What constitutes a good day for you? A paycheque? A Canucks win against the Leafs (or vice versa)? Good hair? For my part, I know it has been a good day if it involves Champagne. I suspect I drink more Champagne (or sparkling wine, to speak more generally) than most people. I toast small victories, such as fixing the drip in the kitchen faucet or remembering how to switch from TV to digital video recorder on the remote. Why wait for New Year’s Eve or a birthday to pop the cork of happiness?
Champagne producers, ever the shrewd marketers, a few years ago came up with something called Champagne Day to help sell more of their luxury sparkling wine. It’s like Earth Day, only instead of encouraging people to turn the lights off for an hour they want us to haul out those dusty flutes at the back of the cupboard to clink glasses on a date other than a birthday, anniversary or New Year’s. This year, it took place on Oct. 25. Coincidentally, I reviewed a bunch of bubblies in my column two days prior, on Oct. 23, and chose to ignore the entreaties from Champagne folks to promote the big fete. I don’t believe in Champagne Day. I would rather support Champagne Every Day.
Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut (France)
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $65.95
Perrier-Jouët is famous for its $200 vintagedated Belle Époque Champagne, the one in the iconic Art Nouveau bottle painted with images of Japanese anemone flowers. That design dates back to 1902, but the house had been well-known for almost a century by then. Oscar Wilde is reputed to have asked for the brand from jail. Being Oscar Wilde, he had the gall and good taste to specify the 1874 vintage. The house takes pride in what it promotes as a “floral” style. I get the flower part if I put my mind to it when tasting. I also get lots more out of this non-vintage gem. Though delicate, it manages to weave together much of what makes true-blue Champagne special. There’s lemon-curd, fresh bread dough, honey, a whisper of vanilla and, yes, that uplifting floral component. I especially like the very dry character and chalky-mineral verve. $66.99 in B.C.
Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut Champagne (France)
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $74.95
Among the larger brands of bona-fide Champagne, Bollinger enjoys a particularly avid connoisseur following. The wines are robust, pair well with food and develop interesting complexity with a few years in the cellar. Even this entry-level Special Cuvée – admittedly not cheap for a nonvintage Champagne – enjoys a reputation for longevity. It has pronounced biscuit, lemon pastry and bread dough flavours along with nuances of earth and mineral in a blend that is already starting to show some attractive, nutty-oxidative evolution. $76.99 in B.C., $71.08 in Man., $70.25 in Que., $69.99 in N.B., $69.99 in N.S., $69.55 in PEI.
Domaine Chandon Étoile Brut (California)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $39.95
The luxury goods people at Moët & Chandon in France founded this satellite brand in Napa Valley more than 30 years ago. This is the top-of-the-line flagship, where the winemakers get carte blanche each year to blend in the best fruit. It’s expensive, but at the above Ontario price it’s still slightly cheaper than the $40 (U.S.) price at the winery. It’s crafted in a rich style, with a pronounced yeasty, creamy character that comes with extended aging on the lees or spent yeast cells. Think fresh baguette topped with lemon curd and baked apples. Available in Ontario.
Tarlant Zero Brut Nature Champagne (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $44.95
This wine gets no dosage, the added spike of sugar prior to final corking, which, in most sparkling wines, counterbalances the high natural acidity. So this is about as bone-dry and tangy as they come. Yet it shows good depth of flavour, with lemony brioche, a toastynutty quality and honey. $49.25 in Que.
De Chanceny Excellence Brut Vouvray 2010 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $20.95
Vouvray, an appellation of the Loire Valley, produces a wide variety of whitewine styles, from dry to sweet, still to sparkling. Based on the chenin blanc grape, this dry bubbly is marvellous for the money. I get a hit of quarry dust off the nose, which carries through on the palate. Light and lively, it comes across with apple, honey, stones and flowers, with excellent extract that makes you want to chew. Available in Ontario.
Road 13 Sparkling Chenin Blanc 2010 (British Columbia)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $35
It’s sealed with a humble crown cap, like beer, but don’t let that spoil your impression. This is serious wine. Crown caps ensure freshness and a growing number of exacting producers are turning to the unpretentious closure to do just that. Chenin blanc, the white champion of the Loire Valley, is a racy grape and its highstrung acidity comes through here – in a good way. Tart, with juicy fruit flavours of green apple and citrus, this Okanagan sparkler progresses with secondary nuances of bread dough, mineral and toasted nuts. It is beautifully made. Available direct from the winery (www.road13vineyards.com).
Vitteaut-Alberti Blanc Brut Crémant de Bourgogne (France)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $18.95
If dry sparkling wine can be smooth, this qualifies. Creamy, with good midpalate density, it offers hints of cherry and baked apple supported by a tangy finish. Made in the Champagne style in Burgundy. Available in Ontario.
Château des Charmes Brut (Ontario)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $22.95
Refermented in bottle, just as is done in Champagne and everywhere else that takes bubbles seriously, this is well crafted for the money. Fresh, lively and round, it delivers a soupçon of sweetness in the mid-palate before turning zippy on the finish, with notes of apple and stone fruit, citrus and toasted bread. Available at Ontario LCBO stores, the winery’s Toronto and Ottawa boutiques and online through www.chateaudescharmes.com.