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Holiday Champagne and Sparkling Wine

From $10 to $85, some excellent suggestions for the holidays.

<bt>The Holidays are the time for Champagne and sparkling wine and what incredible choices. In France alone there is Champagne, of course, but also another 38 regions producing sparkling wines in the Loire, Burgundy, Alsace and elsewhere. Italy makes Prosecco and Asti Spumante. Spain produces Cava.

In the US, excellent sparkling wines are made in California, New Mexico, and Virginia. Canada even makes really exotic sparkling icewine. And we’ve tasted excellent sparklers from Australia, New Zealand, Greece, and South Africa.

We’ve selected what we think are sparklers of excellent value and then organized our recommendations by price level: Inexpensive (around $10), Moderately Priced (under $30), and Luxury Cuvées (above $30). We’ve limited our recommendations to mostly, very dry Bruts, and included some rosé sparklers.

Inexpensive. We suggest you stick to Spanish Cavas, Italian Prosecco and Asti, and American Sparklers. Many of these wines are non-vintage or produced in a way that minimizes year-to-year variations in quality. Most have a lovely mousse with good fruit flavors and are lively and crisp. Some widely distributed Cavas we recommend are Conde de Subirats NV Brut Cava ($13), U Mes u Fan Tres NV 1+1+3 ($16) and the Cristalino Brut Cava ($9). Italian Prosecco is made from the Prosecco grape grown just north of Venice. We recommend Bisol, Canella and Zardetto. Asti comes from the Piedmont, and we like those spritzy wines made by Cinzano Moscato d’Asti.

Finally, if you wish to buy American, we would especially recommend the sparkling wines of Gruet, which come from, of all places, New Mexico! Look for the Gruet Demi-Sec ($14) if you prefer an off-dry wine.

Moderately Priced. Since there is such an abundance of moderately priced sparkling wines from all over the world, we limit our recommendations to those you may not know. As with inexpensive sparklers, the vintage date isn’t important on most of these wines. We recently returned from Austria and found some excellent Champagne-style wines made from Austrian varietals like Grüner Veltliner and Welschriesling. One that is widely available is the Steininger NV Grüner Veltliner Sekt ($24). We also recently tasted some French sparkling wines made outside Champagne that we especially like. From Burgundy

and made with Pinot Noir grapes in an elegant creamy style are the Domaine Michel Sarrazin Crémant de Bourgogne ($25) and Charles Duret’s Cremant de Bourgogne Rosé ($20). From Alsace there is the powerful and lush Wolfberger Crémant dÁlsace Brut ($20). From America we highly recommend a superb sparkling wine from Virginia called TJ Virginia Fizz ($23). It is a crémant style wine made from 100 percent Chardonnay by the talented team of Claude Thibaut and Manuel Janisson in Charlottesville. It has fresh apple aromas and flavors with a yeasty creamy palate filled with fruit and has a long finish. Finally, if you’d like try something from the Southern Hemisphere, we recommend an attractive rosé sparkler showing pretty light red berry fruit, the Graham Beck Brut Rosé ($19).

Luxury Cuvées. There are a lot of wonderful wines to choose from in this category. Champagne usually heads the luxury list, but in fact, there are lots of other top quality sparklers you can enjoy. It is hard to go wrong with Champagne; it’s t really all a matter of taste, and the price you are willing to pay. We like non-vintage and vintage Pol Roger, Henriot, Champagne Roland Champion, Champagne Trouillard, and Tattinger, to name but a few.

The NV Champagne Roland Champion Blanc de Blancs ($66) is a rich yeasty wine offering attractive lemon citrus aromas and flavors. Tattinger is recognized worldwide for producing some of the finest Champagnes available. The Tattinger Brut La Française ($35) is an attractive, rich tasting blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, while the 2004 Brut Millesimé ($80) raises the bar in term of complexity, elegance and refinement. There are many outstanding sparklers produced outside of Champagne in California, Italy, and Austria. These are equal in quality to Champagne and are made using the same méthode champenoise, but they cannot be called Champagne because they are not made in the Champagne region of France. Argyle Winery in Oregon produces some of the finest sparklers in the United States. Their sparklers sell at all price levels, but if you want something very special, try the refined and elegant Argyle 2000 Extended Triage Brut ($80). Much harder to find, but worth the effort are the Austrian Sekts of Willi Bründlmayer. His NV Sekt Brut ($44) and NV Sekt Brut Rosé ($44) are relatively expensive, but outstanding in quality.

Finally, there are no finer sparklers from Italy than the refined and delicate Bellavista Franciacortas. Try the Franciacorta Brut Cuvée NV ($52) or the Franciacorta Gran Cuvée Satèn ($80).

See Champagne and sparkling wine special reports by the International Wine Review at www.i-winereview.com. Read about the 170 year old Champagne discovered on the Baltic Ocean floor at facebook.com/iwinereview.