Looking for a great Washington sparkling wine for sipping? Need a great bubbly pairing for the holidays? These are our recommendations for the best Washington sparkling wines.
Washington sparkling wines are very popular for everyday drinks and an excellent pairing for Thanksgiving or other holidays. The start of the 2022 growing season was not kind to the Washington wine industry, with spring and early summer being cold and wet. Then, the weather improved, and the growers welcomed the warm (and sometimes hot) summer. How did this impact the Washington sparkling wine industry? How will climate change impact the vineyards? Who are the favorite sparkling wine makers in Washington? Finally, what are some fantastic go-to Washington sparkling wines for the upcoming holidays?
Sparkling Wine 101
Before we get to these answers, let us quickly review the different types of sparkling wine. The most prominent, and what many say is the gold standard, is the traditional method or, as the French would say, méthode traditionnelle.
To be called Champagne, the grapes must come from the region of Champagne, France. The varietals primarily used are chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier, and they are made using the méthode traditionnelle. Washington sparkling wine is made using local grapes.
Step one is primary fermentation, taking place in a tank. To obtain the carbonation, secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle. Many other steps are involved in this process, including:
- Tirage—adding yeast sugars
- Riddling—tilting and rotating the bottle
- Disgorging—removing sediments
- Dosage – adding sugar
You can find more details about the méthode traditonnelle here.
Other Sparkling Wine Methods
Several methods of making sparkling wine are somewhat quicker than the méthode traditionnelle and can generally offer good price points. One of the more popular is prosecco, which uses the tank method (Charmat) where secondary fermentation takes place in a pressurized tank.
Bringing back the old? The pétillant naturel or, for short, pét-nat style, is becoming popular in Washington sparkling wines. This is one of the oldest forms of sparkling wine dating back to the 1500s. Pét-nat involves the primary fermentation mainly taking place in the bottle. That is a much simpler and quicker process than méthode traditionnelle.
One more carbonation method is forced carbonation. This process is when carbon dioxide is directly injected into the bottle, like other carbonated drinks. Mobile services are doing this to make it easy.
Why the Growth in Sparkling Wine
Over a 50% growth in the consumption of sparkling wine occurred in the US over the last 10 years. Also, 12% of the wineries in the US either produce or sell sparkling wine. Why the increase? There has been an increase in carbonated drink consumption, with many new healthy options.
Sean P. Sullivan, founder and editor of Washington Wine Report (recently rebranded Northwest Wine Report), had these comments. “First of all, winemakers always like to explore and tinker. Another reason for the popularity is that offering sparkling wine as a starter in tasting rooms or at wine events is always well received. Finally, Oregon is further along in sparkling wine production than Washington. I think many Washington sparkling wine producers have noted the popularity and success of these wines and want to make their own.”
2021 vs. 2022
In the winter, a popular saying in the Seattle area is that if you don’t like the weather now, wait ten minutes. Well, talk about extreme weather, especially the late spring and early summer of 2021 versus this year. In June of 2021, the “heat dome” was anchored over the Pacific Northwest, and we shattered many heat records. Seattle had a new record of 108 degrees, and the famous Washington sparkling wine-growing region of the Columbia Basin broke the record for the hottest day ever in Washington at 120.
Tim Donahue, a wine consultant in Walla Walla, WA, said, “This year brought colder and wetter impacts. The wet spring was welcome for much of the wine-growing areas in Eastern Washington because very dry conditions persisted before the wet spring. Interesting that the current growing season started cool. However, it has rebounded and is shaping up to be warmer than average.”
George-Anne Roberson, the winemaker at Yellowhawk, indicated that with the cooler conditions, they had much higher and more favorable acid than the prior year. Roberson went on to say that her style is like the French style in terms of higher acid and lower alcohol levels close to10.5%.
Donahue added that sugar levels for sparkling are 20-30% lower than still wine, making harvest decisions easy and significantly earlier than still wine. There is no coincidence that Roberson and Donahue have a similar preference for higher acid. During his ten years as director of winemaking at Walla Walla Community College, Donahue was Roberson’s instructor and continues providing consultation to Yellowhawk.
This Year Might be Great
We chatted with Christian Grieb, winemaker (his dad Juergen is also a winemaker) at Treveri Cellars, based just outside of Yakima. Grieb explained, “The extremely hot period in 2021 was short-lived, and the rest of the summer was not hot. This year was cool to start but warm at the tail end. Both 2021 and 2022 were excellent vintages, with the big difference being that this year will have higher yields, and this year might be lights out.” Thus, according to Christian and other winemakers, they are expecting some good quality Washington sparkling wines for this year.
Climate Change Impacts on Sparkling Wines
I talked to Winemaker Matt Austin, from Grosgrain, about climate. Matt and his wife Kelly are co-owners of two vineyards, one in Walla Walla and the other across the Washington/Oregon border in Milton-Freewater, OR. Austin is also in the prestigious Master of Wine program. At Grosgrain’s Oregon vineyard, Austin has planted grapes tolerant to heat, such as the ones used in the warm climate of Spain. The Cava grape varietals are used in sparkling wines. To this end, Austin planted macabeo and xarel-lo. Austin is also conscious of water conservation in his winemaking and the vineyard.
Climate change is not just about warming temperatures. One issue is that we get an earlier spring bud break, and frost can occur. This year in Walla Walla, there was some frost damage. To deal with this some vineyards use wind machines to mix the air to warm it minimalizing frost damage.
We talked to Donahue about the frost issues at Yellowhawk. He said the chardonnay and pinot noir are picked early in the summer, and the vines are more prepared for dormancy by winter.
Six of the Key Producers of Washington Sparkling Wines
New players have started producing sparkling wine, but who are the established ones with a proven track record? Once again, we conferred with wine expert Sean Sullivan who had this list: Syncline Winery, Tirriddis, Treveri Cellars, Domaine Ste. Michelle, Grosgrain Vineyards, and Morell-Peña.
Finally, Sullivan mentioned these new players in the Washington sparkling wines: Yellowhawk and Smak Wine. Donahue prefers one of his clients—Yellowhawk. He also likes what head winemaker Juergen Grieb and his son Christian are doing at Treveri Cellars, the only wine club he belongs to. Donahue said you must also include the big kid on the block doing an excellent job—Domaine Ste. Michelle.
Three Thanksgiving and Christmas Sparkling Wines
Thanksgiving is next month, and we asked Sean Sullivan for his go-to sparkling wines from Washington. Sullivan said you would want something that goes with many different foods and satisfies different tastes. He also recommends something that doesn’t break the bank since the wine will flow freely. Sean likes the blanc de blancs and gewürztraminer from Treveri Cellars. He also suggests the Luxe from Domaine Ste. Michelle. Christian Grieb, the winemaker from Treveri, said, “You can’t do Thanksgiving without gewürztraminer—it is great for the flavors.”
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Remember, Washington sparkling wines are enjoyable during the upcoming holiday season and pair well with many foods. A mimosa is always a popular beverage to enjoy with brunch. The Yellowhawk Sparkling Chardonnay is an excellent pairing with salmon. Sparkling wine with fried chicken was the pairing for the principles of Tirriddis after finishing a test during their studies at Washington State University Viticulture and Enology Program. What pairs with watching your favorite sporting event? The tasting notes from Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut says it pairs with salty appetizers like popcorn, crackers, or chips. What pairs well with meats? Treveri Cellars Sparkling Syrah’s tasting notes say it pairs with these dishes: smoked brisket and pork chops or grilled lamb chops. Cheers and bon appetite! Check out what our Wander wine experts recommend for more holiday wine selections and a few holiday cocktail suggestions.