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Tiny Bubbles, Reasonably Priced


One of this Fool's favorite subjects is affordable wine, as evidenced in various previous installments. Here, friends, is another disproof of the notion that there is no good California wine to be had for under $15.00.

Chez Fool, we look for whatever excuse we can find to partake of sparkling wine. True Champagne remains, regardless of your personal views concerning our friends the French, the class of the field. Sadly, there really is no such thing as a good inexpensive Champagne. California now has several decades' worth of experience in producing good quality sparking wine, often reasonably priced, but it generally tends to emphasize ripe fruity characteristics (not that there's anything wrong with it) rather than the more complex toasty-yeasty qualities that underlie much of Champagne's appeal. You can find that quality in California, but generally only at higher price points.

Recently, the celebration of our son's 16th birthday (he didn't partake in the bubbly in question) we had occasion to try Mirabelle, the non-vintage California sparkler from Schramsberg Vineyards.

Schramsberg is an old-line Napa Valley estate. Robert Louis Stevenson stayed on the property on his honeymoon and wrote about it in The Silverado Squatters, from whence comes his much quoted assessment of Napa Valley wines circa 1880 as "bottled poetry." In more recent decades, Schramsberg has been owned and operated by the Davies family, which set out to produce French-quality sparking wine in California. To a large extent, they succeeded. My chief quarrel with the Schramsberg wines, which are generally very good, has been that they cost too much. Enter Mirabelle.

While Schramsberg wines, and the property's top echelon sparkler J. Schram, have carried the Napa Valley designation, been drawn from the estate vineyards and been vintage dated, Mirabelle bears a North Coast designation and contains grapes from Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties. It is also non-vintage, allowing for blending of wines from several years, and the winemakers have included what tastes like a healthy dollop of older, more complex wine in the blend. The result is a readily enjoyable sparkler with a backbone of the toasty quality that comes from a longer time in the yeast.

The list price for Mirabelle appears to be around $14.99, and the Trader Joe's chain in southern California has it at the entirely acceptable price of $11.99. Worth your search if a festive occasion -- such as sundown or a day of the week ending in "y" -- should beckon.

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