We know it's only champagne if it's made in Champagne. But you just might mistake these méthode champenoise sparkling wines from North American wine regions for the real thing.
Frank Family Vineyards may be best known for their red wine blends, but their sparkling wines are exquisite too.The winery was previously home to Kornell Champagne Cellars, where the first méthode champenoise sparkling wine was produced in California. Winemaker Todd Graff joined Frank Family in 2003 after making sparkling wine at Schramsberg. Now, they're grower-producers and the only winery in Napa Valley that still hand riddles each bottle. Graff says he admires the balance and complexity of champagnes from Roederer, Ruinart and Vilmart. Lady Edythe Reserve is the most exclusive of their bubbles, named for the Frank Family matriarch, balancing bright lemon notes with fresh baked biscuits.
Winemaker Kathleen Inman is well-known for subtle Pinot Noir with high acid that pairs well with food, but she also makes a couple of sexy sparkling wines too. Her 2018 Brut Rosé is a rare single vineyard, single vintage sparkling wine from California and it is magnificent. All the pinot noir grapes are coming from the organically farmed Olivet Grange Vineyard, a true expression of terroir in a crisp, bone-dry wine that pairs beautifully with food. Many California producers tend toward higher levels of sweetness. Not Inman. Dosage was just .5g/L with 18 months of aging on the lees. “My goal is always to make all of the Inman wines as naturally as possible without additions,” she says.
Chandon was the first French-owned sparkling wine producer in Napa Valley and and is now one of the most popular American sparkling wine brands. They make more than a dozen different sparkling wines in the méthode traditionnelle, following all the rules of making champagne, but in California. Winemaker Pauline Lhote is from Champagne herself, and after taking over as director of winemaking in 2016, she reduced the sweetness in Chandon's wines, while maintaining a rich, balanced flavor. 'We want to keep the acidity but to have a soft, layered mouthfeel from the aging and malolactic fermentation," Lhote says. Her plummy étoile Rosé is a prime example, perfect to pair with duck, salmon, foie gras or fresh popped popcorn with truffle salt.
MacRostie is one of California's best producers of cool-climate pinot noir and chardonnay, the perfect ingredients for a champagne-method sparkling wine. Winemaker Heidi Bridenhagen launched the Sonoma Coast winery's acclaimed sparkling wine program and the 2017 Sparkling Brut is only her second vintage, showcasing her expertise with Burgundian varietals. Chardonnay from the famed Sangiacomo Vineyard composes 56% of the blend, with the remaining pinot noir from Thale's Estate Vineyard. To help achieve the ideal balance between tannin and acid during blending, three press cuts were made for each lot. The cuvée was just disgorged in September after 30 months of aging en tirage and has notes of candied lemon, honeysuckle and apricot.
Not many wineries in Santa Barbara produce sparkling wine, but Sea Smoke in the Santa Rita Hills AVA proves that it can be done very well with the right microclimate. Their vineyards are situated on hillside bluffs, moderated by marine fog "sea smoke" funneled in from the coast through the Santa Ynez River canyon each day. The cooling influence allows flavors and tannins to develop slowly, while preserving acidity, and the shallow clay soils reduce vine vigor, creating smaller grapes clusters with more concentrated flavors. "Our focus has always been the vineyard," says winemaker Don Schroeder. "It is the heart of everything we do, and it defines our wines." The 2015 ‘Sea Spray’ Sparkling Wine is made with 100% estate-grown pinot noir, with no dosage, to preserve the finesse and delicate complexity of the wine.
A number of Long Island producers make sparkling wine but Sparkling Pointe is the only winery dedicated to sparkling wine production and the largest producer. Their brut seduction prestige cuvée is a stunner, with eight years of aging before disgorgement. The fine mousse, rich golden color and notes of toasted brioche and marzipan mirror the hallmark aromas of great champagne. In normal times, guided tastings are offered daily, along with food pairings, like caviar and New York farmstead cheeses. Sparkling Pointe is self-distributed, so the best way to order their wines is directly from their website or tasting room.
Caraccioli is the only wine producer in Monterey County specializing in sparkling wine and most goes directly to wine club members although lucky guests might be able to buy a bottle at their tasting room in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea. All grapes are hand harvested into small totes, inhibiting any premature crushing, and extremely light whole cluster pressing reveals yeasty green apple and intense minerality rounded out by buttery, nutty aromas. Their brut cuvée 2014 is bright and lively, with joyful notes of lemon zest and Jordan almonds. However, if you can get yours hands on it, the cuvée nature is my personal favorite and their smallest bottling. “No sugar is added back at dosage,” says VP Scott Caraccioli. “So this is a pure, naked expression of vintage and place.”
Sparkling wine production is on the rise in Virginia, but this French-owned winery is the only one in the state specializing in traditional champagne method sparkling wine. The vast majority of Thibaut-Janisson is consumed in Virginia, but you can also find it in a few other states in the South and Mid-Atlantic. Both Claude Thibaut and Manuel Janisson are from grand cru villages in Champagne and source their grapes from the Monticello AVA. Their Xtra Brut is made using the first pressing of the grapes, or tête de cuvée. It's drier and more complex than the Blanc de Chardonnay, with oaky, nutty flavors.