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BOTTLES

This beloved local bubbly sparkles with age

Westport Rivers’ 2012 flagship wine is outstanding. Winemaker Marco Montez talks about what makes it special.

This beloved local bubbly sparkles with age.Ellen Bhang

What a delight to revisit a wine that has not only stood the test of time, but is even more beautiful with the passing years. I’m talking about a beloved (and hyper-local) bottle of bubbly sporting a full decade of age.

If you’ve spent any time tasting wine on Massachusetts’ South Coast, you might guess I’m referring to Westport Rivers’ “RJR” Brut Cuvée. The latest vintage release — 2012 — effervesces with exuberant character, even as aromas and flavors have deepened over time. Sip this sparkler as part of your Thanksgiving feast and you’ll be engaging in the most delicious kind of time travel. (Thanks for the memories, RJR!)

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This traditional method sparkling wine, first crafted in 1991, is the flagship bubbly of Westport Rivers Vineyard and Winery, which began life as a farm purchased by Bob and Carol Russell in 1982. Today, the family’s property in Westport includes 80 acres of vines, all overseen by oldest son Rob Russell. It’s New England’s largest vineyard, turning out 10,000 cases annually. Back in 2001, this forward-thinking family enrolled 500-plus acres (of which the vineyard is a part) in Massachusetts’ agricultural preservation program, thereby protecting that acreage in perpetuity as working farmland.

When Rob’s brother, Bill Russell, retired as winemaker in 2018, the family didn’t need to look far for his successor. Marco Montez came on board as Westport Rivers’ winemaker the following year. You might know Montez from Travessia Urban Winery. He founded and operated the business in downtown New Bedford before closing that location and moving operations to his family’s vineyard in Trás-os-Montes, Portugal. With winemaking responsibilities on both sides of the Atlantic, Montez is all energy. It’s obvious he loves what he does.

When we sat down to speak, Montez had just finished his fourth harvest at Westport, a season that included a summer of drought followed by a rainy September. He takes the vagaries of weather in stride, and describes the opportunity to work for Westport Rivers as a dream come true. Quick to emphasize that Bill Russell crafted the 2012 RJR, Montez is happy to talk about what makes the sparkler so special.

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“RJR” stands for Robert James Russell, the full name of Rob and Bill’s father. The wine is a blend of estate-grown chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. It’s made in the traditional method, also known as méthode Champenoise. That multi-step process includes a second fermentation in bottle, followed by a long rest on the lees. Time on that yeasty sediment imparts nuanced flavors and a gorgeous mouthfeel to the finished product. “That autolysis really develops unique flavors in the wine,” Montez explains. “That’s really, truly what’s so amazing and special about a bottle of Champagne-method sparkling wine.”

While those richer flavors start to express themselves after two or three years of aging, the family let a full decade pass before releasing the 2012. Yet for all of its time-intensive craftsmanship, the bottle typically retails in the low-$30s. Asked how the winery can turn out such a bargain year after year, the winemaker gives all credit to the Russells.

“It’s the goodwill of the owners,” Montez says. “Because we all know when you increase the price of something, you decrease the amount of people able to enjoy it. They want to make the wine accessible to more people.”

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Westport Rivers “RJR” Brut Cuvée 2012 Offering scents of brioche and lemon curd, this golden-hued sparkler expresses flavors of baked apple, brown butter, and lemon spritz, all buoyed up by lovely salt-tinged effervescence. 12 percent ABV. Distributed by the winery and by United Liquors / Martignetti. $20s to low-$30s. Available at www.westportrivers.com and at Ball Square Fine Wines, Somerville, 617-623-9500; Dion’s, Newton, 617-964-2000; Curtis Liquors, Weymouth, 781-331-2345.

Ellen Bhang can be reached at bytheglass@globe.com


Ellen Bhang can be reached at bytheglass@globe.com