Clinking Glasses

Published: May 22nd 2020
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Why do we clink our wine glasses together before we drink? No one knows exactly—but there are theories behind this high-spirited practice and they lie in a darker, more dangerous world than ours. One theory is that during the Middle Ages, a time of chaos and mistrust, glasses were clinked together so that wine sloshed between cups in order to prove that one drinker wasn’t trying to poison the other. Another thought is that glasses were clinked together to create a noise that would scare away evil spirits lurking nearby. Many societies all over the world, including ours, practice some kind of noise-making to scare away demons—bells rung on a wedding day, shouting on the New Year—and perhaps the clinking of glasses was meant to serve the same purpose. A third theory is that the clink completes the wine experience. It is a common saying that wine should fulfill all five senses—its color, aroma, body and taste fulfill four of the five senses, and the clinking of glasses supplies the fifth. The last theory, and the one that holds the most sway today, is that clinking glasses is a symbolic tradition from the days when everyone at a gathering drank from the same cup. Passing around a single cup was a way of bringing a group together symbolically and physically (as well as saving on dishware in an era before dishwashers and cheap glassware!). Nowadays everyone drinks from his or her own glass, but the symbolism is still present in the tradition of clinking glasses together. Not only are we physically bringing our glasses together, but we are cementing a bond of unity and companionship. So, how about an often overlooked area for sparkling wines?
I am as guilty of overlooking Mendocino for sparkling wines as the rest of you. Let's start here:

The primary Mendocino County stronghold for sparkling wine is in Anderson Valley, the cool-climate region near the edge of the Pacific Ocean where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay reign supreme. Those grapes, after all, are two of the main varieties used in the world’s most famous sparkling wine, Champagne. But in recent years, other corners of Mendocino have shown their soils’ potential for sparkling wine, too. No matter where you travel in this county, you won’t be far from some bubbly.

Louis Roederer, the French Champagne company that produces the famous Cristal, was among the first to see Mendocino County’s strong sparkling wine potential. When other Champagne houses were heading to Napa and Sonoma in the 1970s and ’80s — G.H. Mumm, to found Mumm Napa Valley; Moet & Chandon, to found Domaine Chandon; Taittinger, to found Domaine Carneros — Roederer decided to take a chance on the much more remote Anderson Valley, founding Roederer Estate here in 1982.

That bet paid off: Today, Roederer Estate produces one of California’s best sparkling wines, and at prices that are hard to beat. The standard brut, a blend of 60 percent Chardonnay and 40 percent Pinot Noir, retails for just $23, while the tete de cuvee, the vintage-dated L’Ermitage, is $48 — a steal by fine Champagne standards. –Esther Mobley and Sara Schneider

More of their article: You might consider Roederer your baseline for an Anderson Valley sparkling wine tour. Start here to understand the classic style of Champagne-method wine: rich, yeasty, bracingly crisp, with medium-low levels of dosage (the sugar that’s added to the finished wine in order to soften the high acidity). Taste through a flight of wines at the tasting bar in Philo, and ask employees if you can peek into the production area, where you might be able to catch a glimpse of the bottling or riddling processes. Got some time on your hands? Order a glass and enjoy it on the patio overlooking the gardens. Personally, I find Roederer a little pricey, but quite good.

If Roederer Estate is Anderson Valley’s Francophile sparkling wine house, Scharffenberger Cellars is its unabashedly American counterpart. It was founded by John Scharffenberger (who later went on to launch a chocolate company of the same name) the year before Roederer Estate. The founder sold his winery (and his chocolate company, too), and it became known as Pacific Echo, until in 2004 it was bought by — who else? — Louis Roederer.

Today, the two sister wineries represent twin takes on the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that this cool climate can produce. Where Roederer Estate’s wines are a little drier and zippier, Scharffenberger’s are softer and fruitier — more Californian. They’re also less expensive. The tasting room, which charges just $6 for a flight of eight wines, is homey, like an old-fashioned gift shop. Scharff is also very good, pricey, but a little lighter, which can be a good thing!

For years, if you thought of Anderson Valley sparkling wine, those two names — Scharffenberger and Roederer — were the only ones that came to mind. That changed in 2014, when a newcomer, Lichen Estate, came on the scene. Its owners had been making wine under the Breggo Cellars label for years, but after selling that winery they reemerged with a wholly new identity. Named for the moss that covers its vineyards, Lichen produces Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris in just about every combination you could imagine, including as sparkling wines. The blanc de noir, all Pinot Noir, is lush and berry-forward, while the blanc de gris — likely the only Pinot Gris sparkling wine you’ll taste all year — is savory and aromatic. Visit Lichen’s farmhouse tasting room on your way back to Boonville, and maybe even bring a picnic to enjoy on the patio. I don't know Lichen, but would like to!

Here are even more:

A handful of other wineries in the area do produce sparkling wine: Handley makes a friendly blanc de blancs. Goldeneye, too, makes a lineup of bubbly, including a rosé, but isn’t often pouring these bottles at the tasting room.

It might be counterintuitive to look for sparkling wine in inland Mendocino, where the classic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay ingredients aren’t strong suits. But you’d be missing some gems if you didn’t poke around for a handful in Hopland. Grape varieties aside, there’s a reason Hopland embraced quality bubbly. For many years, only the big houses like Roederer could finance the expensive equipment and inventory that Champagne-method sparklers require. But in 2007, a custom crush facility — Rack & Riddle — planted itself in Hopland, equipped to make sparklers for all comers, and interesting bubblies proliferated.

Rack & Riddle has since relocated to Healdsburg in Sonoma, but interesting sparklers remain. At Graziano Family, don’t miss the vibrant St. Gregory Brut Rosé, about 75 percent Pinot Noir and 25 percent Chardonnay (Anderson Valley fruit).

A couple of doors down, McFadden Farm, under the Blue Quail sign, has a tasty sparkler from their high-elevation vineyards to the north in Potter Valley.
And in the same vein as the sparkling Pinot Gris above, Terra Sávia makes a sparkling Merlot! (That might be the only one you taste in 10 years.) It’s not red, like an Australian sparkling Shiraz — it’s a blanc de noirs style, pale, dry and full of tart cherries. Okay, there is the entire article. Perhaps my next bicycle ride and sparkling adventure will be in Mendocino?? Are you glad you asked about clinking glassware??


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