The Fourth Annual World’s Largest Blind Tasting of American Sparkling Wine (Part Three)

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.

Feeling Brut-ish.

Why do I limit my tasting to just American sparkling wine? Good question. As any casual reader of this space knows, I am a bit of a champagne hound. I dare to mention how many bottles from what I consider the world’s greatest wine region actually reside in this house currently. But. There is no doubt that American sparkling wine has made great strides and while I hesitate to assert that Yankee bubbles have “caught up” to their French counterparts, I do maintain that the top-end American sparklers give Champagne a run for the money.

Here are the second group of ten sparklers that I tasted this past week. I will publish the remaining eleven notes tomorrow as well as my overall top wines as well as what I consider to be the “best value” wines from the tasting.

The reveal is always fun and often surprising.

NV Gruet Winery Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs Sauvage, New Mexico: Retail $20. 100% Chardonnay. Quite pale in the glass with a decided yeastiness to the nose, with ripe pear and acacia flower predominant. A fine, intense sparkle leads to an initially fruity palate with an immediately intense minerality. All this is coupled with a fervent acidity that strives to keep all the other elements in check. Nice. Excellent. 90 Points.

2019 Korbel Brut California Champagne, CA: Retail $16. French Colombard, Sangiovese, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir. Korbel claims this is the first American sparkler to be made with organically grown grapes–who am I to argue? The nose comes off as yeasty, fruity, and quite sweet (candied tree fruit). The palate comes off as only a touch sweet, but really just a smidge, with the fruit really the story. Creamy, fruity, good acidity, yeah, this is pretty darned good. Very Good. 89 Points.

2016 Gloria Ferrer Extra Brut, Carneros, CA: Retail $56. 67% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay. Quite pale in the glass, with just a hint of straw; quite fruity, with green apple, ripe pear, dried apricot, and just a hint of yeast. The palate is accentuated by an active, fervent sparkle, an incredible tartness, and loads of citrus fruit. Close to a whoa. Really well balanced and screaming for food, this is particularly compelling. OK, Whoa. Outstanding. 93 Points.

2016 Domaine Carneros Brut, Carneros, CA: Retail $36. 53% Chardonnay, 47% Pinot Noir. Pale to light straw in the glass with, quite frankly, an amazing nose–I really had to do a double-take. Bright, fruity, yeasty, just oodles of sparkling wine goodness here. Yowza. Mostly ripe red delicious (or is it Fuji?) apple, a distinct minerality, and a whole bakery’s worth of yeastiness. Whoa. The palate is also “whoa-worthy” with a beautifully balanced wine: fruit (baked apple), tartness, and all that yeastiness. Yeah. Giddy-up. Outstanding. 96 Points.

2016 Brooks Sparkling Riesling, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $55. 100% Riesling. “Extended Tirage 44 Months.” Yeah. I know what this is. The purpose behind a blind tasting is just that–to be “blind” as to what is in the glass. But. When you know there are exactly *two* Rieslings in the lineup and you come across one with that distinct petrol aspect, well…. Holy crap. That nose. Rich, fruity (Meyer lemon, kumquat), mineral, layered. Holy crap. Bright, fruity, but also a bit austere on the palate (OK, I was searching for a negative). My god, this is killer stuff. Outstanding. 94 Points.

NV Korbel Blanc de Noirs, CA: Retail $13. Pinot Noir, Gamay, Zinfandel, Sangiovese. More of a rosé in the glass than a “white” with rich, ripe, sweet, red berry fruit notes in the glass. The palate is also quite fruity (those red berries), but also tart, a bit sweet, and nicely balanced. While short of a Whoa, this is really close to a Yowza; a wonderful wine.  Excellent. 90 Points.

2014 Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvée, Carneros, CA: Retail $58. 67% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay. Based on these blind tastings, Gloria Ferrer is really an under-valued brand in the U.S. as all of these wines have been *killer* (California term). This wine is no exception: pale straw in the glass with wonderfully fruity aromas (golden apple, nectarine, Bing cherry, strawberry). Yowza. The palate is simply brilliant with the requisite amounts of fruit (that red berry), acidity (tartness off the charts), yeastiness (baked bread a-go-go), and sweetness (actually, I would I have preferred a slightly lower dosage here). It all come together in a Whoa-worthy blend of bubbly bodacious-ness. Outstanding. 93 Points.

2018 Korbel Natural, Russian River Valley, CA: Retai $16. 65% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay. Pale to golden straw in the glass with golden delicious apple, hints of honey blossom, and a flinty minerality. The palate is quite tart with plenty of fruit, some yeastiness and a hint of sweetness. Again, this wine has all the requisites: fruit, tartness, yeastiness, and even a bit of verve. Very Nice. Excellent. 91 Points.

NV Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Blancs, Carneros, CA: Retail $25. 100% Chardonnay. Quite light in the glass, with aromas of green apple, ripe peach, and just a touch of baked bread. A delicate sparkle leads to a lovely palate of tree fruit (peach, pear), ample tartness, and just a hint of verve. While this might not be a world-beater, it certainly trumps Tuesday, Wednesday, and maybe even Friday. Nice. Very Good. 89 Points.

2016 Roco RMS Brut, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $65. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir. While neither one of us would describe us as “close” I would like to think that Rollin Soles would consider us “friends.” That said, I do not hesitate to give the native Texan an honest assessment of his wines. And, well, while I would love to pan his Aggie wines (as a good friendly ribbing), Rollin clearly knows what he is doing. A rich, honeyed nose with hints of citrus, apple, and just a touch of smokiness. The palate is tart, fruity, harmonious, yeah, this is the “real deal” with a biscuity goodness to accompany all of that fruit. Bravo Rollin, bravo. Outstanding. 95 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, Colombard, Gamay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sangiovese, Sparkling Wine, Wine, Zinfandel. Bookmark the permalink.

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