American Sparkling Wines
Are they ever as good as champagne?
Iron Horse Blanc de Blancs 1998, $35 (California)
A pure, slightly tropical nose, heavy on the pineapple and grapefruit. Some buttered toast and baked spiced apple, as well. Citrus and peach flavors in the mouth, with a nice spine of acidity. Some elegance and grace to this sparkler.
Iron Horse Classic Vintage Brut 2000, $30 (California)
A change of pace—a strong mineral smell, with some muted aromas of lime, ginger, and vanilla. Lots of lemon and pear in the mouth, with a metallic edge. A bit austere, which has a certain appeal in a tasting full of fruity, rather forward, sparklers.
J Vintage Brut 2000, $30 (California)
Lime, hazelnut, fresh baked bread, and a dollop of honey on the nose. Creamy and quite mouth-filling, with good acidity. Fades rapidly on the finish, however, leaving less of an impression than it should.
Laetitia Brut Cuvée, $14 (California)
There's some pinot blanc in the blend here, and it makes its presence known to the nose—pear, melon, and floral notes abound. Unfortunately, the wine lacks concentration and is unappetizingly bitter.
RoedererEstateAndersonValley Brut, $18 (California)
Grapefruit, vanilla, and yeast aromas. Candied lemon on the palate, with some grapefruit kicking in on the finish. A good spine of acidity, and though the wine lacks complexity, it is a nice bubbly with an inviting price tag.
Scharffenberger Brut, $19 (California)
Red berries, sweet pear, baking spices, and a touch of minerality. Decent fruit, acidity, and concentration. Good for a crowd, and good value for the money.
Schramsberg J Schram 1999, $80 (California)
A bouquet with some brio: aromas of honey, apricot, wildflower, and orange peel, along with a slight whiff of sherry, suggesting some oxidation. Unfortunately, the wine is one-dimensional in the mouth, with none of the layered complexity one expects from a first-rate champagne—or from any wine in this price range.
Schramsberg Reserve 1999, $70 (California)
Rich yellow color. An elegant sparkler, seamlessly combining honey and grapefruit flavors with excellent supporting acidity. The best wine of the tasting, and the one wine that would not be out of place in a tasting of upper-rung champagnes. But, again, better bubblies can be had for the same price.
Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs 2002, $32.50 (California)
This blanc de noirs smells of butter, along with apricots and orange peel. On the palate, it has a rich, creamy texture, with apricot and apple flavors predominant. All the elements of a good, interesting bubbly, but the wine never quite pulls it together.
Soter Brut Rosé 1999, $40 (Oregon)
An attractive bouquet of cherry, tangerine, red roses, and honey. The fruit turns slightly candied and chunky in the mouth, but otherwise a very pleasant wine. Decent rosé sparklers are hard to come by, and this is a commendable example by legendary winemaker Tony Soter.
Illustration by Nina Frenkel