December 31, 2020

Pop Culture: U.S. sparkling wine houses offer delicious bubblies for the holidays

Wine Spectator logoby Tim Fish

“Celebration has been a tough sell in 2020, but America’s sparkling wine producers are thinking positive in the final months of the year, always the peak season for bubbly. ‘We’re learning to pivot,’ says Joy Sterling, CEO of Iron Horse Vineyards in Sonoma County. ‘You just have to be nimble. The independent retailers and high-end groceries have been a saving grace.’

In this era of social distancing and sheltering in place, wine sales have been in flux. The good news is that retail sales for domestic sparkling wine are up 8.9% for the year ending Sept. 5, according to market research firm Nielsen. On-premise sales tell a different story. This is a crucial market for domestic producers, who enjoy robust sales via by-the-glass programs at restaurants and wine bars.

‘The on-premise business vanished pretty much overnight,’ says Xavier Barlier, senior vice president of marketing and communication for Maisons Marques & Domaines USA, which includes Roederer Estate in Anderson Valley. ‘We all remember the hangover for sparkling wine after the millennium. We all remember what happened in 2008, but this is unprecedented.’

A new player with an impressive release is Oregon’s Gran Moraine, a project from Jackson Family Wines. The Brut Rosé Yamhill-Carlton NV (94, $50) is that rare domestic rosé that captures the vibrant acidity of Champagne, with delicate strawberry and raspberry flavors laced with steely minerality. Among quality leaders in Oregon, Gran Moraine joins stalwart Argyle, whose 2016 Argyle Knudsen Vineyard Brut (93, $50) and 2009 Argyle Extended Tirage Brut (93, $80) are both rich, crisp and luscious.

I continue to admire the positive attitude Sterling maintains through difficult times. ‘There’s comfort food and then there’s comfort wine, and I think sparkling wines falls into that category,’ she says. ‘Sparkling wine is about celebration, but it’s also the drink of optimism.’”

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