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Is Korbel Brut The Best Sparkling Wine Made In America?

By Charles Olken

With a bow to my friend, Blake Gray who recently penned a blog article by the same title, I am launching off in an entirely different direction in that I agree with Blake that it depends on the circumstances. If you are looking for a not very expensive bubbly that acts like the real thing, then there are Korbel offerings that will rock your world for little more than a sawbuck. You can take my word for it or you can go read the November issue of Connoisseurs’ Guide in which, for the umpteenth year in a row, more than one Korbel bubbly earned our GOOD VALUE rating. Good for Korbel and good for those who fit the niche.

What the headline of Blake’s article has done to get me started on the question of “best wine made in America”. It is a topic that I have avoided like the plague because I cannot answer it, and once again, I conclude that I still can’t. And while I do not pretend to taste every wine made in America, let alone every wine made in California, I do taste several thousands each year and probably over my time at this stand here in CGCW-land, I have tasted several hundreds of thousands. And I remember them all.

Not really, of course, but I do remember lots of them, and I get the same question very often, “What is the best wine you have ever tasted”? Now, you might think that a guy with a memory like mine would be able to answer that question without thinking twice. But, you would be wrong. I can’t answer that question any more than I can identify the best wine made in America—even for ten to twelve bucks for a decent sparkling wine.

I am actually not trying to answer Blake’s or any other question about best so much as I am wrestling with the concept of best. Is best for the money a valid concept? Is best Cabernet from Rutherford sufficiently finitely defined for me to identify a best?

And, so earlier tonight, as I was sitting at this very desk writing tasting notes about Cabernet Sauvignons and I had before me our raw notes on four very deep and rich offerings from the Vermeil winery, I came back to question of best because CGCW is going to recommend one or more of those wines very highly. We will retaste them first before committing a rating to paper, but it will not matter whether those wines receive our highest award of three stars (or puffs, as someone once called them and the moniker has stuck forever) or something less.

The wines are very good. Maybe as good as we will taste in the upcoming Cabernet review and maybe not. But they are unique. They are ripe, rich, tasty and decidedly their own. They make no bow to any other wine and they are delicious. But if one were to say, this one is the best, it is only a one-time judgment based on two tastings. That’s all you get in a review publication.

Thus, the copout. I can’t tell you the best wine I ever tasted. I could easily name fifty that were sublime at the moment, but best wine ever, or even best sparkling wine made in America? That’s not so easy.


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'The Best?'
by Fred Dodge
Posted on:2/2/2017 10:54:42 AM

Thank you for your kind statement about Korbel's status as the best in America. It is the best in it's category, or Niche as you say. It is good for the consumer, and Korbel.  As a 12 year employee, I must say I am very proud to work for a company that produces a quality American product, with American materials, and most importantly, made by Americans.  California champagne, Good for celebrating Victory, essential when nursing defeat.  

The "best" vs. the "most THRILLING" wine
by Bob Henry
Posted on:2/2/2017 10:47:01 PM

When one invokes the word "best," both technical attributes and style guide for a wine varietal come into play.

I have a simpler approach.

"What is the most THRILLING wine you have ever tasted?"

For a few lucky individuals, it is the 1947 Cheval Blanc.

A wine that is technically flawed (afflicted with volatile acidity) . . . and yet the most coveted drinking experience in the world.  (If you believe its champions.)

Excerpt from:

The Wine Savant: A Guide to the New Wine Culture

By Michael Steinberger

(W. W. Norton & Company © 2013)

Chapter Heading: “Bucket List Wines”

The 1947 Cheval [Blanc] is probably the most celebrated wine of the twentieth century. It is the wine every grape nut wants to experience, a wine that even the most jaded aficionados will travel thousands of miles to taste. A few years ago I wrote an article for Slate [ * ] about the ’47 Cheval, a piece that culminated with my one and only taste of this fabled Bordeaux. I went to Geneva, Switzerland, to try the Immortal One, and it was well worth the journey. The wine was simply amazing. The moment I lifted the glass to my nose and took in that sweet, spicy, arresting perfume, my notion of excellence in wine and my understanding of what wine was capable of were instantly transformed – I COULD ALMOST HEAR THE [SCORING] SCALES RECALIBRATING IN MY HEAD. The ’47 was the warmest, richest, most decadent wine that I’d ever encountered. Even more striking than its opulence was its freshness. The flavors were redolent of stewed fruits and dead flowers, yet the wine tasted alive; it bristled with energy and purpose.  It was a sensational experience . . .


* From Slate (posted February 13, 2008): 

"The Greatest Wine on the Planet:

How the 1947 Cheval Blanc,

a defective wine from an aberrant year, got so good."


By Mike Steinberger

"Drink: Wine, Beer and Other Potent Potables" Column

Not a rhetorical question
by Bob Henry
Posted on:2/2/2017 10:51:58 PM


The above comment is not a rhetorical question.

What is the most thrilling wine YOU ever have tasted?

The one you most yearn to taste again.

The one that most resonates in your memory?

"Enquiring minds WHAT to know!"

~~ Bob



by Charlie Olken
Posted on:2/2/2017 11:54:00 PM

In the same vein as the question, "What is the best wine you have ever tasted?", this question has no answer because it has many answers.

Worse than that, you have asked two questions here and they would lead to different conclusions.

Here is why. If I make a list in my head of wines that have made me say to myself, "You have arrived at the sacred ground of winedom", many of those wines are dead and buried because they were my first loves whereas the more I taste, the less likely I am to be blown away becausse I have been there, done that, etc.

So, on the second part of the criteria, "which wine do you most want to taste again?", I simply do not long to taste 1966 Las Cases, the very first wine that sent me into orbit or the 1975 Joe Swan Zinfandel drunk about three or four years ago that was an most amazing older Zin or the 1968 Beaulieu Private Reserve. 

I could not pick out one single most thrilling. I can eliminate most of them because they are no longer thrilling.

Even my Heitz 74 Martha's, which certainly was a clear favorite to pull out of my cellar on special occasions, is no longer up to that standard. Why would it be at 40 years old? Good mind you, but the one wine I most want to taste again? Not really, and to some extent because I have owned two cases of it and so your question also goes to rarity.

And when it comes to rarity, I could name many wines from D'Yquem, DRC, LeFlaive that I may have tasted once and cannot get back to, whereas the 73 Chalone Pinot Noir, one of the finest old CA Pinots in my memory, still resides in my cellar and thus is not a wine I pine for despite its brilliance.

Thanks for the question, Bob, but there is no one answer because there are so many answers. 



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