Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs is a Chardonnay-based brut sparkling wine.
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With the holidays fast approaching, my thoughts turn to family gatherings, gift-giving and sparkling wine – not necessarily in that order. Since the topic of family gatherings would far exceed the limited word count of this column, I will focus on gift ideas for the wine lover on your list and sparkling wines that can be essential to getting through family gatherings.

Of all my wine gadgets, the cordless, rechargeable wine bottle opener my husband gave me last Christmas is my favorite. It’s really easy to use and highly dependable. Although I have a Waring, there are other brands that will probably work just as well and can be found for $20 to $30 at Target and other stores that carry wine accessories.

Another gift I received is the Ravi Wine Chiller, which is a great way to instantly chill down your red wines when room temperature isn’t cool enough. I use it year round because red wine tastes best slightly chilled. Bed Bath & Beyond sells it for $39.99.

For folks who like to read, I recommend “The Curious World of Wine” by Richard Vine (yes, Vine!), a professor of Enology Emeritus at Purdue University. It’s an entertaining collection of colorful characters, celebrated places and quirky events surrounding winemaking.

For a stocking stuffer, a champagne stopper that keeps bubbles fresh days after opening is $6.99 at BevMo. And if you really want to make someone happy, get them a bottle of wine or gift certificate from one of our local wineries.

I’m often asked to recommend sparkling wines around the holidays and usually say, “Why just the holidays?” Sparkling wine pairs well with sushi, spicy Thai or Mexican food and, of course, oysters and other shellfish.

Thanks to my co-worker, Jenny, I recently learned about Schramsberg sparkling wines. Dating back to 1862, Schramsberg Vineyards is the oldest hillside vineyard in Napa. Its wines have been served at the White House ever since 1972, when then President Nixon served Schramsberg’s Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine at the historic “Toast to Peace” in Beijing, China.

The 2009 Blanc de Blancs (white from white) is a Chardonnay-based brut sparkling wine. Dry and crisp with plenty of vibrant fruit, this wine can be enjoyed by itself as an apéritif or with triple-cream cheese, seafood and poultry. (BevMo, $27.99).

I also love Schramberg’s 2007 Cremant  (French for “creamy”) sparkler with its velvety texture and tropical aromas. Its flavors of peach, pineapple and lemon cream have a subtle hint of sweetness and balanced acidity to give it a long finish. It’s fantastic by itself or paired with spicy Asian foods, strong blue cheeses and crème brûlée. (BevMo, $29.99).

If you prefer to have a “true” champagne – from the Champagne region of France – the Veuve Cliquot (Costco, $40.99) is a reasonably priced and popular choice before you get into the more expensive French sparklers. My niece, Christie, loves Veuve Cliquot for its hints of toast, honey and peachy flavors.

For those of us on a more modest budget, Chandon and Gloria Ferrar are two great values that can be found for under $15 at local grocery stores. The Chandon Brut Classic is a soft, dry wine with nutty flavors and tasting of apple and pear. The Chandon Blanc de Noirs has a creamy texture with flavors of dark cherry and strawberry. The pretty salmon color makes it extra festive. Gloria Ferrar’s Sonoma Brut is a refreshing glass of citrus, apple flavors with plenty of toast and yeast on the finish.

Finally, for fans of Moscato (a wildly popular, sweet sparkling wine), I highly recommend Villa Alena Moscato d’Asti, from Italy. With flavors of ripe peaches, apples and apricots, it’s refreshingly sweet-crisp. I’d buy it for the gorgeous bottle alone, and it’s only $6.99 at Trader Joe’s.

I wish you all a joyous holiday and hope your family gatherings will be happy occasions filled with love and laughter. But if you need to lighten the conversation, pass around the bubbly and tell the story about how Marilyn Monroe once took a bath in 350 bottles of it.

Solis Winery: Holiday Library Wine Tasting, (through Dec. 31)
Fortino Winery: Christmas in the Vineyard/Holiday Boutique (through Dec. 30)
Clos LaChance Winery: VIP Wine & Cheese Pairing (every weekend through Dec. 30)
Leal Winery: New Year’s Eve Party (dinner, comedy, dancing), Monday, Dec. 31

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