This past week, 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, I had to conduct the tasting solo as I have spent each of the last three weekends attending funerals. Thus, 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 thirteen 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 fourth tasting of American Sparkling Wine and while last year there were 35 corks to pop, this year it ballooned all the way up to 45 wines ranging from $12 up to $125. 14 of the 45 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 I knew what wines were in the tasting, there was no way to identify the order in which I tasted the wines.
Here, in the order that they were tasted, are the 10 of the Brut (i.e., non-rosé) wines. I will publish the remaining 21 tasting notes, along with my list of top wines from the tasting, tomorrow and Friday.
2019 Sokol Blosser Bluebird Cuveé, OR: Retail $32. “A proprietary assemblage of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Müller- Thurgau, Muscat.” 100% Willamette Valley. A particularly vibrant sparkle with aromas of golden delicious apple, macadamia nut, and honey blossom. On the palate, not quite as effervescent as it seemed upon pouring, but fantastic fruit, some minerality, and a touch of verve. Very nice. Very Good. 89 Points.
2020 Dobbes Family Estate “Elements” Oregon Bubbles, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $30. 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir. A pale to medium straw with an above-average effervescence, the nose exudes green apple, cashew, and wet rock. The palate is quite fruity, but also tart–in fact on the verge of “of the charts” tart. Granny Smith apple abounds and the wine is certainly on the dry side (although there is a hint of sweetness just before the finish). Nice. Excellent. 90 Points.
2019 Brooks Terue Sparkling Muscat, Eola – Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $35. “92% Orange Muscat from Muska Vineyard and 8% Early Muscat from Eola Springs Vineyard, both in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA.” Whoa. While I have had quite a few sparkling wines in my life, this one was unique. The muscat is clear on the nose with Meyer lemon, candied peach, orange blossom, an almond-like nuttiness, and a distinct sweetness. The palate is completely dry, but laden with fruit (which comes off as some sweetness) and bursting with tartness. Yeah, whoa. This is an intensely compelling wine with boatloads of flavor and miles of complexity. Yowza. Outstanding. 95 Points.
NV Gruet Winery Brut Blanc de Noirs, New Mexico: Retail $16. 75% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay. I was not surprised when the reveal indicated that this was a Gruet, which has been one of my go-to domestic sparklers for some time. Loads of fruit on the nose with red delicious apple, ripe peach, and some red berry fruit. The palate is wonderfully balanced between that fruitiness, a near-searing tartness, and just a dab of sweetness. Fantastic. Excellent. 90 Points.
NV Stoller Family Estate Brut Sparkling Wine – Estate, Dundee Hills, OR: Retail $40. 79% Pinot Noir, 13% Chardonnay, 8% Pinot Meunier. This is the first bottling of this wine, with only 350 cases produced (which is tiny for most but really small for Stoller). Fairly light in color, but not in aromas with plenty of golden delicious apple, ripe Bosc pear, and even some strawberry and cherry. The defining characteristic of the nose, though, might be the yeastiness which I find is rare outside of Champagne. The palate is quite tart, even on the verge of austere, with plenty of citrus and a hint of apple, but very little of that autolytic quality that the nose seemed to promise. My advice? Put this away for a few years. Excellent. 91 Points.
2017 Brooks Sparkling Riesling, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $55. Golden in the glass with a resistant sparkle upon pouring, the nose gives it away–it’s a Riesling and therefore Brooks. I immediately try to put aside my intense affinity for all wines Brooks to maintain a sense of impartiality. I can’t. I love these guys and their wines. Intense Meyer lemon, quince, golden berry, and that distinct petrol nature that screams “Riesling.” Whoa. The palate is quite tart, but even more expressive with layers of fruit, balancing acidity, and a verve that is frankly lacking in many a domestic sparkler. Whoa. Outstanding. 93 Points.
NV Laetitia Winery Brut Cuvée, Arroyo Grande, CA: Retail $28. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Blanc. Pale straw in the glass with a yeasty goodness mélange of lemon curd, vanilla, and fresh brioche. The nose itself is close to a Whoa. The palate is equally delightful with an initial tanginess that succumbs almost immediately to the fruit and biscuity goodness. I have been a fan of the brand for a while now, but this might be their best effort. Excellent. 92 Points.
NV Roederer Estate Brut, Anderson Valley, CA: Retail $28. 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir. Light straw in the glass with a subtle, mineral-driven nose of peach, Rainier cherry, and vanilla. The palate is quite harmonious with plenty of fruit, tartness, richness, and verve. Yowza, this is really fantastic. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2011 Gloria Ferrer Carneros Cuvée, Carneros, CA: Retail $82. 55% Pinot Noir, 45% Chardonnay. 8 years on lees. Whoa. Light to golden straw in the glass with a near-magical nose of tart satin, dried apricot, crushed rock, and vanilla. Holy smokes. The palate is quite tense and closed, but it is clear that there is plenty of power here. Yowza. As it warmed slightly, the complexity increased exponentially with layers of depth and increased yeastiness. Whoa. Yeah, this wine could compete with the best from France or anywhere, for that matter. Outstanding. 96 Points.
NV Gruet Winery Blanc de Blancs, New Mexico: Retail $17. 100% Chardonnay. Quite light in the glass, barely qualifying as “straw” with bright notes of lemon, yeast, and tree fruit (peach, pear). The palate is delightful with an active sparkle, plenty of fruit, and a surprising level of yeastiness. Yum. Excellent. 91 Points.