The holiday season is fast approaching. If there’s one guarantee (besides heated dinner table “discussions,” and great Aunt Cheryl enjoying one sherry too many), it’s the need for a celebratory beverage.
According to Nielsen data, Christmas and New Year’s Eve are the biggest holidays for wine consumption in the U.S. In 2016, the two-week period leading up to New Year’s saw a 69 percent jump in sales compared to the year’s normal two-week average. Sparkling wines surged to the tune of 272 percent.
Champagne, Prosecco, and Cava are all excellent options, but there are also homegrown bubbles worthy of your consideration. We compiled 25 readily available domestic sparkling wines and put them to the test with a panel of blind tasters. Each wine tasted was made using the “traditional” method in which bubbles develop through a second fermentation in bottle. Wines were ranked on quality, value for money, and overall wow factor.
Here are seven of our favorite California sparkling wines, ranked.
7. Mumm Brut Prestige ($20)
Founded in the late 1970s by Champagne house G.H. Mumm, Mumm Napa has serious sparkling-winemaking pedigree. The Brut Prestige features a blend of 45 percent Chardonnay, 45 percent Pinot Noir, and 10 percent Pinot Gris and Pinot Meunier. Fermentation takes place at cool temperatures in stainless steel tanks, and bottles spend around 18 months aging on lees (dead yeast cells). The resulting wine is fruit-driven and easy-sipping, though arguably lacks the complexity of other, more premium sparklers. “This would be great for cocktails, and great as a Prosecco alternative, but I don’t think I’d substitute it for Champagne,” one taster commented.
6. Long Meadow Ranch NV Farmstead Brut ($33)
Long Meadow Ranch’s NV Farmstead Brut is another fruity sparkling wine, with slightly more noticeably creamy notes. The 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir has green fruit aromas, including pear and freshly-cut apples, plus apple crumble and baking spice notes. Acidity is bright and racy, and the crisp, dry finish leaves a lingering, refreshing aftertaste. “I love the bubbles,” remarked one taster, comparing them to “foamy sea tide.”
5. Roederer Estate Multi Vintage Brut ($24)
Located in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, Roederer Estate is the California outpost of Champagne house Louis Roederer. The organically farmed estate takes advantage of the region’s ocean influence, which provides warm days, cool nights, and, critically, a long ripening period. The Multi Vintage Brut is a blend of 60 percent Chardonnay and 40 percent Pinot Noir. A relatively short period of two years aging on lees maintains the wine’s super-acidic, lively fruit character. “It tastes like fresh green apple peel and lemon zest,” one taster said.
4. Iron Horse Classic Vintage Brut 2013 ($36)
Iron Horse is an independent, family-run winery located in Sonoma County’s Green Valley AVA. It ages its Classic Vintage Brut for four years on lees, adding doughy brioche aromas and delicate, nutty flavors. The wine’s bouquet also includes a bounty of fresh fruit and floral notes. As one taster put it, “Taking a sniff is like walking into a flower shop.”
3. J Cuvée 20 ($31)
The J Cuvée 20 is a ripe, refreshing, and buttery sparkling wine that would pair well with food — one taster immediately conjured drinking this as an aperitif with smoked salmon crostini. The blend contains 54 percent Chardonnay, 43 percent Pinot Noir, and 3 percent Pinot Meunier, all of which come from the Russian River Valley hand-harvested and receive whole cluster pressing, too. Flavors of white stone fruit, fresh green apple, and lightly salted nuts linger on the palate.
2. Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs ($36)
Schramsberg produced its first Blanc de Blancs vintage in 1965, marking the nation’s first commercially made Chardonnay-based sparkling wine. The wine received international attention in 1972 when then-President Nixon served it for the historic “Toast to Peace” in Beijing. A crisp, dry sparkling wine, the Blanc de Blancs is lemony with walnut notes. It tastes rich and luxurious and coats the palate with a blanket of effervescence. “I’d be mad if someone used this as a mixer,” one taster commented.
1. Domaine Carneros by Taittinger Brut Cuvée 2014 ($29)
The Carneros AVA is one of California’s most celebrated winemaking regions, ranking among the world’s best for producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The region lends its name to Tattinger-owned Domaine Carneros, whose 2014 vintage sparkling wine was a standout among our tasters. “Whipped cream and berries,” one taster said of the nose. Another likened aromas to “peaches and yogurt.” An alluring wine with a lasting finish and gentle price point, this is one sparkler to buy in bulk. It’s that good.