I got reacquainted over the Thanksgiving weekend with Domaine Chandon’s Etoile sparkling wines.
Domaine Chandon was the first winery in Napa Valley founded by a Champagne house. In the late 1960s, Moet & Chandon Champagne decided to expand to the New World. It partnered with Hennessy, the cognac producer, and in 1973 purchased land in the cool climate areas of Mount Veeder and Yountville. The new enterprise planted vineyards in both areas, and the winery, with an upscale restaurant, was built in Yountville.
The first sparkling wine was release in 1976, and the dining room and outdoor patio opened the following year. It was the talk of America’s wine and food cognoscenti.
I made my first visit to Domaine Chandon a few years later. Over the next decade, I developed a routine during my visits: I would begin around noon with a tasting of all the new sparkling wines, followed by lunch on the patio with the outstanding cooking of French chef Philippe Jeanty and his never-to-be-missed roasted loin of rabbit with rosemary and olives and a potato galette. A bottle of Etoile’ sparkling wine accompanied the fare. Add the California sunshine, warm breeze and vineyard ambience, and you’ll understand why lunch at Domaine Chandon was my Shangri-La.
The restaurant has since been renamed Etoile to honor and promote its best sparkling wine. However, it all ended when someone decided in 2015 that the winery would be better off without its restaurant. How management thought not having a showcase for its wines was beneficial is beyond me.
Tom Tiburzi began his winemaking career at Domaine Chandon 21 years ago; today, he is the winemaker. Pauline Lhote, a native of the Champagne region, is the assistant winemaker. They have the freedom to create Etoile as they see fit.
They choose the best grapes from any appellation, blend young wines with reserve wines, and decide what proportion of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier will be blended. Tiburzi and Lhote have been given great freedom and matching responsibility.
On the day after Thanksgiving, I opened the non-vintage Etoile brut. It is 55 percent chardonnay, 25 percent pinot noir and 20 percent pinot meunier.
California’s rich fruit gives an immediate honey and ginger aroma and full-body texture. Ripe apple and caramel flavors cross the palate with a creamy coating that I find particularly appealing in sparkling wines and Champagne. A long, pleasing finish is provided by the gentle acidity that also cleanses the palate for the next sip. This is a superb Etoile Brut.
On Saturday, I gently popped the cork on the non-vintage Etoile Rose’. The rose’s blend is 48 percent chardonnay, 44 percent pinot noir and 8 percent pinot meunier. The substantial amount of pinot noir gives the Etoile Rose’ an ambrosial strawberry and raspberry character. It is enticingly aromatic and addictively flavorful. I found myself going back to the glass of this perfectly balanced wine before I wanted to.
Both Etoiles are ideal table mates. Pour the non-vintage Etoile Brut with grilled fish, roasted chicken or pork, or a veal chop. And the Etoile Rose’ partners well with spicy Chinese poultry and vegetable dishes. And if you decide to reproduce Jeanty’s roasted rabbit loin with the potato galette, call me.
The non-vintage Etoile Brut retails for about $35; the Etoile Rose’ $40.