Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bubbly in Sonoma County

The Russian River Valley is the place for sparkling wine in Sonoma County. This wine region produces world class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, two of the three grapes used in Champagne. (The other is Pinot Meunier.)

The three principal producers of sparkling wine in the Russian River Valley are Iron Horse Vineyards, J Vineyards and Winery, and Korbel. All three are well worth visiting.

Iron Horse has a simple, outdoor tasting area atop a hill covered with vineyards. Tasting bubbly on a sunny day while gazing out over the rolling hills of vineyards is an only-in-California experience. Don't expect any fancy dump buckets here. Just throw whatever you don't want to drink onto the grass. The winery offers flights of still or sparkling wines at various prices from 10:00 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Tours are offered by prior appointments on weekdays. Iron Horse can get crowded on weekends, so try to visit on a weekday when you will get more personal attention.

J Winery provides a nice contrast to Iron Horse. The tasting is much more upscale looking. A flight of four still and sparkling wines is offered daily. In addition, J recently started a tasting of their small-production wines in their main tasting room. For a special experience, visit the Bubble Room on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. With a prior appointment, you can taste J's white, red, and/or sparkling wine paired with delicious foods.

Korbel is the westernmost tasting room in the Russian River Valley. It's not near other wineries, so make sure you want to invest the driving time to get to Korbel. When you arrive, you'll find beautiful brick buildings, a nice cafe with indoor and outside dining, a large gift shop, and more types of sparkling wine than any other producer in Sonoma or Napa County. Korbel also offers regularly scheduled tours.

Carneros, which lies in both Napa and Sonoma Counties, also produces excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Gloria Ferrer, the American outpost of the Catalan cava house - Freixenet, produces high quality bubbly in the Sonoma side of Carneros. The tasting is pretty simple at Gloria Ferrer. Walk up to the counter, order a glass of bubbly, and take it to a table in the tasting room or on the terrace overlooking the vineyards. Gloria Ferrer offers tours, but call first to make sure they will be offered on the day you plan to visit.

If you would like to take a private tour of Sonoma County's sparkling wine producers, please feel free to call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

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