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For the beach party, don’t forget the bubbly

TODAY wine columnist Edward Deitch describes the way a California sparkling wine nicely exceeded his expectations during a recent dinner on a Nantucket beach with friends and family.
/ Source: TODAY

A bottle of bubbly was the perfect wine the other night as we gathered for an informal dinner with friends on a deserted beach on Nantucket. We had packed up the cars with beach chairs and coolers, grill, portable table, several wines, a variety of dishes that would be easy to serve in sand and a brisk breeze, and, of course, the kids.

After driving over what seemed like miles of uneven dirt roads we arrived at our “secret” beach, framed by dunes and ocean on one side and, in the other directions, the moors for which the island 30 miles off the Massachusetts mainland is famous.

There is something about drinking sparkling wines except on holidays, birthdays or other special occasions that gives some people pause. Is it the price? Cava from Spain or Prosecco from Italy can be enjoyed for $10 to $15 a bottle. Is it that they don’t go well with food? In fact, it’s just the opposite. Sparkling wines, with their typically high acidity, are among the most versatile food wines you can serve.

That’s just what we found as we settled into our sandy retreat and began to watch a brilliant sun edge toward the horizon. The wine, which was brought by our friends, was the 2005 Blanc de Blancs from Schramsberg Vineyards, which happens to be California’s most famous producer of sparkling wines in the Champagne style. A quick check of Schramsberg’s Web site revealed a suggested price of $35, which, while not inexpensive, seemed justified when amortized over the course of a special evening with good friends (I also saw many listings on the Web for under $30).

So out came the cork along with our appetizers — a delicious hummus spread from one of the local markets, a goat cheese accompanied by a leftover red-pepper coulis that we had served with grilled steaks a few nights before, and a creamy and pungent blue cheese. Such bold flavors can add up to a risky proposition for wine, overpowering or clashing with many whites.

But Schramsberg’s Blanc de Blancs cut through them, providing a refreshing counterpoint and lift to the appetizers. The wine was very dry and clean, with fine bubbles and notes of green apple, herbs, bread, yeast and minerals. I liked its slightly bitter finish. “Blanc de blancs,” whether in Champagne or in other sparkling wines such as this one, refers to the fact that the wine is made entirely from chardonnay, whereas blends of chardonnay and pinot noir are more common.

Two-thirds of the grapes were from the Napa Valley, with the rest from Mendocino, Sonoma and Marin counties. Almost 23,000 cases were produced, so the wine should still have decent circulation, although I noted on Schramsberg’s site that the 2006 has also been released.

When it comes to American sparkling wines, I have to admit that my expectations are often not particularly high, given Champagne (the authentic French wine) as my reference point. With Schramsberg’s 2005 Blanc de Blancs, my expectations were nicely exceeded.

As a coda, I'll also mention that we had a wonderful red, the 2004 Crimson Creek Merlot from Napa's Pine Ridge Winery, which had a couple of years of bottle age and went particularly well with spicy chicken sausages that we grilled.

After dinner, as darkness settled in and we headed back from the beach over those bumpy dirt roads, everything seemed right, being away from it all on this lovely evening with family, friends, the sunset and some memorable wines.

Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at