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by Kim Westerman

June 11, 2000

It's hot almost everywhere in America these days and, for many of us, the sweltering temperatures linger long into the night. Beer is a nice summer drink, but it often makes me feel heavy and sleepy. I'm a wine lover, and my summer drink is sparkling wine. Champagne, of course, but not only Champagne. Many of the world's winemaking regions produce high quality, affordable bubbly.

One of the biggest surprises comes from New Mexico. Gruet Brut is a delicious non-vintage sparkling wine that is elegant, refined, and cheap! This is as complex a wine as you'll find for $14. Not overly yeasty, it's slightly nutty with a green apple finish. But it's not nearly as tart as some of its California competitors. I love this wine with ceviche and fresh tomato salsa.

Perennial favorites are the widely available Roederer Brut and Brut Rose. Both are priced around $20, and it amazes me how consistently high the quality is. Louis Roderer is a French firm that bought property in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County nearly 15 years ago. The wines are deep and complex; the brut has hazelnut and green apple undertones, and the rose has a lilting sour cherry note. I always have one or the other chilling in my fridge , and a bottle never lasts longer than a week. I serve them as aperitifs with toasted hazelnuts or almonds or a simple bowl of olives.

Another recent find is Pacific Echo Brut, a yeasty wine with a zesty citrus and green apple background. At $17, it's remarkably memorable. I had it first in a restaurant in Tucson with a spinach and goat cheese salad with an orange vinaigrette, and I've since served it with success at home alongside grilled Chilean sea bass with lime butter.

Lately, two friends have been bringing over Schramsberg Blancs de Blancs for our Sunday suppers. We drink it while we're cooking, and sometimes we continue it with the meal. Its crisp Chardonnay fruit holds up beautifully next to grilled chicken tacos with pineapple-chipotle salsa.

And the rumors are true: France produces great sparkling wines. My favorite Champagne in the $20 range is Montaudon Brut, a smooth, golden, yeasty bubbly from Reims. It's an elegant wine that deserves an elegant dish, perhaps poached salmon or yellowtail sashimi.

My favorite French sparkler that isn't from Champagne is the Boyer Brut Blancs de Blancs. Try it with spicy food -- Thai, Mexican, or Chinese. At $10 a bottle, there's little to risk.

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