The sight of university students filing into a building during exams the other week elicited two emotions. The first was panic. I still wrestle with the nightmare where you dream you’re about to face a final exam for a course you’ve skipped all term and for which you have studied precisely zero hours.
The other emotion was Champagne. I do tend to think of Champagne – or sparkling wine generally – as an emotion as well as a drink, something between happiness and gratitude. One of the most memorable bubblies I’ve consumed was dispensed lukewarm and drunk out of paper cups. I’d brought a bottle in my knapsack to the last exam of my undergraduate studies. I’d wrapped it in foil, naively believing it would keep cool for a couple of hours on a sweltering April afternoon in a non-air-conditioned auditorium. I drank it afterward in the sunshine with a friend on a park bench near the Ontario Legislature. We were happy to have accomplished something, grateful to be free; we were in a Champagne mood.
There is a fine excuse for bubbly coming up, assuming you have a mom who drinks. Eight days remain until Mother’s Day, the biggest brunch date on the calendar. That’s sufficient time to source flowers, consult a Lucy Waverman recipe and contemplate a bottle luxurious enough for your budget without causing mom undue distress on the matter of your profligate ways. (If she’s anything like my late mother, she’ll think you spent too much on her no matter what the bill, so don’t be afraid to err slightly on the side of moderation.)
Most important, keep in mind that you’re buying for her, not yourself, so choose the wine (and pour) accordingly. The wines below are less widely available than many bubblies I’ve reviewed recently. If you’d like something easier to find that resonates literally with the day, you could try Mumm Cuvée Napa Brut Prestige, which sells for $25 to $34 around the country.
Champagne Moutard Père & Fils Cuvée des 6 Cépages Brut 2006 (France)
SCORE : 93 PRICE : $87.95
Popular wisdom has it that there are just three grape varieties permitted in bona fide sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France: chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. There are in fact a few more, including pinot blanc, the obscure arbane and petit meslier. You’ll find those three along with the three standard varieties in this offbeat, luxurious blend. With just 8,000 bottles produced, it’s uncommonly smooth for a brut, silky with flavours of fresh and cooked apple, lemon, peach and honey laced with a suggestion of mineral and a touch of spice. Available in limited quantities in Ontario.
Blue Mountain Blanc de Blancs R.D. 2006 (British Columbia)
SCORE : 92 PRICE : $39.90
Dry as a stone, with a faint and intriguing whiff of raisin on the nose, this luxe chardonnay from a leading B.C. bubbly producer shows a chalky texture and mouthwatering candiedpineapple and citrus fruit, with an electric rancio tang reminiscent of sherry. This long-cellared fizz has evolved beautifully. Available direct from the winery through www.bluemountainwinery.com.
Domaine J. Laurens Le Moulin Blanquette de Limoux (France)
SCORE : 91 PRICE : $17.95
The emergence of sparkling wine in Limoux, in France’s deep south, predates Champagne. This wine is made using the hoity-toity “traditional method” of bottle fermentation later popularized and perfected in Champagne, but there’s a significant difference. The key grape here is the local mauzac, which constitutes 90 per cent of the blend and is the most apple-like non-apple fruit you will encounter. J. Laurens is an excellent producer and this bone-dry white is a big value. Pronounced baked-apple fruitiness is answered by biscuity and floral notes, with bright citrus carried on a chalky texture. The terrific, higher-end Laurens Les Clos de Demoiselles, a blend of chardonnay, chenin blanc and pinot noir, sells for $23.45 in Quebec.
Conde de Haro Brut Cava 2010 (Spain)
SCORE : 91 PRICE : $19.95
The novelty here, at least for most fans of the great value proposition that is Spanish cava, is regional. This wine’s from Rioja, in the central north, not the northeast Penedès region responsible for the vast majority of the country’s fine bubbly. Specifically made by Muga, the popular producer of Rioja still wines. The grapes are distinct: viura (a.k.a. macabeo) and malvasia. Slightly oily, with good, frothy lift, it offers notes of green apple, lemon pastry and bread dough. It’s long and lovely. Available in Ontario.
Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling 2012 (Ontario)
SCORE : 90 PRICE : $19.95
Bone dry and very tart, Tawse’s inspired riesling coaxes out fine flavours from a white grape whose sparkling expressions have tended to be confined to Germany and Australia. Apple sauce, chalk and zesty lemon dished up at just 11.5-per-cent alcohol. Terrific. Available in Ontario.
Bailly Lapierre Crémant de Bourgogne Réserve (France)
SCORE : 90 PRICE : $19.95
Here’s a fine bubbly from Burgundy (versus the nearby Champagne region) made in the Champagne style. A blend of the classic Champagne grapes pinot noir and chardonnay with southern Burgundy’s bright gamay, it’s bone dry and serious for the money, with notes of apple, lemon pastry and a satisfyingly chalky texture. (I don’t know about you, but when it comes to sparkling wine, I’m a chalk-aholic.) $25.99 in B.C.; the fine rosé is available in Alberta at various prices.
La Marca Prosecco (Italy)
SCORE : 87 PRICE : $17.95
For what it’s worth, the packaging could hardly be more fetching. A Tiffany-blue, minimalist label is set against a curvaceous bottle. The wine has a floral scent that puts me in mind of great hotel-bathroom soap (the kind I hoard in my suitcase). Sweeter than bone dry but still technically dry, it shows prosecco’s classically round, creamy texture, with nuances of cherry candy and red apple framed by fresh acidity. $19.99 in B.C., various prices in Altberta, $18.39 in Saskatchewan, $20.10 in Manitoba, $19.98 in Newfoundland.