In 2017, we’re all on the same team. OK, that’s my positivity pledge and feel free to steal the mantra. With that as a theme, how about a look at domestic sparkling wines? Call them champagnes if you prefer. We’ll focus on quality American bubbles made with classic grapes in the classic winemaking method.
First, let’s look at the similarities with the competition: sparklers from Champagne. The grapes in Champagne are Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay — and the same for U.S. versions, except there is little Pinot Meunier. The complex and expensive winemaking method is also the same. Both contestants do their best to grow grapes in the region’s most conducive to fruit meant for quality sparkling wine. This means complex, limestone-based soils and cool climates that deliver fruit with minimal ripeness, high acid and mineral components for the base wine.
Artisanship is held in high esteem in the wine world and the new artisan metric for sparklers is whether they are grower/producer wines. This means estate fruit versus buying from growers.
And, now, for the contrast. Champagne wins the history category because it has been rockin’ the bubbles for hundreds of years. Although if you are a regular reader of this column, you know the bubbles in Champagne were originally considered a flaw and the French spent decades trying to get rid of them.
Next up is price. Unless you are someone who must pay more to enjoy your wine — and as a long-term, in-the-trenches sommelier I say, “God bless you” — domestics win hands down at typically half the price.
Artisanship is held in high esteem in the wine world and the new artisan metric for sparklers is whether they are grower/producer wines. This means estate fruit versus buying from growers. Check this box for the Americanos because the majority of French Champagne is made from purchased grapes.
Another artisan factor is usually believed to be quantity of production. The well-known producers in Champagne put out hundreds of thousands of cases or more each year. A typical American fine-bubbles producer makes a small fraction of that.
So. is there anything inherently superior about Champagne when compared to quality domestic sparklers?
You’re the only one who can answer that, so let me suggest some of my U.S. favorites to compare. From California look for bubbles such as Iron Horse Vineyards or Sharffenbarger Cellars from Mendocino, Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves or Mumm Napa from the Carneros region and J Vineyards from Russian River. From Oregon, in the Vintage labeled category, try Argyle Winery. And, surprisingly, New Mexico delivers some of the best from Gruet Winery. I guarantee you’ll love the price pints and the rest is up to your palate.
Try some of these gems for your festivities this year and celebrate some love and unity in this still great country.
Discover Lou’s picks for holiday wines