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Champagne Splurges on a Beer Budget

champagne glasses toastingAll that sparkles is not necessarily Champagne. That's because any bottle labeled Champagne must come from the Champagne region of France. Still, you can find outstanding sparklers from wineries around the globe. These wines must be labeled as something other than Champagne — such as sparkling wine or crémant — but they, too, can uplift a special occasion.

While some sparklers do a great job of standing in for Champagne's elegant bottles, other bubblies are unique in themselves. And many of these great sparkling wines come at much lower price tags than pedigreed Champagnes.

To help you choose a bottle you'll love, here's a country-by-country tour of some nicely priced picks:

France

Even in France, luscious sparkling wines aren't the domain of Champagne only; in fact, sparkling wines are made all over the country. Some fine examples are the sparkling wines from the Loire Valley; some are labeled Crémant de Loire, other sparklers may be labeled by subregions, such as Vouvray or Saumur. Most will be made with the lushly fruity, brightly acidic Chenin Blanc grape.

Spain

Spain's sparkling wines are wines produced predominantly in the Catalonia region of Spain; most will be labeled cava, which is the Catalan word for an underground cellar. Cava is mostly made from grapes typical of the region. Besides being loved for their wallet-friendly price (you can easily find bottles for under and around $10), cavas are known for being nicely crisp and fruity, but not quite as acidic as a French Champagne.

Italy

Italy definitely has its illustrious high-end sparkling wines at high prices; however, when you're looking for an easy-sipping crowd-pleaser, try Prosecco. It's fruitier than Champagne and not quite as fizzy. Lighter in body -- it's also a good choice for holiday brunches.

California

Look for the word Carneros on your label, which is a growing region that straddles both Napa and Sonoma counties. It is one of the country's best places to grow those quintessentially traditional Champagne, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. The words méthode traditionelle on the label means the wines were made in the same labor-intensive manner used to make French Champagne.

Australia

If you're ready for something off the beaten path, look for sparkling Shiraz from Australia. It's definitely a sparkling wine of a different color, but it's a good choice when you want the festivities of bubbles, but crave the heft of something red.