Two years ago, my friend Sarah (who was in town from the east coast) and I decided to drive up north and go wine tasting together. We rented a car and scooted up over the rust-colored Golden Gate Bridge. It was either late March or early April, when the northern California rains are still at their peak, and when fog banks and low dark clouds piddle on tired locals hourly. By late morning, though, the sky was mostly still holding its waters.
I had written down directions to a few wineries that I had read particularly good things about, and our first stop was the champagne caves at Gloria Ferrer.
We toured the caves with a small group and a completely knowledgeable and Levi-wearing guide who said she had come to work at Gloria Ferrer after many years being “a regular” at the winery. She said that after she moved to a nearby town, she picked up a habit of swinging by the tasting room often, met the owners, and started working for them. She had a love of sparkling wines, she said, and stressed that they had to be neither expensive nor elitist. She said she kept a couple of bottles in her vegetable crisper at all times to pop open when her friends came by unannounced with a pizza.
For all the hubbub that the word “champagne” evokes, I started to get the feeling it didn’t have to be so.
Sarah and I asked our guide what was the difference between champagne and sparkling wine, as Gloria Ferrer’s bottles were all labeled sparkling, but their aging rooms were referred to as “champagne caves.” She told us that champagne, to officially be called such, must come from the Champagne region of France, which was actually a stipulation of the first Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919. However, the United States at that time was in the midst of Prohibition, so the law did not apply. And when the dry spell ended in 1934, the U.S. shrugged and effectively said, “We never agreed to that.” (Most wine makers nowadays do concede to the French, though not all.)
I'm still far from knowing very much about sparkling wines, but I learned more in that one trip to Gloria Ferrer than I have reading any other magazine or article about wine. I've also begun to venture away from reds and order sparkling wines more and more in restaurants and wine bars (or champagne bars, like The Bubble Lounge). One of the biggest problem with sparkling wines has always been the inability to cork them and save some for later; an open bottle must result in an empty bottle by the end of the night. But half bottles are becoming much more widely available even at California grocery stores, so there's no need to turn into a bubble-headed floozy every time I want a glass of fizz.
I’ve tasted two sparkling wines in particular that I adore: Codorniu Pinot Noir Cava Brut Spain NV (which I had the EOS wine bar on Carl and Cole Streets in San Francisco) and Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs.
Both feel gently fizzy (rather than “poppingly” bubbly like soda) and are pinkish in hue with lush strawberry notes. And both go great with pizza.
Codorniu Pinot Noir Cava Brut Spain NV ($9 by the glass at EOS)
Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs ($20 from Gloria Ferrer, 750ml)
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707 933 1917
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