Please allow me to introduce myself - I'm a man of wealth and taste. I am discofever, and I'll be your personal guide to navigating those aisles of wine bottles in your local liquor store that are always inbetween you and that bottle of Bushmills.

Before we start, a quick primer on how to drink wine, sparkling or not. Here's how - crack the bottle open and take a swig. If you dig the taste, then the wine is good. If there's one hundred slavering wine critics yelling and poking at you about how that wine actually sucks, well, ignore them. If you like the wine, then the wine is good.

Unfortunately, since you can't go in and try every single wine out there, you need to rely on those damn snobbish wine critics (like I fancy myself to be) to figure out which one bottle out of the thousands you'd like the best. But if you happen to disagree with them (or me), it's all right, you're not lacking in sophistication or anything like that. Your taste is just different - that's all. So take everything I say here with a big ol' salt lick, and feel free to call me a big hairy stinking moron.

And a few more things: champagne is just sparkling wine made in the Champagne region for France. A good sparkling wine is as good or better than those expensive Champagnes. The different names of sparkling wines denote sugar content, or lack thereof. Bruts have very little sugar. Extra Dry has some sugar. Asti or Spumante has alot of sugar. And Natural has absolutely no sugar. Ignore the rest of the names, like 'blanc de blanc' or 'blanc de noir' - they're just for show. And one more thing - you don't need a special occasion to drink sparkling wine (or any wine, for that matter). I get a good bottle of champagne when I damn well feel like getting drunk on a tasty adult beverage. You should too.

So without further ado, here we go :

    Cheap-ass, git-yoself-drunk-in-a-hurry sparklers
Most places have Totts or Cooks sparkling wine, or even worse, that violently colored Andre's shtuff. Skip alla that. In this price range, I recommend just buying a big bottle of Thunderbird. If you want something with bubbles, stick a straw in the Thunderbird and blow. Or better yet, just get a sixer of Bud. It'll kick the ass of a three buck sparkler any day of the week.

    Kinda cheap sparklers
You've got a few good choices here... Seaview '97 Brut for $9, Domaine St. Michelle for $9, or better yet, Trocadero Brut for $6.50. These won't be Cristal, but they're all a good drink. Most people really dig on the Seaview, but I think it tastes a bit bright with lemons, with none of that toastiness that a good sparkler has. Still, a great buy for only nine bucks. Trocadero has a little toastiness, and the best flavor under $10, but it's kinda hard to find. Friexenet Cordon Negro Brut is pretty good ($8) - a little yeast, and a nice pear and apple taste. Codorniu and Gancia Bruts are supposed to be really good - I wouldn't know. Oh, yeah, IIRC, Martini & Rossi is in this price range. It's not bad at all, if you like your bubbles to be sugar-coated.
    The cheaper classy sparklers
Okay. Above $10 a bottle, I haven't tried as many wines (hey! when you down a glass a night, you don't want to break the bank!), so I'll say what I can, and indicate when I'm running off of secondhand knowledge. First, the stalwarts. These guys are the major players. Chandon Brut, $12-$15. Skip the Cuvee 2000 and get the standard Cuvee Brut - they're pretty much the same citrus combination, so why spend extra to get the special 'millennium' tag on the bottle? Mumm Cuvee Napa Brut (Blanc de Noir), $15-$20. Very nice wine, kinda had this melon/yeast thing going on with it. Gloria Ferrer Brut, $15. I liked it better than the Chandon; same taste, just more crisp. A few others : Gruet Blanc de Noir and Korbel Brut Natural. The Gruet was okay, and the Korbel very nice, but I was drunk when I had them both, so I didn't pay much attention to the taste. (You'll find that I do this a lot.) The Korbel was bone freaking dry, though, so be aware. I wasn't a fan of the cheap Taittinger; tasted musty, so I guess the bottle I had went bad. Last but not least - to impress a girl, get the Banfi Brachetto. A great red sparkler... very sweet, but very good. It was nice and creamy, and it went gangbusters with a chocolate cake.
    Classy champagnes, but not 'I sold 40 shares of Wal-Mart for this' classy
Okay. Here we go. Quick point of advice : you spend above $20, you'll get something good. A bad $20 champagne is one that isn't damn near perfect. Also : in this price range, don't feel like you gotta get a French champagne. Buy American, folks, because Cali sparklers rock. That being said, here's what I'll be drinking on New Year's Eve... Iron Horse Russian Cuvee '94. As Pseudo_Intellectual would say, 'Oh baby'. Slightly sweet - it's like White Star cubed. Fucking awesome complex flavors - I thought I tasted nutty/citrus/melon/toasty flavors. Elegant, all the same. I don't know exactly how 'elegant' tastes... but that wine tasted elegant. Other than that... I've never tried these, but the Roederer Napa Sparkling Wines are supposedly quite nice. Lots of price-obsessed wine snobs who wouldn't dream of calling something cheaper than $200 a bottle 'pretty good' have often said that the Roederer L'Ermitage Brut '92 and '93 is as good or better than most $80 to $150 French champagnes... and it will run you $30 to $35. The only other champagnes I've had in this price range are Moet & Chandon's White Star and Brut Imperial. White Star is the world-wide best-selling champagne, and for good reason. A little bit of sugar with some lemons and spices. Nice, nice. It's usually about $30. The Brut Imperial was OK - not quite worth it. Mostly toast and nuts in the taste. Guess I like my wine to be fruity... Also, a little bird told me that a sparkler from Oregon called Argyle Brut '93 was an ass-kicker for $30. And, to impress people, get Veuve-Cliquot Yellow Label. This is what those rich, boring, stuck-up high-school princesses from the other side of the tracks like to drink, so if you're looking to bed one of them for the New Year, get this bottle. Just 40 bucks, too.
    The Expensive Shit
All righty, folks, get ready to hand over a large chunk of your paycheck for these. Remember - you could either buy one these champagnes, or you can feed a family in the Congo for a month. I've only had one expensive champagne, but what a champagne it was. J. Schram '92, $68. This one had that undefineable 'elegant' taste to it. Dry as the Sahara, but toasty and spicy with a bunch of flavors I couldn't place, but I could enjoy (I think one of them was vanilla). It drinks really well, too - I had this one on my graduation, and I drank the whole thing straight from the bottle in great big swigs. All's I can say is, w00p! Beyond that, my main source of wine-soaked knowledge, a shop owner named Rob, claims the following things... Firstly, don't get the '92 Dom Perignon. Supposedly, it's not worth the money. If you can find the '90 Dom for cheap, get it, but I've seen the '90 go for $300 on the web. Second. Why spend that much? Get the J. Schram '92 or, better yet, get the Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires Brut '85. Rob claims it's the best under $100 champagne, ever, and you can even find it in Oklahoma. He said it's incredibly rich and creamy. Common wine snob knowledge points you towards the Krug Brut, the Krug Rose, and the Louis Roederer Cristal, with prices of $120, $150, and $250 for each. Not only that, you can find freaking massive bottles (up to 30 liters) of Moet & Chandon and Taittinger champagnes for up to $3000. It always impresses the ladies when you have to bring your liquor in on a forklift.

And that's it. I'm done holding court, here's your soapbox back. Any last parting shots? Yeah, I got one. Remember that, no matter how great a champagne tastes, by the time the next millennium is minutes away from hitting, you should be so drunk that you can't taste the champagne. Hell, you should be so drunk that you can't even feel your tongue. So don't go overboard - get something good, but relatively cheap. Thank you.

See also: Wine Bottle Sizes