Guests soak up the sunny weather at Anne Amie during the 2022 Bubbles Fest. ##Photo provided

Rising to the Top

Bubbles Fest proves annual favorite

By Jade Helm

The anticipatory ascent up the steep drive to Anne Amie Vineyards near Carlton should be savored slowly, especially if you’re trying to prevent your hybrid engine from switching to gas. From the wooded valley floor to the top is a transition. Your car finally levels and your mood with it. Everything seems sunnier: the perspective, the general atmosphere, the vegetation — how often do you see palm trees in the Willamette Valley?

This special place combined with all the sparkling a wine nerd like me could want is the reason Bubbles Fest remains one of my favorite events in the Willamette Valley. The opportunity to taste a diversity of varieties in the bubbly style is simply irresistible. Since it happens around Valentine’s Day, the celebration is also a romantic getaway my husband and I anticipate each year. To top it off, the weather always seems beautifully sunny for Bubbles Fest — even the year there was snow on the ground. I tell you, Anne Amie feels magical.

Upon arrival, guests are given a glass, a tasting list and map. With about 25 wines to sample each day, it is possible to sample them all. This year, the event was held in one large tent and, as always, included several fine food vendors. Our favorite, and a staple each year, is Northwest Fresh Seafood and their giant table of fresh oysters. Some people come for the oysters as much as the wine, see aforementioned husband.

The two-day tasting showcases different wineries each day. Since we could attend only one day, the choice was hard, especially since we knew which wineries were pouring but not the bottles being shared. We were happy with the selection we tasted Sunday — don’t tell us what treasures we missed Saturday.

Chatting with winery owners, winemakers and winery reps remains a major highlight. Since the pandemic has limited peoples’ opportunities for face time, catching up with the wine community feels like a rare treat, and pouring bubbles seems to capture them at their most jovial. Our small Oregon wineries are proud, rightly so, of their products. The bubbles in their portfolios often evoke extra excitement.

You can sense that enthusiasm in the crowd, too. As people huddled around the heat lamps, I can hear the conversations. “What were your favorites?” “Which did you buy?”

Among my front-runners were Furioso Vineyards 2019 “Spirito” Blanc de Noir ($65), an elegant méthode Champenoise-style wine tasting of citrus and sharp with some balancing vanilla; Elk Cove Vineyards 2017 Mount Richmond Brut ($70), bursting with floral notes and light melon; and Left Coast Cellars “Queen Bee” Bubbly ($40), which incorporates estate honey in the dosage.

I always enjoy finding offbeat bottles, such as Varnum Vintners 2018 Brut Rosé ($65), revealing a splash of Riesling with a whiff of petrol on the nose; and Sokol Blosser 2019 Bluebird Cuvée Brut ($32), starring Pinot Gris and Riesling in the blend. Made in a Champagne style, the wine’s fruitier profile includes Prosecco-like qualities. With such an affordable price and approachable style, Bluebird is sure to please a wide range of bubbly lovers.

Speaking of price and palate, Eola Hills 2020 Sparkling Chardonnay ($30) and Eola Hills 2020 Sparkling Müller-Thurgau ($30) both brought flavor and fun without breaking the bank. The former showed flavors of a ripe, still Chardonnay without losing any sparkling nuance; the latter tasted perfectly fruity and light, destined for a hot summer day.

When I see Thomas Monroe across the room, I’m in for a surprise. The winemaker poured his Division Winemaking 2020 “Polka Dots” Rosé of Gamay Noir Petillant Naturel ($26). Full of sour fruit, tangerine and yeast, this wine you will share to impress your geeky wine friends. They will think you are cool and even more so when they learn the price tag.

The Bubbles Fest host has long produced remarkably excellent sparkling wine. Anne Amie 2014 Estate Marilyn Brut Cuvée ($60) and 2017 Estate Marilyn Brut Rosé ($45) were triumphs. The former showed stone and tropical fruits with citrus and brioche; the latter — always a personal fave — tasted crisp with lighter red fruits like cranberry and strawberry.

For me, the top wine represented the oldest vintage at the tasting. I may have revisited enough times that wearing a disguise on a couple trips to the table could have proved useful. I found an empty corner — I sneaked behind Katherine Cole’s table where she was displaying her book, “Sparkling Wine Anytime” — turned my back to the crowd and closed my eyes. Arygle 2010 Extended Tirage Brut ($85) deserved my full attention. A classic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay blend, this aging beauty layered fresh notes of tangerine with warm, yeasty aromas, nuttiness, baked stone fruit and a bit of honey-rich custard. The price is higher but worth every penny.

As usual, we stayed until last call, the oyster table our final stop — we helped them with their perishable inventory. I’m already anticipating next year’s event, climbing the hill to explore the expanding category of bubbles with the sun shining, of course, at beautiful Anne Amie.

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