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Originally published Saturday, December 24, 2011 at 7:01 PM

Wine Adviser

Here's a toast to holiday Champagne bargains

Wine columnist Paul Gregutt says that even if true Champagne is a rare treat at your home, there is simply no better time to raise a glass of the best bubbly in the world.

Special to the Seattle Times

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IF YOU HAVE not yet stocked up on Champagne for your New Year's toast, this is the week to do it. Champagne producers offer holiday specials that are hard to beat during the rest of the year. So even if true Champagne is a rare treat at your home, there is simply no better time to raise a glass of the best bubbly in the world than at the turning point of the year.

In a recent blog entry I took a very popular (and cheap) California bubbly to task for emblazoning the word Champagne in all caps on their front label. As with many wine terms, Champagne is now protected by trade agreements with the European Union and cannot be used by producers from outside the actual Champagne region.

But — and this is the big but — if the word on the label has a history that predates this trade agreement, you are grandfathered in to keep using it. Personally, I think that every non-Champagne producer should do the right and respectful thing and stop using the term, whether they have the legal right to continue or not. But the more important point is that no one in the world makes better bubbly than the producers in Champagne, and they are rightly entitled to claim the exclusive use of the term.

Over many years as a wine reviewer, I have done countless tastings of Champagne, and for the quality it delivers, this is not a terribly expensive wine. When you have a bottle of real Champagne in your hands, it is all but guaranteed to be good. It is rare to find an exception to that rule.

Among the basic, nonvintage brut Champagnes are many of the most familiar brands — Duval-Leroy, Louis Roederer, Moët & Chandon, Nicolas Feuillatte, Perrier Jouët, Piper Heidsieck and Veuve Clicquot — all widely available and justifiably popular. My personal favorite brut producers include Bollinger, Charles Heidsieck, Delamotte, Deutz, Drappier, Henriot, Laurent-Perrier and Pol Roger.

You will find more totally dry Champagnes than in the past, labeled brut nature or brut zéro. These are not for everyone, nor are they always successful. But the category is rapidly gaining interest. (Remember that Extra Dry and Sec Champagnes are actually sweeter than brut, for some unfathomable reason.)

Vintage, Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs and Rosé Champagnes will usually cost you a bit more than the nonvintage bruts, and, in return, they offer more focus and individuality. The Billecart-Salmon Rosé is perhaps the most popular of all the pink Champagnes. I also like the rosés from Deutz, Laurent-Perrier, Louis Roederer and Pol Roger.

Grower Champagnes have also made an impact in recent years. In contrast to the big Champagne houses that buy from dozens of growers and blend to a particular style, these wines come from individual grower/producers. They can be fascinating, but don't look for uniformity. Grower Champagne prices average $10 to $15 higher than other nonvintage bruts. Three to look for are Camille Saves Carte Blanche, Joel Falmet and the Legras & Haas Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs.

As noted, now is the time to buy. According to Shanken News Daily, a widely followed wine-industry newsletter, soaring demand in Brazil, Russia, India and China has pretty much ended the supply surplus of the past few years. Shanken is predicting limited allocations and price hikes in 2012.

So stock up, drink up and please join me in a toast to my publisher, my editors and the readers who make this Wine Adviser column such a joy to write.

The revised second edition of Paul Gregutt's "Washington Wines & Wineries" is now in print. His blog is www.paulgregutt.com. Email: paulgwine@me.com.

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About Wine Adviser

My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.
paulgwine@me.com

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