Friday, January 11, 2008

Last Night's Tipple

Many of the California wineries making méthode Champenoise sparkling wines are wholly or partially owned by the major Champagne houses. The most prominent are Domaine Chandon (owned by Moët et Chandon), Roederer Estate (owned by Louis Roederer), and Domaine Caneros (owned by Taittinger), and they make a lot of well-regarded sparkling wine. Of course, there are California sparklers that are made by wineries completely unassociated with the French. One such is Iron Horse Vineyards, owned by the Sterling family and producing sparkling wine for many years from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes mostly grown in the Green Valley of Sonoma County.

I have to admit that I wasn't looking to buy a bottle of Iron Horse sparkling wine when I went to Spec's the other day. I was looking for Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs. Schramsberg, like Iron Horse, is an American winery producing sparkling wine in California, and its Blanc de Noirs bottling is widely regarded as one of the standard examples of the good things that can be done with sparkling wine in California. But Spec's didn't have any on the shelves, so I began to consider the Iron Horse offerings. There were four Iron Horse bottlings available: the Wedding Cuvee, which is Iron Horse's Blanc de Noirs; the Classic Brut; the Russian Cuvee, which apparently is an extra dry version of the Classic Brut; and the Brut Rosé. I was tempted by the Brut Rosé, but it was $10 more per bottle than the others. I didn't really want an extra dry sparkling wine, so the Russian Cuvee was out. So it was between the Wedding Cuvee and the Classic Brut. What decided it for me was that the Classic Brut spent four years en tirage whereas the Wedding Cuvee only spent three years. Since more is better (right?), I went with the Classic Brut.

The bottle of the 2002 vintage that I ended up buying says that it is 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. That fact and the long time that the wine spent en tirage gave me high hopes. Alas, I was very disappointed. The overwhelming aroma that I experienced was chalk. The wine tasted sour and was not very pleasant. Things improved as the wine warmed up a little bit -- the chalky aroma dissipated somewhat, and there was actually some noticeable fruit -- but I still didn't like it much. I should have gone with the Brut Rosé or the Wedding Cuvee, alas.

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