A large cork sighs softly as it is gently eased from the most decadent bottle of bubbles I’ve ever seen. I’m waxing lyrical about the beautiful ‘gold dress’ wrapped slinkily around this bottle’s voluptuous curves, but wrappings can be so alluring. Just think of all the things we judge by their covers. In this case, Rare – the name of this champagne – tastes even more amazing than it looks. And yes, it was tasted ‘blind’ alongside other champagnes and sparkling wines, whose labels were concealed so I could come up with the best bubbles to recommend this holiday season. It’s not just my blind tasting that rated Rare head and shoulders above all other fizz I’ve tasted in the last six months. This year in London, both Piper-Heidsieck and Charles Heidsieck were elected best champagnes of 2009 by two independent juries of wine judges. And top wine magazine, Decanter, awarded its trophy of the year to the Piper-Heidsieck Rare Millesime 1999. Wine awards are a dime a dozen these days, but Rare is such an outstanding wine it’s worth applauding. The same goes for the following line-up of top tasting sparklers, most of which are more affordable than the $400 price tag for a bottle of Rare. We don’t call it the ‘silly season’ for nothing!