I am an unabashed fan of sparklers – so much so that an editor once called me Bubbles Melnik.

Every year I get excited for the bubbly tastings and this year, as I tasted through two flights of  sparklers, I was taken by the quality of the top scorers. It made me think of the tasting I had once where I gathered a panel of American and French palates. I’ll never forget the surprise on the faces of the French tasters when the sparkers were unbagged. They were amazed at the quality of California bubbly and had thought some to be French. It was a “California comes of age” moment.

This week I roll out the second of two flights of California sparklers — $26 and above. As we discover these sparklers and others during bubbly season, I figure it’s a good time for a few pointers for the practical consumer:

1)      Yes, it is possible to budget the good life. Tasty top picks under $25 include:

Roederer Estate’s NV Anderson Valley Brut

Domaine Chandon’s Brut Classic, NV California

Mirabelle NV North Coast Brut

2)     A key serving tip: When chilling bubbly, never put bottles in the

freezer. Just put them in the fridge for a few hours or if you’re in a hurry

put a bottle in a champagne bucket half filled with ice and water for 30

minutes.

3)    Good eats with bubbly include: Hog Island Oyster, Sterling Caviar, smoked

salmon, steak tartare with cilantro or avocado, Pt. Reyes Blue Cheese and

sliced pears with prosciutto and hazelnuts.