Italian bubblies can be just as delightful and complex as Champagnes

For an activity that brings so much pleasure, drinking wine has an awful lot of rules. White wine with fish, red wine with beef or pork, no white wine after Labor Day. OK, I made that last one up, but you know what I mean.

One of the goofier wine "guidelines" is drinking Champagne only to celebrate. At least every other time I order Champagne at a restaurant, a waiter smiles coyly and asks what the special occasion is. Um, how about that it's Tuesday?

I can sort of understand this thinking. Champagne is a little pricey to drink every day, but you don't have to nuke your bank account for a bubbly treat.

For price and taste, I like Italian sparklers. Correction: Love them.

Italian bubblies can be just as delightful and complex as most Champagnes, which are made from a postage stamp-sized region in France. And they often cost less than a third as much.

Chances are you've had some of Italy's most popular spumante, Prosecco, made from a grape by the same name. Proseccos, produced in the Veneto region way up the calf of Italy's boot, tend to be softer and more easygoing than Champagnes. Which is also why they're perfect for Mimosas, the quintessential Sunday brunch cocktail that when done right (fresh squeezed orange juice and Prosecco, not Champagne) is sublime.

With Italians falling over themselves to supply America's seemingly unquenchable thirst for these sparklers, better Proseccos are popping up all the time, some of them truly fantastic.

Lemme tell you about the best ones I've tasted lately — which aren't always the most expensive.

Among my favorites is Adami's "Bosco di Gica" Brut Prosecco ($14), fresh and lively.

Zardetto makes a fine Prosecco Brut ($22) that gets a little more body from a dash of Chardonnay grapes.

Mionetto, a pioneer in introducing Americans to Prosecco, makes great ones, including a nicely nutty and zesty Prosecco Brut D.o.c. ($12). Among their snazzier sparklers, I especially like one simply dubbed Sergio ($17). As with anyone who goes by only a first name, you gotta have the personality to pull it off, and the creamy and complex Sergio does. Think of the pink-hued Sergio Rose ($17) as the preppier cousin. Mionetto's Organic Prosecco ($16) is super delicate and goes down very nicely.

For those who prefer their bubbles on the sweeter side, go with a bottle of Val D'Oca Prosecco ($16), a very light, refreshing bubbly with just a hint more sweetness. "The perfect Sunday wine," as Jennifer Bingham, owner of South Tampa wine bar and shop Cru Cellars, aptly puts it.

Jen also sells what may be the ideal travel-size Prosecco in her mini bottles of Riondo "Pink" Rosato Frizzante, filled with about a glass' worth of bubbly tasting of raspberries and strawberries. At a puny $5 a pop, no fridge, purse or picnic cooler should be without at least one.

Prosecco isn't the only bubbly in Italy. What's more, many of these other sparklers are ideal with dessert. I like Saracco's Moscato NV ($12). Made with Moscato grapes in Italy's mountainous Piedmont region, this wine is faintly effervescent and floral, and strikes just the right balance between sweetness and zingy acidity.

Ceretto's 2009 I Vignaioli Santo Stefano Moscato d'Asti ($23) wears its sweetness lightly, with nice hints of pear and honeysuckle. Lovely.

Cru Cellars: 2506 South MacDill Ave, Tampa. 813-831-1117, crucellarstampa.com.

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