Pop the cork: Local sparkling wines

Sparkling wines from Northern California


French champagne? Pah. Here’s a toast to sparkling wines from right here in Northern California. From robust bruts to elegant demi-secs, Wine Country’s got a bevy of bubblers to fill your flutes. And not just for New Year’s. These wines have legs that will impress well into next April.

Think pink with rose sparklers from J Winery, Domaine Chandon and Iron Horse. Brief contact with grape skins gives these wines a blush of color. Aromas of lilac, cherry, honeysuckle, raspberry tickle the nose, but don’t expect a fruit bomb–these sips are among the driest. J Brut Rose ($35), Etoile Rose ($50), Iron Horse Brut Rose ($50).

Founded by Wine Country’s chocolate king, Anderson Valley’s Scharffenberger CellarsBrut Non-vintage makes big, sassy sparkling wines heavy on the pinot noir, but light on the pocketbook. Rich with flavors of vanilla, cream and caramel, this Sonoma Coast brut has serious sex appeal. Who knows decadence better than a chocolatier, after all? Scharffenberger , $19. Ripe with pear, Gloria Ferrer’s Sonoma Brut ($15.99) is another value-priced wine that’s worth a toast.

If you’re willing to splurge a little, Iron Horse’s top bubbly is the $147 Joy! Aged 10-15 years, is refined and elegant, and offered only in awe-inducing magnums. It’s also what George W. and Co. will be drinking this New Year’s. (But don’t hold that against it.) Schramsberg’s 2001 Reserve, $90, is from one of the oldest sparkling houses in California. Hailing from the famed Carneros, Le Reve Blanc de Blancs ($85) is a long-time favorite from Domaine Carneros (owned by French champagne house, Taittinger). Its chardonnay lineage brings notes of lemon, pear and flower to this light sparkler.

Impressive on a budget: Mumm Napa Valley’s high-scoring DVX ($55) isn’t cheap, but its delicate prickle of bubbles, toast and fig aromas and bright balance of acid make it a luxurious value.

End the night with a sweet treat, Schramsberg’s Cremant Demi-Sec ($37.50) that blends notes of spice, ginger, and pear with plenty of bubbles.
From dry (meaning very little sugar) to demi-sec (rather sweet); here are the styles of sparkling wine you’ll find most often.

Sparkling Wine 101: What’s in a name?
Brut Natural: Really, really, really dry

Extra Brut: A super-dry sparkling wine with almost no residual sugar

Brut: The most common designation, these bubblers primarily rely on natural sugars from the grapes and tend to be fairly dry.

Extra Dry: Not exactly what it seems, this has more sugar than brut

Sec: Sweeter yet

Demi-Sec: Usually a dessert sparkling wine, you can definitely taste the sweetness

Doux: Get out the toothbrush, this is a sugar bomb


14 thoughts on “Pop the cork: Local sparkling wines

  1. Hey, Kimbo. That’s interesting because “blending” like that is a less common way to make rose. Two other methods (including “brief contact with grape skins”) are more common ways to produce rose- both sparkling and still, here and abroad.

  2. I actually work at one of the wineries mentioned in the article and the “rose sparkler” is not made by “Brief contact with grape skins gives these wines a blush of color”. Before tirage the base cuvee is introduced to a small amount of red wine which in our case is usually pinot noir. You add as much as you like to produce the desired color. You can further adjust the final color during the disgorging process by the amount / color of the dosage used. I am not a wine maker and am not saying this right or wrong. I just want to note how this wime is made at the two “high end” wineries I have been associated with.

  3. I had some Gloria Ferrer for the first time on New Year’s Eve and, although it was nice, I had the WORST headache the next day! I never get headaches from Roederer, Schramzberg or Chandon. Ouch!

  4. Sorry anon, but I’m not understanding your take on history. First of all, since when do wineries sign treaties? You must be confusing them with governments. You’re saying that because Korbel doesn’t recognize the French appellation system that means that they can call their swill Champage? By that logic the Gallos can continue to call their rotgut “hearty burgundy”? What if I choose not to recognize the appellation – I can make my own johng sparkler and call it champage? What about Cooks Champage? Yet another winery pretending to be a government? What about Schramsburg – a good producer that volunteered to correctly label their sparking lines only recently?
    please expound – i’m genuinely interested.

  5. MMMMMM Pop in the New Year. Chandon is a great local sparkling wine, When you take the tour you find out that Chandon is owned by LVMH who also makes DOM P. Well its not Crystal but Chandon does make a great Sparkling wine.

  6. Unfortunately, there are some people who don’t know their wine history around here… Korbel does make Champagne and are the only producer outside of France that does. They didn’t sign/refused to sign the 1888 treaty that designated the Champagne region of France the only area that could produce sparkling wines designated as Champagne. This doen’t excuse Korbel from creating a product that could clearly be painstakingly better and far more refined, but it is true nonetheless that they make Champagne while everyone else in the world but Champagne, France makes Sparkling Wine.

  7. Would it be cool, and would one be a “cutie”, if they sucked down chicken soup out of the can or ketchup out of the bottle? A decent wine deserves a decent glass. I agree with SVO–a skank is a skank, and the PD should do more to promote responsible, not reckless, drinking.

  8. Korbel makes some pretty nice wines and champagnes. Kenwood Valley of the Moon and Lake Sonoma wines are excellent wines for their respective price points. I have been less than satisfied with some of J’s wines that cost twice as much. When you go to Korbel wineries they don’t charge you $35 to taste like J does!

  9. Sigh,
    Folks no need to get nasty with one another. I don’t think that someone drinking from a wine bottle is “a bad example”, nor does it make them a “skank”. Take things for what they are and give folks the benefit of the doubt. Celebrating is a good thing and most folks do it this time of year. Enjoy this feeling and share it, it might very well make you happier like the other folks doing it.
    As for the wines in this piece, well they are all quite nice and J especially has some wonderful Late Discorged for folks wanting to spend some extra cash on something special. Korbel is far from my favorite wine producer, but their “cheap stuff” gets a lot of folks drinking wine that would not otherwise, plus our county can always use the sales tax and they bring in a sizable amount. Want nice roads and a sheriff’s department, let the folks enjoy Korbel that enjoy it.

  10. Sorry to be a pedantic downer, but Korbel does not make Champagne, which is only made in Champagne. They make nasty brandy and undrinkable sparkling wine, and they’re only “Winery of the Year” in that rag because they spend so much money on advertising.

  11. Sharffenberger and Roederrer (did I spell either right?) are my two favorites and they are on the less expensive side, especially at Costco-and they come from near each other in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino!!

  12. Zuma take your high horse and ride it to some other state. dkm Korbell sucks, and the girl in the pic is a cutie . . . marry christmas and a happy new year all you happy people.

  13. Oh, but the champagne’s NOT Korbel! Wonder why the winery of the year, as reported by the Wine Enthusiast, doesn’t get a nod in this report? Curious. Also, I agree with SVO about the less-than-responsible gal guzzling the champagne. Must be because it’s not Korbel. haha

  14. Zuma takes this opportunity to spew, and I reply with a question about the lead photo. Is this skank supposed to be a model of responsible drinking?

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