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There’s No Place Like Home For Value In Good Quality Bubbly

By Stephen Eliot

Our love of good bubbles is a year-round affair, but the holiday season is rife with excuses for popping a few more corks than is normal. We very much like those from Epernay and Reims, but we are equally fond of the fine sparkling wines from climes closer to home, and in these days of heated and often silly debates about the virtues and vices of California wines, there is surprising accord on all sides that the local stuff is, in fact, worth serious attention.

We could not agree more and can only shake our heads at those who stubbornly continue to see West Coast efforts as no more that pretenders to the French throne, and, if the us-versus-them arguments are wholly expected, they tend to get cool and the rancor subsides when the issue of value comes into the conversation.

We firmly believe that when compared dollar for dollar with better bubbly regardless of where it might be from, the Methode Champenoise contingent from California is without peer in providing the best values around. “True” Champagne priced under $25.00 is long a thing of the past, and we have yet to be moved by the various cavas, cremants and mousseux that a $20.00 bill can buy, but the list of satisfying, genuinely interesting and sometimes very complex California sparklers that can be had in the price range makes us look no further than our own backyard.

The following list of recent affordable favorites is not one comprised of wines that one can merely settle for because holiday spending has lightened the pocketbook. They are one and all wines of real achievement, and they are collectively proof enough that, when it comes quality and outstanding value in fine sparkling wines, there is simply no place like home.

90 GLORIA FERRER Brut Sonoma County $22.00
It may be that its fairly high percentage of Pinot Noir affords this impressive non-vintage Brut with a sense of substance and depth not usually found at the price, or it may be the wine's ample autolyzed richness does the same. Either way, the wine is long on character, all of which is quite good. It has a fine, creamy feel, and an insistent stream of small bubbles with lengthy flavors to match, and it is made all the more attractive yet by its reasonably modest price.

89 ROEDERER ESTATE Brut Anderson Valley $24.00
Taking its usual place among the better basic Bruts of the year, Roederer's latest is yet again a sleek and spirited wine of great freshness and verve. It hews to the crispness and pert delicacy that we associate with fine Blanc de Blancs, but it musters a full measure of yeasty richness even while maintaining its lively step, and it is one of the few of its type that is sure to age well.

89 SCHARFFENBERGER Brut Excellence Mendocino County $20.00
Crisp, clean and mildly minerally in the nose with scattered touches of toast and cream, this well-made Brut follows suit on the palate with very precise, moderately complex, fully autolyzed flavors. It may not have quite the reach and range of those that have been allowed to rest on the yeast for five or six years, but it is a fine example of careful champenization with few peers at the price.

88 MUMM Brut Rosé Napa Valley $24.00
Although this bottling offers a clear look at a nice bit of mildly toasty, autolyzed yeast and is exceptionally lively and balanced, its main and most important message is the wonderfully lithe and incisive, fresh cherry fruit that runs its length. It is full and foamy with a wealth of pinpointy bubbles and energy to spare, and, if its lack of evident astringency nudges it in the direction of Blanc de Noirs, it also makes it a very versatile sparkler that will drink as well on its own as it does when matched up with a wide range of foods.

87 MUMM Brut Prestige Napa Valley $22.00
While this wine could arguably do with a little more complexity and refinement, it is energetically frothy and is driven by a nice bit of straightforward fruit. It hints here and there at just enough fresh-bread yeastiness to affirm its champenized origins, but, more than anything else, it succeeds on the basis of its youthful vitality and brightness.

87 SCHARFFENBERGER Brut Rosé Excellence Mendocino County $23.00
The toasty aspects of autolyzed yeast are rather more prominent in the aromas than they are in the flavors of this rounded, slightly ripe-leaning sparkler, and the wine plays to frontal fruitiness and exhibits near table-wine weight with a fair degree of finishing grip. Its bubbles, while small, are not especially long lasting, and it is a Rosé whose qualified recommendation is earned only as a companion to food.

87 GLORIA FERRER Blanc de Blancs Carneros $22.00
Clean and decidedly chalky with the keen austerity of a true Blanc de Blancs in the nose, the Gloria Ferrer version is fuller than expected on the palate and steers ever so slightly to softness with a mild candied edge to its flavors. It winds up closer to a basic Brut in character, but it earns the nod for its good bubbles and balance.

87 GLORIA FERRER Blanc de Noirs Carneros  $22.00
With a slight touch of pink and a suggestion of table-wine vinosity in the nose that hints of Rosé, this one does, in fact, come with a slight streak of Rosé-like astringency, but its major message is one of immediate and lightly candied, faintly cherry-like fruit, and its subtle inclinations to sweetness make it a pleasant, mildly yeasty quaff with food or on its own.

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