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Bubbly at home for holidays

As New Year's Eve approaches, the question arises: Where do the bubbles in bubbly come from?

Well, some winemakers coax them into existence naturally, as a part of the age-old chemical formula for fermentation: natural grape sugar plus yeast equals alcohol and carbon dioxide, in the form of bubbles. Others take big machines and simply pump the CO2 into the wine.

But when you're stumbling over the second verse of "Auld Lang Syne" (you know, the one that goes, "We twa hae run about the braes, And pu'd the gowans fine"), the difference matters little.

Bubbly is the drink of New Year's, whether you love the holiday or hate it. As the famed champagne widow Madame Lilly Bollinger put it, "I drink champagne when I'm happy. And when I'm sad."

Incidentally, bubbly is champagne only when it's made in the French region by that name. Elsewhere in France it is vin mosseux. In Germany it is sekt. In Italy it is spumante. In Spain it is cava. In Russia it is often called shampanskoye, although that irks the French because it's too close to "champagne." In the Americas, Australia and South Africa, it is sparkling wine. In all those places it is a cheerful friend.

Then there's the hot new thing -- prosecco. It's the name of a grape in northern Italy and the semi-sparkling wine that's made from it. Prosecco is usually inexpensive, has bubbles under less pressure than other sparkling wines and often is slightly sweet. Every trendy bar has it.

Bubbly sweetness levels are confusing: Brut is usually the driest; extra-dry is actually slightly sweet (go figure); sec in the French means "dry," but when applied to bubbly means medium-sweet; demi-sec, which literally means "half-dry," in bubbly means quite sweet; and doux is the sweetest bubbly, a dessert wine.

Enough confusion: Here are some nice bubblies I've tried lately. Cheers!

Highly recommended:

*Nonvintage Va di Vi, by Gloria Ferrer, Sonoma, Calif. (89 percent pinot noir, 8 percent chardonnay, 3 percent muscat): fine, active bubbles, intense black cherry flavors with a hint of sweet apricots from the muscat; $22.

*Nonvintage Scharffenberger Brut Sparkling Wine, Mendocino County, Calif. (67 percent chardonnay, 33 percent pinot noir): tiny bubbles, toasted brioche aroma, tropical fruit flavors, creamy and smooth; $19.

*Nonvintage Maschio dei Cavalieri Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, Italy: aromas and flavors of ripe apricots and peaches, soft bubbles, lightly sweet, long finish; $10.

Recommended:

*Nonvintage Anna de Codorniu Brut Cava, Spain: (70 percent chardonnay, 30 percent parellada): big, soft bubbles, aromas and flavors of tropical fruit and minerals; $15.

*Nonvintage Anna de Codorniu Brut Rose Cava, Spain: big, active bubbles, crisp and dry, with tart cherry and cranberry aromas and flavors; $15.

*Nonvintage "Rosa Regale" Brachetto d'Acqui DOCG, by Banfi: big bubbles, soft, sweet black raspberry flavors, crisp, medium-sweet; $20.

*Woodbridge Extra Dry Sparkling Wine, by Robert Mondavi, California (98.5 percent chardonnay, 1.5 percent viognier): big, active bubbles, sweet golden apple and vanilla aromas and flavors, medium-sweet dessert wine; $10.

*2002 Gloria Ferrer "Royal Cuvee" Sparkling Wine, Sonoma (67 percent pinot noir, 33 percent chardonnay): lots of tiny bubbles, rich red fruit flavors with a hint of tart citrus, long finish; $32.

*Multi-Vintage Roederer Estate Brut Sparkling Wine, Anderson Valley, Calif. (60 percent chardonnay, 40 percent pinot noir): tiny bubbles, crisp, lightly tart white peach and spice flavors; $23.

*Multi-Vintage Roederer Estate Brut Rose, Anderson Valley, Calif. (60 percent pinot noir, 40 percent chardonnay): myriad tiny bubbles, lightly sweet pineapple and strawberry flavors; $27.

*Nonvintage Scharffenberrger Cellars Brut Rose, Mendocino County (54 percent pinot noir, 46 percent chardonnay): lots of tiny, long-lasting bubbles, tart cranberry and strawberry flavors, tart finish; $23.

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