"No, champagne is not going to run out before New Year's," sighs wine connoisseur Kevin Zraly, who teaches the Windows on the World Wine School tasting course. Retailers have stopped discounting it lately "to get people in the store to buy the Dewar's," he says. But there are other sparkling alternatives, and your palate is unlikely to pick up much difference. "At the end of my course, students taste two nonvintage champagnes they know and then one they don't," Zraly explains. "I ask, 'How does the last one stack up?' Most say it should cost less -- they're shocked when it turns out to be Dom Pérignon. Now, I like Dom Pérignon, but I say, if you can't taste the difference, why pay?" For affordable New Year's Eve revelry, Zraly suggests choosing these top California bubblies -- all cost $20 or less, and all are widely stocked.
A handful of the French champagne houses also make sparkling wine in California. Most combine Chardonnay (white) and Pinot Noir (red) grapes and are "dry with great effervescence and go well with food." Roederer Estate Brut ($18; all prices approximate) is a California wine from the same company that produces Cristal, the status Euro fave. Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noirs nv ($15), made only from Pinot Noir grapes, is from Moët & Chandon, the house that produces Dom Pérignon. "A winemaker from Moët actually comes over for the harvest," Zraly confides. "I always say, give this as a gift with a note saying it's made by the same person." Ditto for California-made Mumm Cuvée Napa ($15). And if you adore Taittinger, check out Domaine Carneros Brut, 1995 ($16) -- yes, it's the same house.
Zraly also swears by all-American Korbel, California's first premium sparkling wine producer, from which he picks Korbel Natural Sonoma County ($15). From Gloria Ferrer, Spanish vintners who've also staked out territory in California, he suggests Gloria Ferrer Carneros Brut Reserve ($18). "It's from Carneros, a region that straddles Napa and Sonoma -- it's one of the best places to grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes."
Zraly himself doesn't know what he'll be drinking on December 31 -- only that it won't be much. "I'll be in bed by 9:30," he chuckles. "Well . . . maybe ten." If you're planning on guzzling a bit more, know that while most wine stores offer about 10 percent off on large orders, requirements for free delivery vary. If your order totals at least $75, Garnet Wines and Liquors and Astor Wines & Spirits will drop it off anywhere in Manhattan at no extra charge.
Garnet Wines and Liquors, 929 Lexington Ave., near 69th St. (212-772-3211); Astor Wines & Spirits, 12 Astor Pl. (212-674-7500).
Picks of the Week
Vera Wang's annual sample sale has tons of her swank bridal and evening gowns at up to 75 percent off: bridal gowns are $200-$2,000; evening dresses are $150-$500; bridesmaids' dresses (which often work for non-bridal occasions) are $25-$75. Sizes 2-12. Get there early -- brides-to-be do line up well before the sale opens. Hotel Pennsylvania, 401 Seventh Ave., near 32nd St., eighteenth floor (for information call 212-575-6400); A.E., M.C., V.; Sat. 9-5; 10/16.
Yeohlee's ultrachic, trendproof dresses, pants, and raincoats are must-haves for arty fashion types. At the showroom sale, pick up last spring's leftover samples for up to 75 percent off what you'd usually pay. Prices are from $50 for a sleeveless top to $500 for a wool coat. Sizes 4-14. 530 Seventh Ave., at 39th St. (212-704-9600); cash only; Thurs. 8-8; 10/14.
Joan Vass NY's classic, luxurious women's knits, suits, and separates are at least half off at the showroom sale. Hand-loomed sweaters are $50-500; suits are $300-$700; coats are $500-$1,000; knit accessories are $25-$100. Shoes are $50-$125. Clothes from Vass's lower-priced Joan Vass USA line are $25-$150. Sizes S-L. 117 E. 29th St. (212-213-0405); cash only; Thurs.-Fri. 10-5; 10/14-10/15.
Nine West, Enzo Angiolini, and Easy Spirit women's shoes really are a steal at Soiffer Haskin's gigantic Nine West stock sale. You'll find at least a few season's worth of leftovers, all much cheaper than they once were: shoes are from $25, boots are $35-$50. Sizes 512-1012. Parsons School of Design, 560 Seventh Ave., at 40th St. (212-741-2660); A.E., M.C., V.; Mon.-Fri. 9-6:30; 10/11-10/15.
Miss Pym's prim, pretty girls' clothes from seasons past are 40-60 percent off at the trunk show. Prices are from $85 for a cotton day dress to $265 for a black wool coat. If you're up for a splurge, order holiday party frocks from the new collection at full price. Infants' clothes, plus sizes 3-8. The Stanhope, Fifth Ave. at 81st St. (for information, call 212-879-9530); M.C., V.; Thurs.-Fri. 9-7, Sat. 10-8; 10/14-10/16.
The Gramercy Park Antiques & Textiles Show features 100 dealers with booths selling everything from colonial Indian club chairs to French lace to old ovens -- all at much lower prices than you'd pay on Madison Avenue. Admission is $10. 69th Regiment Armory, Lexington Ave. at 26th St. (for information, call 212-255-0020); A.E., M.C., V.; Fri.-Sat. 11-7, Sun. till 5; 10/15-10/17.
Pine Tree Lodge is taking up to 75 percent off a huge assortment of simple, country-style pine furniture, leather sofas, and other odds and ends. Leather sofas are $2,250, armoires and entertainment centers are $995, farm tables are $395-$795, and Shaker-style bookcases are $395. 326 E. 35th St. (212-481-5490); A.E., M.C., V., checks; Mon.-Sun. 1-8; 10/11-10/24.
LOOK GOOD, FEEL GOOD
Star Light, Star Bright
There are several reasons to stop by Bloomingdale's before January and pick up the "Caring Star" pendant: The silver-plated star-shaped necklace is eye-pleasing, it costs only $12, and all proceeds go to the NCCRA (the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance, founded by Katie Couric). Bloomingdale's, Lexington Ave. at 59th St. (to order, call 800-555-SHOP).