California Wine: Bubbles for Your New Year's Eve


It's time to crack a bottle across the bow of 2014, as we launch another year into the heavy seas of the world. There are more embedded historical and cultural reasons that we drink Champagne for celebrations than there are bubbles in a large format bottle, but basically most of us strive and emulate, and while we might not be able to be rich or royal, at the least we can tipple what they do. Winemakers, that is the good marketers amongst them, figured that out, and soon sold us the lovely lifestyle of the sparkling wined and famous. For instance, they have hidden sparkling wine's beginnings in England, as France is a better vinous home to hail from. Few know of the actual creator, Christopher Merret, meanwhile Dom Pérignon got his name on a bottle and a whole lot of fame.

All that said it's damn tasty. Sparkling wines really do work like scrubbing bubbles in your mouth, helping you eat and drink more, as you keep tasting more, too. Even better, they often are lower in alcohol than many other wines, so those fabulous beliefs that Champagnes make men wittier and women more beautiful might have a slight root in truth, even while they continue to affirm bollixed ideas about each gender's strengths.

So, to take a bit of the class issue out of it, let's turn to California for our sparkling wine this New Year's Eve, thereby celebrating not just the hope of a new year but the bounty of the Golden State's vineyards.

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2010 Goat Bubbles Rosé, Solomon Hills Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley AVA

One way to avoid the whole hoity-toity problem, name your sparkling wine Goat Bubbles. That name isn't as whimsical as it first seems since Norm Yost's winery is Flying Goat - it's as if he had no choice for a name when he decided to be one of the first annual makers of bubbly in Santa Barbara. (If you want to hunt for great bottles that have only been released every few years, look for sparkling from Brewer-Clifton). The wine pours pale pink in the glass, is full of the lovely yeasty-doughy scents that make sparkling seem so substantial, and since it's made from pinot noir grapes, it offers just enough fruit - mostly cherry - to balance the strong acidity. Might as well start the year off with something complex.

2010 Riverbench Cork Jumper Blanc de Noirs

Riverbench actually makes three different Cork Jumper sparkling wines - there's also two from chardonnay grapes: a blanc de blancs and a somewhat sweeter blanc de blancs demi-sec - but let's stay with the pinot powered bubbles for now. This is another Santa Barbara wine, after all. It does lean a bit to some citrusy notes, although more refined ones like pink grapefruit and blood orange. There's also a great backstory for this wine, as the grapes are from Santa Barbara but then they get methode champenoised, as it were, up in Napa as making sparkling wine takes up more space than wineries often want to give up to it. So consider it a marriage of all that's good in California.

2009 Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs

Speaking of Napa, some of the oldest wine caves in the country are there, dug in 1870 by Chinese laborers who had just completed work on the Transcontinental Railroad. These caves belong to Schramsberg, who also pioneered the blanc de noirs method (white from black, although pinot noir isn't that black now, is it) in the U.S. The grapes come from a variety of sources in Carneros, Anderson Valley, Sonoma, and Marin, allowing the winemakers to achieve a fine balance of flavors. The winemakers claim you'll taste "orange, cherry and raspberry... followed by nuances of peach-berry cobbler." Hey, a wine that comes with its own dessert -- who could say no?


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