Who says it's better to give than receive? I'd be thrilled to receive any of the bubblies below, and reluctant to give them up. That said, it's gauche to show up empty-handed to a holiday or New Year's Eve party, especially when good, affordable bottles abound.
If you want to look like a high roller without breaking the bank, consider Rene Florancy Champagne, which is exclusive to Fresh & Easy stores. This well-made and easy-to-drink lovely won a number of awards this year including the 2008 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition and at the 2008 San Francisco International Wine & Spirits Competition. It shows like it costs much more and is on sale this month for a mere $24.
This is but one example. Good domestic sparkling wine, French Champagne (named after the region as well as production method), Italian prosecco and Spanish cava are everywhere and represent the ultimate in holiday and New Year's Eve wine gifts. But avoid the obvious and low market bottles (think Cook's and Andre). You can do better for just a couple bucks more, and you won't insult your friends.
Freixenet is the rare lower-end exception; this Spanish cava, known for its iconic black bottle, drinks well for the price point. Montcadi and Cristalino cavas cost about $7 and clearly are a step up from the aforementioned rotgut.
No, this season is about celebration and looking forward to a new year. I went looking for interesting sparklers at Total Wine & More, BevMo, Fresh & Easy and the new Marketside and found some good wines - and deals. Pop open a bottle or two this next week.
Villa Sandi Prosecco DOC Cuvee. Fruity and flowery aromas with slight yellow apple aromas, which translates to a fresh, fruity and slightly off-dry palate. Sip as an aperitif or blended with fruit juice. $19.
Lucien Albrecht Cremant, France. I've been an Alsace nut forever; I love the wines from this part of France near Germany. Made from 100 percent pinot blanc, the terroir of the region hits you over the head in this bottle with its fresh fruit and imminent drinkability. $19.
Mumm Napa Brut Rose. An 85-15 percent split between pinot noir and chardonnay. All that pinot noir imparts nice strawberry notes. Great food wine and works paired with hors d'oeuvres such as paté or caviar. $24.
Piper Sonoma Brut. This bottle represents a perfect affordable luxury. It's a fresh, vibrant wine with crisp citrus flavors and a long, elegant finish. Serve with sushi and go California dreamin' this New Year's Eve. $17.
Champagne Pommery Brut Royal, France. If you want to impress, walk through the door with this under your arm. The royal blue label immediately impresses, but it's the well-regarded nameplate that garners even more attention. Inside, the wine is resoundingly dry but possesses a balanced and supple fruitiness. $42.
Domaine Laurier Brut Methode Champenoise, California. Using traditional champagne methods, the producer was able to preserve the nuances of the chardonnay fruit, while creating a wonderful, toasty aroma. A winner at a mere $12.
Crane Lake Brut Sparkling Wine. The ultimate value play of the group at $8. Clean and fruity impressions of lemon, green apple and pear leads to some wood and caramel. Drink on its own or use in mimosas.