Fizz for the feast

Anthony Rose finds plenty of choice to toast a price-cut in
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The good news for wine drinkers this week is that duty on sparkling wine is to be cut by 27p a bottle (and on fortified wines by 13p). The bad news is that this will not filter through until New Year's Day. Nevertheless, there are plenty of good-value bubbles for the festive season.

For a party sparkler at under a fiver, a ''new improved'' version of Seppelt Great Western Brut ( pounds 4.99, Thresher Wine Shops, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up, Oddbins, Majestic, Somerfield), has given this bottle-fermented Australian fizz an attractive, lemon-sorbet flavour, rounded out by a creamy mousse and a touch of sweetness. The pink version, Seppelt Great Western Rose ( pounds 4.99, Thresher, Oddbins) is the liquid equivalent of strawberry sherbert. Safeway's Cava Brut, reduced from pounds 4.99 to pounds 3.99, is good on its own or would make an excellent mixer with fresh orange juice.

If you think you have seen the snazzy label of the Yalumba Cuvee One Sparkling Pinot Noir-Chardonnay Prestige ( pounds 7.99, widely available) before, it's because it is not a million miles from the Bollinger RD label. Any resemblance ceases there, however, for while Bolly is austere and restrained, the Yalumba's marshmallow-soft mousse is rich, with a distinctly biscuity, champagne-like aroma.

Bollinger has a financial stake in Croser, the elegant champagne-method sparkling wine made by Brian Croser in the Adelaide Hills. The 1991 Croser Brut ( pounds 9.99, Oddbins) is typically savoury and elegant, while the creamy, billowing mousse of the 1992 Croser Brut ( pounds 10.99, Thresher Wine Shops, Bottoms Up, Wine Rack), recently arrived in the UK, make this one of the most elegant new world sparklers.

Californian sparkling wines do not yet match Australian fizz for value - with two exceptions, both coincidentally owned by champagne houses. Pommery-owned Scharffenberger Mendocino County Brut ( pounds 8.99, Asda) is a delectably aromatic, tangy but soft-textured pinot noir-dominant style from northern California's cool Russian River Valley. Mumm Cuvee Napa ( pounds 8.99, Oddbins, Sainsbury's, Thresher Wine Shops, Bottoms Up, Wine Rack) which lost its edge last year, is fighting fit again. The accent here is on refreshing, sherberty fruit sweetness, good weight on the palate and a subtle aromatic hint of yeast development in the bottle.

Pound for pound, new world fizz is often the smarter choice over ''cheap'' champagne. Nevertheless, with the lean, mean tendency in cut-price champagne apparently on the wane, there are some excellent buys to be had. Oeil de Perdrix, Leonce d'Albe ( pounds 11.99, Majestic) is a classic, flavourful blanc de noirs, as is the stylish Sainsbury's Blanc de Noirs (from pounds 9.95). Hamm Reserve 1er cru Champagne Brut ( pounds 14.99, Bottoms Up) is packed with rich, chocolatey flavours, while Safeway's Albert Etienne Brut Rose ( pounds 12.95) is as classy a pink champagne as you will find at the price.