The season for drinking sparkling wine doesn’t just begin on Dec. 31 and end on Jan. 1. In Sonoma County, it begins on Jan. 1, and ends on Dec. 31.
While the enjoyment of champagne and sparkling wines need not be restricted to the most rare and special of occasions, these tantalizing, effervescent elixirs do make any occasion a little more special.
As Champagne heiress Lilly Bollinger famously explained: “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it—unless I’m thirsty.”
Still, the holiday season is all about special occasions, and what better way to lubricate those moments than with the most special of sparkling wines?
So-called “grower champagne” has attracted much attention in France’s Champagne region over the past few decades. Now, with increased availability of traditional, sparkling winemaking techniques, Sonoma County wineries are offering their own one-of-a-kind sparkling wines like never before. Alhtough a few are well known, many of these are only available direct from the winery. Here’s a sampling, in alphabetical order:
If Amista’s bold, bubbly, red Sparkling Syrah is too crazy Aussie-style much for you, try the new Blanc de Blanc from this friendly, Dry Creek Valley winery (see photo at left).
Three sisters make a fun, stylishly labeled Sonoma County Blanc de Noirs, with the help of winemaker Penny Gadd-Coster, at Healdsburg’s Rack & Riddle, a facility that’s helped local winemakers to custom-tailor traditional method sparkling wines from their own grapes.
Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards
After an informative tour of Gloria Ferrer’s caves and sparkling wine facility, order up a glass or flight of sparkling wine by the fire or on the veranda of this Spanish-styled winery.
Harvest Moon Estate & Winery
A Russian River Valley Zinfandel specialist with estate-grown Gewürztraminer, as well, Harvest Moon now has the distinction of being one of the few wineries to make small-production sparkling wine at their own estate, much like the growers in Champagne do. Dry sparkling Gewürztraminer has been a surprise hit for some years: this holiday season, it’s joined by red sparkling Pinot Noir and Zinfandel—both dry sparkling wines produced from red wine, expanding your food pairing options for the holiday dinner table.
Inman Family Wines
Kathleen Inman makes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at this small, tidy winery located at the corner of Piner Road and Olivet Road, just down the street from Russian River Valley notables like DeLoach. For a bit of fun, she makes an “Endless Crush” rosé and brut rosé from the Pinot Noir, and this year, a Blanc de Noir Brut Natural that will be ready in time for Thanksgiving.
Iron Horse Vineyards
Few producers of méthode champenoise sparkling wine come as close to Champagne as Iron Horse, yet the visiting experience here is a laid-back slice of western Sonoma County rusticity. Belly up to the rambling outdoor bar, and take in Green Valley views.
Take advantage of the food and wine pairings at modern-styled J, which also has a great slate of still wines. The Bubble Room experience is sumptuous.
Korbel Champagne Cellars
Set in the redwoods above the Russian River, iconic Korbel is a classic destination in all kinds of weather, for locals and first-time Golden State visitors alike. The winery was founded in 1882, and the original red brick building houses a visitor center with a mini movie theater and museum (see photo at right). The tours start at a historic railroad station, and the charmingly old-fashioned tasting room is festooned for the season.
Patz & Hall
At this winery’s new hospitality center, visitors may be welcomed with a glass of their 2012 Brut Sparkling Wine.
Paul Mathew Vineyards
This Pinot Noir specialist has made their first Brut Rosé with the help of Harvest Moon. It’ll be available in December, at their corner tasting room in the town of Graton, a great stop while exploring West County’s art galleries and tree farms for the holidays.
If the ticker tape has ticked your way in this year’s market, celebrate at Uptick Vineyards with a glass of their Sparkling Brut.
Winemaker Virginia Marie Lambrix collaborates with Sonoma County’s highly regarded sparkling wine house Iron Horse Vineyards to create her VML 2010 Blanc de Noir Sparkling Wine .
Woodenhead’s 2010 Methode Champenoise “Naturale” Russian River Valley Sparkling Wine is crafted from a base wine of humble French Colombard instead of Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, but it’s got the pie crust notes and dry, lemony finish of a grand cru.
There’s no better way to lubricate holiday gatherings than with a welcome glass of bubbly, or pair with seasonal appetizers and dishes and, indeed, to toast the new year.
Here are some suggestions for various occasions:
Sonoma County Brut sparkling wines, which are less sweet than “Extra Dry” — go figure — are not quite as dry as “Extra Brut,” and are generally ideal for a toasting or a greeting wine. Brut rosé wines are a pinker, fruitier take on the same, while Blanc de Blancs sparkling wines up the apple pie notes. Look to the very affordable wines of Gloria Ferrer, the crowd-pleasing wines of J, or the fun new sparklers of Breathless.
Main Course Sparkling
When pairing sparkling wine with holiday meals, we look for wines with extra texture, extra age and extra … oomph. Extra-aged wines provide that texture and power, whether a slightly richer brut, or a dry extra-brut. Some Sonoma County wines, grown in cool regions, approach the levels of acidity needed to age into noble old sparklers like the best of Champagne.
Iron Horse makes such wines, while Gloria Ferrer’s acclaimed Royal Cuvée is a heavier-bodied wine that’s seemingly gained weight and richness while losing overt sweetness with each vintage. And Robert Hunter — if you can find it — is well worth a try.
In Dry Creek Valley, Amista Vineyards makes a bold, bubbly, red sparkling Syrah — imagine the food pairing possibilities. In the Russian River Valley, Inman Family Wines makes “Endless Crush” brut rosé from Pinot Noir. From an old Chenin Blanc vineyard, Woodenhead makes a toasty, dry, and lemony Champagne lookalike. Try Harvest Moon for sparkling Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, or Gewürztraminer, when these limited releases are available — now produced in-house at this small estate.
Here are some great tips on how to properly open a bottle of sparkling wine. Enjoy!
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight.