Alternative Bubbles 

Where to get your bubbly if you're tired of champagne.

Want to show up at your New Year's Eve party with champagne, but can't afford the Dom Pérignon -- and your friends are too good for the André? This year, impress 'em with your good taste with these alternatives to champagne, all recommended by local wine experts. These sparkling wines from Italy, Spain, and yes, France, are hip, erudite, and shockingly cheap.

John Rittmaster, wine director of Prima Vini in Walnut Creek, recommends you bring along a Prosecco, a sparkling wine from the Veneto region of Italy. "Prosecco is very underrated," he says. "Really good ones are very good and very inexpensive." His favorite bottle at Prima is Sorelle Bronca ($12).

Rittmaster also has good things to say about two other northern Italian sparkling wines: Ferrari Brut ($20) from the Trentino region and Bella Vista ($20) from Franciacorta.

Libby Connolly at the Spanish Table in Berkeley suggests you present your hosts with a Cava, which comes from a Catalonian region famous for its sparklers. I've drunk many a plastic glass of Freixenet at art openings, but according to Connolly, that's (thankfully) just the cheap end of the Cava spectrum.

Spanish Table's Can Vendrell ($13.99) is "very soft and delicate with small bubbles." It's also organic. But if you're out to impress the fashionistas, not just the hippies, she suggests two Cavas from the Privat bodega (winery): the crisp 1999 Laietà Riserva ($19.99) or the Gran Riserva Opus Evolutium ($23.99), a mellower sparkling wine with oak, vanilla, and buttery notes to it. Both come in an elongated, stylishly decorated bottle that will look good in your hand.

There's more to French sparkling wine than champagne, says Carl Davidson, manager and wine buyer for the Oakland branch of Vino. He, too, has kind words for Proseccos and Cavas, but "the one that really works for us is from the South of France."

Over the years, Vino's clientele has been impressing its friends and neighbors with the Blanquette de Limoux ($8.95). "There's actually a case that sparkling wine was first made in the region this wine comes from, not in Champagne," Davidson says. Instead of pinot noir and chardonnay, however, the Blanquette is made from Mauzac, a grape indigenous to the south, blended with chardonnay and chenin blanc. According to Davidson, "It's dry, with a little bit of the toasty, biscuity flavor of champagne -- in fact, it's better than some inexpensive champagnes."

And finally, for the underage and the non-imbibers, Davidson recommends a dry sparkling cider from Normandy, Duché de Longueville ($4.95). "Nothing like Martinelli's," he says.

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