Holiday Bubbles 

Even people who aren't into wine break open a bottle of bubbly on New Year's Eve. While true Champagne can be a bit dear, there are wonderful alternatives from around the world. No matter which bottle you choose, skip the celebratory pop that sends the cork flying. It's a waste of wine, it depletes the bottle of the very bubbles you bought the stuff for and it can be downright dangerous. Instead, hold the cork tight, pulling gently as you rotate the bottle. Allow the pressure to escape with a subtle "piff."

If you're looking for a bargain, look no further than the Charles de Fère Brut Reserve. At $9.99 a bottle it's a perennial best buy. This French blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Ugni Blanc offers generous apple fruit flavors, with an appealing yeasty quality like fresh bread dough. Nice, persistent bubbles tickle the palate, and the finish is smooth and lovely with a hint of vanilla.

Want to step things up a notch? Look to California, where a number of France's top Champagne houses have opened for business. My continuing favorite is the Roederer Estate Brut Rose, $22, with its light and lovely pink hue. The flavors are all strawberry and soft cherry, but it boasts some nice acidity making this wine a natural to serve with food. The finish offers a delicate impression of toasted bread with a light kiss of sweet lemon.

Trading up to true Champagne doesn't have to break the bank. For just a few bucks more than the Roederer you can score a bottle of Duval-Leroy Brut, an exceptional value at just $28. This medium-bodied blend with the emphasis on Pinot Noir, offers nice touches of toast and vanilla to complement the smooth peach fruit, and the long, crisp finish. Duval-Leroy is a family owned Champagne house that's been in business for almost 150 years. Their Brut just made the Wine Spectator's Top 100 list for 2005. Enjoy it while you can because you can bet the price will be edging up as availability starts to decline.

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