You could whip up a special punch or make yourself crazy taking cocktail orders for a brilliant holiday party. Or you could do the easy thing: Pour bubbly and plenty of it. Nothing better to set the festive mood than the sound of corks popping.
While you'll have to spend $50 or more to buy a Champagne that's worth drinking (and some of the grower Champagnes are terrific values at that price), you can have just as much fun with some lesser-priced sparkling wines from California, Italy or France (yes, there is French sparkling wine outside of Champagne territory).
We've rounded up some worthy bottles — both Champagnes and those lesser-priced sparklers — that seem to be around right now in local shops for the last mad dash before the actual day. But if you can't find any or all, not to worry. Just ask for something similar (i.e., from the same appellation) from a helpful wine clerk.
You don't want to run out of bubbly, so it's a good idea to pick up more bottles than you think you might need. They'll keep.
NV Sorelle Bronca "Particella 68" Prosecco (Veneto, Italy). About $20.
The country seems to be mad for Prosecco, the sparkling wine from Italy's Veneto. Right now sales are booming, but a lot of it is cheap plonk. Spend a few dollars more for this excellent example of nonvintage Prosecco from old-vine Glera grapes. This one is extra dry, the way they drink it in Italy, which means just a tad less dry than Brut. Tasting of peaches and citrus, it has a fresh acidity and a mineral intensity.
NV Bele Casel Prosecco (Veneto, Italy). About $15.
Another extra-dry Prosecco from a small estate that sources the grapes from some of the appellation's best vineyards. Beautiful, creamy texture and a delicate scent of pear make this one a natural for the holiday table.
Schramsberg "Mirabelle" California Rosé (California). About $20.
A fine nonvintage rosé sparkler at a great price from the historic Schramsberg house in Napa Valley. Just over half Chardonnay, the rest Pinot Noir, from several areas in California, this dry rosé is lightly scented with strawberries, more complex than you'd expect at this price. A festive bottle to have on hand over the holidays.
2006 Roederer Estate Brut L'Ermitage (Mendocino, California). About $40.
The top sparkling wine from the French-owned Roederer Estate in Anderson Valley in Mendocino County has a subtle elegance that draws you in. Crisp and fresh, the L'Ermitage brut exhibits a fine mousse and an inviting bouquet of sweet spices and lemon. This is a California sparkler that tastes much more expensive than its price tag.
NV Hubert Meyer Crémant d'Alsace Rosé (Alsace, France) About $18.
Alsace may be better known for thrilling Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Tokay Pinot Gris, but the region on the border with Germany also produces some fine sparkling wines called Crémant d'Alsace. Hubert Meyer makes one of the best, especially the 100% Pinot Noir rosé with a delicate scent of wild strawberries. Méthode Champenoise, these undervalued wines are worth seeking out as a Champagne alternative.
NV Allimant-Laugner Brut Rosé Crémant d'Alsace (Alsace, France) About $20.
The rosé from Allimant-Laugner is another Crémant d'Alsace worth stocking up on for the holidays. The color is so pretty, why not serve it as an apéritif with smoked salmon or trout?
NV Louis Bouillot Perle D'Aurore Brut Rose Crémant De Bourgogne (Burgundy, France). About $15.
Burgundy has a tradition of crémant, too, and since this is Pinot Noir territory, of course much of it is rosé. This one comes from the négociant Louis Bouillot, whose history in the region goes back to 1877. At this price, you might expect something innocuous, but Bouillot's crémant rosé offers complexity and character, and a touch of Burgundian earthiness.
And now we get into Champagne, the sparkling wine from the region of the same name east of Paris.
2004 Champagne Le Brun Servenay Vieilles Vignes Brut Grand Cru (Champagne, France). About $70.
A Grand Cru made 100% Chardonnay sourced from 40-to-80-year-old vines in the Cotes des Blancs, this elegant Champagne spends nine years on the lees. Scented with honey and hazelnuts, the 2004 is crisp and fresh, but wonderfully complex and creamy, with a long lingering finish. A class act.
2009 Guy Charlemagne Champagne Cuvée Charlemagne Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut (Champagne, France). About $50.
The Cuvée Charlemagne from Guy Charlemagne is only made in top vintages. Of course, this Grand Cru is Blanc de Blancs, i.e., all Chardonnay. With its mass of fine bubbles, inviting scent of lemon and sun-dried fruit, and its long, silky finish, Cuvée Charlemagne holds its own with the big boys.
NV Serge Mathieu Select Tete de Cuvée Brut (Champagne, France) About $45.
Tete de Cuvée Brut is 70% Chardonnay with the balance made up of Pinot Noir from the Mathieu family's best vineyards. On the nose, it's toasted hazelnuts and a touch of lime, with more citrus and tropical fruit in the taste. Beautifully complex and a great Champagne for the price.
2004 Champagne Dom Pérignon (Champagne, France). From $145 to $190.
If you're looking to impress, you can't go wrong with the 2004 Dom Pérignon. Its exquisite balance, chiseled character and finish that goes on and on, the elegant 2004 would be welcome at any party.
2007 Champagne Ayala Blanc de Blancs (Champagne, France) From $75 to $90.
One of the standouts at a recent Champagne tasting, the 2007 Champagne Ayala Blanc de Blancs is just delicious, with an earthy tang, silky texture and lingering finish. It would be wonderful with sushi or smoked fish.