By Rick Riozza

The Urban Dictionary defines a “high-ender” as a wealthy person who goes after expensive goods. We’ve all seen it portrayed on TV and in the media with the “lifestyles of the rich & famous”. And often in the hands of these high-enders, you’ll see a bottle of bubbly shooting its cork off with all that valuable sparkling liquid lavishing the scene!

Of course, a lot of that bubbly we see in the hands of the rich & famous is French Champagne. But if it isn’t, it’s probably one of California’s ultra-premium world class sparkling wine.

Our far-flung wine maven, Tina Caputo wrote, “The secret of world-class sparkling wine,” he explains, “whether made in Champagne or elsewhere, is to use grapes that ripen at low alcohol and high acid levels.” While that combination isn’t always easy to achieve in warm, sunny California, the state’s top producers can—and do—manage to rival the best of Champagne.


So let’s have fun and dream of enjoying some of our state’s Best in Show! And actually those dreams aren’t especially hard to come to fruition. We’re not talking about those French Champagne prices that can soar over $3,000 in a moment’s notice; rather our California sparkling price tags rarely get over a hundred and fifty bucks. So hang in there!

When it comes to discussing world class California bubbly, we know it’s tough for the average quaffer to determine the type of wine that they wish to experience—given the fact that they’re spending some bucks in the process. Bruts, Blanc de blancs, and roses are generally the best sparklers California has to offer. But not all bruts and blanc de blancs are all equal due to the “house style” of the winery. I guess that’s why we columnists come to the rescue.

And with the high-end stuff, there will always be varying degrees where each sparkler has crisp aromas of brioche, bread, and toast, with flavors of apple, pear, fig, lemon, hazelnut, honey, nuttiness, minerals, and possibly anise. That the wine pairs beautifully with oysters, lobster, salmon, caviar, paté, chicken, and veal. That said, with sparkling wine—or with any wine for that matter—the “finish” is a real consideration.

What’s the best finish? It’s a wine that offers elegance, flavors focus, and length, yet also goes further with something to say after the wine is swallowed.

And now: Three of the best bubblies California has to offer:

So let’s start off with one of our favorite high-end sparklers. You folks out there with the bucks, know this wine quite well: Iron Horse Brut Green Valley of Russian River Valley Ld 2013 ($125).

Wine critic, Virginie Boone writes:A blend of half Pinot Noir and half Chardonnay, given seven years en tirage, this is a beautiful tête de cuvée, with a nose of marzipan and almond paste that draws one in. It exudes balanced richness and lasting flavors of sweet peach on the lengthy palate.

Wine Spectator states: Boldly expressive aromas of brioche, roasted hazel nut, and lemon tart, open to rich, decadent apple pie flavors, laced with baking spices.

Your Vino Voice writes: The nose shows vibrant aromas of marzipan, biscuit, and honey, yellow apple, ripe pear, lemon curd and mandarin orange. The palate is rich and complex, yet elegant and focused. Bursting with flavors of almond pastry, ripe apple, honeydew melon, candied orange, hazlenut and a distinctive lemon gelato creaminess. Medium-bodied, with delightful bright acidity, with a lingering crisp citrus finish.

It would appear that this is the best of the best. If you have the funds, the inclination, and the party attitude—this bubbly is worth all the buzz!

Domaine Carneros Blanc de Blancs Carneros Le Rêve 2014 ($120). Domaine Carneros is always at the top in California sparklers. Those in the know consider this brand and wine to be “grand cru California”. Some call it “the dream” in English—in French it’s known as “le Rêve”.

On the nose, this classic Le Rêve captivates with lovely notes of honeysuckle, lime blossoms, grilled pineapple, brioche, and a hint of ginger. The palate opens up to honeycomb, yuzu, and notes of a fresh baked lemon pie. This wine displays depth and purity that leads to a long, elegant finish.

Circling back to the Iron Horse Winery, one of the most popular high-end sparklers that gets poured at more hob-nob wedding parties is the 2018 Iron Horse Wedding Cuvée Green Valley of Russian River. It scores regularly up there with the best of the best at only $58 a bottle!

A wonderful memory comes to mind on this Wedding Cuvée. When I first began writing this column, the word got out that we were reviewing restaurants and their wine lists out here in the desert. No one was doing that back then.

Anyway—I was invited by both Iron Horse Winery and Morgan in the Desert Restaurant, in La Quinta, to attend their wine pairing dinner. The five-course meal was first class and the five various Iron Horse bubblies matched perfectly. A win-win for the chef, sommelier, patrons and me; and the Wedding Cuvée match-up was the star of the show!

Wine Spectator writes: “This beautiful bubbly is stately yet festive, with effusive raspberry and zesty lemon flavors accented by graham cracker and ginger. 94 points!”

Iron Horse Winery states: “This is Iron Horse’s most romantic bubbly. We describe the 2018 Wedding Cuvée as dangerously easy to drink. Warm straw color with a pure mousse, this fruit forward, elegantly dry bubbly, displays ultra tiny bubbles and an exceedingly long finish.” Cheers!