Like last week, my preamble will again be brief so as to leave room for what counts now: a shopping list. I hope the suggestions below – sparkling wines all – will be of assistance. For value, I’d zero in on Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel from South Africa, Pfaffenheim Blanc de Blancs Cremant d’Alsace from France, Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling from Niagara and Santa Julia Organic from Argentina, all bargain bubbles that rise to the top. I’ll also be offering more recommendations on Twitter (@Beppi_Crosariol) between now and New Year’s.
Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Champagne 2004 (France)
SCORE: 94 PRICE: $83.95
Vintage Champagne, stamped with the harvest year, tends to represent a serious notch above standard nonvintage Champagne in both price and quality. It can cellar well, too. This 2004 Moet is lovely, with great flavour depth suggesting peach, lemon zest and apple. Best of all, I like the smooth texture, honeyed overtones and yeasty, leesy tang. $81 in B.C., $86 in Que.
José Dhondt Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne (France)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $53.95
Yes, this is bona fide French Champagne from somebody called José. It’s the sort of quirky thing one encounters when poking about amid the so-called “grower” Champagnes. Whereas most brands from the famed region are bottled by large luxury-goods companies (Moet, Veuve, Mumm and the like), which buy grapes and/or wine from small farms and blend it into giant vats for the mass market, this was produced by the farmer who grew the fruit. Impress your wine-snob friends. It’s very fruity, suggesting peach pie, pear and grapefruit, and creamy in texture, yet lifted by mouthwatering acidity and finishing with an impression of dry chalk dust. Available in Ontario.
Pfaffenheim Blanc de Blancs Brut Crémant d’Alsace (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $16.95
If apple pie could be wine, it would taste like this. Crisp and juicy, it’s a blend of pinot blanc and auxerrois, brimming with baked orchard fruit and hints of toastiness and ginger on the long, satisfying finish. Available in Ontario.
Victoire Champagne Prestige Brut (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $39.95
Remember when genuine French Champagne cost less than $40? Here you go: a throwback to those more innocent days, when a buck was a buck and Miley Cyrus couldn’t spell twerk. It tastes genuine, too, with good body and complexity, blending baked apple, apple skin, lemon curd, brioche dough and chalky minerality in equal measures. Bone-dry, floral and harmonious.
Megalomaniac Bubblehead 2011 (Ontario)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $28.95
It takes a self-confident and unpretentious man to name his overachieving sparkling wine Bubblehead. That would be John Howard, former owner of Vineland Estates and a former business executive with his hand in several pies, including fine properties in Bordeaux. This is pressed entirely from pinot noir, bottle-fermented like Champagne and oozing a seductive light-salmon colour. Bone-dry, with pronounced green-apple, pear, citrus and tart-strawberry flavours, it’s got a mineral (or sourdough?) tang about it. Yes, as it warms up in the glass, I’m sticking with sourdough. Available in Ontario.
Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut Cap Classique 2011 (South Africa)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $19.95
“Cap classique” is the South African designation for wines made in the laborious bottlefermented style of Champagne, known elsewhere as the traditional method. Simonsig’s founder, Frans Malan, was the first in his country to elevate sparkling wine to that level. And while fine Cape bubblies can legally use sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc, this Kaapse Vonkel employs just the Champagne trio, pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier. It’s bright and crisp, with bold green apple and a gentle note of yeasty baguette. Loads of flavour and a bargain. Available in Ontario.
Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling 2012 (Ontario)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $19.95
The 2012 vintage marks the inaugural release of Tawse’s sparkling riesling from the Limestone Ridge vineyard. Impressive it is, far more compelling than many sparkling German rieslings out there. Bone-dry and zesty with citrus, white flower and mineral, it’s juicy and tightly wound, with an attractively chalky texture. Available from the estate, tawsewinery.ca.
Santa Julia Organic Brut (Argentina)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $14.85
Argentines drink, and produce, much sparkling wine, though one would not know it judging by Canadian shelf space. Round and smooth for a dry bubbly, this organic wine serves up a combination of fresh and baked apple as well as brioche pastry, with a creamy feel and excellent sweet-crisp balance. Great value. Available in Ontario.
Colio Girls’ Night Out Sparkling Wine (Ontario)
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $13.95
Serious critics generally do not like wines like Girls’ Night Out. Correction: They do not like to be associated with lighthearted, grabby names. Let them turn up their noses. This is decent wine, a 100-per cent riesling made using the tank-refermentation technique responsible for most valuepriced Italian proseccos. It happens to be better than many proseccos costing several dollars more. A blast of green apple greets the nose and palate, carried on a moderately dry, juicy frame. The above price represents a $1 discount (until Jan. 5) from the regular $14.95. $15.88 in Man.
The Flavour Principle, a new cookbook an d drinks compendium by Beppi Crosariol and Lucy Waverman , is in bookstores everywhere . It is published by Harper Collins.
In his new e-book, Ask A Wine Expert: 101 Things We All Want To Know, Beppi Crosariol answers readers’ questions on subjects ranging from sulphites to tipping etiquette. Visit tgam.ca/ebooks to download it.