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NorCal Wine Blog
23 California Sparkling Wines for Your Holidays — and All Your Other Days Too
- Wine Reviews
- Written by Fred Swan
- Thursday, 22 December 2011 18:06
I was going to title this article, “New Year’s Resolution: Drink More Bubbly.” But I didn’t want you to get the idea that you should wait until New Year’s Eve to start. As you have no doubt heard many times already, sparkling wine is not just for special occasions. It’s an excellent aperitif, palate cleanser, food wine and a wine for celebrations.
Part of this versatility is because there are so many different styles of sparkling wine, even from California producers. Lumping them all together just because they are effervescent doesn’t make a lot of sense. Below are 23 California sparkling wines I have enjoyed recently. I’ve included more information on food pairing than usual to help highlight their differences.
All wines below are non-vintage unless otherwise stated. They are listed in alphabetical order by winery and then in ascending order by price.
Domaine Chandon Reserve Pinot Noir Rosé, $30
There is 14% Chardonnay and 5% Pinot Meunier in this softly salmon-colored wine. Having spent just three years on lees in the bottle, fruit dominates on the nose and palate: strawberry, red cherry, raspberry, citrus and yellow apple. I could see it with anything from cold chicken to an onion tart or a salmon-skin handroll. Highly Recommended.
Domaine Chandon Sparkling Red, $30
This unusually dark, bold and richly-fruited sparkling wine is made from Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. It offers loads of black cherry and blackberry with accents of spice. Serve it at your big holiday meal alongside the baked ham and turkey. Or, if you’ll be going the Chinese restaurant route, pair this wine with the Peking duck. Recommended.
This Domaine Chandon’s Reserve wine is 97% Chardonnay and 3% Pinot Noir. Most of the wine comes from their Mt. Veeder estate vineyard. It’s a dry wine with flavors of toast, green apple, pear, and cinnamon and more on the crisp palate. The Reserve Chardonnay Brut will be at its best with seafood and creamy cheeses. Highly Recommended.
Domaine Chandon Etoile Brut, $40
Etoile is what Domaine Chandon calls their top-end sparkling wines. The Brut is non-vintage and the winemaker has a free hand with vineyard and varietal selection too. It always spends at least five years aging sur lie in bottle. The current release is 48% Chardonnay, 46% Pinot Noir and 6% Pinot Meunier. The long aging time is expressed clearly on nose and palate with flavors of cookie dough, toast, almond, honey and Christmas spice. Acidity is moderated by the aging, but the wine will still cut through light cream sauces on chicken breast or white fish. I’d drink it on it’s own though to fully enjoy it’s complexity. Highly Recommended.
Domaine Chandon Etoile Rosé, $50
The Etoile Rosé is made by adding a few drams of still Pinot Noir during final blending. This gives the wine a pretty pink color, despite the blend actually having 1% less Pinot Noir than the Etoile Brut. The Rosé also gains body and red fruit accents that play nicely with the Christmas spice. The wine has enough power and fruit to work with duck or pork. I’d like to try it with stuffed quail. Highly Recommended.
Domaine Chandon Etoile Tete de Cuvée 2001, $100
Unlike Domaine Chandon’s other Etoile wines, their Tete de Cuvée is a vintage wine. The 2001 is dominated by Pinot Noir (66% with 33% Chardonnay and 1% Pinot Meunier). It aged on lees in bottle for more than seven years. It’s loaded with marzipan, red fruit, dried citrus peel, five spice, and more. It will be a conversation piece by itself, but also try it with firm white cheeses, baked ham or a tender veal chop. Highly Recommended+.
Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut, $20
The Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut is blended from Carneros fruit harvested from more than 40 different vineyards. Greater than 90% of this wine is Pinot Noir, but it’s character still leans heavily toward green apple, citrus and pear. It’s a solid, all-around sparkling wine that is fine on it’s own or served with a range of light fare including poultry, shellfish, and cheese. It’s excellent with California rolls. Recommended.
Gloria Ferrer VA de VI, $22
Gloria Ferrer VA de VI differs from traditional Champagne-style sparkling wines in that there is Muscat blended in with the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This wine is sweeter than the others in this article, but not cloyingly so. And the Muscat gives this wine lovely floral and peach accents to go with the ripe fruit flavors which include apple, red cherry, and sweet lemon. Serve this wine for dessert alone or with creamy items such as cannoli or creme brulée. Highly Recommended.
The 2006 Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Blancs is a full but lively, all-Chardonnay sparkling wine with aromas and flavors of lemon-lime and green apple. Friendly accents of warm bread, vanilla and yogurt add character. This is a good choice for most white seafood whether cooked or raw at the sushi bar. It will also be fine with creamy cheeses. Highly recommended.
2007 Gloria Ferrer Brut Rosé, $42
The percentage of Pinot Noir in this wine is almost identical to that of the Sonoma Brut, but in this case 25% of the Pinot Noir gets a couple days of cold maceration. This results in the shimmering copper color, but also flavors of fresh red berries and watermelon along with the citrus. This is a good wine for tapas-style appetizers including mild sausage, grilled shrimp, and fried potatoes with aioli. Also try it at breakfast with lox and bagels. Highly Recommended.
This tete de cuvée from Gloria Ferrer is a knock-out. It spent 10 years sur lie in bottle developing rich aromas, flavors and texture. It has all of the yeast-derived notes you could want from toasted brioche to marzipan, but is still loaded with fruit: baked apple and pear, lemon tart and more. Enjoy this wine by itself or with decadent New Year’s Eve fare such as caviar on blinis and a shellfish tableau. Very Highly Recommended.
Mumm Napa “Brut Prestige,” $22
Mumm Napa Valley’s “entry level” sparkling wine is 45% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir with the balance made up by Pinot Meunier and Pinot Gris. It’s fruit-centric with medium-sized bubbles and aromas of lemon and apples. The palate is refreshing with flavors of green apple and lemon/lime culminating in a clean, pleasingly tart finish. Mumm Napa’s Brut Prestige is like a Swiss army knife. Keep one on hand and you’re ready for just about any occasion, though the wine is too dry to work with desserts. Recommended.
Mumm Napa Brut Rosé, $24
A pretty wine with plenty of small, fast bubbles and the pale color of poached salmon, the Mumm Napa Brut Rosé nose offers raspberry, strawberry, sweet cream and light touches of toast and earth. In the mouth it’s medium-bodied with pleasant mousse and flavors of toast, raspberry, red apple and dusty strawberry. This is a very enjoyable sparkler well-suited to drinking on it’s own or being paired with light, savory appetizers or main courses of salmon, chicken, turkey or ham. Highly Recommended.
Mumm Napa Cuvée M, $22
The Cuvée M is a mouth-filling sparkling wine with aromas and flavors of toast, pear, apple, citrus, cream and baking spice. It’s a good choice for people who prefer some softness in their sparkling wines. The rich body and noticeable sweetness give it a lot of pairing flexibility. Match it in the morning with a breakfast blintz, a mildly spicy Thai coconut curry at lunch, King Crab or lobster for dinner, popcorn with your movie, and cannoli for dessert. Recommended+.
2007 Mumm Napa Blanc de Blancs, $36
Steady streams of small bubbles rise quickly through this pale wine which has a delicate nose of lemon pith and yeast. On the palate are lively acidity and laser-like flavors of lemon and green apple candy with a hint of toast. Try it with toro at the sushi bar or filet of sole in a light cream or butter sauce at your favorite French restaurant. A few years in your cellar will soften the wine slightly while allowing more complexity to emerge. Highly Recommended.
Mumm Napa Brut Reserve, $36
Mumm Napa’s Brut Reserve is a round, tasty wine that leads with toast and spice. The creamy palate adds baked apple and pear. If you can resist drinking it all before the food arrives, the wine’s body and its sturdier flavors will allow it to hold up a wide variety of seafood but also heavy white meats such as pork chops. Highly Recommended.
Mumm Napa 2003 DVX, $60
Mumm Napa’s tete de cuvée is DVX, named after their founding winemaker Guy Deveaux. It’s always a 50-50 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It spends roughly six years aging on lees in the bottle. Everything about this wine speaks to its high quality, from the tiny bubbles to the creamy mousse and rich autolytic flavors. There are toast, yellow apple, strawberry and cream on the nose. The palate has heft for a dry sparkling wine, but also very good acidity along with flavors of biscuit, lemon, brie cheese and strawberry. The finish is long and racy with lingering green apple and citrus. Pair it with a special evening. Highly Recommended+.
Mumm Napa Santana Brut, $45
This wine differs from many wines with celebrity tie-ins in two significant ways. First, Carlos Santana genuinely has a hand in making the product. He collaborates in selecting the dosage to arrive at a wine that is to his palate. Second, it’s really good wine. As a bonus, some proceeds from sales of the wine go to his charitable Milagro Foundation. The Santana Brut is at the sweet end of the brut spectrum, giving it creamy approachability and flexibility when it comes to food. The complex nose and palate include flavors of green and red apple, cherry, vanilla and fresh-baked bread. This will be a good choice for slightly spicy foods. Also try it with ceviche. Highly Recommended.
Mumm Napa Brut Reserve Rosé, $36
The first ever release of a Brut Reserve Rosé from Mumm Napa is a pretty, salmon-colored wine made the same way as the best sparkling rosé from Champagne. A small portion of still Pinot Noir wine, made from grapes that are allowed to ripen longer than they would for typical sparkling, is added during final blending. This boosts both color and intensity of fresh red fruit flavors. The wine has ample acidity but also a roundness and body that will make it a good partner for duck. Look for flavors of strawberry, red apple, raspberry and toast. Highly Recommended.
Roederer Estate Brut, ~ $20
Roederer Estate Brut is very consistent from year to year and it’s character clearly reflects the winemaking style. The wine is always around 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, undergoes little, if any, malolactic fermentation and about two years of bottle aging on lees and is quite dry. The result is a precise and palate-cleansing wine taut flavors of green apple, pear and tart stonefruit with traces of spice and toasted nuts. It’s at its best with food though it’s also appropriate as a crisp aperitif. that has both protein and creaminess, such as soft, creamy cheese or poached fish or chicken breast with a buttery sauce. Highly Recommended.
Roederer Estate Brut Rosé, ~ $20
The Roederer Estate Brut Rosé is made similarly to the non-rosé Brut with no-malolactic fermentation, two years on lees, and a dryish dosage. But, this wine is 60% Pinot Noir, a small portion of which is red wine added just before secondary fermentation. This gives the wine a very pretty coppery color and fine notes of red fruit. However, it’s still a more austere wine than many sparkling rosés. Serve it with appetizers such as chicken liver pate, stuffed mushrooms or mild white cheeses. For main courses, consider a juicy roast chicken or poached salmon. Highly Recommended.
Roederer Estate L’Ermitage 2002, ~ $40
Roederer Estate’s tete de cuvée see extended bottle age on the lees for complexity and softening, but the dosage is also made from still wine of the vintage that has been barrel-aged for five years. It is a complex and elegant wine with aspects of baked apple, pie crust, fresh bread and a light dusting of vanilla and spice. Roederer Estate L’Ermitage is excellent on its own or with moderately light savory dishes such as game hen, roast turkey breast or grilled swordfish. Highly Recommended+.
2007 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs, $36
The 2007 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs is light and fresh with a strong core of acidity carrying flavors of lemon rind, green apple with a hint of cream. Serve it with roasted dungeness crab or soft French cheeses. Highly Recommended
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This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.