Tag Archives: methode champenoise

Gloria of Carneros


Friends visiting from Seattle requested that we join them for a private tasting at the Gloria Ferrer Winery in the Sonoma/Carneros region.  It seems they prefer the “bubbly” and have become members, thanks to the winery’s willingness to ship anywhere.  I had previously passed by the entrance gate or had occasional glimpses on wine shop

Gloria Ferrer Winery

Gloria Ferrer Winery

shelves, but knew very little about their releases over the last three decades.

First impressions are always important and the Gloria Ferrer Estate did not disappoint. There is a half-mile of winding road through gentle hills with vineyards before you reach any buildings.  The indoor/outdoor tasting room was huge with a chef on-hand, preparing food to enhance the experience.  Add some live music and they have marketing appeal from “Baby Boomers” to the “Millennials.”

Because of our VIP friends, we were escorted into a room to taste sparkling and still wines, each paired with a taste of something good and enlightening commentary.  Being a person that likes to take a little something home from these experiences, it was here that I discovered the 2006 Gloria Ferrer

Gloria Ferrer "Royal Cuvee'" sparkling wine

Gloria Ferrer “Royal Cuvee'” sparkling wine

Royal Cuvee’ ($37), a sparkling wine (66% pinot noir, 34% chardonnay) that impressed with multiple flavors on the nose and palate.  I enjoy sparkling wines but often the true flavors are disguised by the effervescence.  This is not the case with the “Royal.”  The apple, honey nose extended through the palate with a creamy texture and, surprisingly, a pleasant minerality on the finish.

Something that most of us do more of during a formal tasting is exploring the bouquet of the wine.  Neglecting to do this while enjoying a glass with dinner diminishes our capacity to capture the full sensory adventure.

Gloria Ferrer is located in the south Sonoma County Carneros region, impacted by morning marine layers from San Pablo Bay and, for years, described as an area to avoid when planting new vines.  It is the coolest and windiest region in both Sonoma and Napa Valley and the poor draining, rocky soils make it a struggle for grapes to survive. A possible solution is to find a grape varietal that prefers cool, wet winds and indigent soil.

Carneros Vineyard

Carneros Vineyard

After early century phylloxera (root disease) decimated the original vines, further damaging the region’s reputation,  well-known wine producer Louis Martini purchased a large area within the Carneros in 1942 and began to experiment with cool-climate chardonnay and pinot noir.  Known as the “heartbreak grape,” the difficult pinot noir does seem to thrive when coping with the challenges that define the Carneros terroir.  Soon, Carneros caught the eye of sparkling wine producers and rapidly became a desired region, associated with quality chardonnay, pinot noir and sparkling wines.

Our next taste was the flagship 2003 Gloria Ferrer Carneros Cuvee’ ($75), a pinot noir and chardonnay blend awarded double-gold at the San Francisco International Wine Competition and 90 points from Wine Spectator, expressing complex aromas and layered flavors of apple, pear

2003 Gloria Ferrer "Carneros Cuvee'"

2003 Gloria Ferrer “Carneros Cuvee'”

and Meyer lemon.  There is a remarkably rich texture to this Carneros sparkling wine, enhanced when paired with smoked salmon and goat cheese.


The Ferrer family’s path to the Carneros region began over 600 years ago in Spain where they were already respected wine growers and makers.  In the early 20th Century, two prominent wine families were merged with the marriage of  Pedro

Pedro Ferrer and Dolores Sala Ferrer

Pedro Ferrer and Dolores Sala Ferrer

Ferrer to Dolores Sala.  Soon after, the young couple released their first cava (Spanish sparkling wine) and established the  Freixenet label becoming  largest producer of “method champoise” wines in the world.

After a 1930s visit, Pedro’s dream of launching a winery in the United States was tragically cut short when he was killed in the Spanish Civil War.  His ambition lived through his son, Jose, who returned in 1982 to purchase land in the Carneros and establish Gloria Ferrer Winery, named after Mrs. Ferrer.  A few years later the Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards opened with production and tasting facilities replicating a “classic Catalon farmhouse”.  Today, the family and team farm over 300 acres of estate vineyards producing six sparkling wines, five pinot noir, a cool-climate chardonnay and a merlot.  Did someone say merlot?

The Carneros is known for being tough on varietals other than cool-climate chardonnay and pinot noir.  Zinfandel was the chosen one for a short time, but could not sustain quality vintages. So, I was surprised when our tasting included the

Gloria Ferrer Carneros Merlot

2009 Gloria Ferrer Carneros Merlot

2009 Gloria Ferrer Carneros Merlot ($28), a Bordeaux varietal that was nicely balanced with dominant dark berries bouquet and chocolate hints to enhance the dark fruit flavors.  Of course, merlot pairs best with beef or lamb dishes.  However, vegetarians can pair it with aged cheeses and even vegans can enjoy this accessible wine by itself..

In the wine world, the opposite of sweet is defined as “dry.”  With sparkling wines, dryness in described through “brut” and “extra brut”.   The pinot noir dominant 2011 Gloria Ferrer Brut Rose’ ($47) is emblematic of the modern rose,’ varietal specific, crafted from carefully selected fruit, dry and a bit pricy.

Partial to the ascendant aromas and flavors of a 90% pinot noir rose,’ the small amount of chardonnay is most apparent during the finish.  There is ample quality rose’ available at varied prices but few the combine pinot noir and chardonnay,

Gloria Ferrer Winery Tasting Room

Gloria Ferrer Winery Tasting Room

making this one special.

For those seeking a very dry sparkling wine, the 2006 Gloria Ferrer Extra Brut Cuvee’ ($47) is an option and those who prefer something sweeter can choose from two flavorful, value-priced, non-vintage sparkling wines that concluded our tasting.

Using only premiere taille (first press) grapes and the bebourage technique of allowing the juice to settle overnight, then aging 18 months en tirage (on the yeast), the Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut ($22), from numerous estate vineyards, expressed compounded  fruit and floral overtones with a creamy texture and the Gloria Ferrer Va De Vi ($22), awarded “Best of Class, Semi-Dry” in the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Wine

Gloria Ferrer Brut Rose'

2011 Gloria Ferrer Brut Rose’

Competition, is also very fruit forward with some sweetness courtesy of a small amount of muscat in the blend.  Both sparkling wines offer pleasant zest and texture at a reasonable price.

With 335 contiguous acres under vine, the Gloria Ferrer Estate makes for an impressive landscape that allows assorted options to “isolate and enhance” flavors while producing unique Sonoma County wines.  While pinot noir and chardonnay are hallmark varietals for the region, the blending of the two in creating diverse sparkling wines is rare.

In the heart of the Carneros that bridges two great regions, Sonoma County and the Napa Valley,

Outdoor Patio overlooking vineyards

Outdoor Patio overlooking vineyards

the Gloria Ferrer Winery is a relaxing 50-mile drive from San Francisco and provides another dimension to your exploration of the Napa-Sonoma area, renown throughout the world for the production of extraordinary still and sparkling wines.

Penedes and the Spanish Cava Trail



Considered one of Spain’s major wine-producing regions after Rioja, Penedes, located south of Barcelona, is best known for cava (sparkling wine) production.  Today, the region has expanded its range to exceptional white varietals and nice earthy reds.

We often refer to sparkling wine as champagne, when if fact that name is only permitted if referencing what is produced in the Champagne region of France.  While made in the same “methode champenoise”, the sparkling wine of Spain is called “cava” and there are an abundance of producers in Penedes.  I recently had the opportunity to explore the “cava trail” in this region and taste cava at Pares Balta, who also create a number of quality still wines.

Part of Catalonia, Spain, Vilafranca del Penedes is situated between the steep Monserrat Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. IMG_0916While cava’s ancestry is traced to the nearby Codorniu estate, Penedes is where it thrives today.

Widely considered one of the top growing areas, Penedes is a designated Denominacio d’Origen (DO) for wine and cava and one of the most ancient viticulture regions in all of Europe. A blessing in disguise, the generally poor-quality soils, heavy in limestone and fossil matter, can and do stress the grapes into highly concentrated flavors.

As with champagne, the blended white grapes are introduced to sugar and yeast in the bottle.  The second fermentation, lasting 12 months, creates carbon dioxide and those wonderful bubbles.  While viura is the dominant white grape in the Rioja, little known varietals like parellada, xarel.lo and macabeo are blended for both cava and still wines and seem to respond well to both methodsIMG_0860 of fermentation.

Following the morning at a monastery atop the Monserrat Mountains, we began our tour and tasting at Pares Balta, who have farmed the same vineyards since 1790.  The family has planted over 200 hectares (approx. 500 acres) in a unique terroir influenced by the coastal breezes and calcareous soils with an abundant of limestone at the surface.

Pares Balta has always practiced organic and biodynamic farming, but received certification in 2004.  While the winery is still owned by the grandsons of the founder, the winemaking and oenology is the responsibility of their wives, Maria Elena Jimenez and Marta Casas.  Rooted in cava, Pares Balta, over the past 25 years, have opened out to nearly 20 releases, a majority of which are red wines.

In a misty rain, our hostess, June Ordaz gave us a quick tour of the biodynamic, sustainable vineyards.  Organic farmers are fascinating in IMG_0870their creativity for plant survival such as hanging female hormones on the vines to falsely attract bees to help with pollination. Also, the wild grasses and legumes planted between the vines keeps the soil loose and re-charged with nutrients.

With one exception, all Pares Balta wines are estate grown.  All varietals are harvested August through October and are fermented individually for 3-5 years before blending. The results would soon be revealed as we began our tasting.

A blend of three white grapes, the Pares Balta Cava Brut is very fruit forward for a sparkling wine.  Parellada, the dominant grape known for adding floral notes to wines, certainly lived up to its reputation here. This cava is dry, but full-bodied and a good value for under $20.

Pares Balta Cava Brut

Pares Balta Cava Brut

With fermentation in stainless steel tanks, the Pares Balta Blanc de Pacs exudes a nice crispness and, once again, the parellada adds floral notes to the bouquet and orchard fruits to the flavor. By contrast, the Pares Balta Calcari 2009, utilizing the xarel.lo grape exclusively, has a negligible nose, but full flavors and a higher, yet balanced acidity.

Blended with cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah, the deep red Pares Balta Rose’ de Pacs rose’ offers an interesting balance of sweet and savory flavors.  The unique creamy texture would pair well with a nice Humboldt Fog goat cheese from northern California.

Another value at under $20, the cabernet sauvignon and Grenache-blended Pares Balta Mas Petit 2009 has soft fruit aromas and flavors with a unique minerality and gentle spices throughout.  This wine is both smooth and accessible to most palates.


Pares Balta Mas Petit 2009

A blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc, the winemakers use malolactic fermentation to create the soft elegant flavors of the Pares Balta Mas Elena 2010, an excellent value for the price. Hints of spice from the nose through the finish add complexity to the wine.

Our final tasting was an import from Priorat, Spain’s other significant wine region, known for unique slate and quartz soil called licorella that adds minerality to the flavors.  Blended primarily with Grenache (60%), carinena (25%) and small amounts of cabernet sauvignon and syrah, the 2007 Gratavinum Priorat 2 Pi R (the mathematical formula) has a nice earthiness throughout that generated comments from other tasters about the aromas and flavors of mushrooms balanced with raspberries and other fruits.md_21113_c5cfdadad6b4c17c42397b634f3e39b2

The Gran Reserva designation of this wine requires that the juice spend two years in the barrel and another three in the bottle. Although it has a higher price point, the “2 Pi R”, represents the finest example of why Priorat wines are considered among the most expressive in Europe.

The regions of Rioja, Penedes and Priorat, along with Ribera del Duero, make up the “Big Four” of Spain’s wine production.  Ribera del Duero, on the northern plain north of Madrid, produces bold tempranillo-based red wines such as Emilio Morro, that are occasionally available locally.

I have found cava brut and other Spanish wines from various regions at various outlets.  Further exploration of regional stores such as K&L Wines in Hollywood or Monopole Wines in Pasadena can uncover a plethora of still and sparkling wines and serve as a resource for discovering good values.


Pares Balta Mas Elena 2010

Robert Parker certainly predicted the world’s prolonged interest in Spanish wines that will only get better and more approachable in time.  The Spanish soils are pushing these grapes in unique directions, resulting in consistent characteristics that experts can identify blindly. Anyone interested in good wine owes it to themselves to delve into what the excitement is

with June Ordaz of Pares Balta

with June Ordaz of Pares Balta

all about and experience the wines of Espana.