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Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 1:32 am | Fair 47º


Laurie Jervis: Celebrate New Year’s Eve with Local Sparkling Wines

Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo county winemakers offer plenty of bubbly options to ring in 2017

At Laetitia Vineyard & Winery in Arroyo Grande, the production team crafts seven sparkling wines, most of which are available in the tasting room and for purchase. Click to view larger
At Laetitia Vineyard & Winery in Arroyo Grande, the production team crafts seven sparkling wines, most of which are available in the tasting room and for purchase. (Laurie Jervis / Noozhawk photo)

It’s the pure anticipation of the “pop” when the bottle of bubbles gets opened.

Outstretched hands hold flutes ready to be filled with effervescence that flows like liquid gold.

It’s the newlyweds’ first toast, it’s the celebration of a big task well done and, most traditionally, sparkling wines represent the celebration of the coming New Year.

Historically, celebrations called for Champagne, but the truth is, unless what’s in your bottle is marked grown in Champagne, France, it’s not really the famous beverage.

But do not fret. Never fear, my friends. Hustle out to a local tasting room or wine shop and snag a sparkling wine made from grapes grown right here on the Central Coast. And for at least half the price of the “real” thing.

Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties’ coastal AVAs (Sta. Rita Hills, the Santa Maria Valley and the Edna Valley, to name but a few) specialize in cool-climate grape varietals — the very ones that comprise most sparkling wines.

Pinot Noir, chardonnay, pinot grigio/gris, pinot blanc and, in the case of Riverbench Vineyard and Winery in Santa Maria, a new planting of pinot meunier, are the bones of sparkling wines (and Champagnes).

Clarissa Nagy, winemaker at Riverbench and owner of Orcutt’s Nagy Wines, is a big fan of sparkling wines — and not simply during the holiday season.

“Bubbles are festive and fun. It’s a wonderful way to start the evening or a Sunday brunch,” she said.

“I love a glass of sparkling any day of the week. Sparkling wine was seen as more of a special occasion only for some time. Toasting with sparkling is so elegant. I think that made it a natural choice for the weddings, holidays and New Year celebrations,” she said.

Truth be told, Nagy told me, the only-for- special-occasions perception of sparkling wines has really changed during the last five years.

“We all need a little (or a lot of sparkle) in our lives. What a great way to enhance any evening. I see it on tables much more regularly when dining out. I love that people are enjoying it all year long.”

Asked for her go-to sparkling wines (other than those from Riverbench, of course), Nagy said she’s a fan of two blanc de blancs in particular: the 2013 by Alma Rosa and the 2012 by Fiddlehead Cellars.

“I also love the sold-out 2014 Sparkling Vermentino from Tessa Marie Wines in Los Olivos,” she said, adding that she has yet to try the Tessa Marie current release, a 2015.

Riverbench will add to its lineup next year with a Reserve Blanc de Blancs, Nagy said.

At a private tasting of local sparkling wines in early December, I tried the Fiddlehead Cellars that Nagy mentioned, and also found it lovely.

That tasting boasted all kinds of food pairings crafted to bring out the best in the featured ​bubblies: Creamy cheeses, buttery and spicy cookies, ham and salami, and fruits and chocolates.

Think decadent when you pair food with a sparkling wine: The richer the nibbles, the more the natural acidity and carbonation in a bubbly shine with flavor and elegance.

Another favorite of mine is Mosby Wines’ Stelline di Cortese, estate, non-vintage. (Stelline di Cortese translates to “Little Stars of Cortese”).

At just $20 per bottle, this bubbly is also a steal.

More and more Santa Barbara County producers are adding a sparkling wine to their repertories. Try those offered by Kessler-Haak, Sanford, Palmina, Blair Fox and Flying Goat, just to name a few. Some are Brut Roses, others blanc de blancs or blanc de noirs.

At Laetitia Vineyard & Winery in Arroyo Grande, president and lead winemaker Erik Hickey oversees all wine production, but it’s his father, Dave Hickey, who crafts the label’s seven sparkling wines and holds the title of vice president of production.

The winery has earned a strong following for its bubbly wines. Among the lineup are a brut rose, blanc de blanc, a brut cuvee and other blends, some non-vintage. Sales of some ​bottlings are limited to wine club members, but most are available in the tasting room and for purchase.

Whatever the sparkling wine you choose to celebrate the coming year, gather good friends and good food and spread good cheer. Salud!

— Laurie Jervis blogs about wine at www.centralcoastwinepress.com, tweets at @lauriejervis and can be reached via [email protected]. The opinions expressed are her own.

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