“You are the butter to my bread and the breath to my life.” … Julia Child
Despite that this bubbly is of the house of famed Moet Chandon and Dom Perignon, it is not champagne.  Only the twice fermented-in-the-bottle juice that is produced within the Champagne region of France can be so labeled.  Other such wines produced, albeit within France, are most often labeled as cremant  (d’alsace, de Bourgogne, du Jura, de Limoux, de Loire, etc.),  some of which may even be produced exactly according to the same strict requirements of Champagne, but they are not champagne.  Other countries too have their own names such as Metodo Classico (Italy), Cava (Spain) or Sekt (Germany) and others.  So too is it with Domaine Chandon’s etoile, which is produced in California and known as sparkling wine.

Domaine Chandon produces several labels, including a rose in the etoile signature bottle and was the first (1973) French owned sparkling wine venture in the United States. Etoile may be referred to as their “prestige cuvee.”  They also produce a “tete de cru” etoile, but that is a vintage (2008).   While this cuvee is not a vintage sparkling wine, it is the top of their “house style” using the best grapes from the best lots of current and past vintages and a unique blend of reserve wines.  And, for me, it’s value exceeds it price point and is a sparkling wine that, while domestic, speaks French fluently.

The blend is 48% Chardonnay, 46% Pinot Noir and 6% Pinot Meunier (classic) from the Carneros sub-AVA straddling both Napa and Sonoma Valley. 72% is from the Sonoma side and 21% from Napa - with 7% Monterey. Carneros is kept cool by the bay breezes and thick fog making it excellent for growing sparkling wine grapes with good acidity. But this is California: warmer still and sunnier than Champaign.  Fruit is more developed and ripe with flavor that is more fruit forward, but not too much. Maybe better stated as making it more approachable.   For my palate and pocketbook, it’s a domestic that tastes French and is the best value to be had.

Bubbles are indeed fine and persistent bringing aromas of ginger and brown spice, toasted almonds, honey, and buttered toast offset by citrus notes that keep it all fresh and tantalizing.  If there is any “fault” to this creamy textured wine, it is that is SO versatile. Sure, it’s great with oysters on the half shell.  Seared scallops with a lemony beurre blanc sauce? Exquisite.

But I was making a simple, easy and casual brunch.  Something that wouldn’t take me away from the table for long, that could be served family style and enjoyed with options  So it became fresh, organic fruit with muffin cups made from hash brown organic Yukon Gold potatoes filled with egg and choice of three fillings: (1) bacon and 7 year sharp cheddar (2) dry salami, spinach and Parmesan Reggiano and (3) diced ham steak and Gruyere with fresh basil.   The fruit was perfectly ripe and delicious. Some was left.  The egg cups were just done. Not over, not under. Just right. Several were left.  The Chandon etoile?  Not a drop remained.

No wonder. On the palate, this refined and creamy sparkling wine rewards with tastes of hazel nuts, Fuji apple, hints of candied ginger and toasted almond and caramel.  The extended sur lie aging (minimum 5 years then six months in bottle before release) contributes nuttiness, texture and brioche notes, but this is all balanced and offset harmoniously by a zesty and lively citrus acidity.  This is “American” sparkling wine classically made using centuries-old winemaking techniques that results in a sparkling wine that is layered, complex, refined and refreshing, dry but not tart; richer than Chandon’s brut classic and a sparkling wine the grand dame herself (Julia Child) would serve happily.

………………. Jim
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Domaine Chandon            
ALC:                                13%
ARP                                 $32 (I’ve seen it priced between $29 - $50)
Wine Enthusiast               93 Points
Wine Spectator                91 Points
Wine Mizer                      A Staple at my House

** This is Part I of III Parts of a “dinner day” I recently prepared for dear friends.  The food was alright. The wines, however, were outstanding and need to be recognized. Join me on the adventure.

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