Valentine’s Day is probably the most “Hallmark” of holidays, but even if you are not a believer, having a bottle of sparkling wine on hand is not a bad idea. You don’t have to go all out and buy French Champagne, but make sure you find something you will enjoy.
Heeding a few tips will make your experience better. First, don’t buy wine just because it has a pretty package. I don’t have scientific proof, but frou-frou often means mediocrity.
Like roses, Champagne and sparkling wine prices sometimes go up on Valentine’s Day. When it comes to bubbly, Champagne may be king, but if you are on a budget, there are sparkling wines made right here in the U.S. of A that stylistically are closer to the real thing than, say cava, prosecco and others.
Most premium domestic bubbly is made from the main Champagne grapes: pinot noir and chardonnay. Also, the better wines are made using methode traditionelle (aka champenois) for the secondary fermentation. Champagne’s unique terroir can’t be replicated elsewhere — that is what makes Champagne, Champagne — but a lot of the production techniques are similar. Champagne houses that have set up shop in the U.S. often try to mimic the motherland’s style. For instance, Roederer Estate in the Anderson Valley makes a full-bodied, moderately yeasty nonvintage brut that is similar in character to Roederer Brut Premier.
Roederer does a very good job, as does Gloria Ferrer, which is owned by Freixenet, a cava producer.
Of course, Schramsberg and Iron Horse are legends. Schramsberg makes Mirabelle, which sells for about $22. But what separates it from the pack, which also is true of Iron Horse, are the higher-end cuvees — especially the 2009 vintages of the Brut Rosé ($42), Blanc de Blancs ($37) and Blanc de Noirs ($39). The same is true of Iron Horse. Its 2008 Classic Vintage Brut ($38) and 2006 Brut Rose ($40) can go head-to-head with many commercial
However, if you don’t want to go broke but still want to share a good bottle of bubbles with your snookums, here are three to check out:
Gloria Ferrer Va de Vi, Ultra Cuvée, NV (Sonoma Country): Va de Vi is midpriced in the Gloria Ferrer portfolio. With apple, pear and Meyer lemon fruit, a fine mousse and a little sweetness on the finish, it is delicate on the palate yet has a lot of nuance that sets it apart from some of the winery’s less expensive cuvees. Suggested retail: $20
Vinum Cellars Sparkling Chenin Blanc, NV: A bit of a departure here, as this wine is made entirely from Clarksburg chenin blanc and tank-fermented. Before fermentation, it is aged on its lees for three years, adding character and a little richness. With a lively but not explosive mouthfeel, passion fruit, mango and a long, almondlike finish, this anomaly stands apart from other California sparkling wines in a very good way. Suggested retail: $20
Gruet Brut, NV (New Mexico): The Gruet family discovered New Mexico’s potential while on a family vacation in 1983. Four years later, they released their first wine. It has steadily improved over the years and, for the money, it is difficult to beat in the domestic wine world. With an array of honey, vanilla and almonds, a rich mouth feel and good finish, this is not only good for its price, but also could easily knock out more expensive sparkling wines. Suggested retail: $15
These wines can be found through Andronico’s, Bi-Rite, Bottle Barn, Draeger’s, The Jug Shop, K&L Wine Merchant, Mill Valley Market, Mollie Stone’s, Paradise Foods, Piedmont Grocery, Rainbow Grocery, S. Wine Trading Co., Whole Foods, The Wine Club and Wine Impressions.
Pamela S. Busch is a wine writer and educator who has owned several wine bars in San Francisco, including Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen.