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A wine writer’s occupational hazards include obligatory New Year’s columns on sparkling wines and year-end ‘best of” lists.

It’s fun to review the previous year and pick out a Top 10 – something you’ll read in the next Grape Sense. It’s tougher to write about sparkling wines when it isn’t a favorite. Still, it’s the time of year a lot of questions come up about a New Year’s sparkler.

After a little more than three years and 82 newspaper columns, only two were about sparkling wines. Some of that is repeated here along with two best bet suggestions.

Any discussion about sparkling wine has to start with French Champagne. It’s not cheap, there is lots of it, and it can range from plain awful to magic in a glass. You can buy the Dom Perignon for around $130 a bottle. You can take a step up from that and go with Louis Roederer’s Cristal in a crystal bottle if you’re prepared to shell out $350.

But let’s face it; most of us aren’t buying that sort of wine.

If you want something more than the grocery’s usual Asti-Spumante (which isn’t bad), then you have to get into your nearest wine shop and rely on the merchant’s expertise.

A good place to start is with an Italian Prosecco. It’s generally lighter than champagne, less alcohol content, but you still get the bubbles! And you can find pretty decent Prosecco at $15-$20.

Another great pick is a Spanish Cava. Cava hails from the region around Barcelona. Cava sparkling wines have become very popular and can be found in the $10-$20 range.

If you want a good U.S. sparkling wine (only France’s Champagne region can call its juice ‘Champagne’) there are good options. California’s Korbel and Washington’s St. Michelle have value sparklers and more expensive bubbling wines that will be great for Dec. 31.

Roederer Estate in Mendocino’s Anderson Valley makes really beautiful sparkling wine at a higher price point. I tasted several of their sparkling wines during a January 2011 trip to Mendocino and all were really beautiful. The Roederer Estate sparklers range from $20-$150.

Probably the easiest to find and safest choice, that will delight your palate, is California’s Gloria Ferrer’s Sonoma Brut. The wonderful and affordable Ferrer Brut is made of the traditional blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The bubbly has a nice soft or almost creamy feel in your mouth. It tastes much better than its easy-to-digest price point of $16-$20.

My top choice for your New Year’s Eve is widely available and one of the best wines I tasted this year. Banfi Rosa Regale is a delicious Italian sparkling wine. It has strong raspberry with a rich mid-palate. The bubbles are somewhat restrained. The dark cranberry color is festive and beautiful. The alcohol is a ridiculously low 7 percent. The suggested retail is $20.

You can’t go wrong with the Gloria Ferrer Brut or Banfi Sparkling Rose’. Try either or both and celebrate the New Year!

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

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