By Rick Riozza

Wow! It seems as though we’ve been discussing Champagnes, sparkling wines, and bubbly for the past month already! And rightly so!

Celebrating has been a tough sell this past year; and when we began to open the bubbly for the holidays, we really enjoyed the long-awaited pop! “Cheers!” we exclaimed. “Cheers to the help on the way!” “Cheers to be alive!”

As this column is wont to do with its liberality to write on anything wine and wine related, we somewhat covered the sparkling waterfront from costly Champagne to a brave & tasty Brazilian bubby at five bucks a bottle.


This time, I thought it would be very practical to simply write and report on the top sparkling wines that we find immediately on the market shelves. I call these wines the “usual suspects”—in a good way. Most often—in large supermarkets, where many of us shop for wine—we can not only find several bottles but full cases available. Brands such as Mumm Napa, Chandon, Korbel, Barefoot Bubbly, and the like have large displays taking up a bunch of room. Even though we don’t like to see it happen, there’s something humorous in watching the persons on self-driving carts who miss a turn and plow into the wine display, that also serves as the obstacle to them.

So as is my style, I’ll just speak off the top. If anything, perhaps we’ll note the better wines firstly; but in any event, all the wines discussed here will fit the bill as excellent celebratory quaffs and great meal accompaniment.

Iron Horse Brut Green Valley of Russian River Valley Classic Vintage 2016 ($48.) How about that for a bottle name? However, once you taste this sparkler, you’ll remember the name. This is the type of wine one uses the terms “plush” and “creamy”. It is our favorite acidic charm while showing flavors of baked apple, strawberry, and toasty brioche flavors. Expect a long contemplative finish.

Speaking of the Iron Horse brand, I was really introduced to their wines by way of a winemaker’s dinner that was hosted by Morgan’s of the Desert in one of their Food & Wine Festival dinner programs. When will this type of event ever come back?

With one of the winery’s representative present, we learned Iron Horse Winery is one of the most beautiful, small, independent family-owned estates located in the cool, foggy Green Valley—one of the smallest wine appellations in the southwestern part of the Russian River Valley.

I recall writing in my review, “In the arena of California sparkling wines, Iron Horse stands at the top. Their wines have been served at the White House for consecutive Presidential administrations, beginning with the historic Reagan-Gorbachev Summit Meetings to the Obama-Xi Jinping meetings, even at our own Sunnylands.”

At Morgan’s, it was the first time I tasted the Iron Horse Wedding Cuvée—the winery’s interpretation of a Blanc de Noirs. It was a delicious aperitif on its own with aromas of peach, raspberry, and hazelnut, following on the palate with pink grapefruit, lime, and stone fruit. Executive Chef Jimmy Schmidt paired the bubby with a charcuterie and cheese platter and on to something decadent like a roasted five-cheese macaroni gratin. I’ve lost track, but is Chef Schmidt still at Morgan’s?

And here we go on to some other great bubbly:

Roederer Estate Brut Rosé Anderson Valley L’Ermitage 2012 ($75). This bottling has been deemed the “best California sparkling wine of the year” by many a wine publication. It is a real jewel of a rosé with a great nose bursting with blood orange, candied ginger and lemon peel aromas that all move to the palate with classic rosé flavors.

Mumm Napa DVX Napa Valley 2012 ($70). Everyone has come to appreciate the wines from this very popular brand. This is one of their “high end” wines we see at fancy parties—well, at least we used to see. This sparkler immediately shows world-class style with accents of lemon verbena and strawberry that take on Alsatian petrol notes. There’s ginger on the finish along with nice mineral notes.

Mumm Napa Brut Napa County Prestige NV ($14). This is Mumm’s recognizable “black label” that’s so reasonably priced. It’s an easy, soft, and lightly zesty quaff. Strawberry and apples permeate and finish on a crisp and lively note.

Argyle Brut Willamette Valley Extended Tirage Master Series 2009 ($80). This is one of Oregon’s best sparkling offerings this past year. A full-on rich and yeasty wine with almond accents that move on to baked pear, ginger & spice flavors and finish with Italian-like hazelnut tones.

Domaine Carneros Blanc de Blancs Carneros Le Rêve 2013 ($120). Back down to California, “DC” is one of California’s most prestigious sparkling wine brands. No matter what level or bottle price of Domaine you purchase—know you’re getting the top quality. This Le Rêve is pretty pricey but it is the dream. Luxurious and structured with flavors of the classic 2013 vintage: Hazelnut, ginger, and cinnamon aromas, then the wine moves on to baked apple, lemon tart, and river stones.

Domaine Chandon Brut California NV ($19). Not to be confused with Domaine Carneros above, this Chandon—like the Mumm, is so reasonably priced for good stuff. As you’d expect, this is an easy quaff. It shows notes of honeysuckle, apple, and roasted nuts, with a nice brisk finish.

Decoy Brut California Cuvée NV ($22). Part of the Duckhorn portfolio, Decoy has moved on to the bubby with great vigor. They’ve done an excellent job producing a snappy and fresh sparkler with zesty flavors of lemon and orange peel, finishing with floral vanilla notes. Cheers to you and the New Year!!