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bubblicious champagne 101  | 1 2 3
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choosing a champagne
Peruse a champagne label and you'll see an indicator of how sweet or dry the wine is. Brut is the driest, extra dry is slightly less dry, sec is even less dry than that, demi-sec is sweet, and doux wines are the sweetest. What you prefer is really a matter of personal preference -- although for what it's worth, I have a strong, strong preference for dry champagne (sweet champagnes strike me as too cloying).

Champagnes are also categorized as vintage or non-vintage. As vintage champagnes are only produced when the grapes are having an exceptionally good year, they're far less common (and therefore pricier) than non-vintage bottles, which are made from a blend of grapes from different years. Vintage champagnes are aged three years before they're released, tend to be fuller and more complex in flavor, and will have the year labeled. Unless money is no object, chances are good that you'll be looking at a non-vintage rather than a vintage champagne.

Most champagne you'll encounter is white. The whitest champagnes, labeled Blanc de Blancs, are made entirely from Chardonnay or other white grapes. Blancs de Noirs champagnes can range in color from white to very slightly blush in color, and are made from pinot noir or other red grapes. Blanc de blancs tends to be more refined in flavor and lighter in body, while blanc de noirs is generally more powerful and richly fruity. Champagne is also available in a pretty pink rosť version, made from blending in a bit of red wine, that can also be quite good.

affordable bubblies
Sadly, the best bubblies are also frighteningly, frighteningly expensive. Nonetheless, by venturing away from the authentic French Champagnes, you'll find an array of options that offer good drinking at a very reasonable price. Some of the more affordable labels to look out for are Chandon, Gloria Ferrer, and Domaine Ste. Michelle, produced in the U.S and priced in the teens. For sparkling wines at less than $10 a bottle, try Freixenet or Segura Viudas from Spain.

how much to get
As with other wines, you can estimate that a standard bottle (750 ml) will yield 6-7 drinks. If all you need your champagne for is that midnight toast, then you can safely assume that each guest will need one glass. If champagne is your sole alcoholic offering for the evening, however, estimate 3 glasses per guest.

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