Willamette Valley Sparkling Wine: A Buyer’s Guide
When you produce some of the world’s most shining examples of “Champagne” grapes (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), it is a natural transition to want to produce wine in a Champagne style. That logic and dream is becoming ever more real in the Pacific Northwest as wineries from the Willamette Valley are getting in the bubbles game at a rapid rate!
Desire is only the beginning however, as sparkling wine production takes special, expensive equipment and the aging process for high-quality bottle-fermented sparkling wine is an investment that some wineries just cannot afford.
Founded a few years ago, Radiant Sparkling Company is just one of the companies contributing to the growth of bubbles in the Willamette Valley, but as more producers stock their tasting rooms with fizz – here are some of the top examples of sparkling wine from the region. Some classics, some cutting edge and some unique that go beyond the influence of Champagne! Don’t scoff at the prices either, sparkling wine costs about 50% more to make and is so worth the investment in your belly!
THE ICON – Argyle ‘Extended Tirage’ Brut 2008 – $80
With their first vintage in 1987, there is no more knowledgeable producer about sparkling wine in this region than Argyle. Their Extended Tirage – named for the extremely long aging process – is considered one of the New World’s best examples of sparkling wine. The 2008 vintage, a blend of about 2/3 Pinot Noir, 1/3 Chardonnay, is aged on the lees for 10 YEARS! Rich, unctuous, creamy, the texture and flavor of this wine is like skipping down Pier 39 in San Fran with a sourdough boule in your hand. Toasted street vendor almonds, grammy’s peach cobbler and a finish that is longer than the Preakness make this wine a high bar for other producers to achieve success.
BILLECART’S HIPPIE COUSIN – Soter ‘Mineral Springs Ranch’ 2014 Brut Rosé – $65
Sourced from their 240-acre biodynamic farm in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, Soter has been another classic example of the high quality that can be achieved in sparkling wine in Oregon. Their Brut Rosé has always been a favorite of sommeliers and fans of the King of Rosé Bubbles, Billecart-Salmon. About 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay, this bone dry, but extremely fresh pink bubbly is the closest thing you will find to lying in a strawberry patch on a summer’s day. Bright, zippy with layers of minerality dancing on the tongue, the flavors of dried berries, Jonathan apples and blood orange are led to you by a beautiful nose of rose petals that will get you right in the mood for sexy time…anytime. A limited wine that is only from the winery or the finest restaurants.
ONE SCRAPPY LADY – Trisaetum ‘Pashey’ Blanc de Blanc 2015 – $75
Named for his grandmother Pashey Chapman, Trisaetum winemaker James Frey looks at the wine world a bit differently. Mostly self-taught, his eye for the arts and passion for detail has earned him a reputation as one of the top white wine producers in Oregon. That passion extended to this new sparkling wine project, “Pashey Cellars”. The 2015 Blanc de Blanc (meaning white wine from only white grapes) is 100% Chardonnay and is unapologetically bold. With grapes sourced from their cool-climate Ribbon Ridge estate, the soil dictates a beautiful and concentrated wine. With aromas of a Parisian baker running after you with a baguette, it rolls into diced apple and a nostril-tingling whiff of white flowers. As you taste it, the roundness, the depth of the wine is classic Blanc de Blanc that pre-date the flavor existence of White Chocolate Nutella (a boy can dream). One of the most limited bottlings in the area – I recommend signing up for the club before it sells out.
WAIT A SEKT – Brooks Sparkling Riesling 2015 – $40
Riesling…Sparkling…Sparkling Riesling? If there were ever a champion for one of the world’s most misunderstood grape varieties, look no further than Brooks Winery from Eola-Amity Hills. Producing more Riesling bottlings than you have fingers and toes – Brooks is carrying on the legacy of their founder and winemaker Jimi Brooks. Known in German-speaking countries as SEKT, sparkling Riesling isn’t completely crazy but this delicious version from the Willamette Valley shows why Brooks is one of the best producers of Rieslings on earth. Laser focused acidity with high tone vineyard stones gets you right off the bat on this dry bubbly – yes, Riesling can be dry. Winter citrus – tangerine, Italian lemon jump all over the nose and when you taste it – holy yummers! This herbaceous, starfruit, nutty, fresh, I want to drink a glass of you every day for the rest of my life type flavor is the wine for oysters all the way through General Tso’s Chicken.
THE MAMA & PAPA – Day Wines Mamacita & Papacito – $30
If there was one winemaker that you would want to hang out with, it’s probably Brianne Day. Going against the grain and against the rules, Brianne has created Day Wines to offer some of the most unique wines in and around Willamette Valley. No greater examples of that than her two Pet-Nat wines – Mamacita and Papacito. Now Pétillant-Naturel is an ancient way of making sparkling wine where the fermentation happens in the bottle, with the bubbles nowhere to go. For better or worse, each bottle of Pet-Nat style bubbles can be a completely different and mind-blowing experience. The Mamacita, a blend of Vermentino, Muscat and Malvasia is an aromatic wonder. Flavors of sweet, ripe peaches, lemonhead candies and lavender fields will take you the the south of France and then rushing through a Bath & Body Works. Slight bubbles and beautiful acidity make this a fantastic beach bubbly. Then there is Papacito – a deep, dark purple bubbly made from Primitivo, known most in Southern Italy. It is the frothy fizz that will remind you of face planting in a bushel of blueberries. Plum, blackberry, dry on the finish, it’s the Pacific Northwest’s answer to Lambrusco.