Summer Sparklers by Rick Riozza
Last week we featured the racy and elegant German Riesling Kabinett as the one to accompany your Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc & Chardonnay wines for the summertime. Although we do a big bash of bubbly discussion and drinking around the winter holidays and New Year’s, it’s also a great time—now in heat haven, to stock up and enjoy some good sparkling wines.
Yes, there’s plenty of French Champagne which can be fabulous. But—and it’s a big but, it can get pretty pricy. What we’d like to have is a few or more bottles on hand and in the cooler. So let’s look at some bubblies that score pretty well, are very good in quality and a good bang for the buck.
So much of the wine world now is in love with Washington State wines. One of the most popular wineries is of course Domaine Ste. Michelle, who utilize that “Methode Champenoise” in the production of their sparklers. The result is very French in style and quite elegant.
Wine Enthusiast says the Brut Classic Cuvee (under $10) is “the richest and finest of this winery’s series of value bubblies. This Chardonnay-Pinot Noir blend is delicately scented with raspberry, peach, smoke and yeast, and it’s smooth on the palate, so elegant and complex, it’s hard to believe it costs so little.”
While we’re at it, Ste. Michelle continues to put out their tasty Blanc de Noir, which also can be found for under $10 at Trader Joe’s markets. This sparkler is “creamy & complex, a pretty, pale copper, with Pinot-scented hints of cherry fruit.”
For those special summer occasions, sometimes we treat ourselves or friends to a “high-end” type of sparkler. For instance, although we aren’t putting up the $40 to $80 for a French Champagne, for around $20 to $25 we can enjoy their “offspring” that are famously at home here in California wine country. The soil is California, the style is Champagne and a definite California style has evolved: A sparkler with dominant fruit driven flavors along with a backdrop of toasty and mineral notes. It’s fun and interesting at a home-sparkling-wine tasting party to consider how these four “baby-boomer” sparklers still approximate their “parents” style.
Surely both long-time Champagne drinkers and parvenus alike will recognize these world famous “parent” French Champagne names and their California offspring:
Louis Roederer ———–Roederer Estate (Mendocino)
Tattinger ——————–Domaine Carneros (Napa)
G.H. Mumm —————Mumm Napa Valley
Moet & Chandon ——–Domaine Chandon (Napa)
Enjoy the Roederer Estate brands if your palate still strives for that French-like “terrior” taste. Domaine Carneros is like their “parent” in subtle and understated classic flavors. Mumm Napa Valley has minerality while beginning to showcase New World fruit. Domaine Chandon clearly exhibits the most fruity and sweeter notes of the fab four.
Seems like we’re covering the Pacific states so let’s bring in Oregon, specifically Willamette [Will-LAM-et] Valley, with their beautiful Burgundian climate. Currently there’s the Argyle Brut 2008 in stores. Argyle Brut is one of the Northwest’s best sparkling wines in a great looking green bottle at around the $25 price range.
Their winery notes: “Soft straw color, the tiny streams of minuscule bubbles, and as you raise the glass, you get full aromas of creamy vanilla poached pear and fresh sour dough starter. The first impression on the palate is of how well balanced this wine is, playing the purity of fruit off of the fresh acidity while showcasing the wine’s natural mineral notes. There are hints of ripe guava, red Anjou pear, Meyer lemon, and lightly toasted brioche, finishing with notes of honeysuckle and lemon curd.”
They pour this bubbly at their winery; and while there, one hopes it continues to rain outside as an excuse to stay there a bit longer! This wine is a definite treat: Be romantic and enjoy a bottle for that cozy candlelight dinner.
Again, and apparently again—as I’ve recommended in my previous columns, one of the best sparkler values in town is the Spanish Cava, Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut and their Rosé Brut. Both delicious and quite Champagne-like, with the Rosé carrying tasty strawberry notes, they’re currently selling for less than $6 a bottle at Pavilions in Rancho Mirage. It never disappoints and tastes like a $20 bottle!
Cool Down & Sparklers Up! Cheers!
Rick continues to host corporate & private wine tastings & events and consults on wine for special engagements. Contact

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