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By Chuck Sudo in Food on Dec 29, 2005 7:49PM

2005_12_champagne.jpgChicagoist tries not to make New Year's resolutions because we're usually breaking them by 12:15 a.m. We do have a few New Year's traditions that we try to honor. We eat black-eyed peas with ham for good luck and prosperity in the coming year. We don our pajamas and head to Puffer's for the annual New Year's Day buffet catered by Maple Tree Inn on South Western.

And we have a nice bottle of bubbly in the fridge for when we wake up.

Chicagoist could go on incessantly answering questions about what can and cannot be called a champagne, is it alright to drink sparkling rose, the difference between blanc de blanc and blanc de noir, or why a brut is drier than an extra dry. But, like all the other wines we've written about in recent months, everyone has a favorite. The best way to find one is to taste. Here are some pointers.

1) Sparkling wines have sugar added to them. If you prefer a sweeter wine look for one with the designation doux or demi-sec. Bruts and Extra Drys have less sugar added to the mix. Some bruts are nasty dry, giving the inside of your mouth the consistency of beef jerky. One exception is Seaview Brut, a dry Australian sparkling wine with a pronounced fruity palate. You might want to start semi-dry and work your way toward an extra dry. We aren't fans of douxs personally; one sweet Italian asti we tasted a month or so back was so sweet we feard going into a sugar coma on the spot.

2) The term "champagne" nominally refers to sparkling wines specifically vinted in the eponymous region of France. It's a legally protected term under the 1891 Treaty of Madrid concerning the International Registration of Marks. That didn't stop Congress (back when it was controlled by Democrats) from labeling the term "semi-generic" years back, thus protecting American vineyards that market their sparkling wines as champagne and leading to some confusion in the marketplace. So read the labels: Cava refers to Spanish sparkling wine. Spumante, of course, would be Italian. A German sparkling wine will have the designation sekt. South African sparkling wine producers use the designation Cap Classique. Even in France sparkling wines produced in Alsace and Burgundy use the designation crèmant.

3) All sparkling wine is produced from one or up to a blend of these three varietals: chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. A blanc de blanc is a sparkling wine made wholly of chardonnay. Conversely, blanc de noir is champagne vinted from red wine grapes. If it doesn't say one of those two on the label, then it's a blend.

Champagnes and sparkling wines are always great to imbibe, but they seem to take on a necessary quality around New Year's largely due to the celebratory nature of the holiday. There was a time when a bottle of Cook's would have suited us just fine. Back when Mother of Bridgeport Bureau allowed alcohol in her house Cold Duck sufficed. These days we're creatures of habit and make sure that the bottle in our fridge is Classic Mumm Extra Dry. With its active bubbles and semi-sweet flavor Mumm is an exceptional champagne.

Happy New Year, all. And please be safe this New Year's.