Your guide to Northwest sparkling wine scene

By on December 7, 2015
Sparkling wine

Sparkling wine is one of the most delicious and versatile wines. It is particularly important this time of the year because of holiday gatherings. (Photo via Flickr/click for credit)

‘Tis the season for bubbles.

Well, in our minds, every season is the reason for sparkling wine, but because of the holidays, this is when we tend to open the most bottles of bubbly.

And the Pacific Northwest is teeming with delicious sparkling wines. This week, we will take a day-by-day look at each of the four Northwest wine regions and their respective sparkling wines.

Here are a few of the storylines we will cover through the next five days:

  • The Northwest’s largest sparkling wine producer has a new winemaker at the helm.
  • The Northwest’s second-largest wine producer is now owner of one of the nation’s largest sparkling wineries.
  • An Oregon entrepreneur has created a business that takes on all the difficult work of crafting sparkling wine and now is helping several wineries produce small batches of bubbles.
  • One Washington bubble house is crafting no fewer than eight different bottlings of sparkling wine.
  • North of the border, sparkling wine has always been solid. Now with a winery focused exclusively on bubbles from single vineyards, British Columbia’s sparkling wine scene is downright vibrant.
  • For years, Idaho’s sparkling wine scene has been nearly nonexistent. This year, however, two wineries have come out with sparkling wines to revitalize the Gem State.

Each day this week, we will provide a rundown of every single winery (that we know of or can find) that is producing sparkling wine. This will provide you with a guide to bubbles going into the holidays – and all of 2016.

Why sparkling wines are so versatile

Juergen Grieb produces sparkling wine.

Juergen Grieb is the owner and winemaker for Treveri Cellars in Wapato, Wash. He focuses on producing some of the best sparkling wines in the Pacific Northwest. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Sparkling wines are a favorite for so many reasons.

First of all, the carbon dioxide that is captured in the bottle during the all-important secondary fermentation provides brightness and elegance. It also helps it pair well with a variety of foods.

Second of all, sparkling wine can range from spine-chillingly dry to bright and sweet (or in the case of the rare sparkling ice wine, ultra-sweet). This helps make them versatile for many occasions, from intimate dinners to big weddings to New Year’s Eve parties.

Here are a few of our favorite food pairings with sparkling wines:

  • Oysters and other shellfish: This is a classic pairing with sparkling wines, particularly those on the dry side. Oysters – raw or cooked – are delicious because their brininess seems to match so well with the bright acidity of the bubbles.
  • Roasted duck: Duck is a natural pairing with Pinot Noir, and much sparkling wine (especially rosé) is made with Pinot Noir. In addition, the bird’s natural fattiness is tempered by the wine’s effervescence.
  • Caviar: This is another classic, something straight out of a British spy novel. Again, the saltiness of the caviar plays well with the brightness of the wine.
  • Popcorn: Don’t go crazy by popping the cork on a bottle of Dom Perignon with your next batch of microwave popcorn, but this is a superb pairing. Try it tonight!
  • Spicy Asian dishes: Sparkling wine, particularly off-dry styles, work well with Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai and Indian dishes, especially those with a bit of spice or heat on them. An Extra Dry with a bowl of pho can be heavenly on a wet winter day.
  • Linguine in a cream sauce: The fattiness of the cream sauce plays perfectly with a sparkling wine. In fact, try sparkling wine with mac and cheese made with Cougar Gold. Add some crab and you’ll be onto something special.

Quick guide to sparkling wine styles

Sparkling wine is made in many styles.

Sparkling wines are made in many styles and under many names. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Sparkling wine is made in many styles using several methods. While far from complete, here are several you may run across.

  • Methode Champenoise: This is made in the method perfected in the Champagne region of France. The wine is first fermented in the standard way in a tank, barrel or other cask. The second fermentation takes place in the bottle, capturing the carbon dioxide as the famous bubbles.
  • Methode Charmat: In this method, the second fermentation takes place in a tank, then the wine is bottled. This is much less expensive than Methode Champenoise. Often, sparkling wines from Italy are made this way.
  • Carbonated: Not unlike sparkling water or soda, the bubbles are injected into the wine after fermentation takes place. This is used primarily for inexpensive sparklings.
  • Nonvintage or NV: Most sparkling wines are not vintage dated, meaning they are nonvintage. This is because many are blended across multiple vintages because consistency from vintage to vintage is often considered more important than vintage variation. Only the rare sparkling wine is vintage dated. That said, the world’s most famous sparkling wine – Dom Perignon – is always vintage dated.
  • Brut: This is commonly seen on bottles of sparkling wine and refers to how dry the wine is. Traditionally, a brut sparkling wine has residual sweetness of 0.5 to 1.5 percent. Want something more dry? Look for the rare “Extra Brut.”
  • Blanc de Blancs: In French this means “white from white,” which means it’s a white sparkling wine made from white grapes. In Champagne, this would mean it was made with Chardonnay.
  • Blanc de Noirs: This means “white from black,” or a white/clear wine made with red grapes, particularly Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier in Champagne. How can you make a white wine from red grapes? The grapes are crushed and the skins (where the color comes from) is immediately separated from the juice.
  • Extra Dry: Leave it to the French to call a sweeter sparkling wine “extra dry.” In fact, if a sparkling wine says “extra dry” on the label, it’s a bit sweeter than brut, blanc de blancs or other styles. This is a great style for weddings and mimosas.
  • Sparkling wine vs. Champagne: A simple rule is if the sparkling wine is made in Champagne, France, then it’s called Champagne. If it’s made in the United States, it’s called sparkling wine. Many regions have different names for sparkling wines (even inside of France). Just call it sparkling wine and you’ll be correct.

About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is founding partner of Great Northwest Wine LLC and a longtime wine columnist. He is a third-generation journalist who has worked at newspapers since the mid-1980s and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Eric Degerman and served as its editor-in-chief for 15 years. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books.

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