"It may gall the French to discover that it
was actually the English and not the French who
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.
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.
Brazil—Casa 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:
"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:
Iron Horse Vineyards (pictured)
Mumm Napa Valley
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.