My Top Ten Sparkling Wines of the Year–2021

Following my list the other day of my Top White Wines, and my Top Ten Red Wines, here are the top sparkling wines that I tasted this year. In order to be considered, the wine had to be received as a sample, rated well into the “Outstanding” category, and earned a “Whoa” (or at least came really close). No attention was paid to price, region, or whether it had a ridiculously heavy bottle (although those B.A.B. might be excluded in the future).

I tasted well over a thousand wines this year, many of which occur during the three “big” tastings that I conduct at my house. One of those, the World’s Largest Blind Tasting of American Sparkling Wines, occurred just a few weeks ago and contributed several wines to this list.

2020 Bortolomiol Prosecco Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze Dry Cartizze, Italy: Retail $40. 100% Glera. I don’t drink or buy much Prosecco. Yes, I have come around considerably to the most popular Italian sparkling wine, but it still is not my first choice when I am looking to scratch my itch for bubbles. When I *do* pop a Prosecco, it is *rarely* an extra dry, and even rarer still, a Dry (which is a shade sweeter than the Extra Dry). Last, I can probably count on two hands the number of wines I have been fortunate to try that come from Cartizze, easily the top designation in the region. I need to change many elements of that paradigm—I have never had a wine from Cartizze that was anything short of Outstanding. Well, here we go again. Yowza. Like many a Prosecco DOCG, there is not much color here, but there is oodles of fruit and boatloads of deliciousness. Baked golden apple, a peppery aspect (more white than black), and an almost meaty salinity that I did not expect at all. Holy Cow. On the palate, the increased sugar is noticeable, but not in any way off-putting or out of place. Giddy-up. The flavors are aplenty and complex, with several layers of depth. OK, Whoa. As I said, I need more Cartizze in my life and that needs to start post-haste. Outstanding. 94 Points.

2019 Brooks Terue, 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.

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.

2015 Domaine Carneros Le Reve Rosé, Carneros, CA: Retail $140. 55% Estate Pinot Noir, 45% Estate Chardonnay. Like the Cuvée de la Pompadour Rosé, the (ever-so-slight salmon) color from this wine comes from a portion of the Pinot Noir macerating for a few days on the skins (as far as I know, that is particularly rare). While this wine is certainly above my pay-grade, it is incredible. While I feel it might need a bit more time, it is incredibly rich, laden with red berry fruit, perfectly balanced yeasty notes. Whoa. While I double-down on the fact that this wine could use a few years in the cellar, it is gangbusters. I would put this down for at least another 5-10 years. Incredible. Outstanding. 96 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 Bruno Paillard Champagne Brut Premiere Cuvée: Retail $50. Disgorged December 2009. 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 22% Pinot Meunier, 20% fermented in oak. We opened this bottle shortly after draining a bottle that had been disgorged a full decade later (2019 for those mathematically challenged). While many in Champagne will try to convince you that non-vintage Brut (or in this case, multi-vintage) will not improve in the bottle after release. I say “Poppycock.” Wow, what a difference. Toastier and even smokier with a chestnut aspect. Creamier, richer, with a smokiness that was not present in the younger wine. This is gangbusters. Outstanding. 94 Points.

Bruno Paillard with my second attempt at Cacio e Pepe. Whoa.

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 this Aggie wine, 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.

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.

2015 Tongue Dancer Dry Brut Sparkling Rosé, CA: Retail $65. 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay. Yowza. Really light in the glass, reminiscent of a Provençal rosé in fact, with intense red berry fruit, wet rock minerality, and a strong yeasty component–on the verge of too dominant for me, but…the palate. Holy mother of god. Rich red fruit, intense acidity, a freshly-baked-croissant kinda yumminess, and a lip-smacking tartness that I just don’t find in American sparklers. Most U.S. bubbles either lack that acidity, have too much sugar (dosage), or both. I can honestly say that this is the best American sparkling rosé that I have had that isn’t called “Le Rêve” (although I would love to taste the two blind side-by-side). Whoa. Yowza. Whoa. Outstanding Plus. 97 Points.

The 2015 Tongue Dancer Brut Rosé and Taco Tuesday.

My Sparkling Wine of the Year

The Sparkling Wine of the Year should not really be a surprise since it is the highest-rated wine on this list. But that is not the only factor I consider when determining my year-end top wines. I have been trying a lot more Domaine Carneros recently and it would be difficult to prove to me that there is a better domestic producer, top to bottom. And le Rêve, the house’s top wine, is really a dream (sorry, I had to).

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. Outstanding Plus. 97 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 Anderson Valley, Chardonnay, Early Muscat, Glera, Orange Muscat, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Wine. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to My Top Ten Sparkling Wines of the Year–2021

  1. Remi Cohen says:

    Thank you! Can’t wait to drink some Le Reve in person!!!
    Happy New Year!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.