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 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 remaining 11 tasting notes,followed my list of top wines from the tasting.
2016 Brooks Sparkling Riesling, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $55. 100% Riesling. Certainly on the golden side here, with citrus, yellow apple, and what I could swear is a bit of petrol. That makes me think that this is a Riesling and I know there is only one of those in the lineup—the problem with single-blind tastings. Quite tart and perky on the palate, this is certainly outside the “norms” of sparkling wine. And I like it, a lot. Fruity, but with a laser-sharp acidity, focused, and mineral, this has one of the lengthiest finishes in the group. Fantastic. Outstanding. 94 Points.
NV Piper Sonoma Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs, Sonoma County, CA:
Retail $22. 75% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Blanc. Very light straw with a bit of funk, almost a caramel/marzipan thing going on here. The palate is nice and tart, not much creaminess to speak of, but that is OK, not all sparklers have to be laden with freshly-baked croissant. The nose and the palate could not be much further apart. Again, OK, but it causes a bit of inner angst since I like the palate a bit more than the nose. Luckily, the palate is the more important of the two, at least for me. Excellent. 90. Points.
NV Mumm Napa Blanc de Blancs, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $24. Predominantly Chardonnay with some Pinot Gris. Another light straw with a bit of yellow tint in there with rich tree fruit (peach, pear) and a bit of that fresh-baked biscuity goodness that defines many a sparkling wine. More of the same on the palate, with nice rich flavors, multiple layers of depth, and that oh-so-lovely fresh croissant aspect. Really fantastic. Outstanding. 93 Points.
NV Piper Sonoma Brut Réserve, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $22. 92% Chardonnay, 8% Pinot Noir. Golden-straw in color, with more of a ripe red delicious apple here, with a smattering of toasted yeastiness. Really tart on the palate, where those apples have turned green and are no longer ripe. There is some of that yeastiness in there, too, but it is masked by all that tart fruit. This is really a nice wine, but suffers a bit from falling in line after the previous sparkler. Excellent. 92 Points.
2015 Domaine Carneros Ultra Brut, Carneros, CA: Retail $46. 53% Estate Grown Chardonnay, 47% Estate Grown Pinot Noir. Pale straw, with just a splash of yellow, and a very interesting nose that caused me to pause for more than a moment. There is a pleasant sweet mocha or smokey caramel kind of vibe here, which is not usually a descriptor one uses in evaluating sparkling wines. And that’s OK. The palate is surprisingly more mainstream, with a driving tartness and lovely balance. While this is not my favorite in the flight, it is not far from the top. Really nice. Excellent. 91 Points.
NV Gruet Winery Brut Blanc de Noirs, New Mexico: Retail $17. 75% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay. Pale straw with several steady streams of beautiful bubbles. Not much fruit on the nose, but there is plenty of vanilla and rising dough aromas. On the palate, the sparkle is much less pronounced than anticipated. Good flavors and nice balance, this is another wine in this flight that certainly brings the goods. Very Good. 89 Points.
NV Korbel Brut California Champagne: Retail $13. Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, French Colombard, Pinot Noir. Straw color which is clearly on the way to yellow, with a traditional nose of tree fruit (peach) a touch of citrus (lemon curd), and decided freshly-baked-croissant goodness. Yum. The palate? It falls largely into place, with great tartness and a vibrant sparkle, but it is not quite as yeasty as the nose suggested, which, while disappointing to this champagne-hound, is not a deal-breaker. Very Good. 89 Points.
NV Gruet Winery Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs Sauvage, New Mexico: Retail $20. 100% Chardonnay. Quite pale straw in the glass with an intense nose of baked bread, hazelnut, and golden delicious apple. Nice. The palate largely delivers on the promise suggested by the nose with an under-ripe Granny Smith apple, a hint of that nearly-overwhelming yeasty component, an active sparkle, and an above-average finish. Nice. Excellent. 90 Points.
NV Mumm Napa Brut Prestige, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $24. 45% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir, 10% Pinot Gris & Pinot Meunier. Pale straw in the glass with a boatload of tree fruit (red apple, Bosc pear). The palate is, well, fantastic. It might be a shade on the sweet side, but there is lovely fruit, a balancing tartness, and an above-average finish. I would be perfectly happy to find this as the only choice of sparkling wine on an evening with people I didn’t particularly care for—not that those people exist (I will not offer a single example, certainly not anyone related to me or my wife)–and sit contented in the corner with my several glasses of this sparkler. Excellent. 90 Points.
NV Sweet Cheeks Trio, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $48. 50% Pinot Noir, 50% Chardonnay. Perhaps the lightest in color of all the wines in the flight, almost clear with a straw undercoating. Quite nutty, almost smokey on the nose with little to no fruit being offered. The palate is a bit outside of the mainstream here, as the lack of fruit persists (although some citrus comes in on the finish). Instead, there is a vegetal, maybe even meaty component here that is slightly confusing. It is not off-putting, even slightly, but it is just a bit outside the norm, causing me to reflect on what it means to be a sparkling wine (in a good way). Very Good. 88 Points.
2017 Korbel Brut Methode Champenoise Organic, CA: Retail $16. French Colombard, Sangiovese, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir. Wow. Almost a dessert-wine-like color here—golden to the core. Over-ripe apple, a bit of petrol, even. I am not sure what to make of this quite yet. The palate has some sweetness to it, but far from cloying. There is some fruit, but it is shrouded in an oxidative/sherried note that is not all that unpleasant, but it is a bit out of place in this tasting. Still, for what it is? Not bad. Very Good. 88 Points.
My Top Ten Overall
- NV Domaine Carneros Cuvée de la Pompadour Brut Rosé ($45)
- 2016 Stoller Pinot Noir Legacy LaRue’s Brut Rose ($65)
- 2016 Brooks Sparkling Riesling ($55)
- 2015 Mumm Napa Devaux Ranch ($50)
- 2013 Domaine Carneros Le Rêve ($125)
- 2014 Mumm Napa DVX Rosé ($80)
- NV Mumm Napa Blanc de Blancs ($24)
- 2018 Iris Vineyards Areté Brut Rosé ($34)
- 2017 Korbel Natural Méthode Champenoise ($16)
- NV Piper Sonoma Brut Réserve ($22)