By Rick Riozza

Total Wine & More in Palm Desert is the largest wine, spirits, and beer store in our galaxy. It’s so large that it has its own gravity field: whenever I pass by the behemoth store, I cannot stop my car from veering into their parking lot. It’s been written that it’s “taller than City Hall; wider than the Indian Wells Tennis Garden; longer than a locomotive train, heavier than”…well, we’re getting the idea.

Candace Graham is the store’s wine supervisor and she’s in control of more wine than France and Italy have produced in the last three years. There is more volume of liquid in the store than the amount of water in Lake Tahoe. Last year I wrote that Candace flies in from Cucamonga on her Piper Aircraft. Things have improved for her as Total Wine has built an additional runway.

Even with that much clout, she took the time to taste through some sparklers with me, as she’s eager for the CV weekly wine community to read and hear about some great picks for the New Year’s Eve and beyond. And boy! is she on point with her choice selections both as to value and especially as to taste.

Further, as the consummate wine professional, she has only chosen Champagne and sparklers made in the traditional méthode champenoise:  The labor-intensive and costly process whereby wine undergoes a secondary fermentation inside the bottle, creating bubbles. All Champagne and most high-quality sparkling wine is made by this process.

We started our sparkler survey with the Rondel Gold. I’ve been enjoying the Rondel in the carbon-blue bottle for years as a very satisfying Spanish cava. Now this Gold version is—well, in a gold bottle. Immediately on the bouquet, we experienced something like coming on to that classic 50-50 ice cream bar with that orange sherbet aroma. Wait a minute! I thought this was a brut cava? The scent of this wine really can throw you off; but once we quaffed this baby, we got a nice dry & fresh, peach and floral, fruity, light-bodied wine. At only $10 a bottle, I can see this really being popular.

Our next vine venture was the Saint Reine Blanc de Blancs Brut, a sparkler from Burgundy. Very fresh on the nose—immediately appealing and you’ll waste no time to taste the nice apple, pear, and citrus notes along with a touch of toast. It’s a fun sparkler—especially for those getting into the European palate. Another great deal at around $12.

The next wine was a Crémant D’Alsace. A “crémant” [cray-mawn”] originally meant a less-bubbly style of sparkling wine. Think gentle fizz, not the nose-tingling experience of some bubblies. More commonly now, it’s also used to designate sparkling wines made by the méthode champenoise but falling outside the boundaries of the Champagne region. Crémants might also be made from grapes other than the traditional Champagne varieties. Crémant d’Alsace, for example, can be made from Pinot Blanc, Riesling or Pinot Gris.

The Arthur Metz Crémant d’Alsace Brut Prestige is a dry sparkler that is medium-bodied with aromas of white flowers that carry into the palate with tasty orchard fruit flavors. This wine simply craves a great appetizer plate—this is the sparkler to enjoy all night before New Year’s Eve. The blend of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris is fresh and inviting. Named as one of the world’s Top 10 Sparklers at the Effervescents du Monde Wine Competition. Candace says she’s having this crémant with fettuccine alfredo.

Another “crémant” we enjoyed was from the Loire Valley. Most of you will recall this area of France where so many ancient castles and cathedrals exist. Deligeroy Crémant De Loire Brut is also a sparkler that can last all night with meals and munchies. Such a great tasting wine for only around $17.

The well-known Chenin Blanc grape that excels in the Loire, is predominant here with crisp fresh aromas of peaches, apples and hints of fresh flowers, leading to a creamy palate carrying core fruit flavors and a hint of toast. The elegant texture fills your mouth with an elegant mousse in the style of fine Champagne.

Candace then brought out for the final two, the Grand Cru Champagne. This means that only Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vineyards from only 17 villages in the Champagne region can be utilized in the wine. This is where the best Champagne in the world comes from.
The Pertois Moriset Grand Cru Brut immediately starts with a beautiful nose and classic aromas of yeast and toast and went onto a flavor profile of Marzipan along with exotic fruits, scented brioche, apricot conserve and a comfy honeysuckle aroma with minerality. Nice and crisp that keeps the Champagne fresh throughout the quaff. A great treat for the New Year’s Eve celebration at around $40. A Wine Spectator score of 92 points!

Of course, a beautiful brut rosé is always considered for the grand year’s entrance and for any celebration. The French Grand Cru Rosés are one of the most complex and involved, time-consuming wine to make on earth. And seriously—they are the most delicious rosés in the world.

The Mailly Brut Rosé Grand Cru is wonderfully fragrant on the nose with a palate of cranberries, red currents, pomegranates lined with red apple acidity and a texture that shows a touch of minerality from the Grand Cru vineyards on the Montagne de Reims. Surely, one of the treats of the year at $50. Candace reminds us that we should have had this wine for Thanksgiving!
And Candace, thanks again to you and your great attentive crew who keep us safe and sane in your big big store. Cheers! Happy New Years!!