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Budget sparklers for holiday parties

Wednesday, December 16, 2009; E05

Prices are approximate. Check Wine-searcher.com to verify availability, or ask a favorite wine store to order through a distributor.

Last week, Dave McIntyre recommended splurge sparklers, arbitrarily defined as costing more than $30. For celebrations on a budget, look to sparkling wines from France outside of Champagne: Alsace, Bourgogne, Loire and Limoux. Italy offers prosecco and Franciacorta (though the latter can be pricey). Spain brings us Cava, many California sparklers still retail for less than $30, and winemakers around the world can't resist toying with bubbles.

A large-format bottle makes a nice present for the wine lover on your gift list. The Chevalier de Grenelle Saumur, a sparkling chenin blanc from France's Loire Valley, comes with a pewter label on magnums and holds the equivalent of two 750-ml bottles. At $40, it is available in the District at Central Liquors, Magruder's, and Paul's of Chevy Chase, and in Maryland at Finewine.com in Gaithersburg, Bradley Food & Beverage in Bethesda, and Frederick Wine House (Monsieur Touton Selection).

Willm "Cuvée Leon IX"

**

Cremant d'Alsace, France, $16

What a wonderful value in a sparkling wine. Cremant d'Alsace doesn't give the complexity or richness of champagne (or the sticker shock, of course), but this example from Willm is topnotch, with great balance and a core of red fruit flavors that yield to a clean, refreshing finish. The package is attractive, too, which means this wine looks and tastes more expensive than it is.

Monsieur Touton Selection: available in the District at Ace Beverage, Burka's, Paul's of Chevy Chase, Riverside Liquor, Subway Liquors II; on the list at the Jockey Club. Available in Maryland at Adega Wine Cellars in Silver Spring, Silesia Liquors in Fort Washington, Frederick Wine House. Available in Virginia at Balducci's in Alexandria.

Gussalli Beretta, Saten,

"Lo Sparviere" Brut

**

Franciacorta, Italy, $26

Delicious and delicate, with fine balance and finesse. Intellectual rather than hedonistic.

Siema: available in Maryland at Cork & Fork in Bethesda, I.M. Wine in Fulton, Giolitti Delicatessen and Catering in Annapolis; on the list at Assaggi in Bethesda, Rip's Country Inn in Bowie. Available in Virginia at the Italian Store in Arlington, Rick's Wine & Gourmet in Alexandria, the Wine Cabinet in Reston.

Domaine Carneros Brut, 2005

**

California, $27

Domaine Carneros is consistently a leading producer of sparkling wine in California. Its association with the Taittinger champagne house can't hurt. The 2005 shows nice complexity and finesse.

Republic National: widely available, including in the District at Ace Beverage, Calvert Woodley, Chevy Chase Wine & Spirits, Circle Wine & Liquor, Magruder's, Morris Miller Wine & Liquor, Rodman's; on the list at Occidental Grille, 1789.

Domaine de Martinolles 2005

**

Cremant de Limoux, France, $18

The fine bead of bubbles gives this wine an ephemeral texture that envelops soft-spoken flavors of red currant and cream. An excellent aperitif wine. Predominantly chardonnay, with chenin blanc and pinot noir finishing the blend.

Wine Traditions: available in the District at D'Vines, De Vinos; available in Virginia at Wine Cabinet in Reston, Vienna Vintner.

Scharffenberger Brut

**

Mendocino, Calif., $21

This wine, often found on sale in the $17-to-$19 range, is consistently one of the top values in California sparkling wine.

Republic National: widely available, including in the District at Bell Wine & Spirits, Chevy Chase Wine & Spirits, MacArthur Beverages, Schneider's of Capitol Hill, Watergate Wine & Beverage; on the list at Clyde's.

Alma Negra Sparkling Chardonnay 2007

* 1/2

Mendoza, Argentina, $20

Pricier than most Argentine fizz, but a step up in quality as well. This shows blanc de blancs' character with its golden color and its fat, orchard-fruit palate.

Winebow: available in the District at Bell Wine & Spirits, D'Vines, MacArthur Beverages, Zola Wine & Kitchen.

Domaine du Pas Saint Martin Brut 2006

* 1/2

Saumur, France, $18

Like drinking a crisp, fall apple straight from the tree, with bubbles.

Wine Traditions: available in the District at Cork Market, P&C Market; available in Virginia at Au Domaine in Alexandria.

Maison Vergnes "Le Berceau" Brut

* 1/2

Blanquette de Limoux, France, $13

Delightful, crisp and citrusy, with a hint of roast nuts to give it some complexity. This is an excellent aperitif wine to be savored alone or with light appetizers. Made from the mauzac grape, sustainably farmed.

Wine Traditions: available in the District at Best Cellars, Cork Market, Whole Foods Market Tenleytown and P Street NW; on the list at Buck's Fishing & Camping, Cashion's Eat Place, Cork Wine Bar, Iron Gate, Johnny's Half Shell. Available in Virginia at Arrowine in Arlington, Cecile's Wine Cellar in McLean, Whole Foods Market in Arlington and Alexandria, Wine Cabinet in Reston; on the list at Inox in McLean.

Jean-Baptiste Adam Brut

* 1/2

Cremant d'Alsace, France, $20

Bright fruit and delicious crisp acidity make this wine a winner.

Winebow: available in the District at Wine Specialist.

Andre Delorme Reserve 100 Percent Chardonnay

*

France, $10

Although the label doesn't give an appellation, the producer is in Rully, Burgundy. This simple fizz delivers everything one would want for a sawbuck.

Monsieur Touton Selection: available in the District at Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits, Paul's of Chevy Chase, Riverside Liquor, Subway Liquors II, Wagner's, Wine Specialist; available in Maryland at Country Boy in Wheaton, Hillandale Wine & Beer in Silver Spring, Rodman's in White Flint; on the list at Praline in Bethesda.

Champalou Brut

*

Vouvray, France, $21

Textbook chenin blanc, with heirloom apple flavors studded with bubbles. This wine is good with slightly spicy Asian dishes.

Kermit Lynch/Winebow: available in the District at Cork 'N Bottle, Paul's of Chevy Chase, Whole Foods Market P Street NW; on the list at Art & Soul, Cafe Asia, Poste.

Cuvee Victoria Blanc de Blancs Brut 2003

*

Moldova, $17

There aren't many wines from Moldova on the market. This one is more than simply a novelty: It is refreshing, pleasant fizz that can help turn any day into a holiday.

Nice Legs: available in the District at Modern Liquors; available in Virginia at the Butcher's Block in Alexandria, Opera House Gourmet in Manassas, Whole Foods Market in Vienna; on the list at Morrison House in Alexandria.

Desiderio Jeio Brut

*

Prosecco, Italy, $18

Bright and light, with hints of tropical fruit.

Vias/Country Vintner: available in the District at MacArthur Beverages, Morris Miller; on the list at Posto. In Maryland, on the list at Brio Tuscan Grille and Harry Brown's in Annapolis.

Fitz-Ritter Riesling Sekt Extra Trocken

*

Germany, $19

For many lovers of German wine, a celebratory dinner begins with sekt, a dry sparkling Riesling that can refresh a tired palate before dinner.

Winesellers/Country Vintner: available in the District at MacArthur Beverages. Available in Maryland at I.M. Wine in Fulton, the Wine Source in Baltimore; on the list at Pure Wine Cafe in Ellicott City.

Juve y Camps Reserva 2005

*

Cava, Spain, $14

Cava is not often produced as a vintage wine but is typically a blend of several vintages. This example shows an interesting complexity from its age.

Winebow: available in the District at U St. Mini Market; on the list at Jaleo, Vinoteca.

Canella Brut

*

Prosecco di Conegliano, Italy, $20

From a leading prosecco producer, this is a fine aperitif, with hints of peach, nectarine and citrus.

Empson/Bacchus: available in the District at Burka's, Chevy Chase Wine & Spirits, Pearson's; available in Maryland at Wells Discount Liquors in Baltimore.

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