How to buy Champagne (or its cheaper, just as cheery cousins)

Champagne - CNN

So, the New Year's Eve shindig hosting has fallen to you. Your guests will likely expect Champagne or some analogue thereof. Now is not the time to defy expectation. Here are a few tips for getting a banging bottle of bubbly without breaking the bank.

Bubbles, bubbles - no toil, no trouble

- If you wanna go big with the Dom Perignon or vintage Veuve, do that for the first glass. Raise a toast, make a fuss - then switch to the less expensive (but just as delicious stuff).

- Less expensive, you say? Oui. It needn't be capital-C Champagne, which to be labeled as such, must come from the Champagne region of France.

There's some smashing stuff out there to be sure - and a side effect of climate change may be that Champagne grapes are yielding their tastiest, earliest crops in ages. Master sommelier Richard Betts swears by Champagne Krug as the "pinnacle" and says "Their entry-level Krug M.V. Cuv233;e is rich, round, complex and a great partner to food, family and friends." Last year, associate editor Sarah and I had our socks knocked clean off by a glass of Vilmart & Cie Grande Reserve poured for us by restaurateur and wine rapper Jdollasign (a.k.a. Justin Warner). If there are just a few of you and you care to live large, we surely are not going to stop you.

But back to the price point. There are plenty of other just as appealing and infinitely cheaper sparkling wines from other parts of the world.

My personal favorite is Prosecco - especially my house favorite Villa Jolanda, which I dig enough to have served at our wedding. It's an Italian sparkling wine that offers serious bang for the buck, and often retails for between $9-$13. It's every bit as festive as Champagne and hey, if you're worried your guests will feel slighted, pour it in another room and come out bearing a festive tray of flutes or coupe glasses. Chances are they'll never know the difference and if they do judge you - well, that's just bad manners on their part.

Cava, from Spain is another excellent, budget-friendly option and I've had excellent luck with Marques de Gelida. It comes in a big, festive yellow-wrapped bottle and just pops with the tapas-inspired appetizers I mentioned above.

Food & Wine's Ray Isle swears by 2010 Jaume Serra Cristalino Cava - a bargain at $10. He says, "Affordable bubbly is a necessity this time of year. Buy this one by the case. Crisp and citrusy, a perennial bargain, it comes from Spain's Pènedes region."

Plenty of other domestic sparkling wines abound - and I can't encourage you enough to have a chat with your local wine store owner to figure out the best solution for your needs. They're in the business of making sure you come back, so don't be sheepish about not knowing exactly what offerings each vineyard has, or even what country you'd care to embrace. Come in armed with a price point and the list of tasting terms I'm about to share, and come home popping with pride over your wine shopping smarts.

Wine Library TV's Gary Vaynerchuk stopped by to share a few of his favorite off-the-radar sparklers - some for under $10.

- A few tasting terms:

  • Extra Brut: "Extra" dry, meaning least sweet
  • Brut: Dry, and the most common
  • Extra dry: Weirdly, this means dry, but not as dry as brut
  • Sec / Demi-sec: Fairly sweet
  • Doux: Very sweet
  • Chill out

Forgot to chill the bottle? No biggie. If you have space in your yard or on a balcony or porch and it's chilly out, take advantage of Mother Nature's largesse. Stash bottles in a dark corner or even in a snowbank - just don't forget to haul in extras if you have any when the night ends.

But -- while those are on deck, resist the urge to pop the bottle in the freezer; that'll only lead to heartbreak. Grab a tall pot or even a pitcher, place your bubbly in there with water and as much ice as will fit and spin that bottle 'round and 'round to expose as much of the liquid as possible to the chilly conditions. It'll take a few minutes, but it's infinitely more festive than serving warm Champers.

- Start the year off with a bang

Cocktail king Dale DeGroff shares his favorite rendition of the classic French 75 - a cocktail named for its visceral resemblance to the explosion of a 75-millimeter field cannon.

Says DeGroff, "Julie Reiner is a partner in Pegu Club, as well as the owner of Flatiron Lounge, and is recognized as one of the pioneering cocktail lounges of the worldwide cocktail renaissance. Julie recently opened Clover Club on Smith Street in Brooklyn -- the epicenter of the Brooklyn restaurant/bar revival. The Clover Club French 75 is made with gin, lemon, sugar and champagne."

French 75 Ingredients: 1 ounce (30 ml) Plymouth Gin 3/4 ounce (25 ml) simple syrup 1/2 ounce (15 ml) fresh lemon juice 3 ounces Champagne

Preparation: Shake the Brandy, lemon juice and simple syrup well with ice and strain into an ice filled wine glass and top with Champagne. Garnish with lemon peel.

- You'll shoot your eye out

Caution is called for - no one needs a New Year's Eve ER visit. Aim the bottle's neck AWAY from you or any other person or breakable, tilt it to a 45-degree angle, firmly grasp the cork and twist the bottle. A popping cork is the happiest sound in the universe, but you don't want it to go flying - and waste all your precious bubbly in the process.

- Ring it in, kid

Ya know what's really cool and oughtn't be overlooked? Your friends and loved ones picked YOU to shepherd in their 2012. That's a wonderful vote of confidence and it also shows that they're rooting for you and trust that you know what you're doing, host-wise. And that's worth a toast, I think.

Cheers! (And get your guests home safely.)

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