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WINE NOTES

New Mid-Price Champagne

April 19, 1990|DAN BERGER | TIMES WINE WRITER

A new entrant into the sparkling wine derby is Great Western California Champagne Grande Cuvee. The wines sold under this brand are aimed at hitting a price in the market above some of the lower-end Spanish sparklers and below the level of most California premium wines.

The interesting fact here is that Great Western is the same name that has been used by the New York-based winery that once was one of the nation's top sellers of sparkling wine.

Great Western Champagne, in its heyday in the 1960s and early 1970s, sold more than 850,000 cases of sparkling wine, all of it produced in New York from locally raised grapes. The wines were not typical of French Champagne, but sold for much less.

Vintners International, which acquired Great Western as well as a number of other brands and properties from Seagram in 1986, saw a niche in the sparkling wine market that wasn't occupied by many bubblies: the $8.75 price point. So it produced a French-method sparkling wine from Monterey County grapes, aged the wine 18 months in the bottle during the second fermentation and test-marketed it under the La Cresta label.

However, that test market failed because the name meant nothing to most consumers, said a spokesman for the company, so Great Western was selected as the name for the brand.

There are two wines under the program, a Blanc de Blancs made from 77% Pinot Blanc and 23% Chardonnay, and a Blanc de Noirs, which is 75% Pinot Noir with the balance white grapes. Grapes for the wines were grown in Monterey County.

The wines are good examples of lighter-styled sparkling wines--clean and typical of methode champenoise wines, with good balancing acidity so they are not sweet.

In most major markets, the wines will retail for less than the suggested price of $8.75 and may be seen in many locations at $7 or less.

Great Western New York sparkling wines are still being marketed and a Blanc de Blancs (all Chardonnay) and a Pinot-based Blanc de Noirs are both $12.50.

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