The Third Annual Blind Tasting of American Sparkling Wine (Part Two–Brut)

This past weekend, I conducted another Blind Tasting at our humble little abode here in Houston, to which I normally invite other wine writers from the area. This year, however, with the pandemic raging out of control here in Texas, I limited the attendees to my lovely wife (who has a fantastic palate) and me. As you may recall, I conduct a tasting of American True Rosés in the Spring, and the second was this Fall when I tasted through American Pinot Noirs.

All of the blind tastings (now ten in total) have produced some surprises, which is, quite frankly, why tasting blind from time to time is healthy. It is often too easy to be influenced by price, producer, or PR firm when tasting non-blind, and it is also good to “re-center” one’s palate in a way—to focus only on what is in the glass.

This year’s full lineup.

This was the third tasting of American Sparkling Wine and while last year there were 32 corks to pop, this year it ballooned all the way up to 35 wines ranging from $12 up to $125. 14 of the 35 were rosé, and all (except one) were produced using the “traditional method” (the same method used in Champagne where the secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle).

I first removed all the corks and foil from the bottles and then inserted them into bags. Then, after I had left the room, my wife randomly numbered the bagged wines. This way, while we knew what wines were in the tasting, there was no way to identify the order in which we tasted the wines.

We tasted five wines at a time, discussing each flight afterward for general impressions and preferences.

Here, in the order that they were tasted, are the 10 of the Brut (i.e., non-rosé) wines. I will publish the remaining 11 tasting notes, along with my list of top wines from the tasting, tomorrow.

Feeling a bit Brut-ish.

NV Gruet Winery Brut, New Mexico: Retail $15. 75% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir. Quite light straw color, aromas of peach, pear, yeast, a touch of citrus, yellow apple. Very nice. Tart on the palate with a heavy dose of both green and yellow apple. This is, in a word, lovely, really nice. But it comes off a bit young and might need some time to settle down a bit. Still, the finish here is stellar, and overall this is pretty gangbusters. Excellent. 91 Points.

2018 Iris Vineyards Arete Brut Blanc de Noirs, Willamette Valley, OR:
Retail $34. 100% Pinot Noir. Again, fairly light in the glass, but the aromas here are completely different. More floral, caramel, some red fruit, a lot going on, but very inviting and enticing. Almost a whoa just on the nose. Rich and full on the palate, tart, caramel, but a bit overly tangy in fact. This is an interesting wine and I feel like it could use a bit of time in the cellar to calm down a bit. Very Good. 88 Points.

2015 Mumm Napa Devaux Ranch, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $50. 63% Chardonnay, 19% Pinot Noir, 18% Pinot Meunier (2014). Brilliant straw color with a fine, delicate sparkle. Some fruit (faint green apple), but mostly a vegetal component on the nose (celery?) with some salinity and minerality. The palate is well-balanced between fruit and acidity, and a more than ample sparkle throughout. Oh yeah, that’s fantastic. Outstanding. 94 Points.

NV Gruet Winery Blanc de Blancs, New Mexico: Retail $17. 100% Chardonnay. A light yellow-straw in the glass with a decided smoky component on the nose along with some citrus (lime), caramel, and minerality. Quite fruity on the palate but lacking the requisite fruit to balance it out. Don’t be confused, this is a lovely wine, but there is just a slight imbalance here. Very Good. 88 Points.

Hard at work.

2016 Domaine Carneros Brut, Carneros, CA: Retail $36. 53% Chardonnay, 47% Pinot Noir. Light straw yet again, with aromas (albeit subtle) of peach, vanilla, minerality, and just a smidge of yeast. The palate is nicely balanced between that muted fruit, the muted vanilla/yeast component, and tartness. It is a nice wine and graduates a bit beyond that as the wine melds into something rather special. I would stock my cellar with it. Excellent. 91 Points.

NV Piper Sonoma Brut, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $22. 70% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir, 3% Pinot Blanc. Relatively light in color, yet again, with a tart nose of lemon rind and just a hint of croissant. The palate is a touch nutty (hazelnut), but otherwise pretty fantastic with subtle fruit, a vibrant bubble, just the right amount of dosage (not too tart, not too sweet), and a lengthy finish. All the components here, in the running. Excellent. 91 Points.

2013 Domaine Carneros Le Rêve, Carneros, CA: Retail $125. 100% Chardonnay. Brilliant pale yellow with ripe fruit flavors (peach, melon), and a couple of shakes of white pepper. Ripe apple flavors on the palate, a good sparkle, and plenty of depth, but it comes off as young with brilliant acidity, masking the fruit ever so slightly. It’s subtle, it’s delicate, but it is also fantastic. Whoa. Outstanding. 93 Points.

2013 Left Coast Estate Blanc de Noir Sparkling, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $55. 100% Pinot Noir. Back to the brilliant pale straw (is that an oxymoron?) yet again, with a bit of an odd nose—a bit of a stale yeastiness here, with some under-ripe yellow apple and pear. The palate is laden with fruit but quite tart. Even really tart. I rarely (ever?) say that a wine could use a bit more sugar, but this might be one. Really tart (did I mention that?). Still, Excellent. 90 Points.

2017 Korbel Natural Méthode Champenoise, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $16. 65% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay. On the verge of golden here, this is clearly the darkest thus far. Sweet on the nose with caramel, walnut, and a touch of golden apple in the glass. The palate is rich and on the verge of decadent with baked apple pie, an infusion of tartness, and an active sparkle. While the nose was a bit odd, the palate is close to a whoa. While I would guess that there is a bit of dosage here, it certainly works. Excellent. 92 Points.

2018 Sosie Roussanne First Things First Vivio Vineyard, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $32. 100% Roussanne. Brilliant straw in the glass, with oodles upon oodles of celery on the nose—quite vegetal. There is also a caramel note along with a bit of oxidation. Yeah, a lot going on here. The palate also has that sherried note, in spades. It is rich, with a ton of flavors, but the finish is a bit disjointed. Still, Very Good. 88 Points.

About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Roussanne, Wine, Zinfandel. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Third Annual Blind Tasting of American Sparkling Wine (Part Two–Brut)

  1. Korbel Natural has classically been a hard, austere wine on release, quickly richening and rounding with a few years in cellar. As of about the 2014? vintage, the presence of sweetness was noticeable. For the past 30 years I have blindly trusted their “natural”. I don’t anymore. Unlike in past years when they freely published and discussed their dosages, Korbel can not be reached for comment.


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