One of my buddies asked me today what sparkling wine he should be serving for New Year's tomorrow, so I came up with the following suggestions:
1. If you know damn well that everyone's going to be totally trashed from jungle punch or multiple kegs, just go get a case of Cook's Brut. It's about $4 a bottle and you're not going to find anything better for less money.
2. If you don't mind spending a little bit more, it's hard to go wrong with any dry sparkling wine from Freixenet. Here in Washington, you can get the Carta Nevada brut for $5.49 at Trader Joe's. In fact, what the hell, don't bother with the Cooks. Just go straight to Trader Joe's.
3. If it's a smaller gathering and you know folks aren't going to be drinking so much, and if you're relatively affluent, go with something Californian like Scharffenberger, Pacific Echo, Roederer Estate, or Domaine Chandon. All of these are around $15, and all of them are ready to drink right now.
4. If you're into the whole planning ten years in advance thing, get a case of the Domaine Carneros stuff from Taittinger and lay it down for a decade beforehand. This should cost about $20.
5. If it's a small gathering and you want to impress anyone, it's gotta be Champagne. My favorite is E. Barnaut from Bouzy, about $25, but you can get lots of really wondering stuff for $30 or less. Tip: Avoid the big name brands - try finding a kick ass local wine shop like Seattle Wine Co. in Bellevue, K&L in San Francisco, or Wine Exchange in Orange, CA. A few American wine shops import rare, hard to find Champagne like De Meric or Michel Dervin; it won't cost more than something you've heard of like Mumm, but it's probably going to be a lot more interesting.
6. Finally, if money is no object, then you need to send me a few thousand dollars and I'll taste the best Champagnes in the world... and get back to you on this one.