Bargain Bubbly 

Make your New Year's Eve sparkle without breaking the bank.

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If you read this column frequently, you might know that my favorite Champagne is Salon Blanc de Blancs Le Mesnil Cuvée "S." However, that's an unfortunate choice because a bottle of Salon sells for around $470. It's a Champagne I certainly won't be serving or sipping this New Year's Eve, unless a very generous benefactor comes my way in the next week or so.

However, you don't have to break the bank to drink bodacious bubbly on New Year's Eve, or any other time for that matter. There are plenty of excellent sparkling wines that are modestly priced and will help make your evening pop. Here are a few of my faves.

I think pink bubbly is especially festive and a good choice for celebrating New Year's Eve. One of my very favorite bottles is Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs ($18.99), from Sonoma. It's made from vibrant, hand-harvested Pinot Noir, along with a small amount of Vin Gris, which gives this sparkler its creaminess and rosy tint. It's a terrific, easy-drinking party wine, with hints of strawberry and black cherry, and a touch of marzipan on the palate.

I also like Rotari Brut Rosé ($13.99), a pink-hued, fragrant and elegant sparkling wine born in the Dolomites of Italy. It's made with hand-grown and hand-harvested Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes from the hills of Trentino, and it has a bouquet of strawberries and currants with hints of yeast on the palate. It serves as a very nice aperitif and pairs well with fish and seafood.

Here's a fun little test for your New Year's guests: Pour them a glass of Gruet Brut ($16.99) and then ask them to wager a guess about where it came from. They will inevitably guess France, since this lovely sparkler tastes like French Champagne that sells for three to four times the price of Gruet. Then, tell them it comes from Albuquerque. Yep, it's made in New Mexico, with roots originating in Gilbert Gruet's Champagne house in Bethon, France. Gruet also produces a wonderful Brut Rosé ($18.99) and an equally appealing Blanc de Noirs ($16.99).

When thinking about sparkling wine, South Africa doesn't usually spring to mind. However, I recently got to taste the outstanding, well-crafted Graham Beck Brut Rosé ($17) from South Africa's Western Cape. It's an amazing wine for the price, with cherry and raspberry fragrances, and more red berries to kiss the palate. Try it with oysters on the half shell.

Napa Valley's Domaine Chandon produces some of this country's best sparkling wines and I'm especially fond of Chandon Blanc de Noirs ($20.99). An American pioneer of Blanc de Noirs-style wines, Chandon uses Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier to produce this one. It's fruit-driven with mid-palate flavors of strawberry, cherry and currant, and it offers a creamy, soft texture.

Think you can't afford to pour French bubbly for New Year's Eve? Wrong. Made in the Loire, Marquis de la Tour Brut is a French sparkling wine that is bargain-priced at $11.99. It's got crisp acidity which makes it especially food-friendly, with fresh green apple, peach and citrus notes.

Anna de Codorniu Brut ($13.99) is an interesting sparkling wine from Spain, made with 70 percent Chardonnay and 30 percent Parellada grapes. The name Anna is an homage to the last Codorniu heiress to bear the family name. The Codorniu winery, by the way, dates back to 1551, and Anna de Codorniu lived in the 1600s. The aromas and flavors of this crisp, dry sparkler include apples, pineapple and pears, along with yeasty hints of baked brioche.

Enjoy your New Year's Eve, no matter which corks you choose to pop!

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