Sparkling Wine for Holiday (and Everyday) Celebrations

Paul Zitarelli’s guide to this season's bubbliest companions for entertaining
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

For most wine lovers, the EF Score for sparkling wine is off the charts. (Never heard of an EF Score? That’s probably because I just invented it. Patent pending.) EF stands for enjoyment multiplied by frequency, and it’s a handy construct for figuring out whether you’re buying the right wines. Ask yourself: How much did you enjoy the last few sparkling wines you drank? And how frequently are you drinking sparkling wine? If the answers to those are “a lot” and “not very often,” you’re not alone—and you should be drinking more sparkling wine.

Fortunately, in Washington, we’re in the midst of a golden age for sparkling-wine lovers. The breadth of available bubbly has never been greater—high end and low end, local and import, white and pink and (gulp) red: It’s all available to savvy Seattleites. May I suggest the easiest, most pleasant New Year’s resolution you’ll ever make? Drink. More. Bubbly. Here’s how:

Discover Washington’s Bubble Masters
Treveri Cellars, based in Wapato (just outside of Yakima, and one of the first wineries you reach after descending off Snoqualmie Pass), has only been around since 2010, and yet it feels like a Washington institution. The winemaking team consists of father and son Juergen and Christian Grieb, and they only produce sparkling wine. In addition to traditional sparkling varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Treveri also makes sparkling Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Müller-Thurgau (inspired by Juergen Grieb’s training in Germany, these all have a kiss of residual sugar that makes them lovely pairings with salty cheeses), not to mention a sparkling Syrah for adventurous types (serve this one chilled with a charcuterie plate, and watch the wine and the food disappear).

Christian credits the rapid success of the winery to his father’s “skill and experience as a winemaker, having spent 32 harvests in Washington. He knows the nooks and crannies of sites and where cooler-climate stuff would work well for sparkling wines.” In addition, Treveri has kept its prices stubbornly low, which means its wines don’t need to be hoarded for special occasions. “You’ve made it through the day, you’re alive,” Christian quips. “That’s reason enough to celebrate.” 

Find a Fizz Farmer 
Some of the most exciting sparkling wines in the world come from farmer-winemakers who both grow their own grapes and then turn those grapes into wine. In the Champagne wine region of France, there are hundreds of these “grower Champagne” producers. In Washington, we have one. (Though, of course, technically, nothing is labeled “Champagne” unless it is made in the France’s Champagne region.)  

Steven Thompson began Analemma in 2010, when he was given the opportunity to farm Atavus Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge, one of the oldest active sites in the Pacific Northwest (planted in 1968, it is nearing the half-century mark). The original intention was to produce still Pinot Noir, but Thompson quickly realized that the climate at Atavus was “radically cooler than we had anticipated.” This realization “created a considerable diversion in our business plan,” a diversion that became his thrilling 2010 Blanc de Noir, a sparkling wine that spent a full 42 months aging on its lees (dead yeast cells that impart alluring bready notes on the best sparkling wines) and upon its release in 2014, raised an immediate question: Was this the finest sparkling wine ever produced in Washington? 

Cozy Up to Your Friendly Champagne Importer
In 2009, a bill was passed in the Washington State Legislature that relaxed restrictions on ownership of liquor businesses. Bryan Maletis responded quickly. Less than one year later, he launched Fat Cork in Seattle, where he is the exclusive importer and retailer of a carefully selected portfolio of grower Champagnes. He sells his Champagnes online and through his Fantastic Champagne (FC) Club (fatcork.com/club), hand-selecting bottles for each club member based on taste preferences. Fat Cork also hosts monthly tastings in its charming “cave” just west of the Seattle Center. “I wanted to control our product from the caves of vignerons in France all the way to consumers across the United States,” says Maletis. “As the only link between the producer and the consumer, we also have the ability to share the stories of every family producing Champagne, giving each bottle a unique history.”

Why the focus on Champagne? “The taste of well-made Champagne is distinctly beautiful,” enthuses Maletis, “and has yet to be replicated anywhere else in the world.” 

Paul’s Sparkling Wine Picks

Treveri NV Brut Blanc de Blancs ($15)
This is Treveri’s flagship wine as far as I’m concerned. It’s 100 percent Chardonnay, and it presents ripe fruit (stone fruits such as peaches and nectarines, tropical fruit such as mangos), a rich palate and a lovely mousse. What could be better than delightful, well-priced local bubbly?
PAIRS WITH: “Sparkling wine is one of the most underrated food wines around,” says Treveri’s Christian Grieb, and he’s right. One of his favorite pairings: fried chicken, which is a devilishly challenging match with still wines. (For a sensational umami kick to your fried chicken crust, add a few tablespoons of shallot powder to your flour.) 

Analemma 2011 Blanc de Noir Atavus Vineyard ($56)
Made with 100 percent Pinot Noir from vines that were more than 40 years old at harvest. Expect a wonderfully complex sparkling wine, with loads of lees-y croissant notes, lemon and cherry fruit, and savory/salty chicken stock. This bubbly will be bone dry and super intense, with a lingering, mouthwatering finish.
PAIRS WITH:  Winemaker Steven Thompson favors delicate pairings, especially from the Pacific’s ice-cold bounty: Raw oysters and salmon sashimi fit the bill.

Gimonnet-Oger NV Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru
(via Fat Cork; $49)

One hundred percent Chardonnay from Premier Cru vineyards in the Côte des Blancs, which is the beating heart of Chardonnay in Champagne, this is a blend of 2005 and 2006 vintage juice, aged in bottle for a remarkable seven years and just recently disgorged. A fine example of the exceptional quality Bryan Maletis is importing for Fat Cork, it offers knockout aromas and flavors—apple and chalky mineral, hazelnut and brioche—on a finely moussed texture full of energy and verve.
PAIRS WITH:  “Champagne is king when it comes to food-pairing versatility,” notes Maletis. “It goes well with almost everything.” For an aged Blanc de Blancs like this one, Maletis recommends a rich pasta dish or a creamy, oozy cheese.