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Things I Think I Would Like to Drink
By Robert Whitley
Oct 14, 2014
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Things I think I’d like to drink:

•    I had to smile as I read the press release that crossed my desk the other day. From the 6 Nations Wine Challenge in Sydney, Australia, it trumpeted the triumph of Chateau St. Jean’s 2010 Cinq Cepages, which took the trophy for best Bordeaux blend.

First of all, I like to see wines I like shine in these exhibitions. Young wines can be fickle, showing well one day and closing up the next, so you never know.  The same wine was awarded a platinum medal and 95 points at the recent Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition, demonstrating a consistency from judging to judging that bodes well.

Cinq Cepages has been a benchmark Bordeaux-style blend, annually one of the finest in California, since its inception. Every year I set aside several bottles, burying them in a deep, dark corner of my wine cellar for future consumption. My oldest vintage dates back to the early 1990s. The word “great” is applied to wine all too often, and I’m as prone to that sort of hyperbole as anyone, but Cinq Cepages through decades of excellence has earned it.

•    While I have been very impressed with the small-lot and vineyard-designate wines of Domaines Paul Mas, a rising star in France’s Languedoc region, I am reminded of the wisdom of importer Kermit Lynch, who commends us to judge a Burgundy producer by the least of its wines, the downscale Bourgogne. If the producer makes a credible Bourgogne, it naturally follows that its more exalted villages, premier and grand cru wines will also be very, very good.

If I apply the Kermit Lynch model as it relates to Domaines Paul Mas, it leads me to the inexpensive tier under the Cote Mas label. Everything you need to know is embodied in the 2013 Cote Mas Rouge Intense, a Pays d’Oc IGP red blend (Grenache Noir, Carignan, Cinsault, Merlot & Syrah) that retails for all of $8.99.
This supple red is spicy and juicy, perfect for grilled sausages, roast chicken and the like. It took a silver medal with a rating of 88 points at the recent Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition, and its modest price should encourage you to purchase by the case.

Oh, and by the way, Domaines Paul Mas’ more exalted wines are nothing less than stellar.

•    Comparisons between Champagne and New World sparkling wines will be inevitable as the holiday season approaches, and Champagne will more than likely carry the day when the case for quality is argued.

Truth be told, there are but a handful of spots in the world where sparkling wines made in the methode champenoise tradition, with the second fermentation in the bottle, are the rule rather than the exception. Most bubbly is made using the bulk Charmat process, which produces perfectly fine sparkling wine but generally without the structure and complexity of bubbly made using the traditional Champagne method.

America is one of those places you can count on for excellent sparkling wine made using the Champagne technique, but even here that process is restricted to a few regions and a handful of dedicated producers. Domestic sparkling wine will never quite replicate Champagne in taste or mouthfeel, owing I believe to the unique combination of climate and chalky soils found in France’s Champagne region.

But the quality gap is largely a myth. The finest domestic sparkling wines made using the methode champenoise technique are every bit as good as Champagne. They may taste different, but they are not inferior wines.

For the benefit of those consumers looking to stock the cellar with fine domestic bubbly, I have put together my own personal Top Ten power ranking of America’s sparkling wine producers who use the methode champenoise technique.

1.    Schramsberg, Napa Valley. 2. Domaine Carneros by Taittinger, Napa Valley. 3. Roederer Estate, Anderson Valley. 4. Iron Horse, Green Valley. 5. Gloria Ferrer, Sonoma County. 6. Mumm Napa Valley, Napa Valley. 7. Chateau Frank, Finger Lakes. 8. J Vineyards, Sonoma County. 9. Domain Chandon, Napa Valley. 10. Sparkling Pointe, Long Island.

The power rankings are subject to change, of course, with each passing vintage, and I may well revise the Top Ten later this year as the buying season for sparkling wines peaks.