“I really want to impress my date this Valentine’s Day,” a workout buddy tells me between crunches at the gym. “I’m preparing this incredible dinner, sprinkling rose petals all over the table … I’m just figuring out what I can hock so I can buy her a bottle of Dom Perignon.”
“It’s the best, isn’t it?”
Dom Perignon is certainly a brand favorite when it comes to fine champagne, yet you can score several domestic sparkling wines that will impress even the most demanding guest with its pedigree, palate, aroma, and scintillating color for a fraction of the price.
Why is this the case?
Champagne (the term applies to grapes specifically grown in Champagne, France) is a delimited AOC region with many centuries of brand building and an established reputation for age-worthy wines. The “new world” sparkling wines of California and Washington are grown under quality conditions, but do not face the restrictions of their French cousins. New world sparklers are also designed to be drunk young, and are not expected to improve with cellar age.
One of the fastest growing areas of sparkling wine production in America is Washington State, where Domaine St. Michele produces delicious, well-balanced champagne in the Columbia Valley, a region marked by lots of sun, little rain, and the kind of cool temperature that produces wines with refreshing acidity and pure fruit character.
Chateau Ste Michelle offers a Blanc de Noirs with a gorgeous salmon color (it is tinted from very brief contact with the red wine skins) and scent of tangerine, strawberry, peach, apricot – just ripened fruit at its peak. It has an elegant, dry, crisp finish with just enough acidity to keep everything fresh. Serve it as an elegant, romantic aperitif or pair with caramelized scallops, tuna tartare, poached salmon, or luncheon salads.
Chateau Ste Michelle’s Brut is more the traditional champagne style, with a subtle aroma of apple and a hint of toast on the finish. While technically “dry” the wine has a tinge of sweetness — also an excellent aperitif and food wine that can be paired with seafood such as shrimp and oysters, and savory appetizers.
California’s Napa Valley has long been known for its sparkling wines, and Mumm is among the more famed producers in the area. Like Chateau Ste. Michelle, they also produce a Brut and Blanc de Noir. The Brut offers a champagne-like nose of vanilla and baked apple, with slight char in the lengthy finish. I would pair this with the same dishes as Chateau Ste Michelle, perhaps adding an al dente pasta with a very sparing cream or cheese sauce.
You will find the Blanc de Noir onion skin-colored with a pale salmon core and fast-rising bubbles. On the nose, look for yeast, grilled bread, and ripening apples while the palate offers black fruit, more apples, and more toasted bread. I’d serve this as an aperitif, with savory starters such as chickpea fries or a mushroom tart.
Sparklers are fun for celebrations, especially Valentine’s Day. That delicious “pop” of the cork provides the romantic audio companion to my workout buddy’s sprinkling of rose petals and extravagant dinner preparation. Yet consider sparkling wine to drink with dinner during the week, whether you’ve had a good day – or need a cheerful lift. At these prices, why not?