Artwork by Morgan King

Bubbly Buffet

Pairings for sparkling wine easy as pie

By Natasha Bailey

Rollin Soles, founder of Argyle and winemaker/owner of ROCO Winery, remains Oregon’s trailblazer when it comes to bubbly.

His journey began at University of California, Davis, followed by a move to Switzerland where he learned: “It wasn’t a proper dinner party without sparkling wine.” But, according to Soles, the sparks really started to fly while making wine with Australia’s Petauma Winery and partner Champagne Bollinger.

Before Soles’ Oregon bubbles surfaced, others were already producing the celebratory wine. He recalls, “Fred Arterberry and Rich Cushman were making some of the Willamette’s first bubbly.” These influences were major factors in Soles’ decision to build Argyle, which became the cornerstone of Oregon’s sparkling wine scene. He continues his bubbly legacy with ROCO’s RMS Brut.

During the holiday season, Soles loves to play with the flavors of his wines, “I believe that sparkling rules during the holidays for many reasons: They make a big pop to grab peoples’ attention and signal a great event in the works; and the bubbles are the spark that lifts everyone to the light, toward relaxing, laughing and creating.”

However, the most exciting aspect of sparkling wine is the food pairing possibilities. Traditionally in the U.S., sparkling hasn’t been consumed with food; it’s either enjoyed unaccompanied or with light appetizers. Yet, with its higher acidity, it can be beautifully matched with any fatty, rich foods, including red meat.

The Northwest’s bounty of seafood begs for bubbly. Oysters, Dungeness crab, petrale sole, rockfish, ling cod and salmon benefit from a finer bottle of fizz. Soles also enjoys sparkling with smoked, jerked or confited meats, not to mention dishes incorporating exotic spices from North Africa, China, Southeast Asia and more. He swears by his own RMS Brut served with a rack of lamb, pulled pork, soft-ripened cheese or roasted hazelnuts. Blue cheese is another classic. (See this month’s cover story for delicious inspiration.)

Soles believes Willamette Valley sparkling is the perfect gift for celebrations. “Great sparkling wine tells your friends and family that they are fun, full of life and deserve the excitement that a freshly popped bottle will create.”

Bubbly also has that special vibe that’s been surrounding it for ages. According to Soles the creation of sparkling wines “occurred before the microscope, so the wines were considered inexplicable and rare compared to ‘normal’ still wines. In the right glasses and the best candlelight, the bubbles are mesmerizing, and I’m sure the low alcohol meant a celebrant could consume more volume without the corresponding hangover.”

What makes the Willamette Valley’s bubbly stand out in a market full of sparkling? Soles reasons: “[The fruit is grown at] the northern boundary of the West Coast where one can ripen Pinot Noir and Chardonnay consistently.” He argues that having the fruit pushed to its limits will create a more distinctive style.

He continues, “Here, we can grow ripe, delicious wine-grape flavors while retaining the high natural acidity required for complexity, minerality and long aging sparkling wines.” Soles claims that the varieties grown in the Willamette Valley “ripen with perfect flavorful zing and bracing mineral zip.” Additionally, due to the Valley’s northern geography, the vintages differ remarkably every year, creating a wide range of wonderfully diverse high-quality sparkling wines.

The growing popularity of bubbly is nearly impossible to ignore and, according to Soles, it will only become more so as time goes on: “I believe it is the young and young-at-heart driving America’s fascination and appreciation for sparkling wines.” He claims that never before in history has there been a wider demographic of wine drinkers, “Young people are enjoying sparkling wines from Italy and Spain, while Baby Boomers are popping corks off the very best of the world’s sparkling wines.

“Additionally, never has America enjoyed such diversity of cuisines! Beautifully balanced, lower alcohol sparkling wines are often just the ticket for today’s wide range of food offerings,” meaning that, no matter the occasion, sparkling is the perfect bottle to grace the table.

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