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How to choose a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine for Christmas, New Year's and beyond

A pour of sparkling wine at at Sparkling

A pour of sparkling wine at at Sparkling Pointe in Southold.  Credit: Randee Daddona

While we might not feel much like celebrating 2020, the reality is that corks will always pop around the holidays. In my house, they pop regularly, because I'm of the belief that sparkling wine goes with almost everything, doesn't need to empty your wallet and should be sipped year-round — whether cava, Champagne, or prosecco, or crèmant de Loire.

Hold up … crèmant de what? This lower-cost cousin to Champagne can be one of the many bottom-heavy bottles facing you down from a wall of bubbly. The choices can be intimidating: How is cava different from Veuve Clicquot? Is sparkling rosé always sweet? Is there much bubbly to choose from on the Long Island front?

Here is a rundown of major sparkling styles, with a few local alternatives.

You'll pay for Champagne for a reason. While this name gets bandied about for sparkling wines in general, it technically only applies to bubbly from France’s Champagne region produced primarily with chardonnay (blanc de blancs, of "white of whites"), pinot noir (blanc de noirs, or "white of blacks") and pinot meunier grapes. These wines are also made in the traditional style, aka méthode traditionelle, which is a time- and labor-intensive process involves adding sugar, hand-turning bottles and lengthy aging, with secondary fermentation occurring in the bottle. You pay for that TLC — but what you usually get in return are complex, creamy, toasty flavors and superfine bubbles. Veuve Clicquot is one of the most visible brands, but if you want to explore the sensory possibilities, ask your local wine purveyor for grower Champagne made by a small family producer.

LOCALLY East End bubbles can deliver the same luxe experience, and there are more than a handful to choose from — for instance, any of a number of bottles from Sparkling Pointe in Southold, the 2016 blanc de blancs from Bedell Vineyards ($60) in Cutchogue, the 2017 estate blanc de blancs from Sherwood House Vineyards ($45) in Jamesport or the blanc de blancs from Paumanok Vineyards ($45 to $50) in Aquebogue.

Prosecco is versatile. Originating in northeast Italy, prosecco is produced from the white grape glera and gains fizziness via secondary fermentation in a tank, rather than a bottle. That simpler production equals lower-cost, often fruitier wines — think melons and apples. Prosecco can also have exuberant, fat, lasting bubbles and are pretty versatile — this is the sparkling wine to use in mimosas or Aperol spritzes. Look for the initials DOC or, even better, DOCG on the back label as a mark of quality; $15 can buy a pretty decent bottle.

LOCALLY I've been vibing lately on the off-dry, canned bubbles from Bridge Lane Wine in Mattituck, made from riesling, which are out of stock at the winery but I've found easily at local retailers for around $7 per 375-milliliter can (that's equal to half a bottle of wine).

Moscato is sweet, but other sparkling rosé is rarely so. If you crave a sugar punch with your sparkling wine, moscato has you covered. For bouncy berrylike flavors, go for Lambrusco, which can be either sweet or dry.

LOCALLY The 2019 sparkling rosé from Shinn Estate ($42) in Mattituck was recently released, and is made mostly from chardonnay, with a touch of pinot noir. The 2018 Horses sparkling wine from Macari Vineyards ($26) is a quaffable cabernet-franc-based sparkler from the Mattituck winery.

Pét-nats are so … fresh. Usually found under a poppable crown cap and in the hands of generation next, pétillant naturel is sparkling wine made from juice bottled during fermenting, so it gains carbonation in the bottle. They are gently fizzy, often funky, drunk young, and can range from round and fruity to bone-dry. They are fun to drink, but are rarely cheap.

LOCALLY Channing Daughters in Bridgehampton is the epicenter of local pét-nats, and produce a wide range (all $28) made from grapes such as merlot or tocai friulano. Jamesport Vineyards (in Jamesport) also produces pét-nats, and is currently selling a syrah-based sparkling ($42) at the winery or via the website.

And, finally:

Cava usually overdelivers for the price. These dry sparklers from Spain are produced from grapes such as macabeo, xarel-lo and parellada. Because they’re made in the traditional method, like Champagne, you can happen upon that same delicate fizz and brioche notes but sometimes with added smokiness. Like prosecco, $15 will score a good bottle, $25 a great one.

Don't fear the crémant: Produced in seven sparkling wine appellations throughout France, these comparatively affordable bubbles (often, $18 to $30) can also mimic Champagne. Look to Crémant de Loire for crisp, racier wines and Crémant de Limoux for chardonnay-driven roundness.

Wishing you a bubble-filled new year, if you so wish!

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