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18 Dec 2021 | Randy Kemner

THIS SUPER-PREMIUM SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS SPARKLER DOES THE IMPOSSIBLE

Rhys Vineyards Ultra Brut, Santa Cruz Mountains 

$89.99 per bottle

One day last summer, while researching the wineries of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the name of Rhys Vineyards kept popping up, with superlative reviews for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the leading wine press.  We thought the small-production wines would be a subscription-only affair, but after a few months of negotiating, we acquired some Rhys wines for The Wine Country’s shelves.

Then Samantha Dugan did something she rarely does.  She ordered the estate’s premium-priced sparkling wine sight-unseen, based solely on the estate’s reputation.  And a little story that went along.

The perfectionists of Rhys knew they shouldn’t use their excellent Chardonnay vineyards used in the production of their table wines for their sparkling wine; if they wanted to make the finest bubbly possible from the Santa Cruz Mountains, they’d have to dedicate different clones exclusively for sparkling wine production.  They also retained the expertise of Rodolphe Peters, from the celebrated Grand Cru Champagne property Pierre Peters to guide them in their effort.

I was skeptical; I’ve been drawn into vanity bubbly projects before, with disappointing results.  One superstar Pinot Noir producer in the Sta Rita Hills asked a fortune for a disjointed mediocrity, merely trading on its name and goodwill without producing the goods.  Ptui!

So I took it upon myself to explore this first acquisition of Rhys Ultra Brut Santa Cruz Mountains Sparkling Wine the other night, and opened a bottle in front of our Christmas tree.  What to my wondering eyes did appear, but a super-premium-priced bubbly of incredible precision, pure Chardonnay fruit in front of its subtle Pinot Noir, with impeccable balance, and offering immense enjoyment.

They did the impossible—Rhys created a sparkler that could challenge Champagne and come out favorably.

We acquired 12 bottles; I drank one, which leaves 11 available at press time.  Unless I get their first.

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