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All that Sparkles Isn't French: Check Your Own Backyard
By Rich Cook
Dec 21, 2021
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Let’s put something to rest right out of the gate.  I love Champagne.  The “real” stuff, as they say, that comes from France is certainly worthy of the praise lauded upon it.  I love almost everything from the best of the non-vintage releases from the best of the big houses to the hard-to-find, single vineyard expressions produced by the récoltant manipulants whose handwork produces them.  I love the "Tete de Cuvée" or "Cuvée de Prestige" wines from the likes of Pol Roger, Louis Roederer, Krug, and Möet & Chandon, and I love discovering rarities like a new, Pinot Meunier-based example courtesy of other intrepid fans of that particular grape.  But there’s more to the world’s bubbly story, and there are plenty of great bottles from the American West that are worth of your consideration.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve visited a number of top producers and conducted some stay-at-home blind tastings in search of the best of these, and I’m pleased to share the results here.

I’ll divide things up into a few categories that will stitch things together stylistically.  Wines with an asterisk have my complete reviews in our archives (just click on “Wine Search” from the “Wine Reviews” page), and others will have my “quick-hit” tasting note.

Non-Vintage Sparklers:

Roederer Estate Brut Sparkling Wine, Anderson Valley, $30
It’s hard to beat this wine when it comes to value for your dollar – it’s fresh, with layered apple, pear and lemon, and it’s often procurable for under twenty dollars.  92 Points

J Vineyards “ca cuvée,” California, $30
Light toast, stony mineral and soft pear aromas lead to a richly textured palate of apple, quince and pear. It’s full flavored, fruit driven and finishes long and clean.  91

Scharffenberger Brut Excellence, Anderson Valley, $23
A very fine mousse carries scents of pear, apple and wet stone, and a creamy entry delivers the nose elements in dry style on the palate, where the fruit intensifies and lingers pleasantly.  91

Domaine Chandon Reserve Blanc de Blancs, Sonoma County, $40
Brioche, pear and apple are vibrant on the nose and in the mouth, with a creamy midpalate and a crisp finish with lingering citrus zest.  91

Vintage-Dated Fizz from California:

*Goat Bubbles 2016 Brut Cuvée, Santa Barbara County $44, 95

2013 Domaine Chandon Vintage Brut, Mt. Veeder, $50
From an AVA not known for sparklers – until now, that is – this displays a deep, mixed citrus nose with hints of apple, pear and a mild autolysis character that adds depth.  The flavors are fully integrated on the creamy elegant palate, and finish beautifully.  94

2017 Domaine Carneros Brut, Carneros, $36
The nose is a little shy at pouring, but it opens with warming time in the glass to show bright apple and lemon.  A stony core carries the fruit into the distance – I’d age this a while.  93

2014 Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvée, Carneros, $58
Pear and melon aromas are held together with stony minerality in this fresh, clean wine that’s a favorite of mine; a lively, fizzy texture and a persistent mixed fruit finish make this vintage worthy of its heritage.  93

2016 Domaine Carneros Ultra Brut, Carneros, $48
I tasted this a few months ago at a favorite restaurant and promptly purchased the rest of the stock on hand.  A fresh pour reminded me why I’d done that, with white flower, Meyer lemon and pear aromas leading to a zesty, citric palate that makes a great aperitif glass.  Love this style!  93

2018 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs, North Coast, $41
Bright sweet pear and jasmine aromas lead to a youthful palate of pear and apple – it’s bold and fun!  91

2017 Korbel Brut, Made with Organically Grown Grapes, $16
A toasty nose also shows strawberry and lemon, all of which also present as palate flavors.  A hint of sweetness smooths out the overall sensation without taking over.  90

Oregon Sparklers:

*2015 Lytle-Barnett Brut, Willamette Valley, $75,  96

*2016 Lytle-Barnett Brut Rosé, Willamette Valley, $75, 95

2010 Argyle Brut, Extended Tirage, Willamette Valley, $85
In certain vintages in which quantity allows, a segment of production is held by this house for later release.  Disgorged on demand, there’s a freshness that pulses through the creamy character that derives from this wine’s long rest on its yeast lees.  Brioche and apple notes are beautifully integrated.  95
2016 Left Coast Cellars Brut Rosé of Pinot Meunier, Estate, Van Duzer Corridor, $55
100% Pinot Meunier from the winery’s Field of Dreams block, this delivers bright floral aromas accompanied by soft strawberry and a little lemon zest.  It’s quite creamy on entry, with a bright acidic pop on the finish, where a berry/cherry mix lingers long with a little toasty note.  94

2015 Argyle Blanc de Blancs, Spirit Hill Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills, $55
Made entirely from the Dijon clone of Chardonnay and aged five years on the lees prior to release, it’s all about pear, lemon and grapefruit aromas and flavors delivered on a creamy texture.  Stony minerality comes forward in the finish. Very polished!  93

2017 Argyle Brut, Knudsen Vineyard, Dundee Hills, $55
100% Pinot Noir from a plot at 900-1000 feet of elevation, this is tightly wound and will reward further bottle aging.  It’s austere, stony and zesty at present, and will unravel beautifully.  93

*NV Gran Moraine Brut Rosé, Willamette Valley, $50,  92

*NV Battle Creek Cellars Blanc de Noirs, American, $45,  90

2020 Johan Vineyards Pet-Nat, Van Duzer Corridor, $28
A 100% Pinot Noir pet-nat (un-disgorged, no dosage fizz) with a wild strawberry nose that’s elevated by hints of spice and yeast.  The lively effervescent palate delivers the strawberry with a little spice and a hint of bay leaf.  Different, and fun!  90

Cuvée de Prestige Sparklers:

2015 Roederer Estate “L’Ermitage,” Anderson Valley, $68
While it may be difficult to think of a sixty-eight-dollar bottle as a ridiculously good value, that’s what we’ve got here.  As with most high line bubblies, don’t over chill this – you’ll miss all the nuances.  It’s nutty/spicy, with mild autolysis adding depth to the nose and the palate without interfering with signature Anderson Valley apple and pear fruit.  As always, an elegant, masterful expression.  96

2011 Gloria Ferrer Carneros Cuvée, Carneros, $82
Delicate aromas of honeycomb, apple and nectarine ride alongside nutty toasty notes on the nose, and they translate directly into palate flavors, joined by lemon crème, in a fresh style that belies its ten years of aging.  Depth, persistence, elegance – it’s all here.  95

2014 Domaine Carneros “Le Réve” Blanc de Blancs, Carneros, $120
Lemon, lime, brioche and a dash of ginger spice entice on the nose, and the fresh citrus takes the lead on the palate.  For all its age-worthy stuffing, it’s quite deliciously approachable now.  If you go in early on a multi-bottle purchase, you may have trouble saving the rest, even though this wine’s track record says that you definitely should consider aging this.  95

Stay tuned for upcoming reviews of some great Brut Rosé offerings from California – look for the Domaine Carneros “Cuvée de la Pompadour,” The 2018 Goldeneye Brut Rosé, The 2018 Schramsberg Brut Rosé, the 2016 Gloria Ferrer Carneros Cuvee Rosé and the Scharffenberger Brut Rosé Excellence.  Meanwhile if you’re adventurous, there are plenty of fabulous “non-traditional” bubblies from the west that are worth seeking out – look for Reustle Prayer Rock’s sparkling Grüner Veltliner, Cass Winery’s Sparkling Viognier, Navarro’s Sparkling Gewurztraminer, or Notre Vue’s Sparkling GSM to satisfy your craving for something different.

In the meantime, Happy Holidays, and, of course, Cheers!     

More wine columns:    Rich Cook
Connect with Rich on Twitter at @RichCookOnWine        
More wine review:       Wine Reviews