A taste for Champagne on a beer budget? Holiday bubbly for any allowance

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Like all wines, taste and price of prosecco varies. Canella makes a nice one, mellow and fruity, for about $15 a bottle. Carpene Malvolti produces a drier type that runs around $18 a bottle. Striking a nice balance between soft and dry, Mionetto’s Prosecco di Valdobbiadene ($14) is one by which others are measured (and measure themselves). I like Mionetto Organic Prosecco ($15) better yet. Curiously, one of the less expensive proseccos, by Lunetta, is among the nicest. And for about $12 a bottle, you could gargle with it every day.

Of course, you can’t go wrong with the real stuff. Champagne, that is. Among the best is Gossett Grande Reserve MV, a regal and wonderfully delicate bubbly that elevate any event – and everyone’s spirits ($65). Gossett’s Brut Excellence is also wonderful (and easier on your wallet at $46 a bottle).

Hand your host a bottle of Moet & Chandon Grand Vintage 2000 ($65), and you’ve just guaranteed yourself two things: you’ll be adored by the recipient and envied by those who gave lesser bottles. Classic and complex, this is the real deal.

Also lovely is the Delamotte Brut NV ($50), which has a heady smell of fresh baked bread when you pop the cork. A warm and lovely bottle of bubbly.

Still, my new – and possibly long-time favorite – is Barnaut Grand Cru ($50), a bottle of which I recently bought at South Tampa’s CRU Cellars wine bar and shop. It’s one beautiful, delicate, rosé.

Domestic sparklers are hardly second rate. Among the best is Schramsberg’s Blanc de Noirs ($37). Amazingly smooth, with lots of depth and grace. And something about its faint rose color (from the skins of pinot noir grapes) makes it especially festive.

For those in search of something more unusual, I’d go with a few bubblies from the boot. As in Italy. Murgo Brut ($40), a Sicilian obscurity, is one of those wines that reminds me how little I know about booze. I only recently ran into this wine, and it’s one of the most pleasant surprises I’ve had all year. Dry, with hints of black cherry and a zesty hazelnut-like bitterness at the finish, and entirely refreshing. Fantastic.

Another nifty Italian is Fantinel Extra Dry, which I like lots better than most “name” proseccos at triple the cost. Very dry and wonderfully smooth and soft. And at $10 a pop, you can afford to include most everyone on your holiday gift list.

Now don’t be fooled by the skanky label. Fantinel Rose is regal stuff. Dry ,dry, dry, with hints of rose petals. Wonderful. And at about ten bucks, a royal steal.

And there you have it, a list of fantastic sparkling wines for any budget. (Unless, of course, you're more of an Andre fan, then I'm sure your local Wal-Mart can hook you up.)

Image: Velo Steve via Flickr.

As you obsess about jazzing up what holiday feast you’ll put in the oven, don’t neglect what you sip from your glasses. You see, the right wine can be a key ingredient in your holiday meal, including how you kick things off.

Sure, few things are more festive than champagne, but bubbly can be too much wine for the Florida heat (and too hard on your wallet for big parties). Thankfully, there’s prosecco, a sparkling wine that’s sort of a younger, more carefree cousin with an Italian accent. Unlike champagne, whose sharp yeastiness can be a downer when it’s hot, prosecco’s softer, cleaner taste and finish make it perfect no matter which way the mercury’s headed.

And good prosecco runs under $20 a bottle. You’d be lucky to get a half-bottle of good champagne at that price.

Made from a grape by the same name in Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, a tiny area just north of Venice, Italy’s most popular sparkling wine comes in several pyrotechnic versions: Frizzante (fizzy) and spumante (very fizzy). Most of the good stuff is frizzante. There are non-fizzy ones, but you don’t see many in the states; plus, you’d be better off going for a wine made from other white varietals.

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