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The release of Benjamin Bridge's popular Nova 7 wine was celebrated with an online party instead of the traditional tastings and festivities.

Jessica Emin

Few Canadian wines enjoy the cross-country success of Nova 7, the fizzy, fruity and friendly white launched by Benjamin Bridge in 2007. Taking a page out of the Beaujolais Nouveau playbook, its annual release is usually celebrated with tastings and festivities across Atlantic Canada and beyond on the Thursday before Easter weekend, which has been rechristened Nova 7 Day.

When COVID-19 restrictions forced the cancellation of events at the Gaspereau Valley winery, staff considered forgoing Nova 7 Day promotions this year before deciding to take the party online. An Instagram Live tasting was followed by a kitchen party broadcast via the video-conferencing app Zoom.

“We wanted to do something because people are craving that connection,” said Gillian Mainguy, head of sales for Benjamin Bridge. “It was really fun to see everyone’s little faces. It was weird, but you get used to it. But I guess that’s the whole thing about this time – it’s weird, but we get used to it.”

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Head winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers conducted a virtual tasting of the 2019 vintage and answered questions, while singer-songwriter David Myles performed from his Halifax home.

Produced as conventional 750 mL bottles as well as single-serve 250 mL cans, Nova 7 offers an intensely aromatic and semi-sweet white that’s brimming with personality. Inspired by the low-alcohol Italian bubbly moscato d’Asti, it is a blend of muscat grape varieties with other, unusual suspects, including seyval blanc, vidal blanc and l’Acadie. The curious mix and the moderating breezes of the nearby Minas Basin, which influence the cool climate conditions, yield a wine quite unlike any other.

Deslaurier’s preferred wine-making practice is largely hands-off. He embraces risky wild fermentations of the various lots used for Nova 7 and does not add any sulphites as a preservative.

In the beginning, Nova 7 launch parties were spontaneous fan-based affairs. When production levels were lower, its release coincided with Mother’s Day. Nova 7 Day festivities landed in April three years ago as part of a 10th-anniversary celebration.

Long-time fans will see a shift in style for the 2019 vintage. Wind and rain from Hurricane Dorian in September meant grapes used for this exotic and fragrant white blend didn’t ripen to their usual sweetness levels. The result is a bright, fruity and floral-scented wine that’s noticeably less sweet than previous releases.

“It’s consistent with what people like about Nova 7, but it’s a lot more crisp and refreshing – thirst-quenching is how I’d describe it,” Mainguy said.

Much of the country still has the 2018 vintage on the shelf, including Ontario, which just saw a significant release at the LCBO on March 21. The 2019 is available in Atlantic Canada and direct from the winery, which sells the majority of the canned format. It will turn up across the rest of the country later in the year.

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A review of the new Nova 7 heads off this week’s recommended wines, which include exciting new releases from Niagara and the Okanagan, as well as some international selections that offer flair and flavour.

Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2019 (Canada)

rating out of 100

89

RATING: 89 PRICE: $24.95

To my taste, this is the most enjoyable and expressive Nova 7 to date. With roughly half of the residual sugar typically found in Nova 7, this vintage is nicely balanced by zesty citrus and green-apple flavours that add freshness from start to finish. A great option for brunch or patio/poolside sipping when weather permits, the low-alcohol Nova 7 is also a natural partner for spicy Asian dishes. Drink now to 2022. Vegan-friendly. Available direct at the above price through benjaminbridge.com. The 2019 is also available for $27 in New Brunswick, $24.99 in Nova Scotia, $26.95 in Newfoundland and Labrador. The 2018 vintage can be found at various prices in Alberta, $24.65 in Manitoba and $24.95 in Ontario and Quebec.

Icellars Estate Winery Reserve Red Icel Vineyard 2017 (Canada)

rating out of 100

90

RATING: 90 PRICE: $30

Owned and operated by Adnan and Elif Icel, Icellars was established in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., to produce rich and powerful red wines, with a focus on Bordeaux grape varieties and syrah, which comprise 97 per cent of the vines in their 42-acre vineyard. The couple works with consultant Peter Gamble and viticulturalist Craig Wismer to maximize the potential of the project. The Reserve Red was originally made exclusively for restaurants but is now offered to consumers. The mix of plummy, earthy and spicy notes makes for a complex wine with nice concentration and a supple texture. It’s a terrific introduction to one of Niagara’s most notable newcomers. Drink now to 2024. Available direct through icellars.ca.

La Ferme du Mont Le Ponnant Côtes du Rhône Villages 2018 (France)

rating out of 100

90

RATING: 90 PRICE: $23.95

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This hearty and satisfying red blend from the south of France offers a pleasant core of ripe berry fruit and complexity thanks to the herb, leather and spice notes. An attractive bistro-style red with super-smooth texture, this is enjoyable on its own or with roasted, grilled or barbecued meat dishes. Drink now to 2026. Available in Ontario at the above price, $23.99 in Manitoba.

Louis Latour Mâcon-Lugny Les Genièvres 2017 (France)

rating out of 100

91

RATING: 91 PRICE: $21.95

Made with chardonnay from one of the most celebrated vineyards in the southern part of the Mâcon region, this is consistently a ripe and enjoyable white wine. Fermented and aged solely in stainless steel to preserve its fruity intensity, the mix of yellow-apple and tropical notes gains interest from a slight floral note. Available in Ontario at the above price. The 2018 vintage is $24.49 in British Columbia and Alberta and $20.95 in Quebec.

Sperling Vineyard Market White 2018 (Canada)

rating out of 100

88

RATING: 88 PRICE: $19

A clever blend of aromatic white grape varieties including pinot blanc and riesling, Market White is made in a tangy and tasty style that makes it a bright and enjoyable aperitif. Like all Sperling wines, this is certified organic by Pro-Cert Organics for grape-growing and wine-making. Drink now. Available direct through sperlingvineyard.com.

Yalumba Samuel’s Collection Barossa Shiraz 2017 (Australia)

rating out of 100

91

RATING: 91 PRICE: $24.95

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This is the red-wine equivalent of comfort food. Made in a ripe and juicy style, it’s rich and flavourful thanks to the attractive mix of dark fruit, spice and subtle oak notes. It’s ready to drink now and has the potential to age three to five years. Vegan-friendly. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in British Columbia and Alberta, $26.98 in Newfoundland and Labrador.

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