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December 26, 2010

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Bubbly that won't bust budgets

THE sweet memory of Christmas is only one day old but it's already time to start thinking of New Year's Eve and this means bubbles. Of all the wines in the world Champagne is the most associated with celebration and therefore the perfect way to greet the New Year with fun and optimism. After all as we contemplate 2011, we can only hope that our fortunes would be like the bubbles of Champagne and always go up, never down.

If your bubble plan for the New Year holiday is Grand Cru Prestige Cuvee Champagne, God bless you! However if you're like me this year and will be greeting 2011 with a large crowd of very thirsty family and friends, you might want to consider some non-vintage Champagnes that are available here in Shanghai at considerably lower prices.

Non-vintage wines are actually a blend of dozens of wines from different vintages. The goal of the blending is to create a house style that is consistent year after year. Each year, Champagne houses make 30 to 60 separate lots of wines from different villages located in the confines of the Champagne AC. A minimum of 20 percent of the wines must be kept in reserve for future years. These reserve wines play a crucial role in keeping the style of the non-vintage Champagnes consistent from year to year.

Another way to add to the atmosphere of your New Year party is to pick a large format bottle of bubbly. Champagnes come in a variety of bottle sizes from the Huitieme that is one-eighth the size of a standard 750ml bottle to the behemoth Nebuchadnezzar that is the equivalent of 20 750ml bottles. Unless you're going to have a very stingy celebration, I suggest no bottle smaller than the 750ml standard bottle. The names of the larger bottles all have a special meaning starting with the Magnum (two bottles), meaning big, the Jeroboam (four bottles), named after the 9th-century king of Israel, the Rehoboam (six bottles), named after the 10th-century BC son of Israeli King Solomon, the Methuselah (eight bottles), from the Biblical patriarch, the Salmanazar (12 bottles), an Assyrian King in the 9th century, the Balthazar, 6th-century BC regent of Babylon and the aforementioned Nebuchadnezzar that stands a majestic 80 centimeters and weighs more than 35kg empty. Imagine trying to pour Champagne from this giant into a small Champagne flute! Besides the visual impression larger bottles add to a celebration, the bottle itself can become an impressive memento. Have everyone you are partying with sign the label, maybe also with a short note, and you'll have a lovely keepsake as well as memory of your 2011 New Year party.

There's yet another reason non-vintage Champagne is your perfect choice for the New Year party, as it is also one of the most versatile wines to pair with foods.

From raw seafood to cooked seafood to white meats and even fruit desserts, a good non-vintage Champagne will enhance your eating experience. The acidity in Champagnes embellishes the flavors and the textures of these foods. Three seafood dishes that make elegant holiday fare and match perfectly with non-vintage Champagnes are seared scallops, white bean cream, spicy salami and black truffle (扇贝,奶油白豆,辣味意大利腊肠,黑松露), egg white and lobster ball (蛋白白虾球), and tilefish with cilantro broth, haricot vert, Chinese celery and stem lettuce (白甘鲷鱼配四季豆,芹菜,莴笋家乡菜). These already tasty dishes become significantly more delicious when enjoyed with Champagne.

So if you're looking for the perfect wine to celebrate the start of 2011 without incurring an exorbitant cost, choose a good bottle of non-vintage Champagne. On the other hand if you are one of the privileged few who will enjoy a vintage Prestige Cuvee over the New Year holiday, I may stop by your house for a glass.

While even the least costly non-vintage Champagne isn't really cheap, there are a few that offer an elegant Champagne experience at affordable prices. With some research and a lot of tasting, I've found some good-value Champagnes that are sure to please even the most discerning drinkers.


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