California Bear

Friday Finds: Cheers to California’s Bubbles

If you think sparkling wines from the Golden State are all inexpensive 7-11 wines that scream hangover, you need to stop drinking Korbel. These wines have their place, but “California Champagne” is an antiquated term that only a few winemakers have grandfathered onto their labels, labels which are misleading at best and illegal at worst.

While “real” Champagne only comes from the AOC Champagne region in France, that in no way means California isn’t making some of its own world-class sparkling wines that can hold their own against their pricey Gallic cousins.  This New Year’s Eve, we’re recommending bottles both old and new.  From a tiny, scrappy start-up helmed by a husband-and-wife team to Champagne Taittinger’s flagship Carneros property, you can support winemaking in California at a variety of price-points. We say cheers to that.

The Newcomer:  
Scar of the Sea, Rosé of Pinot Noir, “Topotero Vineyard” 

(Méthode Ancestrale, San Luis Obispo – 2020) SRP $32

Mikey and Gina Giugni make this lovely rosé by hand, quite literally!  Every bottle is riddled, disgorged, corked and caged by them for a whopping 264 case production.  In contrast, Champagne Veuve Clicquot makes about 1.5 million cases annually.  This little bubbly is yeasty and yummy, with aromas of strawberry leaf, brioche and tart cranberries.  Get on their mailing list if you can and try their sister wines under “The Lady of the Sunshine” brand as well.

The Other Great White:
Kunin Wines, Sparklin Chenin Blanc, “Jurassic Park Vineyard”

(Zero Dosage, Santa Ynez – 2016) SRP $45

While most high-quality sparkling French wines use chardonnay as a base white variety, chenin blanc from the Loire Valley is also sometimes made into exceptional crémants.  In this California version, winemaker Magan Eng beautifully captures chenin’s expressivity.  Planted in 1978 in Santa Ynez, Jurassic Park is among the oldest vineyard sites in Santa Barbara County and the fruit it produces is highly coveted.  This bubbly has no added sugar, so it’s bone-dry with a profile of Bosc pears, wild thyme and hints of dried apricot.  It’s delicious.

Family Traditions:
Schramsberg Brut Rosé

(Méthode Traditionnelle, North Coast – 2018) SRP $47

Founded in 1862 by German immigrant Jacob Schram and son Herman, Schramsberg was an undiscovered gem that changed hands frequently until another father and son team revitalized its vineyards in 1965.  Jack Davies’ purchase of the dilapidated winery proved prescient, and son Hugh Davies and team today continue to make what many consider to be one of California’s finest sparkling brands.  This 2018 blend is 63% pinot noir and 37% chardonnay and is 100% lovely.  Beautiful acidity and a fine bead combine with aromas of rose petal, tangerine zest and cinnamon bark.

Her Majesty:
Domaine Carneros, Ultra Brut

(Méthode Traditionnelle, Carneros – 2016) SRP $48

Domaine Carneros is perhaps the best example out there of French technique married to California’s climate.  The Taittinger family of Champagne purchased this 138-acre site in cool-climate Carneros because they recognized exceptional pinot noir and chardonnay land.  Thirty some years later, Domaine Carneros continues to bottle sparkling wines made in the champenoise style but with a freshness and ripeness that is all California.  This 2016 stunner features slightly more chardonnay than pinot noir in the blend, with gorgeous lifted fruit notes of key lime and yuzu.  Rarely produced and definitely worth finding.

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