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Monday Manifestos
Putting The Sparkle Into Your Holidays—From The Best At Any Price to The Outright Bargains

By Stephen Eliot

We do not require much urging to pop the cork on a bottle of good sparkling wine. It seems to us to be the right thing to do on special occasions, and when it is not a special occasion, when we are happy and when we are just thirsty—and, of course, a glass of fine bubbly can make ordinary days special. We like Blanc de Blancs with oysters, a deeply flavored Rosé with roasted duck or pork loin, and admit to liking most everything in between. If truth be told, we will readily fill a glass on its own with no food in sight and without any need for a toast.

Given that we will cave at the flimsiest provocation at most any time of the year, it goes without saying that the CGCW holiday season is replete with plenty of fizz, and, when it comes to deciding which ones will be served, well, we are making our lists and checking them twice.

The great and true Champagnes of Epernay, Reims and Ay are always welcome at our table, but so too are the best of our local versions, and, as our recent reviews of the latest California offerings confirm once again, there are many noteworthy wines to be had hereabouts from Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and points south. Moreover, there are a number of terrific values to be had.

Here, then, are just a few of our West Coast favorites ranging from high-achievers that we would chose for the times when price is no object to those that are well-made and tasty but will not break the budget.

When only the best will do

97 J WINE COMPANY Brut Late Disgorged Russian River Valley 2001 $90.00
Perhaps we have been at this business of tasting wine too long, but it is the rare wine that stops us in our tracks and simply has us smiling at the joy of tasting it. This is such an effort, for while it may not have the boldness and unrivalled depth of the J. Schram below, it comes equipped with an incredible sense of elegance supported by complexity, delicacy and sheer beauty. Its aromas speak to the classic biscuitty, wheat toast, chalk and vanilla notes of the best bubblies, and yet they speak in the quiet, confident ways of sophistication. The wine enters the palate with a burst of tiny, pinpoint bubbles that shows no signs of diminution, and it continues to the back with notes of soy, toast, vanilla and still vital Meyer lemon influences. To say that we have fallen in love here would not be an exaggeration.

97 J. SCHRAM (SCHRAMSBERG) North Coast 2005 $115.00
Schramsberg's very special J. Schram bottlings inevitably make their ways to the head of the class every year, and this newest effort is nothing less than an absolute tour de force. Like the very greatest of the world's sparkling wines it exhibits an uncanny combination of layered richness and lightness with remarkably deep, very long-lasting, fully champenized flavors and an unending mousse of miniscule bubbles. It is the kind of wine that encourages the shameless use of superlatives in its description, and, yet even when found, those words are never enough.

Serious and still affordable

93 SCHRAMSBERG Blanc de Noirs Brut North Coast 2008 $41.00
Fruit takes a back seat to minerals and yeast here, yet the wine is not cast in an especially toasty style and is closer in manner to an elegant, finely etched Blanc de Blancs than to a fuller Blanc de Noirs. Although a touch on the restrained side and a bit lean on the palate, it is a nonetheless a complete and wonderfully well-crafted wine with a very fine, creamy mousse, a cleansing bias to crispness and a rich and refined finish that seems to go on forever.

93 FRANK FAMILY Blanc de Blancs Napa Valley 2008 $45.00
Far and away the finest sparkling wine that we have yet tasted under this label, this effort from the Frank Family is absolutely on point for the style and combines refinement and richness as only good Blanc de Blancs can. It is complex and nicely layered with suggestions of minerals, chalk and lemon zest in league with a full complement of yeast, and, if not at all light on substance, it maintains a light step from its frothy, finely bubbled beginnings to its crisp, very long finish.

92 ROEDERER ESTATE Brut Rosé Anderson Valley $28.00
Year in and year out, Roederer Estate's Rosé ranks with the best of its class, and this latest offering gets very high marks for its fine champenization and buoyant fruit. It is quite firm in balance with plentiful, pinpointy bubbles, and its seamless mix of bright berries and creamy yeast goes on and on at the finish. It steers away from the slight astringency that marks some of its cousins, and, while it will shine with foods ranging from duck to salmon, it is downright delicious on its own. And this wine is one of the absolute bargains in sparkling wine anywhere on the planet.

90 ROEDERER ESTATE Brut Anderson Valley $23.00
Dollar for dollar, Roederer Estate Brut also ranks among California's best sparkling wines, and, if not an extravagant wine or one that competes with those that have had years and years en tirage, this one is a composed, keenly balanced and entirely classy effort. Its subtle yeasty complexities and its fine, wonderfully persistent mousse are uncommon at the price, and, while a complete and thoroughly enjoyable wine at the moment, it is one that should last and last in the cellar.

Easiest on the pocketbook and slurpy on the palate

87 KORBEL Blanc de Noirs California $13.00
Fresh, fruity and very modestly yeasty and charged by a fine and lively stream of small bubbles, Korbel's Blanc de Noirs is a crisp, well-balanced effort that steers clear of the candied simplicity that is common in inexpensive sparklers. It is not a challenging wine, but it is an eminently drinkable one, and it earns a very enthusiastic thumbs-up vote for value.

86 KORBEL Brut Rosé California $13.00
A brief bit of yeast comes and goes here, but the wine's main message of juicy young fruit stays the course from first sniff to finish, and, although never remotely complex, the wine is clean, softly bubbled and trimmed with slight sweetness in a friendly style that invites light-hearted quaffing on warm afternoons.

85 DOMAINE STE. MICHELLE Blanc de Blancs Columbia Valley $11.00
Autolyzed yeast is a distant and muted piece here, but the wine gets good marks for both its freshness and its balance, and its gentle but very insistent mousse is easy to like. It is an affable sparkler even if complexity and richness may be a bit out of its grasp, and it comes at an attractive price. It is often seen discounted for less than $10.

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by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:12/17/2012 12:51:03 PM

While I have to agree with many here, (the Frank Family I've never had and at that price, well short of being sampled by a sales rep, I won't be as I can buy Grand Cru Champagne for that price and I just prefer Chamapgne) I do have a "shameless use of superlatives" for that J Schram, "Grossly Overpriced" and I thought that back when it was selling for $70. That is just crazy to me. Is it the best in California? Well like everything that is subjective but is that wine worth $115.00? Not a chance in my book which is why even though I sell the other wines at our store I will not stock that one. If someone asks me, "Is it worth it?" I would have to say "No" as far as qpr goes, therefore I can't in good faith stock it.


Thanks for the recap gentleman, reminded me about that J and how much I like that wine and need to get it back at the shop....just wish the bottles fit on my rack better!

by Charlie Olken
Posted on:12/17/2012 1:21:25 PM


Tryi it blind next to $100 bubblies from Champagne.

by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:12/17/2012 1:55:43 PM


I have and stand behind what I said here. Question however, do you mean stuff Bolinger, Moet and Clicquot in the $100 price bracket? Cuzz then it might hold its own but I assure you, blind against 2004 Saves, NV Billiot Julie or 2005 Agrapart Mineral, which all sell for less than $100, it would be very clear which thing was not like the others. Now what one prefers might come into play but seeing as my customers have fallen in love with my little known wines, wines that are fantastic base wines of power and depth before they are bubbly stuff, well I can tell you that not one person has asked me for J Schram, ever. And to be honest, I sell Agrpart 7 Cru and R.H Coutier Grand Cru a case to one bottle of the basic level Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs or Blanc de Noirs and that is without my help on the floor. Agrpart is $35.99 and Coutier is $39.99 and the Schramsberg wines are both $33.99. I have to re-order the two Champagnes weekly and I can go 6 months with 2 cases of Schramsberg. Maybe Long Beach is a wacky place or maybe, just maybe, pople, (that actually drink the stuff like the wine it is rather than a once a year bottle of bubbly stuff or a celebratory pop) have tasted the difference and vote with their wallets. It is because of them and their taste that I cannot and will not stock that J Schram...

Not So Fast
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:12/17/2012 2:26:22 PM

Your grower bubblies are fine products. You will never here me say otherwise, but what you sell in your store is a direct reflection of what you want to sell. That is OK wiith me, and I am quite content in the knowledge that it is OK for your customers.

But, your anecdotal info is not the world. In the real world, J. Schram and Schramsberg products substantially outsell your grower bubblies.

Sales, of course, are just one arbiter of quality. But the evidence of sales does suggest that the world finds something to like in the broad line of Schramsberg products even if you do not.

Broad Market
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:12/17/2012 3:13:08 PM

And Dominos outsells the little pizza joint on the corner, Panda Express outsells The Slanted Door, Olive Garden outsells A16. So that means Olive Garden is beloved by more people so it is therefore better than A16? Or, might it be that A16 couldn't be A16 in terms of quality if it were plunked down at every freeway offramp around the country?


I agree that we sell what we want, (although I prefer to say we sell what we beleive in....which includes Schramsberg by the way) but we wouldn't servive if there weren't a market for it. Just because there is more of it and more people know it does not a marker of quality make. Schramsberg will always outsell my little grower wines because there is a TON of it to go around and a place like Agrapart makes a whopping 6,000 cases, total. I'm not picking on Schramsberg, bit like flinging a pebble at Goliath no? Like I said, I like the wines, (you were the one that said I did not Sir Charles)  and happily stock them, the J Schram however, in my humble opinion, is over profoundly.

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