04/13/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Laetitia Offers Champagne Quality at California Prices

"In victory, you deserve Champagne; in defeat, you need it." -- Napoleon

I visited with the Sommelier/Wine Buyer at my favorite Pavilion's Market in West Hollywood (yes, their wine and spirits section is so extensive they have a full-time wine person in attendance to help select your wine or spirit!) and showed her the recent Wall Street Journal's rave review of the Laetitia Estate Brut Cuvee NV sparkling wines. She was astonished, saying "I didn't know that Laetitia made sparkling wines; of course we carry their excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay." I told her that I have become almost addicted to their sparkling Brut Rose and have been drinking it all last year. She said she would order a supply for this very upscale market (at Robertson & Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood.) I had the pleasure of filling her in a bit more about these amazing sparkling wines, quoting the Wall Street Journal story... how, in the 1970s, the ancient House of Deutz - renowned for 'consistently outstanding quality' (Parker) searched for a site outside of Champagne, France to make a world-class fizz. And for the next 20 years they did just that in the Arroyo Grande Valley of Central California, where rolling hills, gravelly soils and cool climate reminded them of home - the Grand Cru village of Ay.

The story has a very happy ending... in 1998, international financier and wine aficianado Selim Zilkha took over the estate, changed the name to Laetitia (Latin for happiness) and - as Parker notes - "took advantage of the well-placed vineyards and got serious about quality." The article goes on to note that they use an award-winning blend of Champagne grapes - Chardonnay (elegant citrus and apple flavors) and Pinot Noir (earthy black cherry, red fruit), while Pinot Blanc adds soft melon. Fresh and lively with a fine stream of bubbles (an estimated 20 million in each bottle, a sign of top quality), 12.5% vol to 2012. Champagne quality from California at an unbeatable price!

My recent visit to the Laetitia vineyard provided me with an insight to the traditional way the sparkling wines are made there... the blend of wines transformed by a near-magical second fermentation in the very bottle you purchase and pop; the second fermentation in the bottle creates all the bubbles we crave. The vineyard's method champenoise sparklers in their stunning bottles - mostly brut and rose - start at some $25-30. Complex sparkling wines providing high quality at a great price, money well spent in the pursuit of pleasure.

At a recent meal at Bouchon, I brought two bottles of Laetitia's Brut Cuvee, which went perfectly with the bistro dishes, turning my simple meal into a celebration. I pontificated to my table companions by reciting an anonymous fan: "I only drink Champagne when I'm happy, and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I am alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it- unless I am thirsty." Which is always. Bottoms Up!

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