By Rick Riozza
Bubbly and Sparklers are booming as we speak. Everyone’s in on the effervescent craze: sodas, beers, hard sparkling spirits are the rage in the refrigeration aisles at the markets, and the sales of sparkling wines are surging across our nation.
Remember the day when we opened a fancy bottle of French Champagne? We were probably celebrating at some wedding, birthday, graduation, or toasting to the new year.
But now with every other winery producing a decent bubbly, and, so many wineries producing great sparkling wines from around the world, we’re enjoying the wines at dinner time throughout the week, at picnic tables on the weekend, and with chips and popcorn on the couch catching up on our favorite TV shows.
And it’s happening all over the world: while we were recently enjoying breakfast in Beaune, lunching in Lombardy, and dining down the Danube, at least every other table had flutes of sparklers shimmering throughout the meal. Yeah—we were all vacationing and traveling so we had the luxury of imbibing bubblies, but, it was sparkles none-the-less.
According to Impact Databank, a sister publication of Wine Spectator, sparkling wine sales for the last ten years have continually increased; and during that decade, the category increased 51% overall. That’s some stat! And that’s why every wine company and distributor has come out with an array of sparkling potables.
And no need to remind us of the plethora of Prosecco pouring around the place. You wine enthusiasts have of course heard of Palm Bay International—the big distribution company. They import six sparkling wine brands from Italy, three from France, and two from Spain. And hand over fist, Italian Prosecco is their modern money maker.
Last year, La Marca, the top selling Prosecco brand in the U.S., sold nearly 1.9 million cases, according to owner E&J Gallo—almost as much as all Champagne wines combined!
We’ve done plenty of Prosecco articles previously—with more to come, but since I’m back on California terra firma (even with all the earthquakes!), allow me to review and comment on some of our great Cal bubblies & sparklers which have been in the fridge chilling for me to enjoy on my return:
One of my favorite California bubblies has always been the Roederer Estate Brut, Anderson Valley L’Ermitage. The 2012 vintage is now out ($48) and it is delish! It’s lush with crisp brioche, fresh ginger and spice, along with Asian pear flavors. Its finish lingers forever like that E chord at the end of the Beatles’ A Day in the Life.
And while we’re at it, Roederer Estate’s Brut Anderson Valley (non-vintage), which sells for half the price, is almost as delicious: Asian pear, brioche, and roasted nut flavors with a long and crisp vibrant finish.
Gloria Ferrer is another bubbly brand that continually produces excellent and tasty wines; the Brut Carneros Royal Cuvée, 2009. This sparkling wine is one of the finest examples of great winemaking, where the production exhibits a great balance of crisp acidity along with rich luxuriousness. And there seems to be a desirable pattern here with higher-end bubblies showing flavors of fresh ginger, Asian pear, brioche, along with Meyer lemon and roasted nuts. This wine is a great buy at under $40!
Another Gloria Ferrer sparkling wine that one can find at most markets is the Brut Sonoma County (non-vintage) ($22), that is lively and vibrant with apple and cinnamon brioche aromas leading to piecrust, strawberry, and spice flavors with a nice long finish.
Domaine Carneros, owned and overseen by the French Taittinger Champagne House, always scores wonderfully with a great sparkling wine in the $30 range. The Brut Carneros 2014, which can also be found in most wine markets, is lively and elegant and features expressive Asian pear, raspberry, and toasted spice flavors that lead to a long and minerally finish.
For very reasonably priced wines, one can look to Sofia, Brut Rosé Monterey, at around $17. It’s one of those crowd pleasing wines that nobody doesn’t like! And as I recall, for you Francis Coppola fans, this wine was in fact styled and produced by Coppola for the wedding of his daughter, Sofia. Again, what’s not to like!
Korbel, Blanc de Noirs, can be found on sale for as low as $9, is zesty and full-bodied with ripe cherry and spice flavors. For those folks who love a fresh Mimosa for brunch, I always recommend the Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvée Champagne, sale prices at $9 as well. No need to pour juices into any other bubbly at a higher price; this one works perfectly with your poached eggs on toast.
And by the way, have you tried the latest sparkling wines from Domaine Chandon?
I remember the bold entrepreneurial vision in 1973 to purchase 500 acres of sheep farming territory to grow Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, but years later, the risk has paid off. Chandon (of Moët et Chandon) was the first French-owned sparkling wine producer in Napa Valley and is now one of the most popular American sparkling wine brands. They make 16 different sparkling wines in the méthode traditionnelle, following all the rules of making champagne as done in France.
Recently, Chandon has brought on a young Champenoise director of winemaking at the helm, as Chandon is looking to the future. It takes two years to make a sparkling wine, and Pauline Lhote’s new wines are being released. She’s taken down the dosage, making it less sweet, and displays a confidence in the quality of the grapes, with her wines showing a new vivacity and opulence, a bright bouquet and smooth, rich finish. She’s also using more reserve wines in the blend for complexity. Let me know what you think. Cheers!