I used to preach that "wine is simple." But it turns out that it's no more transparent than petite sirah, at least when it comes to nomenclature.

If a label reads "Champagne," it has to be from that region in northeastern France; oh, except that the folks at Korbel in California got an exception and can use "Champagne" on their labels. Prosecco used to be a grape name but now is used strictly to refer to a region in northern Italy, and the primary grape has been called glera since 2009.

The wines from Champagne sometimes have a vintage but more often are blended from several vintages. The labels virtually never have grape names, but might have hints (blanc de noirs are made primarily from pinot noir and/or pinot meunier, blanc de blancs from chardonnay).

But the labels often contain a raft of information, and some of it is even decipherable (see an explainer here). But — there's always a "but" with wine — the sweetness levels are a mess. In most other references "sec" means dry, but in Champagne a Sec is slightly sweeter than a Brut. And naturally, a Demi-Sec is sweeter than a Sec, and an Extra Sec is drier than either.

But this much is straightforward: No wine is more versatile with food, and few liquids compare as a cocktail base. As you prepare to toast a new year, we have a few last-minute shopping recommendations, a primer on foods that pair well with sparkling wine and recipes for easy sparkling cocktails for the holiday. Or anytime, because bubbles are an apt option 365 days every year.

Perfect food pairings

James Bond loved his Beluga caviar, always with a flute of Dom Pérignon. Marilyn Monroe's favorite food-wine pairing was potato chips and Champagne.

From the hoity-toity to the hoi polloi, an insane number of foods are spectacularly suited for bubbles. Salty or sweet, briny or umami, creamy or smoky, countless dishes have no better match than bubbles.

To name just a few: oysters and sushi, lobster and lox, popcorn and potato chips, strawberries and dark chocolate, mushrooms and eggs, soft and hard cheeses, fried chicken — or fried anything.

Two elements lead the way in creating this near-limitless litany of possibilities. The mouthwatering acids in sparkling wines cut through and somehow counterbalance rich and salty/briny foods, and the bubbles clean the palate and cozy up to the texture of fried and smoky dishes. The lower alcohol also keeps the whole experience fresher, literally and figuratively.

But wait, there's more: Pink sparkling wines combine those elements with a bit more depth to play well with both hearty Mediterranean dishes and spicier stuff from Asia.

Add it all up, and sparkling wines can cozy up to appetizers, main courses and desserts — the very definition of versatility.

Last-minute suggestions

If you're a procrastinator, there's a decent chance you haven't corralled a bottle of bubbles for tonight, or tomorrow, or beyond.

Great options abound in all three primary categories of sparkling wines from Europe, but here's one of each that can fit any occasion or financial situation:

Cava: Mas Fi Brut has way more elegance than one has any right to expect at its $14 (often less) price point. Citrus flavors dominate, with nice touches of "green" (apples and fresh herbs) and a slightly creamy, persistent finish. Available at St. Anthony, Eden Prairie, Edina and Columbia Heights municipal liquor stores, Little Wine Shoppe, Haskell's and others.

Prosecco: Light and lively, with more crispness and less sweetness than most of its ilk, the Adami Garbèl Brut Prosecco di Treviso ($20) is super-refreshing but full-flavored (love the pear and melon on the mid-palate). Perfect with appetizers or as an aperitif. Available at Sentyrz, Ace Spirits, Dennis Brothers, Solo Vino, North Loop, three Rochester venues (Tessa's Office, Andy's and Apollo) and others.

Champagne: If I had a dollar for every friend who considers the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé the ultimate romantic-occasion wine, I could almost afford a bottle ($100). I'd buy it anyway for its refined, perfectly ripe fruit, sensuous harmony and endless finish. Available at Lunds & Byerlys, Liquor Boy, Whole Foods, Cedar Lake, Cork Dork, Total and others.

Bubble-licious cocktails

Mimosas and bellinis are the (justly) most popular sparkling cocktails, enhanced mightily by using fresh-squeezed orange juice in the former and puréed peaches (fresh or frozen) in the latter. Variations abound; one of our favorites substitutes apple cider and rimming the glass/flute with a cinnamon-sugar mixture.

Here are other cocktails to try — all are simple and made for one person:

Black Velvet

• 4 parts sparkling wine

• 1 part Guinness or other Irish stout

Directions: Blend and stir.

Nelson's Blood

• 5 parts sparkling wine

• 1 part tawny Port

Directions: Blend and stir.


• 4 parts sparkling wine

• 1 part triple sec or Cointreau

• Splash of cranberry juice

Directions: Blend and stir.

Strawberry Champagne Cocktail

• 1/2 c. fresh strawberries

• 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

• 1/4 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

• 1 tsp. sugar

• Sparkling wine to taste

Directions: Wash and hull strawberries. Put all the strawberries, except one, in a blender. Add vanilla, lemon juice and sugar, and purée. Pour into a glass or flute halfway (more or less to taste). Top with sparkling wine, and stir gently. Slide the remaining strawberry onto the edge of the glass for garnish.

Classic Champagne Cocktail

• 1 sugar cube

• Angostura bitters

• Sparkling wine

• Lemon twist

Directions: Soak a sugar cube with a few drops of Angostura bitters. Drop the cube into a Champagne flute, and slowly top the glass with sparkling wine and a lemon twist.

Kir Royale

• 6 oz. sparkling wine

• 1/2 oz. crème de cassis

• Lemon twist

Directions: Pour the wine and crème de cassis into a flute or glass. Stir. Garnish with lemon twist.

Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.