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Champagne: a Blind Taste Test

Which sparkler reigns supreme?

By Robb Walsh December 1, 2013 Published in the December 2013 issue of Houstonia Magazine


Curious which sparkling wines would emerge triumphant in a blind bubbly comparison, we tasted six we’d discovered on our wine bar tour, clearing our palates with new favorite food pairings, such as fried chicken, taramasalata, and cured salmon with capers.

Seven wine enthusiasts, none employed in the wine or restaurant industry, blind-tasted six glasses of sparkling wine, rated them on a scale of 1 to 10, and shared their comments. (Prices are from the West U Spec’s.)

  1. Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs, California, $35.99.
    Average score: 7.5 
    Tasters’ notes: fresh bread aroma, creamy texture, nutty, smooth, crisp, dry, lemon. 
  2. Domaine Carneros Vintage 2009 Brut, California, $20.89. 
    Average score: 6.2
    Tasters’ notes: toast aroma, bright, bold, sharp, refreshing.
  3. Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne, France, $38.89. 
    Average score: 5.7 
    Tasters’ notes: tart, tangy, grapefruit, tight bubbles.
  4. Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava, Spain, $8.99. 
    Average score: 5.5 (tie)
    Tasters’ notes: white pepper aroma, bright, crisp, clean.
  5. Freixenet Cordon Negro Cava, Spain, $9.39. 
    Average score: 5.5 (tie)
    Taster’s notes: light, dry, smooth, bland.
  6. Lamarca Prosecco, Italy, $11.39. 
    Average score: 5.4
    Tasters’ notes: fruity, light, fresh, dry.

Okay, so this wasn’t exactly an upset victory for the underdog. Our winner, Schramsberg, a $36 California Blanc de Blancs, was only $3 less than the real-deal French Champagne, at $39. But the Schramsberg’s great showing may be due to the fact that Chardonnay-based blanc de blancs are very appealing to the American palate.

The big news was second place. Domaine Carneros from Napa, California beat the French Champagne, too—at the substantially cheaper price of $21. It’s an even better deal if you can get a 10 percent discount on a case and pay under $20 a bottle for this high-quality sparkler. 

Bringing up the rear, the French Champagne, two very inexpensive cavas, and a prosecco scored within a few tenths of a point of each other in the last four places. The fact that Spanish cavas like Freixenet and Segura Viuda were only two tenths of a point from the French champagne ought to convince us that cavas, which are produced from high-quality Spanish grapes using the expensive méthode champenoise process, are legit sparkling wines.

It used to be big news when wines from other parts of the world beat French wines in blind tastings. By now, however, the French have gotten so used to losing these contests, they pooh-pooh the whole competitive ranking thing. According to the current French theory of luxury marketing, the fancy designer label is an intrinsic part of the product and justifies the premium price—in other words, conspicuous consumption at its finest.

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