With home runs in the books for Pinot Noir and (more recently) Chardonnay, Oregon wine producers should long ago have put them together to make top-notch sparkling wine, the exquisite marriage of the two main grapes in Champagne and California bubbly. One would think. But they (mostly) didn’t, until very, very recently.
The “mostly” in that last sentence refers to Rollin Soles, who actually did place a bet on sparkling wine in the Willamette Valley when he launched Argyle in 1987 and released his first Brut in 1990. All the signs were there, he says, for spectacular bubbly. “Like Champagne, we cannot ripen warm-climate varieties (Cab, Merlot and the like) and we cannot ripen on valley floors. But bloom comes on average at summer solstice—later than in most other New World sparkling regions—giving us the chance to pick Pinot and Chardonnay with ripe fruit flavors without losing high natural acidity.” Soles reports that his first base wines were spectacular. On tasting them, he says, “Christian Bizot, chairman of Bollinger, declared he believed this was the first region to make sparkling wines with the potential to age as well as Champagne.”
No one else, though, jumped on the bandwagon. Being a sparkling wine producer in the Willamette Valley, says Soles, “felt like one hand clapping in the forest.” The truth is, great sparkling wine requires mastering complicated winemaking processes and investing in expensive equipment. And in the 1980s, most winemakers in the valley were honing their skills discovering how to grow and make consistently high-quality red wine—Pinot Noir.
In 2015, Soles (proprietor of ROCO Winery now), with Andrew Davis, gave would-be sparkling winemakers a huge leg up, launching the custom project Radiant Sparkling Wine Company that provides the tirage (bottling the base wine for its second fermentation and aging on the lees) and disgorging (removing the spent yeast cells and sediment) services that are barriers to small producers making a go of traditional-method bubbly. And one could say the bandwagon is full now, with talented winemakers approaching the unique style Soles believes the Willamette Valley capable of, with “fresh fruit and spice flavors that still allow yeasty goodness to show, while exhibiting high, balanced natural acidity.” “I think I’ll have another flute, please! drinkability,” he calls it.
We admit to stacking the deck here with pink bubbles, because…Valentine’s Day.
Argyle 2010 Extended Tirage Brut Willamette Valley
Here’s a downright elegant bottle from Oregon’s pioneering sparkling wine house; Rollin Soles founded Argyle in 1987 with the express purpose of making world-class bubbly. (Nate Klostermann is carrying the legacy forward today.) With about 10 years on the lees (disgorged in July 2020), this blend of 55 percent Pinot Noir and 45 percent Chardonnay has great depth and complexity. Its citrus notes and tree fruit aromas are exotic (think yuzu and quince), with dried florals and toasted hazelnuts lurking in the background. A lovely, creamy mouth-feel gives up puckery mandarin, spiced apple and honeyed brioche.
Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Brut Rosé Dundee Hills
This debut, multi-vintage Brut Rosé from Domaine Serene joins a growing family of lovely sparklers from the top-tier Willamette Valley producer. (Winemaker Rachel Zasadni describes Oregon sparkling as “pure elegance with lovely tension.”) The wine’s lovely coppery salmon color in the glass is practically luminescent. Red apple, toasted brioche, exotic floral notes and a hint of hazelnut open, followed by a refreshingly dry palate of tart raspberry and strawberry and mouth-filling effervescence in rich but bright balance.
Elk Cove Vineyards 2016 La Bohème Brut Rosé Yamhill-Carlton
This delightfully complex bubbly from Elk Cove offers up earthy notes from lees contact, but light-hearted fruit and florals as well—strawberries swirling with wisteria. A spin of citrus on the palate leads into raspberry, then heads toward tart cranberry and rhubarb. A savory edge and underlying minerality slip in on the finish, buoyed by great, persistent bubbles.
Gran Moraine Brut Rosé Yamhill-Carlton
This vibrant, pale rosé sparkler from Gran Moraine has straight-arrow focus. Rose petal, delicate red berry, orange peel and baked quince aromas—with just a touch of toast—give way to a range of citrus, from pink grapefruit to lime zest, layered with white stone fruit lingering on a refreshingly dry finish.
Lytle-Barnett 2013 Brut Rosé Eola–Amity Hills, Oregon
This 100 percent Pinot from Lytle-Barnett balances earthy notes from four years in bottle on the lees with bright acidity for energy. Red berry aromas—raspberry, cherry—join fall apple and rose petal notes, giving way to a core of juicy fruit flavors, from cherry to nectarine, undercoated with nice minerality. (Partner Andy Lytle calls for a pairing of fried chicken and caviar.)
Maison Jussiaume 2017 Blanc de Blancs Rogue Valley
Winemaker Jean-Michel Jussiaume, whose family hails from France’s Loire Valley, makes this all-Chardonnay sparkler from the Rogue Valley in southern Oregon. Lovely white blossoms open on the nose, layered with citrus, hints of tropical fruit and a wet stone character. Delightful fruit flavors dance across the palate—green apple, Meyer lemon, a little apricot—delivered with appealing tension and textures.
Pashey 2017 Estate Cuvée Extra Brut Willamette Valley
From the sparkling-wine arm of Trisaetum, this Pashey blend of 55 percent Pinot Noir and 45 percnet Chardonnay is refreshingly dry and brimming with beautiful tension. Its nose is intriguingly perfumed with sweet tropical flowers, but briny with minerality as well. After a lead-in of bruised apple (definitely a good thing), hints of cherry emerge, joined by lemon-lime and white peach through a vibrant finish.
Ponzi Vineyards 2016 Brut Rosé Willamette Valley
A 100 percent Pinot Noir sparkler makes perfect sense from a winemaking family who helped found the Pinot Noir revolution in the Willamette Valley back in the early 1970s. That was what Dick and Nancy Ponzi were getting up to then; this is what their daughter Luisa, current winemaker, is getting up to now. Lovely veins of wild strawberry, pink grapefruit, fragrant rose and a subtle salinity lead to a world of citrus, from clementine to lemon-lime, hints of honeyed stone fruit and bracing cranberry, delivered with vibrant tension.
ROCO Winery 2015 RMS Brut Willamette Valley
From Oregon’s sparkling-wine pioneer, Rollin Soles (founder of Argyle), comes a beauty from his new ROCO venture. With 70 percent Pinot Noir and 30 percent Chardonnay, this Brut weighs in with a rich, creamy palate, but maintains vibrant acidity throughout. Aromas of baked apple, Asian pear and honeysuckle lead, with an undercurrent of bread fresh from the oven. Honeyed flavors of tangerine, briary berry and juicy cherry are layered with subtle wet stone and mineral notes, for intriguing complexity.
Sokol Blosser 2016 Blossom Ridge Sparkling Rosé of Pinot Noir Eola–Amity Hills
This vibrant-salmon sparkler from Sokol Blosser—one of Oregon’s true pioneers in sustainability, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year—has plenty of weight on the palate, but dances with acidity too. Briary red berries open on the nose, joined by hints of toast and salty breeze. A gamut of juicy red fruit follows, from strawberry and raspberry to cranberry and is brightened by pink grapefruit and lime zest, pushing the effect toward refreshing dryness.
Soter 2013 Mineral Springs Blanc de Blancs Yamhill-Carlton, Oregon
With almost six years on the lees (disgorged in 2019), this all-Chardonnay sparkler from Soter opens with a whiff of fresh-baked bread, joined by spiced apple, almond, white blossom and Meyer lemon aromas. The wine lives up to its source, with a streak of minerality under tart citrus flavors carried by sprightly but elegant effervescence through a long, dry finish.