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WINE

California's Sparkling Thrills

November 21, 1996

As mentioned previously, quality judgments in sparkling wine are almost pure preference. So, more than usual, what follows is, as the singer-songwriter Donovan so memorably put it, "one man's opinion of moonlight."

The Thrill of the Deal: Roederer Estate Brut non-vintage ($17.95). Although less expensive sparklers can be founds--quite a few, in fact--Roederer makes California's consistently best non-vintage Brut (very dry). With a street price as low as $13.95, it turns into the tastiest deal.

The Thrill of the Pure Chardonnay: 1990 Iron Horse Vineyards Blanc de Blancs "LD" ($25) is one of the creamiest bottlings California has seen. The grapes are exclusively from Sonoma County's surpassingly cool Green Valley. The "LD" business stands for late disgorged, meaning that the bottled wine saw considerable contact with its lees (sediment), which adds more flavor. Look also for the 1989 and '91 vintages.

The Thrill of Packaging: Jordan Vineyard "J" ($23). Let's be honest: Bubbly is more than just what's in the glass. The whole package says celebration. California's handsomest bubbly bottle is, hands down, the Jordan Vineyard wine called "J." Its custom-made, proprietary bottle is adorned with a swooping "J" painted on the glass. It's a stunner. How's the wine? Pretty good, actually, although not in the top rank.

The Thrill of Rose: Roederer Estate Brut Rose ($21). Sparkling wine snoots look down on pink wine as frivolous, nowhere more so than with sparkling rose. Bosh. A really good sparkling rose should taste strongly of pinot noir. This one does. For this taster, it's a world-class contender. It's also a limited production sparkler, so keep an eye peeled for it. Domaine Chandon Club Rose ($19) is another good version, as is Iron Horse Vineyard's Brut Rose ($24).

The Thrill of the Chase: This is where the pack bunches up. Which sparklers should you keep tabs on? Mumm "Cuvee Napa DVX" ($30) is a contender, thanks to its richness. Ditto for Schramsberg's 1989 "J. Schram" ($50). The new label, Kristone, by Jess Jackson of Kendall-Jackson fame, is worth watching if you're unfazed by the asking price: $60 a bottle for either the rose or the blanc de noir.

The Thrill of the Best: What's one man's opinion of the most luminous moonlight? For my money--and extremely personal preference--California's best sparkling wine is Roederer Estate's special bottling called "L'Hermitage" ($35). It's got it all: depth, complexity, richness and above all, finesse. The 1991 vintage is the latest release, but if you spot the '90, grab it.

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