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Blame it on the trade deficit. Blame it on the euro. The fact is that the price of holiday cheer has gone nowhere but up, up, up. White truffles from Alba? Ho, ho, ho! Caviar? I won’t even go down that path. The price of Champagne does have one great advantage over caviar: Drink a few glasses of the right bubbly, and you might at least forget that pain in your wallet. I am less than enthralled with the average non-vintage (NV) brut. These are blends of several vintages, and when there’s a great vintage — say, 1990 or 1996 — the NVs are carried with the swelling tide. In other words, there’s enough ’90 or ’96 in the blend to add character and class to the wine. Lately, though, I’ve tasted a lot of bland NVs. The better choice is to ferret out the ’96s and the remaining ’90s. These are from truly stellar vintages, with plenty of thrilling acidity balanced by pure, ripe Chardonnay and Pinot Noir fruit. The rich and user-friendly ’95s are not far behind. Taittinger’s Comte de Champagne Blanc de Blancs brut is svelte and sophisticated. It ages well, too. Veuve-Clicquot’s La Grande Dame, in contrast, is lush, round, unctuous even. Here’s a rundown on the ’96s. I love vintage Veuve-Clicquot, and the ’96s are no exceptions. These are yeasty champers, the nose of which shouts bread dough and pain grille. The Mo�ts show raisins and oatmeal on the nose. Pol Roger, meanwhile, is always wonderful-equally so in 1995. Sir Winston Churchill was a devout Pol Roger fan. So am I. Finally, there’s Lanson, which is now back on track. Try either the the ’95 or ’96 “Gold Label.” Many houses have already gone on to the ’97 vintage. Deutz and stablemate Louis Roederer led the pack in this good but not brilliant year. Now, in order to cheer myself up while waiting for Santa and the New Year, I think I’ll break open the ’90 Dom Perignon, follow it with some Bollinger (1996, please), and finish with a contemplative glass of Krug (either ’88 or ’90 would be swell). That should keep anyone snug. HOLIDAY BUBBLY � 1996 Mo�t et Chandon Brut ($47) � 1995 or 1996 Lanson “Gold Label” Brut ($60) � 1996 Veuve-Clicquot Brut ($60) � 1995 or 1996 Pol Roger Brut ($60) � 1997 Louis Roederer Brut ($70) � 1996 Bollinger “Grande Annee” Brut ($80) � 1995 or 1996 Deutz “Cuvee William Deutz” Brut ($90) � 1990 or 1996 Dom Perignon Brut ($100) � 1995 Taittinger Comte de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut ($130) � 1996 Pol Roger “Sir Winston Churchill” Brut ($140) � 1995 Veuve-Clicquot “La Grande Dame” Brut ($150) � 1988 or 1990 Krug Brut ($190) (Prices are approximate.)

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