Cheapism: Top picks under $20 for New Year’s toasts

Chandon Blanc de Noirs (starting at $17) is among's top picks for toasts under $20.

The pop of millions of champagne corks will soon punctuate the end of 2013. Some will slip elegantly from $200 bottles of Cristal. Others will soar exuberantly from $5 bottles of André. Celebrants seeking value can find it toward the lower end of that spectrum. The best inexpensive sparklers may not be Champagne with a capital “C,” which comes from the Champagne region of France and commands a premium. Still, they can help you strike that delicate New Year’s Eve balance between quality and quantity.

Here are three recommended bottles under $20 from

Roederer Estate NV Brut (starting at $19) comes from the Anderson Valley in California but bears the name of its French owner, the Champagne house Louis Roederer, home of Cristal. Year after year, experts award this wine 90-plus points. It’s fruity, but not sweet, and abundantly bubbly. Expect a pleasant froth at the top of your toasting flute. (Where to buy

Chandon Blanc de Noirs (starting at $17) hails from an outpost of the famed French Champagne producer Moët & Chandon in California’s Napa Valley. Whereas Champagne typically combines Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier grapes, this blanc de noirs uses only the dark grapes — the Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier. Those give the resulting wine a coral color and a fuller body. Tasters pick out red fruit flavors. (Where to buy

Segura Viudas Aria Estate Brut Cava (starting at $12) is a sparkling wine from Spain that blends different grapes but employs the same traditional Champagne method used in France. This cava has earned recommendations from many critics and is often highlighted as a notable Spanish wine and an excellent value. Tasting notes mention fresh bread, a product of yeast added in the second stage of fermentation, along with almond, melon and pineapple. (Where to buy

These wines are all non-vintage (hence the NV). That means the producer has combined grapes from several harvests to create a distinctive house style that’s relatively consistent from year to year. You won’t see a year on the label to give an indication of how long a bottle has been on the shelf, so try to buy from a popular shop with high turnover.

The three recommended wines above are classified as brut, with no more than 12 grams of sugar per liter. The Roederer Estate NV Brut, for example, is very dry, with just 1.2 grams of residual sugar. Ironically, consumers who want a sweeter wine should look for one labeled “extra dry.”

Before you pour, take a serving suggestion from the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne, a trade association of Champagne producers and growers. They recommend you let the bottle spend half an hour in an ice bucket or four hours in the bottom of the refrigerator before popping the cork.

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