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Bubbly can be like a bad relationship

Bad Champagne is like a bad and broken relationship: It's fizzy and fun while enjoying it; it gives you a headache when it's done; and once it's gone you wonder why you ever bothered - it was so ... cheap.

That isn't to say one must drink bad Champagne, but unfortunately, my own person experience (read: weddings without a decent spending budget, New Year's Eve "all-inclusive" dinners and drinks; and my own lack of spending budget) is littered with many a New Year's Eve Champagne that was less than good.

It's doesn't have to be that way. Sparkling wines and Cavas are brilliant alternatives to the one labeled "Champagne" (more on this in a minute), and often it's just those alternatives that can make the drink an experience to remember.

Don't get hung up on the word, "Champagne" this New Year's Eve. Champagne is a province in northeast France and so the sparkling wine from that province is the sparkling wine that gets to use the moniker. But it's still just sparkling wine, and sparkling wine is produced all over the world.

Champagne/sparkling wine is made by fermenting grape juices from different vineyards, which are then blended and bottled with sugar and yeast to make it ferment a second time. When the carbon dioxide dissolves in the wine, it creates the "sparkle" or effervescence.

There's a "code" involving the taste of Champagnes and sparkling wines: dry, extra-dry, sec and demi-sec. Brut, a sort of Champagne standard, is the driest. Dry and extra-dry have almost no sugar added. Sec is sweet, and demi-sec is even sweeter. The alcohol content of Champagnes varies between 10.5 percent and 13 percent.

Here's the best kept secret about sparkling wines: Cava. It's a remarkable alternative to the French Champagne and costs less. Produced in northern Spain's Catalonia region, more than 200 million bottles come from Spain every year.

Spaniards drink Cava throughout a meal, though, like Champagne, the sweetness can vary. It's also fairly easy to find, as most wine shops and the larger liquor emporiums stock a varied selection.
So out with the bad Champagne this New Year's Eve and in with the excellent sparkling wine, whether it comes from a province in northeast France or elsewhere. Noting the changing of the years is about celebration and nostalgia. It's about realizing the swift passage of time, the lumps and the loves of life itself. It's about getting a little misty-eyed and it's about kissing.

All of which pair very well with a lovely sparkling wine, whether it comes from "Champagne" or not.

A Cuban gentleman I know suggests Domaine Chandon Brut from California. I mention it because the price is very right, he was passionate in his description, and because I am, therefore, going to try some on New Year's Eve.

Sheila Carey of Argonaut Wine & Spirits says, "Taittinger Brut, LaFrancais, Duval Leroy Paris Bottle and Perrier Jouet Grand Brut are all great."

Word(s) o' the Week

Verbiage commonly found on Champagne bottles:

Doux = Sweet
Demi-sec = Half-dry
Sec = Dry
Extra sec= extra dry
Brut= nearly completely dry
Extra brut / brut zero = no added sugar at all

One Winning Wine Tasting

Highlands WineSeller will host The Firefighters 2010 calendar wine tasting on December 18, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The benefit is for the Children's Hospital Burn Center and attendees will receive free wine tastings, while mingling with firefighters from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Those who buy calendars can get calendars autographed and a special wine, "Hook & Ladder," made by retired firefighter, Cecil DeLoach, will be available. Highlands WineSeller is located at 6668 Timberline Road in Highlands Ranch, Colo. Call 720.889.9463 for further information.

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