Warm-up Wine (Not from the U.S.)
- 2001 Saint-Hilaire Blanc de Blancs Blanquette de Limoux ($12): Another good value non-Champagne sparkling wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France.
Tasting Wines & retail value (in order of most preferred)
Of the 14 attendees, 12 tasters completed their rating sheets. There were eight bottles in the blind tasting; most were in the very good to excellent quality range. Five bottles were from California, plus one each from Washington, Oregon and (surprise) New Mexico. There was a clear first place choice, and four wines were separated from one another by only 1 point. The last place wine suffered from flawed winemaking and was easily the least preferred; it was that substitute wine from Clark's VinoTemp.
- 1999 Roederer Estate L'Ermitage Brut ($32 on sale; $45 regular): 31 points (5 first, 2 second, 0 last) This is a consistently excellent sparkling wine, and it proved this again by being the clear winner of the evening. It had a wonderfully complex taste with excellent body and long finish. (Wine Enthusiast: 90 pts; Wine & Spirits: 92 pts)
NV Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs ($20): 39 points (2 first, 1 second, 0 last) This wine also showed very good complexity, with a tiny bit of smoke on the aftertaste. It did not have much of the light pink hue that often comes with this style of sparkling wine. (Wine Spectator: 90 pts in 2004)
NV Gruet Winery Brut ($15): 44 points (1 first, 3 second, 1 last) This sparkler from New Mexico was the sleeper wine of the evening. It was lighter bodied than the others, with nice crisp fruit. At $15, it is a good buy; some places on the web are selling it for $10 or less. WOW.
2000 Argyle Brut ($21): 58 points (1 first, 1 second, 1 last) This is another example of Argyle's consistently very good quality sparkling wine. It was crisp and fruity, with only moderate complexity. Only one point separated this from the next wine. (Wine Spectator: 90 pts)
2001 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut ($28 ): 59 points (1 first, 1 second, 2 last) Given the reputation of this wine, this is a somewhat surprisingly low finish. This was also the duplicated bottle, but only one was served. It had very good crisp fruit, along with a moderate finish. Only one point separated this from the next wine. (Wine Spectator: 86 pts)
1998 Domaine St. Michelle 10th Anniversay Limited Release ($26): 60 points (0 first, 3 second, 1 last) This wine was St. Michelle's first Reserve Sparkling Wine, which they now call Luxe. It had good complexity, with a touch of smokiness blended in with the fruit flavors. Only one point separated this from the next wine.
2004 Francis Coppola Sophia Blanc de Blancs ($22): 61 points (0 first, 1 second, 1 last) This wine had somewhat understated flavors with a medium finish. With a bit of searching, I found out this wine is made primarily from Pinot Blanc with 14% Sauvignon Blanc and 8% Muscat. It's quite a unique wine.
NV Pacific Echo Brut ($19): 75 points (2 first, 0 second, 5 last) Most people were turned off by the excessive smokiness in this wine, which is made by Scharffenberer Cellars. This was the substitute wine for the duplicate bottle of Schramsberg, and its flawed winemaking was quite a disappointment. NOTE: A bottle of Pacific Echo Brut was served at another blind tasting at Clark & Eileen's home just over five years ago. That wine, which was rated 90 points by Wine Spectator, came in first place, edging out a 1993 Roederer L'Ermitage by one vote. How times (and wines) have changed.
- 2004 Sylvan Ridge Early Muscat ($15): This is a fragrant, low-alcohol, very pleasant semi-sparkling wine from Oregon.
After several folks left, the hard core tasters retired to the family room to chat, sit a while, and savor a bottle of NV Vinhos Barbeito Malmsey Special Reserve Madeira, sold under the label of The Rare Wine Co. Historic Series ($44). It has a deep ruby-amber color, with a sweet-tart flavor. Despite the fact that it has 19% alcohol, it is a very smooth drinking wine.