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December 2023

Education Reviews Wines

Your Holiday Sparkling Wine Style Guide

Your holiday sparkling wine guide

Browsing the sparkling wine aisle in December can be a daunting prospect. The shelves seem to groan under the weight of the vast selection. Quality has never been better at every price point, but good sparkling wine is still a premium purchase. Knowing a little bit about the different styles will help ensure you buy a bottle you will love.

First consider the sweetness level. Most sparkling wines use the same terminology.

  • Brut nature or Zero Dosage: no dosage (added sweetness). Bone-dry, often quite taut, perception of acidity is often heightened.
  • Extra Brut: Very subtle dosage. Dry. Slightly less austere on the palate than a zero dosage.
  • Brut: Subtle dosage. Still quite dry, but more rounded and fruitier.
  • Extra-Dry: Confusingly this term actually means off-dry (subtly sweet).
  • Dry: Semi sweet sparkling wines with pronounced fruitiness

Then, think about the origin or production method. Some of the most popular sparkling wines include:

Prosecco: The Party Favourite

Prosecco, from the north of Italy, is an affordable option for holiday parties. The style is fresh and light (11% – 11.5% alcohol) with a subtle pear drop, peachy, floral perfume. It drinks well on its own but also works well in Mimosa-type cocktails.

Its bubbles are generally softer and frothier than traditional method sparkling wines (like Champagne or Cava). This is due to the winemaking process – whereby bubbles are formed during a brief passage in large, pressurized tanks before early rapid bottling.

For the best quality Prosecco, look out for the top tier DOCG mention on the label, which is helpfully accompanied by the term Superiore. These Prosecco wines hail from the region’s best growing areas.

Recently tasted recommendations:

Fiol Prosecco DOC Extra Dry rosé ($20.25 at the SAQ) – pretty in pink, good value, fruity, easy-drinking, smooth bubbly

Canavel Campofalco, Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG Superiore ($30.75$ at the SAQ) – dry, elegant, and well-balanced, with a discreet orchard fruit, floral perfume

Cava: The Oft Underrated Option

Cava hails from the Catalonia region in northeastern Spain. It is produced using the same “traditional method” as Champagne. After an initial fermentation, wines are bottled and dosed with yeast and (usually) sugar to provoke a second fermentation in the bottle. Carbon dioxide released during this process is trapped in the bottle and dissolves into the liquid, forming bubbles.

Cava has two key differences from Champagne: firstly, the grapes in the blend are not the same, and secondly, the grape-growing climate is warmer. This translates as a broader sparkling wine, with softer acidity. Green apple, lemon, and earthy flavours are common. Most are very dry, in the Brut Nature to Brut range.

The longer a traditional method sparkling wine remains in contact with the yeast cells (called lees) after the second fermentation, the more complex the wine can become, developing a creamier more layered texture, finer bubbles, and toasty, nutty flavours. Longer-aged Cava wines are called Reserva or – for the longest aged tier – Gran Reserva.

Recently tasted recommendations:

Muga Conde de Haro Brut Reserva 2020 ($23.10 at the SAQ): Surprisingly textural and persistent for the price, with vigorous bubbles, and tempting baked apple, biscuit, earthy notes.

Juvé y Camps Reserva de la Familia Brut Nature ($23.95 at the SAQ), Juvé y Camps Brut Cava Rosé ($24.50 at the SAQ) – consistently good value Cava in a very dry, textured, lively style

Mestres Gran Reserva Brut Nature 2016 ($38.00 at the SAQ) – Complex, nutty, rich, and layered. Bone-dry without austerity. Lovely freshness and verve.

Crémant & other non-Champagne Traditional Method Bubblies : The Affordable Luxury

Crémant is a name given to sparkling wines from 7 French regions outside of Champagne including: the Loire Valley, Alsace, Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Jura, Limoux and Die. The grape varieties vary depending on the region.

Crémant wines often have bigger, more rounded bubbles than Champagne, making them feel a little rounder and more ample on the palate. The most affordable Crémants also tend to be fruitier as they are rarely aged for more than a year on their lees.

Recently tasted recommendations:

Louis Bouillot Perle Rare Crémant de Bourgogne 2019 ($24.45 as the SAQ) – broad, rounded, and fruity, in an easy-drinking, smooth style.

Domaine Vincent Carême Brut Vouvray mousseux 2021 ($25.65 at the SAQ) – clean, zesty citrus, honeyed undertones, fine, lively mousse, and zippy acidity

Domaine Baud Brut Sauvage, Crémant de Jura ($31 at the SAQ) – delicate floral, lemon, and brioche nuances, vibrant freshness, and a dry, earthy finish.

Side note… There are many countries producing first-rate traditional method sparkling wines outside of Spain and France. Canada is making excellent bubblies from coast to coast. Some of my favourite producers include: Lightfoot & Wolfville, Benjamin Bridge, Hinterland, Cave Spring, Henry of Pelman (Cuvée Catherine), Hidden Bench, Tantalus, Blue Mountain, Fitzpatrick Winery, and the list goes on!

Pét Nat: The Wild Child

Pét Nat stands for Pétillant Naturel (or naturally sparkling wine). It might seem like a recent trend, but the technique to make Pét Nat wines is actually the oldest sparkling wine process in the world. It is called the Ancestral Method.

The Ancestral Method, used for Pét Nat wines, consists of bottling a wine partway through its initial fermenting, as compared to the secondary fermentation of traditional method sparkling wines. There is quite a wide array of Pét Nat styles out there so they are hard to define.

They do tend to be quite low in alcohol (9.5 – 11%), with less vigorous bubbles, and flavours that are often more savoury, mineral, or herbal than fruity. Many are unfiltered so can be quite cloudy.

Recently tasted recommendations:

Domaine Fouet Pour Ma Gueule ($23.10 at the SAQ) – invigorating, ultra thirstquenching, bubbly with a rounded mid-palate and dry finish

Les Tètes, Tète Nat’ 2022 ($23.95 at the SAQ) – tangy green fruit flavours, piercing acidity, bone dry, precise palate with fine, well formed bubbles.

Francesco Cirelli Wines of Anarchy Frizzante ($25.10 at the SAQ) – earthy, savoury flavours mingle nicely with bright orchard fruit on this textural, bracing frizzante.

Champagne: The Luxury Choice

Champagne remains the obvious choice for special occasions. While many worthy contenders are cropping up from other wine regions, a well-made Champagne is still hard to beat in terms of its overall finesse.

What sets the best Champagnes apart? Firstly, the quality of their bubbles: ultra-fine, lively, and persistent. Secondly, the complexity of their aromas, blending mineral notes (flint, wet stone), with lees-aged nuances (brioche, biscuit), subtle florality, and tart fruit undertones.

The creamy, layered core of long lees aged Champagnes tempers their typical racy, high acidity, giving the wines a very harmonious mouthfeel. The long, vibrant finish of fine Champagne is another of its defining features.

Recently tasted recommendations:

There are so many lovely wines that I could list here, but I will stick to those sampled in the past few months that offer particularly good value for their price.

Champagne Fleury Blanc de Noirs Brut ($59.75 at the SAQ) – consistently good value blanc de noir with vivid fruit, smooth bubbles, a dry finish, and pleasing satin-like texture.

Champagne Ayala Brut Majeur ($68.50 at the SAQ) – attractive floral, orchard fruit nuances, ultra-fine mousse, lingering savoury, saline finish. Bone dry.

Champagne Palmer & Co Brut Réserve ($79.00 at the SAQ) – heady, tempting patisserie nuances balanced by racy, refreshing citrussy notes, lots of finesse.

Whether you choose to sip on light, fruity Prosecco, splash out on top Champagne, or venture further off-the-beaten track, I wish you all a very merry holiday season!

This Holiday Sparkling Wine Guide was originally published on Good Food Revolution. If you enjoy reading about artisinal food, wine, and spirits, check out this excellent online publication.

Life Reviews Wines

How Much are You Willing to Pay for a Bottle of Wine?

How Much are you willing to pay for a bottle of wine

How much would you pay for a bottle of wine? It is a question that avid wine enthusiasts get asked all the time. And it isn’t an easy one to answer. After all, the notion of worth is deeply personal and depends on so many factors.

An invitation to attend a press screening of Wine Masters TV’s new film, “”The Most Expensive Wine in the World,” has me pondering the subject. The documentary follows the story of Loïc Pasquet, controversial Bordeaux winemaker.

The famous Left Bank classification of crus classés wines from Bordeaux dates back to 1855. Aside from the addition of the Château Cantemerle and promotion of Château Mouton Rothschild, the rankings have not changed in almost 170 years. But the wines have…

This is Pasquet’s premise. The wines ranked by request of Napolean III carry little resemblance to today’s versions. Many of the grape varieties used then are no longer commonly grown, and Bordeaux’ vines are now grafted onto American rootstocks.

Pasquet therefore set about replicating pre-Phylloxera conditions in his Graves vineyard: planting 20,000 vines-per-hectare, individually staked, ungrafted, with both well-known grapes, such as Petite Vidure (aka Cabernet Sauvignon), and quite rare, ancient Bordeaux grapes like Pardotte, Castet, and Tarney.

The wine, Liber Pater, sells for somewhere in the neighbourhood of $50,000 CAD/ bottle.

When people gasp at the price, as you may have just done, Pasquet is ready with any number of replies. In the documentary trailer he says, “What is the price we are ready to pay to have dinner with Napoleon”?

He attributes historical importance to his project, and claims he is “saving the taste of Bordeaux”. For Pasquet, the wine, its ethos, its craftsmanship, its label, everything about it is art. No one balks at a prestigious painting fetching far higher prices than this.

In essence, the story of Liber Pater has all of the necessary attributes to create a cult following… A sense of being part of something important, bigger than all of us, rare, unique, exciting. Whether you believe the hype or not, you must admit that it is intriguing.

The idea takes me back to a conversation I had a few months ago with Jermaine Stone (aka the Real Wolf of Wine). Stone is a hip-hop artist, turned fine wine auction director, turned fine wine importer in New York.

We discussed the notion, often expressed in the media, that wine is becoming too expensive, and that younger people can no longer afford to drink it.  In Stone’s experience, this is simply not true. “People have the money” he insists. “They just don’t have the reverence for the product”.

“Do you think Millennials just woke up wanting to buy Balenciaga bags for $9000?” he adds. “My son is 16. He’s spending $750 on a pair of yeezy sneakers that he’s already outgrown”.  For Stone, it is all about educating people, showing them what is special about a wine to create that sense of desire.

At a recent sneak preview of fine wine lots from an Iron Gate auction, I got a chance to witness the power of creating reverence first-hand. Collectors had gathered from across the province to taste the wines and trade anecdotes about their most memorable wines.

They seemed to feed off each other’s passion and enthusiasm, each wanting to tell their stories and talk about the time and energy they put into building their collections. Their eyes shone as they listened to the sommeliers describing the wines to sample.

It brings me back to my original point about how personal the notion of worth can be. At the end of the day, we all have items that we are willing to splurge on and others for which we bargain shop. Wine and food will always be a worthy expense for me…though my idea of a splurge will likely never hit the four-figure (or even the high three figure) mark per bottle.

In the meantime, here are some of the stand out luxury wines that I have had the good fortune to taste recently. Sadly, they are all

Yalumba “The Caley” 2018Australia – 96pts. LW

This is a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon from Yalumba’s prized Menzies vineyard in Coonawarra, with 20% Shiraz mainly from their Horseshoe vineyard in the Barossa sub-region of Eden Valley. The wine is matured for almost two years in new, one, and two-year old French oak barrels.

Heady notes of exotic spice and licorice mingle with wafts of red currant, black plum, spearmint, and cedar on the nose. The palate is bold yet refreshing, with lovely tension and impressive concentration. Velvety, well-formed tannins frame the long finish nicely.

Where to Buy: SAQ (2016 vintage, $515), inquire with agent: Elixirs Vins & Spiritueux

Renato Ratti Barolo “Rocche dell’Annunziata” 2016, Italy – 97pts. LW

The Rocche dell’Annunziata vineyard is one of the most revered crus of La Morra. The southwest facing hillside forms a natural amphitheatre. Its terroir of sandy soils gives a very perfumed, elegant expression of Barolo, according to the team at Renatto Ratti.

The 2016 vintage is spectacular: powerful and hugely complex. Layers of dried flowers, provençal herbs, red cherry, and orange peel emerge with aeration, underscored by earthy, savoury notes. Brisk acidity lifts the weighty palate, giving an impression of finesse throughout. Already approachable with well integrated, fine-grained tannins.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($121, sadly sold out. Inquire with agent: Montalvin)

Catena Zapata Nicasia Vineyard 2019, Argentina – 94pts. LW

The Nicaisa vineyard is located in the southerly region of Altamira, in the La Consulta district of the Uco Valley.  The massal selections of Malbec planted here grow at a towering 1,095 metres altitude on gravelly, loam rich soils with excellent drainage.

A truly hedonistic nose, with its aromas of blueberry pie, plum jam, violets, baking spice, and underlying hints of thyme. In contrast, the mouthfeel is pleasingly brisk and taut with excellent depth of flavour and notable peppery spice. Needs a few years cellaring to tame its muscular tannins.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent: Elixirs Vins & Spiritueux

Champagne Palmer “Grands Terroirs” 2015 – 94pts. LW

This vintage cuvée, sourced exclusively from 1er and Grand Cru terroirs, is only produced in the best growing seasons. It is a blend of 50% Chardonnay, 38% Pinot Noir, and 12% Meunier, with six years ageing on the lees. The maison calls it their “homage to the Montagne de Reims”.

Tempting aromas of roasted hazelnut, brioche, citrus blossoms, and baked apple feature on the nose. The palate boasts great tension and fine, lively bubbles, ably balancing the creamy, layered core. A bold, structured style of brut Champagne, with lingering tangy green fruit and nutty undertones.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent: Vins Arterra

Champagne Ayala “La Perle” 2013 – 95pts. LW

The “La Perle” cuvée from Ayala is mainly composed of Chardonnay, with a small portion of Pinot Noir from the estate’s Grand Cru holdings in Chouilly, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, and Aÿ. The wine was aged for almost nine years on the lees. Each bottle was hand riddled and manually disgorged.

The 2013 is electric in its vibrancy. Intense notes of lemon zest, peach, exotic spice, hazelnut, and savoury nuances play across the nose. The mousse is quite subtle, giving a vinous style on the palate. Initially racy and taut, broadening and deepening on the mid-palate to culminate in a very long, dry saline finish with attractive citrus and sourdough hints.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($172.75, low stocks, inquire with agent: Sélections Oeno )

This article is taken from a piece initially written for Good Food Revolution. If you love reading about artisinal wines, beers, and foods, check out this excellent website!