Tuesday is a good enough excuse to open a bottle of sparkling wine at our house, but we're the exception. (Most of you wait until Wednesday, right?) So in December we get genuinely busy with bubbly.
I've been drinking California sparkling wine for 20 years and for about half that I've been reviewing them for Wine Spectator. Across the board they've never been better. The industry has settled into a comfortable middle age. The top producers have refined a signature tête de cuvée, or flagship wine, and at the same time have not sacrificed value.
Middle age doesn't make for snazzy headlines but it does mean that consumers have a good selection of bubbly across every price point this holiday season. Wine Spectator subscribers can read my complete annual report on American sparkling wine in the Dec. 31 issue but here are some of the highlights.
I've broken the wines into three groups: good values, rosés and the cream of the crop.
For value, two wines stand out this year, overdelivering on quality for the price: Scharffenberger Brut Mendocino County Non-Vintage (90 points, $19) and Piper Sonoma Blanc de Blancs Sonoma County Select Cuvée NV (88, $20). Both wines are frequently discounted.
Some of the most exciting sparkling wines in recent years have been rosés. All the major California houses make one now and the best offer a festive pink or salmon hue, with delicately rich fruit and vibrant acidity. Gloria Ferrer is consistently at the top of my list and the Brut Rosé Carneros 2007 (90, $42) is another winner.
Other sparkling rosés worth a search are Roederer Estate Brut Rosé Anderson Valley NV (91, $27) and Schramsberg Brut Rosé North Coast 2008 (91, $41). Value hunters should pick up a bottle of Korbel Brut Rosé California NV (88, $13). It's soft and easy to like, with a hint of sweetness.
The tête de cuvées of the top California sparkling producers are among the best in the world. Certainly Champagne stands apart and yet I'm convinced that in a comparative blind tasting the California wines would do surprisingly well. I'm not sure why more sommeliers and wine professionals won't take up that challenge.
As with any sparkling wine, there are house and stylistic differences demonstrated skillfully by the latest releases. Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley L'Ermitage 2003 (93, $45) and Domaine Carneros Blanc de Blancs Carneros Le Rêve 2005 (92, $85) are the most Champagne-like, blending beautiful austerity with rich complexity.
In a similar vein are Iron Horse Brut Green Valley of Russian River Valley X 2006 (92, $50) and Mumm Napa DVX Napa Valley 2003 (93, $55), although stylistically the two wines are more vintage-driven—a bit more fat and fleshy in some years but always rich and focused.
The Schramsberg J. Schram is unabashedly Californian from vintage to vintage and the J. Schram North Coast 2004 (93, $100) is boldly structured yet still light on its feet.
There are so many California sparkling wines that I could have mentioned. What have I left out? Do you have a favorite you'd like to suggest?
Mark O Goodson — Baton Rouge, LA — December 21, 2011 10:26am ET
Mark Lyon — Sonoma, CA; USA — December 21, 2011 12:33pm ET
Brian Peters — Broomfield, CO — December 21, 2011 12:51pm ET
Joe-janelle Becerra — Burlingame, CA — December 21, 2011 3:38pm ET
David Peters — Mission Viejo, CA — December 21, 2011 4:09pm ET
Andrew J Walter — Sacramento, CA — December 21, 2011 4:31pm ET
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — December 21, 2011 6:45pm ET
Tim Fish — Santa Rosa, CA — December 22, 2011 10:55am ET
Stewart Lancaster — beaver,pa — December 22, 2011 11:06am ET
Patrick Frenchick — Germany — December 23, 2011 10:09am ET
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