Barry Jackson’s Equinox label out of Santa Cruz’s West side has three great sparkling wines for the season.
Under the category of “hard work but somebody's gotta do it,” five of us sat down last week to sample four distinct bottles of locally made sparkling wine. Yes, just in time to put the sparkle into holiday dinners and parties. We sampled a sparkling rosé from Odonata, and three from Equinoxincluding a brut reserve, a blanc de blanc and a vintage 1998 blanc de blanc. Each is made according to the classical French méthode Champenoise.
Here's how it's done: Wines are made using grapes that came from Santa Cruz Mountains vineyards. Then the wines are encouraged to produce tiny, shimmering bubbles by the addition of yeast and sugar—tirage—then bottled, stoppered and laid up to referment. The yeast consumes the sugar, and voila! Dry sparkling wine. In order to expunge the yeast deposits, the bottles are racked with their necks lowered, called “riddling.” Turned by hand over weeks and months, the bottles now have all the yeast deposits captured in the narrow part of the neck. Quick as you please, the bottles are turned and uncapped in a single movement. (There is also the freezing method, but I digress.) Sediment thus removed, a tiny amount of sugar is added, the clear bubbly is corked and the rest is festive history.
We began with Odonata's Sparkling Rosé, which showed solid bubble strength and dry clear flavor with a noticeable hint of amarena bitter cherries and strawberries, thanks to its Sangiovese base ($28). “Dance of the sugar plum fairies,” one taster observed. The beautiful deep blush color made this sparkler visually quite appealing. According to winemakerDenis Hoey, “This wine saw almost three years on the yeast during tirage,” and Hoey also noted that making this style of wine required lots of waiting. ‘Sparkling has taught me patience, and that it is a heck of a lot harder to make bubbles on every level than a table wine!’
Equinox winemaker Barry Jackson is the rare artisan who maintains his own in-house méthode Champenoise bottling line, hence his Equinox label adorns three bubblies we tasted. We all agreed that the NV Monterey Blanc de Blanc Brut, made from 100 percent Chardonnay grapes ($36), was a gorgeous straw golden hue, offering a whirlwind of bubbles, and bright allium overtones. Yes, it would be perfect with oysters, we all thought. A fine “house champagne,” for the holidays. The Equinox 2001 Brut Reserve, comprising 75 percent Chardonnay and 25 percent pinot noir from Trout Gulch Vineyard, had been aged nine years en tirage ($60).(These are labor- and time-intensive creations!) This very faintly blushing blend offered a very dry finish and subtle floral tones as well as a distinctly honey flavor. Bubbles contained astonishing energy and delicacy—“very convincing,” “bright,” “beautiful color” and “tannic finish” were among the comments.
The final sparkler sampled was a very special edition from Equinox—a 1998 Blanc de Blanc Santa Cruz Mountains, Meyley Vineyard. This complex creation from one of the most celebrated Chardonnay vineyards in the appellation won our universal approval. A hint of Queen Anne's lace and celery floated above a core of minerals, even some “lavender and marble.” Minutes after opening, this sparkler also showed shifting notes of spice, from cinnamon to star anise. A gorgeous and festive bubbly, the $100/bottle beauty had enjoyed 11 years en tirage, without addition of yeast or sugar. The ensuing complexity makes it something every connoisseur of fine local wines will want to think about. Santa?
This Just In: The new earthy Dark Roast at Gayle's is a custom creation for the bakery from Verve Coffee Roasters. Terrific perfume, lots of complex middle notes.