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Make the Holidays Sparkle, Fizz and Pop with Sonoma County Bubbly

Gloria Ferrer

The holidays season may end with a bang — a popped cork and a sloppy toast at midnight — but they ought to begin with one, too.

Every holiday event is best begun with sparkling wine. Thanks to Sonoma County’s cool, maritime-influenced climate, conditions here are perfect for growing the traditional Champagne grapes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, while innovative growers are pushing boundaries with creative “farmers’ fizzes” from Gewürztraminer to Zinfandel. Today, there’s a lot of exciting Sonoma County sparkling wine on our tables.

Crowd-pleasing wines for the welcome table

Whether it’s the holiday office party or an intimate dinner, nothing helps your guests reset their clocks to party time better than a flute of sparkling. Lively and flavorful, not too dry, not too sweet, Sonoma County Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs wines are made for this role.

The “no kidding” choice is Gloria Ferrer 2007 Carneros Blanc de Blancs ($32), typically enticing the nose with hints of butter cookies and lemon chiffon. Gloria’s NV Blanc de Noirs ($22) is also a good bet, but don’t think of Korbel’s NV Blanc de Noirs ($10.99) as merely the budget option — it’s a proven good quaff, and a great friend to crab cakes.

Sparkling reds for the dinner table

You may not think of pairing sparkling wine with turkey or ham, until you try red sparkling wine. Pinot Noir, gently pressed so that little if any color is extracted, is a major component in many sparkling wines, of course, but when it’s made as a medium-dry (1 percent residual sugar), truly red sparkling wine, the flavor is as mind-bending as it is delicious. Korbel’s Sonoma County “Rouge” ($13.99) even has a dash of Cabernet Sauvignon, while Amista Vineyards’ estate-grown Sparkling Syrah ($NA) is a lovely, cherry and plum licorice flavored, ever-so-slightly smoky treat — when you can get it.

But look around — when a unique find from a small winery like Harvest Moon’s  2010 Russian River Valley Sparkling Pinot Noir ($48) turns up, it’s a pleasant surprise.

Splurge on the finest, if you are able

Like vintage-dated champagne, late-disgorged and library Sonoma County sparkling wines reveal entirely new layers of nuanced aromas and palate sensations, held firm by a core of acidity. Gloria Ferrer’s 2001 Carneros Cuvée ($60) is bottled in a delightfully curvaceous flask; J’s 2007 Vintage Brut ($48) may not be the oldest on offer — check with the winery, which, by the way, offers scrumptious (speaking from experience, here) food and wine pairings in the “Bubble Room.”

If you see a bottle of the all-too-elusive sleeper, late-disgorged Robert Hunter Brut ($NA), don’t be a fool — grab it, buy it. If you’re aiming to impress die-hard, Francophile Champagne drinkers, consider Iron Horse Vineyards 2004 Brut LD ($89). Iron Horse’s more serious products don’t always appeal to the casual palate, but they’re aiming at Champagne, for sure.

Lastly, if not much more than $20 is your kind of splurge, Korbel’s got you covered: Their top of the line, Le Premier Brut ($24.99) is based on the 2008 vintage, from grapes grown right here in the Russian River Valley.

Speaking of Korbel, their free winery tour is a winter’s day favorite for visitors and locals alike. Or check out Gloria Ferrer’s wine caves and wine-crazy robot; Iron Horse’s walk-up bar is a rustic fav’ with a luxury view to match the wines.

Find more info about wineries & wine, things to do, restaurants, and hotels & lodging in Sonoma County.

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