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When choosing bubbly to clink, don’t settle for fizzies that clunk

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Just as everyone has probably enjoyed a generous cup of cheer, sparkling wine has made its annual appearance – mostly as a merchandising gimmick. Grocery stores and “catch-all pharmacies” are trying to liquidate massive inventories. As a result, end-of-aisle displays feature the full gamut: overpriced French bubbly and sweet, alcoholic fizzies for 21-year-olds. Really, these monstrosities are just booby traps for the clumsy, and the already-inebriated who carry heavy ballast of ingested booze.

Steer the shopping cart carefully. Yes, there might be a nice sparkler in the mix. But, as readers of this column know, Chicago-area stores that focus only on libations are where the best values are found. It’s impossible not to find something just a little different to punctuate a hearty holiday toast. Save the national mega-stores to purchase of liberal amounts of stain-fighting Oxi-Clean. (That’s not a plug; spills are just harsh December realities among those who slur their way through the spirit of yuletide.)

Below are a few selections of parsimonious effervescence, which (despite that seeming contradiction) should keep guests happy and talkative – and not about how some clumsy oaf decapitated a tower of California “Champagne.” Chicago Budget Wine Examiner believes these top-quality sparkling wines will allow imbibers to stay financially grounded – and still fly high:

Gruet Blanc de Noirs NV: This sparkler from New Mexico has earned a spot as one of CBWE’s Top Five wines of the year. With 2014 imminent, it’s the perfect time to keep drinking this always-delicious conversation starter. A really nice, full-bodied bubbly, it features a buttery aroma and an almost palpable texture. Great flavors continue on the palate, with lots of green apple and notes of sweet spice. $10.

Belle de Nuit NV: Never count out France’s ability to produce the Champagne style – just a wee bit outside the Champagne region. This is perhaps the best Loire sparkler at its price point. Four classic grapes create a nice mélange: Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. It’s a great aperitif, but if there’s still some in the glass when the meal starts, it works – especially with the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Belle de Nuit opens with enticing tropical fruit aromas; the flavors are of juicy, ripe pear on the palate. $18.

Gran Sarao Brut Cava NV: Spanish Cava is a nice Iberian riff on the aforementioned Prosecco. After a yeasty opening note, the flavor of the Gran Sarao Brut is fairly straightforward. It’s dry and crisp, with pear and not-too-tart white grapefruit defining the palate. Nice and bright – with a nice price. $10.

Here’s to ensuring that all holiday conversations remain lively – long after the anticlimactic “clink.” Cheers!

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