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All The Bubbles That Are Fit Your Palate

By Stephen Eliot

When the discussion turns to sparkling wines, convention has it that, outside of Champagne, California produces the best bubblies in the world. We very much believe however, that the state’s finest efforts compete with their French brethren in terms of quality, and they excel when it comes to value.

We drink a fair amount of sparkling wine throughout the year and find it the perfect starter for memorable meals not just a celebratory tipple meant for special occasions, and we are constantly amazed at how the local version stacks up against those from the esteemed vineyards of Champagne’s five designated districts. The basic non-vintaged Brut bottlings from the famous houses of Reims and Epernay routinely carry price tags of $40-$50 dollars even when found discounted in the larger chain retailers, and, while a handful of au courant grower offerings sometime cost a few dollars less, their sudden popularity and limited quantities has meant that real bargains are far and few between. Moreover, Champagne’s special cuvees come at considerably greater expense with triple-digit prices the norm rather than the exception.

Consider, then, what California has to offer. Exceptionally well-made, classic Méthode Champenoise sparklers abound at half the price of their French counterparts, and wine lovers willing to do a bit of sharp-eyed shopping will find delicious versions regularly dipping below $20.00 on supermarket shelves. What is more, the kind of quality and value to be had in slightly pricier versions is, we believe, without parallel anywhere, and there is no heresy in saying that the state’s most ambitious renditions rank with the best that France has to offer.

Yes, we are guilty of a bit of home-team cheerleading, but the proof is in the glass, and the following cameo reviews of a few of our recent favorites confirm that it is high time that California sparkling wines be regarded as far more than affordable alternatives to their betters from France. They should be appreciated for the world-class renditions that they inarguably are.

Delicious drinking at a modest price.

91 ROEDERER ESTATE Brut Anderson Valley $23.00
Year and year out, the Roederer Estate Brut ranks high on the list of preferred non-vintage Brut bottlings and, in this outing, impresses more than usual. It is vibrant and fresh and unstinting in autolyzed richness all at once, and it is as impeccably balanced as it is deep and continuous in flavor. Its wonderfully refined, terrifically sustained mousse heightens its sensations of brightness and youthful vigor, and it shows the complexity and crafting of a wine that we would guess costs far more than it does.

90 GLORIA FERRER Blanc de Noirs Carneros $22.00
This engaging, nicely crafted Blanc de Noirs does an exceptionally nice job at being fruity and fresh and moderately yeasty all at the same time. It smacks mildly of juicy cherries while showing plenty of creamy autolysis and is enlivened by perky acidity and a full, frothy mousse. It stands out from its similarly priced, large-production cousins and is an out-and-out steal when found at a discount as it routinely is.

89 MUMM Brut Rosé Napa County $24.00
Here is a "strawberries and cream" version of sparkling Rosé, and it could not be any more inviting for solo sipping or alongside lighthearted finger foods. It is bright and bouncy in its somewhat frontal aromas, and its rich yeast notes provide great support in both nose and mouth. Its bubbles are brisk, somewhat frothy and very nicely sustained across the palate, and if it is not the bubbly for oysters, it will go nicely alongside creamy patés.

Special wines for special times.

92 SCHRAMSBERG Blanc de Blancs Brut North Coast 2013 $39.00
Very much true to the Blanc de Blancs model with a defined minerally streak to its lean, lightly lemony, nicely autolyzed aromas, Schramsberg's is a crisp, explosively effervescent working that brings a bit more yeasty richness into play in the mouth. It is charged with plenty of brisk, palate-cleansing acidity but does not err to ungainly tartness, and while never too austere to be sipped on its own, it will make first-rate drinking with a platter of briny, fresh oysters.

91 DOMAINE CARNEROS Cuvée de la Pompadour Brut Rosé $37.00
If by no means lacking in the yeasty richness of defined champenization, the current Cuvée de la Pompadour takes its lead from exuberant, fresh cherry fruit and shows off its solid Rosé credentials with a fine sense of vinosity and a bit of extra palatal weight. It is rich, full and foamy with a decidedly creamy, very long-lasting mousse, and its ample flavors are free of evident sweetness. It will work famously with food owing to the slight finishing grip expected of its genre, but it is never outwardly astringent and is thoroughly enjoyable on its own.

91 RIVERBENCH Blanc de Blancs Santa Maria Valley 2013 $40.00
A bit richer on the nose and a touch toastier than its genre typically predicts, this very well-crafted sparkler follows with a lovely, deftly integrated mix of autolyzed yeast creaminess and tart, green apple fruit with slightly chalky, stony soil suggestions confidently confirming its very solid Blanc de Blancs credentials. Its very fine and vigorous stream of tiny bubbles is sustained as it sits in the glass, and keen composition is again manifest in a well-considered dosage that does the trick in tempering its brisk acidity without contributing distracting sweetness.

When only the best will do.

97 SCHRAMSBERG J. SCHRAM Rosé North Coast 2008 $150.00
Once again a wine of remarkable range and depth, the J. Schram Rosé takes its place among the finest sparkling wines to be had regardless of global provenance. It is amazingly expressive with autolyzed complexities to spare, and, for all of its show-stopping richness, it is extraordinarily well-balanced and as graceful as graceful can be. It is a complete and utterly mesmerizing effort that stands on equal footing with its most-heralded, high-ticket cousins from Champagne, and, while it is admittedly not priced for everyday drinking, there is no special occasion that will not be made more memorable by popping its cork.

95 MUMM DVX Rosé Napa Valley 2010 $75.00
Assuming its usual place very near the head of the Rosé class and, in this outing, a little more explicitly fruity than many past efforts have been, the 2010 DVX version gives up nothing in the way of champenized richness and complexity but simply brings a hint of strawberries into its mix. Its mouthfilling mousse is as fine as it is endless and the wine could not be better balanced, and its ever so slight last-minute astringency provides just the right touch of vinous grip to earn it a place at the table with any number of richer seafoods and poultry preparations. It will do stellar service with well-seasoned crab cakes and keep pleasing still when the course later shifts to poached salmon or even pan-roasted duck breasts.

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Good value French sparkler
by Bob Henry
Posted on:11/9/2016 9:00:08 PM

Allow me to modestly suggest a "good value" méthode Champenoise sparkling wine . . . from France:

Lucien Albrecht NV Brut Rosé (Crémant d’Alsace): $17-plus retail.

An estate founded in (are you sitting down?) . . . 1425 !


Dollar-for-dollar, I am unaware of any better 100% Pinot Noir sparkling rosé in the world.

Touts . . .

From Wine Enthusiast magazine

"The Story Behind Crémant d'Alsace"


From The Wall Street Journal:

"The Best Wines to Pair With Chinese Food"


In this election season, I "voted with my wallet" and drank a bottle with friends at dinner on Friday night.

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