A bubbly new year...for less!

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As France's champagne producers have endlessly reminded us, to be a true champagne, a sparkling wine must originate in the Champagne region of France. Unfortunately, "real" champagne doesn't come cheap, and the inflated dollar has driven the price up even further. On the bright side, even if you don't want to spend a small fortune on carbonated wine from France, there are numerous other options for welcoming the New Year. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for the perfect drink for beginning a fun and thrifty 2009!

Prosecco: A dry, carbonated Italian wine, Prosecco combines the fizz of champagne with the fresher flavors of summer. With its clear overtones of melon, lemon, almonds, and honey, it offers a bright, sunny taste that contrasts nicely with falling temperatures. Best of all, it is not nearly as well known as champagne, which translates into a lot more holiday cheer for a lot less money.

Lambic: Although officially a beer, lambics use natural yeasts to produce a clean, slightly tart flavor that is far more reminiscent of wine. While basic lambics have a rich, exciting taste, the ones flavored with fruits are far more intense and festive. Regardless of whether you choose raspberry, peach, blackcurrent or cherry, it is sort of like a slightly more sophisticated Kier Royale. Best of all, at under $10 per bottle, it is a delicious and reasonably priced tipple!

Charmat: The champagne method of fermentation involves a double-fermentation process. The first time is in a vat and the second time is in a bottle. Charmat, by comparison, undergoes a second fermentation in bulk tanks, after which the wine is bottled under pressure. This method, which preserves more delicate flavors, is used for both prosecco and asti wines, as well as numerous other mixes. One, Barefoot Bubbly Brut, costs well under $10, and offers a sweet flavor, not unlike a green apple Jolly Rancher.

"American" Champagne: In a sweet little bit of alcoholic irony, the law that gives French vintners the sole right to use the term "champagne" is part of the Versailles treaty, the peace agreement that ended World War I. The U.S., which made a separate peace with Germany, never felt obliged to adopt French rules regarding the naming of wines. Now, almost a hundred years later, American vintners still reserve the right to call their sparkling wines champagne. Using the "Methode Champenoise" to produce their wines, these American champagnes are much cheaper in price than their French counterparts, yet are often comparable in flavor.

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. He will probably be enjoying the first minutes of 2009 with a glass of Prosecco in his hand. Have a happy New Year!

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