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Wednesday Warblings
Sparkling Wine In Magnums—Worth It

By Stephen Eliot

Every year at about this same time, you will find us completing our issue wrap-up tastings and working on the last few edits of the annual CGCW review of sparkling wine slated for November. The tasks at hand always seem to be a bit lighter as the days are enlivened by steady stream of bubbles, and, if it is work, it is the kind we do not mind doing.

Now, we are more than happy to drink good sparkling wine most anytime of the year, but we have traditionally tagged November as the month for our report on the new crop for the obvious reason that the holiday season is nigh, and this year I find myself with two sparkling-wine wishes for the holidays.

First, I wish there were far more of the stuff put up in magnums. In one year after the next, we have found that there is something special that routinely goes on with good sparkling wines bottled and fermented in larger format. I do not know if science can wholly explain why, and I am not sure that I really want to, but, more often than not, good bubbles in big bottles are deeper, more complex and creamier in feel than their 750 ml counterparts. Maybe not always, but most of the time, and I admit that I am less concerned with why than I am happily content that they are. I expect that magnum bottlings are seen as a harder sell by producers, but, at this time of year when so many settings call for more than one bottle, the timing is right to get the word out that sometimes bigger is, in fact, better.

The second thing I would love to see, while I am engaging in wishful thinking, is a universal movement on the part of good sparkling wine producers to include the date of disgorgement on each and every bottle. Would it really be so difficult?

As things stand, barring those limited offerings that are vintage-dated, there is literally no way to tell the labeling difference between a bottle of bubbles from one year to the next. I, for one, want to know as much as I can about what is in the bottle, and that includes whether or not the one on my retailer’s shelf is from this year or the last or, perhaps, the one before. Moreover, the production levels for most sparkling wines are very high, and you can bet that not every bottle in a multi-thousand case lot is disgorged at one and the time, or even, I suspect, some of those that do bear a vintage date. There are mysteriously wonderful things that go on en triage; am I asking so much for a simple way to keep track? I can already hear the protests that the inclusion of such information is bound to confuse the consumer, but I very much doubt that most folks would even take notice at some subtle indication of a disgorgement date, and I am fairly certain that those informed few who do would be genuinely grateful.

I do not really expect for either of my wishes to be granted, but, well, one can always wish. I was rather hoping for a World Series meeting between my home and adoptive teams, the Dodgers and the Oakland A’s, so I am getting used to disappointment.


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Reply from Schramsberg
by Matthew Levy
Posted on:10/17/2013 3:23:03 PM

Hi Stephen,

Nice article. Over at Schramsberg, we offer four different wines in magnums (or larger). Our J. Schram, Reserve, Brut Rosé and Blanc de Blancs are all available in magnums. We perform the secondary fermentation within the magnum bottles, in our caves. We even offer our Blanc de Blancs in 3-L and 9-L sizes, if you really want something large. As for disgorgement date, we do mark the cases with the disgorge date. This might not always be available once the bottle makes it onto a shelf, but we do make the information available. Cheers!

Schramsberg Identifiers
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:10/17/2013 5:48:34 PM

Hello Matt--

Someday I hope to taste one of those B/Bs from a 3-liter bottle. I imagine that it will be rich and creamy and brisk all at the same time with the energy and focus of your 750 ml bottlings but with a texture and inner richness that only large format bottles can bring.

As for disgorgment dates, while I, and Steve Eliot, are concerned with knowing how long a wine has been on the shelves, esp a bubbly, the existence of a vintage date on Schramsberg wines does at least mean that no one should wind up with stock that has been sitting around for who knows how long.

It is really the so-called "multi-vintage" bottlings that are the concern because there is no way of knowing how old the bottle is. We fought this battle with still wines here in California decades ago, but sparkling wine, with its unchanging tradition of avoiding vintage dates for so many wines, is an entirely different question.

Not only can sparkling wine from the large producers sit around after the holiday period, but some of it may still be there at the beginning of the next holiday period. And there is no way for the consumer to make an informed choice if one wants to.

I won't speak for most non-dated European bubblies, but wines of that type here are almost always of a vintage anyhow, whether they meet the full requirements for vintage dating (95%) or fall just short.

Consumers have a right to know, in our opinion, and that was the point of Steve's editorial. To my knowledge, Schramsberg has a much broader vintage-dating practice than any of the sparkling wine producers with more than limited productions.


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