Today is the fourth post where I reflect on many of the great wines that I was fortunate enough to taste over the course of 2020. Today, it seems a bit appropriate to list the top ten sparkling wines that I received as samples this past year. While the year was certainly trying in many ways, I have to say that it was quite possibly loaded with the best group of sparkling wine samples in the nine years that I have been authoring this blog.
The first wine on the list is a Prosecco Superiore from Italy. If you would have told me nine years ago that one of my top sparkling wines of any year was going to be a Prosecco, I would have told you that you were full of, well, la merda. Thanks in a very large part to the great people at Nino Franco, I came to learn that there is a huge difference between the much lower production Prosecco DOCG (often labeled as “superiore”) and the ubiquitous Prosecco DOC.
2019 Adami Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Brut Col Credas Rive di Farra di Soligo DOCG Extra Dry, Italy: Retail $24. 100% Glera. From one of the 43 prestigious Rives in the appellation and vinified to the Extra Brut level (4 g/l). More tree fruit (peach and pear) than citrus (but there is some of both lemon and lime) on the nose. The palate is quite dry, really dry, and fantastic. That pear and citrus lead off, followed by a near-searing tartness that coats the mouth and causes gallons of saliva to be produced almost instantly. If there ever was a food-friendly wine, this is it, my friends. Delicious. Outstanding. 93 Points.
The next four wines come from Third Annual Blind Tasting of American Sparkling Wine this past December. While I am not quite ready to assert that American sparklers writ large are on a par with the wines of Champagne, there are certainly an increasing number of domestic producers that might cause the French to look over their collective shoulder a bit.
2016 Stoller Pinot Noir Legacy LaRue’s Brut Rose, Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills: Retail $65. 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay. Barely a hint of pink and could be classified as a non-rosé easily. Flinty, creamy, fresh on the nose, but not much fruit. Even some salinity. Elegant on the palate, really nice. Creamy, some citrus, and maybe a hint of red berry, close to a whoa. Quite a bit of acid here, suggesting this needs some time to settle down a bit. But Whoa. OK, I said it. Outstanding. 94 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.
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 Domaine Carneros Cuvée de la Pompadour Brut Rosé, California, Carneros: Retail $45. 72% Pinot Noir, 28% Chardonnay. Pale, really pale, with just a hint, a subtle hint, of an orangeish-pink. Flinty. Gunpowder. Rhubarb, creaminess, a splash of yeastiness. Tart, fresh, subtle fruit, really, really nice. While this does not have a ton to offer regarding fruit, it more than makes up for it in every other aspect. Long, deep, layered. This is really stellar. Outstanding. 95 Points.
Champagne. Just the word gets me rather riled up. Of either the region or its wines, I just can’t seem to get enough. Last year, and I hesitate to type this, we consumed 159 bottles of champagne (assuming I kept good records—never a given), so yeah, I kinda dig the stuff.
NV Charles Heidsieck Champagne Blanc de Blancs, France: Retail $95. 100% Chardonnay. I have stated a number of times that I think that a Blanc de Blancs needs at least a decade or more of cellar time for it to achieve its potential. According to the back label, this was bottled in 2013 and disgorged in 2018. While that is certainly on the right track, this is still but a baby for a quality BdB. Don’t misconstrue, this is fantastic but I think it has a long and glorious life ahead of it. A rich, fabulous nose of citrus, golden apple, marzipan, the aroma emitting from a Parisien bakery early in the morning, just as the first batch of croissants emerges from the oven. Yeah, it is that good. The palate initially offers that baked goodness but it is quickly followed by a tart fruitiness characteristic of young BdB. Oh so good, with a finish that lasts for several minutes (I never actually timed it because I did not want to wait that long for another sip). Still, in my opinion, this still needs considerable lay-down time. Wait five years or, better yet, a decade, and this will be right in my wheelhouse. Still, right now? This is a solid Whoa. Outstanding. 93 Points.
NV Bruno Paillard Champagne Brut Premiere Cuvée, France: Retail $65. Disgorged October 2019. 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 22% Pinot Meunier, 20% of which was fermented in barrel. This is my third bottle of Premier Cuvée with a 2019 disgorgement and based on my notes, this just might be the best bottle of the three. While I have never met Bruno Paillard, I have met his daughter and CEO, Alice, on several occasions and she might be the single nicest person I have ever met. While that is a lot, I don’t know how much that has to do with the wine (although I choose to think it means just about everything), which is fantastic. Nutty, yeasty, and loaded with citrus on the nose, brilliant acidity, creaminess, and a walnut aspect on the palate. While I have tried a number of champagnes from Bruno Paillard, it seems as though each wine is better than the previous. Gangbusters. Outstanding. 93 Points.
NV Bruno Paillard Champagne Brut Rosé, France: Retail $70. Predominantly Pinot Noir with a splash of Chardonnay. Disgorged October 2019. Bruno Paillard is one of the youngest houses in Champagne (founded in 1981), but it is also one of the most innovative. In addition to being the first house to post the disgorgement date on every bottle (starting in 1985), BP also uses a solera system for its reserve wines (a constantly changing blend of wines, also dating back to 1985). The house now owns approximately 70% of the vineyards needed for its rather modest 25K (12-bottle) case production, another rarity. Last, a significant portion of each wine has been aged in neutral oak barrels. While this is certainly not “innovative” it is indeed rare in “modern” Champagne as almost all producers today use stainless steel exclusively. This wine has a lovely light copper hue and aromas of red berry fruit (strawberry, ripe cherry, groseille), a touch of citrus, and freshly baked croissant. The palate is elegant and refined with tart red fruit, a delicate sparkle, and a lingering finish. Very dry (under 6g/liter), this wine is a fantastic appéritif but would be even better with food: grilled salmon, even coq au vin. Delicious and Outstanding. 94 Points.
These last two bottles were my top sparkling wine samples of the year, hands down. As I indicated in the notes, I tried the two side by side with the outgoing and incoming CEOs of Domaine Carneros on a Zoom call a few months ago. What a treat.
2012 Domaine Carneros Le Rêve, Carneros, CA: Retail $120. 100% Chardonnay. While there have been several Champagne houses that have found a foothold in the New World, most of them have since changed hands. Not Domaine Carneros, it’s still owned and operated by the Taittinger family, and the wines not only have maintained their excellence, they have, in my opinion, only gotten better. While I have not tasted every vintage of Le Rêve, I have had quite a few, and this 2012 is right up there with those I have tried. Whoa. Golden apple, pear, acacia flower, and a bit of lemon rind on the nose. Yowza. The palate is initially quite tart but softens almost immediately as the sparkle begins to subside. Fruity (citrus, pineapple), yeasty, toasty (but far short of burnt). The finish starts with tart fruit, then evolves into a creamy crème brulée, which lasts for minutes. Whoa. Outstanding. 95 Points.
1992 Domaine Carneros Le Rêve Late Disgorged, Carneros, CA: Retail $175? 85% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Blanc. Whoa. I received this as part of an event to celebrate the retirement of longtime Domaine Carneros winemaker and CEO Eileen Crane and the ascension of her replacement Remi Cohen. This was the recent disgorgement of the first “Le Rêve” which I drank alongside the 2012 Le Rêve (above) on a Zoom call with Eileen and Remi. Golden in the glass with notes of ginger, marzipan, lemon rind, and more than a touch of baked croissant goodness. Whoa. The palate is a tad sherried, caramelized, even musty, but holy cow is it tasty. Whoa. I can safely say that it would take far less than a fistful of fingers to count the number of American sparklers that I would rate higher than this one. Outstanding. 96 Points.