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If you have been reading along in the other four articles in this series about my favorite sparkling wines, you will know that I adore bubbles. While I do love the yeasty goodness and the chalky minerality of champagne, I have found some incredible American sparkling wines that I really enjoy. As you have seen from this series, there are many different types of sparkling wines from around the world. In this last installment of the 5-part series of articles, I cover my favorite American sparkling wines. And remember…there is never a bad time for a glass of bubbly.
The Sparkling Wine Series on Wander
In this final article, we talk about my favorite American sparkling wines, including those from California, Oregon, Washington, and New Mexico. Be sure to check out the other articles in the series:
- Understanding Sparkling Wine
- French Sparkling Wines (including Champagne)
- Spanish Sparkling Wines
- Italian Sparkling Wines
History of American Sparkling Wine
American sparkling wine—which cannot be called champagne because it is made outside of France's Champagne region—has been increasingly popular. In 2017, Americans drank 261 million bottles of sparkling wines. Surprisingly, only 6% of it came from France. Much of the rest of the sparkling wine consumed in the U.S. is from one of six states: California, Virginia, Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, and New York. We are seeing more sparkling wine, however, across the U.S., including in Texas, Arizona, Michigan…the list continues to grow.
There has been an often contentious relationship between the French and American sparkling winemakers. When the U.S. industry began, the winemakers began using the term “American champagnes”. That didn't go over well with the French, who adhered to strict laws governing champagne.
The U.S. has had far fewer laws and regulations regarding the manufacture of wine, sparkling wine in particular, than does France. In 2005, the U.S. and the European Union reached an agreement over the use of the word champagne. That agreement made it illegal for U.S. sparkling wine to use champagne. It did make the law applicable only to wineries founded after December 31, 2005, so you might see some brands, such as Korbel, that still use the term American champagne.
Manufacturing American Sparkling Wine
Most sparkling wines in the U.S. follow the traditional méthode Champenoise. However, the U.S./E.U. agreement means they can't label sparkling wines that way. So, here in the U.S., you'll see something like méthode traditionnelle on the label.
While sweetness levels are not regulated in the U.S., most sparkling winemakers follow the E.U. levels. For a reminder, I outlined those levels along with the traditional champagne method of making sparkling wine in the first article in this series.
Most winemakers in the U.S. also use similar times as France for the wines to go through the second fermentation. Most non-vintage American sparkling wines age from 18 months to 3 years, while prestige cuveés age longer, some up to a decade.
You will discover that most American sparkling wines are considerably cheaper than their French counterparts. Much of this is due to the more lax laws in the U.S., which makes it less expensive to produce sparkling wine in the U.S. than in Champagne. You can get really tasty American sparkling wines for $15 to $30 per bottle.
Grapes for American Sparkling Wine
One of the differences I have noted in the various articles on sparkling wines is that even when using the traditional method, each country uses different grapes. For example, in the article on Spanish sparkling wines, I talked about the Xarel.lo grapes. I explained that Italian prosecco uses the Glera grapes. In the U.S., most winemakers use the traditional French grapes of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and some now also use Pinot Meunier. You will find that changing in some places, where American winemakers now experiment with different grape varieties. I mention a few of those below when talking about Washington and Oregon sparkling wines.
You can find golden sparkling wines, blanc de blanc, blanc de noirs, and rosé wines in the U.S. Sparkling rosé is increasingly popular in the U.S. In fact, it now accounts for about 15% of the U.S. sparkling wine market. Much of this is because of the different growing traditions between the U.S. and France.
In France, rosé has only become really popular in sparkling wines in the past couple of decades. In fact, some of the earlier winemakers, including Bollinger, refused to make rosé wines until after the 1980s. The biggest reason for the popularity of rosé in the U.S. is because of the California climate. There are more ripe Pinot Noir grapes in California than in Champagne.
California Sparkling Wine
When we think of American sparkling wine, the first state that comes to mind is California. The first California sparklers were produced by three Czech immigrant brothers with the name of Korbel. The Korbel brothers had a farm in the Russian River Valley. They planted Pinot Noir grapes, unusual for California at the time, and started a winery in 1882. They began making what they called “American champagne” using the traditional method, and started selling it in the 1890s.
The legacy passed on from the three brothers to their children, who sold the winery in 1954 to Adolf Heck. Today, Korbel is one of a handful of American sparkling wines that can still use the term “champagne” on their labels. While I don't prefer the Korbel sparkling wine to drink by itself, I do sometimes use it to make sparkling wine cocktails.
A Growing Sparkling Wine Industry
In the mid-1960s, the tiny Schramsberg winery began using Chardonnay in their sparkling wines and the industry continued to grow. A few years later, in 1973, the French champagne maker Moët & Chandon bought a few hundred acres and established Domaine Chandon.
Since that time, more and more of the French champagne houses established sparkling wineries in California. Another favorite of mine is Domaine Carneros, founded by the Champagne Taittinger family in the late 1970s. Almost all of the grapes used in Domaine Carneros sparkling wines (95% of them) come from their own vineyards. A visit to the Domaine Carneros Chateau is definitely unforgettable.
Smaller Sparkling Wineries in California
I find the California sparkling wines to be less full-bodied and less complex than French champagne. However, for the difference in price, there are some amazing examples of not-to-miss American sparkling wines from California.
I discovered that some of the smaller winemakers in California produce some increasingly lovely sparkling wines, so I encourage you to try some of those. I had a wonderful sparkling wine in Sonoma County last year during a visit to Trattore Farms. These are definitely bright, with a fun citrus undertone. They are not complex sparkling wines, but fun to drink. At less than $40 per bottle, they are a great winery to watch.
My Favorite California Sparkling Wines
I enjoy California sparkling wines and consider some of them to be my all-time favorite sparkling wines. I prefer a brut, and most of these are right at that level.
Enjoy a few of my favorite California sparkling wines.
Chandon Sparkling Wines
Chandon Rosé is my favorite go-to sparkling wine. There is almost never a time when I don't have a bottle of this in my home. This is a pretty pink wine that tastes great with seafood—or simply to sip. It is the classic blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier and ages about six months. It is a light, smooth wine with medium bubbles. You can find it for under $25 per bottle.
Chandon Blanc de Noirs is mostly Pinot Noir (95%), with 4% Chardonnay and 1% Pinot Meunier. This white sparkling wine has a soft finish, with the taste and aroma of strawberry and currant. I love this one with something spicy. The Blanc de Noirs is priced about the same as the Chandon Rosé.
Roederer Estate American Sparkling Wine
Roederer Estate is owned by Champagne Louis Roederer and they use the same great method when making this California wine. The Roederer Estate Brut is more complex than the Chandon. This brut is a French-style sparkling wine with a bit more complexity than some American sparkling wines. It has a lovely aroma of fresh-baked bread, with a nice hint of lemon. After the first sip, you'll find some toasty notes. The Roederer Estate Brut is a Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend that spends at least 24 months on the lees. You can taste that roundness and, at less than $30 per bottle, really showcases the Anderson Valley.
Scharffenberger American Sparkling Wine
Scharffenberger is another Anderson Valley favorite, but I find Scharffenberger sparkling wines to be a little different. For a great example of an American sparkling wine, I suggest Scharffenberger Brut Excellence.
There is a solid fruit base to this sparkling wine, but it also has a hint of vanilla and toasty undertones. The Scharffenberger Brut Excellence spends two years on the lees, giving it a much more full-bodied flavor than some American sparkling wines. It is a Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend, with that lovely baked bread aroma of great French champagne, but it is more fruit-forward, making it—in my opinion—a good representative of what you can get from an American sparkling wine. You can get this one for about $23, making it a great option to French champagne.
Schramsberg American Sparkling Wine
Schramsberg Brut Rosé 2016 is one I really enjoy and I suggest getting this one before the 2016 is gone! It is another Pinot Noir/Chardonnay, but it is 75% Pinot Noir. This is a really crisp rosé, with a hint of grapefruit mingled with that lovely baking bread aroma. It has nice acidity and fine bubbles. It sells for less than $50.
For an exceptional offering from Schramsberg, I recommend J Schram. This is the winery's cream of the crop. At $130 per bottle, this is a complex wine that begins fermentation in both stainless steel and oak before bottling. It is hand-riddled (turned) and absolutely lovely all on its own. It is quite full-bodied with the flavors of baked apples, honey, and subtle ginger spice.
Domaine Carneros Sparkling Wine
As I mentioned above, Domaine Carneros is brought to us by the Champagne Taittinger family. They founded the California winery in the late 1970s. Domaine Carneros Le Rêve is a beautiful California sparkling wine, and probably my favorite of all, although it is quite pricey. Le Rêve is 100% Chardonnay with a beautiful, full-bodied flavor. It carries the same floral hints that I find so amazing in Champagne Taittinger—jasmine, honeysuckle, spring-in-a-glass flavors. There is a nice citrus tone to this and I even get more of the yeast smell in this than in many American sparkling wines. At $132 per bottle, this is a good one for a special occasion.
Mumm Napa Sparkling Wine
Mumm Napa is another California sparkling wine brought to us by a famous Champagne producer. The company that produces G.H. Mumm brings us Mumm Napa Brut Prestige. It is a light and bright American sparkling wine with lovely citrus tones with some apple and honey notes. I also get a little bit of spice from Mumm Napa. It is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meuniere. I like that I can buy the little splits of this at most stores. A split is a quarter bottle or 187 mL. That is about 1.5 glasses of sparkling wine. You can get the split of Mumm Napa for about $11.
My Favorite New Mexico Sparkling Wines
There is really only one New Mexico sparkling winemaker: Gruet Winery. I discovered Gruet Winery in 2006 during a trip to Albuquerque. At that time, it was very small and I had a chance to meet the owners. Since then, it has grown and now the wines are available across the U.S.
History of the Gruet Winery
Gruet Winery, founded in 1984 by the family of Gilbert Gruet from Champagne, France, produces a nice selection of American sparkling wines. Gilbert Gruet began making champagne in France in 1952. In the late 1970s, the family made a trip to the Southwest U.S. and fell in love with it.
Gilbert's children, Laurent and Nathalie, moved to the U.S. to begin making sparkling wine in New Mexico. The winery produced its first American sparkling wine in 1987, which it began selling in 1989 after two years of aging.
Visiting Gruet Winery
There are now three Gruet vineyards. One is on the Pueblo of Santa Ana outside Albuquerque. The other two are located in the southern part of New Mexico. The two in the south are both above 4,000 feet elevation in sandy soil. They produce Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Grapes. The third vineyard, Tamaya, is at 5,110 feet above sea level on the Pueblo of Santa Ana. There, in a partnership with the Pueblo, they grow Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes.
You can visit the two Gruet tasting rooms. One is located in Albuquerque, located just off I-25, heading north out of Albuquerque. That was the original tasting room. The other tasting room is in Santa Fe and is my favorite of the two. It is just off the lobby of Hotel St. Francis. A visit to either tasting room gives you a chance to taste the Gruet wines you don't often find in your local store.
My Favorite Gruet Wines
Gruet offers a variety of wines. Some of them are really simple, easy-to-drink sparklers. Others offer more complexity. This is a guide to Gruet's sparkling wines.
Most Common Gruet Wines
Gruet Brut is Gruet's basic sparkling wine, available online and in most grocery or liquor stores for about $17 per bottle. It is a crisp sparkling wine with a lovely mousse (fine bubbles) you usually find in French champagnes. I love the crisp green apple in this and it rounds out nicely thanks to 24 months of aging. It is a Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend, with 75% Chardonnay.
Gruet Blanc de Noirs, priced the same as Gruet Brut, is also a Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend, but is 75% Pinot Noir, giving it a more full-bodied taste than Gruet Brut. There is a very pale salmon color to the Blanc de Noirs, thanks to the brief contact with the Pinot Noir skins. This has lovely aromas of raspberry, with a nice smooth mouthfeel.
Gruet Brut Rosé. This is probably the sparkling wine I drink most often. It is reasonably priced at about $20 per bottle, has a beautiful dark pink color, and fine bubbles. This is a true Brut and 100% Pinot Noir. This has lovely flavors of ripe red berries and a floral note. It has lovely fine bubbles and is a fun sparkling wine.
Harder to Find Gruet Wines
In my opinion, the Gruet 2015 Gilbert Gruet Grande Reserve and the Gruet 2014 Cuvée Danielle Grand Rosé are exceptional sparkling wines. I tasted these two side-by-side at the tasting room in Santa Fe. I loved both of them, and we ended up buying a bottle of each to take with us.
Gruet 2015 Gilbert Gruet Grande Reserve is a lovely, refined Chardonnay sparkling wine. It is in the traditional Champenoise method and has a profile very similar to French champagne. Gilbert is complex with a classic taste and aroma of baking bread but with a lovely citrus tone. There is a nice toasty finish. At $44 per bottle, it is a great wine for a lobster dinner.
Gruet 2014 Cuvée Danielle Grand Rosé is my favorite of the two. It is a lovely Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend that has beautiful fine bubbles. The Danielle smells of fresh, ripe strawberries, but has a soft, full mouthfeel. This is a full-bodied rosé that I enjoyed very much. It is well worth the $39 per bottle, but it is difficult to find anywhere except the winery.
Zero Dosage Gruet Sparkling Wines
A zero dosage sparkling, if you remember from my introduction to sparkling wines, contains no residual sugar. Gruet offers two zero dosage wines: Gruet Sauvage and Gruet Sauvage Rosé. Both are hard to find if you don't direct-order from Gruet, but they're well worth your time. These are both bone dry, so you taste the fruit and the minerality of both wines. The Rosé is a glass filled with brightness and aromas of strawberries. The Sauvage is a beautiful pale color that has hints of green apple and lemon. They are both priced at $20 per bottle.
My Favorite Oregon Sparkling Wines
The Oregon sparkling wine scene is interesting. As you can likely tell from this series, I love wine made with Pinot Noir grapes. Oregon Pinot Noir wines are some of my favorites. It seems fitting then, that Oregon has some great sparkling wines.
Traditional Oregon Sparkling Wines
Here are some of the more traditional Oregon options for you to check out.
Argyle Sparkling Wines
I love Argyle wines and have for years. Based in the Willamette Valley, Argyle knows how to make wines. The Argyle Brut 2016 is an affordable sparkling wine that offers a great introduction to Argyle. This one is a blend of grapes from the Knudsen Vineyard in the Dundee Hills and the Spirit Hill Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills. There is a nice minerality to this sparkler that reminds me of a French Champagne, but at under $30 per bottle, it is a great wine for any time.
The 2016 Argyle Brut Rosé is their basic rosé with a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier. It is aged part in stainless barrels and part in neutral oak for the first fermentation. The grapes are from both the Dundee Hills and the Eola-Amity Hills, so it's a smooth, full-bodied sparkling wine. It has the aroma of spring flowers that I find in many champagnes. $50 per bottle.
The 2009 Argyle Extended Tirage Brut Rosé is definitely a special occasion wine, priced at $150 per bottle. Again, it is a blend of all three traditional Champagne grapes, but that extra time and love show through. This wine wasn't disgorged until mid-2019, so it had a long time to get that well-rounded mouthfeel. This is one you want to order now before they run out of stock!
2016 Argyle Blanc de Noirs is a 95% Pinot Noir and 5% Pinot Meunier sparkling wine from the highest elevations of the Willamette Valley. This one is harder to find but worth it. It is all fermented and aged in neutral oak, so it gives it a bit of a savory note, offset by the floral aroma. At $35 per bottle, this is a fun one to try.
Sokol Blosser Sparkling Wines
Susan Sokol and Bill Blosser founded this winery in Oregon's Dundee Hills in 1971. Today, their children Alex and Alison Sokol Blosser run the winery, honoring the family traditions. It has a beautiful tasting room looking out over the Willamette Valley. The winery's sustainable farming practices make these wines a favorite for me—for both still and sparkling wines.
The 2016 Sokol Blosser Sparkling Rosé of Pinot Noir is a 100% Pinot Noir with grapes from Willamette Valley's Dundee Hills. This is a nice sparkling wine, which ages in both steel tanks and oak. It has a little bit of a spicy undertone to it, but definitely those fresh, ripe strawberries you find in most Oregon Pinot Noir wines. It sells for $60 per bottle.
Unique Oregon Sparkling Wines
But, as with many things in Oregon, there is often a quirk to the state's sparkling wines. The newest trend in Oregon is to use a technique called pétillant naturel. In this method, usually called pét-nat, the wine starts fermenting in the tank, stops, is bottled, and fermentation continues in the bottle without the added dosage. Pét-nat wines are slightly sweet, usually a bit cloudy with the sedimentation, and very lightly bubbled. Because there is not the high pressure found in a traditional sparkling wine, pét-nats have a bottle cap or traditional wine top.
These new sparkling wine concepts in Oregon often feature grapes not found in traditional champagne—Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Viognier, and more. Here are some of the unique sparkling wines offered in Oregon:
Montinore Estate Vivacé Sparkling Wine
Montinore Estate Vivacé is a sparkling wine that reminds me of German sparkling wines, known as sekt. It's a blend of Gewürztraminer, Müller-Thurgau, Pinot Gris, and Riesling grapes. Montinore uses biodynamic methods and is certified organic by CCOF, so you don't have to worry about pesticides. If we used the French scale for sugar, this one would have just a tad too much sugar to be brut, so it would be in the range of extra-dry. It has the aroma of orange blossoms and nice for sipping on a warm summer day. It sells for $25 per bottle.
Kramer 2016 Celebrate Pinot Gris Sparkling Wine
The Kramer 2016 Celebrate Pinot Gris is from the Yamhill-Carlton AVA and made from Pinot Gris. It ages in stainless steel, so it has a tart finish, like a pear. This one is force carbonated rather than going through natural fermentation. It sells for $26 per bottle.
An Oregon Frizzante Sparkler
Apolloni Moscato Frizzante 2017 is a slightly sparkling wine in the tradition of Italian sparkling wines. Like most Moscato wines, it is sweet, with hints of spring flowers to offset the musky flavor of the grape. It is made from Oregon Muscat grapes and is $22 per bottle.
My Favorite Washington Sparkling Wines
I find the sparkling wine scene in Washington is quite similar to that in Oregon. There are definitely traditionalists, using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. However, there are many new winemakers now using the Pét-Nat method and experimenting with grapes outside the French tradition. Some seem to take on a bit of an Italian feel, while others echo the German sekt traditions.
Techniques for Washington Sparkling Wines
The undeniable master of the Washington sparkling wine scene is Treveri Cellars. I did find some winemakers in Walla Walla using the pét-nat method. I'm a bit intrigued by these, but I find the American sparkling wines made this way to be more reminiscent of a sparkling cider than sparkling wine. I don't like the cloudiness of these wines, but I think it is an interesting trend. Some of the Washington winemakers are even injecting carbon dioxide, much the same way you can use CO2 cartridges to inject bubbles into still water.
Recommendations for Washington Sparkling Wines
Here are a few of my recommendations for Washington sparkling wines:
Treveri Cellars Brut Blanc de Blancs is a Chardonnay sparkling wine from Washington's Yakima Valley. It is crisp, with green apple on the palate. This Blanc de Blancs has 12 grams of sugar per liter. At just $15 per bottle, it's ideal for sparkling cocktails.
Treveri Cellars also has a sparkling Riesling that is a demi-sec with 34 grams of sugar ($17) and a sparkling Gewürztramminer that is about the same sweetness with a hint of spice.
If you want to try a Walla Walla sparkling in the Pét-nat style, I suggest the 2019 Grosgrain Vineyards Lemberger Pét-nat. The lightly bubbly rosé is from Balufrankisch (or Lemberger) grapes. These are dark grapes grown in Austria and Hungary. The wine is dry, with red fruits and orange notes, and really works well with vegetarian dishes. This one has a top like a soda bottle and has very light effervescence.
The World's Unique Sparkling Wines
There are many more American sparkling wines to discover. Some are similar to French champagnes, using the same methods and grapes. Others introduce a unique twist on bubbles. It is great fun to experiment and try different things.
This is simply an overview of sparkling wines in this 5-part series. I apologize to the British, the Germans, the Australians, and the Kiwis of New Zealand…oh and the Portuguese, the Brazilians…it goes on. Entire books discuss different sparkling wines (now that's a thought).
I love experimenting with sparkling wines and there are so many intriguing new ones. And yet, I find myself always drawn to the classics, the traditional sparkling wines. Experiment and discover which ones best suit your palate. Remember, as you explore the best American sparkling wines and those in our other articles—there is no right or wrong and there is never a bad time for bubbles! Don't wait for a special occasion. Grab a glass of sparkling wine and start finding your own favorite sparkling wines.