Following my list the other day of my Top White Wines, and my Top 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 come 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.
2015 Domaine Carneros Le Rêve, Carneros, CA: Retail $125. 100% Chardonnay. Domaine Carneros’ top cuvée and perhaps the best domestic sparkling wine, Le Rêve is always a wine I can’t wait to taste. Aged for six years on the lees, this slightly straw wine is bursting with yeasty goodness on the nose along with some golden delicious apple and some wet rock. Whoa. I doubt that any other domestic sparkler can top this nose. The palate is quite tart, suggesting the need for a bit more time in the cellar. But the fruit, the balance, the complexity, are all off the charts. I suggest another 3-5 years in the cellar. At least. Whoa. Outstanding. 94 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. 95 Points.
2012 Gloria Ferrer Carneros Cuvée, Carneros, CA: Retail $88. 54% Pinot Noir, 46% Chardonnay. Straw to yellow in color with apple and pear coming through as well as a decided mineral note on the nose. The palate is driven by the acidity, with good fruit and the slightest touch of sweetness to balance out the considerable tartness. Whoa. Really fantastic. Outstanding. 94 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 and is frankly, Outstanding. Whoa. Outstanding. 96 Points.
2017 King Estate Brut Cuvée, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $40. 83% Pinot Noir and 17% Chardonnay. I really liked this a year ago for the Fourth Annual World’s Largest Blind Tasting of American Sparkling Wine, but I might like it even more now. Straw hue in the glass with plenty of yellow and green apple. But the star of the show, from the get-go, is the yeasty yumminess. Holy cow and, yes, a whoa. Rich, nutty, and loaded with brioche, this could easily be confused for champagne. Easily. The palate continues the masquerade with tree fruit notes, near bracing acidity, and all of that yeasty loveliness. While I am not sure how the extra year benefitted this wine, I do know that it is off-the-charts good. Outstanding. 94 Points.
NV Bruno Paillard Champagne Brut Premiere Cuvée, France: Retail $50. Disgorged September 2020. 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 22% Pinot Meunier, 20% fermented in oak. I have gone through a fair number of bottles of Bruno Paillard and with each cork popped, I become more enamored with the wines and the brand. That is certainly the case here, once again. Bright, fruity, layered, with lovely yeastiness and tartness. Whoa. Similar notes. Outstanding. 93 Points.
NV Louis Roederer Champagne Collection 242, France: Retail $55. 42% Chardonnay, 36% Pinot Noir, 22% Pinot Meunier. OK, this is more than a bit complicated, particularly for a tasting note, but this is what is replacing the Brut Premier, the Roederer’s flagship wine for so many years. Collection 242. OK. Buckle up. The house was founded in 1776. Add 242 (=2018) that was the year the wine was bottled. Subtract one (=2017). That was the year that represents the base vintage. Got it? Math is hard. Golden in the glass with a fantastic citrus nose loaded with brioche and fresh croissant. Yowza. The palate is classic champagne: rich, tart, and loaded with yeastiness and fruit. And the balance. And the finish. And the math. Outstanding. 93 Points.
NV Santa Margherita Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Brut, Veneto, Italy: Retail $22. 100% Glera. Perhaps better known for its ubiquitous Pinot Grigio, Santa Margherita (named after the founder’s wife), but this Prosecco has actually been produced for longer, dating back to the 1950s. Pale straw in the glass with lemon curd and wet rock on the nose. The palate is rich, even on the verge of “very rich” with a depth of flavor that I frankly rarely find in Prosecco. I really did not want to like this wine for no other reason than I think the Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio is over-rated (and over-priced), but this Prosecco is really fantastic. Outstanding. 93 Points.
NV Sommariva Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut, Veneto, Italy: Retail $20. 100% Glera. A new “batch” of this wine, I assume, and I certainly like this one better than the last sample I tasted nearly two years ago. This iteration seems to be more balanced with several layers of flavors and complexity, so I bumped it up a bit in score. Pale straw with a vibrant sparkle with white peach, acacia blossom, minerality, and a distinct freshness. The palate is tart but also quite fruity, with just a subtle hint of sweetness. Another fantastic example of the quality and value associated with the Prosecco DOCG wines. Kermit Lynch (the importer) is on my short list of people I would love to interview over dinner. Outstanding. 93 Points.
My Sparkling Wine of the Year
The Sparkling Wine of the Year might be a surprise since it is not 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 receiving champagnes from Bruno Paillard for a number of years now, and they are consistently fantastic. The house has steadily moved up the chart of my favorite producers in Champagne to the point that there are very few names above it. While the Première Cuvée (above) is the flagship, this Blanc de Blancs is a little bit harder to find, but certainly worth the effort.
MV Bruno Paillard Champagne Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Extra Brut: Retail $80. 100% Grand ru Chardonnay (Côte des Blancs). Bruno Paillard has long been one of my favorite producers and it has done nothing but climb that rather short list. While I mostly pop the Première Cuvée, this Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs for about twenty bucks more is certainly worth the extra cash. Quite pale in the glass with just a touch of straw, it is loaded with considerable tree fruit (white peach) and plenty of citrus (lime zest and pink grapefruit). Aromas of white flower, a healthy brioche quality, and a touch of nuttiness. The palate is rich and creamy with considerable minerality. It is also on the dry side of champagne (only 5 g/l), which really helps to highlight the fruit and mineral aspects of this gorgeous wine. Outstanding. 94 Points.