BY RICK RIOZZA
Happy New Year folks—and welcome, as we look ahead to more cheerful days of wine and rosés. Last time I surprised our valley with California sparkling wine recommendations without a sign of French or Italian in the mix. For the valley’s Europhiles, not to worry, you know we always work internationally here.
However, California is so blessed with stellar bubbly that we wish to continue to mention some of these sparkling wines to keep the season satiated. Again, I linger on as a true Champagne lover and all that related French & Italian bubbly; but through the years these delicious sparkling wines I’m discussing below always share the spotlight as the hit of festivities, parties, meals, and intimate times alike:
Schramsberg: I became a big fan of these bubblies after fortunately meeting Jack and Jamie Davies, some twenty-five years ago or so, at a wine tasting event held at the venerable and beloved Sycamore Inn located in Rancho Cucamonga. Also present at the tasting was their young—heir apparent—son, Hugh Davies who later became the full-time winemaker at the passing of his parents.
Jack Davies was a sparkling wine pioneer producing world-class wine at the time American bubbly wasn’t taken too seriously. Back in 1972, Schramsberg was put on the map when it became the first U.S. wine to be utilized at a state event: the 1969 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs was the toasting sparkler on hand when President Nixon normalized diplomatic relations with China. Thereafter, a slew of famous Champagne houses came to California to set up shop—you know the names!
Even today, the winery’s Blanc continues to bolt out the marketplace, often selling out before the new vintage arrives. Winemaker Notes: “The 2014 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs has bright and fresh aromas of green apple, apricot and orange blossom. The fruitful fragrance intermingles with hints of honey and lemon zest. Freshly sliced peaches, pear, and bright pineapple flavors carry vibrant length on the palate.”
Wine.com has gone absolutely ga-ga over this Schrams, “One of the world’s best sparkling wines, the 2014 Blanc de Blancs its all of the bells and whistles. This
wine exhibits bright core fruits, a hint of floral notes, and an almost-creaminess on the palate.”
I’m enjoying a glass of the Blanc right now; of course let me add that, again, I’m utilizing the Riedel Veritas Champagne Wine Glass, which continues to amaze with the quality of the quaff: aromas and flavors simply catapult with both the nuances and complexities of the wine. Take that glass out for a test drive and you’ll agree that your favorite bubbly deserves the best.
As to the 2014 Blanc we’re discussing, I find it dry but full-flavored with ripe fruits and balanced with crisp citrus notes that is indeed creamy on the palate. It’s a winner as usual.
If I’m allowed to recommend three Cal bubblies in one fell swoop, I’m going with Roederer, Gloria Ferrer, and Scharffenberger. All three of these wineries simply produce wonderful sparklers at such reasonable prices. Here are Wine Spectator’s comments on some of my favorite labels:
The Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley is a non-vintage bubbly that’s “voluptuous and expressive, with floral red apple, brioche and cinnamon spice aromas and rich vibrant flavors.” $24
For a treat, I’m more than happy to enjoy my neighbor’s Roederer’s 2009 Brut Anderson Valley L’Ermitage, $45, “A luxurious sparkler with toasted brioche, mineral and lemon brûlée aromas and rich complex flavors of crisp apple and raspberry.”
And speaking of Blanc de Blancs, Gloria Ferrer does a great job with their non-vintage Blanc de Blanc Carneros version, $22, “sleek and plush, offering lemon tart aromas, with expressive flavors of creamy pear and spiced vanilla. As to the Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs (meaning there’s Pinot Noir in the cuvée), “Vibrant floral strawberry and gingerbread aromas pair with crisp apple and spice flavors that bounce along the finish.”
One of the things you love about the Scharffenberger bubbly is the name. It was the original name, which for strange marketing reasons, was changed to “Pacific Echo”. Fortunately the name is back. I’m always recommending this non-vintage sparkler, Scharffenberger Brut Mendocino County Excellence, $20. It’s creamy and lively, offering festive flavors of apple and spice.” Customers all agree it’s a good pick.
Finally, I’d like to add a word and recommendation for the 2016 Korbel Brut California Organic Grapes, $16. Showing and praising this wine to customers is almost vexing—but surely droll, in the sense that so many wine folk judge a wine by the name & price—even though someone is sensibly commenting that it’s pretty good stuff.
Okay—Korbel generally isn’t on the lips of those speaking of world class wine. And, at some wine stores, the Brut Organic Grapes incredibly sells for as low as $12! So we can appreciate the hesitation of considering the wine for a special celebration. The deal is, however, that not only little ole me, but Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and a host of other publications rate this wine at 89 points and above! This is pretty good stuff! “Alluring apple and floral cherry aromas lead to supple, fruit-forward flavors of Meyer lemon and fresh ginger.” Chill-lax & enjoy.
Please note: A couple of columns ago, we spoked of the California wildfires that tore through Sonoma and Napa wine country. Also mentioned was that our friend, Tom Gore, grape farmer and winemaker, had suffered some personal property losses. Thank goodness we misstated this fact: fortunately all is well with Tom and his vineyard properties.
Unfortunately, though, so many have been impacted by this year’s devastating disaster, and our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to all so affected. We are looking forward to hearing from Tom in an upcoming column on the area’s recovery efforts and his participation with the #Sonomastrong movement and other relief endeavors.
Here’s to a vino good year!—Cheers!