French wine on America's most American of days, you say? Well, it actually makes sense given the parallels that exist between American and French history. First, the modern history of both countries are born of 18th century revolutions. Just think of a Flag that yet waves amid bombs bursting in air or the triumphant call to aux armes, citoyens. Furthermore, both of these revolutions are commemorated in July and - wait for it - both dates end in "4."
Then there are the gifts shared between the two countries. Opened for the first time since Super Storm Sandy, the Grande Dame of New York herself, the Statue of Liberty, is a gift from France. In return, France has a surprising number of streets named after U.S. presidents. And nothing goes better with your all-American burger or hot dog than - again, wait for it - French fries.
Just as Americans have adopted French fries as their own, the same can be said of the sparkling wine industry here in Napa. There is a saying in the wine world that "all Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne" (perhaps another topic for your group to discuss when veklempt). True enough that Champagne is the pinnacle of sparkling wine production, the sparkling wine industry in California can easily lay claim to being among the best of New World traditional method production.
The key difference between a French-sparkling (when not from Champagne, it's called a Cremant) and a California-based sparkling is the American version will tend to be a little more full in body, a lower in acidity, and a bit more stone-fruit (peach, apricot) flavour. Still, when made in a Champagne-style, the bready/yeast flavours of prolonged sur lies aging enables the Californian producers to achieve a high-quality, "next-best-thing" product.
Those looking to emulate Champagne production will also focus on the 3 grapes used in traditional Champagnes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and/or Pinot Meunier. These grapes are generally sourced in the much cooler Carneros AVA, located close to San Pablo Bay. What more, most of the top-producers are actually owned by famous Champagne Houses! An Independence Day-Eve exploration of these Houses found the following results:
50.000hl Tanks at Domaine Chandon
Domaine Chandon (www.chandon.com) - Owned by Moet & Chandon, Domaine Chandon is located in the Napa heart of Yountville, the majority of grapes for Domaine Chandon's come from Carneros. Being in Napa means Domaine Chandon is a tourist mecca, with the usual tour and tastings of great bubbles. What is unusual is the Michelin-starred restaurant; the only Napa winery (bubbles or till) to have a restaurant. Classic French techniques are used to produce, among others, the not-so-French, fully red bubbly blend of Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. A still wine programme is also pursued, showcasing expressions of each Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and - very uniquely - Pinot Meunier.
Mumm Napa (www.mummnapa.com) - Quietly located off the Silverado Trail in the Rutherford AVA, Mumm Napa is like Domaine Chandon in that although located in Napa most grapes are sourced in the cool rolling hills of Carneros. Owned by Mumm Champagne (go figure!), Mumm Napa offers sparkling wines at different price levels, ranging from their basic Brut Prestige to the exceptional top-tier DVX vintage sparkling.
Gloria Ferrer (www.gloriaferrer.com) - This entry may be all about the French impact on American bubbles, but a special shout-out goes to this Spanish-owned winery on the Sonoma-side of life. The Spanish have their own bubbles, called Cava, but the French influence is felt here it too with wines made in the traditional Champagne style. Gloria Ferrer limits their wines to slightly more Pinot Noir than Chardonnay, and offer excellent sparkling wines to take on the Champagne-owned wineries of Napa. Look for the outstanding Carneros Cuvee: aged 10 years on its lees, the current release is the 2000 vintage!
So, there you have it. A touch of the bleu, blanc, et rouge to celebrate the red, white, and blue in the heart of Napa. A toast to Champagne - and Carneros - the beautiful.