I’m always amazed by the many people who say they reserve sparkling wines strictly for special events. I always want to ask them, "Why?"
There are so many Central Coast sparkling wines, as well as Spanish cavas, Italian proseccos (those terms also refer to the country’s name for bubblies since only those sparkling wines from France’s Champagne region can legally be labeled “Champagne”), and yes, even some Champagnes can be found reasonably-priced at Central Coast wine shops.
I recently spotted a 750 ml bottle (the normal size for wine bottles) of Dom Perignon in Costco priced at $149.99, and that’s discounted. It’s the Champagne most people think of when they want to celebrate a life event, but few can afford such a luxury.
You don’t really need to pay such prices when we have so many excellent Central Coast bubblies in local tasting rooms.
Those of us who work in the wine industry appreciate the fact that Champagne and sparkling wines are so versatile. They taste great with a wide array of delicious foods, from oysters to sushi and lobster. Champagne and sparkling wines are always excellent for sipping on their own, such as an aperitif before a dinner party. Not many white or red wines can accomplish that dramatic feat of being awesome on their own.
And that's why I always support the lively annual Bubblyfest, which will take place in Avila Beach from Oct. 5 to 7. This year, there will be three days of great wines, delicious foods and live music to enjoy alongside the beach.
Bubblyfest will also offer new treats: a fried chicken dinner and four bubblies with a Master Sommelier who will teach you about food and wine pairing; a sitdown tasting with four experts while tasting and learning about their sparkling wines, including Clarissa Nagy from Riverbench in the Santa Maria Valley; a Corks and Cocktails evening affair at the Central Coast Aquarium, where you’re invited to don your roaring 1920s outfits, listen to live jazz and sip bubbly from saucers and flutes (the glasses typically used for drinking Champagne); and the Grand Tasting on Oct. 7, which promises over 60 brands of sparkling wines with both local producers and international brands.
My love of Champagne goes back many years to our first trip to France. My husband, Dan Hardesty, and I once had the unique experience of enjoying a five-course meal that included wild boar and venison, each dish paired with different Ruinart Champagnes at Restaurant Le Grand Cerf in Villers-Allerand, France. Even for a diehard foodie like me, it was mind-blowing. Should you take a trip to France’s Champagne region, I can't recommend this dining experience highly enough. That was many years ago but, happily, I learned the restaurant is still quite popular.
Among the interesting events you’ll experience at the Bubblyfest Grand Tasting, there’s free admission to a live taping of the Cork Dorks radio show, where you’ll learn about their “favorite tastemakers,” and you’ll be privy to special wines they’ll be pouring for you.
There’s also a free seminar that will teach you about the history of Champagne and teach you how to saber a bottle of Champagne with a sword.
It's another reminder of our trip to Epernay, France, where we visited Moet & Chandon Champagne House and were allowed to visit the “Napoleon Room.” It has been preserved to remain exactly how it was when the emperor would stop by to pick up his Champagne to take to the wars he led (could that be why he lost?). Interestingly, the tree where he arrived on his great white horse was still alive. Moet & Chandon had an artist paint a rendering of of Napoleon on his horse under the tree, a memorial of great events that occurred in their long history in France.
It’s interesting to learn more about the Central Coast’s fine history in becoming an amazing region that goes back a few decades. However, when you visit Europe where their history of winemaking goes back centuries, the experience resounds for wine lovers.
My favorite Central Coast sparkling wine producers haven’t changed much over the years. These three bubbly producers are first and foremost among them all in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties: Laetitia in Arroyo Grande Valley (off northbound Highway 101), Riverbench Vineyards in Santa Maria Valley and Goat Bubbles by Flying Goat Cellars in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. Each of them has tasting rooms open to the public, and only the last isn’t open daily, but you can make an appointment to visit anytime. They are all worth your time to taste before you buy, if you can’t make it to the Bubblyfest events.
At Bubblyfest, not every event requires purchasing tickets. Some seminars are included in your ticket price during the grand tasting, so you can choose to buy the events that appeal most to you. No matter which of the events you choose, you’ll find yourself able to have one-on-one experiences with the winemakers and other experts at every table, which I believe is what makes the love of wine endlessly fascinating.
For more information or to buy tickets, visit www.bubblyfest.com.