November 29, 2018

Domestic Bliss

by Tim Fish

“The days of confining sparkling wine consumption to holidays or other special occcasions are long gone. Americans still reach for bubbly at such celebrations, of course, but the category’s sales continue to expand, which suggests a lot of us are enjoying it on an ordinary Tuesday night. And why not? It’s a refreshing drink, and one that pairs well with a variety of cuisines.

Decoding a sparkling wine label to ensure you get a style you’ll like remains a stumbling block for many consumers, however. Designations such as ‘brut’ and ‘blanc de noirs’ can be confusing to newcomers, but remembering just a few simple facts about bubbly-making can have you shopping with confidence.

Brut, the most common designation, is generally a dry-style wine that’s a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Traditionally, blanc de blancs indicates a wine made from Chardonnay; these are typically dry and steely. A blanc de noirs is usually more plump and full-bodied, being made with the red grapes Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier. There are also rosés, which can be produced in a number of ways.

American producers generally follow the Champagne model when making sparkling wine, relying on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, primarily, with smaller amounts of Pinot Meunier blended in occasionally. Some value-oriented producers include grapes such as Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris or Muscat. The majority of domestic bubblies are made by way of the traditional process known as méthode Champenoise, or méthode traditionnelle, in which the still base-wine undergoes its secondary fermentation inside the bottle to create bubbles.

An understanding of the various styles is indispensable as you consider the group of wines I have tasted since my previous report on the category (Dec. 31, 2017 – Jan. 15, 2018). I have reviewed approximately 120 sparkling wines from California, Oregon, Washington and New Mexico, with almost half of them earning outstanding scores of 90 points or higher on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale. (A free alphabetical list of scores and prices for all wines tasted is available.)”

“Recommended U.S. Sparkling Wines – Top Wines”
2014 Argyle Knudsen Vineyard Brut – 92 Points: Outstanding; a wine of superior character and style
“Refined and vibrant, with floral strawberry and crisp red apple, raspberry and spiced gingerbread flavors.”