Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Last Night's Tipple

Schramsberg is the oldest producers of sparkling wine in the United States. The winery dates to 1862, when German immigrant Jacob Schram gave up barbering in San Francisco and places north to buy land in Napa County and grow grapes. As far as I can tell, though, production was entirely still wines until 1940, when John Gargano and the California Champagne Company bought the winery. Douglas Pringle acquired the winery and the California Champagne Company in 1951, and he continued to produce wine until his death in 1960. The winery remained shuttered until 1965, when Jack and Jamie Davies bought the property and resumed production. The winery is currently run by the Davies' son, Hugh Davies.

Today, Schramsberg has three lines of sparkling wine. Wines in the Mirabelle line are multi-vintage and retail around $20 a bottle. The main line is composed of vintage wines, and the various bottlings retail for between $30 and $50 a bottle. At the top end, there is the reserve range, composed of the Pinot Noir-heavy Reserve, the Chardonnay-heavy J. Schram, and the J. Schram Rosé. These are typically more than double the price of the main line wines, and they feature extensive sur lie aging. The mainline Blanc de Noirs has the reputation of being one of the best sparklers (from California or elsewhere) available for the price (which isn't insignificant). I had gone looking for it a few days ago and couldn't find it. I was luckier when I tried again the day before yesterday.

Despite the name, this wine isn't just made from black grapes: it has about 15% Chardonnay. I don't know if it would be permissible in France to label a sparkling wine with 15% Chardonnay as Blanc de Noirs; but Schramsberg isn't in France, and it's obviously okay in the United States. Some Blanc de Noirs sparklers will have a slight pink tinge. Not this one: it's a deep gold, but there's not a hint of orange or red in it. But it does have a lot of the berry flavors and aromas that one typically associates with a Rosé wine, and a good deal of the body, too. I think that I enjoy this more than any of the other sparkling wines that I've tried recently. It's excellent.

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