Sparkle, sparkle — As connoisseurs know, the only real "Champagne" comes from the Champagne region of France. Champagne-style beverages from anywhere else are mere "sparkling wines." But, with a sliding dollar, a magnum of, say, Moët & Chandon or Taittinger may be a bit too dear for most of us. But the good news is that bargain bubblies, though often frowned upon, are often of excellent quality. We asked Putnam Weekley of Cloverleaf Fine Wine & Spirits (29673 Northwestern Hwy., Southfield; 248-357-0400) for a list of bottles that'll do the job in style, whether a non-vintage blend or a "very good year."
Jacob's Creek Sparkling Rosé At $11, this blend is a dry, biscuity, toasty rosé.
Henri Maire "Vin Fou" Cuvée du Centenaire Another non-vintage, this $13 dry bubbly tastes of pure green and white fruits.
M. Lawrence "Sex," Brut Rosé This $16 bottle perhaps owes its popularity less to its suggestive name than to the fact that it's from Michigan.
2004 Thierry Puzelat Pétillant Naturel The only "vintage" wine to make the list is this natural sparkling wine, unfiltered, unsweetened and virtually unknown. At $18, it's suggestive of a strong Normandy cider, but the grapes add more kick.
François Pinon Vouvray Brut ($23) This "brut" is reminiscent of traditional Champagne-method wine, but after a few sips the murky, earthy glory of low-yield, hand-harvested Chenin Blanc begins to distinguish it in a dramatic way. At $23, it's immaculately clean but sublime.
Renardat-Fache Bugey Cerdon($23) Also $23, this usually sparkling wine blend is nearly red and naturally, slightly sweet, and redolent of sweet raspberries.
EAT THE PAGE
Crescent Dragonwagon — yes, that's her name — has written many cookbooks, including Alligator Arrived With Apples: A Potluck Alphabet Feast, a title we like as much as we like her name. Her latest is The Cornbread Gospels, a collection of some 200 recipes gathered from potlucks to family reunions to stone-grinding mills to the National Cornbread Festival in South Pittsburg, Tenn., where she was invited to sample the breads and learn the secrets of preparing this earthy, aromatic soulful delight. Start with a well-seasoned cast iron skillet and Ms. Dragonwagon will tell you the rest.
A TASTY BEVERAGE
Toasting the New Year with sparkling wine not your style? Then pour a glass of that other bubbly. Considered by many the definitive Belgian strong golden ale, Duvel (Flemish for devil) is generously hopped ale brewed with Pilsner malt and sugar. The outcome is an enchantingly pale beer, smooth, floral and fruity and bitter in all the right places, with nary a hint of its 8.5 percent alcohol content, perhaps the reason why it was named for the Prince of Darkness himself. Don't be surprised if the folks hoisting their cheap Spumante want to trade.
The holidays likely brought some good wine to your cellar, worthy of better than the mismatched tumblers that have graced your table for far too long. Now is the time to replace them with these stunning glasses that Floridian Linda Brannen hand paints with colorful tulips. They probably make wine taste better too. Linda also paints them with banana leaves, chili peppers, grapes, even watermelons. Some are available in your choice of colors. They're even lead-free and dishwasher safe. For more information and photos of many of the choices, visit lindabrannen.com.