bubbles, crisp, lightly tart white peach and spice flavors; $23.

Multivintage Roederer Estate Brut Rose, Anderson Valley, Calif. (60 percent pinot noir, 40 percent chardonnay): myriad tiny bubbles, lightly sweet pineapple and strawberry flavors; $27.

Nonvintage Scharffenberrger Cellars Brut Rose, Mendocino County (54 percent pinot noir, 46 percent chardonnay): lots of tiny, long-lasting bubbles, tart cranberry and strawberry flavors, tart finish; $23.

.Fast Facts

No slump for Champagne

The economy may be in a funk and consumer spending in a slump, but there's one glass that seems to be more than half full — flutes of Champagne to be precise.

After seeing sales tumble as the recession hit, Champagne shipments were up nearly 22 percent comparing the first six months of this year to the same period in 2010, with a total of 7.5 million bottles shipped to the United States as of June, according to the Washington-based Champagne Bureau.

From July 2010 to June, 18.3 million bottles were shipped, about a 20 percent increase over the July 2009-June 2010 period.

The trend may be due to people spending more, between $30 and $50 on a bottle of wine, says Gwendolyn Osborn, wine expert for online retailer Wine.com. Since there are some good Champagnes to be found in that range, "people are buying them, since it is viewed as a luxury," she says.

Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label, which sells for about $45 on the site, was No. 6 on Wine.com's Top 10 sellers for 2011.

Bargain-priced bubbles were popular too, of course. The No. 2 wine on the list was a cava from Spain, Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Cava, which goes for $7.99. Still, there was definite interest in Champagne. Dom Perignon 2002, which has a price tag of around $160, jumped from 67th place last year to No. 27 on the list this year.

Associated Press

Champagne, by any name, is the toast of New Year's Eve 12/21/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 23, 2011 3:52pm]

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