Bargains for Christmas

I promised to give you a few choice sparkler wines for the holidays. I have been tasting and judging sparkling wines for well over thirty years and have come to a realization; really nice sparkling wine does not have to be expensive. The region with the best bang for the buck remains the Veneto region of Italy. This northeastern part of the boot is the perfect climate for sparkling wines and has become the sparkler of choice throughout Europe and the United States. The sparkling wine is named Prosecco and has been a staple of fine dining throughout the world.

The other wonderful aspect of this sparkling wine is its ability to go well with cuisine of an almost endless variety. I've had Prosecco with traditional American holiday fare such as turkey and ham as well as beef dishes or heavy cheese and cream dishes. I've also had Prosecco with Indian food, Mexican food and Thai cuisine laced with heat and spices.

The other wonderful charm of Prosecco is the ability of this wine to remain thirst quenching throughout a meal. While other sparkling wines can fade or loose carbonation, Prosecco seems to roll along seemingly forever and the cleanliness of the wine cleans the palate as the meal progresses. This sparkling wine is a winner on every level.

Let me give you a few charmers to think about; each of these bubblies run about twenty dollars per bottle.

Toffoli- Vincenzo Toffoli is an estate in the Veneto which produces a creamy yet dry Prosecco with profound flavors and a silky overtones. I love this Prosecco with seafood and shellfish, especially with prawns and pasta. There is something about the thirst quenching aspect of this bubbly which is enchanting. I took a large format bottle (about a case and a half) of this to my son's wedding in Pasadena and it was the hit of the groom's dinner.

Zeffero- This classic Prosecco is dry, crisp and very linear with a wonderful citrus quality, a backbone of sturdy bubbles and a wonderful bouquet of fresh fruit that is really fun to serve on its own or with cuisine.

I had a bottle of this Prosecco with a fruit and cheese platter Monday night and it was really a treat. This is the Bellini special sparkler. Add a bit of white peach juice with this baby and it will make the evening just slide along. Superb finish on this bubbly.

Gasparini- In the traditional bell shaped bottle this Prosecco is an Italian national classic. When I was working in Venice as a kid this ubiquitous Italian sweetheart was sitting on just about every table and in every bar and trattoria in the city. Known for its very elegant and clean flavors, wrapped in a soft palate weight and dry and flinty in the finish, this Prosecco is the darling of many fine ristoranti throughout the region.

One of the great accomplishments of this sparkler is the ability of it to go well with cuisine, sip alone or have with dessert. Chocolate lovers beware! This bubbly is the darling of white chocolate or milk chocolate crazies and has been known to make one eat a little more chocolate than one bargained for. Believe me, I know. This is a very delicate and superb offering.

For those with French Champagne tastes and budgets or wish to know what some of the best of the world (price no object) is at this time, here are the darlings of the year; 2000 vintage Dom Perignon, around $160 per; Cliquot Grand Dame just under 200 bucks and Cristal 2002 vintage just under three hundred dollars. Well, there you have 'em. Have a great holiday! See you next week.

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