Nothing's funnier on New Year's Eve than popping the cork on a bottle of champagne and watching it bonk someone in the head. That always cracks everybody up.
It's a tradition that got a little cheaper this year as The Great Recession reduced demand for the bubbly spirit. Responding to a glut of supply, distributors have slashed prices for the biggest holiday of the year for champagne sales.
A prominent display of Korbel Brut for $9.99 greets customers as they enter Lee's Discount Liquor on east Sunset Road in Henderson.
A bottle of Andre Spumante costs as little as $5, while Kedem Champagne is advertised at $7 a bottle. On the higher end, Moët & Chandon goes for $55 to $145 a bottle, Perrier-Jouet for $257 and Krug for $377.
Rick Taylor, a former Las Vegas resident now living in La Mesa, Calif., was stocking up Wednesday for a New Year's Eve party with four bottles of Gloria Ferrer sparkling wine, marked down from $12.99 to $10.99 at Lee's.
"It's one of my wife's favorites and it's absolutely a great price," Taylor said as he shopped for red wine for himself. "I'm going for a case of 12 because you get 10 percent off."
Demand for champagne -- the sparkling wine produced in France's Champagne region and the only wine permitted to use the name -- dropped so significantly that in 2008, the industry exported 4.5 million fewer bottles to the United States, according to the Washington-based U.S. Champagne Bureau. That brought the number of bottles to around 17 million -- equal to 1998 levels.
"It's kind of interesting in this down economy. People are still spending money, but they're more cautious," said Jonathan Davis, beverage specialist for Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada. "In the liquor business, I find they're less likely to experiment. Let's say your budget is generous, but confined. You're more likely to buy a brand you know and trust."
That's why people might celebrate New Year's Eve with a premium brand of champagne such as Dom Pérignon or Veuve Clicquot, both from France, he said.
"This time of year is really the Dom season. If they've got the money and they want to spend cautiously and celebrate, they buy Dom," Davis said.
Emi Henderson needed more than the three bottles of Sofia on the champagne rack at Lee's Discount Liquor. She bought a case for New Year's Eve.
"It's wonderful, not too sweet, not too dry," Henderson said. "It's decent champagne for $20. I've bought $30 and $40 bottles and I don't like them as much as this."
After the September 2008 stock market drop, U.S. consumers shifted to bargain-priced wines from around the globe, according to a spring 2009 report by wine industry consultant Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates.
Davis of Southern Wine & Spirits said the price someone is willing to pay for any liquor depends on who's going to be drinking it. They may splurge if it's something for them, while looking for a better value to share with friends or give away, he said.
Some of the best values in sparkling wine come from California and Spain, particularly Spanish Cava, Davis said. Another of his favorites is Prosecco from Italy, which goes for about $12 a bottle.
Liquor prices tend to creep up at the very least because of increased land and transportation costs, he said. Increased taxes also drive up prices.
Distributors and sellers are counting on this week's holiday celebrations to make up for last year's disappointing sales. More than 40 percent of champagne sales come in the fourth quarter, according to the Champagne Bureau.
Contact reporter Hubble Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0491.McClatchy-Tribune News Service contributed to this report.