Food & Drink Value vino 

Festively fizzy

It's pretty much a given that Champagne is the libation of choice during the holiday season, and I say go for it - especially since Champagne itself goes with everything, with the possible exception of fruitcake - and go for the really good stuff if the budget allows. Not necessarily Krug, but any Duval Leroy, or my current fave, the Thienot Brut, all of which are likely to be found on seasonal special below their usual mid-$30s price.

For the rest of us, there is hope beyond Freixenet. Spain is actually one good place to look for champagne, or its equivalent, cavas. After all, genuine Champagne with a capital C only comes from the Champagne region of France. The Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad is a startlingly big sparkler, with an unctuous character that seems odd at first but grows on you, and which makes it appropriate for big-flavored cheeses or creamy dishes. The Spanish have also brought their wine-making savvy to Sonoma, and the Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut and the Blanc de Noirs are worth seeking out. The former is tart, bracing, and would be great with oysters, the latter is fuller bodied and fruitier, and big enough for Christmas ham.

The Italians, as 'most any country that makes wine, are also in the business of bubbles, and the products range from exuberant spumantes and fruity moscato d'Astis to the often more-refined proseccos. Martini & Rossi's Asti Spumante is widely available and makes no pretense of being super-sophisticated: It's spritzy, slightly sweet, and suffused with the perfume of ripe pear, making it one of the few sparklers actually appropriate with dessert. Santa Margherita's Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, on the other hand, is a model of propriety with a bright acid backbone that puts on French airs without flaunting toast or yeastiness.

The French themselves don't confine their sparkling wine production to Champagne, of course; the Loire Valley is just one region that also indulges in effervescence. The Bouvet Signature Brut, labeled a "white French sparkling wine," is only modestly bubbly and feels light on the palate, betraying just a touch of citrus. Its relative neutrality would make it the perfect base for mimosas or an elegant Kir Royale, in which the cassis or orange should shine through.

Americans have been on the bubbly bandwagon for years, too, sometimes supported by French companies, as with Roederer Estate, but just as often winging it to good effect, with Schramsberg coming immediately to mind. In Washington state, the Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Blanc Columbia Valley sparkling wine has a nice, yeasty nose and overtones of complex flavors such as hazelnut. It's light, lithe, and very dry. But it's Oregon's Argyle 2000 Brut Willamette Valley that sets the tone for sophisticated stateside sparklers at a moderate price. With a beautiful, baby bead (small bubbles are a sign of class) and hints of citrus and green apple, this winner would wow the seafood set, not to mention those simply sipping.

Bulgaria is one of the world's oldest winemaking regions, and the Christa Classic Semidry Sparkling Wine serves its history well. The bubbles are small but few, and while the golden-hued wine has hints of honey on both the nose and palate, its moderate acidity is elevated just enough to keep things from getting cloying. At around $8, the price is certainly right, and there's another advantage: This one might actually go with fruitcake.


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