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Cheap, Cheerful Christmas 'Champagne'

At $20 a bottle the Cr?mant d'Alsace Brut Reserve Fran?ois Baur is a champagne-like Alsatian sparkling wine both delicious and affordable

Over the past century the great producers of Champagne have invested a terrific amount of time, energy, and money establishing their position as the source of the world's most glamorous, and not coincidentally most expensive, sparkling wine. Now, while the best of them can be outstanding (see last week's column), an awful lot are just plain mediocre. At the same time, and far less conspicuously, producers from other regions have been dramatically improving their product as they realize it's not good enough simply to put bubbles into second-rate wine and rely on the allure of the signature Pop! to sell the stuff. Most notable among these other fizz-producing regions are California, Franciacorta in Italy, and my favorite, Alsace. That's where this week's Wine of the Week, the Cr?mant d'Alsace Brut Reserve Fran?ois Baur ($20), hails from. It has a seductively rich, meaty texture that sets it above many sparklers at more than twice the price. Not tongue-curlingly dry, it has a nutty complexity that lingers delightfully in the mouth. I get hints of mushrooms and ripe peaches on the front palate, followed by a bracing dose of lemony acidity on the finish. It also shows remarkable balance and a purity of focus for such an inexpensive wine, and it's a fine example of why Cr?mant d'Alsace is the not only the most underrated sparkling wine around, but also the one that represents the best value for money. To find this wine near you, try When to Drink: Now Breathing/Decanting: Not necessary Food Pairing: Lighter seafood and milder hard cheese Grapes: 50% pinoit blanc, 50% riesling. Appellation: Cr?mant d'Alsace Region: Alsace Country: France Price: $24 Availability: Moderate Related Links Churchill's Favorite Champagne A Bargain Bordeaux from Sotheby's A Perfect (and Cheap) Thanksgiving Red

Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town Country, the Robb Report, the Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently Artisanal Editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes the Nick Passmore: Wine of the Week column to He is also a judge at the widely respected annual Critics' Challenge wine competition.

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