Sparkling wine just may be the perfect summer drink. It's cold, it's thirst-quenching, and it's festive, plus American sparkling wines can be terrific values.
Aficionados of French Champagne may be surprised to discover the tremendous break-throughs in quality made by top American producers. Some are creating sparkling wines that could be mistaken for their French counterparts, while others are making more generously fruity New World versions. This recent quality upgrade is partially thanks to experience (the French didn't achieve greatness overnight either) and partly due to an increased use of grapes from cool climates, resulting in wines with fresher flavors and more lively acidity.
Only the sparkling wine produced in France's Champagne region should be called Champagne, but the best American sparklers are made by the method employed there, from classic Champagne grapes, such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
1999 Argyle Brut $20 Free-spirited Argyle winemaker Rollin Soles has won a devoted following for his Oregon sparklers, thanks to efforts such as this graceful example, bursting with apple and citrus flavors.
Domaine Chandon NV Blanc de Noirs $17 Chandon was the French pioneer in the Napa Valley way back in 1973. It makes this pale-salmon-colored "white from black" wine mostly with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (plus a little Chardonnay).
Domaine Ste. Michelle NV Cuvée Brut $12 This refreshing, delicious, very dry wine from Washington State stalwart Chateau Ste. Michelle is impressive for the price.
1999 Iron Horse Classic Vintage Brut $28 To make this bright, robust, mouth-filling wine, Sonoma's Iron Horse winery gets estate-grown grapes from almost-20-year-old vines in its coolest, foggiest vineyards.
1998 J Brut $30 Judy Jordan makes this elegantly packaged wine from grapes grown in Sonoma's cool Russian River Valley. Lively and juicy, this is one of the best New World sparkling wines produced today.
Mumm Napa NV Cuvée M $20 Despite its French parent company, this blend of mainly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is all New World style, with lots of soft, up-front peach and citrus fruit.
Roederer Estate NV Brut $22 Champagne house Louis Roederer gambled in establishing its California winery (way) off the beaten track in Mendocino. But the payoff is a complex, refined, French-style wine that's equal to any comparably priced sparkling rival in the world.
Schramsberg Mirabelle NV Brut $18 Schramsberg is among Napa's most venerable sparkling producers. This rich and juicy bottling epitomizes California style.
1999 Westport Rivers Brut Cuvée $20 Bob and Carol Russell planted their first vines on an old Massachusetts dairy farm in 1986. Their latest offering is lean, clean and crisp with a subtle, surprising creaminess.
1998 Soter Brut Rosé $40
Soter Vineyards, F&W's Most Promising New Winery of 2003, is the Oregon outpost of Napa Valley winemaker Tony Soter. His sparkling rosé is quite dry, though packed with blossomy red fruit and grapefruit flavors; its crisp finish is as refreshing as it is food-friendly.