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"No Troubles with These Bubbles"
A Book Review

  by Fred McMillin

"It may gall the French to discover that it was actually the English and not the French who invented Champagne."

Today there are about 50,000 'different' [French] Champagnes made every year...The best recent vintages are '85, '90 and '96...Two of the greatest houses are Krug and Moët & Chandon.

Leaving France...

Made in India with guidance from Piper-Heidsieck, the Omar Khayyam sparkler was exceptional ten years ago, "when hardly anyone on the New World was making a decent fizz. It is as good now as it was then."

Leading sparklers of other areas:

    Mexico—The clear leader is Freixenet de Mexico.
    BrazilCasa Moet & Chandon's Diamantina
    Oregon—"Far and away the best is Argyle."
    Australia—The Down Under Domaine Chandon has been far ahead of the game, meeting international standards in only its third year.

These are the opinions of possibly the world's foremost authority on sparkling wines, Tom Stevenson. of his 22 literary awards, 13 were for his works on Champagne. Each year in London he conducts Christie's Champagne Master Class. The above excerpts are from his splendid, new Christie's World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine, published by the Wine Appeciation Guild, San Francisco, 1998, phone (650) 866-3020, FAX (650) 866-3029. Price—$50.


So, let's see what he has to say about California, and other parts of North America.

Canada—When French explorer Jacques Cartier sailed down the St. Lawrence river in 1535, he found a large island overrun by vines, which he named Ile de Bacchus. Those native grapes were used first for still wine (c.1564) and then sparkling wine (c.1860). That type of bubbly became very popular in Canada by 1975. Tom's appraisal: "Tacky, sweet fizz!" There's one hopeful exception, Blue Mountain in British Columbia.

California. There are lots of suprises. Examples:

Iron Horse Vineyards  
  • "The vineyards in Britain are much better suited to the production of fine quality fizz than are those in California."

  • The family of an important California wine figure whom I shall not name sought a silent partner in 1939 to help finance the purchase of a sparkler winery before the U.S.A. entered World War II. The purchase went through, but before long the federal government confiscated the wine company. You see, the silent partner was von Ribbentrop, Hitler's foreign minister!

  • On July 4,1849 the S.S. Niantic dropped anchor in San Francisco Bay to allow its passengers (all gold miners) to charge ashore. When the captain awoke the next morning, he found his entire crew had deserted to mine gold, too. The ship was grounded, and its consignment of champagne forgotten when the vessel was destroyed by fire two years later. After nineteen years, construction work led to the discovery down in the mud and water 35 baskets of French Champagne Jacquesson. Upon uncorking, there was some effervescence and the flavor was "very fair."

  • The six California sparklers given the most attention by Tom are:
    Domaine Chandon
    Iron Horse Vineyards (pictured)
    Kristone (Kendall-Jackson)
    Mumm Napa Valley
    Roederer Estate
    Schramsberg Vineyards



    Until now, my library has included but two outstanding books on sparklers.

  • Henry Vizetelly's 1882 A History of Champagne
  • Andre L. Simon's 1962 Champagne
    Now I own three.

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