It's been an unusual year in many respects, so we chose some unusual sparkling wines for our annual Bohemian roundup of wines to bring cheer to the holiday season.
Most sparkling wines on offer in California are made from a handful of grapes after the fashion of Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and maybe Pinot Meunier—little else will ripen in that chilly clime. But here in Northern California, we have options.
Harvest Moon 2014 Russian River Valley Sparkling Zinfandel ($46) Yup. Zin can be made to sparkle, too, even when it's a ruby red. The top-scoring bubbly grabbed our attention with festive aromas of fir tree, Christmas candle, nutmeg and ginger, but mostly, black pepper spice—effervescence turns up the dial on this winery's signature, peppery expression of Zinfandel—and perked up Bohemian palates with dry, spicy red berry flavor. Unusually, this sparkling is produced entirely in-house, instead of via custom crush service. (Disclosure: I have sold grapes to Harvest Moon, but not for this wine.) Defying Zin clichés, it's as low in alcohol as most other sparkling wines, at 12.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), but was also repeatedly described by some Bohemians as a "manly wine."
Woodenhead 2010 Naturale Russian River Valley Sparkling Wine (Normally $42, but on sale for $30) The only controversy here was what citrus does this most resemble: lemon, lime or grapefruit? Maybe a hint of Orange Julius cream from four years aging on the lees. This clean, zippy fizzy is firmly in the style of some of Champagne's best brut nature wines—a tightrope style to make because of little or no added sugar in the dosage. It's sourced from an old plot of French Colombard, a once-popular white blender.
Breathless North Coast Moscato Sparkling Wine ($29) Made with 96 percent Muscat Canelli and 4 percent Chardonnay, this white wine teases with blackcurrant and cherry flavors and perfumy, herbal notes of olive and tarragon. It tastes a little off-dry, but it's charmingly fruity, not cloying.
Harvest Moon 2013 Russian River Valley Sparkling Gewürztraminer ($42) Another varietal that's typecast as a sweetie, this Gewürz is all about the spice, instead—green spice and white floral notes. Almond croissant adds richness to a zesty, lemony palate.
Korbel Rouge Sonoma County Champagne ($15.99) Mostly Pinot Noir with a 3 percent dash of Malbec, this is the deepest red bubbly of the lot, and with its puckery palate of blueberry and leather is perhaps better paired with the holiday roast, not the toast.
Amista Dry Creek Valley Sparkling Syrah ($45) Tart, chewy, and bright pink, this was inspired by the winery's dry rosé of Syrah, and indeed evokes the dry rosé wines of the Rhône more than anything else—except maybe cranberry cotton candy on the nose? The sensation of sweetness some Bohemians noted comes from the fruit.