Nothing's more festive or goes better in any situation. Depending on your budget and taste, there are excellent options from all over the world.
I'd stay away from Korbel and White Star. (They'll know exactly what you spent if you go with such a well-known label.) Instead, choose something more obscure, yet of impeccable quality.
France is the birthplace of real Champagne, the world's greatest sparkling wine. According to legend, a Benedictine monk named Dom Pérignon (yeah, that's where they got the name) first created Champagne in the 1600s. Upon his first sip, he supposedly remarked, "I'm tasting the stars!"
The downside to real Champagne is that it's expensive.
If you want great QPR (quality-to-price ratio) in real Champagne, look for estate-bottled (or "grower") Champagnes like the excellent NV EGLY-OURIET BRUT TRADITION ($39 at PARTY SOURCE). Small production, it's made from a blend of 70 percent Pinot Noir and 30 percent Chardonnay grown in the region's finest "grand cru" vineyards.
Alternatively, MICROWINES in Kenwood is featuring a three-pack of grower Champagnes from artisan producers Henri Billiot, Jean Milan and René Geoffroy for about $140. Buy in bulk, and these could see you straight through the holiday season.
If you want to really impress somebody with a top of the line Champagne, go with NV KRUG "GRAND CUVEE. " This stuff is the pinnacle of excellent Champagne -- rich, full-bodied and extraordinarily consistent. I saw it at JUNGLE JIM'S for about $150 a bottle.
If you like the idea of something sparkling but don't necessarily want to shell out the big bucks for Champagne, then look to Spain and Italy. Spanish sparkling wine is called cava, and it's made from a blend of indigenous Spanish grapes. The outstanding 2001 MARQUES DE GELIDA CAVA BRUT ($14 at WINESTYLES in Mason) has an intensely yeasty, toasty personality that commands attention. The NV ZARDETTO PROSECCO ($14 at Hyde Park's THE WINE MERCHANT) from Italy is more fruit-driven (apples, pears) with a pleasing off-dry finish.
An excellent value in American sparkling wine comes out of New Mexico. The NV GRUET BLANC DE NOIR is widely available for only about $15 a bottle but shows terrific richness (it's made from 100 percent Pinot Noir) and fine, persistent bubbles.
Finally, if you're game for something a lot less traditional, look for the 2004 PARINGA "INDIVIDUAL VINEYARD" SPARKLING SHIRAZ ($10 at CORK-N-BOTTLE). The deep red color and startlingly mauve mousse will make it a festive addition to any holiday gathering. Serve it slightly chilled.
It comes across with a trace of sweetness but has the same gutsy black fruit you'd expect from Aussie Shiraz. This is one wild wine that's sure to make your holidays sparkle. ©