By Tom Bender

With New Years looming it is time to turn to sourcing wines with bubbles. But when it comes to a discussion of local wine offerings, our nearby wine-making community has not had much to offer in the way of sparkling beverages.

Over the years, production of these wines have been under the radar or virtually nonexistent. More recently there has been an increase in the possibility of being offered a sparkling wine when visiting a local winery tasting room. And with this being the most popular time of the year for enjoying a glass of bubbles, it is time to give credence to these limited but interesting offerings.

Most likely the production of local sparkling wine has been done elsewhere but to the specifications of the winery. Adding a sparkling wine production plan or facility to their operation can be prohibitive for many of our small producers.

And we need to remember that there are several ways to create a sparkling wine, and especially the tiny bubbles associated with the classic Method Champenoise, the traditional method of making quality sparkling wine. This is a more expensive and labor-consuming process that calls for the secondary fermentation to take place in the same bottle in which it is sold.

A simpler method used by a number of producers is the Charmat method, in which secondary fermentation is done in tanks and then the wine is bottled. Finally, we need to remember that recent producers can no longer call it “Champagne” or put that identification on the label.

Style indicators can get confusing for some consumers. Remember that a sparkling labeled with Brut being on the dry side with very little sweetness, while Extra Dry being an indication that the sparkler is in fact slightly sweet. We can thank the British for the confusion, and that’s a long story we’ll save for another time. And Blanc de Blanc tells you that the wine was made entirely with white grapes while Blanc Noir means there it was a blend of white and red grapes.

With sparkling wine consumption on the increase in our country and in part to the growing interest in Prosecco, a light, easy drinking Italian sparkler; the Christmas and New Year’s holiday period remains the most popular time to pop a bottle that’s “nine parts bubbles and one part wine” as the toast goes.

And with true French champagnes continuing to climb in price, another French alternative is to seek out a sparkler from another French region such as Burgundy and Alsace, usually made in the Method Champenoise but at a considerable savings.

As for our nearby producers, here is a foothill round-up of bubblers in a range of styles that would fit nicely at your midnight hour or on the table for New Year’s Day brunch.

To experience a Methode Champenoise-made sparkler in Calaveras County look for the Hovey Wines “Isabel” North Coast Sparkling Wine with its blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Named for and dedicated to Chuck Hovey’s grandmother, only 130 cases were made for Hovey wines of this classic blend of grapes. It shows classic yeasty aromas along with ripe pear and crisp apple flavors with ample acidity giving it great balance. Just released this month, the wine normally sells for $32 a bottle, but the tasting room is doing a special price of two bottles for $50 through the end of the month.

Another Calaveras County winery having success with bubbles is the Milliaire Winery Sparkling Wine, a refreshing bubbler that combines Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc.

“It has delicate bubbles and a nose of green apple and flavors of white peach,” according to Gina Velez, Milliaire’s tasting room manager. “It goes well with any appetizer, Caesar salad, French onion soup or grilled lobster.”

The sparkler can be found in a number of local markets including Columbia Market in nearby Columbia, where proprietor Claudia Carlson recently paired it with a cured salmon and Dubliner cheese platter.

In Jamestown, check out “Bubbly” at Inner Sanctum Cellars tasting room on Main Street. Made entirely of French Colombard, it is Charmat-produced sparkler in which a cold secondary fermentation occurs in stainless tanks and the wine is then bottled under pressure. “It has a light golden color with aromas of green apple and nectarine,” said Pete Lockhart, owner of Inner Sanctum. “On the palate, it has refreshingly fruity flavor with a yeasty nuance followed with a lingering, delightful finish.”

And visit the Inner Sanctum Cellars tasting room on Thursday evenings when they feature a weekly changing champagne cocktail. This coming Thursday evening, try the bubbly with a Bubbly Jello Shot.

Inner Sanctum also has released another sparkler called Peachy, which has a touch of peach essence added to it.

Whatever bubbles you pop this New Year’s, here’s hoping it is a start to a great 2018!

Sonora-area resident Tom Bender has taught classes on wine in Columbia College’s Culinary Arts program since 1979. He managed the Columbia City Hotel, and its award-winning wine cellar, for many years and now manages a wine bar at a Modesto specialty market. He is also a wine maker. Contact him at wineguy@goldrush.com .

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