Tiny bubbles titillate. There's something mesmerizing about watching them flood a tall, fluted glass, something intensely satisfying about the fizzy sensation that overtakes your tongue. It's hard to describe, but "sensual" comes close. Inexpensive sparklers double the effect, with the added pride of bargainship making for a perfect moment. Thanks to the growing popularity of bubblies in other countries, decent deals are more available now. But finding them, besides relying on the stereotypical bottle shape, can be a little more difficult because of naming rights. The common term in our vernacular is champagne, but the French get a little pissy about us genericizing their name a la Kleenex. Spanish speakers call them cavas, the Italians call them spumante, the French — outside of the Champagne region — crémant, and we should call them sparkling wines. No matter what country it hails from, bubbly is rising in quality and it's now hard to argue that the Real French Thing is the best for the money. With your wallet in mind, I've assembled a motley crew of labels under $30 per bottle, most under $20. Cheers.
Barefoot Cellars Chardonnay Champagne Extra Dry Apricots and raspberry flavors make this inexpensive California bubbly like fruit cocktail without the heavy syrup. Great balance of sugar that will please most palates. Sweetness = 6. $8. 1/2
Grandin Brut Loire Valley From another great region for sparkling wines in France — the Loire Valley. Full-bodied, with a taste that smacks of smooth almond butter. If you like your sparklers a bit less tart, this one's for you. Amazing value. Sw = 3. $10. 1/2
Lindauer Brut New Zealand Damn, those kiwis can make fantastic wine. Just as good as the snobby French, at a third of the price. This is easily the best deal out there for dry sparkling wines this year. Very dry with firm acids, citrus and a gorgeous creamy mouthfeel. Sw= 1. $12. 1/2
Argyle 1999 Brut Willamette Valley From Oregon comes a refreshingly citrus, toasty, minerally sparkling wine. Has some great oomph to it in the mouth and finishes clean. Sw = 2. $14.
Codorniu Pinot Noir Brut Cava This pink Spanish sparkler bears the earthiness of a pinot noir, mixed with a crisp, tart strawberry. Very light-bodied and easy to drink. Sw= 2. $14.
Jean Baptiste Adam Cremant d'Alsace Brut This French sparkling wine is a bargain from the Alsace region. Toasty citrus, with plenty of fizz to liven up the party. Sw = 3. $18. 1/2
Mumm Napa Cuvée 'M' For the sweeter sparkling fans out there, here comes a doozy. Rich and fruity with strawberries and peaches. Hints of vanilla and caramel as well. Sw = 7. $18.
Prestige Mumm Cuvee Napa Valley Clean and spicy, smelling coolly like wet slate. Citrus and mineral define the flavor. Sw =2. $18. 1/2
Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley From California. Full of toasty yeast, lemon and green apple. Sw = 2. $20.
Mumm Cuvée Napa Blanc de Noirs Brut Zesty and tangy sparkling wine with fresh strawberries coming to the party. Crisp and light. Sw = 3. $22. 1/2
Duval Leroy Brut Champagne A French, full-bodied, tangerine-y, citrus number. Great deal on the real deal from the old country. Yeasty and floral, too. Sw = 2. $26. 1/2
Rosell Boher Brut From Argentina comes a surprising new, exceptionally good cava. Flush with refreshing red and green apples, toasted bread and a finish that doesn't quit. Sw = 1. $27. 1/2
Oudinot Cuvée Brut Light, refreshing raspberry with loads of action on the tongue. Kickass fruity finish, too. Quite yummy. Sw = 2. $29. [email protected]