There are several somewhat believable stories about the first time someone made sparkling wine (on purpose), all amounting to rural legend...no one knows.... so any story that is told has the same zero chance of being 100% accurate. Right or wrong, I have been telling this version for over 35 years because it is the coolest version I could piece together.
It was a particularly late harvest in the Champagne region village of Epernay, France one year in the early 1700's. Dom Pierre Perignon, the Benedictine Monk who was ramroding the winemaking operations at the Abbey at Hautvilliers Monastery, was aging and blind by some accounts. Back in that era, bottles were sealed with somewhat loose oil-soaked hemp or wood. Wines that failed to ferment dry in the fall renewed yeast activity in the spring when it warmed up and the stoppers in that day released the fermentation gas, carbon dioxide (CO2), without incident. But, Dom Perignon used tight fitting, cutting edge stoppers; the bark of Quercus suber, the cork oak, so the CO2 was imprisoned in the bottle. The result was explosive . . . literally . . . as bottles started erupting.
Summoned to the cellar by his alarmed subordinates, a bottle of this foaming liquid was opened (on purpose), and upon tasting its tingle on the tongue, the blind Grand Potentate of the Monastery proclaimed: “. . . come quickly my brothers, for I am drinking stars . . .”. Don’tcha just love that version?
From there, by most accounts, Madame Veuve Clicquot Posardin took the cork and bottle by the horns and developed the process and science that created Methode Champenoise, the way sparkling wines are made to this day. The Readers Digest version of this ten-step process is that wine is refermented in a bottle (on purpose), aged, the sediment is removed, it is filled to the brim and corked, and there are French names for most every step. “Bubble” as I call it, has varying sweetness levels from bone dry (natural/brut), to off dry (extra dry) to pretty sweet (sec, demi sec, doux).
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The French rightfully had a vache (the French word for “cow”) when the world used the term “champagne” for fizzy wine, and now international mandates prohibit the use of the term “champagne” outside of Champagne... The French have, the Germans “Sekt”, Spaniards “Cava” and we have “Sparkling Wine”....romantic, ain’t it? Redemption: we exclusively have “Rattlesnake Hills” and “Ribbon Ridge”...
The base wine for sparkling wine can be any grape, and indeed some of the most intriguing effervescent wines are not the traditional champagne-based Chardonnay/Pinot Noir/Pinot Muenier. Riesling, Muscat, Gewurztraminer and even Syrah are gangbusters when they bubble. Hopefully Northwest sparkling winemakers show us more non-traditional grape varieties with CO2.
In the late 1970's, Bill Preston in Pasco set up a sparkling wine shop. On the first bottle run his novice winemaker set the cork so deep it reached the bottle flare inside (NOT on purpose), and it took a pair of Vice-Grips to remove it...lawsuit threats were settled, the winemaker taken to the woodshed and the project was scuttled. Other bubble operations at that time also fizzled, however Ste. Michelle (now Domain Ste. Michelle) and Argyle fizzed.
Since then, new players like Treveri, Karma, Pacific Rim and Westport from Washington and Soter and Domaine Meriwether in Oregon have blown the bottle wide open with their sparklers. Moreover, those needing relationship help can buy a bottle of “Good in Bed” by Hard Row to Hoe. This is a family publication so I will reserve further comment on its success rate....
Sparkling wines transcend the white/red wine-heavy/light food match thingy better than any other wine . . . they go with almost everything . . . try a Blanc de Noir with a Ribeye. . . counter-intuitively romantic bedfellows. From caviar to cheesecake, from fish to foul, from salad to swine, or with a hot date to the hot tub, the refreshing acidity and relatively low alcohol of sparkling wines enliven your olfactory senses and clean-sweep the mouth to provide the proper forum for every conceivable food and wine marriage, and marriage itself...
But the biggest reason to integrate a bottle or 2 (or 3) of sparkling wine per week into your diet is attitude adjustment...necessary realignment of the neurons. Consuming a sparkler as a cocktail freshens and recalibrates the mind. In fact, the Roth household annually repeats its resolution to drink more Bubble every New Year...we prefer easily achievable New Year's Resolutions.
Look, you work like hell, then after you die, your brother-in-law drinks all your good sparkling wine in your honor...drink it now before it’s too late! Celebrating every day like you just won a NASCAR race will be an omission that you will regret when you are in that rockin’ chair examining the mistakes you made while on the roller coaster of life. And, while you can break the bank when drinking Bubble, you don’t have to because there are some delicious products from here and around the world that are just flat delightful and affordable.
So, open some Bubble and celebrate the victory of being on the north side of the turf, that you made it through the day, and that the Dung Beetle walked past you without taking a bite . . . ahem. Bubble, to be consumed in moderation, on purpose, much more frequently than you do now.....
--COKE ROTH is an attorney who lives in Richland, Wash. He is an original member of Wine Press Northwest’s tasting panel. Learn more about him at cokerothlaw.com.