Dom Perignon, the French Benedictine monk, did not know that he was starting a grand holiday tradition 300 years ago, when he discovered the perfect blend of grapes and "methode champenoise" to create sparkling, dry champagne.

Now, three centuries later, as the clock winds down on 1982, thousands of Washington-area party-goers are getting ready to pop Perignon's mushroom-shaped corks (which he invented, along with champagne) to indulge in a bit of the bubbly.

"The city of Washington will sell in this two-week period approximately 15,000 cases of champagne," said Irving Falk, sales manager and executive vice president of the Kronheim Co., liquor wholesalers. At 12 bottles per case, that translates into 180,000 corks popped.

"Champagne does sell exceptionally well at New Years," agreed Norman Plotnick, owner of the Aspen Hill Wine, Beer and Cheese Shoppe at 13745 Connecticut Ave. in Wheaton. Plotnik said that he expects to sell between 60 and 80 cases of champagne this season.

Champagne prices typically run from $4 to $15 for domestic champagne and from $10 to $50 for imports.

"American champagne" is a misnomer, since champagne technically is the wine that hails from the Champagne district of France, about 90 miles north of Paris. While California bottlers call their sparkling wine champagne, European producers of sparkling wines reserve that name strictly for the French wine.

The largest sellers in this area seem to be the popular American brands--Great Western, Taylor and Paul Masson--according to the various merchants interviewed. But at the MacArthur Beverages store at 4877 MacArthur Blvd. NW, Eliott Staren has noticed a subtle shift in this year's consumer tastes.

"More than ever before, people are looking to other countries for their sparkling wines," said Staren, a wine consultant at MacArthur for more than 12 years.