Last night I offered to a small group of old and new college friends a tasting and a comparison of sparkling wines. About forty years ago, several of the top large Champagne houses in France (which is the only place that makes what may be legally called “Champagne”) decided to establish winemaking outposts in California, three in the Napa Valley, one in Sonoma, and one in the Anderson Valley. Today, they continue to make fine sparkling wines at those sites, using the traditional Champagne method of inducing a secondary fermentation in the bottle … enclosing, thus, all those fine bubbles we enjoy so much.
What I decided to do was to pair the basic house brut of a French Champagne maker against the basic house brut from that same maker’s California winery … for example, Louis Roederer Brut Champagne versus Roederer Estate sparkling brut wine from the Anderson Valley. Each bottle was bagged so that no prior prejudices in favor of California or France could be indulged. Though almost every participant preferred the real Champagnes to their California counterparts, the latter were still deemed entirely enjoyable. That’s important to know because the French sparklers cost, on average, twice that of their American competitors … no small consideration, especially if one is serving sparklers to a large number of guests. By the way, if you have sparkling wine left in the bottle, how do you best reseal that bottle? The pressure remaining in the bottle will simply eject any cork, so try this: put a rubber balloon over the bottle top; that way the seal is functionally air-tight, and that remaining pressure will do nothing other than to inflate a bit of balloon. Looks weird, but it works.
I might add that when, for many years past, I conducted the same kind of tasting for senior undergraduates at the Claremont Colleges, they almost always liked the French version when drunk by itself, but the California when consumed with food. Interesting. So what does one eat with these bruts? Stay tuned.
The Tasting List:
Bortolotti Prosecco Brut DOCG (Valdobbiadene)
G.H. Mumm (Reims)
Mumm Napa Brut Prestige (Napa Valley)
Moët & Chandon Impérial (Epernay)
Chandon Brut Classique (California)
Louis Roederer Brut Premiere (Reims)
Roederer Estate (Anderson Valley)
Domaine Carneros, 2009 (Carneros)
Albino Armani 1607 Prosecco Extra Dry (Veneto) DOC