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Welcome 2007 With a Sip of Champagne! | By Johanna Royo

Bubbly, Spumante, Sparkling Wine, or simply the drink that sets celebrations apart from ordinary parties - Champagne by any other name is still a good time waiting to be uncorked.

With the holiday season at the door and party invitations arriving any day, it’s time to take a look at tips, trends and the “to dos” of champagne (and we are using the term loosely. For purists, real champagne can only emanate from one region in France.)

First, the good news. There’s no need to travel outside Fayetteville for the trendiest, hippest and most stylish sparkling wine. It’s already gracing the shelves of a wholesale, grocery or specialty store near you.

According to Sheree Beck, owner of Bob’s Wine Shoppe on Raeford Road, blush is the new black in the world of sparkling wine. She says the trend started last year and is sure to be even more popular this year.

Now for trend number two. Beck says, “If you want to get a great product and a great price, Australia is the way to go this year.” She says bubbly from Australia tends to be less expensive than its Californian or French cousins. For example, Beck says she recently tasted one “unreal” rosè sparkling wine from down-under and had to double check the $25 price tag.

“This would stand up so easily against our $100 wines in the United States, that it’s unreal.”

Trend number three: dry is fly this season. Beck says if you don’t like dry champagne, but need to drink it to be polite, alternate sips with a bite of dark chocolate. A quick note to hosts - this is also a good way to satisfy the palate of all your party guests.

Now the bad news. Local wine shops say you won’t be able to waltz in on New Year’s Eve and demand a bottle of the finest Dom Perignon or Cristal. It is available, but if you have your heart set on a specific brand (say, that made famous by the hip hop set) you must shop early. Only a few bottles are available of some of the most popular brands. If you don’t see what you want, allow time for a special order. Three weeks, at least, is advised.

According to Howard Johnson, co-owner of Grapes & Hops on Ramsey Street, his distributors are located in Cary, Raleigh, and Durham and sell to shops in those areas first. But, he says, along with the rest of the country, local tastes have evolved in the last ten years and so has the ability to get good wine and champagne.

Johnson revealed a little secret for prospective buyers. He says, “I don’t want to drive business somewhere else, but if you’re looking for a bargain and know what you’re looking for, you may find it cheaper someplace else like Sam’s.”

A trip to the local wholesale club confirmed Dom Perignon is in stock and costs less than at specialty shops. For those with access, the Class VI shop at Fort Bragg, offers savings on any sparkling wine of at least seven and a half percent. There’s no tax on post. An employee confirmed that they do carry Dom Perignon and said they haven’t sold out during the past two holiday seasons.

But no matter how much you spend, it’s money down the drain if you don’t like the champagne.

“I don’t want to sell someone a $50 bottle of champagne if they aren’t going to appreciate it. Why would I want to take money out of their pocket?” Johnson said.

And that’s where the experts come in, to help you find the bottle of bubbly that sets your party apart and leaves money in the bank to do it again.

Johanna Royo is a broadcast journalist who is enjoying her City View forays into the print journalism world.