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A tasting of sparkling wine (mostly California)



This was a most interesting and engaging tasting. We (me and my friends at Jackson Family Wines) hadn’t done a sparkling wine tasting before, and I was just “in the mood” for bubbly, what with summer coming on, so that’s what I did. Could have done BdB, BdN, Brut, etc. but decided on rosé because I love it and it’s the best wine for sushi IMHO.

As usual I rounded up most of the best of California and threw in a couple ringers: the Lanson (a real Champagne), and a couple cheapies: Ballatore (from Gallo) and Sophora.

The top wines among our five tasters by far were the Lanson and the Schramsberg. (Lanson got two votes, Schramsberg three.) The Lanson showed such a wonderful aged character, just a fabulous Champagne. The Schramsberg was pretty darn close. My take home lesson is that, perhaps of all wines, price bears the closest relationship to quality in Champagne/sparking wine. For instance, you can’t assume that a $300 Cabernet is way better than a $50 Cabernet. But in bubbly, you get what you pay for. In no other wine do the elusive qualities of elegance and finesse matter as much.

Incidentally, the color palate of this tasting was dazzling: everything from straw through partridge eye to deep orange-pink. It reminded me of one of those fabric cover sample books. Just a delight to the eye. This photo gives a suggestion.


Quick takes:

The most I can say for the Ballatore is, not for me! The Sophora, from New Zealand, is a good buy. The Iron Horse was a bit of a disappointment as were the Roederer and Mumm. Great job Gloria, Chandon, and in particular Domaine Carneros and Scharffenberger. I’ve long liked the Monterey-based Caraciolli, whose talented winemaker, Michel Salgues, used to head up Roederer Estate.

96 Lanson NV Rose Champagne Extra Age Champagne, $123

95 Schramsberg 2007 J. Schram Rose, North Coast, $150

93 Domaine Carneros 2010 LD Brut Rose, Carneros, $59

93 Scharffenberger NV Brut Rose Excellence, Mendocino County, ??

92 Chandon NV Etoile Rose, Sonoma-Napa-Monterey, $50

92 Gloria Ferrer 2012 Brut Rose, Carneros, $50

90 Caraciolli 2009 Brut Rose, Santa Lucia Highlands, $57

90 J Vineyards & Winery 2011 Brut Rose, Russian River Valley, $65

88 Sophora NV Sparkling Rose, New Zealand, $15

88 Roederer Estate 2006 L’Ermitage Rose, Anderson Valley, $68

87 Mumm Napa DVX Rose, Napa Valley, $70

86 Iron Horse 2008 Brut Rose, Green Valley of the Russian River Valley, $50

81 Ballatore Moscato Rose, California, $8


  1. Robert B says:

    Interesting tasting, did you have any specific comments on these you would like to publish? My wife and I have been tasting sparkling in California over the past few years and your results mirror our findings. Price considered Domaine Carneros is the most consistent and impressive California producer immediately upon release while Shramsberg seems to need an absolute minimum of 3 years after it is available to really come into it’s own (which it appears the bottle you tasted had). The L’Ermitage is always suggested to us by “seasoned” drinkers as the best CA sparkler but something must have changed from the past because it is middle of the road at best.

    I am particularly interested in your take on the Iron Horse. The first time we visited 3 years ago the wines were very nice, but in 2 visits over the past year there is a distinct saltiness in some of their wines that we had not noticed before. To be clear I am not talking about minerality but truly a saline character to the palate.

  2. Bob Henry says:

    I’ve found this 100% Pinot Noir “methode traditionnelle” sparkler to be a crowd pleaser.

    Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé (from an estate founded in 1425).

    Rose petal pink in the glass, with a fresh, appealing perfume of wild strawberries.

    Easy on the wallet at a suggested retail selling prices of $22.

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