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A kiss of sweetness. That's what Melissa Stackhouse strives for in a brut.

Stackhouse is the winemaker behind our wine-of-the-week winner — the J Vineyards, NV Cuvee 20 Brut, a steal at $28.

"The wine has just a kiss of sweetness that provides a perfect weight in the mouth, and acts as a bridge to a crisp and minerally finish," Stackhouse said.

Stackhouse made a pitch for a crisper bubbly during a series of tastings in April of 2012.

"I wanted to make sure that the sweetness in the Cuvee 20 wasn't an elbow that was poking out, that it was balanced, elegant, expressive of our style. I felt that a couple of previous vintages of Cuvee 20 were veering off into a sweeter style, and I wanted to tone that down a bit."

Adding a touch of sweetness, known as dosage, is the final step in producing sparkling wine and it happens at the time when the bottle, which has been hibernating for two to seven years, goes through "disgorging." This is when the yeast cells are frozen in the neck of the bottle and removed from the wine.

"Deciding the right dosage is the final touch on a wine that has been aging for years," Stackhouse said. "It's crucial to find the dosage level that showcases, if not amplifies, the nuances in sparkling wine."

<b>Scouting for the tastiest sparkling wines $26 and up</b>

Wine writer Peg Melnik had a blind tasting this week of sparklers, the cr?e de la cr?e of California bubbly, and it's not surprising there were plenty of high scores. Our wine-of-the-week winner is a tasty bubbly and one that won't throw you over the fiscal cliff — the J Vineyards, NV Cuvee 20 Brut, a steal at $28.

TOP PICK: J Vineyards

J Vineyards, NV Cuvee 20 Brut, 12.5 percent alcohol, ($28).

**** An elegant brut with layered flavors of apple, grapefruit and lemon peel. Hint of honeysuckle and caramel. Great acidity. Crisp finish.

Others worth noting:

Le R?e, 2006 Domaine Carneros, Taittinger, Blanc de Blancs, 12 percent, $95. ****?

An elegant bubbly, with complex notes of yeast, lemon, lime and strawberry. Great minerality. Nice mousse. Striking.

L'Ermitage, 2003 Anderson Valley Brut, 12 percent, $47.

****? A bubbly with flavors of baked apple, brioche and quince. Great minerality. Bright acid. Creamy texture. Lovely.

Iron Horse, 2008 Classic Vintage Brut X, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, 13.5 percent, $50.

****? This sparkler is refreshingly dry with notes of citrus and mineral. It's fruit-forward, but it has good structure. Great acid. Nice mousse.

Schramsberg, 2008 Blanc de Noirs, 12.7 percent, $39.

****? A bright, lively sparkler with complex flavors of persimmon, lemon, honey and vanilla. Crisp acidity. Lingering finish.

J Vineyards, 2005 Russian River Valley Brut, 12.5 percent, $48. ****? A lovely sparkler with aromas and flavors of lemon, herb and mineral. Crisp acidity. Lingering finish.

Inman Family, 2009 Brut Ros?Nature Sparkling "Endless Crush," 12 percent, $68. **** A tasty sparkler with complex flavors. Notes of citrus, strawberry, and brioche. Great minerality.

Gloria Ferrer, 2000 Carneros Cuvee, 12.5 percent, $60.

**** A round bubbly with a creamy texture. Notes of lemon, vanilla and creme br?l?. Tasty.

Domaine Carneros, 2008 Carneros Brut, 12 percent, $27.

**** A crisp, clean sparkler. Yeasty, with notes of raspberry, cherry and toffee. Bright acidity. Crisp finish.

Etoile, NV Brut North Coast, 13 percent, $40.

**** A nutty sparkler with layered flavors. Notes of apple, honey, ginger and caramel. Creamy texture, yet balanced.

Chandon NV Brut Reserve Sonoma County/Napa Blanc de Blancs, 13 percent, $30. ***? A tasty sparkler with aromas and flavors of lemon, herb and mineral. Crisp acidity. Lingering finish.

Mumm Napa, 2007 Napa Valley Blanc de Blancs, 12.5 percent, $38 ***? A lively sparkler with notes of apple, lemon and brioche. Great minerality. Crisp finish.

(Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 521-5310 or peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com.)