Some people love sparkling wines. I mean love sparkling wines. “They go with everything!” enthuses my friend and frequent tasting partner, wine representative Sarah Budge. “The only way you can use all your senses,” she says. We clink glasses. “They are so festive!” I say. We speak in the plural, as if bubbles are a whole family, a whole set of persons. And in a sense, they are. From extra brut, or brut nature (very dry), to brut, sec and demi-sec (sweeter), there is a style to go with everything from soup to nuts.
Washington has long had some excellent sparkling wines, including Domaine Ste. Michelle’s ubiquitous brut (and beyond), and the newer Masquerade Wine Company’s Effervescing Elephant. Oregon produces some beautiful bubbles, with the superb Argyle and a newer favorite, Capitello. But up until a few years ago, there hadn’t been a bubbles-only producer in the state. As one of Washington’s few producers of exclusively sparkling wines, Treveri Cellars brings a German touch to the French méthode champenoise style of crafting these versatile wines.
Treveri owner and winemaker Juergen Grieb learned his craft in Trier, Germany, before moving to the U.S. in 1983. Once here, he went on to make still wine for Coventry Vale, a custom crush facility in Grandview, Washington, for almost 20 years. Now, at Treveri, he is using his knowledge of both styles in producing nine wines, ranging from dry whites and rosés to sweeter wines—even a sparkling Syrah.
The sparkling-wine process Grieb uses, the same as that used in Champagne, is as fascinating as the product. First, a still wine is made, often from grapes grown in the area between Sunnyside and Benton City that are harvested earlier than those used for other wines. This wine is fermented and then put into bottles in his Yakima winery with a little more yeast and a little more sugar. Recipe for disaster? Yes. If you know a little bit about fermentation, then you know that when yeast metabolizes sugar, the by-products are alcohol and carbon dioxide gas—bubbles! These bottles are little bombs waiting to explode, so they are secured with a strong crown cap to keep the CO2 inside.
As the méthode champenoise requires, Grieb then sets the bottles on their sides to rest, ferment and age for anywhere from six months to two years or longer, letting the fermentation happen, but also letting the yeast flavor the wine with all sorts of deliciousness. This is why we get aromas and flavors of bread dough and brioche in sparkling wine; just like with a good bread, the yeast makes the wine come alive and continue to develop flavors over time. After the wine has aged for a time, it is ready for bottling, except for the fact that each bottle has a layer of spent yeast settled along its side.
In the old days, a special rack—called a riddling rack—was used, in which the bottle rested at an angle, neck pointed down. A “riddler” would turn each bottle by hand about a quarter turn, gently jarring loose the spent yeast. Nowadays in big operations, these racks are mechanized and turn on a timer, but there are still many small producers that riddle by hand.
Grieb does not riddle. Once the bottles have the yeast in the neck, they are moved, turned on their necks and then placed upside down in a neck chiller (a mixture of water and food-grade glycol) and frozen. Then, the bottles are turned over and the crown cap is popped; the power of that pent-up CO2 pushes the plug out, leaving a space in the bottle, which is filled with a “dosage” (often wine or sugar, and the wine maker’s secret) to create a certain sweetness level. Finally, the cork is inserted and—there you have it—a bottle of bubbles. When sparkling-wine lovers get giddy about bubbly, sharing a festive glass with a French pedigree made here at home is all the more reason to toast.
Shannon and Sarah’s Picks
Since sparkling wine is best when shared among friends, I asked Sarah Budge, a wine representative for Cru Selections, to help me sip and take notes on some of our favorite sparkles. All of these wines are nonvintage (NV), as many sparkling wines are, using wine from different vintages.
Treveri Müller-Thurgau, Columbia Valley, NV ($16)
This grape is a hybrid between Riesling and Silvaner, and makes a surprising and elegant off-dry sparkling wine. A bit on the sweeter side, this wine offers lemon zest and other citrus fruits on the palate and a clean mineral finish. (Sold out at the winery until spring 2013, but may be available in some stores.) Pairs with: chicken breast stuffed with fresh chèvre and herbs.
Treveri Gewürztraminer, Columbia Valley, NV ($17)
This extremely aromatic wine, served at the James Beard Foundation in New York City last April, explodes with exotic white peach, passion fruit, white rose and orange blossom aromas with a delightfully surprising blast of spice on the finish. Sarah says it’s “the darling of the group.” Pairs with: oysters on the half shell with Gewürz mignonette sauce.
Treveri Syrah Brut, Columbia Valley, NV ($19)
A sparkling red? This is more common in other wine regions, such as Australia, where such reds are sometimes sweet. This deep red bubbly is dry and elegant, with a yeastiness behind the dark blackberry and plum fruitiness. It's for red-wine drinkers who want something substantial. Pairs with: after-dinner cheese plate featuring blue cheeses, nuts and dried cherries.
Treveri Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley, NV ($15)
Sarah describes this as “bold yet feminine.” Bursting with floral notes on the nose and spice on the palate, this wine shows how Grieb’s German roots bring out the best in aromatic whites, and reveals the delicacy of Pinot Gris in this style. Pairs with: green salad with walnuts, crumbled feta and orange-zest vinaigrette.
Treveri Extra-brut Blanc de Blanc, Columbia Valley, NV ($14)
This nonvintage (NV) sparkling wine made from Chardonnay (white wine from white grapes) is as dry as it gets, and so delicious, it was served at 2011 State Department receptions at the White House. On the nose are clear aromas of bright green apple with a yeasty/bready note. The small bubbles are lively, as is the acidity, making it very food friendly. Pairs with: brunch!
This story has been updated since its original publication.