Champagne flute.
Top picks for the festive season...There's a bubbly for every budget and occasion.

There are plenty of reasons to pop a cork during the weeks and months ahead — holidays, end-of-year office parties, Christmas, New Year's, balmy evenings, alfresco dining, luxurious brunches, shady picnics, romantic interludes. A flute of good sparkle adds joie de vivre like nothing else.

There's an unprecedented range of sparkling wines on the market these days. Quality varies — some of the lower-priced drops offer surprising quality without breaking the bank and some top-dollar labels aren't worth the outlay — so whatever your budget, you can celebrate with good bubbly. In that spirit, here are some sparkling wines guaranteed to make you smile.

Damn the expense

If you're cashed up, champagne, real French champagne, still has few peers for consistency and quality, but some specialist Australian labels, especially from Tasmania, are looking like worthy competitors. These new-wave Oz stars have style and finesse unknown in local sparkling wine only 25 years ago.

1. Louis Roederer Cristal Brut 2005, $340-$350

2. Veuve Fourny et Fils Millesime Blanc de Blancs Brut 1er Cru 2006, $95-$105

3. Taittinger Prelude Brut NV, $90-$95

4. Clover Hill Vintage Brut 2008, $44-$47

5. Heemskerk Coal River Valley Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2008, $57-$60

Partying on a budget

If you're watching the dollars, Australia's big wine companies take some beating for budget sparklers. Wine snobs ignore these wines, but the scale of the bigger wineries' technical and vineyard resources, winemaking experience, and their market-savvy, keen pricing policies combine quality with lower prices like nothing else.

6. McWilliam's Hanwood Estate Pinot Noir Chardonnay Brut NV, $10-$12

7. Lindauer Brut Cuvee NV, $14-$16

8. Thorn-Clarke Pinot Noir Chardonnay Brut Reserve NV, $16-$18

9. Jacob's Creek Trilogy Cuvee Rosé NV, $14-$17

10. Brown Brothers Pinot Noir Chardonnay Pinot Meunier NV, $22-$24

When only French will do

People do like French labels on sparkling wine, whether it's real "champagne" or not, and French fizz of quality does come from other parts of France, including Alsace, the Loire Valley, the Rhone, and Bordeaux, but for me the best is good Cremant de Bourgogne. There are also some real champagnes that over-deliver in value. When it has to be French, it doesn't always have to break the bank.

11. Cave de Lugny Cremant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blancs NV, $21.99

12. Simonnet-Febvre Cremant de Bourgogne Brut NV, $19.99

13. Sathenay Cremant de Bourgogne Brut NV, $26-$28

14. Drappier Grande Sendree Brut 2004, $95-$100

15. Dominique Portet LD Brut Rosé NV, $26-$28

Variety is the spice of life

We all have our favourites and sparkling wine is no exception, but sometimes it's an adventure to go outside the norm, perhaps discovering something new and exciting. Prosecco, cava, moscato, sparkling reds ... the list of sparkling adventures is long.

16. Campbells Moscato 2012, $16-$18 500ml

17. Bianca Vigna Prosecco DOC Brut NV, $22-$24

18. Jane Ventura Reserva de la Musica Cava Brut 2008, $35

19. Toi Toi Marlborough Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc NV, $12-$14

20. Shingleback Black Bubbles Sparkling Shiraz NV, $21-$23

 

Source: Originally published in Epicure and Good Food, October 2012.