Toys to Go With That Champagne

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Sure, there's a lot to consider when you buy that special bottle of New Year's bubbly. But while you're weighing all the obvious questions about vintages and price, here's a less obvious but equally important consideration -- namely, how you're going to serve it.

We're talking the real essentials of Champagne and other sparklers, as in the ways to chill them, open them and even tell if you've enjoyed too much of them. With that mind, here are some items to add to your New Year's Eve shopping list.

The chiller: There are many ways to get that bottle down to the right temperature -- and we're not talking sticking it in the fridge. If you're looking for something quick and efficient, Cooper Cooler makes a plug-in chiller, available starting at $59.99, that promises to cool a bottle to 43 degrees Fahrenheit in six minutes. But there's also the traditional ice-bucket route -- just make sure you add both ice and water to speed the cooling (ice alone takes longer).

The opener: Worried you'll poke your eye out? Metrokane, maker of the popular Rabbit corkscrew, has a clever (and relatively affordable) solution with its Champagne Pliers ($20). The company touts the gizmo as "perfectly shaped to fit over the cork, grasp and remove it with ease and safety."

The mixer: Sure, great bubbly can easily stand on its own. But we love sparklers for the effervescence they also bring to cocktails. Many fruit syrups and juices or liqueurs make for fine pairings: Think such classic champagne cocktails as the Kir Royale (champagne and crème de cassis) or the mimosa (champagne and orange juice). But master sommelier George Miliotes, beverage director of the Seasons 52 restaurant chain, gave us another suggestion -- Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice. With its sweet and tart flavor, "it pairs beautifully," Miliotes said. (And don't forget all those health benefits of the antioxidant-rich fruit, either!)

The glass: Even though coupe glasses are making a comeback, most wine experts agree you'll want a flute for your bubbly -- it's the design that best brings out the fizz. As beverage buff Joyce Weinberg, founder of New York Food Tours, said: "You want to allow the carbonation to travel vertically." Her recommendation: Stick with one of the classic names in stemware, Riedel. "They're the experts," Weinberg added. Riedel's top-of-the-line flute, the Sommeliers model, sells for as much as $60 (apiece!), but its more basic ones can be found for under $50 for a set of four.

The drive home: Concerned that you may have enjoyed a bit too much of your bubbly? Before you take a risk by driving home, consider doing your own breathalyzer test. Q3 Innovations' line of AlcoHAWK digital breath alcohol detectors, are one such option. The AlcoHawk PRO model comes with such handy features as a hard carrying case, 9-volt battery and car power adapter.

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