Bubble Magic

It's as if a baby unicorn is born. When the cork pops on a bottle of sparkling wine and a glass is poured, an estimated one million translucent pearls float to the surface. In an instant, the moment turns celebratory. The liquid's delectable tingle is pure magic.

Published: 9/01/2019

Beyond their ephemeral beauty, bubbles act as vehicles for much of the scent, taste, sound, and tactile pleasure of sparkling wine. In fact, bubbles have a delightful way of delivering molecular details directly to our senses, while keeping the palate feeling refreshed. Their buoyant delicacy inspires conviviality while making the simplest meal sublime. French fries and Blanc de Blancs, anyone?

Many sparkling wines are made from still wines that are fermented twice—once in tank or barrel and again in bottle. As yeasts consume sugar during the wine’s secondary fermentation, they release carbon dioxide, which is trapped within the bottle. Some of the trapped gas escapes when you pop the cork. The rest finds itself in your glass, where it comingles with impurities on the glass wall and ascends to the surface as a mini molecular care package.

And that’s what makes bubbles miraculous. These tiny translucent spheres reveal a multitude of secrets when they burst at the surface, helping to convey the story of a wine’s origin. Carbon dioxide bubbles magnify flavors by lifting primary compounds—especially fruity esters—and releasing them at the wine’s surface. In fact, winemakers explain that effervescence amplifies the expression of site in sparkling wines, making it easier to taste the essence of the vineyard. An opportunity to taste terroir at its purest? Now that’s the perfect reason to explore the West’s sparkling wine trails.

Napa & Sonoma

An abundance of unique tasting experiences, historic vineyards, and prestigious sparkling wine houses make the Napa Valley perfect for a bubble-centric tasting tour. In fact, opportunities to “taste the stars” appear around every corner.

If elegant wines with delicious precision are what you’re looking for, Mumm Napa is an ideal starting point. Taste some of the valley’s finest sparklers while taking in panoramic vineyard views from the Oak Terrace or enjoying the estate’s fine art photography gallery. Just up the road, Schramsberg Vineyards ferments 25% of its wines in oak barrels to produce a richer, more luscious style. Literati love that author Robert Lewis Stevenson tasted here in 1880 on his honeymoon. We love tipping a glass in the 125-year old wine caves.

Great sparkling wines are all about the blend, or cuvée, according to Gloria Ferrer Wines. At the sprawling Sonoma estate, guests can sample blends that integrate kaleidoscopic flavors, fine bubbles, and luscious textures in luminous liquid.

Did someone say, “private cabana”? Besides producing sparkling wines that dazzle, Domaine Chandon offers the opulence of an intimate fête with your squad in a variety of alfresco tasting
experiences, from indulgent brunches to wine pairing picnics.
Spoiler alert: It’s bubble heaven.

The chateau is iconic—a wine country landmark—but at Domaine Carneros, grace and sophistication define more than the architecture. The wines are exquisite. Plan ahead to savor crisp, complex sparkling wines paired with caviar, artisan cheeses, and charcuterie in the chateau’s elegant salon or on the terrace.

Mendocino & The Anderson Valley

It’s the quintessential California road trip—rugged coastlines, redwood trees, and sundrenched mountains—made blissful by Mendocino’s extraordinary sparkling wines. A single ribbon of highway winds through the Anderson Valley, passing idyllic country towns and hidden-gem wineries along the way. Glamp it up at one of the chic wilderness outposts or get cozy in one of the area’s historic hotels. A walk in Hendy Woods State Park—where the redwoods meet the madrones—is the perfect way to refresh the soul and immerse yourself in the area’s natural beauty.

As the valley’s morning fog lifts, begin your tasting adventure with Roederer Estate to experience the crisp precision and luxurious, fine-beaded bubbles of the French wine house’s estate-grown sparkling wines. Meticulous organic and biodynamic farming and thoughtful winemaking create sparkling wines that balance delicate acidity, complex flavors, and creamy mouthfeel—and have set the bar quite high.

Then, make your way East along Highway 128 to Scharffenberger Cellars, where the layered flavors and luxurious textures of the estate’s two iconic sparkling wines—NV Brut Excellence and NV Brut Rosé Excellence—will leave you breathless. They’re simply that good.

Ever dream of waking up in a vineyard? After you sample Lichen Estate’s vibrant wines—known for their vineyard expression and purity—get cozy in the winery’s charming craftsman cottage. Sip at your leisure on the private porch. We hear that bubbles taste best amid the vines.

Paso Robles & San Luis Obispo

The Central Coast balances rugged roots and refinement. Pickups rumble along country roads playing classical music on the radio. Local cowboys stomp the dust from their boots as they clink glasses of Brut Rosé. And the region’s unique combination of authenticity and elegance extends beyond its culture. The earth seems to exude it in liquid form.

Start your sparkling Central Coast adventure at Field Recordings, where Winemaker Andrew Jones, a vineyard nurseryman by day, crafts innovative wines that celebrate special vineyard sites. Don’t miss his dry-hopped Pét-Nat, short for Pétillant-Naturel, or wines that are still undergoing primary fermentation when they’re sealed in the bottle. Field Recordings’ version is made with Chardonnay and Mosaic hops. For many of us, it encapsulates the best of both worlds.

Next, take in Niner Estate’s romantic view of Heart Hill—a heart-shaped vineyard area defined by oak trees—with a glass of the winery’s Brut Rosé, made from estate-grown Jespersen Ranch Pinot Noir. Enjoy the wine’s delectable salinity, floral scent, and fruit characteristics. Then cue the Barry White.

Nearby, Opolo Vineyards offers a playful effervescent wine called Opolo Sparkling made from French Colombard grapes using the méthod charmat technique in which secondary fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks and bubbly is bottled under pressure. It’s one hundred percent delicious, with zero pretense.

Laetitia Vineyard and Winery is known as the crown jewel of the Central Coast’s bubble trail with seven elegant sparkling wines crafted in the méthode traditionelle. Its location near the coast in southern San Luis Obispo County also makes it a spectacular place for alfresco fun. Sip bubbles with ocean views from the idyllic picnic areas, bocce ball courts, or walking trail.

Santa Barbara County

Sure, the American Riviera is known as a celebrity hideout. Ahem, Oprah lives there. But with sun-soaked vineyard slopes that roll to the Pacific Ocean and a unique mountain range that keeps temperatures cool, Santa Barbara County is also home to a different type of starlet—a myriad of dazzling sparkling wines made from some of the world’s finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. 

Santa Barbara County is a sparkling wine sipper’s dream come true, in part, because there are so many crush-worthy places to taste. Raise a glass in the Santa Ynez Valley’s elegant estates, in quirky tasting rooms along the Funk Zone’s Urban Wine Trail, among the barrels in Lompoc’s industrial wine complex, or simply sip sparkles with your sunglasses on and your feet in the sand.

Make your way first to the town of Lompoc, just north of Santa Barbara, to taste some of the region’s finest sparkling wines at Flying Goat Cellars. Inspired by his playful pet goats, Winemaker Norm Yost crafts Goat Bubbles, a lineup of eight exquisite sparkling wines produced in the méthode traditionelle, which are vinted, riddled, disgorged, waxed, and labeled by hand. They are a labor of love. And their layered flavors and delicate froths reflect every ounce of effort.

A stroll through the charming Western town of Los Olivos offers a multitude of opportunities to sip sparkling wines. First on the list is Fess Parker Winery’s Bubble Shack, where Fesstivity sparking wines flow like liquid happiness. Try the Blanc de Blancs, Brut Rosé, and Blanc de Noirs to experience captivating vineyard expressions from the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. Just down the street, Stolpman Vineyards and Dreamcôte Wine Co. both offer intriguingly complex sparklers made in the Pétilant-Naturel style. Stolpman Vineyards offers one, made in collaboration with Sommelier Rajat Parr under the Combe label, rumored to be the only sparkler made from Trousseau grapes in the world.

Pick your paradise. Riverbench Vineyard & Winery, known for its portfolio of stunning sparklers, has two locations. The picturesque vineyards and estate are situated on Foxen Canyon in the Santa Maria Valley, while the chic tasting room is in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara near the beach. With both locations pouring the luscious Cork Jumper Blanc de Blanc, Brut Rosé, Demi Sec, and Riverbench’s Pinot Meunier Sparkling wine, no matter which you choose, you’re in for a palate-tingling treat.

Washington State’s Sparkling Wine Trail

Searching for world-class sparkling wine in Washington State is a trickier proposition than finding great still wine. Many of the state’s pioneering wineries and vineyards looked for the warmest growing sites they could find, producing grapes that were well-suited to robust reds but less able when it came to bright bubbly. That said, a combination of newcomers and a few stubborn standbys have created an unexpectedly vibrant sparkling wine scene.

Located just outside Yakima, Treveri Cellars remains the state’s beacon for bubbly. Founded by the father-and-son duo of Juergen and Christian Grieb, their singular focus on sparkling wine has earned them a host of accolades and a dedicated following. From familiar fizz like their Blanc de Blancs and Sparkling Rosé to experiments like Sparkling Müller-Thurgau and Sparkling Syrah (a sparkling red wine), a visit to the Germanic-inspired tasting room is a chance to explore a broad and ever-growing roster of wines. Sweeping views of the Yakima Valley are a highlight of the large patio, on which you can enjoy a glass or even a bottle of wine in addition to your tasting.

For those who prefer to sip their wine in view of water, Karma Vineyards, on the shores of Lake Chelan, awaits your arrival. There, you can sample an elegant selection of méthode Champenoise wines, like their Blanc de Blanc, Blanc de Noir, and Rosé, or duck in to their restaurant, 18 Brix, to sample Chef Alicia Alvarez’s expressions of local ingredients in dishes always designed to pair with the wines.

If that view of Lake Chelan doesn’t quite get the blood pumping, then perhaps contemplating the vast and majestic Columbia River from Cave B Estate Winery in Quincy will do the trick. What better to enjoy while staring at one of America’s largest rivers than a bottle of Blanc de Blanc: the 2017 vintage is currently being poured, with notes of Asian pear and ginger along with a creamy texture. You might even choose to time your visit with a concert at the nearby Gorge Amphitheater, one of Washington’s preeminent music venues: headliners later this year include Beck, Mumford and Sons, Dave Matthews Band, and Bon Iver.

Following the ocean-ward path of the Columbia brings you to our final two sparkling wine destinations, which are located in the town of Lyle, just above the Columbia River Gorge. There, you can explore the sparkling Grüner Veltliner from Syncline Winery, aptly named “Scintillation.” This traditional method, zero dosage wine almost tastes like the Columbia River itself: cold, pure, and vividly energetic. Make a reservation in advance and you may even get the directions to their coveted and secret picnic spot a short hike away!

To finish off your journey, nearby COR Cellars has their own delightful take on sparkling wine, leaning on the aromatic varieties Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris to craft a floral but focused wine under their AGO label, which you can enjoy on their garden patio while taking in views of Mt. Hood. —Zach Geballe

As seen in the issue Harvest 2019 of Touring & Tasting Magazine.

Sparkling Styles

Different grape varieties, regions, and winemaking methods create an array of effervescent choices.

French Champagne, made in the méthode traditionelle champenois, begins as a still wine composed of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and/or Pinot Meunier. The addition of dosage, a measured amount of sweetened liquid, begins secondary fermentation in the bottle, which creates the wine’s luxurious sparkle.

Many sparkling wines are made according to the traditional French method but are labeled as “Sparkling Wine” or “Cremant” because they are produced outside of France’s Champagne region.

Cava’s bubbles are created with the méthode traditionelle champenois, but the base wine is composed of Spanish Macabeu, Parellada, and Xarello grape varieties.

Prosecco and most German Sekts get their fizz from tank fermentation and pressurized bottling, also known as the méthode charmat.

Pétillant-Naturel wines, or Pét-Nats, are made in the méthode ancestrale by bottling actively fermenting wines and allowing them to finish under cap.It's  as if a baby unicorn is born. When the cork pops on a bottle of sparkling wine and a glass is poured, an estimated one million translucent pearls float to the surface. In an instant, the moment turns celebratory. The liquid's delectable tingle is pure magic.