Call it what you will: Champagne, sparkling wine, bubbly, Cava or Prosecco. But whatever you call it, this is the time of year when the wine with all the fizzy stuff gets the most attention.

In one respect, this is too bad, because sparkling wine deserves to be enjoyed year-round. It’s much more than something to pour on New Year’s Eve. As I learned early in my wine-writing career, sparkling wine pairs with almost any kind of food, oysters to chocolate-covered strawberries to chicken-fried steak.

But even if this is the only time of year you drink sparkling wine, there’s plenty to go around. So take a chance. Try something different. The recession, though it has slowed sales of the expensive, high-end stuff, has been quite helpful for bubbly that costs $20 and less. And there is some excellent wine at those prices. All are available at Central Market.

One other note: Only sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France can legally be called Champagne, thanks to trade agreements the European Union has signed with most of the rest of the world. The rest of the non-Italian world calls its bubbly “sparkling wine”; the Italians have Prosecco and Asti.

Here’s an overview of what you’ll find this holiday season:

• $10 and less. This is the stronghold of the Spanish and their Cava, which usually offers the most value. But I’ve always been impressed by an $8 French wine called Carousel, which has lots of chardonnay fruit and good acidity.

• $10 to $20. A Washington state wine, Domaine Ste. Michelle, provides quality, though it’s a bit soft. Also look for the cremants — French sparkling wines from the regions of Alsace, Burgundy and the Loire. Only the Burgundian wines are made with the traditional Champagne groups, but each is interesting and well worth a sip.

• $20 and up. This is where you’ll find most California sparklers, as well as Champagne. I’m a huge fan of Gloria Ferrer ($20), Iron Horse ($38) and the French Duval-Leory ($44), which is reasonably priced as Champagne goes.


With Your Wine: My mom’s 7-layer brownies

Who knows how many versions of this recipe are floating around, but my mom has always done something special with these. And as hard as I have tried over the years, I have never been able to make them as well as she does. And yes, they go very nicely with sparkling wine.

Serves 6-8, takes about 90 minutes


1/4 c butter

1 c graham cracker crumbs

1 c shredded coconut

1 6-oz pkg butterscotch chips

1 6-oz pkg semisweet chocolate chips

1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk

1 c chopped nuts

– Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and melt the butter in a 9×2-inch pan. Spread the graham cracker crumbs evenly over the bottom of the pan. Press down gently.

– Sprinkle the coconut evenly over the graham crackers. Then spread the chocolate chips over the coconut, the butterscotch chips over the chocolate and the nuts over the butterscotch chips. Pour the milk evenly over all.

– Bake 30 minutes or until the graham crackers are browned but not burned. Let cool in pan, and serve.


Ask the Wine Guy

Does Champagne (and sparkling wine) have a vintage?

Mostly not. It’s so difficult to make bubbly that the wine usually carries the NV (non-vintage) label. That means that grapes from more than one harvest are used to make it. Sometimes, in special years, the producers will make a vintage wine — and charge extra for it, since it’s supposed to be of higher quality.

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