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A Judgment of Paris: How the Sparkling Wines of Schramsberg Stacked Up Against Champagne

26 Oct

Considering sparkling wine is like considering heaven and hell.  On the one hand, you have sparklers that barely qualify as wine–Andre and Cook’s come to mind–while on the other hand you have Champagnes that will take you to the sky (related to price).  I haven’t had too much sparkling wine in my life, which is a shame because they are fun, well-made, and, as many are coming to realize, are absolutely terrific with food.

Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to a trade tasting of the sparkling wines of Schramsberg Vineyards, a venerable California sparkling wine institution located in Napa Valley, at Marcel’s in DC.  I had had their wines once or twice before, but was never in a condition to remember too much about them.  With this tasting I was in luck, however, because not only would I try a number of Schramsberg’s wines but would also participate in a blind tasting of Schramsberg wines and the finest French têtes de cuvée (prestige cuvée) wines.

Yikes!  A blind tasting at a trade event?  I felt outclassed, but I decided I would drink more than I spoke. I rolled up (on foot) to the tasting in my black suit (featured in my previous post) and heavy black backpack (at least it matched my suit!) and was greeted with a glass of Schramsberg’s Brut Rosé, which had pretty strawberry and peach aromas that were mirrored on the palate.

We were then led to long tables, where I sat next to David (the proprietor of the excellent Pearson’s Wine & Spirits in Glover Park) and the wine director of the Ritz-Carlton.  The phalanx of glasses reproduced above awaited us, as well as scoring sheets:

Hugh Davies, son of the founders of Schramsberg Vineyards, gave excellent commentary and production notes throughout the whole tasting.

For the first flight, which was the blind tasting of the Schramsberg sparkling wines and the Champagnes, the idea was that we were supposed to rank the wines from first to seventh and determine if we could which were blanc de blancs and which contained Pinot Noir, and which were the Californian wines. These are my transcribed notes from A to G:

  • A | aromas reminiscent of white Burgundy–hazelnut and lanolin.  A long finish but a noticeable burn.  | MY RANK: 6
  • B | thin bodied and high acid, with notes of green apple.  | MY RANK: 7
  • C | wow!   Clover honey and bread, tart but rich.  Really freaking good.  I thought this could be the oldest wine in the lineup, and could contain Pinot.  | MY RANK: 2
  • D | some aroma I couldn’t place… more of the Burgundy, maybe… really evocative and old-smelling.  Well-balanced, with tangerine notes.  | MY RANK: 1
  • E | gentle floral aroma, with lemon curd.  | MY RANK: 5
  • F | a rich color which made me wonder if this was an older vintage.  Burgundian aromas, with a round, full taste evocative of papaya and tropical fruits.  I thought this might contain Pinot.  | MY RANK: 3
  • G | pineapple on the nose, less fruit-driven and more hazelnut on the palate.  | MY RANK: 4
So how did I do on the blind tasting?