Listed from lowest to highest priced, these domestic sparkling wines (don’t call them Champagne!) should be a welcome addition to your table when summer heat gives way to chilly fall nights.
Many of the wines on this list may look familiar either from wide distribution or from the fact they just make a delicious wine for the money. I tried to pick out wines that really deliver in the glass as well as in the pocketbook:
Gruet Rosé, New Mexico – $16 A perennial favorite at Chéz Bakas. Not just a great value from the U.S. but one of the best values in sparkling wine from anywhere in the world. Thirty years ago French guys who know how to grow and make methode champenoise wines came to the States and found a spot in New Mexico that resembles Champagne’s soil and temperatures in France. They bought the land (highest vineyards in the U.S.) and began producing quality sparkling wines that continually deliver for not very much money. Recommendation: Buy a bottle or two, it’s widely available. It’s a great weeknight sipper.
Scharffenberger Sparkling Brut – $19 Not far from Anderson Valley’s more well known sparkling producer, (Roedererer Estate) sits Scharffenberger. Anderson Valley is California’s coolest growing region, which is what makes it ideal for growing grapes like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—the two grapes that make up Scharffenberger’s Brut. Since 1981, the winery has focused solely on sparkling wines through longstanding relationships with local growers. Great Value for the price! Recommendation: Buy 2+ bottles if it’s hard to find close by.
Chandon Blanc de Noir, NV – $22 If this were a stock on the stock exchange, Warren Buffet would have it in his portfolio. Year in and year out Chandon produces a wide range of easy-to-drink sparkling wines that are well priced and well made. Napa’s Chandon is cut from the cloth of the mother ship, Moet & Chandon (makers of Dom Perignon) in Champagne, France. Family winemakers go back and forth between the two wineries exchanging winemaking techniques to ensure the best product is being made. The real winner here is wine lovers who have the easy task of popping open a bottle (or two) and enjoying with friends. I like the Blanc de Noirs in the fall because it’s made from Pinot Noir grapes, which give the wine a fatter, heartier mouthfeel for heartier meals. Recommendation: Chandon is a staple to have on hand at all times.
J Brut Cuvée 20 NV, Sonoma – $22 Not a surprise to see J Sparkling wine on this list with good reason. J is one of the top sparkling wine producers. The affordable Cuvée 20 makes it possible to enjoy a good sparking wine from a solid producer for a reasonable price. Recommendation: You don’t have to share with anyone!
Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvée, Sonoma – $24 For me personally this is one of the top three best sparkling wines under $25. Like Chandon, Gloria Ferrer is another stock Waren Buffet would have in his portfolio and also like Chandon, it’s a winery owned by a larger European sparkling producer, Freixenet in Spain. The best blocks of Pinot Noir (66%) and Chardonnay (33%) give this gem personality, “wow” factor and depth all for not very much money. Recommendation: Don’t just buy one bottle, you’ll need more
2007 Iron Horse Wedding Cuvée – $29 Mrs B and I got married in October so it makes perfect sense to enjoy the Wedding Cuvée every fall. This Pinot Noir dominated wine warms the soul when the weather gets cold. Beautiful Copper River Salmon colored hues in the glass are just waiting to reveal fresh summer strawberry, creamy Oregon raspberry and melon notes. It’s a sexy wine that goes well with a wide range of autumn dishes like butter lettuce salad of bacon, blue cheese and Fuji apple. Recommendation: this is a wine for lovers and for wine lovers. Enjoy with the one you’re with.
Chandon Etoile Brut NV, Napa – $33 Some wines are made to hit you over the head with flavor, while others are meant to capture the subtle nuances—kind of like a Ford Mustang and a BMW. Etoile is more of the BMW style—sleek, classy, focused in its elegant mousse-like texture. Notes of poached pear, white peaches, nectarines and tea leaves keep unfolding into layers of enjoyment. Recommendation: Share only with people you like. If your boss comes over, serve him/her something else (unless you really like your boss). If someone opens this bottle for you, congratulations, they really like you!
Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec, Napa – $35 From perhaps the finest domestic sparkling producer in the U.S. comes this off-dry favorite made with reduced pressure so the wine feels “creamier” on your palate. Demi-Sec (translated: a touch sweeter than Brut) isn’t a style I’d normally choose but in this case Schramsberg is one of the few producers who can pull it off. This consumer-friendly wine has been served at state events including Ronald Reagan’s second inaugural luncheon as well as President George H.W. Bush’s 60th wedding anniversary. Recommendation: Schramsberg is always welcome at the table.
2009 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs, Napa – $35 Did you know Schramsberg has one of the few Master Riddlers in the world working in their cellars? That’s the guy who goes through and turns every single bottle while secondary fermentation is happening in the bottle (bubbles being made). Bottles rest in something called a riddling rack—those are those cool wood wine bottle holders you get at Pottery Barn and hang on your wall. Yes, those things actually are still used in the production of sparkling wine, and Schramsberg beholds that along with other classic winemaking techniques in their longstanding pursuit of excellence. For $35 you can enjoy a Blanc de Blancs that took Schramsberg years to produce. Recommendation: When your wine geek friends come over, this is the bottle you open for them.
2002 Roederer Estate L’Ermitage – $40 Here’s another Champagne house in France that came over to the U.S. looking for familiar growing conditions (Chandon, Mumm Napa and Domaine Carneros are others). Really pretty “vintage” sparkling wine from Anderson Valley. For under fifty bucks this is a solid value that delivers consistently with finely textured bubbles and refined notes of baked brioche as well as roasted nuts. If you like that “yeasty toast” smell, you’ll get it here but it’s not obnoxious. Recommendation: The wine could very well sell at $75 a bottle, why not take advantage of the fact it’s underpriced?
2005 Mumm Napa DVX Rosé, Napa – $60 If you can wait a few years it’ll get better around 10 years old. Right now the 2002 is drinking beautifully and it’s from a similar ripe vintage. The DVX line is Mumm Napa’s tete de cuvée featuring ripe strawberry mousse notes and that desirable toasty, yeasty element found in many aged Champagnes. Recommendation: It’s a well priced wine to have on hand for when guests come over. Some wines you keep for yourself, others you share with friends. This is the latter.
2005 Soter Brut Rosé, Willamette Valley – $65 Over his career Tony Soter has perfected the art of delivering wines people want to drink. The Brut Rosé is no different—it’s delicious! Salmon pink in color, delicately textured yet laced with exotic spices, racy fruits and a thread of fresh minced ginger. Recommendation: it’s worth buying at least one bottle to try, or try at a friend’s house first. Chances are you’ll want more. Be warned, it’s not widely available.
2006 Domaine Carneros Le Réve, Napa – $75 Like Chandon, Domaine Carneros is owned by a famous Champagne house in France called Tattinger. Winemaking techniques have been disseminated down from the mothership to ensure highest quality. Right around 8-10 years of age Le Réve starts showing beautiful aged Champagne notes of toasted brioche and subtle yeasty characters. It’s hard to wait that long sometimes knowing the winery aged the wine on its lees for a few years already. Le Réve is Domaine Carneros’ high quality wine and one of the few domestic collectors items. Drinking a bottle of Le Réve is like driving a Mercedes. Recommendation: Try it when someone has a bottle to make sure you like it before dropping seventy-five bones per bottle. Late Disgorged Le Réve is harder to find, but even better. Le Réve really benefits from some extra aging so if you want to experience this wine right, open it around ten years old. If you have an appreciation for high quality Champagne, then this is a bottle you’ll want to have in the cellar.