Hello, and welcome to my periodic dig through the samples pile. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.
The holidays are approaching, and with them comes the inevitable request for sparkling wine recommendations from readers. I tend to let sparkling wine samples accumulate for a little while and taste them in batches, so there’s no time like the present for tasting through a few of them to share with you.
So welcome to the all-sparkling edition of Vinography Unboxed. We’ll start with some domestic sparkling wines from California and Oregon.
Paula Kornell is the daughter of Hanns Kornell, who fled the Nazis during World War II and established the Hanns Kornell Champagne Cellars in Napa in 1958 (back when there weren’t legal agreements preventing the use of Champagne as a descriptor in the New World). Paula was born the year after the winery was established, and grew up in Napa, making a long and successful career for herself in the wine industry, though her family business shuttered in 1992 and her father passed away in 1994. In 2017, Kornell picked the grapes and made wine for the inaugural vintage of her own brand of sparkling wine, which was released late last year and represents a wonderful full-circle tribute to her family’s legacy. Her 2017 Blanc de Noir is wonderfully bright and cherry-inflected, and will likely age quite well.
Brooks Winery, regular readers will know, is a favorite producer of mine in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, especially because they make some of the best Rieslings in Oregon. Unbeknownst to me, a few years ago they started a sparkling Riesling program, and recently released their 2016 vintage of sparkling Riesling (it would be called Sekt in Germany) which spent a remarkable 44 months aging on the yeast lees after its secondary fermentation in the bottle. It is without doubt the best sparkling Riesling I’ve had from the United States (and yes, I’ve had some other examples).
Cuvaison has been making wines in Carneros since 1969, and began producing sparkling wines in the 80s. It’s been some time since I’ve tasted their sparkling wines, so it was a pleasure to try their latest vintage rosé sparkler, which is quite tasty and worth finding if you enjoy pink bubbles.
OK, let’s go farther afield now with a stop in the Prosecco region of Northern Italy. I’ve got two Proseccos to recommend to you from the well-known producer Adami. Their vintage-dated “Asciutto Rive di Cobertaldo Vigneto Giardino” is a great example of what refined, high-quality prosecco can offer in terms of elegance, whereas their “Bosco di Gica” represents a bit more of the typical fruity/floral sweetness you might expect from most Proseccos.
Before leaving Italy, let’s move a little to the west into the hills of Piedmont, for a taste of what blanc de noir tastes like in the Piemontese style. Langhe producer Enrico Serafina has been making sparkling wine since 1858, beginning first with Moscato, but not long after moving on to Pinot Noir. You could say they’ve had some time to perfect the process, and indeed, this bottle of their 2016 shows a confident hand and an admirable devotion to quality.
Spanish sparkling wine has undergone something of a revolution in recent years, as producers have attempted to transcend Cava’s reputation of being cheap and cheerful, with a desire to demonstrate how their local grapes can make something more profound. Producer Pares Balta has done that admirably both with their still and sparkling wines. This older vintage Cava includes some Pinot Noir and Chardonnay along with the traditional Xarel-lo grape, and offers one of the more unique flavor profiles of Cava I’ve ever tasted. It may not be for everyone, with its saline savoriness, but if you’re looking for something distinctive, this biodynamically-produced bottle is worth exploring for sure.
Last but certainly not least, I’ve got the non-vintage Champagnes from Charles Heidsieck for your consideration. Heidsieck is one of Champagne’s famous names, having been founded in 1851 and playing a significant role in introducing Champagne to America in the late 1800s. The house was purchased in 2011 by the Descours family, who have revitalized the brand as part of their growing wine empire. Along the way they’ve started making some excellent wines. Of the three I’m reviewing here, my favorite is their Brut Reserve, which like many top-tier non-vintage wines includes a significant portion of reserve wines from prior years, giving it a nice yeasty, buttery pastry quality that is hard not to love. The rosé is also particularly elegant.
With wines ranging from $18 to $80 below, I’m sure you’ll find something worth drinking, and remember, don’t stop drinking sparkling wine just because the holidays are over.
2017 Paula Kornell “Blanc de Noir” Sparkling Wine, Napa Valley, California
A light to medium gold in the glass with a slight rosy hue and medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of berries and white flowers and a touch of crushed nuts. In the mouth, forest berry and seawater flavors are borne across the palate on a fluffy mousse, leaving berry scents and a SweetTart aftertaste. Quite pretty. Blind, I would have guessed this to be a rosé sparkling wine. Made from 100% Pinot Noir. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2016 Brooks Winery Extended Tirage Sparkling Riesling, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium gold in the glass with medium bubbles, this wine smells of quince paste and exotic citrus peel. In the mouth, a soft mousse delivers flavors of Asian pear, baked apple, a touch of butterscotch, and salty lemon candy. There’s a nice floral note in the finish. Distinctive and fun to drink with enough salinity to keep me going back to the glass for more. Made using traditional champagne methods and then aged in the bottle on the lees for 44 months before being disgorged. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $55. click to buy.
2016 Cuvaison “Small Lot Brut” Sparkling Rosé, Carneros, Napa, California
A light peachy rose color in the glass with coarse to medium bubbles, this wine smells of orange peel and unripe berries. In the mouth, lovely citrusy notes of orange peel and lemon zest mix with green strawberry and alpine strawberry flavors that appear briefly in the midst of the soft mousse and then are replaced by citrus in the finish. Quite pretty. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50.
2018 Adriano Adami “Asciutto Rive di Cobertaldo Vigneto Giardino” Prosecco, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, Veneto, Italy
Palest greenish-gold in the glass with fine bubbles, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, lemongrass, and sweet star fruit. In the mouth, a fine, buoyant mousse delivers flavors of green apple, star fruit, and wet chalkboard. The flavors here are ethereal and delicate, backed by filigreed acidity. Charming. 11% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.
NV Adriano Adami “Bosco di Gica Brut” Prosecco, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, Veneto, Italy
Pale greenish-gold in color with medium-sized bubbles, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, lemon cucumber, and the sweet fragrance of white flowers. In the mouth, crisp star fruit and white floral notes are delivered on a soft, frothy mousse as notes of wet chalkboard give a nice crisp minerality to the wine. There’s an aromatic sweetness that lingers in the finish. Good acidity. 11% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.
2016 Enrico Serafino “Oudeis Brut” Sparkling Wine, Alta Langa, Langhe, Piedmont, Italy
Light yellow-gold in the glass with medium fine bubbles, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, cherries, and white flowers. In the mouth, cherry flavors are bright with acidity and delivered on a velvety mousse. Fresh and bright and quite tasty, with notes of citrus peel lingering in the finish with just the tiniest hint of bitterness. Serafino was one of the first producers in the region to make sparkling wines. Made from 100% Pinot Noir. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $40.
2012 Pares Balta “Blanca Cuisine” Cava, Penedes, Spain
Medium yellow-gold in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of kelp and sea air. In the mouth, it offers a very unusual savory tidepool kind of impression, sea foam, kelp and seaweed, a hint of apple and candied lemon fruit, but mostly a savory concoction that evokes the ocean. The mousse is light, softening with age. Very interesting and distinctive. A blend of 75% Xarel-lo, 15% Pinot Noir, and 10% Chardonnay. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.
NV Charles Heidsieck “Blanc de Blancs” Champagne, France
Light greenish gold in the glass with fine bubbles, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, sea air, and slightly unripe apples. In the mouth, a voluminous mousse delivers saline-tinged flavors of apple, pear, and citrus pith, along with a hint of saltine biscuits. Crisp and bright, with excellent acidity. 25% of the wine’s volume is from older vintages of reserve wines. Aged on the lees in the bottle for 5 years before being disgorged in 2018. Made from 100% Chardonnay. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $80. click to buy.
NV Charles Heidsieck “Brut Reserve” Champagne Blend, Champagne, France
Light gold in the glass with fine bubbles, this wine smells of white flowers and sea air. In the mouth, a wonderfully velvety mousse delivers delicate, even ethereal flavors of white flowers, freshly baked white bread, flaky buttery pastry, apples, and candied redcurrant. Hints of candied orange peel linger in the finish along with the tang of sea air. Quite beautiful with that nice balance between fruit and more bread-like characteristics that come from aged components. Made up of 40% reserve wines from prior vintages, with an average age of 10 years, this blend of Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay aged on the lees in the bottle for 5 years before being disgorged in 2018. 12% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.
NV Charles Heidsieck “Rosé Réserve” Rosé Champagne Blend, Champagne, France
A light ruby-salmon color in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of toasted brioche, orange zest, and raspberries. In the mouth, a velvety mousse carries flavors of raspberry and redcurrant across the palate as orange peel and grapefruit citrus notes that combine with a distinctly saline quality to make the mouth water. Quite tasty. Aged on the lees in the bottle for 4 years before being disgorged in 2017. 12% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $80. click to buy.