I have to first admit that I am a Champagne snob. It might have come from living in Paris and going to parties where, thanks to a guy named Dominic, cases of Champagne were available. France has a perfect region for making the stuff, so why go anywhere else? Well, first is my theory of proximity to wine quality. If you aren’t near the source, a lot can happen to wine of any sort between the maker and the drinker. Being closer minimizes both the cost of the product and the risk of something going wrong along the way. In Paris, it’s a short train ride to Reims, Epernay, and Champagne. But its a long trip to me now that I live in Southern California. Even though bubbly wine made outside of Champagne is not Champagne, it can still be very good, and the price can be even better.
Domaine Carneros was one of our first stops in Napa Valley. It’s named after the southernmost appelation known as the Carneros Region. This area gets cool ocean breezes which are good for two things: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Each of these grapes go great in one thing: wine that is fermented in a bottle, riddled, and then stoppered with a big mushroom cap, kept under pressure, and ready to serve for celebrations or occasions of any sort.
Domaine Carneros is part of a venture made by Taittinger. The other venture is Domaine Chandon, named after Moët & Chandon of the giant company LVMH. I like Taittinger because it is one of the only remaining independents in the Champagne world. (Beavis and Butthead would also like how the name is pronounced in French). But I like others too—Moët, Veuve Clicquot, Perrier-Jouët. They each have their own characteristics that endure the risks and costs to get them to me in California. Domaine Carneros was my first true sampling of a California sparkling wine (I am sure I had a $4 bottle at some point in my life), and it broke through some of my prejudices.
A couple of good things about Domaine Carneros. First, none of the wines are those carbonated wines that gave a bad name to sparkling wines in the 70′s and 80′s. (Think sparkling white zinfandel). All of them are made using the methode champenoise–secondary fermenting in the individual bottle, removing the yeast, and corking the final product. All of them are vintage (made in a single year) which usually costs a premium and is fairly uncommon for commonly available French champagne.
Domaine Carneros has a big estate building built in 1989 or so with a rather Disneyesque feel to it. Despite the adult theme park craziness even on a Sunday afternoon, tastings are done quite nicely: sitting down at a table, the various bubblies are all placed with a cue card, and there is plenty of time and opportunity to go back and forth between the different ones. At first, we had to sit for about 10-15 minutes before someone had time to help us, but Travis stopped by and let us know he saw us waiting and would be right back to help us. The wait was soon forgotten and it we were glad to have the local Californian help us rather than the French woman we saw other tables endure. After the initial pour, he came back to the table and sensed that we weren’t just sitting outside for some bubbly and to overlook the expansive grounds and view of Napa. He proceeded to bring out some more special wines—both sparkling and not—and made the experience way better than the cookie cutter format we we initially expected.
I’m not sure if my sister and I were just in the mood to buy a bunch of wine, or if our pourer was also a great salesperson, or if the prices and wine really did seem good. It could have been any or all three of these things, but we decided to split a case of wine. Domaine Carneros makes some still wines, too. We split up some Pinot Noir and sparklies between us, and based on the sales pitch, we determined I could join the wine club, use this as my first of two requisite purchases, and get pretty good pricing on the bottles. For example, their flagship Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs is a retail of $95 according to their list, but we each got a bottle for $68. Which isn’t bad considering the amount of time it spends sur lie (5 years) and the quality of the bubbly. A non-vintage champagne of my normal choosing would be $40, and a vintage bottle of Dom Perignon was $120 last I saw at Costco (and $125 at Vons with their 30%+10% off sale without the gift box). Most bottles we got out the door at $28, with some unique styles such as a demi-sec (semi-sweet) Vermeil and an ultra brut (extra dry) white.
My wife, Heather, is a huge fan of Champagne, and just yesterday we had our first bottle of the Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé as an aperitif to sushi. Rosé can be made two ways, the first is a little longer press and maceration of the pinot noir grape at first pressing, the second is by adding pinot noir into the bottle. I believe they do both, but in any case it gives the stuff a little more grippiness and complexity compared to the white stuff. It’s not sweeter, just a little broader. If they didn’t do this, she might make a Lady Macbeth, which is port wine in champagne. This is kind of a ready-made Lady Macbeth Lite with less sugar and alcohol.
My father once told me the ballpark time for Champagne was 7 years. For something like Dom, it can be 30 years. But rosé, even Dom Perignon rosé, won’t last as long as the white stuff. Using those guidelines I imagine 3-4 years after bottling would be fine to hang onto the Domaine Carneros rosé. This is a 2007 vintage bottled in 2011, so you could safely keep it for an anniversary in 2015 or so.
According to Yelp reviews, Domaine Carneros has a much better tasting experience than Domaine Chandon. Other places people recommended to us were Roederer and Shramsburg. Apparently the latter has the worlds fastest riddler. (Riddling is rotating the bottle upside down to let the yeast settle out, not citing puns or clever sayings and questions and being Batman’s nemesis). Because of the other good sparkly places we missed, I predict a trip with my wife in the future.
|Domaine Carneros by Taittinger
1240 Duhig Road, Napa, CA 94559
|Features||Sparkling wine. Spectacular view. Top Choice Winery|
|Tours||11, 1, and 3, daily|
|Tasting Room||10 to 6 daily|
|Tasting Fee||$16 Sparkling Wine (3)
$16 Red Wine Sampler (3)
$24 Grande Tasting (4)
|Overall Experience Wine Tasting Setup Wine Pourer(s) Sales Pressure|