When it comes to celebrating, few wines in the Northwest are more affordable, available and worthy than the sparklers from Domaine Ste. Michelle.
This summer, Rick Casqueiro observed his 15th anniversary as winemaker of Ste. Michelle's sparkling wine house in Paterson.
Remarkably, perhaps the turning point for Domaine Ste. Michelle came during Casqueiro's third vintage with Ste. Michelle, just before the 1998 harvest. Each summer, then-CEO Allen Shoup and then-marketing executive Ted Baseler would gather their winemakers in Yakima for a weekend of golf, dining, relaxation and meetings.
"At that time we were using Riesling as the primary component in the cuvée," Casqueiro said. "I remember we were in this small restaurant, and Allen sitting across the table from me and Ted was next to me. They asked me what I wanted to do, and I told them I wanted to change the base blends -- I wanted to make a traditional cuvée with pinot noir and chardonnay, and leave the riesling out. If they wanted to do riesling by itself, that's fine, but if we were going to compete with the folks in California, I said we needed to work with the traditional Champagne grapes.
"A week later, Pete Bachman, who was my boss at the time, said, 'OK, you got your way.' "
The transition -- and the timing -- brought immediate results, and Casqueiro's wines have earned gold medals and lofty scores from competitions and publications ever since.
Most of the Domaine Ste. Michelle wines can be found for $12 or less. At that price, they are wines to be enjoyed virtually every day of the week. But they also are among the most versatile and food-friendly wines on the market.
As you plan for the holidays, here are some of Domaine Ste. Michelle's latest releases. They are broadly distributed and should be easy to find.
Domaine Ste. Michelle NV Blanc de Blancs, Columbia Valley, $12. This bubbly is crafted from 100 percent Chardonnay and is a pretty dry wine. It opens with aromas of buttered toast, yellow grapefruits, sandalwood, quince, tangerines and white pepper. The palate shows off refined bubbles backing up a plethora of flavors, including luscious citrus. This will pair beautifully with shellfish, chicken, pasta with a cream sauce or a plate of soft cheeses.
Domaine Ste. Michelle NV Brut Rosé, Columbia Valley, $12. Rick Casqueiro's pink sparkler opens with classic Champagne notes of toast, yeast, pecan pie, apricots and white strawberries. On the palate, it is bright and dry with flavors of Granny Smith apples, yellow grapefruits, lychee and peach pie. We love this wine with oysters, as well as spicy Indian and Thai dishes.
Domaine Ste. Michelle NV Brut, Columbia Valley, $12. For this wine, Casqueiro blended chardonnay (88 percent) with pinot noir to craft a bubbly that is remarkable in quality and value. It opens with exotic aromas of sandalwood, bay rum, lychee, fresh ginger, Gala apples and spun sugar. On the palate, the mild (1.19 percent) residual sugar melds with flavors of watermelons, minerals and rangpur limes. We like this wine on its own as a celebratory sparkler, but we could also see pairing it with mussels, clams, calamari or oysters.
Domaine Ste. Michelle NV Extra Dry, Columbia Valley, $12. This is DSM's sweetest bubbly and a favorite for weddings because it is pleasing to a broad range of palates (translation: Your grandma will love it). Like the Brut, it is a blend of 88 percent chardonnay and 12 percent pinot noir, though the residual sweetness is a bit higher at 2.3 percent. It opens with aromas of minerals, dusty apples, a hint of toasted marshmallows and premium vanilla ice cream. On the palate, it explodes with flavors of Jonagold apples, ginger, oranges, limes and pears. We love this wine with a wide variety of dishes, from sushi to barbecued pork to Kung Pao chicken.
*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a website that provides news and information about the wines of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.