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SCHRAMSBERG
vs
TOP CHAMPAGNES

A Blind-Tasting

August 24, 2004

Notes by
Gerald Weisl
wine merchant

Americans love to root for the underdog, whether it's at a sporting event, a beauty pageant or a combination of the two, a wine tasting comparison.

Robert Mondavi, when his was a fledgling winery, used to organize blind-tasting pitting his "little" Napa Cabernet against the famous wines of expensive, prestigious Bordeaux.  If his wine lost, it could be rationalized "Oh well, ours costs only a fraction of the prices for those famous wines, so of course, we can't expect our wine to fare well."  But if his wine held its own and even finished in the middle of the pack, this was viewed as a great success.

Napa Valley's Schramsberg has been organizing these sorts of events since 1998, putting their J. Schram wine alongside the top Champagnes of France.
And since 2000 they've had events with their Reserve bottling taking on the top French Champagnes.

Winemaker and Schramsberg owner Hugh Davies likes to make the point that the bubbly he's producing in Napa is on par with the famous French wines which cost substantially more money here in the U.S.

So far there have been 30 blind-tastings of J. Schram versus the French, with Roederer's Cristal leading the pack:

J. SCHRAM vs. THE WORLD

30 Tastings (so far)

The wines Overall Rank Average Rank
ROEDERER CRISTAL 1 2.68
J. SCHRAM 2 2.80
CLICQUOT'S LA GRANDE DAME 3 2.81
KRUG'S
GRANDE CUV╔E 
4 3.13
TAITTINGER'S
COMTES DE CHAMPAGNE
5 3.94
PERRIER-JOU╦T'S
FLEUR DE CHAMPAGNE
6 4.04
MO╦T et CHANDON'S
DOM PERIGNON
7 4.13


SCHRAMSBERG RESERVE

vs
THE WORLD
23 tastings (so far)

The Wines Overall Rank Average Rank
SCHRAMSBERG RESERVE 1 2.09
ROEDERER'S CRISTAL 2 2.57
MO╦T et CHANDON'S
DOM PERIGNON
3 3.35
CLICQUOT'S LA GRANDE DAME 4 3.52
KRUG'S
GRANDE CUV╔E 
5 3.73
PERRIER-JOU╦T'S
FLEUR DE CHAMPAGNE
6 5.30

Of course, the famous brands have little to gain in this sort of forum.

I was invited to participate in one of these events and here's what we found:

THE WINES Gerald's Ranking HUGH DAVIES'
Ranking
GROUP RANK TOTAL POINTS
CLICQUOT'S LA GRANDE DAME
1995
3 3 1 18
KRUG'S
GRANDE CUV╔E 
Multi-Vintage
1 5 2 21
MO╦T et CHANDON'S
DOM PERIGNON
1996
6 6 6 44
PERRIER-JOU╦T'S
FLEUR DE CHAMPAGNE
1996
2 4 4 36
ROEDERER'S CRISTAL
1997
4 2 5 38
SCHRAMSBERG RESERVE
1997
5 1 3 32

6th Place:  MO╦T et CHANDON'S DOM PERIGNON 1996
One tasting participant felt this wine was 'corked', but Hugh Davies said the wine performed exactly as it usually does in their blind-tastings.  He routinely finds an 'earthy' component here.  Davies confessed "It made me cry when a particular critic gave this vintage of Dom Perignon such high praise."
I found a 'skunky' quality to the wine at the start.  It's a bit heavy on the nose, but this off note seemed to dissipate with time.  It's mildly creamy and moderately yeasty.  Dry.  I gave it a one star rating on my three star scale, no stars being a standard or ordinary wine.



5th Place:  ROEDERER 1997 CRISTAL
One taster pegged this as showing a lot of "lemon-lime notes.  It's bright but not as rich or complex."  Hugh Davies said "It hung in there and the flavors are crisper than the others.  It has more length and is sleek, unique and younger than the rest."
I found some mildly appley fruit with a light yeasty note.  The citrus character was pronounced and quite lemony on the palate.  There's a nicely toasty quality to the flavor and a good finish.  One-and-a-half stars.





4th Place:  PERRIER-JOU╦T 1996 FLEUR DE CHAMPAGNE
One panel member found it to display notes of "Caramel and it's nutty with some yeasty notes...it's rich and round."  One person felt it was "not impressive as it's too soft, sweet, smooth and full, with a crisp finish."  Someone else described it as "the most subtle and complex."  Hugh Davies felt it's "power was downplayed and it's nicely crisp."
I found the wine showing an appley fruit component with some notes of brioche and a curious seaweed quality which may have been some residue of the rinsing water from cleaning the glass.  I found the wine to be nicely dry, crisp and quite tangy.  The chalky flavor lingered and veered into a smoky flavor.  Two stars.



3rd
One taster asked "Is this a Krug Champagne?" while someone else felt it was "more simple than the rest."  Another person characterized it as having "Exceptional fruit which evolved quickly."  Someone else found it "exuberant."
I found the wine to be dry, crisp and mildly creamy with a bit of toast on the palate.  There was a berryish character present from the mid-palate to the finish.  I gave it a one star+ rating.  



2nd Place:  KRUG GRANDE CUV╔E
One person found it to be "very distinctive" while someone else felt it was "the most earthy of the set."  Another person found this to have "the most barrel character."
I found the nose to be extraordinary with a deep, deep, toasty character.  It's nice and yeasty and mildly smoky with a crisp, clean quality on the palate.  Good length, perfect acidity and complete.  Two+ stars.



1st Place:  VEUVE CLICQUOT 1995 LA GRANDE DAME
One taster described this as "the complete package...good acidity...great nose and a smooth finish."  Hugh Davies detected notes of "honey, caramel and a malolactic tone defining this wine."
I described it as intensely Pinot-like with a bit of appley fruit.  The apple character shines on the palate, too.  Crisp.  Clean.  Very nice.  One-and-a-half to two stars.


After the tasting, we had a small lunch (hey, we were at Palo Alto's terrific Zibibbo (430 Kipling...well worth a visit!) and continued conversing about the world of Champagne and all that bubbles.


This gave Hugh a chance to speak about his current line-up of wines.

The 2001 Schramsberg RosÚ is, in my view, their best effort to date.



Hugh then explained the party trick of "sabering" a bottle of bubbly and proceeded to demonstrate this on a bottle of his Cremant with a simple restaurant knife.



"You have to look for the seam in the bottle and whack the 'sweet spot' where this meets the top part of the bottle."

"I like to hold the knife like this and hit the bottle on an angle.  Of course, don't point this bottle at anyone!  It can be dangerous!"

Voila!



The Estates Group's Matt Stanton displays the top end of the bottle after sabering.


Oh...and the Schramsberg Cremant was delicious!
It's a less-bubbly sparkler that they've made for decades.  The base wine is predominantly the U.C. Davis hybrid grape called Flora.

winepour.gif (12696 bytes)Wine Tasting Today

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