Once upon a time, California sparkling wines played second fiddle to the celebrated Champagnes of France.
But in 1988, Roederer Estate in Anderson Valley released a sparkling wine to rave reviews. Since then, “there has been no doubt that California can produce sparkling wines that are every bit as good as Champagne,” says Tom Stevenson, author of Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine and founder of the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships.
“The secret of world-class sparkling wine,” he explains, “whether made in Champagne or elsewhere, is to use grapes that ripen at low alcohol and high acid levels.” While that combination isn’t always easy to achieve in warm, sunny California, the state’s top producers can—and do—manage to rival the best of Champagne.
The results offer so much quality and diversity that it's pretty easy to find the perfect bottle of California sparkling wine for any occasion or taste—whether you’re pairing it with oysters, brunch or even buttered popcorn. Here are nine wonderful wines created in California—with wineries listed north to south—whose vineyards and tasting rooms also make great destinations in themselves.
This fresh, elegant wine hails from Anderson Valley, the stunning wine region in coastal Mendocino County, two hours north of San Francisco. Crisp and complex, with layers of pear and spice flavors, the wine is a perfect complement to everything from local Dungeness crab to buttered popcorn.
A visit to the winery in the town of Philo is well worth the drive, too, not only for a chance to taste the full lineup of Roederer Estate’s delicious French-influenced wines (the winery is owned by French Champagne producer Louis Roederer), but also to marvel at the region’s majestic redwoods and undulating terrain.
It’s rare to find a California sparkler made in the “extra brut” style, so this one is worth seeking out. Unlike the more common “extra dry” designation—which actually means that the wine is sweeter than a traditional brut style—an “extra brut” is about as dry as a sparkler gets. J’s has lovely brioche and almond aromas, along with bright citrus flavors and plenty of acidity. (If you love sushi and sashimi, this is your wine.)
The winery’s Russian River visitor center, located south of Healdsburg, offers a range of indulgent experiences—from a classic stand-and-sip tasting to a seated, six-course food-and-wine pairing in J’s oh-so-stylish Bubble Room. Be sure to try the delicious non-sparkling Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines, too.
Made from 100 percent Chardonnay grapes, this is a beautifully crisp blanc de blancs with citrus, apricot, and peach aromas. Its flavors are bright and fresh, with notes of green apple, crème brûlée, and yeasty bread. (It’s delicious with oysters or crab cakes.)
A visit to this historic Napa Valley winery in Calistoga, originally founded in 1862 and restarted in 1965 under new ownership, offers a lovely drive through dense forest and up a steep, winding driveway. Make an appointment to join one of the daily cave tours, and you’ll get a fascinating look at the winery’s sprawling wine-aging tunnels (which date back to the 1870s), and an unforgettable tasting of both Schramsberg’s sparkling and still wines.
Sweet, with a hint of almond, this unique sparkler is made with a base of French Colombard grapes. The winemaker says it “pairs magnificently with a bear claw.” (We like the way he thinks.)
Located in Amador County’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley, in the Gold Country, Deaver is best known for its Zinfandels—some made from 19th-century vines. The winery estate is all country charm, with a barn-like tasting room, an expansive lawn, and a lovely pond that invites you to sit down and relax for a picnic lunch and a glass of wine.
This gorgeous sparkler was originally created for the wedding of one of the winery’s partners, Joy Sterling. What could be more romantic? Made primarily from Pinot Noir grapes, it has just a blush of pale pink color, with aromas of fresh strawberries and tangerines. It’s crisp and dry, with dancing bubbles and flavors of red berries and citrus.
The Iron Horse winery, located in Sebastopol in Sonoma County, is equally charming, set among the gently rolling hills of the Russian River Valley. The outdoor tasting room is a study in rustic elegance, offering unobstructed views of the surrounding vineyards.
Don’t let the delicate, salmon-pink color of this wine fool you: Inside beats the heart of a fruity, full-flavored sparkler with aromas of ripe red berries, peaches, and lime zest. It’s perfectly balanced, with berry flavors and a refined elegance that hints at the winery’s parentage—France’s famous Champagne Taittinger.
The wonderfully grand, château-style winery in the town of Napa also has French flair, perched on a hill above the valley. Here, you can enjoy a seated tasting in the salon or on the terrace. If you’re celebrating something extra special, reserve a couple’s tasting in the Sparkling Suite, your own private balcony overlooking the vineyards.
In 1987, the king and queen of Spain paid a visit to this Sonoma winery, and were honored by the vineyard’s Spanish owners with a special sparkling wine. Since then, the consistently excellent Royal Cuvée has been racking up gold medals in international wine competitions. Along with a creamy texture, the wine has alluring aromas and flavors of green apple, Meyer lemon, and black cherry. What’s not to like?
The winery itself has been changed a bit since that original royal visit. A recent makeover has transformed Gloria Ferrer’s tasting room from a faux Catalan farmhouse into a bright, modern space with a hip café vibe. Grab a seat on the Vista Terrace, with its sweeping views of the Sonoma-Carneros countryside, and linger with a glass of bubbles, perfectly paired with Spanish tapas.
The “XD” in this wine’s name stands for “extra dry,” which means it’s a bit sweeter than your average brut bubbly. It’s hard to resist the XD’s honeysuckle and strawberry pie aromas, or its subtle sweetness and luscious mouthfeel.
You may have to visit the winery to get your hands on this limited-production sparkler, but that’s part of the fun. Located in San Luis Obispo County, midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Laetitia’s hilltop tasting room offers samples of several different sparkling wines, along with picnic areas, bocce courts, and even a walking trail with ocean views.
You don’t come across many sparkling Gewürztraminer wines outside of Germany, so this is a rare treat. The wine practically bursts from the glass, with lively effervescence, floral aromas, and crisp flavor.
If ever there was a “destination winery,” South Coast is it. Set in the heart of Temecula’s wine country, northeast of San Diego, the estate is home not only to the winery and vineyards, but also—are you ready for this?—a luxury resort, spa, and restaurant. Plan to stay a while.