Arguably champagne is the most elegant drink in the world, but the wonderful French protect the name fiercely. But now, at last, there are good alternatives from around the globe

More and more sparkling wine producers - from India to Australia - are making a drink according to the methode champenoise. The result is something nearly as good as a medium- price Grande Marque champagne at half the price.

When choosing any sparkling wine, the criteria you should use are as follows: a light biscuit colour, a small amount of fine bubbles delivered in a "steady stream" (unlike lemonade), low acidity (dry but not sharp), and with a reasonable degree of body.

Older generations of champagne drinkers, made the medium-dry (sec) champagnes fashionable, but since the war, extra-dry (brut) has been the preferred tipple.

With the development of decent methodes champenoises by flying winemakers despatched to New Zealand, California, and even as far afield as Chile, famous champagne houses such as Mumm and Moet & Chandon have waved their magic wand over the vineyards and come up with consistently good-value bubbly for under a tenner.

Examples we like are Mumm's robust Cuvee Napa and a subtle new sparkly road-tested this week - Shadow Creek. Developed by the Chandon house (of Moet fame) from the Napa/Sonoma county area, it is a crisp, classy wine with just a touch of typical yeast flavour. At pounds 9.99 from Majestic, it's a must for the Christmas shopping list.

While you're at it, check out two other great wines from Majestic - a New Zealand Chardonnay from Linden Estates (Hawkes Bay), that puts new faith in wine from Down Under. As Nick says, "Too often, drinking wine from the Antipodes is like watching television with the colour turned up ". As a result, we switched off to the Chardonnay vogue when we tasted more oak than grapes in the glass. We've now readjusted our opinion. At pounds 7.99 it's definitely worth checking out.

Finally, a dilemma. A red for under a fiver that is such good value that we hesitate to reveal it; Ironstone Vineyards (Californian) Cabernet Franc at pounds 4.99. Rich, fruity flavours that if tasted blind imply a wine of at least pounds 10; a must for the Christmas season.

BEST BUYS

Shadow Creek (Chandon) pounds 9.99

Linden Estates Chardonnay pounds 7.99

Ironstone Cabernet Franc pounds 4.99

All available from Majestic wines

`Winter Nosh', will be transmitted on Carlton Food Network from 8 Jan

This week's highlights on CFN:

Antony's Scotland (Sat 12.30pm) Leading chef Antony Worrall Thompson prepares a lunch of soup and Scotch eggs and visits John Gilbertson's smokery on the Isle of Skye.

The Green Gourmet (Mon 12.30pm) Chef Tony Tobin shows how to create vegetarian feasts, and visits Raymond Blanc at his Oxfordshire restaurant. First of a new series.

Aldo's Italian Job (Tue 1.30pm) Aldo Zilli visits one of England's largest vegetable growers, owned and run by three Italian families.

Sophie's Meat Course (Fri 12.30pm) Sophie Grigson discusses beef with butcher Graham Portwine

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