The small but vibrant Pacific Northwest sparkling wine scene is rapidly changing.
Our region’s largest producer, Michelle Sparkling Wines, recently saw a change at the top when longtime winemaker Rick Casqueiro retired at the end of April after nearly 20 years at the helm. Succeeding Casqueiro at the winery in Paterson, Wash., is Paula Eakin, who has worked for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in varying capacities since 1994.
This comes less than two years after the company rebranded the winery from Domaine Ste. Michelle to Michelle Sparkling Wines. In the process, it also streamlined the lineup, dropping its Blanc de Blanc.
A half-decade ago, Treveri Cellars launched as a sparkling-only house in the western Yakima Valley town of Wapato, Wash., led by Juergen Grieb, a German winemaker who came to Washington in 1983 to work for short-lived Langguth Winery. In 1991, he began working for Coventry Vale, a custom-crush winery in the Yakima Valley and on the Wahluke Slope. He worked in relative anonymity until launching Treveri in 2010. Today, Treveri occupies the former facility for Sagelands Vineyard (and Staton Hills before that). Grieb and his son, Christian, craft no fewer than seven sparkling wines (two of which they entered in our judging).
And now it is likely we will see an explosion of small sparkling wine producers in the northern Willamette Valley, thanks in no small part to Andrew Davis and his Radiant Sparkling Wine Co. Davis, a protégé of Rollin Soles when they were with Argyle Winery in Dundee, is helping Willamette Valley wineries produce bubbles with his mobile sparkling wine equipment. That means he does a lot of the heavy lifting with such tasks as riddling, disgorging, corking and labeling.
Davis works in lots as small as 300 cases, and many wineries have hired him. Expect a larger selection of sparkling wines to emerge in the northern Willamette Valley in the next two to three years.
With that in mind, we staged a sparkling wine tasting at Wine Press Northwest, just in time for you to enjoy some bubbly during the summer and to think about what you might want to gather for the holidays.
While the numbers are small, there still are many choices, and it is exciting to see sparkling wines from so many corners of the Northwest.
Karma Vineyards on the south shore of Washington’s Lake Chelan has earned a reputation in recent years for its sparkling wine, and that prowess showed in our judging as its 2011 Brut emerged as the No. 1 wine.
In Idaho’s Snake River Valley, Leslie Preston decided to create a sparkling Riesling — a first in the Gem State — and it is spectacular, coming in at the No. 2 wine in this tasting.
And Michelle — which by far makes the most sparkling wine in the Northwest — showed bigger can mean better, with two wines earning our top “Outstanding!” rating.
Our judges for this tasting included Heather Unwin, executive director of the Red Mountain AVA Alliance; Megan Hughes, assistant winemaker at Barnard Griffin in Richland, Wash.; Ken Robertson, Wine Press Northwest columnist; and Mike Rader, a member of Great Northwest Wine’s tasting panel. It should be noted that Unwin teaches sparkling wine classes for the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, and Robertson has been a longtime amateur sparkling wine producer.
The judging took place in late April at the Clover Island Inn in Kennewick, Wash.
Here are the results:
Karma Vineyards • $50
2011 Brut, Columbia Valley
Winemaker Craig Mitrakul is crafting some of the Northwest’s most delicious sparkling wines along the south shore of Lake Chelan in North Central Washington. This bright, dry bubbly opens with aromas of white flowers, mango and brioche, followed by flavors of lemon yogurt, cream and pineapple. The silky mouth feel is backed with refreshing acidity that takes us on a long, endearing finish. (12.5% alc.; 350 cases)
Coiled Wines • $28
2014 Rizza, Snake River Valley
Leslie Preston moved home to Idaho from the Napa Valley to make beautiful wines, and this sparkling Riesling is her first effort at bubbly. It is a stunner, thanks to aromas of clove, minerality, lime zest and orchard fruit, followed by bold, bright flavors of Asian pear, green apple, white peach and lime. It all gives way to a lengthy and pleasant finish. The name “Rizza,” by the way, is a nod to Aussie winemakers who use it as slang for Riesling. (13% alc.; 300 cases)
Michelle Sparkling Wine • $14
NV Brut Rosé, Columbia Valley
Year in and year out, this is Michelle’s best sparkling wine, and this iteration once again rises to the top. It’s made from 100% Pinot Noir — a rarity in Washington’s arid Columbia Valley — and it is luscious, thanks to aromas of cranberry, strawberry, cherry and purple lavender, followed by lovely, elegant flavors of apple, melon, apricot and raspberry. A delicate mousse is backed with gorgeous acidity. And it’s so pretty to look at. (11.5% alc.; 15,000 cases)
2013 Brillánte, Columbia Valley
Castillo de Feliciana, based in the southern Walla Walla Valley with a tasting room in Woodinville, tends to focus on Spanish red varieties. This is a new effort by winemaker Chris Castillo, and it is made from Chardonnay. Aromas of apple, vanilla cream and minerality lead to rich, frothy flavors of apple, pear and apricot. It’s a bright, dry, elegant and gorgeous bubbly from first sip through the lengthy finish. (11.5% alc.; 160 cases)
Michelle Sparkling Wine • $14
NV Brut, Columbia Valley
The folks at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates have been crafting world-class bubbly for decades, and this is the company’s flagship sparkler. It is steely in its aromas and flavors and reveals notes of citrus, pineapple, apricot and pear on the nose and palate. The rich, luscious mousse makes this a perfect wine for everything from shellfish to Asian fare. Flavors of crème brûlée provide a fond and memorable farewell. (11.5% alc.; 175,000 cases)
Westport Winery • $31
2011 Going Coastal, Washington
Dana Roberts crafts his wine just a few miles from the central Washington coast in Grays Harbor County, and he nailed this gorgeous sparkling Gewürztraminer. It opens with classic aromas of clove, spice, lychee and pink grapefruit, backed by flavors of peach, pear, ginger, tangelo and lemon zest. All the bright acidity is expertly tempered by a kiss of residual sweetness. (11% alc.; 137 cases)
Karma Vineyards • $40
2011 Pink Bubble, Columbia Valley
Blending Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, winemaker Craig Mitrakul has crafted a visual and flavorful sparkler that opens with aromas of strawberry, cranberry and pomegranate. It is dry and gorgeous on the palate, with flavors of cardamom, cherry and strawberry, all backed by luscious mousse and a creamy mouth feel. (12.5% alc.; 280 cases)
Isenhower Cellars • $35
2012 Sparkling Roussanne, Yakima Valley
Longtime Walla Walla Valley winemaker Brett Isenhower takes this white Rhône variety in a new direction by crafting a bone-dry bubbly. It opens with aromas of vanilla, pear and minerality, followed by flavors of apple, fresh-baked bread and cream. Just a tiny amount of this superb sparkler was made. (11.8% alc.; 100 cases)
Westport Winery • $27
NV Rapture of the Deep, Washington
This Washington coast winery crafts a delicious sparkling cranberry wine that is perfectly true to type and utterly delicious. It opens with inviting and refreshing aromas of cranberry and follows up with crisp, clean, dark cranberry tartness and flavor, with a fair bit of residual sweetness rounding out the edges. Perfect for summer sipping or holiday feasts. (13% alc.; 137 cases)
Coeur de Terre Vineyard • $45
2011 Sekt Riesling Brut, McMinnville
Winemaker Scott Neal brought in Riesling from the McMinnville American Viticultural Area to craft this dry, crisp bubbly. It starts with aromas of green apple and clove, followed by flavors of pear, Granny Smith and bright minerality. This is a beautiful and edgy sparkler. (12.1% alc.; 23 cases)
Café Metropole • $20
NV Blanc de Blanc, Columbia Valley
Allan Pangborn was head winemaker for Domaine Ste. Michelle (now Michelle Sparkling Wine) in the 1990s before leaving to do his own thing. That now includes Moonlight Sparkling Wine Cellars in Kennewick, Wash., where he crafts Café Metropole. This sparkling Chardonnay spent a minimum of two years aging sur lie before being finished. The result is a luscious sparkling wine with aromas and flavors of pear, pineapple, honeysuckle and spice, all backed by crisp bubbles and terrific length. (12% alc.; 150 cases)
Michelle Sparkling Wine • $14
NV Extra Dry, Columbia Valley
Michelle’s sweetest sparkler (with 2.18% residual sugar) is a favorite at weddings as well as with spicy cuisine. This opens with rich, inviting aromas of cream, baked pear and ripe peach. The creamy mouth feel leads to rich flavors of poached apricot and honey. It is a beautiful wine with a hint of nuttiness on the finish. (11% alc.; 25,000 cases)
Season Cellars • $18
2013 Transparency, Southern Oregon
Scott Henry IV, whose family launched Henry Estate in the Umpqua Valley decades ago, crafts small amounts of wine under this label, including this pleasant semi-sparkling wine. It is a blend of Müller-Thurgau, Early Muscat and Riesling, which come together to create a fun, pretty and altogether pleasant alternative to Moscato. Aromas and flavors of apple, Asian pear and stone fruit make this a delicious off-dry drink. (10.5% alc.; 435 cases)
Treveri Cellars • $25
NV Blanc de Noir Brut, Columbia Valley
The father-son team of Juergen and Christian Grieb produce some of the best sparkling wine in the Northwest at Treveri Cellars in the western Yakima Valley near the community of Wapato, Wash. This slightly pink wine reveals aromas of strawberry, sweet lemon and apple, followed by delicate flavors of pear, cranberry and cherry. It is a delicious and floral bubbly. (12% alc.; 575 cases)
Icicle Ridge Winery • $59
2013 Joy, Washington
Icicle Ridge in the Cascade Mountain town of Leavenworth is known for crafting superb white wines, and this bubbly is a relatively new addition to its lineup. It’s an unusual and successful blend of Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer, which leads to aromas of green apple, lemongrass, lychee and elder flower. On the palate, it provides flavors of apple, pear and honey, all backed by steely minerality. (12.5% alc.; 200 cases)
Lundeen • $34
2011 La Cantera Vineyard Blanc de Noirs, Chehalem Mountains
Michael Lundeen worked for such wineries as Belle Pente, WillaKenzie Estate and Domaine Serene before launching his own small label in McMinnville, Ore. This sparkler is made from 100% Pinot Noir using grapes from La Cantera Vineyard near Newberg. It is a captivating wine with aromas of Asian pear, green apple and bread dough, leading to flavors of creamy mousse and lemon brioche. It offers perfect weight on the palate, with everything in perfect harmony. (12.5% alc.; 75 cases)
Westport Winery • $25
2013 Maritime Moscato, Snipes Mountain
Winemaker Dana Roberts blended Muscat from famed Upland Vineyard in the Yakima Valley with blueberry and pomegranate juice. The result is a potpourri of aromas and flavors. Notes of florals, rosewater and lychee give way to luscious cherry flavors on the finish. It is bright, rich, sweet and fun. (11% alc.; 138 cases)
Apolloni Vineyards • $29
NV Pinot Blanc Sparkling Wine, Willamette Valley
Winemaker Alfredo Apolloni is best known for his dry Pinot Gris, but he reveals his abilities with sparkling wines here, this time using Pinot Blanc. It is a rich, luscious bubbly with aromas and flavors of Golden Delicious apple, vanilla cream, apricot, mango and minerality, all leading to a refreshing finish. (12.9% alc.; 75 cases)
Treveri Cellars • $20
NV Brut Prestige, Columbia Valley
The father-son team of Juergen and Christian Grieb blended Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to craft this bright, dry and inviting sparkling wine. It offers aromas and flavors of apple, peach and lemon-lime, as well as a hint of strawberry through the bold, round, luscious finish. (12% alc.; 700 cases)
Karma Vineyards • $70
2012 Blanc de Noir, Lake Chelan
This delicious white sparkler from red grapes offers aromas of Honeycrisp apple, white florals and minerality, followed by flavors of orchard fruit and a kiss of sweetness on the finish. A beautifully crafted wine from the south shore of Lake Chelan, Wash. (12.5% alc.; 83 cases)
Pacific Rim Winemakers • $19
NV White Flowers Sparkling Riesling Brut, Columbia Valley
Pacific Rim is one of the nation’s top Riesling producers, and it began crafting this delicious, crowd-pleasing sparkling Riesling a few years ago to great acclaim. This is beautifully balanced with aromas and flavors of Golden Delicious apple, pear and minerality. It is a round and delicious bubbly. (12.5% alc.; 300 cases)
Hard Row to Hoe • $42
2012 Good in Bed, Lake Chelan
Winemaker Judy Phelps crafted this sparkler at her winery on the north shore of Lake Chelan using Pinot Noir from surrounding vineyards. It is a bright, crisp bubbly with aromas and flavors of strawberry, cranberry, red currant and cherry. It’s all backed by a lovely mouth feel. (12.2% alc.; 125 cases)