Toast friends and family with a sparkling wine.

Sparkling Wine
Christmas Gift Ideas: Sparkling Wine
| Credit: Photo: Ralph Anderson

Each holiday, folks begin asking questions about sparkling wine--is there a difference between sparkling wine and Champagne? Can I buy a good bottle at an affordable price? Are there different styles? Yes, yes, and yes!

First, however, let's clarify something when it comes to sparkling wine: All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. In order for a sparkling wine to be called Champagne, it must be made using specific grapes--Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier--from the Champagne region of northern France. In other words, if you pick up a bottle of sparkling wine with the word "Champagne" on the label and it's not from France, put it down.

As with other wines, Champagne can range from very dry to very sweet in the following order: Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Sec, Demi-Sec, and Doux. The most popular style of Champagne, by far, is Brut, with almost all of it being designated as Nonvintage (NV). Only in exceptional years will Champagne have a vintage date.

Delicious and affordable sparkling wines are made around the world. In fact, just about every wine-producing country has a region devoted to making sparkling wine. However, the most widely available and affordable sparkling wines are from the U.S., Spain, Italy, and Australia.

Italians produce a couple of sparkling wines--most notably Prosecco (Pro-SECK-oh) from the Veneto region (home of Venice), and Spumante (the Italian word for "bubbly wine") from the region of Piedmont. It's worth noting that Prosecco--one of nature's true gifts--mixed with peach nectar or puree makes an authentic Bellini, invented at Harry's Bar in Venice.

Spain's wonderful sparkler, Cava (KAH-vuh), is made in the Penedès region near Barcelona. This may just be one of the best values around, because Cava is made in the Champagne method and can often be found for less than $10.

Chill sparkling wine for two to four hours for the proper serving temperature, and expect to get about seven or eight servings from a 750-milliliter bottle.