A wine can stand out for many reasons. It may be good, bad, ridiculously expensive or surprisinglycheap. It may come with a quirky name or arresting label. Rarely, though, does a single wine stand out for blazing a new stylistic trail. Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 does that. It's a category unto itself.
If you've had the pleasure of a good moscato d'Asti, the lightly spritzy, semi-sweet, gloriously fragrant white from Italy, you'll have a sense of its core attributes. But there's a noteworthy difference.
Nova 7 is livelier and not as sweet, thanks to a high-current jolt of acidity. Imagine moscato d'Asti crossed with dry Mosel riesling and you'll have abetter picture. Alternatively, imagine a white table grape jumper-cabled to a car battery.
Peter Gamble had that stylistic fusion in mind when he created Nova 7, which happens to come from Nova Scotia, a refreshingly crisp and pioneering region. A Niagara-based consultant with his own vineyard in Argentina, Gamble has been the guiding light behind Benjamin Bridge since the estate's inception more than a decade ago. Located in the Gaspereau Valley near Wolfville, the ambitious venture was founded by Gerry McConnell, a wealthy gold-mining executive. Its specialty is high-end, Champagne-style sparkling wine, about which I've enthused in the past. (Its 2008 Méthode Classique Rosé is among about 20 wines being showcased at Olympics receptions by Canada's High Commissioner in London.)
Those pricey bubblies take between four and six years to mature in cellar before release, so, to get the cash flowing, Gamble set about creating a fresh white he could sell soon after harvest. He loved moscato d'Asti for its grapey-floral aromatics and low alcohol (usually around 6 per cent). But, lik eme, he often wished it could be drier. Nova 7 was born and is now crafted beautifully by full-time winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers.
Its maiden vintage (2007) flew off the shelves in Nova Scotia and it has since developed a cult following, not least among women. "Nova 7 parties" have been taking up where cosmo-fuelled Sex andthe City gatherings left off in the 1990s. People lineup at Nova Scotia stores, some hoarding case-loads, during its first week of release each spring.
In fairness, that demand has been driven in part by scarcity. Fewer than 4,000 cases of the current2011 vintage were produced, though more will be made in future as new plantings bear fruit. It's an uncommon mix of grapes, too (chiefly a couple of muscat varieties), which supply the aromatic verve; high-acid French hybrids supply the nerve. Those vines fare reasonably well in Nova Scotia's cool climate, especially when picked – as demanded by crisp, fizzy wine – before they reach full ripeness.
In fact, the weather seems particularly well-suited to making fizz from muscat, a grape with naturally low acidity.
"We wanted to do what no other wine region could do," Gamble says. While it has been almost exclusively a home province phenomenon, limited quantities of the especially good 2011 vintage go on sale today in Ontario through Vintages stores. The rest of the country will have to wait a few years to get in on the Nova 7-party action.
Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2011 (Nova Scotia)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $25.95
Very subtle effervescence helps lift the off dry sweetness, pulling this ethereal, 6.5-per cent-alcohol white into perfect, refreshing balance. Sip it on its own in the summer sun or pair its sweet-sour flavour with aromatic Southeast Asian dishes featuring ingredients such as lemongrass, cilantro and lime.
Château d'Anglès La Clape Syrah Grenache Mourvedre 2007 (France)
SCORE : 92 PRICE : $14.95
Classically savoury Languedoc flavours are in good balance here at a bargain price. Full-bodied, this red covers the landscape– floral and earthy, with lots of lively spice and herbs tightened up by fine-grained tannins. Pair it with rich red-meat dishes,especially stews.
Tar & Roses Pinot Grigio 2011(Australia)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $19.95
This is a good pinot grigio from Australia, a category slimmer than Elle Macpherson after a cleanse diet. But this one really should be called pinot gris, the French name generally reserved for weighty, serious renditions of the same grape. Coppery yellow as a result of contact with those greyish skins, it's luscious yet dry, calling to mind Oregon pinot gris, with a whiff of sun-baked slate on the exit. It would suit substantial fish dishes.
13th Street White Palette 2011 (Ontario)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $14.95
The paints in this palette consist of riesling, sauvignon blanc, gewürztraminer, chardonnay musqué and viognier. Winemaker Jean-Pierre Colas applies his experienced brush to create a virtually dry, attractively perfumed white perfect for summer. It shows strong floral character as well as tropical fruit, citrus and spice,culminating with crisp acidity and a pleasantly bitter nuance. Try it with spicy grilled seafood.
Sandhill Small Lots One 2008 (British Columbia)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $36.95
A voluptuous red, weighing in at 14.9-per-cent alcohol, it's blended from cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, malbec, cabernet franc and merlot. A crowd-pleaser, if expensive, it shows a velvety texture and succulent, ripe flavours suggesting dark berries, raisin, chocolate and spice. Steak or pork roasts would be nice.
Carpenè Malvolti Cuvée Brut Conegliano Valdobbiadene (Italy)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $14.95
Those who like their prosecco truly dry (count me in) should enjoy this bargain. The texture's chalky (count me in again) and the flavour strongly hints at pear, sort of like a bone-dry perry cider. And there's a note of mineral on the finish. Perfect as a stylish aperitif.
Concha y Toro Serie Riberas GranReserva Carmenere 2009 (Chile)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $16.95
Full-bodied and firm, this is fully ripe carmenere (not weedy like some), mixing dark fruits, black pepper, herbs and a whisper of mineral. An ideal red for steak.
Cantele Riserva Salice Salentino 2008(Italy)
SCORE : 89 PRICE : $13.95
This red blend of negroamaro and malvasianera marries fresh plum-like fruit with just enough horse stable and sweat to feel like a vicarious trip to the southern Italian countryside – without actually stepping in farmyard dung. A good choice for gutsy meat dishes, such as grilled sausages. Good value.
Filon 2010 (Spain)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $14.95
A chewy, chunky grenache with a synthetic, tar-like quality that will not be to all tastes. It's deliciously authentic, brimming with cherry and herbs. Herb-roasted or cured meats would be suitable.