12 great sparkling wines under
Champagne and sparkling wine step into the spotlight at this time of year. That kind of a shame, because bubbly is much more than a celebratory, welcome to 2015 beverage. It a wine that should be enjoyed as an aperitif or with meals all year long. (Tip: Brut sparkling wine is a great companion to salty snacks.)
Still, the reality is that most sparkling wine is purchased and consumed during the holidays. Some people will splurge and buy a special bottle of Champagne. (Although some California bubblies are labeled as true Champagne comes from a defined area of northern France, east of Paris.) But if you serving a lot of people on New Year Eve, or you simply on a more limited budget, California offers some great values in sparkling wine.
I not talking about the really inexpensive stuff, wines that get their bubbles in a pressurized tank. At this time of year, when discounts abound, you can find high quality California wines made in the traditional method (the bubbles are produced during a secondary fermentation in the bottle) for less than $20. Those brands include Roederer Estate, Gloria Ferrer, Mumm Napa and Chandon.
My go to sparkling wine is the non vintage Roederer Estate Brut ($24, but easy to find for less than $20). The Anderson Valley winery, owned by Champagne Louis Roederer, produces bubbly that is very French in spirit: lively and flavorful with a hint of toastiness and fine texture. The Roederer Estate Brut Ros ($29) is also quite elegant, with creamy red fruit. Roederer sister brand, Scharffenberger Cellars, costs a little less and is nearly as good, especially the Brut Ros Excellence ($23). Roederer also produces more expensive bubblies under the L label.
Gloria Ferrer, owned by the same Spanish company that makes Freixenet sparkling wines, also does a fine job with its basic tier of non vintage wines, all priced at $22, but often discounted to $15 $16. The non vintage Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut is round and fresh, with some weight and persistence, while the Blanc de Blancs offers bright citrus and apple with a hint of creaminess. The Blanc de Noirs is a little fruitier.
Two nearly ubiquitous and heavily discounted brands are Mumm Napa and Chandon. I particularly like the non vintage Mumm Napa Brut Prestige ($22), which is fresh and citrusy, with a touch of creaminess. (San Francisco Giants fans may remember that the team celebrated its World Series win with Brut Prestige featuring a Giants logo label.) In the Chandon lineup, I prefer the non vintage Blanc de Noirs ($22), which is a little toasty, with citrus and berry fruit.
Vintage dated bubblies from Schramsberg in the Napa Valley are a little pricey for some budgets, but the winery also produces some less expensive non vintage wines under the Mirabelle label. For example, the non vintage Schramsberg Brut Ros ($28) is yeasty and elegant, with racy red fruit, a hint of brioche and fine texture. Other attractive choices in the same price range include the non vintage J Cuvee 20 ($28), which is fresh and citrusy, with a hint of yeastiness and fine texture, and the 2010 Domaine Carneros Brut ($29), with its racy lemon flavors and slight yeasty note.
Bubbly buyers with bigger budgets will find some excellent wines from the aforementioned Schramsberg, as well as from Iron Horse Vineyards. A tiny producer that I admire is Caraccioli Cellars in the Santa Lucia Highlands.
For penny pinchers (or a big crowd), the non vintage Michelle bubblies from the Columbia Valley are an economical option. In the current lineup, I like the Michelle Brut Ros ($14), which is creamy and fresh, with strawberry and a hint of saltiness on http://www.cheapjerseys11.com/ the finish. You can sometimes find these wines for around $10.
If you ready to splurge on something pricey, consider the bubblies from Caraccioli Cellars, where the wines are made by Michel Salgues, the longtime winemaker for Roederer Estate. The 2008 Caraccioli Brut Cuvee ($52) is racy, refined and a little yeasty, with apple and lemon flavors, while the 2008 Caraccioli Brut Ros ($57) is fruitier, with some creaminess and a touch of yeastiness. You can also taste them at the winery tasting room in Carmel by the Sea.
Schramsberg is a longtime Napa Valley producer of high quality sparkling wine. The 2011 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs ($38) is creamy and rich, with lively apple and lemon, some toastiness and fine texture, while the 2010 Blanc de Noirs ($40) is yeastier, with nice texture and balance. Iron Horse, in western Sonoma County, also makes some superb sparkling wine. The flagship 2009 Iron Horse Classic cheap jerseys Vintage Brut ($40) is spicy and appley, with nice complexity and fine texture. I think one of the winery best offerings is its blanc de blancs. The 2010 Iron Horse Reserve Blanc de Blancs ($45) is racy and creamy, with citrus and white fruit and a hint of brioche.
All of the California wineries that produce high quality, affordable bubbly also make more expensive bottlings. For example, there the 2006 Roederer Estate Brut ($48), a creamy wine with plenty of bright fruit, fine texture and a salty note. Chandon makes the non vintage Etoile Brut ($40), which is yeasty, with round fruit and fine bubbles, and Mumm Napa produces the non vintage Brut Reserve Ros ($39), which is a little smoky, with red fruit and some toastiness.
Finally, a word about serving your sparkling wine. The thinking about glassware has been changing. The tall, narrow flute has been de rigueur for years, but now some sparkling wine producers are using glasses that are the same as or similar to those you would use for still wines. (During my visit to Champagne last year, a number of vintners eschewed flutes, including the staff at the ultraexpensive Krug.) Riedel has even introduced a new sparkling wine glass in its Veritas line that resembles some of the company glasses for still white wines.
The flute became popular because it does a good job of preserving the bubbles, but critics of the shape say that it doesn allow you to fully experience the wine aromas and flavors.
So I conducted a completely unscientific experiment. I poured the 2010 Iron Horse Reserve Blanc de Blancs into five glasses: a classic Riedel flute; the Riedel Vitis, sort of an angular version of a tulip shaped glass; a cheap generic tulip shaped glass; the Riedel Ouverture red wine glass; and the Gabriel Glas StandArt, which purports to be the glass, suitable for every type of wine.
Although the flute preserved the bubbles, the wine tasted better in all of the other glasses. The wine was particularly good in the Vitis glass, but it expensive, at about $40 $50 a glass. I was surprised by how well the Gabriel Glas (about $30) preserved the bubbles, because the glass is so wide at the bottom. The flavors were expansive, too.
The cheap tulip glass outperformed the flute, although it didn enhance the flavors as much as the pricier glasses. And the Ouverture, which is smallish for a red wine glass, enhanced the flavors, but the bubbles dissipated quickly.
I not saying that you need to run out and buy yet another glass, but you might want to consider serving your bubbly in medium sized regular wine glass or one with a tulip shape.