Nowadays Americans are reaching for sparkling wine more often, and not just for the holidays and special occasions. But unless you are fluent in French, most sparkling wine and Champagne labels can confuse even the most ardent connoisseur of the bubbly.
Fortunately, Washington is home to two sparkling wine houses that are easy to pronounce, easy on the pocketbook and easy over the lips -- Domaine Ste. Michelle, a value label from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in Woodinville, and Mountain Dome Winery, one of the undiscovered gems right here in Spokane.
In this country, bubbly is usually called sparkling wine since tradition dictates that only sparkling wines made from grapes grown and produced in the Champagne region of France can be called "Champagne." It is produced using Chardonnay or Pinot Noir grapes, with occasional splashes of Pinot Meunier, Pinot Gris or other varietals added.
So far, Washington has not been a major player in the world of sparkling wines, but the late Michael Manz and his family have produced Mountain Dome sparkling wines in the labor-intensive m & eacute;thode champenoise style since 1984. Shortly before his unexpected death, Manz talked about his affection for sparkling wine and Champagne.
"[My wife] Pat and I love champagne, and we knew if we were to make sparkling wine in the traditional method, it would be more expensive, more labor intensive and much more difficult," said Manz, who had promoted his son Erik and essentially retired from the day-to-day wine production before his death. "We wanted to produce a sparkling wine in the $15 range that would be affordable, tasty and could be served with dinner or on a special occasion."
The m & eacute;thode champenoise is labor intensive because the wine must go through a secondary fermentation in the bottle. Winemakers add a mixture of sugar and yeast, called the liqueur de triage, to still wine, which is then bottled, capped and laid horizontally. The yeast acts on the sugar, but the resulting carbon dioxide remains trapped in the bottle. Good sparkling wines are usually left to ferment for several months to several years. At the end of the process, the cap is removed and replaced with the traditional cork and wire cage, thus the pop when the carbon dioxide is released.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & N & lt;/span & estled on 85 acres among the hills northwest of Spokane, Mountain Dome is the largest family-run sparkling house in the Northwest. Besides Erik as the winemaker, Patricia Manz and John Mueller run the operations, along with help from Manz's other two grown children.
"That is what makes this work -- being a family operation," said Manz. "I can do this with my family -- it is something you can hand over to them. We live in a beautiful setting, and I have all the open space I want."
Mountain Dome's wines are impressive and affordable, ranging from the Non-Vintage Brut (so named because the grapes are sourced from different years), which is priced about $15, to the Cuv & eacute;e Fort & eacute;, the best of the best ($35-$40), a special blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier from four separate vineyards. The Cuv & eacute;e Fort & eacute; is made only during exceptional years for the fruit, and the next vintage will be 2000. The winery also produces a Brut Ros & eacute; (with the new one scheduled for release in a few months) and a Vintage 1999.
This year, the winery is offering splits, or half-bottles, of the non-vintage sparkling wine. Pat Manz said it was a frequent request from customers, so the winery has a good supply for those who don't want to open a large bottle.
At Domaine Ste. Michelle, five sparkling wines are offered, ranging in price from $11 for the Cuv & eacute;e Brut to $20 for the 2000 Luxe, which is made from 100 percent Chardonnay. The winery also produces a sweeter sparkler called Frizzante.
All sparkling wines will work with a holiday dinner or as an ap & eacute;ritif after a long day at work. Sparkling wines also compliment salty foods, much the way beer works with pretzels. So, at the next football party, crack open a bottle of bubbly and check out the surprised reaction. Better yet, sparkling wine makes a great gift, and is the perfect accompaniment for that New Year's Eve toast and celebration.
May all your troubles during the coming year be as short as your New Year's resolutions!
MANZ FAMILY UPDATE
The unexpected death of Michael Manz last month stunned the Spokane wine community, but his wife Pat says the family is continuing forward with the winery, knowing it is what Michael would want.
"My pastor says we are doing as well as can be expected," says Pat. "The weekends, of course, are the hardest, since Michael and Erik and John spent a lot of time working in the winery on the weekends."
Pat says her husband would be especially proud of his son Erik, who has stepped up to direct operations at Mountain Dome in the past month. She also wants to thank distributors and the Spokane wineries for all their support in the past few weeks.
"I love the camaraderie of the Spokane wineries," Pat says. "We've had such tremendous support from the wineries and others in the communities and we want to thank everyone."
Michael began a brandy-making project before his death, and Pat says that project will be on hold for a while, as the family focuses on the sparkling and still wines for the near future.