upper waypoint

Sparkling Wines for New Year's

Save ArticleSave Article
Failed to save article

Please try again

sparkling wine

I'm inaugurating a wine blog today on Bay Area Bites. It's a labor of love for me. I worked for a decade in the wine trade in the seventies and eighties, in New York City, San Francisco, and the Napa Valley. I've kept a toehold in the industry since then, while working as a news editor, reporter and anchor at KQED Public Radio. I still get a thrill from tasting great wine, or decent wine that's a great value; and my cup runneth over with suggestions. People look at me strangely ("Is this nut coming on to me?") when I make recommendations in the liquor aisle at Safeway. So this blog will provide a more acceptable outlet for my tasting notes. I'll try to avoid numbers, and talk about how these wines behave on the lunch or dinner table, where they belong.

I promise to taste a lot of cheap stuff, and warn readers off the plonk. To give you an idea of my palate, I'm a locavore, deeply chauvinistic about California wines. I'd rather keep Californians at work than ship my dollars overseas.

But I promise to be fair: my first love was for French Burgundy-- red and white, and I've toured Champagne, Burgundy, Beaujolais, and the Rhone Valley in France. I just wish that Premier Crus from the Cote D'Or weren't $50 and up.

Enough of that... Let's drink!


I did a bubbly tasting not long ago; and with New Year Eve upon us, I wanted to share my thoughts, and those of my guests, on what we liked.

I should note that my wife says Champagne makes her feel 21 again, ready for romance. (She's still very young of course.) And I think Champagne imbues even awkward people with elegance, and makes awkward moments fizzle away. Both qualities seem like essential components to a happy New Year's celebration.

At the tasting we started out with Non-Vintage Bugey-Cerdon ($22) from Patrick Bottex in the French Savoie. It sure ain't Champagne, but it's a lovely, low alcohol, deep pink bubbly. It smells of strawberries, and marries sweet raspberry and crisp apple flavors in the mouth. It could be the perfect wine for drinking while making out when the balloons drop.

We moved on to some California sparklers. We all loved the J Cuvee 20 ($32), smelling of toast, golden apples, and lemon. Just lovely, and our favorite of the tasting. We also tried the Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvee 2001 ($35). The 2001 just won best of class in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Judging, and seemed very complex from its long aging, with a bouquet of almonds, lemon, and black currants. It tasted crisp and appley in the mouth with a creamy finish.

We also tried two sparkling rosés, made with blends favoring Pinot Noir. The Schramsberg 2005 Brut Rosé ($40) smelled like strawberry shortcake, and lasted and lasted in the mouth. The J Brut Rosé ($41) showed nice appley notes in the nose, and raspberries and pink grapefruit in the mouth.

Everyone liked these two rosés, but the women at the tasting preferred the steelier qualities in the white bubblies.

We only drank one true Champagne, a Veuve Clicquot Brut Non-Vintage ($40). It smelled of toast and mushroom, but it disappointed in the mouth, tasting a bit tired. "The Old Widow" is now among the top selling Champagnes in the world. It tastes like they make a lot of it -- decent but not worth the price, especially in today’s economy.

At my recent Hanukkah party I poured a few bottles of Domaine Chandon Riche NV. Domaine Chandon (in Napa and owned by France’s Moet and Chandon) adds a touch of Muscat to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to get a slightly sweet sparkling wine with flowers and peach in the nose, and a lovely finish. Great with latkes. The best part-- I paid $13 at Safeway and I see it’s selling for $22/bttl in Washington D.C.

I haven’t tasted it recently, but I’ve also enjoyed bubblies by Roederer in Mendocino's Anderson Valley. And Iron Horse makes some extraordinary, if pricey, California sparklers in Green Valley in Sonoma.

So happy New Year. I'm looking forward to more posts in 2009.

lower waypoint
next waypoint