Some sparkling wine suggestions for the holidays including Schramsberg, J Vineyards and Gruet.
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers December 22, 2010
The versatility and variety of flavors in sparkling wines make them a favorite for the holidays. Sparklers are the result of a secondary fermentation that occurs after the first is completed, usually because some additional sugar and yeast is added to the base wine. The resulting carbon dioxide is dissolved in the wine and appears when the bottle is opened. Techniques utilized to create sparking wines include the traditional, very laborious (and costly) methode champenois where the second fermentation occurs in the bottle and the less-expensive “charmant” where it occurs in a tank.
Schramsberg, founded in 1962, is Napa’s second oldest winery. Owner Jacob Schram planted 30,000 vines and hired out-of-work Chinese railworkers to hand-carve two massive wine caves into the hillsides of his property. The well-regarded winery fell into disuse in the early 1900s until 1965, when Jack and Jamie Davies bought and revitalized it. 1965. Their 1969 vintage Blanc de Blanc became the first American sparkling wine to be served at a state dinner in 1972 when Nixon hosted Chinese premier Chou En-lai.
Recent releases include the apple- and vanilla-scented Schramsberg Brut Blanc de Blancs 2007 ($36), which has brisk lemon acidity along with minerals and toast. The elegant J. Schram 2003 ($100) has aromas of bread, peach and hints of red fruit that flow seamlessly into spicy apple, hazelnut and lemon-lime flavors with a soft, lingering citrus acidity. Big and rich, the Schramsberg North Coast Reserve 2002 ($100) has layers of brioche, baked pears and peaches, and hints of spicy apple that meld beautifully into the crisp cherries and acidity at the end. Raspberries and strawberries predominate in the well-made Schramsberg Brut Rose 2007 ($40), which also shows a touch of toffee along with cherries and mango.
France’s top-selling sparkling wines come from a wine cooperative with properties in Rhone, Bordeaux and Burgundy. The off-dry, slightly sweet Jaillance Clairette de Die Tradition Gold Label NV ($16) from the Rhone has lychee and spicy citrus flavors with apples and pears, while the very dry Jaillance Cremant de Bordeaux Cuvee de l’Abbaye NV ($20) shows more yeast and nutty notes along with peaches, minerals and berries. Lighter in style is the floral-scented Jaillance Cremant de Bourgogne NV ($18) that has tropical fruit, apple and pear flavors.
Other holiday recommendations include the low-alcohol, slightly fizzy Toad Hollow Risque NV ($12) a dessert-style bubbly with sweet, tart apple and toasty flavors that comes with a nifty re-closable top. A great value-priced sparkler is the delightfully fruity and well-balanced Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco NV ($12), with white peach, pear and apple notes. From California, try the lemon and honey scented J Vineyards Cuvee 20 NV ($22) that shows hazelnut, yeast bread flavor, spicy citrus acidity along with baked apples in the finish or the very good J Vineyards Brut Rose NV ($30) with strawberry and raspberry scents and flavors that join seamlessly with black cherries, ripe apples, bread and honey. A well-made kosher alternative is the melon scented Hagafen Brut Cuvee 2007 ($25) that has lovely citrus flavors including grapefruit and lemon along with peaches and red cherries. From grapes grown in the mountains of New Mexico come the very enjoyable Gruet Blanc de Blancs 2006 ($25) with nutty, toasty aromas and a remarkably well-structured profile of pears, limes, apples and grapefruits, and the Gruet Blanc de Noirs NV ($13), with raspberry, apricot and spicy strawberry notes.