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Budget Bubbly

Budget Bubbly

Blind tasting the pricey stuff against the bargain buys.

If you're having a hard time figuring what to pop open at the stroke of midnight later this week, don't fret — just about any dry sparkler will do. According Robin Goldstein, the subject of yesterday's Sip and creator of The Wine Trials books in which pricey wines are blind-tasted against inexpensive ones, legendary Champagnes are often beaten soundly by a $10 sparkler from Washington State.

Inspired by this, we held a blind-tasting of our own to see which bubblies are best for ringing in 2011. We used five bottles: Champagne Pommery Brut Royal ($33); Gruet Brut from New Mexico ($16); Sauvion Cremant de Loire ($17); 2006 Domaine Carneros Brut from California ($22); and Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Cava from Spain ($8). We tasted all the wines blind and averaged our rankings.

The runaway winner was Domaine Carneros, which had all the elements of a perfect sparkler: a biscuit-like aroma, ripe fruit flavors and a long, pure, acidic finish. But there were no outright losers — the gap between runner-up and fifth place was practically negligible.

The Pommery Champagne was probably lucky to come in second place since we found it a touch too rich and sweet (but go for it if you like that style of sparkler). The most unlucky was the Gruet, which is a reliably pure, crisp wine. And the light, bright $8 Cava easily held its own against all the others.

While it may be tempting to spend the extra money on Champagne on Dec. 31, the best practice is to stick with the bubbly that suits your budget. Do that, and 2011 will be off to the perfect start.

Have a favorite sparkling wine for New Year's? Tell us about it below.