Sparkling wine lovers no longer have to turn to Champagne or Cava when it comes to celebrating. California wineries are producing bubblies that stand up to these legendary options in both style and price.
Here are five affordable ($45 and under) California sparklers W.E. recommends you ring in the New Year with. For those seeking to splurge, we also offer three premium-priced options.
96 Roederer Estate 2003 L’Ermitage $45 (Anderson Valley). 2003 was a great vintage for Roederer Estate. This, their top vintage wine, is very great, and the price is an absolute steal for this world class sparkler. It’s enormously rich in the strawberries from Pinot Noir and the limes from Chardonnay, while the toast and rich lees combine for a perfect Champagne-style smokiness. And so smooth, it's like a kiss of silk. At the age of eight years, this wonderful wine is just getting started.
abv: 12.1% Price: $45
93 Gloria Ferrer 2004 Royal Cuvée Brut (Carneros). A beautiful sparkling wine, rich and refined in the mouth, with creamy flavors that show ripe, sweet California strawberries and limes. This bottling gets better and better with each new release.
abv: 13% Price: $32
92 Chandon NV Etoile Brut (Sonoma-Napa). Etoile is Chandon’s high-end line. This brut is based on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with some Pinot Meunier. It’s dry and elegant, with subtle citrus and yeast flavors. The all-important mouthfeel is refined, giving it an upscale impression. Ready to drink now.
abv: 13% Price: $40
91 Laetitia 2008 Brut de Blancs (Arroyo Grande Valley). Good price for a sparkling wine this delicious and refined. Offers lots of bubbly pleasure, with orange, lime, vanilla, honey and yeasty flavors. Made from Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc.
abv: 12.5% Price: $28
88 Piper Sonoma NV Blanc de Blancs (Sonoma County). Mainly Chardonnay, with a drop of Pinot Noir, this dry bubbly has intricate flavors of lemons, limes, tangerines and honey, with a rich yeastiness. It’s a little scoury in texture, but pretty good for the price.
abv: 13.5% Price: $20
98 Schramsberg 2004 J. Schram Rosé (North Coast). An awesome rosé, just a tremendous feat. Made from 11 vineyards in 4 counties, it shows a masterful art of the blend. Insanely rich in toasted bread and lees, showing the influence of six years in the bottle. A tremendous core of strawberries, raspberries, orange zest, roasted macadamia, roasted coconut, pear liqueur and honey lasts into the finish. Despite the richness, the wine is dry. So lovely now you can hardly keep your hands off, but it should age gracefully for the next 10–15 years.
abv: 12.7% Price: $130
97 Iron Horse 1997 Joy! Blanc de Blancs (Green Valley). A triumph, really. Held back for 14 years and just recently disgorged, it’s fantastically rich and complex, just oozing the most delicious orange, butterscotch, yeast and toast flavors. So silky, so sweet in fruit, and yet with a dry finish. Stands out in any tasting of the best sparklers. Hard to imagine a California bubbly better than this.
abv: 13% Price: $179/1.5L
95 Domaine Carneros 2005 Le Rêve (Carneros). With this brut-style wine, Domaine Carneros competes against California’s most serious sparkling wine contenders. It is certainly the finest Le Rêve ever, glamorous and provocative, massively flavored in lemon, lime and tangerine flavors, yet balanced and elegant, with the doughy tartness of Champagne. A great achievement.
abv: 12% Price: $90
Ever wonder about those French terms commonly used to describe domestic sparkling wine? Here’s a primer:
Blanc de Blancs, or white of whites, refers to a wine made exclusively from white varieties, most often Chardonnay. These wines tend to be slightly lighter in body than a Blanc de Noirs.
Blanc de Noirs, or white of blacks, is a made from 100% black varieties, most commonly Pinot Noir. The most common style of this type of bubbly is Brut, which allows a sweetness level of 0–12 grams of sugar per liter. It’s often a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with Pinot Meunier as a subsidiary varietal.
Extra dry refers to a sparkling wine that is typically noticeably sweet, allowing 12–17 grams of sugar per liter.
Late-disgorged wines are often a winery’s priciest because they’ve been aged in bottle on the lees for an extended duration, acquiring a rich, nutty quality, and are ready to drink on release.
A vintage sparkling wine bears a vintage date. Regulations require that 100% of the grapes used must have been harvested from the year that appears on the label. The top California vintage sparkling wines can age for up to 15 years.