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<strong>Scouting for the tastiest sparklers $36 and up</strong>: Wine writer Peg Melnik had a blind tasting this week of high-end California sparklers. With the holidays upon us, we searched out the most outstanding sparklers to uncork. Our wine-of-the-week winner is the Schramsberg, 2009 North Coast Brut Ros?at $43.

<strong>TOP PICK: Schramsberg</strong>

<strong> Schramsberg, 2009 North Coast Brut Ros?</strong> 12.8 percent alcohol, $43. ****

An irresistible sparkler with a price that makes it a bit more accessible than many high-end sparklers. It's buoyed with crisp acidity and it has a broad reach of flavors. Yeasty, with notes of raspberry, strawberry, a hint of mango and graham cracker. Nice minerality. Bravo. (The winery is rolling its 2010 onto the market, but you should be able to find both.)

<strong>Others impressive sparklers:</strong>

<strong> Le Reve, 2006 Carneros Blanc de Blancs,</strong> 12 percent, $99. **** A complex sparkler that has quite a range of flavors — brioche, pear, honeysuckle and fig. Refreshing mousse. Long finish. Elegant, and definitely worth the splurge.

<strong>Iron Horse Wedding Cuvee, 2009 Green Valley, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County,</strong> 13.5 percent, $40. **** An impressive sparkler with bright acidity and a nice mousse. It's rich and it has a creamy, round texture and good minerality. A smart buy.

<strong>J Cuvee, XB Extra Brut, Russian River Valley,</strong> 12.5 percent, $40. **** This a lovely sparkler with irresistible flavors of cr?e brulee, citrus and a hint of almond. Bright acidity. Crisp finish.

<strong>Etoile, NV North Coast Brut, 13 percent,</strong> $40.*** 1/2 A rich bubbly with appealing flavors of baked apple, nutty caramel and ginger. Creamy and rich, yes, but balanced. Lingering finish.

DVX, 2006 Napa Valley Sparkling Wine by Mumm Napa, 12.5 percent, $60. **** A focused sparkler with crisp acidity and striking flavors. Notes of apple, pear and brioche. Nice mousse. Nicely done.

Gloria Ferrer, 2005 Royal Cuvee Carneros Brut, 12.5 percent, $35. *** 1/2 A festive sparkler that's complex and rich. Yeasty, with notes of citrus, toast and a hint of butterscotch. Has an elegant structure, with a creamy texture. Long finish.

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<strong>Schramsberg's Davies buoyed by bubbly's appeal</strong>

When Hugh Davies was a kid, he was tasting sparklers out of mini wine glasses at the holiday table.

"We liked being included," said Davies, vintner/president of Calistoga's Schramsberg Vineyards.

Davies is behind our wine-of-the-week winner — the Schramsberg, 2009 North Coast Brut Ros?at $43.

This is an irresistible sparkler with a price that makes it a bit more accessible when it comes to high-end bubbly. It's buoyed with crisp acidity and it has a broad reach of flavors. It's yeasty, with notes of raspberry, strawberry, a hint of mango and graham cracker. It also has nice minerality.

The sparkling wine house is rolling its 2010 vintage onto the market, but you should be able to find the 2009 as well.

Davies said the most gratifying part of making a brut ros?is seeing how much people like it.

"We've seen significant growth in demand for ros?styles," Davies said. "All of us making ros? in California are seeing this trend. We must be on to something!"

Gratitude: See our special coverage of heartwarming stories following the Sonoma County fires here

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Find more Thanksgiving ideas here

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Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

Davies said people are becoming more sparkler savvy across the board.

"The differences in styles are becoming understood," Davies said. "Chardonnay is different than pinot noir, and so, too, blanc de blanc is different than blanc de noirs. It's not all 'champagne.' It's not all 'brut.' As the knowledge base grows, so too does appreciation ..."

<em>Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 521-5310 or peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com.</em>

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