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On Ice

[whitespace] Y2K wine Michael Amsler

On ice: Suppliers say there's plenty of local bubbly to go around for Y2K.


Sparkling shortage short sighted

By Bob Johnson

THE TIME HAS COME to pull the plug on the Y2K myth. The IRS is not going to lose your overdue tax bill, there will be no decline in the amount of SPAM finding its way into your online mail box, and there will be no shortage of sparkling wine with which to toast the new millennium (even if the toast, technically speaking, is a year early).

Hey, one out of three ain't bad.

Of the 248 (or so) wine columns that devoted space last December and January to predictions for the wine world in 1999, only this one took a pass on the "sparkling shortage" theme.

Why did we refuse to fall for the millennium marketing trick when other vino journalists dived right in? Probably because in a past life, your reporter once wrote press releases for a living, and the press release isn't always the be-all and end-all of fact distribution. Kudos to Joy Sterling of Sebastopol's Iron Horse Vineyards for at least acknowledging there are two points of view when it comes to sparkling-wine supplies. She predicted an international shortage of "prestige sparklings and champagnes" come December, but then noted: "Not everyone agrees."

Sterling may be right about the "prestige" labels. Distributors report earlier-than-normal runs on high-end bottlings by Dom Perignon, Veuve Clicquot, and Bollinger. "There is a finite quantity of this caliber of sparkling," Sterling adds.

Our attitude: Don't sweat it. While the wine snobs are spending hundreds per bottle in order to drink "prestige," we'll stick with homegrown sparklers that satisfy just as much, yet cost a fraction of their French counterparts.

A GOOD PLACE to start a local shopping expedition is Iron Horse, located on the site of what once was a railroad stop. The train whistles were long ago silenced, but the bells and whistles employed in the vineyard--including a highly engineered frost protection system--help produce high-quality grapes and wines. In addition to its regular roster of fine sparklers, Iron Horse is offering its top-of-the-line 1990 Blanc de Blancs LD (late-disgorged) in etched and individually numbered jeroboams (which hold the equivalent of four regular-sized bottles). The special millennium bottling will sell for $650 . . . or if big bottles aren't your bag, purchase four regular-sized bottles for around $180. Retail price is $45 per.

Elsewhere around the county:

* Robert Hunter Winery in Sonoma has released only its second sparkler of the last dozen years, and it's stunning. The 1993 Brut du Noir is a blend of 60 percent pinot noir and 40 percent chardonnay that was aged on the yeast for more than four years. Ex-banker Bob Hunter crafted this wine from vineyard to bottling, and only 1,000 cases were produced, so shop early. Price: $27.50.

* Korbel Champagne Cellars in Guerneville will release its Millennium Commemorative Cuvée in September. The bottle will feature a silk-screened label, and inside will be a blend of 70 percent chardonnay and 30 percent pinot noir. Price: $17.99. Locals also may want to check out Korbel's Rouge, an unusual blend of pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon grapes, available only at the winery for $12.99.

* Geyser Peak Winery in Geyserville also produces a rare--at least in California--all-red blend. The 1994 Winemaker's Selection Sparkling Shiraz/Cabernet was made from all "reserve quality lots" of grapes, and the resulting wine is spritzy, juicy, and spicy. It's a sparkler for the adventurous, not the traditionalist. Price: $25.

* J Wine Company in Healdsburg will release a millennium sparkler once its winery opens to the public in late September or early October. Judy Jordan is keeping mum (that's mum with two M's, not three) about this bottling, except to say that it is a late-disgorged wine from the 1987 vintage. Because of its limited supply, only visitors to the winery will be able to procure it. Price: not yet determined.

* Windsor Vineyards' 1996 Brut Champagne ($20), made entirely from Sonoma County fruit, is available now, and its 1996 Blanc de Noir ($22) will be released in September. These bottlings feature limited-edition millennium labels, and visitors to the winery's tasting room in Healdsburg can have these labels personalized.

Other local wineries also will be releasing commemorative and regular bottlings of sparkling wine. Opt for exquisite Sonoman over expensive French, and lay those fears of a sparkling shortage to rest.

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From the August 5-11, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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