This is the time of year we think most about sparkling wine, as we look for a cork to pop to celebrate the holidays.
Sparkling wine is delicious and easy to pair with food all year around, so it's a bit unfortunate that we pay attention to it primarily during the holidays.
But for something so easy to enjoy, sparkling wine can be pretty complicated -- and that means it can intimidate most wine lovers. So we will spend the next two weeks learning about bubbles. This week, we will explore Northwest sparkling wine producers. Next week we will unravel a few of the mysteries surrounding sparkling wine.
A few wineries in the Northwest specialize in sparkling wine. These tend to be the producers you will find more easily.
Domaine Ste. Michelle: This Ste. Michelle Wine Estates property is the big gun in the Northwest sparkling wine scene -- and one of the largest producers in the United States. Winemaker Rick Casqueiro oversees production of more than 300,000 cases of bubbly annually.
The wines are made in Paterson, in the same facility as Columbia Crest, and Casqueiro makes no fewer than five different wines each year. Domaine Ste. Michelle wines win awards and accolades from competitions and critics alike. Best of all, the wines are great values, with all but the vintage-dated Luxe retailing for $10-$12.
Argyle: Located in a haunted former hazelnut processing plant in Dundee, Ore., Argyle is making some of the Northwest's finest sparkling wines. Unlike Domaine Ste. Michelle, Argyle's focus is not solely on bubbles, as it also makes pinot noir, chardonnay and riesling.
But it's perhaps most famous for its sparklers. Winemaker Rollin Soles crafts no fewer than six sparkling wines, all vintage dated (a bit of a rarity in this part of the business). His oldest that is for sale dates back to 2000, while the rest are from the 2006 and 2007 vintages.
Argyle sparkling wines are easiest to find in the greater Portland area, but Washington merchants with good Northwest selections also carry Argyle wines.
Mountain Dome: Based near Spokane, Mountain Dome has been focusing primarily on high-quality sparkling wines for a quarter-century. It produces three styles of sparkling wine, all made from Washington grapes. The bottles are adorned with a whimsical painting of gnomes, which represent the Mantz family who own Mountain Dome.
Summerhill Pyramid Winery: One of British Columbia's most visible wineries is Summerhill near Kelowna. Owner Steve Cipes ages his sparkling wines in a pyramid modeled after the Cheops Pyramid on the Giza Plateau. He believes the pyramid invokes an energy into the wine. Regardless of what you think of his theory, the wines are delicious and well worth seeking if you happen to be in British Columbia.
A handful of the Northwest's more than 1,200 wineries craft sparkling wines on a small to medium scale. Here are a few we have enjoyed:
Pacific Rim: This winery in West Richland began making a sparkling riesling called White Flowers a couple of years ago, and it is a dynamite wine. Look for it in better wine shops and groceries.
Westport: Based in Aberdeen, this coastal winery crafts a delicious sparkling gewurztraminer.
Sumac Ridge: This winery in Summerland, B.C., makes a couple of bubblies, including Stellar's Jay Brut, its signature wine.
Ste. Chapelle: Idaho's largest winery makes sparkling rieslings that are off-dry and oh, so good.
Camas Prairie: This winery in Moscow, Idaho, makes a handful of unusual and delicious sparkling wines, including a rare red bubbly.
Karma Vineyards: Based in Chelan, this winery crafts small amounts of classically made sparkling wine.
*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.