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Bubblies: Whenever/Wherever 

One of life's simple pleasures

Sparkling wine is one of life's simple pleasures. There ain't nothing like watching tiny bubbles flood a tall, fluted glass and feeling the intense anticipation before you sip. If you haven't experienced the sensation, it's difficult to describe fizz overtaking your tongue. "Sensual" is close. So why wouldn't everyone want to experience this everyday and anywhere? Each moment of each day presents another occasion to relax and open a bottle of bubbly: holiday shopping the Internet, formal holiday dinner, or snarfing down gingerbread men on the couch. And then there's a holiday called New Year's Eve... To find the perfect sparkler to satisfy your whenever/wherever needs, the following Q & A will help you down the right path to find what you like.

Is there a difference between Champagne and Sparkling Wine?

Not really. Officially, only wine produced in Champagne, France can employ the name "Champagne." To produce the quality of Champagne, foreign sparkling wine producers use France's Methode Champenoise (translation: "made in the method of Champagne"), a complex process that generates natural bubbles inside the bottle, as opposed to a tank. The rather snippy French protect their reputation by limiting other countries' use of the venerated name, even when they adapt the same production process. Thus, Americans call their sparklers "Chardonnay Champagne," "Sparkling Wine" or "California Champagne."

What does "Brut" mean?

Very dry, crisp sparkling wine. There are three varying sweetness labels:

* Brut: the driest you can buy

* Extra Dry: slightly sweeter (made specifically for the American market)

* Demi-Sec: the sweetest

Demi-Secs are fairly rare and pretty pricey. Those who prefer a sweeter wine should start with an Extra Dry like Piper-Heidsieck Non-Vintage Extra Dry Champagne.

What food goes best with Sparkling Wine?

Sparkling wine excels in the category of "Goes with Everything." From steak, seafood and roast turkey to fruitcake, doughnuts and cookies, sparkling wine fits every occasion.

What's the best way to chill Sparkling Wine (or any white wine)?

Place the bottle in a bucket filled with 50 percent water, 50 percent ice, and handful of salt -- it only takes about 20 minutes.

What is Blanc de Blanc?

Blanc de Blanc wine is produced using 100 percent white grapes, normally Chardonnay. "Blanc de Noirs" is a wine made exclusively with red grapes, normally Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

What's the deal with Vintage and Non-Vintage Champagne?

A very common practice in sparkling wines, Non-Vintage (NV) indicates a blend of juice from two or more years. Winemakers sometimes "declare a vintage" when they feel the wine is exceptional. But beware: it frequently adds mucho dollars to the cost, but not always quality.

What are some good sparkling wines?

Chateau Ste. Michelle Cuvee Brut NV

Leaning towards a fruitier extra dry and easy on the wallet. Fabulous sour apple flavors. Perfect for those who want to wade slowly into the sparkling circuit. $9 ***

1998 Seaview Brut NV

This Australian gem is easily the best deal out there and loaded with quality. Wow! Clean, crisp and easy on the mouth. $10 1/2

Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs NV

Friendly, sweeter and soft with little acidity. Smooth and refreshing, with a slight grapefruit experience. $18

1997 Mumm Cuvee Napa Blanc de Blancs

Absolutely yummy. Citrusy and elegantly balanced with acidity. It's an incredible bargain at this price. $22

Nicolas Feuillatte Brut NV

True Champagne. Rich, full-bodied and lively on the tongue. Grapefruity flavors dance all over the place. $25 1/2

Bruno Paillard Brut NV

Elegant, very dry and full of pear flavor. This is truly sensual Champagne and a bargain at this price. $28

1995 Beaumont des Crayeres Fleur de Prestige

Good French juice. Smells like baked bread, then explodes with lemon-lime in the mouth. Well-balanced acidity that doesn't make you pucker. Smooth and beautiful finish. Great splurge wine. $35 1/2

Comments? Questions? Great wine experience to share? Talk to us! We'll feature your comments in our Mailbag. E-mail corkscrew@creativeloafing.com, mail to Corkscrew, 1310 E. Ninth Ave., Tampa, FL 33605 or call 1-800-341-LOAF. *

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