Fine Wine

Celebrate 2022 with bubblies! | Kathy Marcks Hardesty | Wine

Is there a better time than the Christmas holiday season to crack open a bottle of bubbly? It’s mandatory in my home, and most winemakers I know here on the Central Coast feel the same.

While I can’t afford many French Champagnes, there are many excellent sparkling wines made by local winemakers that are much more affordable. I’m going to share them with you, but first I must repeat a fabulous story about the grand dame Lily Bollinger.

Owner and inspiration behind Louis Roederer, she was asked if she drank her own Champagne. Her quote is part of the great history of France’s Champagne appellation, as she replied:

“I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it — unless I’m thirsty.”

My husband Dan and I, in 1993, visited three Champagne producers over two days at Moet & Chandon, Bollinger, and Ruinart. We went to the latter two on the last day, yet all of them provided us unforgettable experiences.

The Ruinart visit included an epic “gastronomique” experience at Le Grand Cerf, halfway between Reims and Epernay. The chef specialized in wild game from the region, they served us dishes like venison and wild boar, and much more. That four hour lunch was entirely paired with Ruinart Champagnes, and it was mind blowing how well those grand Champagnes paired with so many powerful foods.

My lesson to you is this, forget the ancient expectations that say white wine with fish and red wine with meat. Those magnificent Champagnes made every dish taste so much better. The same result is possible here. When you visit a winery that makes sparkling wines you love, ask them to recommend the possible wine and food pairings. You may just be surprised by the pairing suggestions you never considered.

Our mainstream sparkling winemakers are all favorites of mine, from Flying Goat to Laetitia and Riverbench, their many forms of bubblies are excellent. Yet even some very small producers (meaning the amount of sparking wine they produce) offer some excellent choices for your holiday table.

I recommend visiting calicoastwinecountry .com for maps leading to all of those artisan brands who produce sparkling wines on the Central Coast.

I will start with Flying Goat Cellars, a longtime favorite that celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2020. Just this December they released a new label, the 2019 vintage Pinot Noir Nielson Vineyard to their wine club.

Winemaker Norm Yost, with a 42-year history of winemaking, specializes in pinot noir, pinot gris, and methode champenoise (in the style of Champagne, France) sparkling wines. This makes his tasting room visit a great choice to find wines perfect for your holiday dinners and New Year’s Eve parties.

Yost provides many choices, and there are always some of his sparkling wines open to taste in the Lompoc tasting room. In this very special time of the year they are offering good value deals through December. That’s a great offer and it shows you they understand the spirit of giving.

You can buy a single bottle of their 2015 Goat Bubbles Brut Cuvee at 25 percent off the bottle or 30 percent off a case purchase. Not only that, you can make the case up of two different wines.The 2014 pinot noir Dierberg Vineyard is also available at these good value prices. Learn more at flyinggoatcellars .com.

Laetitia in Arroyo Grande, right off Highway 101, makes five very good bubblies, There are two styles that are also very good value wines: the non-vintage brut cuvee at $28, and the non-vintage XD Sparkling at $29.

The first is for those who prefer their sparklers very dry, and the latter is slightly sweet. They describe it as a “kiss of sweetness” their interpretation of a French demi-sec. They recommend it with fruity desserts, but it would also be a great choice for Christmas Day or New Year’s Day brunch.

They are open daily now as shipping couldn’t get it to you in time for the holiday weekend. But the tasting room is easily reached and they offer a number of great options in fine wines. Check them out at laetitiawine .com.

For excellent bubblies from one of Santa Maria Valley’s finest sparkling wine producers, a visit to Riverbench is a must. Believe it or not, they make seven different sparkling wines ranging from Demi Sec at $44 to a reserve blanc de blanc that’s $125 a bottle.

They also feature some unusual varieties like the 2017 sparkling pinot meunier. These days, with COVID-19 restrictions still actively in place, wine tastings at the Foxen Canyon tasting room are by appointment only.

The wines are all made by the talented Clarissa Nagy, who has worked in the Santa Maria Valley over two decades. Known for her elegant style, her wines have been consistently good with every vintage. Get to know them by visiting their webpage at Riverbench .com.

If you find you love most of the wines produced by any of these wineries, or any others, it’s a good idea to join the wine club. The benefits are great, in discounts on wine purchases, free tasting any time you visit the winery tasting room, and shipping free or priced only $1. And most have excellent pickup (meaning pick up their new wine releases) parties with wine, food and entertainment.

I wish all of us a great new year in 2022!

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