In the life of a wine writer, December means pulling together the annual sparkling wine column. Sales of Champagne, prosecco and other bubblies spike as hosts and revellers prepare to make merry. It’s our duty to point out the most fabulous bottles of fizz lining liquor stores shelves to meet the demand.
The vast majority of sparkling wine is purchased leading up to New Year’s Eve. Aside from another rush on inventory around Valentine’s Day, sparkling typically takes a backseat to red, white and rosé styles. (Although it’s worth noting that rosé suffers a similar fate. The toast of patio and pool season, it doesn’t enjoy the same attention when, say, Family Day weekend rolls around.)
It’s bittersweet. Talking about sparkling wine in all of its forms – from top drawer capitol-C Champagne to cheap and cheerful tank fermented fizz – is always a pleasure. But we’ve been classically conditioned to view bubbly as a celebratory beverage. Perfect for New Year’s Eve, birthdays or anniversaries. Too posh for any given Tuesday.
The audible pop of a Champagne or sparkling wine cork in a restaurant still elicits the Pavlovian response: “What’s the occasion?”
Perhaps the day will come when a dedicated sparkling wine column won’t look out of place in these pages in May or June, leaving a December slot open for a buyers’ guide to the best rosés for your festive feast. In the meantime, here are some favourites tasted recently, with a narrowed focus on traditional-method bubbly made in the time-honoured fashion of Champagne. These are seriously enjoyable bottles that are bound to impress in the month of December and any other month of the year should you be so inclined.
13th Street Winery Premier Cuvée 2013 (Canada)
Sparkling wine has always been part of the vision at 13th Street Winery, dating back to its first vintage in 1998 when only a handful of wineries in Ontario were producing traditional-method bubbly. Over the years, the sparkling program has evolved and improved, with releases such as this stellar Premier Cuvée 2013 offering the toasty complexity and class one expects from Champagne. A 50/50 blend of chardonnay and pinot noir from several vineyards in the region, this truly stands out. Burgundy-trained winemaker Jean Pierre Colas opted not to use any oak for aging or dosage to add sweetness to the finished wine, which makes for an elegant and lively style that is nicely balanced, uplifting and refreshing. Available in Ontario and direct from the winery at the above price through 13thstreetwinery.com
Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Reserve Brut Sparkling 2013 (Canada)
There’s a lot to love about sparkling wine specialist Benjamin Bridge, which helped put Nova Scotia firmly on the map for wine lovers across Canada and throughout the world. They make a fine non-vintage bubbly, which is a great indication of the ambition and style one can expect. But the vintage dated fizz is where the real excitement is. Expect a decadent but dry palate, with elegant flavours suggesting toasty and bready notes as well as fresh citrus and a satisfying finish. Available in Ontario at the above price, $74.98 in Nova Scotia. The equally enjoyable 2012 vintage is $47.99 in British Columbia and $49.75 in Quebec.
Blue Mountain Vineyards & Cellars Reserve Brut R.D. 2011 (Canada)
Blue Mountain enjoys the benefits of a well-established sparkling program, which allows the winemaking team to age and release the Reserve Brut when it’s richly flavoured and ready to drink. A 45/55 blend of estate-grown pinot noir and chardonnay, the Reserve Brut 2011 was blended and re-inoculated for secondary fermentation (which produces the bubbles) in spring 2012. Six-and-a-half years later, it was disgorged before being aged another year in bottle prior to release. The result is a toasty and complex bubbly with appealing fruit aromas and flavours. Available direct from the winery through bluemountainwinery.com
Ferrari Brut Sparkling (Italy)
This Italian sparkling wine is made from 100-per-cent chardonnay grown in Trentino and using the same method as Champagne, with secondary fermentation taking place in the bottle. There are some attractive toasty and smoky notes that add interest to a refreshingly dry bubbly that’s best enjoyed as an aperitif or with oysters. Available at the above price in Ontario, $31.99 in British Columbia, $26.95 in Quebec, $30.99 in Nova Scotia.
Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards Fitz Brut 2015 (Canada)
As the founders of CedarCreek Estate Winery, the Fitzpatrick family played a large role in establishing the Okanagan Valley’s reputation. When they sold CedarCreek, they set their sights on a new venture based on their Greata Ranch estate in Peachland, B.C., and the styles of wine it could consistently deliver. Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards launched in 2017, with a dedicated focus to producing quality traditional-method sparkling wine from their vineyard each vintage. The impressive Fitz Brut 2015 suggests they’ve made the right call. A mix of chardonnay and pinot noir, this gains richness and complexity from partial barrel-fermentation and 24 months aging in the bottle before release. It’s an exciting bottle to share over the holidays – or any day. Available direct from the winery at the above price through fitzwine.com
Roederer Estate Brut Sparkling (United States)
Roederer Estate showcases the power that comes from riper California grapes and mature toasty and nutty notes. This is a distinctive bubbly that’s ready to drink. It’s rich and rewarding, with a bright lemony note that keeps things fresh and focused. Available in Ontario at that above price, $36.35 in Quebec.
Ruinart R de Ruinart Brut Champagne (France)
Despite being the oldest operating Champagne house, Ruinart doesn’t enjoy the name recognition of Moët & Chandon or Veuve Clicquot, which benefit from larger production and have been marketing to Canadians for decades. The R de Ruinart is a terrific introduction. The balance of richness and refreshment make for a flavourful and accessible style that is both elegant and easy-to-appreciate. This is worth the splurge. Available at the above price in Ontario, $80.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $83.50 in Quebec.
Veuve Clicquot Rosé Champagne (France)
Some 200 years ago, Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot developed a blend of white and red wine to produce the base wine for a new style of Champagne, which is now the accepted method for rosé Champagne. Made using the same base wine as the popular Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label, this rosé gets its pinkish hue from the addition of 12-per-cent red wine made from pinot noir, which also imparts refreshing red fruit and floral aromas and flavours. It’s always correct and enjoyable. Available in Ontario at the above price, $89.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $92.81 in Manitoba, $89.25 in Quebec, $88.99 in New Brunswick, $90.62 in Nova Scotia.
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