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Happy New Year!
Thoughts on Sparkling Wine

With New Year's Eve just around the corner I thought it might be appropriate to discuss Champagne and sparkling wines since they seem to be so popular during the holidays. A few years ago I read this incredible quote from wine writer Alan Richman in a December issue of Bon Appetit and it demanded demand comment... "Say what you will about California Sparklers-which are to French Champagne what paddlefish eggs are to beluga caviar- they will not transport you to a fantasy world, unless you are enthralled by the Napa Valley wine train. Sparkling wines that are not Champagne structurally lack finesse, enologically they lack bouquet, and sentimentally they lack ostentation." Alan Richman I know that all people who write about wine, myself included, are all wine snobs of one sort or an other.... but I'm sorry I just could not let that piece of utter balderdash stand. The true Bordeaux snob believes that Cabernet grapes were meant to grow in places with inconsistent growing seasons and not enough sun just because Bordeaux is where it was first planted. And, they are no different than the foolish Mr. Richman who seems to believe that since the cool Champagne region typically produces under ripe grapes, then all sparkling wines should be lean and acidic.

Whenever I hear someone as pretentious as Mr. Richman wax on about how "only Champagne is Champagne," I have to wonder if they realizes that it puts them at the same ostentation level as the people dumb enough to order Roederer Cristal for $700 a bottle in New York hip hop clubs. All Champagne is sparkling wine made through the "Methode Champenoise." But not all sparkling wine is Champagne. True Champagne can legally only come from the Champagne region of France. Having said that, I think that Northern California produces rich and exquisite sparkling wines that more than rival those of France, usually at one third to one half the price of their French cousins. And, if you look at the names on the bottles the French do too. The French have literally colonized the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. The brand name sparklers being produced in California reads like a "Who's Who" of French Champagne families. Mumm, Piper Heidseick, Roederer, Chandon... even the Spanish got into the act with the famous Freixenet family owning Gloria Ferrer in Sonoma.

So... if you are looking for some holiday bubbles that are not just good wine, but good values, try some of these widely available sparklers from California: Gloria Ferrer Brut Sparkling Wine from Sonoma about $18, Roederer Estate Brut from Anderson Valley about $20, Scharffenberger Brut from Mendocino about $20 or for a special treat, the Schramsberg Milabelle Brut Rose from Sonoma about $25.