Breakin' down the bubbly

A quick lesson - and the ones to stock for the 2009 countdown

It's hard to envision counting down to the New Year without hearing the "pop" from a bottle of bubbly.

Even as a kid - when things were simpler - the sound of the sparkling apple cider bottle seemed synonymous with "three, two, one: Happy New Year!"

Though there's a bit more to them than Martinelli's famous fizzing apple drink, you certainly don't need a post-doc in sparklers to purchase a decent bottle. You just need to know the basics … and maybe a little French.

First of all, Champagne is to sparkling wine what Kleenex is to tissue. Both are proprietary names for their products, but neither are the actual names of what they produce. Bottom line, if it's not from the Champagne region of France, it shouldn't be called Champagne.

Cava from Spain or Prosecco from Italy are also proprietary names for sparkling wines made in their respective regions. California wineries keep it simple and call it sparkling wine.

Despite what some might say, sparkling wine is in no way inferior to Champagne. Top sparkling wines are made in all corners of the world, offering variety and quality, and often are more wallet-friendly than true Champagne.

Bubblies made in France outside the region of Champagne are labeled as "cremant" (rhymes with Fremont) then followed by the name of the region from which they come, such as Cremant de Loire or Cremant de Bourgogne. They also are typically had at a discount when compared to their more famous sibling.

A lesser known wine from the Piedmont region of Italy called Brachetto (Bra-KET-o) offers a distinctive spin on the classic sparkling wine. This bright red fully frothing wine bursts with aromas of ripe strawberries and raspberries, is slightly sweet, and simply looks like a holiday-in-a-glass. Availability of Brachetto is sometimes limited, but usually can be found at wine specialty stores.

Moscato d'Asti is another option with its own sassy style. Frizzante, or only semi-sparkling, is as easily appreciated before a meal, with the first course, or paired with a post-meal cheese plate. Moscato d'Asti is commonly described as "pretty" due to the singular orange blossom aroma and the captivating look of a frizzante wine in the glass. Most are slightly sweet and only have around 6.5 percent alcohol, not much more than your average beer.

Mumm Napa has been a leading brand of domestic sparkling wine for more than 20 years. Bottling nearly 200,000 cases per year, it is the second largest producer of sparkling wine in Napa Valley. Large, yes, but the quality has followed along as evidenced by high scores from critics and enough gold medals to make even Michael Phelps blush.

The winery just renamed its "Blanc de Noir" to "Brut Rose" in order to more accurately describe the wine. Whatever the name on the outside, the contents have received some heady accolades such as a gold medal from the Dallas Morning News Wine Competition and 92 points from Wine Enthusiast.

Cuvee M is another multiple gold award winner from Mumm Napa, and a less expensive alternative to the ever popular White Star by Moët & Chandon. It is made in an off-dry style making it a perfect match for spicier foods or a Bellini cocktail. To make the latter, simply add 1 ounce of peach puree to a flute and top with Cuvee M.

For a classic bubbly, Mumm Napa offers its Brut Prestige, which has won more medals in major wine competitions than any other in its class, including Platinum at the San Diego-based 2008 Critics Challenge.

Whatever style of sparkling wine you choose to help ring in the New Year, remember to do it responsibly.

Sparkler Fact

Here's one to take to your New Year's Eve party: Approximately 75 percent of all sparkling wine in the United States is purchased in the months of November and December.

And most importantly, it is not what's in your glass, but who you share it with.

   
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