BUBBLES IN PARADISE For our annual lineup of sparkling wine, we go off the beaten path.
Everybody knows that Champagne and sparkling wine add atmosphere to a holiday gathering. Generally speaking, about five atmospheres—the technical measurement of pressure inside a bottle of sparkling wine.
But if your fancy tends toward an elevated yet pleasantly quaffable level of unpredictability for your festive occasions, step away from the wine aisle for a moment and consider options not offered in the refrigerated section adjacent to the microbrews in your local supermarket.
This year, I once again succeeded in cajoling
Bohemian staffers away from their desks to drink sparkling wines on a late Friday afternoon. Some of these were made by local giants of the giggle juice; others, by mom-and-pop outfits where winery cats wander in and out as they please. The best way to obtain them is to make a special trip to the producer.
As in my previous roundups, wines are ranked by preference of Bohemian tasters, stars (one to five) given by me, with adjustments of not more than one-half after retasting.
Breathless Sonoma County Brut Rosé ($32) Even before the fun, retro label was revealed, Bohemians knew this wine was meant to party. With blood orange, red fruit and watermelon-candy flavors over a hint of creaminess, this is not sophisticated but it's fun, and the most successful of the Breathless line, a family project run by three sisters in Healdsburg.
Gloria Ferrer 2011 Carneros Brut Rosé ($47) Here's a brut rosé with just a frosting of light pink on it, to please fizz fans who feel that more than a little is too much. A sweet hint of strawberry tart flirts with crème fraîche, finishing on a sharp, scoury note.
Woodenhead 2010 Naturale Russian River Valley Brut ($42) You might not give this blanc de blancs–inspired sparkler a chance if I told you at the outset that it's made from long-unfashionable French Colombard—whoops, I said it—instead of Chardonnay, but this wine, from a "rescue vineyard" down the road from the tasting room, is a surprise hit. Richly perfumed with yeast and shortbread cookie, spiced with marzipan, this lean wine may finish on the super tart side, but its ever-changing character commands intrigue.
Gloria Ferrer 2006 Xtra Brut Carneros ($47) If you know Gloria's rich Royal Cuvée, this is like a thinking man's Royal Cuvée. Lean, with a toasty yeast note riding a razor-thin line of citrus down the palate, while a fine mousse keeps the tempo with a steady beat of tiny bubbles.
VML Russian River Valley Blanc de Noir ($50) Red fruits from
74 percent Pinot Noir here; notes of licorice, fennel and Rainier cherry too. It's lightly tinted pink, creamy and broad, but not big with all Bohemian tasters.
Patz & Hall 2012 North Coast Brut ($45) Folks, this is sparkling wine made from some marquee vineyards, like Hyde and Gap's Crown, and and the dosage is so light—.54 percent / 5.4 grams per liter; that it qualifies as an ultra-brut. Lean and austere, the wine lays down tart, grapey acidity without apology, offering a dash of toasted yeast in recompense.
Breathless North Coast Brut ($25) On the sweetish side of brut, pale pink, with dusty raspberry and a tangy finish, this is a great New Year's toasting wine: fun label, big bubbles, no hard thought required.
Iron Horse 2011 Winter's Cuvée Green Valley of Russian River Valley ($58) From what I read about this wine—just 300 cases of which are available to wine club members or tasting room visitors—I expected Bohemians to be over the moon for it. Small fractions are a reserve wine from 1980, plus a brandy from 1987! Alas, the dosage is a mere 11 grams per liter, hardly a sweetie—but very Iron Horse. I'd love this moussy, tart red fruit candy flavored wine with Dungeness crab cakes, on whatever winter's night that again becomes possible.
Iron Horse LD 2000 Green Valley of Russian River Valley Brut ($110) First of all, don't delay if this sounds already like a desirable wine—only 58 cases were produced. Bohemians complained of a note of "dirty laundry," which loosely translates for confirmed Champagne connoisseurs as "Now you're talking, baby." I'd prefer cashew nut and béarnaise sauce, with a dusting of hoary yeast, the fruit being wholly subsumed by the aging process. Might be awesome with smashed potatoes (the au courant term for mashed potatoes) and breaded fish.
Inman 2012 Russian River Valley Blanc de Noir ($68) Platinum blonde, with a vigorous mousse, this wine offers a toot of Eureka lemon-cake frosting and sourdough bread, and fills the mouth with effervescent texture. It's hard to believe it's made from all Pinot Noir. For those who eschew big fruit.