Plenty of bubbly choices to ring in 2011

While champagne sales are up nationally this year and more people are springing for the expensive stuff in some locales, our state has its own taste when it comes to uncorking the bubbly on New Year's Eve.

"Kansas generally is sweet," Mogie Geist of Auburn Spirits in Wichita said this week. If you share this majority preference, you should avoid the bottles labeled "brut" (the driest and least sweet champagne) at the liquor store today, said Dave Dvorak of Flint Hills Wine & Spirits in Andover. Go with a demi-sec instead.

This last day of the year is when most people buy their champagne for a midnight toast, local liquor stores say. It is too early to tell how Wichita compares to nationwide statistics showing that sales of champagne are up 12 percent and sparkling wine sales up 8 percent over last year.

"I know we sold more during the holiday" of Christmas, Tom Jacob of Jacob's Liquor Exchange said. That may have included people stocking up for New Year's, he said.

"We obviously see the spike at this time of year," Geist said of champagne and sparkling wine sales. Champagne is a type of sparkling wine hailing from the Champagne region of France. But any wine that goes through a second fermentation within the bottle is made according to the champagne method, said Guy Bower, host of "The Good Life" radio show. There are good deals on good wines made according to the champagne method from all regions of the world, including cava from Spain, Bower said.

And "there's so much California champagne out that's really good," including Korbel, made according to the champagne method, and Barefoot Bubbly, said Andy Pelz of Pelz Retail Liquor Store. Ballatore and Martini & Rossi Asti are a couple of other popular bubblies that Janie Hooper of Davis Liquor Outlet adds to the mix.

Prices for the bubbly range from $8 on the low end to $50 or $60 — unless you really want the most expensive. Then Dom Perignon sells for $199 and Cristal for $295 at Auburn Spirits. "There's always a few that ask for Cristal," said Jacob, who's never tasted it himself. Most people stay in the $8 to $30 range, he said.

If you've tried champagne at, say, a wedding and not liked it, it's probably because it was not of good quality, Jacob said, urging New Year's Eve revelers to try something better. And there are plenty to choose from that are a Kansas-pleasing semi-sweet and sweet, Dvorak said.

He gives this little trick for those who are served a too-dry champagne: Tuck a 50-ml bottle of Chambord, creme de cassis or Cherry or Peach Pucker schnapps into your purse. When 11:59 p.m. arrives, pour a drop or two into the bubbly, and your sense of festivity will be restored.

For those who can't or don't want to drink alcohol, Bower suggests celebrating with sparkling grape juice or a mulled spice tea. Sparkling mineral water such as Perrier is a no-calories option.

And Bower has this advice for the person opening the champagne: Leave the cork-blowing and champagne-spraying to the Grand Prix racers. There's enough pressure under the cork to put an eye out or dent the ceiling.

"Why waste the beautiful energy that results in tiny bubbles by blowing the cork off?" Bower asks. So, pointing the top of the bottle away from you, carefully take the cage off and then ease the top of the cork off so that it gives out just a little puff of air.

Bower thinks people should discover the joys of sparkling wines year-round, including during a meal as well as after. Geist has some customers who buy a case every other week because it's their year-round drink of choice.

"It's really a celebratory drink for the most part," Geist said, "which is sad, because it's good."