Sparkle in the New Year

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A jewel: The 2010 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs consists of 100 percent Chardonnay, is pale, has very fine bubbles and hints of light baked bread aromas. | Photo by W. Peter Hoyne

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A celebration approaches as we enter the New Year. This may not be the only time to indulge in a sparkling wine, but it is one of the most festive occasions to exalt with a glass of bubbly. Most are unfamiliar with the endless number of choices or even the fundamental knowledge in choosing the right sparkling wine or champagne.

The essence of true champagne comes from a small sector of chalky soil northeast of Paris from places such as Reims, Ayl and Epernay, where the cool climate allows the grapes to ripen slowly, while retaining enough youthful acidity to keep the flavors lively. It is a blend predominately of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier from different vineyards with each contributing a unique characteristic to the overall structure and balance.

Using a higher proportion of Chardonnay creates a caressing and elegant style, while a greater percentage of Pinot Noir yields a firm and heady wine that flaunts its strength. Vintage dated champagne and sparkling wines are required to have 95-100 percent of the grapes harvested from that particular vintage while non-vintage styles are a blend from several years.

Each bottle is labeled according to the “dosage” or sugar that is added to the final bottling. Brut is typically the driest style from a producer, while Extra Dry has a hint of sweetness or dosage and Demi-Sec is noticeably sweet and is the perfect accompaniment to dessert.

Within the last two decades, as the demand for this fashionable style of wine has risen, California, Spain, Italy and Australia have made their presence known with their own rendition of sparkling wine. Most French Houses are now ingrained in the Napa and Sonoma landscape with Domaine Carneros, Roederer Estate, Domaine Chandon, Mumm Napa and others. Within this article, I’ve summarized some of the most consistent quality sparklers in every category that you can uncork for this holiday season and beyond.

2010 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs: One of the recognized jewels of California is Schramsberg Vineyards, which brought world recognition to sparkling wine. Jack and Jamie Davies established this sparkling wine facility in 1965 and since 1972 the “Blanc de Blancs” has been served during each presidency.

This bottling is composed of 100 percent Chardonnay and is pale in its appearance. The bubbles are very fine and long, with hints of light baked bread aromas. This sparkling wine has a feminine expression with delicate spiced pears and honey crisp apples integrated with a touch of minerality. There is considerable fruit concentration and a long mid-palate.

2005 J Schram: Representing only 3 percent of Schramsberg’s production, this remains one of the flagships of the estate. A blend of 86 percent Chardonnay along with 14 percent Pinot Noir, this wine has a faint sunflower yellow color with a nutty hazelnut richness in the mouth. There is a creamy entry with layers of honeydew evenly layered across the palate leading to a memorable finish. It has been judged among the favorites during a national blind tasting of “Tete de Cuvee” sparkling wines and champagnes.

Ruinart Blanc De Blancs Brut: Made exclusively from Chardonnay, this has a classic French personality that will keep your attention. There are Brioche aromas with a finely textured palate of yellow fruit, white peach and candied lemons. This champagne seems to caress your palate in a dramatic fashion and has very refined textures with ample character. It takes over your palate and speaks in a very full and memorable way.

Moet & Chandon Imperial Brut: This is one of the best selling non-vintage blends from Moet and is an assemblage of predominately Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The pale color reveals a delicate flavor profile of butter cookies and roasted nuts. The background is filled in with bright citrus and minerals that lead to an attractive finish.

2004 L’Ermitage by Roederer Estate: With 52 percent Chardonnay and 48 percent Pinot Noir, this effort from Roederer is comprehensive. A light yellow hue brings you to structured flavor profile of creamy red fruit. The result is a memorable wine with a broad mouth-feel, seductive red berry spices and pomegranate that keep your attention with a long layered finish.

W. Peter Hoyne has been a wine journalist for over 20 years, covering stories of national and international significance. While his professional relationships in the wine industry have allowed him to share a unique perspective of wine, he is also intrigued by the culinary aspect and harmony that exist between wine and food. As a wine advocate, he is committed to consumer education and is focused on upcoming trends and American wine-buying habits. Email him at wphoyne@att.net.