Cook's California Brut Champagne, NV

Nov 7, 2001 (Updated Jan 6, 2002)

The Bottom Line Surprisingly good. If you find it under $5 per bottle, I highly recommend the purchase. I've never been disappointed.

Here we have it: America's top-selling Brut  sparkling wine is Cook's California Champagne. It is not a featured item in the Epinions database of wine. Go figure. "Cook's Grand Reserve Champagne" is listed at Epinions, but all the reviews posted are for wines other that the "Grand Reserve" offering.

Many people view this sparkling wine as a small step above Ernest & Julio Gallo's "Andre" sparkling wine, but I will argue that this is actually a very respectable wine and an outstanding performer in its price class.

Just a few words to preface this review:

1) This is not a Champagne wine. Only sparkling wines produced in Champagne, France, can be properly referred to as a "Champagne" wine. In California, where we not bound by French laws or traditions, we Americanize and hijack a lot of French wine making terms. We use the word "Champagne" as a generic reference to any kind of wine that has tiny bubbles in it.

2) This is a Brut sparkling wine. The Brut style is actually drier (lower in residual sugar) than the "Extra Dry" style of sparkling wines. (Go figure!)

3) This is a "bulk method process" sparkling wine, where secondary fermentation is conducted (before bottling) in large steel tanks... and not in individual bottles that are riddled by hand. That's just one of the reasons why this wine is less expensive than traditional "Methode Champenoise" Champagnes. Will you taste the difference? Probably not. You will feel the difference in your pocketbook though.

Cook's California Brut Champagne
This 11% alcohol by volume sparkling wine pours with a pale, straw yellow color. Very bubbly, with presence of some large bubble and a constant, regular stream of small bubbles.

Nose is yeasty and slightly tart with a slight aroma of ripe rhubarb and Winesap apple.

I like to serve this sparkling wine well-chilled. Flavor is not quite as tart as the nose suggests: a fruity blend of Yellow Bartlett pear and firm Green Anjou pear. A little bread yeastiness, yet bright and lively on the palate. Very Crisp, medium-dry. Snappy finish.

Can't say for sure, but residual sugar may be as high as 1.5% (a "dry" wine is .5% or less). A perfect aperitif wine. Great for low-key celebrations. Great with seafood, especially white fish and grilled fish steaks.

Price and Availability
I usually see this brand on sale at my local markets for $5.99 or less. Sometimes, especially during the holidays and especially during Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year, I see prices approach ridiculously low levels. I purchased this wine at my local Sav-On Drug store for only $3.99 per 750 ml bottle. That is a deal. Every time I see this wine at around $4 a bottle, I pick it up. It is well worth the money.

Vinted and bottled by Cook's Champagne Cellars, Madiera, California. Available nationwide.

More information is available at the company's website, Canandaigua Wine Company:

For the money, this is one of my favorite performers in the "Under $5" American sparkling wine category. Few California wines come close to this wine in terms of performance and price.

A perfect party wine and an excellent choice to serve as an apéritif with fruit platters and light seafood appetizers. A nice wine to enjoy after a Mexican shrimp cocktail, for example. And if you are ordering grilled tuna or swordfish, this wine ain't bad, either.

Other sparkling wines, under $10, that this wine can be compared too include: Tott's Brut Champagne (E&J Gallo), Korbel Natural Champagne, and the Spanish Freixenet Carta Nevada Brut. I am almost tempted to throw in a New York State wine, Charles Fournier Brut (about $4 per bottle), but it has been a couple of months since I last tried this wine (at some Sunday brunch somewhere). I do not have good tasting notes, but I recall that 'that' wine also good fruit flavor and a fairly clean finish.

Verdict: 3-stars overall, but 4-stars in its price class. I like it.

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Member: Tom Carr
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