“I only drink Champagne on two occasions — When I’m in love and when I’m not.” — Coco Chanel
The late French fashion designer Coco Chanel had it right. Regardless of where Cupid is shooting his arrow, it’s always a good time to uncork bubbly.
This week we focus on budget-savvy sparklers that are $25 and under, and our wine-of-the week winner is the Korbel 2016 California Champagne Brut, made with organic grapes, at $16.
This is a pretty sparkler that’s a steal for the quality. It’s well crafted, with striking yeasty aromas and bright green apple, orange and lime on the palate. It has great balance, a supple finish and a nice mousse (pinpoint bubble.) It’s impressive and leaves you wondering if the organic grapes are the secret ingredient that made this sparkler a standout.
Paul Ahvenainen, Korbel’s director of winemaking, said organic farming versus conventional farming by itself is not a great predictor of quality.
“However, what we have learned is that organic farmers tend to be more involved in the health and well-being of their vineyards,” Ahvenainen said. “In the end, this makes better wine.”
The challenge in making bubbly, Ahvenainen said, is the delicate nature of them.
“This delicacy allows both good and bad winemaking to show through,” he said.
“The same with the carbonation. It lifts otherwise subtle characteristics to the fore. The traditional Methode Champenoise bottle fermentation process requires a lot of attention to detail. We can’t really fix problems in the bottle.”
To the chagrin of the French, Korbel is allowed to call its bubbly Champagne, thanks to the trade agreement in the early 2000s that was ratified and implemented in 2006.
“The compromise that was reached in 2006 allowed existing brands/producers using the semi-generic terms to continue to do so in the U.S., while prohibiting future brands and producers from this,” Ahvenainen said.
The winemaker said he never considered making it a career until he took an introduction to wine class while studying bio-chemical engineering at UC Davis. Ahvenainen, 55, ultimately majored in fermentation science.
“Sparkling wines are an interesting subcategory of the wine world,” he said.
“Whether you are talking about the Grand Marque houses of Champagne or California producers like Korbel, the concept of strong branding and importance of consistent house style is a bit different than the general table wine business. Korbel has found a strong place in the market by consistently delivering value.”
Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 521-5310 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING
Bubbly $25 and under
Korbel 2016 California Champagne Brut, made with organic grapes, 12% alcohol, $16. ★★★★
This is a pretty sparkler that’s a steal for the quality. It’s well-crafted with striking yeasty aromas and bright green apple, orange and lime on the palate. It has great balance, a supple finish and a nice mousse. It’s impressive and leaves you wondering if the organic grapes are the secret ingredient that made this sparkler a standout.
Roederer Estate NV Anderson Valley Brut Sparkling Wine, 12%, $24. ★★★★: A complex sparkler with layered flavors. Floral, with notes of red apple, cinnamon and yeast. Rich and supple, yet vibrant. Well-crafted.
Mumm Napa Valley NV Brut Prestige Sparking Wine, 12.5%, $24. ★★★★:This is a pretty sparkler with a range of flavors –– stone fruit, red apple and honey. It has crisp acidity and a creamy texture. Long finish. Smart.
Scharffenberger NV Brut Excellence, Mendocino County Sparkling Wine, 12%, $20. ★★★1/2: This bubbly is fruit-forward and has a creamy character. It has notes of hazel, mango and brioche. Bright and lively. Tasty.
Chandon, NV California Brut, 12%, $24. ★★★1/2: A tasty sparkler with bright fruit –– pear and green apple ––and it’s lightly spiced. Crisp acidity. Dry finish. Solid.