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champagne 101 

Yee-Fan Sun | 1 2 3

Still wine is fine but when it comes to celebrating in style, champagne is the beverage of choice. Come December 31st, then, chances are good that as you count down to the new year, you'll be holding a glass of chilled champagne in hand.

But what kind of champagne to get? Sure, everyone knows that to get the best champagnes, simply slap down the $100 or so bucks and you can pretty much guarantee that you'll be getting something mighty nice indeed. For those of us on a more modest budget, however, picking a champagne feels a tad more complicated. Bad champagne is a dreadful, dreadful drink indeed -- so how do you make sure you're getting the best libation at a price you can afford? Whether you're throwing a swanky soiree for a crowd, or ushering in 2004 in more cozily intimate style, here's our handy guide to understanding champagne…

champagne: qu'est-ce que c'est?
Technically speaking, the word Champagne refers strictly to the sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region of France. In modern parlance, however, the term champagne (with a lower-case c) has pretty much come to be synonymous with any wine that has undergone the Champagne method, a time-consuming process that begins with the usual grapes-into-wine step, along with a second fermentation that takes place in the bottle. It's this second fermentation that produces the bubbles in the wine. All of this, actually, is only truly important to appease your inner geek. Your sparkling California wine can be just as perfectly quaffable a glass of bubbly as an authentic Champagne -- and frequently, the domestic versions will give you more bang for your buck. Other countries also make fine bubbly wines -- cava from Spain and prosecco from Italy are both dandy champagne alternatives, for instance.

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