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 is the last of four installments for my Fourth Annual World’s Largest Blind Tasting of American Sparkling Wines, and as the fates would have it, all of the wines in this flight were made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (well, there was one that I could not find the varietal composition, but…).
I find that fitting since I started doing this tasting four years ago with the aim of shining a bit of light on the sparkling wines being made in this country. It wasn’t (and isn’t) meant to be a competition with Champagne, but the method used to make the sparkling wines is the same and in Champagne Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are two of the three main grapes used (the third, Pinot Meunier, is rather rare in the U.S.).
At the end of the notes, I have also listed the top wines (at least as I see them) from the 45 tasted as well as what I consider to be the best values.
NV Gruet Winery Brut, New Mexico: etail $15. 75% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir. Fresh green apple, peach, pear, on the nose with bits of minerality and yeastiness. Yum. The palate is a tad sweet initially, but that is quickly washed away by the rather intense acidity. The palate also exhibits fantastic fruit, a vibrant bubble, and a lengthy finish. All the elements are here, Yum (again). Excellent. 90 Points.
NV Scharffenberger Brut Excellence, Mendocino County, CA: Retail $23. 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir. Close to a golden straw in the glass with plenty of pear fruit and an intense yeastiness on the nose. The palate is fruity and a touch (maybe more) sweet. Sure, there is fruit (citrus and pear) and a vibrant sparkle, but the high dosage pushes me a bit in the wrong direction. Still? This is a fantastic sparkler. Very Good. 89 Points.
2017 King Estate Brut Cuvée, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $40. 83% Pinot Noir and 17% Chardonnay. Quite light in the glass, barely a light straw with a delicious nose of yeasty goodness, ripe pear, and green apple. Yum. A lovely sparkle with really good fruit, that yeastiness, and just a touch of sweetness (I would prefer a lighter dosage, actually). This is really close to a whoa, and particularly fantastic. Excellent. 92 Points.
2018 Hyland Estates Brut, McMinnville, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $58. 68% Pinot Noir, 38% Chardonnay. Light straw color with a tart yet yeasty nose with tree fruit and some minerality. The palate is, well, quite harmonious with plenty of tree fruit, that yeastiness, an active sparkle, and plenty of tartness to hold it all together. Another wine that surprised me and came really close to a Whoa. Really close. Excellent. 92 Points.
NV Gruet Winery Demi-Sec “Sweet Jolie”, New Mexico: Retail $15. Varietal composition? “Sweet Jolie.” No idea and nothing offered on the inter webs. Pale straw in the glass with a tart nose of citrus and tree fruit with a dash of yeastiness. A bit sweet on the palate, but nowhere near unctuous, with great fruit and plenty of verve. Very nice. (Once I learned that this was a demi-sec, I was shocked as this is far from “sweet.”) Very Good. 88 Points.
NV Scharffenberger Crémant, Mendocino County, CA: Retail $25. 50% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir. Brilliant straw in the glass with a freshly baked pear tart thingamajig (along with an intense crushed rock) on the nose. Mmmm. The palate is initially on the sweet side (which is not inherently bad), with great fruit, ample acidity, and that freshly baked croissant aspect. Ultimately, through the finish, the sweetness rules the roost here and the acidity never quite takes control (which I am longing for in a sparkling wine). Very Good. 88 Points.
2017 Flaunt Wine Company, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $48. 58% Pinot Noir, 42% Chardonnay. Brilliant straw in the glass with a gorgeous nose, a quintessential sparkling wine nose of baked pear, almond, freshly baked brioche, holy cow. The palate is, well, even better. Yowza. Rich, yeasty, fruity, with plenty of acidity, this wine really shines in this flight and is frankly, Outstanding. Whoa. Yeah, this is Outstanding. Outstanding. 94 Points.
NV Gloria Ferrer Brut Sonoma County, CA: Retai $20. 85% Pinot Noir, 15% Chardonnay. Quite light in color, barely a pale straw in the glass with aromas of golden delicious apple, baked pear, and a hint of crushed rock. Nice. The vibrant sparkle is at the forefront of the palate, followed immediately by a wave of fruit and yeasty goodness. It comes off as a tad sweet, but clearly in the Brut category, this certainly falls into the “crowd pleaser” realm but only in the best sense of the term. Excellent. 90 Points.
2014 Domaine Carneros Le Rêve, Carneros, CA: Retail $120. 100% Chardonnay. Pale yet brilliant straw in the glass with an amazing nose, really. Freshly baked pear tart, macadamia nut, crushed rock, holy cow. This wine is so lovely on the nose that I hesitate to even take a sip as I fear it could only go downhill from this heavenly aroma. Nope. Yowza, whoa, holy cow, and WTF? This is simply gangbusters with intense fruit, a gripping but also balancing acidity, and a French bakery incredibleness that few domestic sparklers could match. Whoa. Above all of that, impossibly? The finish lasts for days, maybe weeks. Extraordinary. 97 Points.
NV Scharffenberger Brut Excellence Black Label, Mendocino County, CA: Retail $30. 63% Chardonnay, 37% Pinot Noir. A lower dosage than the “traditional” Brut Excellence. Pale to light straw in the glass with a sweet nose of ripe golden delicious apple, mandarin orange, and a fresh-baked bakery aspect that is compelling. A fervent sparkle leads to a gorgeous palate, really remarkable. Sure, there is fruit (that pear, baked apple), but the balance is remarkable–between the fruit, the tartness, the autolytic goodness, and the lengthy finish? What to choose as a standout? Well, when none does? A fantastic wine. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2015 Roederer Estate L’Ermitage Brut, Anderson Valley, CA: Retail $68. “52% Chardonnay, 48% Pinot Noir – 4.9% aged reserve wine from 2014, 2012 and 2010.” Oh my goodness. There are maybe a couple of times a year that I come across a wine that I would rather sniff (for hours) than actually taste. This is one of those. Yeasty, fruity, mineral, Whoa-worthy. It is difficult to describe this wine in the glass. But for your sake, I will sacrifice and taste. Fruit, initially, followed by a hint (just a hint) of sweetness, then a wave of tartness, followed by minerality, and, well, deliciousness. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Outstanding. 95 Points.
- 2014 Domaine Carneros Le Rêve ($120, 97 pts.)
- 2011 Gloria Ferrer Carneros Cuvée ($85, 96 pts.)
- 2016 Domaine Carneros Brut ($36, 96 pts.)
- 2019 Brooks Terue ($36, 95 pts.)
- 2015 Roederer Estate L’Ermitage Brut ($68, 95 pts.)
- 2016 Roco RMS Brut ($60, 95 pts.)
- 2016 Brooks Sparkling Riesling ($65, 94 pts.)
- 2017 Flaunt Wine Company ($48, 94 pts.)
- 2017 Stoller Pinot Noir Legacy LaRue’s Brut Rose ($65, 94 pts.)
- NV Scharffenberger Brut Excellence Black Label ($30, 94 pts.)
- NV Gruet Winery Brut ($15, 90 pts.)
- 2018 Korbel Natural ($16, 91 pts.)
- NV Korbel Blanc de Noirs ($13, 90 pts.)
- NV Gruet Winery Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs Sauvage ($20, 90 pts.)
- NV Gruet Winery Blanc de Blancs ($17, 91 pts.)
- NV Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley ($28, 93 pts.)
- NV Laetitia Winery Brut Cuvée ($28, 92 pts.)
- NV Gruet Winery Brut Blanc de Noirs ($16, 90 pts.)
- NV Gruet Winery Rose Sauvage ($20, 92 pts.)
- NV Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs Rosé ($25, 92 pts.)