As a child, Bob Iantosca had a curious palate.

"We had Sunday afternoon meals at my grandparents' house, and we always had the wine my Italian grandfather made," he said.

Iantosca is the winemaker behind our wine of the week -- the Gloria Ferrer, NV Carneros Blanc de Noirs at $20. The sparkler is a great across-the-board holiday pick because it's tasty and affordable.

What makes this sparkler a standout?

"I think the blanc de noirs benefit the most of all of our wines from the studies we have done on pinot noir grape selections and clones," Iantosca said.

"When we evaluated the various sparkling base wines made from the different selections, we chose those with exceptional fruit character for subsequent planting in our vineyards. The delicate strawberry/cherry aromas and flavors we are able to capture in this wine are from selections of pinot noir that are high in varietal character or what the French call 'typicity.' "

Gloria Ferrer has a house style so consumers will know what to expect, Iantosca said.

"Our house style has evolved over the years as our vineyards have matured. . . . Having our 335 acres of estate vineyards and augmenting them with great growers' vineyards that we have been working with for many years lends itself to a consistency over time. And the hand harvesting (mostly at night) and gentle handling of the fruit allow us to make wines that are delicate yet expressive."

Iantosca began to explore wine in earnest when he was a student at the University of Arizona.

"I started tasting different wines and reading about wines and wineries and got the bug," he said. "I came to visit on spring break one year and soon after made the decision to move to California and try to get a job in a winery."

Iantosca worked at several before he began his tenure at Gloria Ferrer in 1984.

"Right now we are in the process of blending our base wines to make all of our various cuvees," he said. "For me, this is both the most exciting and challenging part of making bubbly.

"Over the last several months we have gotten to know the wines we produced as we tasted and fine-tuned the individual lots. Now we get to take knowledge we have gained over many years and use it to blend these base wines into the cuvees and styles we have evolved over the years."

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 521-5310 or peg.

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