The next stop on our wine tour was at Roederer Estate – a winery that specializes in sparkling wines. Argyle in Oregon is the only other sparkling wine house I have visited on a wine tour, so I was particularly looking forward to this one. Roederer Estate is not family owned – it is owned by Champagne Louis Roederer, the French Champagne house that was founded in 1776. If you don’t recognize the name, you may recognize one of their most famous products – Cristal champagne.
Our server was great; she was kind and friendly and explained how sparkling wines are made. She also explained some of the terminology that describes sparking wine. Brut is the driest sparkling wine, with Extra Dry being a little bit sweeter, and then Demi-Sec being sweeter still.
To begin, we tasted the Brut MV (multi-vintage) which is their most mass produced wine with about 75,000 cases produced. It contains 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir. The base vintage on this wine is 2008, and Roederer adds in 10-15% cask aged Reserve wine to give this sparkler most substance. I had never had Roederer before, and I was very impressed – it was a great wine!
Next we tried the Brut Rosé MV, which was a very dry, delicate, fruity wine. I really loved this wine. After the Rosé, we tried the 2003 L’Ermitage Brut. This wine is produced with a first fermentation “enterage,” which means “on the yeast,” for six years. This wine undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle. It is very smooth and creamy, with that nice yeasty finish that good sparkling wines have.
The MV Extra Dry is made with the same blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir – the difference is that after disgorging, a little more sugar is added. I was pleased with all of the sparkling wines – there wasn’t one that I didn’t want to bring home with me!
Next we moved on to the still wines that Roederer produces. We started with their Rose of Pinot. Unlike most roses, this one had almost no color. It is fermented in stainless steel, with two months in oak casks – it had great acidity and a light fruit flavor. The 2009 Pinot Noir had a delicate flavor, and the fruit integrated well with minimal oak. It contrasted nicely with the 2008 Pinot Noir, which picked up a smoky flavors from the three wildfires that burned through the area in 2008. It was aged in 85% stainless steel and 15% oak. The Roederer Chardonnay has some nice tropical fruit flavors. I picked up some lychee flavors. Roederer was my absolute favorite winery of the day – I like all of their wines, and it was difficult to choose just three to bring home.
By this time, we were ready for some lunch, so we got a recommendation from the server at Roederer. We headed down to Philo and got sandwiches at Lemons’ Market there. It is a small country grocery store with a deli sandwich counter in the back. I had a smoked turkey on wheat with avocado, pickles, olives and gouda cheese. Jon also had smoked turkey and gouda (we didn’t know what the other was ordering – I hope we don’t start to look alike as we to be an old married couple!), but he had a spicy philo mustard on his. Jon also got a jar of pickled garlic to take home with us – he eats it straight from the jar! We took our sandwiches to go and had a picnic at Scharffenberger outside in their front courtyard, where we could soak up some rays. And thankfully, my stomach didn’t rebel!
After chowing down our yummy sandwiches, I went into Scharffenberger Cellars to try their sparkling wines. Jon decided to stay outside with his book for this one – he wanted to enjoy the sunshine and was wined out. Scharffenberger is owned by the same company as Roederer (but was already established when it was purchased).
The server at Roederer had explained that Scharffenberger produces sparkling wine in the California style, which she explained are more fruity than the French style sparkling wines that Roederer makes. I was intrigued by this, because I’ve never really done a side by side tasting (or one after another tasting as the case may have been), and I hadn’t really realized that there was a different “California” style.
My server guided me through a tasting of five sparkling wines and three still wines, beginning with the 2006 Blanc de Blancs – a 100% Chardonnay sparkling wine. This wine was very dry, with yeasty bread flavors. Next up was the Brut NV (meaning no vintage), which is their biggest production wine at 25,000 cases. It is a blend of 53% Pinot Noir and 47% Chardonnay. It was quite dry with a slight citrus flavor. The Rose NV is 54% Pinot (including 4.5% with skins) and 46% Chardonnay. This sparkler was quite nice, with a pale pink color and a long fruit finish.
The Extra Dry is the same blend as the Brut, but has a heavier mouthfeel and more sweetness. I finished off with the Crémant, which literally means sparkling wine that is not from Champagne. This wine is equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and it is bottled with less pressure for a lighter effervescence. It is extra dry, but with a creamier mouthfeel and taste than the other Scharffenberger sparklers.
I finished off my tasting with the three still wines, which were a 2008 Chardonnay, a 2007 Pinot Noir and the 2007 Syrah. At less than 300 cases each (and only 130 for the Syrah), they aren’t the primary product for the winery, but rather a side project of the winemaker. I tried them all, but I just wasn’t satisfied with any of them. Of the three, I liked the Pinot best; it was a nice, soft light example of the varietal.
We decided that four wineries was enough for the day – I still wasn’t feeling 100% from my stomach flu the day before, and I didn’t want to push too far. I enjoyed my day, but to be honest, I wasn’t blown away with the Pinots like I wanted to be. I guess that’s a good thing, since the Willamette Valley is so much closer to home. I did absolutely love the sparkling wines at Roederer though!
We headed out to our destination for the evening – Petaluma. We stopped in Healdsburg along the way to check it out, and wandered around and stretched our legs. Healdsburg is ritzy! There are lots of upscale shops – places that would certainly be luxury purchases for Jon and me. One clothing store had a clearance rack outside on the sidewalk – it was the $50 clearance rack! Healdsburg did have a beautiful square in the middle of the downtown that was very nice, and a nice local bookstore with a cooperative art gallery on the second floor.
After leaving Healdsburg, we completed the drive to Petaluma, where we found our hotel. Jon went for a quick run, and then we went to go find some dinner. Jon had done a search on TripAdvisor and we found Café Zazzle, an Asian fusion style restaurant. I had the Too Much Funn – A Zazzle specialty with house made shrimp & turkey wontons & chow funn noodles – together in a chicken broth with bok choy, snow peas & sweet red peppers! I also had a delicious Pomegranate Italian Soda. Jon had the Spicy Lettuce Wrap with curry. It was so spicy that Jon even had to slow down to eat it! I didn’t try it – anything that is so spicy it makes Jon sweat would probably burn my lips off!
After dinner, we stopped by a great bookstore across the street and we each found a great clearance book. Jon found an ultra-marathon book, and I found a good nerdy tourist book on San Francisco. What a great day!