For New Year’s Eve, we celebrate the year we are wrapping up, as well as the year yet to come. The obvious choice is sparkling wine.
If you opt to go French, many of those are legally known as Champagne because of the region — about 75 miles to the east of Paris — they are produced in. Others from France often are called crémant. These can be as delicious and far less pricey, but that’s another story.
When made in the New World, a bottle of bubbles most often will be labeled with the core phrase of “sparkling wine.”
The Pacific Northwest is home to a growing number of sparkling wine producers. In the Fall 2019 issue of Wine Press Northwest magazine, we conducted a blind tasting of regional bubbles for the purposes of not only the holidays but also everyday enjoyment.
Well-crafted bubbles — regardless of their methods or origin — are perhaps the most versatile wines for food pairings, so these will work nicely for almost any occasion. Below are some of the top submissions. For the complete list of the best bubbles from that tasting, see the results at WinePressNW.com.
Domaine Ste. Michelle NV Brut Rosé, Columbia Valley, $13: A pink ‘56 Thunderbird is how one judge described the top sparkling wine of the tasting, and fortunately more than 200,000 of these beautiful bottles roll off the production line each year. Paula Eakin, who celebrates her 25th year with Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, dazzles with this cross-vintage melange of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. She creates a lovely pale salmon wardrobe with creamy Hermiston watermelon and brioche aromas as the spectacular mousse carries along bright strawberry and cherry flavors. There’s brilliance to the balanced structure that dances around the 1.6 percent residual sugar.
ROCO Winery 2015 RMS Brut, Willamette Valley, $65: Rollin Soles and his wife, Corby, opened their winery a decade ago, branded as a mashup of their first names (pronounced ROCK-oh). It was back in the ‘80s when the tall Texan set the standard for Oregon sparkling wine and became a category leader in the Pacific Northwest as the founding winemaker of Argyle Winery in Dundee, where he developed the state’s first sparkling wine production facility. His methode Champenoise work with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from 2015 remains a Northwest classic for vintage bubbles, starting with bright aromas of dusty Asian pear, honeydew melon and Gala apple. On the palate, it’s loaded with hints of Comice pear, Golden Delicious apple and Rainier cherry.
Anne Amie Vineyards 2017 Cuveé A Amrita Sparkling White Wine, Willamette Valley, $15: Two decades ago, Portland businessman/publisher/philanthropist Robert Pamplin purchased Chateau Benoit, and winemaker Thomas Houseman soon transformed the winery — rebranded as Anne Amie — into a showcase for sparkling wines. His wildly aromatic Amrita blends Riesling and five other varieties with estate Müller-Thurgau plantings from 1979. Aromas of nectarine, apple and POG juice make their way onto a palate that continues to reach out with fruitiness and underlying complexity of fresh-cut grass. A wealth of citrusy acidity is joined by Granny Smith apple peel to more than balance the 1 percent residual sugar. One judge described it as “freaking wonderful” — and that was prior to learning about the price.
Canned Oregon NV Pink Bubbles, Oregon, $14: Several of the Oregon wine industry’s leading producers have joined the can category, and the Stoller Wine Group entered the game last year. Here, associate winemaker Ben Howe doubled up on the fascination for sparkling wines and rosé to create Pink Bubbles. The gorgeous light pink color sets the stage for a rather stunning sparkling rosé made with Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and splash of Riesling. It’s no blush, and the mousse nicely brings the aromas of strawberry-rhubarb pie and Hermiston watermelon to life in the mouth. There is a lovely creaminess to the mouth feel, backed by a bone-dry finish that’s akin to pink strawberry and red currant. In order to get a better sense for the equivalent to a 750-milliliter bottle of wine, the $14 listed here is for two cans. However, consumers can find a single can in the Northwest at grocers such as Fred Meyer, Safeway and Whole Foods going for $6.99.
Treveri Cellars NV Limited Release Series Müller-Thurgau Sec, Columbia Valley, $25: Perhaps no one has made as much wine over a longer period of time in the Pacific Northwest than Juergen Grieb, who trained in Germany and arrived in 1982 on Washington’s Wahluke Slope. In 2010, he launched Treveri Cellars near Yakima, Wash., and turned it into the state’s largest family-owned and operated sparkling wine house. He and son, Christian, work with Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain for their sparkling Müller-Thurgau, a German cross of noble Riesling with Madeleine Royale, a table grape. The family takes a German “sekt” approach to these bubbles, leaving room for more sweetness, nearly 2 percent residual sugar in this case. The result is a fun wine redolent of orchard fruit, offering layer upon layer of ripe peach and Bartlett pear. Its lovely mousse and persistent bubbles lead to a finish of apple pie crust and a rub of orange peel.
Left Coast Cellars 2015 Estate Brut Rosé of Pinot Meunier, Willamette Valley, $55: Wine merchant-turned-winemaker Joe Wright has been part of the Left Coast move to a completely estate program. Here, he spotlights the rarely showcased red variety with this program that features two years en tirage (aging in the bottle after the second fermentation is started with the addition of yeast and a bit of sugar). It offers light strawberry, cherry juice and clove aromas, followed by a mouthful of Rainier cherry flesh, candied orange peel and perfect lemony acidity. The mousse is delicate, as is the presence of sweetness.