their origins to the Champagne region of France, several West Coast vintners
offer a number of delicious sparkling wines at surprisingly affordable price
So long as they keep their distance from Internet-based startups,
there's nothing at all wrong with bubbles. In fact, when a few bubbles mix with your
guests at your holiday gathering, they have the potential to lift your party
magic to new heights!
First, a few basics about bubbly. Technically speaking, Champagne
comes exclusively from the Champagne region of France. It's the only sparkling
wine that may be referred to as Champagne. The French ask that other regions
refer to their sparklers as sparkling wine, s'il vous plaît.
The bubbles in a sparkling wine happen because of a second
fermentation process that takes place when a winemaker starts with still wine
(usually Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier) and adds a little
bit of sugar plus a pinch of yeast. This combination creates billions of tiny
bubbles and, of course, alcohol. While this méthode champenoise was invented
and perfected by the French, it is used all over the world to make this
marvelously special beverage.
This year's Holiday Wine Buying Guide celebrates a collection of
sparklers that are uniquely authentic, but all trace their lineage to the
legendary region in France, Champagne. And that's where we start.
French Original: The Magic of Morlet!
The wine: Pierre Morlet Brut Grand Reserve Premier Cru,
NV. Avenay-Val d'Or (Marne), France
Napa Valley winemaker Luc Morlet represents the fourth generation
of a French winemaking family. Luc grew up in the Champagne region of France
and in the late 1990s he and his wine moved to California and began applying
world class winemaking principles in the region. Adding to the family
winemaking legacy, Luc's brother Nicolas Morlet is the winemaker at Peter
Today the Morlet Family Winery is well-known for its top-ranking
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. And while they do not make a
sparkling wine here in California, this wine — which comes from Champagne — is
from their family domaine, Pierre Morlet.
From the tasting notes: Lily flowers, blemished apples and
strawberry on the nose. This is a light-bodied, dry Champagne. It pairs
perfectly with sautéed shellfish or wine butter sauces.
[Pricing: $45, 750ml., www.champagnepierremorlet.com/]
World Champion Embraces the Joys of the Old
The wine: 2007 Schug Carneros Estate Winery Rouge de
Noirs Sparkling Pinot Noir
Closer to home, the Schug Carneros Estate Winery in Sonoma
combines the old world understanding and tradition with modern winemaking
What makes this sparkler unique — aside from its marvelously
attractive price point — is how it perfectly captures the lively character of
Pinot Noir while retaining the delicate profile of a more traditional 'Blanc de
Noirs' (which is the French phrase indicating that the sparkler was made from
Pinot Noir grapes, as opposed to 'Blanc de Blanc' which is made from Chardonnay
Check out the beautiful, intense rose color, the spicy raspberry
bouquet and the crisp yet creamy texture. And, of course, lot and lots of tiny
bubbles! The Schug sparkler is a very versatile wine and pairs beautifully with
many different dishes. A favorite is always a simple appetizer such as breadstick
twists gently seasoned with spices like curry or fennel or even sprinkled with
[Pricing: $30, 750ml.; www.schugwinery.com/Wine-Store/Sparkling-Wines]
Road Trip: The 'J' Bubble Lounge in Healdsburg
Wine: 'J' Vineyards Cuvée 20 Brut NV
Since 1986, J Vineyards and winery has been producing
critically-acclaimed sparkling wines like their Brut Rose and their Cuvée 20
Brut. More recently, the winery realized that their vineyards would also be
ideal for producing cool-climate Russian River Valley varietals like Pinot
Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. This makes a visit to the winery doubly
attractive — delicious still and sparkling wines await the holiday traveler!
J is a celebrated destination for its world class hospitality and
the holidays are the ideal time to visit their comfortable yet elegant
tasting room just south of Healdsburg, California. In fact, Sunset Magazine named J 'The Best
Tasting Room in the West.'
As for the 'J' Cuvée 20 Brut, the tasting notes tease the palate
to an irresistible degree. "J Cuvée 20 Brut opens gracefully with crisp lemon
peel, honeysuckle and delicate yeast aromas. Upon entry, these notes are
followed by a mix of Fuji apples, grapefruit and a sweet hint of angel food
The winemaker points out that this wine pairs perfectly with
Kumamoto oysters topped with Tsar Nicoulai Caviar. Indeed!
[Pricing: $22.99, 750ml.; www.jwine.com/]
Muscat Frissante from Oregon- Something completely different
Wine: 2010 Foris Muscat Frissante, Willamette Valley, Oregon
It's not everyday that a review of sparkling wines includes a
profile of Muscat Frissante. But if there are bubbles to be unearthed, the SVB
Wine Team will certainly discover them!
Foris Vineyards is only seven miles within the Oregon border, and
is the southern-most vineyard in the state. The Gerber Family has been making
several varietals at Foris for the last 35 years and their winery has become a
showcase for the magic of the Southern Oregon terroir.
The Muscat Frissante is a great example. Here's a jolly little
number that will satisfy your mid-week urge for something fizzy and delicious
(note the very attractive price!). Check out the peach floral aromas that leap
from the glass while the palate is light and lively thanks to the petulant
touch of the tiny bubbles that balance out the juicy sweetness.
As for food pairing, this might be a fun choice for Thanksgiving
dinner when folks may want a wine that is somewhat on the lighter side.
[Pricing: $13.50; www.foriswine.com/index.htm]
Two final notes on enjoying sparkling wine safely.
First, the inside pressure of a typical bottle of sparkling wine is
around 90 pounds per square inch. This means once the cage is removed, an
un-checked cork can cause serious damage and/or injury. Therefore, it is
crucial to keep the cork covered at all times once the metal cage is removed.
Secondly, the goal with opening a fine sparkling wine is not to release the cork with a loud pop
and to send flying into your party (see previous paragraph). No, the objective
is to keep as many bubbles in the wine as possible. The perfect technique is to
hold the bottom of the bottle in one hand and with the other hand slowly and
carefully let the cork emerge from the bottle under its own pressure keeping it
covered at all times. The ultimate sound should be a soft, satisfying gasp. Voila!
Liquid Assets wishes everyone a delicious — and safe — holiday season!