First, let’s establish what real champagne is. Real champagne only comes out of Champagne, France. Anything else is technically not champagne. There are some good American sparkling wines that are delightful and use the same process as real champagne, though they are still technically called sparkling wine.
You can learn the detailed process for creating authentic champagne, but really all you need to know is that sparkling wines made in this method are much better and are much less likely to give you a hangover. This is because sparkling wines not made in the true champagne method are injected with carbon dioxide rather than allowed to ferment and produce bubbles naturally in the bottle. Granted, the amount you drink, no matter good or bad, is always a factor in the hangover process too.
Prosecco is a less expensive option that is somewhere in between the champagne method and the injecting of carbon dioxide. Prosecco is an Italian sparkling wine made somewhat in the champagne way, but instead of allowing the yeast and sugar to produce carbon dioxide in individual bottles, the entire batch of sparkling wine is made in large covered barrels. They tend to be sweeter than true champagnes but are a much better option than the injected cheap stuff you buy for $4 at the grocery store.
Speaking of price, you don’t have to spend hundreds on your NYE bubbly, but price is often an indicator of quality. Since true champagne must be aged for years and imported from France, it is no doubt more expensive. You’ll typically pay upwards of $40 per bottle. Sparkling wines made in the champagne method will run you anywhere from $20 to over $100, depending on the rarity of the bottle and the quality. Prosecco is a bargain at around $10 to $20. Anything less than $10 is likely to be of poorer quality and may give you a pretty bad headache come Jan. 1.
Another quick method to determine quality of your sparkling wine is bubble size. The rule of thumb is the smaller the bubbles, the better. So, you want something with almost imperceptible bubbles. Giant bubbles are likely to be hangover-inducing.
I hope I’ve given you at least a little guidance on choosing the right bubbly to ring in the New Year. If you need more assistance, I’m sure a wine expert at stores like Total Wine would be more than happy to help you choose the right bottle! You can also find my top picks in each of the categories I’ve discussed on my blog, Lively Table. Cheers to 2016 from me to you!