Sparkling Wine for All Seasons


Connoisseurs consider Champagne, from the demarcated region of northern France, to be the gold standard.

The marginal climate and chalky soils of Champagne confer a unique combination of delicacy,
richness, raciness and minerality on the wines, which are made primarily from chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier.

The economic recovery has been good to Champagne producers. Shipments to the United States grew in 2014 to 1.6 million cases, up more than 100,000 cases from the previous year, according to the Champagne Bureau USA.

Moet & Chandon So Bubbly Festive BottleThe big Champagne brands, like Veuve Clicquot, Moët & Chandon and Perrier-Jouët, account for the vast majority of exports to the United States. But small growers, many of whom sell their grapes, dominate the vineyard scene. In recent years, more of these growers have started producing their own wines –so-called “grower Champagnes.” Only about 4 percent of the Champagne exported to the U.S. is grower Champagne.

Champagne makers, large and small, each have a house style that’s most obviously reflected in the winery’s non-vintage brut,
a blend of several vintages. Champagne makers are master blenders, working with dozens of very acidic “base wines” to get just the right result.


Veuve Clicquot is the bestselling brand of Champagne in the U.S., with 405,000 cases sold in 2014, up 9.5 percent over the previous year, according to The Beverage Information & Insights Group. It’s followed closely by sister brand Moët, with 370,000, up nearly 6 percent.

At K&L Wine Merchants, a California retailer with stores in San Francisco, Redwood City and Hollywood, Champagne is king among sparkling wines. Gary Westby, K&L’s Champagne buyer, notes that the stores have fewer than 20 SKUs for
Prosecco and Cava and about 20 for California sparkling wine, but more than 300 for Champagne.

“We’re really lucky to have a whole bunch of great customers who are willing to spend money on high-quality wines,” Westby says. That said, he believes that Champagne offers great value when you consider the marginal climate of the Champagne
region and the rules that govern the wine’s production.

K&L gives its customers the opportunity to explore Champagne through a variety of tastings. One program is “Champagne Friday,” held once a month at the San Francisco and Redwood City stores. The price is minimal, Westby says, just enough to cover costs. K&L also holds a fall tasting with more than 50 Champagnes.

American Bubbly

The Champenois helped spawn a revolution in California sparkling wine. Moët-Hennessy — parent to Veuve Clicquot and Moët – started Domaine Chandon in 1973 in the Napa Valley. There had been some bubbly in California produced in the traditional methode champenoise, but the success of Chandon opened the floodgates. Foreign investment in the 1980s led to ventures like Roederer Estate, Mumm Napa Valley, Taittinger’s Domaine Carneros and Gloria Ferrer (part of Spain’s Freixenet empire).

Korbel, founded in the 1880s, is currently the largest California producer of traditional-method sparkling wine, followed by Domaine Chandon (Korbel is No. 3 overall in volume among domestic producers). But some of the top-selling brands are wines made with the charmat method. One that’s phenomenally successful is Barefoot Bubbly, part of E&J Gallo, with sales that were up more than 22 percent from 2013 to 2014. Barefoot Bubbly actually started with sparkling versions of pinot grigio, white zinfandel and chardonnay, and added its Brut Cuvée in 2008. Since then, the brand has expanded with products like pink moscato and berry fusion and has become the No. 4 domestic sparkling brand. André, another Gallo product, is the bestselling domestic bubbly, at 2.8 million cases.

The Korbel Winery.

Categories like Champagne and Prosecco have organizations to represent and promote them, but domestic producers are on their own. Korbel runs promotions all year, says Margie Healy, the company’s vice president of communications – Korbel for Brunch, for example. For the holidays, Korbel will have in-store displays as well as a cross-promotion with Stella Artois beer. A holiday TV ad campaign encouraging consumers to “Celebrate It All” will run from late October through February on networks ranging from Bravo to BET to Univision.

Chandon’s holiday sales program, “Bestie Wishes,” includes a holiday-themed bottle of blanc de noirs for retail sales; a “wish knot” necker for bottles; and holiday displays like a 48-bottle tree rack, according to Chandon spokeswoman Korinne Munson.



  1. Great article!! As wine manager at a large beverage store, I enjoy introducing some of our more sophisticated craft beer drinkers to certain sparkling wines. In particular, people who are into tart beers often really enjoy the bottle-fermented Lambruscos such as Podere Il Saliceto’s “Falistra”, and “Radice” from Paltrinieri. They also go nuts for the (still) Malvasia Bianca from Birichino, which, when it’s available in the sparkling version, is my hands-down FAVORITE!


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