Feature Coverage

A Schramsberg for the Ages

By Robert Whitley

When the late Jack and Jamie Davies purchased the historic Jacob Schram winery in Calistoga, California, in 1965, they embarked upon what must have seemed at the time to be the impossible dream.

Their goal was to produce the finest sparkling wine in America at the 100-year-old winery up on Diamond Mountain. They dreamed of a bubbly that would rival Champagne. Problem No. 1, however, was an inconsistent supply of chardonnay. Yet they forged ahead with dramatic results that inspired a number of prominent Champagne houses (Mumm, Taittinger, Moet & Chandon and Roederer, to name a few) to purchase vineyard land in California.

Son Hugh Davies runs the winery these days and doubles as winemaker. Hugh embraced his parents’ vision and, based upon the bottle of 2011 J. Schram ($120) I just finished, has largely succeeded in the eternal quest to put Schramsberg on equal footing with the best Champagne houses.

J. Schram is Schramsberg’s answer to the tete de cuvee of Champagne, a luxury, prestige bottling that represents the finest bubbly the house has to offer. It is 90% chardonnay, 10% pinot noir. Significantly, it is aged eight years on the yeast lees prior to disgorgement. The extended aging builds complexity but takes time and costs money. Most businesses wouldn’t willingly create a product and then tuck it away for eight or nine years prior to offering it for sale.

That is what is required, however, to produce a New World sparkling wine that might rival the finest Champagne. The 2011 J. Schram is a stunning bubbly that is remarkably fresh and crisp despite its age. Showing notes of lemon, crunchy apple and toasted brioche, it reflects the classic methode traditionnelle style.

On top of that, it is a California sparkler for the ages, meaning it will continue to shine for years to come if stored properly. Rating: 98 points.

The following are some of the California sparkling wines I have enjoyed over the past year. All are in broad distribution and perfectly suited to help ring in the new year.

Tasting Notes

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer’s enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

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A Schramsberg for the Ages