Some people only sip sparkling wines during the holidays, or for a special event.
So sad. Because one of the great joys of sparkling wine is that it is so universally appropriate for so many occasions. What doesn’t make life better than a bit of effervescence, and a slightly sweet dance on the tongue? Sparkling wines go exquisitely with so many foods too, because the bubbles help cut through fat, tempering richness. They add a calming tickle to the palate when eating fiery foods, and brighten up everything from heavy meats to light fish.
You can sip them at midnight (a toast!), with meals, on a lazy afternoon, or even with breakfast (mimosa, anyone?). One of the best times I’ve had recently was in a peach orchard in Healdsburg, where we savored Bellinis made with peach puree and a splash of sparkling while we worked on wreaths made from peach tree branches.
Keep in mind that in the North Bay, most all bubblies you come across will be called sparkling wines, not champagne. The term champagne is reserved for the wines made in that same-named region of France. A few producers have grandfather clauses that allow them to use the champagne name simply because they have been doing it for so long (as in Kobel Champagne Cellars in Guerneville, which has a 130-year history).
Call it what you will, just make sure to always keep some chilled in your refrigerator. A drink like this is too good to keep bottled up!
You can buy many of our local sparkling wines at your favorite store, or online, but for the best celebration, visit the wineries themselves. Besides preferred pricing, you’ll discover some exclusive bottlings available only to the tasting rooms, and besides that, all that sipping is guaranteed to put you in high spirits. Here are some of our favorite North Bay sparkling wines:
Since 1986, these sparkling wines have been considered a benchmark for the California méthode traditionelle process, using only Napa Valley sourced grapes. Today, Champagne-born master winemaker Ludovic Dervin continues the long tradition of handcrafted wine, with each cluster of grapes carefully selected and transported in small baskets. The harvest is then gently pressed using only the first, most pure, pressing, and every bottle is fermented separately. Visit the winery, and you’ll discover this isn’t just fancy talk – tours include behind the scenes immersions into the delicate art.
8445 Silverado Trail, Rutherford, 800-686-6272, mummnapa.com.
Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards
When the 335-acre Gloria Ferrer estate came on to the scene in 1986, sparkling wine was a new industry to the region, and this Spanish-inspired winery turned heads with its stylish setting, too. It is now just as it was then: The secret to these subtle stunners is preserving the distinctive fruit flavors and delicate aromas. Grapes are hand harvested in small lots, gently pressed, and handcrafted in the classic style of méthode champenoise for non-vintage Sonoma Brut, non-vintage Blanc de Noirs, vintage-dated Blanc de Blancs and a newly released Va de Vi. You’ll want to stay a linger a good long while; the winery’s sun-drenched Vista Terrace overlooks the estate vineyards, offering tastings paired with savory Spanish and local cheeses, meats, almonds and other delicacies.
23555 Arnold Drive, Sonoma, 707-933-1917, gloriaferrer.com.
It’s difficult to miss this imposing chateaux that sits on 138 acres at the crossroads to Sonoma and Napa. The mansion looks French, and inside, you might expect the staff to speak Gallic, too. That’s because the winery, established in 1987, is owned by Champagne Taittinger of France. You’ll feel like royalty as you take in views of near endless vineyard-covered hills from the terraces, and savor Brut Vintage and luxury cuvée Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs, crafted with 95% of the fruit coming from estate vineyards.
1240 Duhig Road, Napa, 800-716-2788, domainecarneros.com.
Artesa Vineyards & Winery
It sits high on a mountain overlooking the edge of both Sonoma and Napa, and all of Carneros. It’s a showcase of breathtaking architecture, with flowing water features, expansive glass walls, sculptures, and walls brimming with original art. But one of the best reasons to visit is the sparkling, crafted in legendary European style (complete with a cellar serenaded by piped-in Gregorian monk chanting). Owned by the Raventos family of Spain, whose winemaking history dates to the mid-sixteenth century, the winery takes its name from the Catalan word for “handcrafted.” Artesa focuses on small, ultra-premium lots, offering less than 1,000 cases of high-end sparkling wines but of such singular quality that they’re well worth seeking out.
1345 Henry Road, Sonoma/Napa, 707-224-1668, artesawinery.com.
J Vineyards & Winery
After J’s Judy Jordan acquired the famed Piper Sonoma in 1996, part of the deal was that J would continue to craft the legendary, signature bubbly. Now, the sleek J Signature Bar is a salute to Russian River Valley sparklers, from Brut Rosé to Cuvee to Late Disgorged Vintage Brut, enjoyed in an elegant setting accented by a striking original art installation created by Gordon Huether. There’s even a Bubble Room, a beautifully appointed full-service tasting salon where pairing are available with delicious wine country nibbles.
11447 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg, 888-594-6326, jwine.com.
Korbel Champagne Cellars
Pop the cork for the granddaddy of sparklings. The Korbel brothers first arrived in northern California in the early 1800s, planting their first Pinot Noir in 1870 and making their first wines in 1882. Today, the méthode champenoise and cuvee-crafted sparklers honor the history in a dozen different bottlings from a sweet rosé to a bubbly Chardonnay. As expected for a property of this size, the tasting room is expansive, and perfect for large holiday groups looking for an impromptu celebration.
13250 River Road, Guerneville, 707-824-7000, korbel.com.
Iron Horse Winery
You might not have heard of tiny Green Valley, and you’ll never find Iron Horse unless you already know it’s there, but it holds a precious secret: one of Sonoma’s finest sparkling wineries. These bubblies have been served at the White House for more than a quarter century, and range from a Chardonnay to Pinot Noir. One of the charms of the tasting is the setting – no fancy pretension, here, but a rustic, partly outdoor setting where the winemaker and owners may well be your pouring hosts.
9786 Ross Station Road, Sebastopol, 707-887-1507, ironhorsevineyards.com.
Tip: Put extra sparkle in your day by reserving a private limo or Town Car for your winery tours.