Forget Champagne: 11 Superb New Sparkling Wines from Oregon—Yes, Oregon—to Toast Your Valentine
by Sara Schneider
“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.”
2010 Argyle Extended Tirage Brut
“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.”