While not all American-made, Champagne-style wines can compete with the real deal from France, California produces some high-quality bubblies, including those from French Champagne houses Domaine Chandon and Mumm as well as the California producer Schramsberg.
LAST WEEK’S “Case Studies” feature took a look at inexpensive bubblies from Washington and California. But California also makes some fine, méthode champenoise sparkling wines that at times can compete effectively with true French Champagne. So effectively, in fact, that several French Champagne houses set up California operations decades ago.
Domaine Chandon remains the most visible and best-known of these producers. For many years, I confess that I remained somewhat skeptical about its quality, but tasting through much of the extensive lineup earlier this fall, I found a lot to recommend. Prices listed are suggested retail; during the holiday season you may find them marked down.
Domaine Chandon Brut Classic; $22. An elegant wine, with tiny bubbles, it is scented with dried straw and almonds. This is much improved over my memories of past bottles, with a clean, fresh, lingering finish. A fine, all-purpose, dry style.
Domaine Chandon Rosé; $22. Still pinot noir wine is added to a sparkling chardonnay to make this pretty rosé. Don’t look for finesse here, but you’ll find a lot of flavor. The pinot shines, with pretty cherry and raspberry flavors, wrapped in tart, steely, citrusy acids. A sure-fire crowd-pleaser.
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Domaine Chandon Étoile Brut; $40. Étoile is the more expensive line from Domaine Chandon. The brut is a true Champagne blend, with chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes. This is still showing youthful green apple and white peach flavors, but has good grip and depth. The complex finish carries streaks of caramel and hints of toasted almond.
Domaine Chandon Extra-Dry Riche; $22. Not too sweet, but the Extra-Dry definitely has a spicy, sugary streak, with intriguing highlights of clove, lemon grass, cilantro, apricot and a whisper of honey.
Mumm is another Champagne house that long ago put down California roots. These wines have a little more personality than the Chandon, especially the Blanc de Blancs, which bends the “rules” a little.
Mumm Napa 2006 Blanc de Blancs; $30. Tart, with flavors of grapefruit and lemon, giving way to some light toast and vanilla. In an interesting departure from the Champagne norm, here the cuvée includes 10 percent pinot gris. This would make a great accompaniment to any smoked or salty appetizers.
Mumm Napa Brut Reserve; $36. This 60/40 pinot noir/chardonnay brut is foamy, yeasty, round and fruity, with ripe flavors of golden apples, cantaloupe and hints of peach and cherry.
Among the indigenous California sparkling wine producers, Schramsberg consistently remains at the top. Quality has its cost, however; these are priced comparably with true French Champagnes.
Schramsberg 2007 Blanc de Blancs; $28. All chardonnay, elegant and tart, with orange peel, pink grapefruit, Meyer lemon and green apple flavors. Beautifully balanced and fresh.
Schramsberg 2007 Blanc de Noirs; $30. If this were Burgundy, it would be Cote de Nuits rather than Cote de Beaune. It’s more dense, dark and deep than the Blanc de Blancs, with wonderful concentration and a mix of apple, fig and cherry fruit, lingering into a creamy, mineral-driven finish.
Schramsberg 2007 Brut Rosé; $35. Vintage-dated, this offers perfect balance, finesse and subtle power. Opening with light, tart, sour-cherry flavors, it keeps adding detail and length, showing its strengths as it winds into a lingering finish.
Schramsberg 2006 Demi-Sec Crémant; $32. Sweet and creamy, this is dessert bubbly, loaded with flavors of brown spice, honey and buttered nuts.