Sunday, February 23, 2014

Last Chance Bubbly

A concise guide to making that last-minute purchase for the New Year's celebration

by Bruce Sanderson

If you haven't yet bought a special bottle or two of Champagne or sparkling wine to toast the new millennium, relax, because it's not too late. With the exception of a few top-of-the-line tête de cuvée Champagnes, the choices abound, from light inexpensive versions to luxury cuvées. While Champagne from France remains the benchmark in refinement and prestige, there are many alternatives to choose from.


Since our Millennium Guide (Oct. 15), Wine Spectator editors have tasted more than 120 Champagnes and sparkling wines from around the world. The choices include Spanish cava and sparkling wines from California, Washington, Oregon, Italy and Australia. Besides Champagne, France also offers interesting sparklers from Alsace, Burgundy and the Loire Valley.


To help in making your choice, I've highlighted some of the best wines according to three price levels in the accompanying charts: under $20, $20 to $30 and over $30. In addition, all of the wines scored at least 85 points on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale, with 16 overall scoring an outstanding 90 points or higher.


If you like ripe-tasting and fruity sparklers, then the wines from California, Washington, Oregon and Australia may be your best bet. Both Pacific Echo Brut Mendocino County NV (90, $21) and Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley NV (90, $19) fit the generous profile at enticing prices. Argyle Blanc de Blancs Willamette Valley Knudsen Vineyard Julia Lee's Block 1995 (91, $30) from Oregon and Green Point Brut Rosé South Australia 1995 (89, $29) from Down Under display a more elegant side. The best value comes from Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Blanc Columbia Valley NV (89, $11).


Remember when the selection of Spanish cava consisted almost solely of bargain bottlings from Codorniu and Freixenet? Now, more than a dozen cavas are available from various producers, including vintage-dated and prestige cuvées with prices to match. For example, the focused Huguet Brut Nature Cava Gran Reserva 1995 (87, $18) approaches the texture of Champagne, and Paul Cheneau Brut Cava Grande Réserve 1994 (86, $20) shows mature notes on a full-bodied frame.


Like Champagne, cava undergoes its secondary fermentation in the bottle. Italy also offers a nice méthode Champenoise brut: the Gancia Brut NV (86, $11).


In France, most regions outside Champagne make sparkling wine in the traditional method. Known as crémant, their grape varieties vary according to what's planted in each region. For example in Alsace, Pinot Blanc, Gris and Noir, as well as Riesling and Chardonnay are permitted; in Burgundy, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Blanc and Gris and Gamay can be used. Expect light body and crisp textures, with a range of citrus and apple flavors. Pierre Sparr Brut Crémant d'Alsace Dynastie 1995 (87, $18) and Michel Frères Brut Rosé Crémant de Bourgogne 1997 (86, $16) represent the respective styles well.


That leaves Champagne. It is the prototype to which most other sparkling wines aspire, and it comes in a variety of styles, including vintage and non-vintage, blanc de blancs and rosé and varying levels of sweetness. Try any of the non-vintage blends from one of the well-known houses, like Bollinger Brut Champagne Special Cuvée NV (90, $30), a model of consistency, or, for the character of a great year, Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne 1990 (92, $50).


Alternatively, look for one of the small growers (propriètaire-récoltant) crafting individual wines, like the toasty J. Lassalle Brut Champagne NV (90, $26).


Please refer to the Buying Guides of the Oct. 15 through Dec. 15 issues for a complete listing of the wines tasted, or visit our Web site at No matter what you choose, raise a glass in a toast to health and happiness.


Bruce Sanderson, senior editor and tasting director, wrote the analysis for this report. He has been with Wine Spectator for six years, tasting wines professionally for nine.


Selected Champagnes and Sparkling Wines Under $20




ROEDERER ESTATE Brut Anderson Valley NV / 90 / $19

Rich and toasty aromas up front; focused and complex lemon, grapefruit, herb, green apple and pear flavors follow up. Bright and clean on the finish. (9/15/99)


DOMAINE STE. MICHELLE Blanc de Blanc Columbia Valley NV / 89 / $11Distinctively spicy, this Washington bubbly delivers pear, black pepper and yeast notes that persist on the creamy finish. (9/15/99)


MUMM CUVÉE NAPA Brut Napa Valley Prestige NV / 88 / $15

Bright and tangy, with a core of lemon and lime flavors that fan out on the palate to yield a toasty, fresh finish with hints of apple and pear. (10/15/99)


DOMAINE CHANDON Blanc de Noirs Carneros 396 NV / 87 / $15

Firm and focused, with a crisp core of apple, citrus, pear and herb flavors. The finish is bright and long. (10/15/99)


DOMAINE STE. MICHELLE Brut Columbia Valley Cuvée NV / 87 / $11

A stylish wine, gentle and spicy, offering pretty peach and earth flavors on a well-balanced frame. (9/15/99)


HUGUET Brut Nature Cava Gran Reserva 1995 / 87 / $18

A nicely focused cava, on the dry side, with a good backbone of acidity and appealing flavors of spice and apple with a touch of citrus. Finishes with minerally, creamy notes. (12/15/99)


PIERRE SPARR Brut Crémant d'Alsace Dynastie 1995 / 87 / $18

A delicious crémant, subtle in style, showing bread dough, apple and honey aromas and flavors, a smooth texture and fresh acidity. A lemony note refreshes on the finish. (9/15/99)


DOMAINE STE. MICHELLE Extra Dry Columbia Valley NV / 86 / $11

Lightly sweet, creamy and generous, with ripe melon and berry notes around a soft core of yeasty, earthy flavors. (9/15/99)


CHARLES DE FERE Brut Chardonnay France Tradition NV / 86 / $12

Good enough to be from Champagne, this is an elegant but flavorful bubbly that's fresh and clean in character. (10/15/99)


GANCIA Brut NV / 86 / $11

Apple, lemon and a hint of earth flavors in this light-bodied, focused sparkler from Italy; an intriguing nutty aftertaste. (10/15/99)


KORBEL Natural' Sonoma County 1996 / 86 / $13

Crisp apple and lemon notes form the core of this bright bubbly. It's refreshing and light-textured. (10/15/99)


MICHEL FRERES Brut Rosé Crémant de Bourgogne 1997 / 86 / $16

Light, dry and extremely fruity; drink as an aperitif while it's fresh and lively. (10/15/99)


JAUME SERRA Brut Cava Reserva NV / 86 / $15

Toasty aromas and flavors, and some ripe fruity notes, with a heady spiciness that lingers on the finish. (12/15/99)


CHARLES DE FERE Brut Blanc de Blancs France Réserve NV / 85 / $10Smooth and subtle in style, displaying good richness and nice fruit flavors that linger on the finish. (10/15/99)


INDIGO HILLS Blanc de Blancs North Coast NV / 85 / $12

Bright, refreshing blend of lemon, toast and green apple flavors. Not particularly complex but enjoyable. (10/15/99)



Selected Champagnes and Sparkling Wines From $20 to $30




BOLLINGER Brut Champagne Special Cuvée NV / 90 / $30

A mellow gold-amber color and ripe, generous peach, honey and fig flavors indicate this French bubbly is wonderfully mature. Ample and enjoyable, it shows great balance and a long finish. (9/15/99)


ESTERLIN Brut Champagne NV / 90 / $30

Rich and mouthfilling, ripe and satisfying. What's not to like in this forward, fruity but nicely balanced Champagne? (10/15/99)


IRON HORSE Russian Cuvée Sonoma County Green Valley 1994 / 90 / $25

Richly textured; toasty hazelnut, pear, peach, green apple and citrus notes blend elegantly. Firm acidity highlights the wine's substance and complexity. Finishes with power and finesse. (10/15/99)


J. LASSALLE Brut Champagne NV / 90 / $26

Intriguing and richly flavored. Toasty, spicy aromas lead to ripe pear and toasted almond notes that linger on the finish. Luxurious in texture, too. (9/15/99)


LECLERC-BRIANT Extra Brut Champagne NV / 90 / $24

Vibrant, fruity and focused, this has crystal-clear flavors, a nearly dry balance and a clean finish. (10/15/99)


PACIFIC ECHO Brut Mendocino County NV / 90 / $21

Tangy citrus and doughy aromas lead the way, followed by a creamy texture and a broad band of peach, pear, green apple and spice flavors. The finish is fresh, long and generous. (9/15/99)


PIERRE PETERS Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Cuvée de Réserve NV / 90 / $20Generous, expansive and complex. Puts it all together with ripe fruit flavors, toasty, buttery nuances and a velvety texture. (9/15/99)


S. ANDERSON Blanc de Noirs Napa Valley 1995 / 89 / $28

Intriguing nose, with hints of cherry, citrus and herbs. On the palate, the wine serves up tiny bubbles and a core of toasty hazelnut, pear, lemon and apricot flavors. A touch of bitterness at the end. (10/15/99)


CHARLES ELLNER Brut Champagne Carte d'Or NV / 89 / $28

Rich and round, this smooth-textured brut has nicely mature aromas of honey and toasted almonds, backed by peach and citrus flavors. Lingering finish. (9/15/99)


GREEN POINT Brut Rosé South Australia 1995 / 89 / $29

Elegant style shows lovely berry flavors framed by earth and mineral notes, with a floral edge on the long finish. (9/15/99)


J Sonoma County 1995 / 89 / $29

A brightly textured wine with a refreshing blend of citrus, green apple, pear and mineral flavors that linger delicately on the classy finish. (10/15/99)


POL ROGER Brut Champagne NV / 89 / $30

A Champagne of substance. Ripe and generous, with sophisticated toasty aromas and good fruit concentration backed by vibrant acidity and a lingering finish. (10/15/99)


SCHRAMSBERG Blanc de Blancs Napa Valley 1996 / 88 / $28

Bright and refreshing, with a lemony, floral edge. The wine is crisp, still young, finishing clean and long, with hints of vanilla and herbs. (9/15/99)


GLORIA FERRER Brut Carneros Royal Cuvée Vintage Reserve 1991 / 88 / $20Firm and tangy, with lemon and floral overtones. Toasty, doughy notes add interest, with the flavors carried along on tiny bubbles. Quite refreshing. (9/15/99)



Selected Champagnes and Sparkling Wines Over $30




BESSERAT DE BELLEFON Brut Champagne 1990 / 94 / $37

Seamless and seductive, this is inviting, generous and mellow in flavor but lively in texture. Packed with bright fruit, lifted by firm acidity and layered with subtle flavor nuances that last on the finish. (11/15/99)


ROEDERER ESTATE Brut Anderson Valley L'Ermitage 1993 / 93 / $38

Rich toasty aromas; a muscular bubbly with a fine blend of citrus, hazelnut, spice and green apple flavors. Plenty of finesse, crisp and clean finish, with a lingering touch of lemon-lime. (10/15/99)


MUMM CUVÉE NAPA DVX Napa Valley 1995 / 92 / $35

A refreshing style of bubbly, with pretty citrus, apple, hazelnut and pear notes. The structure is focused and firm, showing elegance and depth, offering both bright acidity and creamy texture. Long finish. (10/15/99)


PIPER-HEIDSIECK Brut Champagne 1990 / 92 / $50

Very dry, nicely austere, with plenty of life ahead. Toasty, mineral-like flavors and a bracingly crisp texture infuse this distinctive and elegant Champagne. (10/15/99)


CHARLES HEIDSIECK Brut Champagne Mis en Cave 1995 Réserve NV / 91 / $45It has rich, mature flavors, a velvety-smooth texture supported by lively acidity, and a lingering finish. Tasted twice, with consistent notes. (10/15/99)


MOET & CHANDON Brut Rosé Champagne NV / 91 / $35

Traditional but exciting style of dry rosé, designed for dinner. Has a copper color, toasty aromas, firm texture and subtle fruit and spice flavors that linger on the finish. (10/15/99)


POMMERY Brut Champagne Royal Apanage NV / 91 / $33

Intense, aromatic, full-bodied Champagne, with its assertive doughy and toasty aromas leading into flavors of ripe fruit and spices that linger enticingly on the finish. (9/15/99)


LOUIS ROEDERER Brut Champagne Brut Premier NV / 91 / $42

A memorable, full-bodied brut with assertive, complex flavors and a lingering finish. Aromas of fresh bread and toasted walnut are backed up by crisp, full-bore fruit flavors. (9/15/99)


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