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Monday, December 30, 2013

The (Ice) Bucket List: Great Sparkling Wines and Where to Buy Them

Posted By on Mon, Dec 30, 2013 at 2:00 PM

  • Lou Bustamante
Gatherings and celebrations provide ample excuse to pop open a bottle of bubbly, but here's the secret: You can have sparkling wine year round and it can be enjoyed with an entire meal, not just to start one off. My Bay Area Bubbles series explored the local wineries making bubbles, and now I'm bringing you a list of great stores to buy those, Champagne, and other sparkling wine from here and beyond.

I've enlisted the help of three of San Francisco's best sommeliers to build a focused list of stores and bottles to help the spendy or sparing. Here are a few picks from Mark Bright (Saison), Ian Burrows (Atelier Crenn), and Sian Nagan (Quince).

See also: Great Bay Area Liquor Stores to Stuff Stockings or Cabinets

Bay Area Bubbles: Iron Horse Vineyards

Bay Area Bubbles: A Visit to Schramsberg's Candlelit Tasting Cave

Splurge-Worthy Sparkling

If there's one thing these three know really well professionally, it's the good stuff.

For Mark Bright, the choice is bottle from Jacques Selosse, the estate winery that rocked the Champagne world when winemaker Anselme Selosse started applying unconventional techniques and practices (biodynamic, solera system for blending, and oak barrel fermentation). "The richness and complexity of his wines are unmatched, and they are some of the rarest to source," says Bright.

Ian Burrows defines splurge-worthy Champagne by two qualities: It must stop you mid-sip, like a flavor double-take, and it must drink effortlessly. The Pol Roger "Cuvée Winston Churchill" Brut Champagne is one of those. Said to have been Churchill's sparkling of choice, the rich texture is layered with fresh mushrooms, citrus, and quince flavors that make it a great pairing with cheese or a main course.

Also on his list is the Krug Brut Rosé Champagne that Burrows describes as, "beautifully balanced with peach and wild berry and meringue and pine nut flavors."

Sian Nagan agrees with Burrows, and his choice in Krug, but her weakness is for their "Clos du Mesnil" Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne. The sparkling wine is made from grapes grown in a small, walled enclosure that Krug claims create a unique microclimate for the vines, producing the rare and unique Champagne.

Budget Bubbles

For those occasions, like Tuesdays, when an $800 bottle is probably overkill, Bright recommends the Demière-Ansiot Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru Brut Champagne, from one of his favorite grower-producers in the market right now. "The champagnes are super focused," says Bright, adding that the wines are also "not heavily distributed so it's always a surprise pour for friends and associates."

Burrows likes to venture outside of France for some good values like the Raventos i Blanc "L'Hereu de Nit" Brut Reserva Rosé Cava that he considers one of the most delicious Spanish sparkling wines out there for the money.

Closer to home, he's a fan of the Caraccioli Cellars Brut from the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey. When Scott Caaccioli started his sparkling wine production, he hired Dr. Michel Salgues. Salgues was responsible for overseeing the production at Roederer Estate, and considers it one of the most promising sparkling wine producers in the world.

Staying in France, Burrows also really likes the Chartogne-Taillet Sainte-Anne Brut Champagne, made in a small family estate winery by Alexandre Chartogne, who apprenticed with famed winemaker Anselme Selosse. Playing off the unique terrior of Merfy where the soil is a mix of chalky and loamy, Burrows explains that "[Chartogne's] house style is not a reflection of that of Selosse, but the way in which he achieves purity, complexity and finesse in his wines could certainly be via the values learned from Selosse."

Nagan gives the Chartogne-Taillet another vote, but also adds a unique pinot noir-based Austrian wine pick: Meinklang Pinot Noir Frizzante Prosa. This biodynamic wine is lightly fizzy, off-dry, and forgoes the tradition wire cage for twine instead. At about $20, it's also a great deal.

Shopping for Sparkling

Bright's retail recommendations span from the popular Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, to the specialists over at The Wine House in Potrero and the South of Market experts at The Wine Club.

For Burrows, his go-to spots are K&L Wines in SoMa for their large selection, and D&M Liquor in the Fillmore for their impressive array of sparkling and Champagne wines.

With some East Bay picks, Nagan recommends the Rockridge staple Paul Marcus Wines that has a nice assortment despite the store's small size. She is also impressed by the petite but focused selection at Kermit Lynch in Berkeley, where she likes the staff's enthusiasm and knowledge.

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