Tag Archives: Sparkling wine

Beaver State Bubbly

I’m a bit of a bubble fiend. I love drinking sparkling wine. I love talking about it.

Easily at least half of the wine reviews I post here are about bubbles and when I get new sparkling related wine books like Bursting Bubbles, I eagerly devour them.

Living in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve watched with excitement the growth of the Oregon sparkling wine industry that Forbes.com contributor Joseph V. Micallef highlighted in a recent post.

The founding father of Oregon Bubbles is Rollin Soles who started Argyle Winery in Dundee in 1987. His venture had a lot of all-star firepower backing it with Australian winemaking legend Brian Croser (the 2004 Decanter Man of the Year) and Christian Bizot, then owner of the Champagne House Bollinger.

In 2001, Argyle became part of Lion Nathan corporation with their US branch spinning off in 2012 to become Distinguished Vineyards. Now Argyle is part of a portfolio of brands that includes MacRostie, Wither Hills and The Counselor. In 2013, Soles stepped away from the winery to focus on his brand ROCO that he founded with his wife, Corby Stonebraker-Soles.

While I’ve enjoyed Argyle since Soles left, I must confess that I haven’t been as wowed by the winery’s offerings in recent years. Part of it could be the increase in competition as wine shops have been bringing in more sub $25 Crémants from Alsace, Burgundy and the Loire that way over deliver on value. While years ago, Argyle’s basic brut at $20 stood out from the pack, now it is just middle of the road with even sparkling wines from New Mexico like Gruet and Jacqueline Leonne delivering delicious value in the under $15 category. Still, the 1998 Argyle Extended Triage remains one of my all time favorite wines.

But times change and winemakers move on, which is why I was very excited to try Soles’ new ‘RMS’ sparkling wine project at The Herbfarm’s holiday dinner series “The Holly & The Ivy”. While it didn’t reach the level of that 98 Extended Triage, the 2014 RMS Brut did remind me of all the things I missed about Argyle.

Not a bad way to start off a 9 course meal.


Around 66% Pinot noir with the remainder Chardonnay, the wine had high intensity aromatics of spiced pear wrapped in a toasty pastry crust. Those notes carried through to a creamy but powerful mouthfeel not that dissimilar to Charles Heidsieck. It also reminded me of Pol Roger where the weighty flavors are balanced by fresh citrus notes and racy minerality that give lift to the wine. An incredibly well-made sparkler that would probably continue to age even in the bottle under cork. It is certainly well worth the $65 winery price.

What Makes Oregon Bubbles Special?

In his Forbes post, Micallef quotes Tony Soter on how the “sweet spot” of Oregon’s cool-but-not-too-cool climate gives its an advantage over both warmer California and cooler Champagne.

“[In Oregon you have] … a generosity of fruit that is expressive of the grape varieties (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) reaching a high level of maturity while still maintaining an admirable level of acidity, finesse and elegance critical to sparkling wine. [While] … in California, the weather is too warm, forcing a premature picking to minimize excessive alcohol at the expense of the nuance and delicacy of fully developed grapes.” — Tony Soter, as quoted on Forbes.com January 19th, 2018

Far from being an “Oregon-homer”, Soter’s opinion on the differences between Oregon and California’s terroir is backed by his 30 plus years of experience working at some of the best names in California wine like Chappellet, Araujo, Shafer, Spottswoode and Dalle Valle.

The stats on Oregon’s favorable “goldilocks position” also bares out according to Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson’s Wine Atlas. While Champagne sits along the 49th parallel and averages a daily growing season temperature of 58.4°F, Napa Valley (home of Schramsberg, Domaine Chandon, Mumm Napa, etc) sits on the 38th parallel averaging growing season temperatures of 66.8°F. The Willamette Valley is nestled right in the middle of that on the 45th parallel with average growing season temps of 60.6°F.

Photo by Hahn Family Wines. Released on Wikimedia Commons via Flickr under CC BY 2.0

In addition to losing acidity, if you wait too long to harvest your grapes in warm climates you risk “baking out” the more delicate and complex flavors. This produces over ripe and dried fruit notes that the French call ‘sur maturité’. For many California sparkling wine producers, its a Catch-22.

Harvests in California for sparkling wine regularly taking place in early August while in Oregon it doesn’t start till September. In Champagne, which wine authors like Robert Walters in Bursting Bubbles claim often harvest too early and too unripe, harvest typically begins late August and early September. Many high quality grower producers in Champagne harvest later into September.

The timing of harvest is key because you want ample acidity for sparkling wine production which you can risk losing if the grapes hang too long on the vine. But at the same time unripe grapes can give bland and uninteresting flavors. Tom Stevenson and Essi Avellan note in their Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine that having ripe grapes is absolutely essential for high quality sparkling wine.

Photo by Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives. Released on Wikimedia Commons under Oregon Historical County Records Guide public use

In the Willamette Valley, daytime highs in July in the low 80s (°F) can drop to the low 50s (°F) at night.

Like Washington State, Oregon also benefits from having drastic diurnal temperature variations during the growing season where temperatures can drop at night 30-40 degrees from day time highs, letting the vine literally “chill out” and retain fresh acidity.

This extends the growing season, allowing the grapes to hang longer on the vine, developing riper flavors while still maintaining that vital acidity.

Oregon Sparkling Wine Producers to Seek Out

Micallef notes that there is around 40 producers making sparkling wine in Oregon. While most of the production is small and limited to sales at the winery’s tasting room or wine club, there are some producers with ambitious aims.

One that is mentioned in the Forbes article is Radiant Sparkling Wine Company that was founded in McMinnville by Andrew Davis, a protege of Rollin Soles. After 8 years at Argyle, Davis founded his company to serve essentially as a mobile méthode champenoise facility, traveling to wineries with his sparkling wine equipment and technical know-how to help winemakers turn their base wines into bubbles.

Among the wineries that Davis has worked with includes Adelsheim, Anne Amie, Brooks, Ponzi, Raptor Ridge, Sokol Blosser, Stoller, Trisaetum and Willamette Valley Vineyards. In 2017, Davis helped create over 20,000 cases of Oregon sparkling wine to add to the 25,000 cases that Argyle produces yearly.

The Stoller rose sparkler more than held its own in a line-up of impressive bubbles.

One of these wines that I’ve recently had the opportunity to try was the Stoller 2014 Legacy LaRue’s Brut Rosé. The 25% Chardonnay and 75% Pinot noir base saw 10 months aging in neutral French oak before bottling and secondary fermentation. The wine spent 2 years on the lees prior to disgorgement with around 275 cases produced.

The LaRue rosé had a beautiful medium plus intensity nose of fresh cherry and strawberries. But what most intrigued me was the tinge of citrus blood orange that framed the red fruit notes. On the palate, the wine added another depth of flavor with some spicy and mineral notes.

I had this wine only about a couple weeks after I had the Louis Roederer 2011 Brut Rosé that I described in my post Cristal Clarity. We had another bottle of the Roederer rose opened with the Stoller and it was quite impressive how the Stoller showed in comparison. While it was more on the delicate and minerally side versus the fruitier Roederer, the Stoller clearly won out with much more vivid aromatics and longer finish that didn’t fade as fast as the Roederer. Considering that the Stoller LaRue is $65 while the Roederer is around $70 and you have some substantial value.

For a relatively young sparkling wine industry that just reached 30 years, the future looks exciting for wine geeks wanting to explore Oregon bubbles.

60 Second Wine Reviews – Paringa Sparkling Shiraz

Some quick thoughts on the 2015 Paringa Sparkling Shiraz.

The Geekery

I will admit that this one had me a bit baffled in several ways. First off, there are apparently two Paringa wineries in Australia making very different wines.

According to James Halliday’s Wine Atlas of Australia, a Paringa Estate was founded in 1985 by former school teacher Lindsay McCall who has established himself as one of the best winemakers on the Mornington Peninsula. But this does not seem to be our sparkling Shiraz producer.

That honor goes to a Paringa winery located in South Australia that is currently ran by David and Dena Hickinbotham. This winery doesn’t seem to merit an entry in Halliday’s Wine Atlas or in the Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine.

The 2015 Sparkling Shiraz is sourced from vineyards in South Australia. The tasting note doesn’t say the sparkling wine production method but does note that the wine has 40.6 g/l residual sugar–putting it in the Demi-Sec category of sweetness.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose. Dark berry fruits (plums and blackberries) but also a little earthiness like dried green herbs.

The palate is quite frothy which makes me think this was made in the Charmat method like Prosecco. There is also a creaminess to the mouthfeel like a sweet cream topping on a pie. The wine is very noticeably sweet and needs more acidity and liveliness. The herbal earthiness on the nose carries through and makes me think of thyme.

Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 1.0

Thyme, black plums and sweet cream. Not really my thing.


The Verdict

There is a lot going on with this wine with the sweet cream and dark fruits as well as the earthy green notes. I think it is trying its darnedest to be complex but ends up being all over the place.

For me, personally, the sweet and earthy flavors don’t jive and I find myself wishing this wine had more acidity and less sweetness. A dry, earthy sparkling Shiraz around $15 could’ve been quite interesting–especially as a pairing for roasted meats.

Product Review – Perfect Pop


One of my favorite (and clearly apocryphal) quotes about Champagne is attributed to Oscar Wilde.

“The sound of Champagne opening is like a content woman’s sigh.”

While I’m skeptical as to the breadth of Wilde’s experience with content women sighing, I nonetheless love the sentiment behind the quote that the art in opening up Champagne and other sparkling wine is not in the POP but, rather, in keeping it to just a gentle hiss so as not to lose the beautiful aromas and bubbles.

As the holidays approach, more and more folks are reaching for a bottle of bubbles to spread some holiday cheer. While there are many tutorials online about how to open a bottle of sparkling wine, there will always come a time when the pesky cork just doesn’t want to come out. Outside of reaching for a sabre, what do you do?


I put one tool that is out on the market to the test – the Perfect Pop Champagne Opener– available from Amazon right now for $5.99 and eligible for Prime shipping.

I tested it out on the 2013 Levert Frères Crémant de Bourgogne Brut that I recently reviewed.

I had difficulties at first in putting the tool over the cork with the cage attached and getting it to line up straight. It wasn’t until I removed the cage that I could get the device to feel securely fit.

Instructions for the Perfect Pop


Once I got it on, it took awhile for me to feel comfortable getting a grip on it to turn with the bottle tilted at a 45° degree angle. This is because while usually you wrap your hand around the side of the cork like you are holding the ends of a jump rope, and twist the bottle not the cork, this device requires you to get your palm more over the top with your fingers in the groves to twist the cork itself.

So it is a bit awkward to get the hang of at first.


But it works.

The “pop” is a bit louder than the ideal open. It’s sounds more like a busy mother’s “Oops!” when the baby food on the spoon misses it target. Still, very little aromatics and bubbles get lost. Despite the awkwardness at the beginning, by the second usage I was able to get the device on, twist and have the bottle open in less than 7 seconds. Most importantly, I could do this without the soreness and redness on my hands from struggling with the cork.

That’s a winner in my book and well worth the $6.

60 Second Wine Reviews – Levert Freres Cremant Bourgogne


A few quick thoughts on the sparkling 2013 Levert Freres Cremant de Bourgogne Brut.

The Geekery

An old estate dating back to 1595 in the commune of Mercurey in the Côte Chalonnaise region of Burgundy. Today it is part of the Compagnie Vinicole de Bourgogne based in Chagny with Gabriel Picard managing and David Fernez making the wine.

Sourced from around 22 acres (9 ha) of vineyards in Mercurey, the 2013 vintage is a blend of 42% Chardonnay, 38% Pinot noir and 20% Gamay. The wine spent 24 months on the lees. This is far beyond the minimum 9 months currently required for Cremant de Bourgogne and is inline with the aging required for the upcoming prestige Cremant ranking of Crémant de Bourgogne Eminent that was announced in 2016.

The Wine
Medium plus intensity aromatics. Lots of fresh citrus with some subtle toastiness underneath. It smells like a freshly baked lemon roll with a glazed puff pastry. Underneath there is a white floral component that adds complexity.

The back label of the Levert Freres


The palate features a smooth mousse but it is quite dry. I couldn’t find the exact dosage but I would estimate it in the 7-8 g/l range, making it a legit Brut and a very well balanced one at that. The freshness from the nose carries over and it is quite lively and immensely charming. The floral notes are more pronounce and strike me more as daisy petals versus lillies.

The Verdict

Charming is the reoccurring theme. It’s certainly simple but it has enough character to engage the senses and is a bottle that can be happily shared (and emptied!) at any setting. At around $15 dollars, it is an excellent buy but this bottle could easily hold its own against other wines up to the $20 range.

60 Second Wine Reviews – Segura Viudas Cava

Some quick thoughts on the Segura Viudas Brut sparkling Cava.

The Geekery

The Segura Viudas website is pretty useless when it comes to finding out information about grape varieties, time spent on the lees or dosage with the page on the Brut Cava dedicated more to “lifestyle” uses instead of actual details about the wine.

From Essi Avellan and Tom Stevenson’s Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine, I learned that since 1984 Segura Viudas has belonged to the huge mega-corp of Freixenet which controls nearly 50% of all Spanish sparkling wine production, making over 200 million bottles a year.

In addition to Segura Viudas, Freixent makes Castellblanch, Canals & Nubiola and Conde de Caralt.

Production of the Segura Viudas Brut is around 7 million bottles and is usually a blend of 50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada and 15% Xarel-lo.

The Wine

Medium minus intensity on the nose. Citrusy lemon and pommelo with a little apple notes as well.

On the palate, it feels very fresh without any toasty or biscuity notes which hints that the aging is closer to the bare minimum of 9 months required for Cava rather than much beyond it. It has a nice roundness to the mouthfeel with a hint of sweetness which also suggest that it is probably closer to the 10-11 g/l dosage that would put it at the “sweeter end” of Brut.

By John Knox - originally posted to Flickr as Grapefruit and Orange Juice Mimosas, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8046882

The best use for this sparkler is with cocktails.


The Verdict

Very pleasant and easy sipping sparkler. It will hold its own as a brunch time bubble and as a great mixer for mimosas, Bellini or other sparkling cocktails. At around $8 a bottle, it certainly offers more character than your basic Korbel and is leaps and bounds better than other budget sparklers like Cook’s and Andre’s.

However, there are certainly other Cavas and even Proseccos around the same price point that deliver a bit more value.