As we promised, we debunk the best sparkling wine brands of the U.S.A. in this article. What is the difference between American sparkling wines and European Champagnes? Primarily the price. And the name of course, no one is allowed to use the name „Champagne” apart from Champagne.
Their quality is more similar. California sparkling wines correspond to a beseeching midway point of both price and complexity between elegant Champagne and easy-going Prosecco.
In fact many US sparkling wineries were founded by famous fellows from Champagne after the industry started to rise, even though the marketing does not seem to reach the level of the prestigious European region (the wine indusrty of California declined during the years of Prohibition, until the huge recovery of production came in the 1970s, but these were mostly jug wines).
The labels and names do not seem to show a huge diversity and excitement. According to Eileen Crane (CEO and founding winemaker at Domaine Carneros) it takes a lot of money to promote a brand in the US, since operations are much smaller as their analogues in Champagne.
For example Domaine Chandon is one 10th the size of Moët & Chandon. Taittinger, Roederer, and Mumm also have outposts there, but they have to adapt to californian conditions -which are totally different from Europe’s- instead of applying the well-tried methods in their homeland. American sparkling wines are more structured and consistent, while the Europeans have more individuality and personality.
Sparkling wines produced in the United States can be made in both the méthode champenoise and the charmat method. A premium Champagne may be aged for 7 years or even more prior to it’s release, but there are no minimum prerequisites in the US, the length of the aging may vary from 8 months to 6 years.
US laws are even less rigid in sugar levels and the sweetness of wine, though most producers are likely to follow the European trends with less than 1,5 % sugar compared to Doux containing more than 5 %. The agreeable Californian climate allows a vintage wine to be bottled almost every year.
6. Knudsen Vineyard
Cal and Julia Lee bought an area of 200 acre in the Dundee Hills (which is one of the sub-appellations in Willamette Valley alongside Eola-Amity, McMinnville, Chehalem Mountains, Ribbon Ridge and Yamhill-Carlton District) with great soils and slopes to make world-class sparkling wines.
The whole family got involved in the business. By 1972 the size of their vineyard became the biggest in the region which is famous about it’s amazingly fruity Pinot Noir. In 1987 they entered into a long-term grape supply agreement with Argyle Winery, which won more awards for it’s wines than any other winery in the region (due to the outstanding quality of Knudsen’s grapes).
Cal Knudsen passed in 2009, but the legacy continues. Both the still and sparkling wines can be characterized with ripe fruit flavors, spices and earthy tones. The Winery tends to produce elegant, complex and drinkable wines, which is not an easy task, beacuse complexity and drinkabilty does not always go hand in hand, moreover these two qualities are hard to harmonize.
Their Pinot Noir has a medium body with energetic red fruit and tenuous stony aromas. The wine faithfully represents the variety’s playful elegance and vibrant attitude. Knudsen Chardonnay shows a beautifully light yellow color and possesses vanilla, apple and citrus aromas. Some say this wine is quite similar to the great Chablis in characteristics.
5. Iron Horse
Iron Horse is renowned for it’s sparkling wines in California. The estate was founded by Audrey and Barry Sterling, who bought the property in 1976 after discovering it in a rainstorm. This meant the beginning of a beautiful dream.
They met at Stanford University, and they are involved in Democratic politics. They also founded Los Angeles Music Center and the Los Angeles Art Museum in 1963. They idea of making wine came when they moved to France, which was very inspiring for them.
They were enthralled by the beauty of the Chateaus. The sparkling wines are famous about being served many times in the White House. The property is in the middle of Green Valley (close to the Pacific), which is the coolest appelation in Sonoma County. The soil-type is called „Goldridge”, which is very balanced with a perfect drainage, thus suitable for Pinot Noir.
The winery practices „precision viticulture”, and the vineyard consist of 39 blocks which are cultivated separately, all works are done ona a block-by-block basis. Their pinot noir based sparkling wines have a pink hue and are easy to drink and delicious, while the Chardonnays are bright, bold and dry.
4. Domaine Carneros
The estate was founded by Claude Taittinger in 1987 when he choosed a 138-acre parcel in the middle of Napa Valley (in the 1980s many producers from Champagne -as Domaine Carneros, Domaine Chandon, Mumm, Gloria Ferrer) saw a good opportunity for investment in the region.
He did a wise decision when he asked Eileen Crane to supervise the development of the vineyards in Carneros. In this region the soil is thin and shallow clay, with a poor drainage and fertility.
The Domaine Carneros Chateau is an elegant landmark of California, inspired by the 18th century Chateau de la Marquetterie in Champagne. Their passion for sparkling and still wine grows and grows with time. Los Carneros is a viticultural area in San Pablo Bay, including parts of both Sonoma and Napa.
It’s cool climate make it ideal for the growing of varieties like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Many of the grapes are used for the production of sparkling wine. Sparkling wine is the most important product of the estate, with a wide range from Brut cuvée to the luxurious Le Reve Blancs de Blancs.
3. J. Schram
Create wines effortlessly, and do not care. The philosophy of Schram could be expressed with this sentence. They think that the best way to express individuality is allowing nature to do his job. The ripening process does the nurturing of the grapes, before they are hand-picked.
Schramsberg Vineyards is located in the Napa Valley region, and the brand is considered to be in the premium category. According to the experts the sparkling wines of the estate even match the quality of the best French Champagnes.
The fermentation in oak barrels and stainless steel tanks ensures the complexity and the richness of the wines. Malolactic fermentation is also applied at some of the wines, which are aged for over 5 years in caves. These caves maintain a consistent cool temperature which provides good conditions for the development of flavors.
They were dug by Chinese laborers into the rock of the hillside. These beverages were blended from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes harvested from North Coast located in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Marin counties. They are suitable to drink as an aperitif or just enjoy it with shellfish, salmon or seafoods.
2. Roederer Estate
Founded in 1982 by Jean-Claude Rouzaud -then president of Champagne Louis Roederer- Roederer Estate focus on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varieties to produce top category sparkling wines in the cool and foggy Anderson Valley, which is located 125 miles north of San Francisco and has a well-drained soil, perfectly suitable for the winery’s style.
This style is about body and finesse. The region is famous about it’s Pinot Noir and sparkling wine, so Roederer did not choose unwisely. The estate grows two varieties on it’s top vineyards: Pinot noir and Chardonnay, which are carefully selected: only the 70 percent of the total cuvée pressed is used.
This proximity of the ocean makes a gentle cycle of warm days and cool nights, which is good for the grape, because this way it can mature slower and develop it’s full character. They only use estate-grown fruit, which is quite rare and unique in the region. The valley has frequently long Indian summers, which is authentically depicted by „The Doors” in their song „Indian summer”.
The size of the winery is 580 acre. The speciality of the estate is the addition of oak-aged wines to the cuvées and blends of the year. Four sparkling wines are produced: the multi-vintage Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut, debuted in 1988, the Brut Rosé and Roederer Estate’s vintage têtes de cuvée, L’Ermitage and L’Ermitage Rosé.
1. Soter vineyard
Soter Vineyard is based at Mineral Springs Ranch in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA of Willamette Valley. The estate puts a big emphasis on sustainable growing, thus ensuring a high quality but friendly wine. The environmentally conscious approach lets the biodiversity reign in the area, which allows the healthful existence of natural predators and microorganisms.
Keep in balance with nature, that is the philosophy of the estate. The vineyard consists of thirty acres of Pinot Noir and two acres of Chardonnay, which varieties are satiated with an epoch-marking exoticism and purity. The Pinot Noir may be characterized with the notes of black fruits, pepper and rose and a nice acid balance, while the Chardonnay is aromatic with notes of citrus and mineral.
Feel free to taste these wonderful beverages! US sparking wines are not as popular as their relatives from Champagne, but this does not mean that they are not delicious. Anyway they are surely more affordable. So, enjoy the exciting bubbles of the New World with ease!