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Blind Tasting Champagne Showdown

Bubbly, it starts in my nose and makes me Wiggle my Toes" ~ Colbie Caillat

When Colbie Caillat wrote what is now her very popular song entitled, "Bubbly" it got me thinking about some of my favorite bubbles, those wonderful sparklers which make toasting the successes of life or for the ringing in of the upcoming "New Year" even better. Just remember to throw caution to the wind and take this sage piece of advice when considering your next bottle of bubbly, "all that sparkles is not gold", you've seen the stars now it's time to see the light, so please read on.

Perhaps if Colbie Caillat could be encouraged to re-work her very popular song, which I'm sure would not be too much effort for someone so talented, it could connote instead the joy of the wondrous libation we all know as Champagne or Sparkling Wine.

Possibly the song could have started like this instead, "Bubbly, it starts in my nose and makes me wiggle my toes, cause as long as it stays cold for a while, where ever it goes I always know it will make me smile, a wine so fine, it can turn on a time and make your flutes, slide on a chute and gives still wines the boot...it makes me smile. So what do you think [oh I know, don't quit my day job]?

See folks even goofy wine geeks like me can get lyrical when it comes to extolling the virtues of Methode Champenoise. Especially when it's done right and still has a sense of the grapes from which it originated. I hope she will approve of my suggested change to the lyrics? Perhaps, she could cut a new single about bubbly [uh-huh, right I know]. Do I honestly think there's any chance of that happening, well a guy has to have dreams right, even if they appear to be champagne wishes and caviar dreams.

Now I'm quite sure she was not thinking about Methode Champenoise when she wrote this song, but for a wine geek like me, hearing this song helped me recall a meeting of the San Diego Wine Mafia last weekend where we got to taste a large number of bubbles, a few of them from France, two from Spain, some from Nor Cal and others from Washington State. We tasted everything blind and were very surprised by our choices as some of the least expensive bubbles [which ran the gamut from $9.99 to $105] won the day, hands down.

Before we go any further, you all should know that I'm one of those crazy folks who are either ready to party at a moments notice or just love to have the right vino for any occasion on tap. So what the bleep does that mean, it simply means that at all times I have a bottle of bubbly standing by in the fridge [chilling] waiting for the right moment to open it. 

Because you never know what life will throw at you in any given moment, so when it comes to vino I think it's always good to be prepared. So in my fridge right now, I have a inconsequential, but none the less delicious bottle of Roederer Estate from Anderson Valley. I picked mine up at my local Costco, where you can get it for about $19.00.  Another top recommendation from the CCWB, in bubbly with high QPR and widely available .

There were over 22 different bottles of bubbly for us to sample, by the time we got to number seventeen, our collective palates blown, so we decided it was time for some Scotch and Cigars. What else are members of the mafia to do, when we've become bored with writing what amounted to be the same note over and over, "flavored by toast, brioche, and other aged yeasty flavors, with little or no sense of identity of its originating grapes". 

On one hand, I am very thankful for everyone that provided a sample for our sparkling holiday bonanza, but honestly folks the bubbly that didn't make the cut in my book are not going to see the light of day. I didn't like them and honestly I just don't have anything good to say about those wines. But of the 17 tasted, 4 of them impressed me enough to publish my tasting notes below and for me to make a "drink now and drink often" recommendation.



1. Domaine Saint Michelle 2004 "Luxe" this wine was the fifth wine we tasted that evening and nearly all the Mafia was in agreement that this was fantastic juice. But at the same time we all thought the label was a bit gaudy, smacking of a glam-pak from some lurid hotel on the Vegas strip. Thee fruit is sourced from Washington state’s Columbia Valley vineyards Luxe is a very delicate Blanc de Blancs [white from white] sparkling wine crafted in the time-honored Methode Champenoise tradition. 

In making Luxe Ste Michelle only uses only free run juice or the "cuvee press" and this press is the "best of the best" and the Sur lie aging the bottled wine for 5 years gives it a lovely complexity you can smell and taste the difference.

Tasting Note: On the nose fresh baked apple pie and on the palate I found this 100% Chardonnay to be a bit earthy, yet delightfully ripe.The sweet-tart flavors are broad and mousse was a bit chalky, but is supplanted by the rich, buttery delight, of brioche, good acid on the palate with a creamy, long expressive finish. What I really like about this bubbly is that you can taste the fruits, the soils, the minerals in the layers that change on the palate from beginning to end. 

Selling for $22.99 through the winery website and other places I found online. Still no word on a retailer here in San Diego who may carry the product. But if push came to shove, you most likely could order at your local Bevmo, who carries many of their other bubblies. I scored this one 91 points on the CCWB 100 point scale, maximum points for the Quality to Price Ratio [QPR].

2. Domaine Ste. Michelle Cuvee Brut this was the eleventh sparkling wine we had tasted that day and again it was just flat out wonderful. A selection 5 base cuvées make up this delightful blend of NV sparkling wine.

Tasting Note: Racy acidity yet plush and fresh baked biscuits on the nose, the slightly sweet DSM Cuvee Brut is one of Washington's very best "bargain" sparkling wines; which is crisp and flavorful in the finish. I scored this wine 90 points, with maximum points for the QPR and availability. This wine sells for $7.99 at your local Bevmo.

3. Woodbridge Brut This next wine was perhaps the biggest surprise of the night and perhaps none shone brighter than this sparkling wine I received as a SAMPLE along with four silver straws. Which supposedly has something to do with super models, runways and sipping, uh sorry, I still don't "get" the connection.

Tasting Note: Fresh biscuits in the nose, showing fine, green apple notes, a stylish and well defined inexpensive example of Brut Champagne. A lingering finish, engulfed in the hay/peach colored core. It has a bright, zesty aftertaste that will pair with a variety of foods, especially a night out getting after some Sushi. Selling for a mere $7.99 most places, this wine represents a great value and I scored it 90 points on the CCWB, with maximum points again for QPR and wide availability. Round yourself up some today, before New Years. It's an everyday drinker that won't break the bank, so sip long and often.

4. Paul Cheneau Cava Brut Blanc De Blanc We had two cavas that evening and the one I'm getting ready to tell you about really knocked the flavor profile out of the park, while the other one was nothing but foul balls and a unsuccessful slides into home plate. This is some fantastic Cava a wonderful sparkling wine from Spain. No one including myself picked this as Cava, everyone thought this was French Champagne. We all got fooled but were turned onto a fantastic bottle of bubbly, that I for one want to have in my wine collection.

Tasting Note: has a sensuous mousse, very creamy and a warm brioche quality; reveals a lovely, creamy mouth feel and pear accents, citrus and a fresh toast quality; finishes dry with lingering fruit flavors. This wine sells for $17.00 most places and can be found at Wine dot Com. I scored this bubbly 89 points for its wonderful overall quality and amazing little price point. If you love a good cava and don't want to pay too much, I would highly recommend the Paul Cheneau to you.


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