Thinking ahead to holiday sparklers – why not sample some now?

October 17, 2020

The holiday season is rapidly approaching, so let’s start looking at affordable sparklers. I’m hoping readers who enjoy sparklers will plan ahead, sample a bottle, then buy a case. Normally there are substantial savings when we follow this plan. Most sparklers will shelve several years. Prices quoted are approximate case prices. A bit of housekeeping first. “NV” on a label indicates blending of finished wines from different vintages to make non-vintage Champagne; typically the current year’s vintage is the blend’s base. Finished wines from previous years (“vins de reserve”) are added ranging from 10-50 percent of the total volume to develop the flavor, complexity, body and acidity for the desired house style. The winemaker and his tasting panel are critical to the process, even in our hi-tech age.

Gruet Blanc de Noir from Albuquerque, N.M., is made using méthode champenoise, where second fermentation occurs in the bottle by adding dosage. I rate it 90 McD, cost is around $130/case of 750s. As an example of case savings, these are priced around $15/bottle. Bright, fine bead, festive copper/salmon-colored, it opens to raspberry aromas with apple pie nuance. Nicely balanced, creamy, with bright acidity.

Roederer Estate Brut NV Anderson Valley will set you back $26/bottle, $275/case, 89 McD. Roederer, the French producer of Cristal, expanded into Cali in 1988. The NV is blended of several vintages of 60 percent oak-aged Chardonnay and 40 percent Pinot Noir. This process is employed so the wine is consistent in its profile. Pale golden with fine bead, it opens to baked apple, toast and hazelnut aromas. A cleansing acidity lift supports the fruit through a long, clean finish. Domaine Chandon is another Chardonnay/PN blend which occasionally has some Pinot Meunier. Winemaker says 10-20 percent reserve wines which spent one year on lees are in the blend as well. Supports oysters, Caesar salad, the ubiquitous cheese log rolled in nuts, salty fried foods, sashimi and sushi. A veritable wine for most holiday seasons. Green apple and citrus nose, crisp palate-cleansing acidity, 88 McD under $18. I’ve seen 24-paks of 187 ml bottles at $135. I do prefer the Domaine Chandon Brut Rosé, though, because it is a lovely holiday color. Blended of 73 percent Chard, 26 percent PN and 1 percent Pinot Meunier, look for a dry, fruit-forward sparkler with ripe cherry and strawberry flavors nuanced with herbal notes and lime zest. Finishes long and creamy, 88 McD.

Meiomi Sparkling Wine, another made of 40 percent PN and 60 percent Chard from North Coast AVA, California, rates 89 McD, $26/$230. Reminder, ya gotta shop. Meiomi used méthode champenoise to produce this lovely sparkler with lots of tiny bubbles. A pleasing bouquet of green apple and white flowers is followed by pear, citrus and mineral flavors with a hint of lees-driven yeastiness. The frame is acid bright. Finishes long and clean. Another that will add to oysters, sushi and charcuterie boards, 89 McD.

Those who want to get under $15 should take a look at an oldie, Korbel Cellars Guerneville Sonoma. Made in the traditional méthode champenoise style, it is the No. 1-selling premium domestic sparkling wine in the U.S.  Founded by the Korbel Bros. in 1882, it was sold to Adolf Heck, inventor of the automatic riddling machine, in 1954 and is now run by his son Gary Heck. Those interested can read the history. In it you may note another anomaly. Due to their longevity, Korbel Champagne along with E & J Gallo's André California champagne and Cook's California champagne are the only producers outside Champagne, France, who can legally use "Champagne” on their label; go to Korbel produces a fairly wide selection of nine sparklers from sweet cuvee to natural, which is the driest, most of which are priced under $15. Don’t be a wine snob; Korbel is a very consistent producer and generally rates above 87 in most categories.

Referring back to last week’s column, longtimer Gary emailed me an interesting read from VinePair’s Jess Lander concerning the fires, smoke taint and its possibilities. I found it timely, informative and fairly comprehensive for a short read. Please read the rest of today’s paper first, then go to

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