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Avalon's Choice:
Good Value
NW Sparkling Wines

by Jean Yates
12/26/04

Not as well known as the big California sparkling wine makers, whose production is in the hundreds of thousands of cases, Oregon and Washington's sparkling wine producers make small amounts of hand crafted, often hand riddled sparkling wine.

Perhaps because they are not as well known, or because their production of sparkling wine is a labor of love, these wineries offer sparklers that show the dedlication and determination to create a special wine. Mostly dry, with lovely complexity, these are wines worth our customers' attention.

We've blind tasted through the available sparklers from Oregon and Washington, and then selected the best from a quality and price perspective. Here they are:

 

 

Secret House


Secret House's
"Red Silk"

Great value with a touch of granola, Secret House's owners host incredibly popular music events at their winery during the quintessentially "Old Hippster" Oregon Country Fair, and their Summer Solstice Celebration brings out the tie-dyed teeshirts and Celtic music.

Patti and Ron Chappel have a wonderfully bountious nature and the success of their events, and the continued success of their winery as a local favorite, have lots to do with their generosity of spirit and wholehearted love of grape growing and winemaking.

Since 1972, Patti and Ron have made several sparkling wines and a range of still wines from their Estate vineyard. Located only 44 miles from the Pacific, the vineyard produces highly flavored, excellent quality grapes for sparkling wines. Yield is usually under 2 tons per acre, and the stress of cool nights and the clay based soils result in lots of complex flavors in the grapes.

Red Silk NV $16/$14.39 is Secret House's dry Rosé, a crisp sparkler made with 100% Pinot noir, is has a lovely hint of strawberry in the nose, with dry flavors of cherry, berry, and plum. It's remininscent of a dry Rosé from Southern France, with a sparkling feature added.

Northern Silk Brut 1994 $16/$14.39 has dry, complex flavors. Ron has made this wine for many years, and the experienced winemaking shows. Consistently a favorite for weddings at our store. Traditional blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier grapes with a hint of smooth creaminess to please the American palate.

Domaine Meriwether

Jack Bagdade refined his knowledge of sparkling wines as the founcer of Seattle's well known Pike & Western Wine Merchants, after a career in medicine. He took over ten years to put together the best combination of grapes and winemaker, hiring Jean-Louis Denois, a sixth generation grower from Cumieres, a village to the north and west of Epernay in the Vallee de la Marne area of Champagne.
The grapes were found in Oregon's Willamette Valley, and 1991 saw the beginnings of Domaine Meriwether.

Because vintage sparkling wines can take years to age, Domaine Meriwether's wines did not start appearing on the market until late 2002. The current vintage of the better sparklers is 1998, with a non-vintage "Discovery Cuvee", also made in 1998, disgorged on demand.

The Domaine Meriwether Cuvee Discovery NV $15/$13.50 is one of the great value wines in Oregon, sparkling or still. At about $15 a bottle, the wine shows the skill of its French winemaker. Made from 60% Oregon Pinot noir and 40% Oregon Chardonnay, the wine is comparable to sparklers that cost twice the price. We highly recommend this wine when a lovely sparkler is needed on a budget.

Domaine Meriwether also makes three vintage sparklers, the best of which, in Avalon's opinion, being the Thomas Jefferson Cuvee Prestige 98 $29.75/$26.77. At under $30, it offers a lot of the sophistication of French Champagnes, with complex flavors of herbs, grass, caramel, toast, and very fine, longlasting bubbles.

You can read more about Domaine Meriwether and the wines, many of which are named after people associated with the fascinating Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1805 here: Domaine Meriwether Winery.

Domaine Ste Michelle

In an article about small wineries making sparkling wines, Domaine Ste Michelle, part of the huge Ste Michelle Wine Estates group in Washington State, may be considered an odd choice. But the winery has produced a limited amount of a vintage sparkler that is only available in the pacific Northwest, and it's creating something of a stir.

LUXE 98 $22/$19.79 is an example of how a large winery, when they want to, have advantages that allow them to make exceptional wines at reasonable prices. Chateau Ste Michelle is so well known for their high rated still wines at prices well below similarly rated wines, it's exciting to see them apply the same philosophy to this sparkler.

LUXE 98 is 100% Chardonnay, made from Heily Vineyard grapes that the winemaker was able to choose from among the thousands of acres belonging to CSM. The wine has lots of delicate complexity in the scent and flavors, with lemon and lime blossom, crisp apple, and pear notes in both. A hint of fresh banana in the finish is quite pleasant, and intermingles with butterscotch, brown sugar, and hazelnut notes. The wine is reminiscent of the wines of Roederer, which makes sense, as winemaker Rick Casquerio was assisted by consulting winemaker Michel Salgues, formerly (and famously) winemaker at Roederer.

Whether DSM will continue to produce vintage sparklers is not clear. but while it's available, this wine is a great deal.

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How to Open a Bottle of Sparkling Wine?

Message in a Bottle:
Hold bottle angled away from you. Make sure it’s not pointed at anyone else, a window or at a light fixture.

Let's Twist Again!
Carefully pull off the foil. Keep a protective hand over the exposed cork beneath to prevent it from flying out prematurely. If there is a wire over the cork, gently untwist and remove it. Keeping a firm grip on the cork with one hand, twist the bottle (as opposed to the cork) gently with the other hand, while also trying to pull the bottle away from the cork. Cork and bottle should part company with the merest hint of a pop.

A Word to the Wise:
Another option for those of a cautious disposition: wrap a linen napkin around the the neck of the bottle before easing out the cork; this should all but eliminate the risk of sending the cork into orbit.

All Shook Up?
We hope not! To preserve those precious bubbles and prevent a sparkling wine from frothing over the top of a glass, pour no more than an inch of wine into each glass. As the froth subsides, go round a second time, topping up the glasses.

The most elegant way to hold a sparkling wine bottle as you pour is to place your thumb inside the "punt" (hollow area at base of bottle) and extend your fingers around the bottle, without obscuring the label. Until the bottle is entirely empty of its contents, keep it well chilled in an ice bucket by the table.

Ever wondered how to conserve the fresh taste and bubbles of a half-full bottle of sparkling wine?

An old bartenders’ trick is to leave the handle of a silver spoon in the bottle before storing it on the refrigerator shelf.


INTERNATIONAL TOASTS

No matter where you are, a toast is never out of place and always a fun part of the ritual of taking that first sip of sparkling wine.

Czech: Na Zdravi (Na zdrah vi) To Your Health

French: A Votre Sante! (Ah Vot-ruh Sahn-tay) To Your Health!

German: Prosit! (Proh-sit) Cheers!

Greek: Stin Eyiassou! (Stin Eye-ee-yass-ooh) To Your Health!

Hebrew: L'Chaim! (Le Hy-em) To Life!

Hungarian: Le! Le! Le! Egeszsegere (Lay Lay Lay Egg-esh Ay-ged-reh) Down! Down! Down! To your health!

Italian: Cin! Cin! (Chin Chin) Cheers!

Japanese: Kampai! (Kam-pie) To an empty glass!

Mandarin: Gan bei! (Gan Bay) To an empty glass!

Polish: Na zdrowie! (Naz-droh-vee-ay) To your health!

Portuguese: Saude (Sow-ooh-jee) Cheers!

Russian: Zdorovie (Zdo-ro-vee) To your health!

Serbo-Croat: Ziveli! (Zhi-vol-ee) To Life!

Spanish: Salud! (Sah-lud) To your health!

Swedish: Skal! (Skoll) Cheers!

Yiddish: Zei Gazunt! (Zye Gah-zoont) To your health!


Secret House's
Summer Solstice Poster

 


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NW Sparkling Wines