2018-05-01 / Wine Notes

Wine Country Sparklers

Robert D. Richards, CSW

With summer just around the corner, there’s no better time to celebrate the end of a long winter, the onset of the hopeful spring and the promise of longer days and warmer nights ahead. Champagne is synonymous with celebration, but you don’t have to look across the Atlantic to find fizzy fulfillment. California’s wine country has some first-rate producers of sparkling wines.

We should start with a bit of nomenclature. Although many people use the term Champagne to describe any wine with bubbles, the term actually is reserved for wines that are produced in that northeast region of France. The process used — “méthode champenoise” — is all part of the mystique of the quaff. Yet many of the better sparkling winemakers in this country use the very same approach.

Champagne is a combination of three grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The typical “recipe” is two parts red grapes to one part white grapes, although occasionally you will see Champagne made solely from Chardonnay (“blanc de blancs”) or entirely with red grapes (“blanc de noirs”). In France, the grapes are culled from multiple vineyards and even different vintages (years). That’s why you’ll often read “NV” or “non-vintage” in the description.

The reason for the bubbles is the secondary fermentation that takes place in the bottle. This is called “tirage.” Gradually, this fermentation creates the carbon dioxide that provides the fizz. The bottles are then aged on an angled rack and turned regularly so that the dead yeast cells will end up in the neck of the bottle, a process called riddling.

The bottle’s neck is then frozen and opened to “disgorge” the sediment. The level of sweetness is adjusted at this point (called “dosage”). Then the bottle is corked, secured with a wire cage, and sent to market.

Here are some offerings from California’s wine country, made in the French style, called “méthode traditionnelle” outside of Champagne. •SCM

Mumm Napa Brut Prestige
(#6742, $22.99)
Hints of peach, apple and vanilla dominate this sparkling wine from the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley.
Chandon Etoile Brut Non Vintage

(#29037, $39.99)
This Napa product offers notes of honey, ginger and apple, with a crisp acidity and long finish.
J Vineyards
Sparkling Cuvee 20 Non Vintage

(#74161, $32.99)
Apples, pears and vanilla with just a hint of lemon highlight this sparkler from Sonoma’s Russian River Valley.

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