Best American Sparkling Wine
Yet it wasn’t until Schramsberg, in the northern Napa Valley, released its first sparkling wines in the mid-1960s that the wine world began to take notice. Schramsberg is now making some of its best wines ever. The J. Schram Napa-Monterey-Mendocino Counties 1998 (91, $80) offers a complex array of flavors and layers of concentration, with spice, ginger and fresh pear. The Schramsberg Reserve Napa-Mendocino-Sonoma Counties 1997 (91, $60) is tightly focused, with spicy pear and creamy vanilla, gaining complexity on a long, elegant finish. Both wines – J. Schram is a blanc de blancs, the Reserve is a blanc de noirs – are fermented for the most part in stainless steel, but about 25 percent of each blend is fermented in older French oak barrels and goes through malolactic fermentation. “We do that to get some components that are more full in body and a bit softer in acid,” Schramsberg winemaker Hugh Davies says. Schramsberg is also aiming for better-balanced fruit by drawing on vineyards in cooler climates. The estate vineyard near Calistoga simply proved too hot for sparkling wine and has been replanted to Cabernet Sauvignon for still wine. Instead, the winery is using vineyards in three cooler regions, Carneros, Monterey and Anderson Valley in Mendocino, that consistently produce some of California’s best sparkling wine. Davies says that the climate in these regions allows the grapes a longer hang-time before harvest, resulting in more mature fruit while providing the acidity key to making high quality sparkling wine.