Finding a bubbly bargain

There's sparkling wine, and then there's Champagne. Some people don't differentiate and happily drink whatever bubbles. But for those, like moi, that prefer Champagne, here's a little help next time you're looking for a "cheap" bottle. The New York Times tasted 25 bottles under $30, Champagne: How Low Can You Go?. What did they find?

Some well-known names – Piper-Heidsieck, Pol Roger, Perrier-Jouët and Mumm's – were among the Champagnes we tasted that did not make our list.

It shows how dicey this category can be. For $10 more, you can buy Champagnes that are not only more reliable, but offer more dimensions of aroma, flavor and texture.

If you choose wisely, at $30 and under, you can certainly find satisfying bottles. But too often, the result is Champagne on the label, but less than you hope for in the bottle.

Don't worry though, they found some wines that were, "Lively, Energetic, and Under 30." I haven't tried any of the ones they list, but I'm sure I will now that I'm aware of them!

Related: Recently in the December 4, 2005 New York Times Style Magazine there was a small blurb about "Boutique Bubbly." I can't seem to locate it online except in the Times archive, so no link. But the gist of it was, "Discriminating Champagne lovers are eschewing highly hyped houses in favor of small-batch bubbly from family-owned estates." Apparently some great wines can be found for under $50, "a fraction of the price of a bottle from one of the big guys."

Recommended labels include H. Billiot Fils (Brut Réserve, $37) and Larmandier-Bernier (Premier Cru Blancs de Blancs, $37). You can find a good selection of these small-batch Champagnes at Astor Wines & Spirits in New York City. Out-of-state delivery available to certain states.