Busting NYC busted. Lettie Teague writes today in the Wall Street Journal that California sparkling wines have been overlooked but are now gaining ground. Some of those interviewed in NYC!! said that they could not recall the last time they saw a sparkling wine from California. One named Susan from New York actually said that "I don't even think our local wine shop carries them." Really? Not sold in New York? Really? Lettie recommends 5 California sparkling wines in the aritcle. We have the TOP TWO recommended and a different sparklingwine from anotherof her recommended wineries. So, read three! We ahve your California Sparkling Wines! at our little shop on Charlotte Street in Asheville, North Carolina. Shop @MetroWines. WE SHIP.
From Wall Street Journal by Lettie Teague: "California Sparkling Sneaks Up on Champagne"
Champagne lovers are legion. Prosecco enthusiasts are even more numerous (albeit perhaps not quite as discerning). But who are the fans of California sparkling wine? I don't know anyone who drinks or buys or even talks very much about it. And yet California wineries sold nearly 9 million cases of sparkling wine in the U.S. this past year—more than all the sparkling wine imported to this country combined, according to the Wine Institute. Clearly, people are drinking it somewhere.
Unlike other high-profile wines from California—the cult Napa Valley Cabs, sought-after Pinot Noirs and much-beloved Chardonnays—the sparkling wines don't incite much passion among oenophiles.
A friend who is an occasional drinker of the wines thinks that one problem is they "all look the same"—referring to both the labels and names. He also notes that none have particularly memorable marketing campaigns.
This last fact seems particularly surprising given that many of the big sparkling wineries in California were founded by French Champagne houses. And no one does marketing better than the Champenoise. From sponsorships of fashion shows to polo matches, some of the houses seem to lavish as much care on marketing as they do on making wine.
Why does California get short shrift? I put the question to Eileen Crane, CEO and founding winemaker at Domaine Carneros, owned by Taittinger Champagne and French-American Vintners. She said one reason was that American operations are much smaller than their French counterparts. "It takes a lot of money to promote a brand," she said. "Domaine Chandon is one 10th the size of Moët & Chandon. The return on the bottle just wouldn't be the same."
Taittinger Champagne is one in a long list of French Champagne houses with sparkling businesses in California. Others include the aforementioned Moët & Chandon (Domaine Chandon), G.H. Mumm (Mumm Napa) and Louis Roederer (Roederer Estate).
Several California sparkling-wine producers were founded locally, perhaps most famously Schramsberg, created by the late Jack and Jamie Davies in Napa Valley and now run by son Hugh. (If California sparkling has a cult wine, it's probably Schramsberg.) Others include Iron Horse Vineyards,
J Vineyards and Gloria Ferrer, founded by the Ferrer family of Freixenet S.A., the cava producer.
But there haven't been many new sparkling-wine ventures in years—perhaps because production is expensive. As Chris Cottrell, co-owner of Under the Wire, a new sparkling-wine company, said, "The sunk costs are huge."
Mr. Cottrell and his partner, Morgan Twain-Peterson, entered the sparkling-wine field in 2011. They're focused on producing wines from vineyards already famous for still wines (Under the Wire doesn't grow their fruit but sources it). The two men looked to France, not California, for stylistic inspiration, especially to small Champagne growers, such as Ulysse Collin, who are making small-production, single-vineyard wines. "We saw that wineries like Domaine Chandon and Roederer Estate were doing a good job with large house blends," said Mr. Twain-Peterson, referring to their cuvées, "but no one in California had looked at vineyard-specific wines in a serious way."
Mr. Twain-Peterson's father, Joel Peterson, is the founder of Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma. Was he supportive of his son's project? "My dad's comment was 'Are you...insane?' " he replied with a laugh. Mr. Peterson knew how much the wines would cost to produce. The first two Under the Wire wines—a sparkling Chardonnay and a sparkling Zinfandel—have just been launched.
Both wines are produced by the same process as is Champagne, called the méthode traditionnelle. An expensive and time-consuming approach in which the wine undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle, this system is used in making virtually all quality sparkling wine in California.
A few others have dared to enter
a field dominated by big-Champagne money, including Jordan Salcito, beverage director of Momofuku restaurants in New York, who teamed up with Wells Guthrie of Copain Wines in Sonoma to produce La Vie En Bulles, under Ms. Salcito's label, Bellus.
Ms. Salcito was inspired by the wines of France too, but by a specific wine from Bugey-Cerdon, not Champagne. Produced by the méthode ancestrale (which forgoes secondary fermentation in the bottle), it's about 9% alcohol, or 3% less than other sparkling wines. Ms. Salcito called it a "breakfast sparkling wine."
I bought Ms. Salcito's wine, the two wines from Under the Wire and bottles from all the big sparkling-wine producers (Domaine Chandon, Gloria Ferrer, Roederer Estate), and I invited six friends—all impassioned wine drinkers—to join me for my tasting. Not one could remember the last time they'd purchased a California sparkling wine. "I don't even think our local wine shop carries them," said my friend Sue, who drinks mostly Prosecco.
We started with the Korbel Brut, whose producers have the temerity—or the history, depending on your perspective—to call their wine "California Champagne"; they've been making it since the late 19th century. (The European Union, on behalf of French Champagne producers, has convinced sparkling-wine producers world-wide to stop using the region's name on their labels—except Korbel.)
The Korbel was pretty much an insult to the name—soft and flabby, and a bit sour. We quickly moved on. The Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut and the Mumm Napa Brut Prestige were better, that is, pleasant and easy if rather fruity. "This would be great in a Mimosa," said a fan of the Gloria Ferrer. The Scharffenberger Brut Excellence was perhaps the best of this fruitier style—and a good buy
at $15 a bottle.
The Domaine Chandon Brut Classic was even better—crisp and dry, clean and refreshing. "This is much more like Champagne than the others," said Tom, also a Prosecco drinker, who was pleased by the $17 price. Three more wines were also well received: the full-bodied Roederer Estate Brut (my perennial favorite, as close to real Champagne as you will get for $20), the creamy, well-balanced J Vineyards Cuvée 20 and finally the 2010 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut, which was toasty and rich and the most expensive ($32) of this last group.
The sparkling-wine newcomers—the 2013 Bellus La Vie En Bulles, the 2012 Under the Wire Bedrock Zinfandel and the 2011 Under the Wire Brosseau Chardonnay—were decidedly more quirky than their commercial counterparts, from their handmade-looking labels to the wines themselves. The Bellus was pink, sweet and a bit cloudy from undissolved lees (yeasts). It was delicious and a tad frivolous, though
a bit pricey at $33 a bottle.
Both Under the Wire bottlings were more refined. The Bedrock Zinfandel was reminiscent of a dry Lambrusco, while the Brosseau Chardonnnay was bright and zesty, if a bit tightly wound. The wines cost between $45 to $50, priced less like California sparkling wine and more like Champagne.
My conclusion? Save for the last three wines, which were unique (and therefore divisive—some tasters loved them while others did not), the California sparkling wines represent an appealing midway point of both price and complexity between prestigious Champagne and fun but forgettable Prosecco. They were solid and reliable, even if their image could use a bit more, well, sparkle.
oenofile: Five first-rate Golden-state Sparkling wines
Domaine Chandon Brut Classic Nonvintage $17
This basic cuvée from the Napa Valley outpost of Champagne house Moët & Chandon is a crisp and lively blend of traditional Champagne grapes (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier). It's an appealing, accessible wine and an excellent value in an everyday sparkling wine.
2010 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut $32
Napa Valley-based Schramsberg has been turning out some of the most elegant sparkling wines in California for nearly half a century. The Blanc de Blancs is their flagship bottling and the very first wine they ever produced (1965). The wine is lithe and refined, with appealing aromas of citrus and lemon curd.
Roederer Estate Brut $20
French-born winemaker Arnaud Weyrich has been making much-acclaimed wines at Roederer Estate for over a
decade. Mr. Weyrich has also worked in Champagne, at Louis Roederer, and this rich, full-bodied wine is a perfect synthesis of California fruit and French style—elegant and delicious, a great wine with food.
J Vineyards Cuvée 20 Brut Nonvintage $28
Sonoma-based J Vineyards is home to both still and sparkling wines, although founder Judy Jordan first made her reputation with sparkling wines, sourced from Russian River fruit. The Cuvée 20 is a creamy, well-balanced wine with aromas of citrus and green apple.
2011 Under the Wire Brosseau Chardonnay $50
Under the Wire partners Morgan Twain-Peterson and Chris Cottrell produce old-vine Zinfandel, but single-vineyard sparkling wine is their passion. This just-released sparkler is still wound a bit tight, but it's a wine of great finesse, length and piercing minerality (think Chablis with bubbles).