One used to ‘pop a bottle of Champagne’ (or sparkling wine if made from anywhere other than Champagne, France) during those rare special occasions – New Years eve, weddings, perhaps a very fancy dinner party and of course milestone moments. Now, there doesn’t really need to be a particular occasion, per se, to open a bottle of sparkling. It’s quickly becoming a staple buy whenever alcohol purchases are made.
There’s so much of the stuff going around right now. In fact, one out of every ten bottles of wine sold globally is sparkling. Winemaking regions all over the world can barely keep up with the demand.
In Canada, producers in Ontario, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Quebec are making sparkling wines on an unprecedented scale. Our own love affair with the bubbles has shown a dramatic shift in sales over the past eight years. Case in point: in 2011, sales of sparkling wine totaled 262 million dollars. It has steadily climbed since then, reaching 441 million in 2018.
Aside from great choices for sparkling coming from France, Spain (Cava) and Italy (Prosecco, Asti), Canada can offer premium wines too! After all, our wine regions share a climate that is ideally suited for making these wines. Grapes are usually picked early because they’re high in acid and low in sugar (the longer they stay on the vine, the sweeter they get). With their required high acidity and low sugar levels these early-picked grapes produce a wine that would make your face pucker — but that’s what you want in a quality sparkling wine.
Some winemakers here in Canada follow the ‘methode classique’ or traditional method Champagne process of secondary fermentation in the bottle, which requires a process called riddling to remove the dead yeast cells. This is either done by hand or mechanically. It’s that secondary fermentation that provides additional richness and complexity over most other methods.
Others might employ the less costly ‘cuvée close’ or charmat method by which the secondary fermentation is carried out in large stainless-steel tanks and the wine is then drawn off into the bottle under pressure to preserve the mousse.
Most sparkling wines tend to be made from some combination of the trio of Champagne grapes – pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier. But this is not always the case. Riesling and sauvignon blanc can make for excellent sparkling, and gamay, merlot and cabernet franc grapes are also joining in the fun – especially for making delicious and refreshing sparkling rosé, which perhaps was once a novelty act but is now definitely here to stay.
The sparkling wine identity gets further reinforced by its parallel reputation as an aperitif. It may seem that only now the wider public are truly embracing its potential; many sommeliers will tell you that sparkling is one of the most flexible wines when it comes to pairing with food. Don’t believe it? Try a blanc de blancs with canapés, followed by a seafood entrée; vintage blanc de noirs with steak and caramelized onions; a rosé with a white-and-dark-chocolate mousse. Yum.
No matter the meal selection or the occasion you’re observing, to help wash it all down will be an endless selection of bubbly.
The selections below are some of the best from Canadian and international producers:
Benjamin Bridge 2012 Brut Reserve Methode Classique
Ten of Nova Scotia’s twenty wineries are currently making some of the best sparkling wines in the country — witness Benjamin Bridge. Sure, Dom Perignon might be the gold standard when it comes to luxury Champagne, but this beauty of a brut is just as good at a fraction of the price (a bottle of Dom will run you $270 now at the LCBO). And like a vintage Champagne, this is one that will age years if not decades. Right now it’s citrusy and fruity, sharp and cutting. With time, this will become more toasty and complex. Inflated pricing doesn’t always mean better. This is a testament to that. ($75)
Benjamin Bridge NV Brut
Benjamin Bridge continues to demonstrate that they’re a world-leader in premium sparkling wine production. This ‘non vintage’ wine is a blend of five grape varietals, including L’Acadie, vidal, seyval, pinot noir, and chardonnay, all of which are grown on their estate vineyard. The nose suggests smoke and lemon rind, interplaying with strong sea mineral undertones. The palate is luscious, but with good intensity and vibrancy. Hints of green apples and dried cranberries are magnified by the wine’s bright structure, unfolding in a lengthy mineral finish. Wonderfully complex. ($32.95)
Steller’s Jay Rosé Sparkling – Methode Classique
Around 100 wineries in British Columbia now make sparkling wines. This selection is made using 70 percent gamay noir and 30 percent merlot and if its refreshingly looking pale pink salmon colour doesn’t catch your attention, its lifted aromas of fresh strawberries and cream will. Take a sip and pay attention to how your senses react to strawberry and raspberry flavours and how they dance with balancing crisp acidity and fine bubbles. The persistent mousse in the glass helps coat the mouth with a smooth velvet-like texture. Enjoy with brunch and serve only slightly chilled. ($36.70)
Steller’s Jay Brut Sparkling – Methode Classique
Complimentary to their Rosé Sparkling is this traditional method brut and it’s a classic blend of premium pinot noir, pinot blanc and chardonnay grapes. Early harvesting of these grapes has ensured a crisp, fresh acidity along with aromas of green apple, citrus and toasted almonds. It’s so refreshingly clean on the palate, it will have you puckering – but that’s a great thing. It’s a sign of a very well made sparkling. ($27.99)
Jackson-Triggs 2016 ‘Entourage’ Grand Reserve Brut
Ontario is producing more and more sparkling to try and meet demand, but one that has been around for a while now is the Entourage and it continues to be one of the best value sparklings on the market. This is traditional method all the way and explodes with bright lemon acidity that eventually gives in to a full and round creamy texture on the palate. It gets its cool name from the French term en tirage which means to age the wine three years in bottle in order to extract body, flavour and aromatics. And like the name suggests, this is definitely one to share with your special ‘entourage’. ($29.95)
Italian prosecco sales are booming and most sparkling wine consumers know of this particular brand. Excellent value aside, it’s one of the most popular sparkling wine choices for Canadians. Made using the charmat method – which helps preserve the character of the grapes – it is crisp, clean and pleasingly delicate on the palate with its soft bubbles and intense flavours of apple, peach and floral notes. The mere 11 percent alcohol content makes this an easy sipping pre-dinner aperitif. For the exact same price, try the very refreshing Ruffino sparkling rosé. ($16.95)
Segura Viudas 2013 Brut Gran Reserva Heredad Cava
Created to express style in the world of top range sparkling wines, this Spanish cava is surely one to experience. Beautifully presented in one of the most stylish bottles one can find, this is made up of nine different wines, each one vinified in separate tanks. The magic of the blend is in ensuring that each one lends its own touch of character to the whole. Aromas of honeyed biscuits, dried fruit and flowers are elegant and enticing. The palate is soft and quite complex, full of flavour with dried fruits from the lees ageing. ($32.95)
Mission Hill Reserve Sparkling Brut
This Brut Sparkling was crafted in the Charmat method and used chardonnay and pinot noir grapes that were grown on two Mission Hill estate vineyards located within Oliver in the Okanagan Valley. Each one of the vineyards has a distinct microclimate, lending unique flavour characteristics. First planted in 1996, The Oliver vineyards are incredibly diverse with more than 60 different individual blocks, producing an amazing array of premium quality fruit. This comes off as a very fresh sparkling, with notes of crisp apple, white peach and pear, all highlighted by vibrant acidity and bright citrus on the finish. ($27.99)
Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Brut
This is regarded as one of Ontario’s better sparklings, with a consistent track record. A blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, it spends 30 months on the lees and tends to be slightly spicy, with tangy lemon, stone fruit and toasty notes. It’s crisp, zesty and refreshingly bright. Bone dry, taught and persistent, this wine reflects its pedigree extremely well. An Ontario classic. ($32.95)
Rosehall Run Ceremony Blanc de Blanc
The traditional method Ceremony from Prince Edward County’s Rosehall Run is definitely made well and is certainly one of the best made in the County. From entirely estate-grown chardonnay, this cuvée is assembled from three vintages (2011, ’13 and ’14). It hits the palate sharply with crisp, clean acids and lingers with its persistent mousse. There’s some toasty almond undertones and a minerally infused freshness on the finish. ($36)
Westcott Vineyards 2013 ‘Brilliant’ Sparkling
Made in the traditional method, Brilliant is a sparkling that can be included in the same conversation with many premium French Champagnes. This is remarkable. One of the best I’ve had from Canada and that is no overstatement. Two thirds pinot noir, one third chardonnay, it spends a whopping 75 months of lees contact. Hand riddled and hand disgorged (perhaps the only winery in the country that does this?). There’s lovely tertiary flavours making their way through, including textured bready notes. Acids are still fresh, elegant and dainty. It’s supple and full on the palate. The Westcott’s apparently like to tease their customers by only releasing small batches of their Brilliant at a time. Every few months, it gets a release and before too long it’s gone. 8000 bottles made in total at one heck of a price point. You’re likely looking at buying yourself the 2014 vintage by now. ($39.99)
13th Street NV Cuvée Rosé Brut
This is a classic blend of pinot noir and chardonnay, with 70 percent coming from the 2014 vintage. The pinot noir provides fruit, power and richness while the chardonnay gives structure and backbone. What stands out the most for me when I taste this annual fan favourite sparkling is the creaminess of the mousse. It just sits beautifully in your mouth. This is a dry wine that’s bracing with vibrant acidity, yet very flavourful with mouth watering notes of strawberries and cream, ripe stone fruit and almonds. ($29.95)