All Champagne is sparkling wine made through the “Methode Champenoise.” But not all sparkling wine is Champagne.
Wine writer Alan Richman in the December 2005 issue of Bon Appetit magazine bombastically wrote:
Say what you will about California Sparklers – which are to French Champagne what paddlefish eggs are to beluga caviar – they will not transport you to a fantasy world, unless you are enthralled by the Napa Valley wine train. Sparkling wines that are not Champagne structurally lack finesse, enologically they lack bouquet, and sentimentally they lack ostentation.
I hate to disagree with a James Beard award winning writer, but Alan, YOU ARE WRONG.
Domestic bubbly has reached amazing heights and achieved complex flavors and textures. These wines are world-class while still somehow maintaining their own sense of terroir. Some are even fantastic values.
Here are my Top 9 sparkling wine suggestions for your 2009 New Year’s Eve celebration.
1999 Domaine Meriwether Prestige Rosé, Columbia Valley, Oregon ($30)
Their French winemaker Jean-Louis Denois made this remarkable rosé sparkling wine in limited quantities during Domaine Meriwether’s first year of Methode Champenoise wine production in 1998. 100% Chardonnay blended with the a small amount of their 1998 Dion vineyard Pinot noir. It’s been re-released and as might be expected from the best Willamette Valley Pinot, the aromas are highlighted with fresh strawberries and a toasty caramel undertone. The best wine they make.
NV Mumm Napa, Brut Prestige, Napa Valley, California ($15)
Contains the traditional “Champagne” grape varieties (Pinot noir, Chardonnay, Pinot meunier) with a touch of added Pinot gris. Vanilla and melon in the mouth, firm acid and crisp medium bodied structure with a rich lingering finish.
1999 Argyle Winery Knudsen Vineyard Brut, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($30)
Made from 80% Pinot noir & 20% Chardonnay. Wonderfully complex & vibrant, winemaker Rollin Soles (a friend and one of Oregon’s best and funniest winemakers) made the most of the great 1999 vintage with this stunning sparkler. You’ll find a blend of plum with Gala apple fruit wrapped into a fascinating mix of Kalamata olive, vanilla, and citrus blossom aromas.
NV Domaine Ste Michelle, Blanc De Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington ($15)
Fresh & satisfying crafted by winemaker Rick Casqueiro and most representative of their “house” style. Blanc de Blancs is made primarily from Chardonnay and has pear and pineapple aromas leaping out of this sparkler while flavors of crisp green apple are dancing on the palate.
2004 Iron Horse, Classic Vintage Brut, Russian River Valley, California ($33)
Iron Horse specializes in sparkling wine, offering eight different bottlings. This is its second most produced sparkler made with 68% Pinot noir and 32% Chardonnay. Sweet, warm just baked bread aromas with great acidity, citrusy undertones and a touch of melon.
NV Roederer Estate, Brut, Anderson Valley, California ($22)
This is a great value, widely available and very tasty. Produced in California by Champagne Louis Roederer. Roederer’s winemaking style is based on two elements: ownership of its own vineyards and the addition of oak-aged reserve wines to each year’s blend. Crisp and elegant with complex pear, spice and hazelnut flavors.
2004 Schramsberg, Crémant Demi-sec, Napa Valley California ($35)
This is a delicate, off-dry dessert-style wine: an American original. Crémant is French for “creamy” and traditionally refers to a sparkling wine with softer effervescence. It has roughly half the pressure of other sparkling wines and presents a creamier texture with more exotic flavors. A unique California grape named Flora (a cross of Sémillon and Gewürztraminer developed at UC Davis) is the core component of this sparkling wine. Rich and creamy yet still vibrant and refreshing.
2002 J, Vintage Brut,Russian River Valley, California ($33)
For the Vintage Brut, the juice from the various vineyard lots are fermented and kept separately until the cuvée (blend) can be decided on. The 2002 exudes enticing aromas of Asian pears, nectarines, lime zest, and light honeydew melon with vanilla cream flavors that lead to a lengthy finish highlighted with a hint of ginger.
Finally, my favorite, 2001 Soter, Beacon Hill Brut Rosé, Oregon ($45)
Although hard to obtain and a bit pricey, this wine is everything a brut rosé should be & more. Tony Soter’s bubblies have cult status in the northwest and stand among the elite of all American sparkling wines. Gorgeous salmon pink in color, it offers a lovely bouquet of rose petals and strawberry. Robert Parker awarded it 92 points and wrote, “I’d rather have six bottles of Beacon Hill Brut Rosé than one bottle of Dom Perignon Rosé.”
image credit: angelrravelor under an Attribution License