|It's never too early for bubbly|
I'm going to take a different, more straightforward approach.
Good sparkling wine costs more than good still wine because it requires more effort. The wine is fermented twice; once in a tank or barrel, and again in the bottle to produce the bubbles.
So unlike still wine, which Fred Franzia proved can sometimes be produced drinkably for as little as $2 a bottle, there's a lower limit to how much you can pay for bubbly and not expect to get swill.
What is that lower limit? About $10 for Prosecco, which is made more cheaply -- essentially carbonated like soda pop -- and about $15 for everything else.
So that's my simple advice: Spend at least that much.
If you think you don't like sparkling wine -- or you think it gives you a headache -- you almost certainly have only been drinking the cheap stuff. I can't count the number of people for whom I've had the pleasure to pour their first glass of good sparkling wine. It's a mind-opening experience; bubbly really does make life better.
But you don't have to spend $200 on a bottle of Cristal to experience this (although Cristal really is delicious).
However, you do have to resign yourself to spending $15 a bottle (nothing against Prosecco, which is a fun wine, but it is to good sparkling wine what Velveeta is to cheddar.)
I have in the past recommended specific bottles -- I had an article on this topic in Decanter this year* -- and every other wine writer in the world is doing just that. But having recently seen grocery stores full of Cook's and Andre and Asti Spumante, I think it's less important to send people on a single-bottle hunt, and more important to stress the basics.
(*Decanter keeps ratings behind a pay wall, but I will reveal that I recommended 2 Schramsbergs, 2 Gloria Ferrers, a J and a Roederer Estate.)
So spend at least $15; $20-$25 is better still.
I would buy, literally, any Champagne and not worry about it. Seriously. If it's actually from France's Champagne region, give it a shot. I'm saying this because I asked myself this question: Would I rather order a glass of my least-favorite Champagne brand, or a glass of a recommended Cava or Prosecco? For me, it's the former.
Or I would buy any of these fine American brands:
And just don't worry about it. Drink more bubbly. There's a joke about oral sex that really should apply to Champagne or top-level American sparkling wine: Last night I had the worst glass of bubbly I had all year. It was terrific.