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Ring in a new year with these Champagnes and sparkling wines

If you're pulling out all the stops this year to send the old year packing and usher in a more prosperous one, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut Champagne, generally known simply as Yellow Label, should fill the bill nicely. This long has been one of our favorite splurge wines and is the only true Champagne on this year's short list of sparklers for the holidays. It is priced anywhere from $37 to about $50 at wine shops, wine-savvy markets and big-box stores, so it pays to shop around.

Yellow Label is the real deal, a regal and amazingly consistent nonvintage Champagne that epitomizes joie de vivre. Made primarily from pinot noir grapes, followed by chardonnay and tempered with a smidge of pinot meunier, it is lively on the nose and on the tongue, its plentiful bubbles spiraling ever upward in a rich yellow-gold column. There's light white fruit at first sniff but the warm toastiness that signifies a sparkling wine of great finesse and balance quickly takes over. With each sip the flavor of each grape comes brightly alive, powered by those lovely bubbles. Yellow Label is perfect for welcoming the new year, but it also makes a perfect aperitif and goes beautifully with festive foods.

From California comes another of our favorite sparklers, as reliable in its own New World way as Yellow Label. Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut not only is consistent and affordable, going for $20 or less and widely available, it also is ranked 78th on this year's Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines list. And as with Yellow Label at Veuve Cliquot, this is Gloria Ferrer's signature sparkling wine, the one that embodies the house style year after year. It, too, is made primarily from pinot noir grapes plus a much smaller percentage of chardonnay. Its bubbles are lively and persistent, its aroma reminiscent of pear with a light floral note, and its taste redolent of citrus and toast. It is a full-bodied wine with a bit more cream than Champagne. Quaff on its own at midnight or pair with the cheese course at a late supper.

Constant readers will know already of our affection for Gruet Brut, a lovely New World sparkler that just can't be beat at its price point: about $15 to $18 at wine shops and some big-box stores. That it is made by a transplanted French house using traditional methods will be evident at first sip. That it is made in New Mexico may come as a surprise. Again, this is Gruet's signature nonvintage sparkling wine, the one on which the house pins its reputation. Its bubbles are consistently fine and nose-tickling, its aroma lively with citrus and apple, its taste just as lively, with that toasty flavor without which a sparkling wine is little more than effervescent grape juice. Raise a glass to welcome 2010 or drink it all through a celebratory meal, from aperitif to dessert.

Finally, the biggest bargain on our list: Cristalino Cava Brut from Spain, an everyday sparkler at an everyday price of about $7 to $9 and available darn near everywhere. This one lacks the sophistication and complexity of the other wines recommended here, but it drinks clean and crisp and is unusually subtle for the price. Nice bubbles, a lightly floral nose and a taste jazzy with toasty apple and spices. If you're hosting a big bash this year, this is the one to buy by the case for a mass toast as the ball comes down in Times Square.

Colette Bancroft is the Times' book editor and John Bancroft is a freelance specializing in food, wine and travel.

Ring in a new year with these Champagnes and sparkling wines 12/29/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 29, 2009 2:26pm]
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