L’homme qui ris: Tête de Cuvée California Sparkling Wine from McIntyre Vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands

Where would one expect to find the best California sparkling wine? Alexander Valley? Carneros? What about the Santa Lucia Highlands? Well, this is a stunner. One of the best sparkling wines we’ve had this year comes from a little-known vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands. And had we tasted this wine when doing our report (#14) on The World of Sparkling Wines we would have listed it among the top sparkling wines of California.

When we visited Steve McIntyre at his vineyard about a year ago, he showed us a block of Pinot Noir grapes that he said were on the property when he purchased it in 1987 from the McFarland family, one of the true wine pioneers of the Highlands. The precise provenance of the vines is unknown, but we know they were planted in 1973, making the vines almost 40 years old. Also, since they produce light colored juice, it appears they were planted to provide fruit for sparkling wine producers elsewhere in California.

Steve now uses the fruit of these heritage clone Pinot Noir vines and blends it with Chardonnay to produce a Méthode Champenoise sparkling wine with the unlikely name of L’homme qui ris. It’s sold as a non-vintage wine since most consumers would be scared away by the real vintage date. The wine we tasted spent seven years en tirage. In other words, once the secondary fermentation occurs in bottle, the wine sits there on its lees for a full seven years. Counting backwards, this is really a 2003 vintage wine. In Champagne, this wine would be sold as a vintage tête de cuvée with a premium price to match.

The wine may be old, but it’s still fresh tasting. Steve disgorges only enough at one time to sell over the next few months. This way the wine stays fresh but gains complexity from the extended tirage. Once it’s disgorged a little, invert sugar is added to raise the residual sugar to 0.75 g.

Not much is left of the current stock, but a new release will be coming next year. Watch for it!

McIntyre Vineyards NV L’homme qui ris Santa Lucia Highlands ($29) 91
LQHR is a Méthode Champenoise blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay that spends 7 years on its lees. This one was disgorged about six months ago. Yellow gold in color, the bouquet is rich with nuts and sherry notes. The creamy, finely beaded palate also shows nuts along with yeast, toasted brioche, and apricot stone fruit. The finish is extremely long with freshly made apple pie notes. This California wine tastes like old tête de cuvée Champagne. Would be great with aged cheese.

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