The francophile in all of us is drawn to Roederer Estate sparklers.

The sparkling wine house in Philo won our wine-of-the-week contest with its Roederer Estate NV Brut, Anderson Valley at $20.

Arnaud Weyrich, a French native, is the winemaker behind the bottling, and it's not surprising that he makes bubbly with a French accent.

"The accent is a little more on the French side, to try to keep the fruit from ripening too much under the California growing conditions that can bring heavy, jammy, ponderous flavors," Weyrich said. "It is always the research of balance and elegance that may be the French side, but the fruit is definitely American!"

The brut clearly marries the best of California and French winemaking. It's complex, with aromas and flavors of pear, hazelnut and mineral, and its great acidity gives it good lift.

For the uninitiated, the term brut refers to the sparkler's sugar level. Sparkling wines and champagnes are categorized as Extra Brut (extra dry), Brut (dry) Extra Dry (dry but not quite as dry as a brut), and Demi-sec (relatively sweet).

Weyrich began his career at Roederer Estate as an intern in 1993, later returned in 2000 and today holds the title winemaker and vice president of production.

He said the most exciting part of producing sparkling wine is blending, because "the sum of the two makes more than 1 plus 1."

While the Roederer brut reeled in a 4.5-star rating, the entire flight was impressive, with several others earning 4 stars. These include: Domaine Chandon, NV Brut Classic California, at $22; Gloria Ferrer, NV Sonoma Brut at $22; and Mumm Napa, NV Brut Prestige, Napa Valley, at $22.

Also, the $11 Korbel, NV Brut, Russian River Valley Champagne, was tasty, earning a 3.5-star rating. It's nutty, with notes of citrus and spice. It's a good quaffer that's very approachable.

With such great values at $25 and under, there's plenty to celebrate.

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