Local Bubbles

During the holidays, people whose lips are rarely touched by even a sip of wine reach out for a glass, and the glass they reach for, more often than not, is filled with bubbles. For such folk, champagne is not so much a beverage as an obligatory part of the season, like gift wrap and tinsel. Again, for such folk, it doesn't much matter who put the bubbles in the glassit's the bubbles and the label and the price that count. Domaine Chandon or Cordon Negro do the job for some. For others, only Veuve Cliquot will do (and if you think there are fewer of the latter than the former, check out the towers of la Veuve at Costco). Some people, however, actually love champagne and other sparkling wines. They'll drink it every chance they get, buying the best they can afford. It's not hard to spend $180 on a single bottle of vintage-dated French champagne, but you can get a damn good bottle of bubbly for $30. Trouble is, for most of us, $30 is still a lot of money. Which is why it's good news that this holiday season, a number of first-rate, affordable classic-style sparkling winesvintage-dated, no lessare available from some makers here in the Northwest. By far the best-known maker is Oregon's Argyle Winery, which bottles no fewer than five sparkling wines made by the time-consuming méthode champenoise, and whose entry-level brut (the '98 currently on offer) consistently picks up 90-out-of-100 scores from wine-rating magazines not bad for a bottle that retails for around $22. But in our opinion, there are better bottles around for less (or very little more) money, if you're willing to go to a little trouble to find them. One line to look out for is the sparkling lineup from Oregon's Domaine Meriwether. Founded by ex-Seattleite Jack Bagdade, Domaine Meriwether has a terrific young winemaker from Champagne and some of Oregon's best pinot noir grapes to choose from. The company's basic nonvintage brut "Discovery" (served at the White House) retails for around $15 in Washington, but their mainline William Clark Cuvée, just coming into its own at five years of age, is the real bargain at about $23 a bottle. Three other sparklers from '98 are just coming on the market: a rosé (around $30), a blanc de blancs ($25), and the top-of-the-line Thomas Jefferson Prestige ($27), but they may be harder to track down. The big surprise of the sparkling wine season comes from Washington's own investor-owned Silver Lake Winery, which is offering a pip of a 1998 brut for an astonishing $16. Almost acrid on first taste, the wine opens out into a rhapsody of fruity flavors that linger in the mouth and nose for minutes after each sip. Available only at the Woodinville winery or online, it's well worth the effort: It would be hard to find a better sparkling wine, even from France, for much less than twice the money. rdowney@seattleweekly.com

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