If you’re purchasing a sparkling wine this holiday season, it’s easy to keep it local. After all, some of the finest American choices are produced in our own backyard. Following is a list of my top-ten local sparkling wine choices. Half of these wineries are set in Carneros, an area that covers parts of both Sonoma and Napa Valley that is perfectly suited for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grape growing (the two varietals most commonly used for sparkling wines). The other half are located in other parts of Napa, Sonoma and the Anderson Valleys.
As you’ll see, some of these wineries are large and well-known, while others may not be as familiar to you. While creating this list I tried to include a variety of vintners, from multi-nationally owned estates to smaller family-owned wineries. When the information was available, I’ve included Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast ratings, as well as any major prizes won. For comparison’s sake, you’ll also find the least expensive bottle from each vintner listed. These are officially priced between $20 – $30, but I’ve seen many in stores for around $15. Obviously more expensive varieties are also available if your budget allows.
So keep it festive and local this New Year’s Eve, but most of all, stay safe.
Note: I’m avoiding using the term “champagne” as it’s only allowed for French wines made in the Champagne region. All the wines below are produced in the same way that champagne is created — by inducing the in-bottle secondary fermentation of the wine to effect carbonation.
Gloria Ferrer is a standard-bearer for California sparkling wines. According to Wine Spectator, “Gloria Ferrer reliably produces some of California’s best sparkling wines.” I had some on Christmas day and can attest to its festiveness. The Sonoma Brut, which is dominated by Pinot Noir, has a 90 2009 Wine Spectator ranking and is priced around $20.
Established in 1987 by Champagne Tattinger, Domaine Carneros is an organic certified winery. They focus on making three traditional styles of sparkling wine: Brut, Brut Rosé and Blanc de Blancs. With consistent rankings in the 90s from both Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, Domaine Carneros provides reliably excellent sparkling wines. Their 2006 Brut Cuvée Sparkling Wine made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay gets a 91 Wine Spectator ranking and costs $26 a bottle.
A small family-owned winery, Iron Horse has been producing sparkling wines for over 30 years. Wine & Spirits Magazine named them Sparkling Winery of the Year nine times and their wines have been served in the White House since Reagan first had it served to Gorbachev. Their Classic Brut, which is 3/4 Pinot Noir and 1/4 Chardonnay, sells for a little over $30 a bottle with typical Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast ratings in the 90s.
J Vineyards & Winery
I like this winery for a few different reasons. The first (and biased) reason is that it is owned and run by a woman (Judy Jordan), which seems like a rarity in the wine industry. They are also dedicated to sustainable farming practices. And, because taste does matter, it’s good to note their Brut Rose was the Sparkling Sweepstakes Winner at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition earlier this year. Their J Cuvée 20 Brut NV sells for $20 a bottle.
Schug Carneros Estate
Founded in 1980, Schug is a family-owned winery. They are dedicated to sustainable winemaking practices, finding the most environmentally friendly and efficient way of growing the grapes, and creating habitats for various bird species (which I really love). Their Rouge de Noirs Sparkling Pinot is $30 a bottle.
If you’re looking for something distinctly French, Domaine Chandon is a great local choice. Founded in 1973 by Moët -– the champagne winery -– it was the first French-owned sparkling wine venture in the United States. Consistently ranked in the 90s by both Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator, Domaine Chandon provides a classic sparkling wine choice. The Brut Classic, which has a 90 point Wine Enthusiast 2009 ranking, is priced at about $20.
Located in Rutherford along the Silverado Trail in the Napa Valley, and started by the French G.H. Mumm company (one of the largest champagne producers in the world), Mumm Napa is one of the largest local sparkling wine producers. Their Brut Prestige, priced at about $20, ranks 89 for Wine Spectator and 90 for Wine Enthusiast.
Located in Calistoga, Schrambsberg Vineyards is the oldest sparkling wine vineyard in California and is also a certified Napa Green winery. Consistently ranking well for both Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, Schrambsberg is a great local choice. A bottle of Mirabelle multi-vintage brut costs a bit over $20.
Scharffenberger Cellars is one of the largest sparkling wine producer in the Anderson Valley. With a history that includes being previously owned by John Scharffenberger of Scharffenberger chocolate fame. Scharffenberger Non Vintage Brut received a gold medal from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition earlier this year. Their Brut is 2/3 Pinot Noir and 1/3 Chardonnay grapes and sells for just under $20 a bottle.
Set in the Anderson Valley, Roederer Estates is the California branch of the French company Champagne Louis Roederer, which has been making champagne for over 200 years. In 2009, Wine Spectator Magazine gave their Brut NV a Recommended – Top Wine ranking. It sells for about $20 a bottle.