The cold, dark lingering nights of late winter may seem to offer few incentives to celebrate to the tune of French Champagne. That’s why DAVID LAWRASON recommends that you forget the champers and pop less expensive sparklers from Ontario, a province that understands cold.
How about a flute of racy bubbly after a day on the slopes or an end-of-season skate on the canal? Or while nestling by the fire with a plate of shrimp and smoked salmon. A handful of wineries in Prince Edward County now have sparkling wine on stream and there is a growing attention in Niagara as well. The cool climate and limestone riddled soils of the Lake Ontario basin are outstanding for serious sparkling wine made from Champagne’s main grapes — pinot noir and chardonnay. (I predict Ontario will become globally famous for such wines within a generation.) Yet there is also a sense of fun and adventure at play, with new techniques (see Hinterland below), new grape varieties (see Angels Gate), new styles (Huff Vidalescco), and even new “crown cap” closures (Flat Rock). Unfortunately, acquiring these wines is not always as simple as running out to the LCBO; nor may you want to venture to the wineries themselves on a blustery winter weekend. But wineries can, and do, deliver if you order by phone or through their websites, and they would be delighted and surprised to hear from you.
ANGELS GATE 2008 ARCHANGEL SAUVIGNON BLANC SPARKLING
$20 / Beamsville Bench / 89 points
Part of an adventurous new line of varietal bubblies by Angels Gate, this engaging sauvignon blanc successfully catches herbal sauvignon nuances among honeyed grapefruit, guava, and white flowers on the nose and palate. It’s light-bodied, frothy, and semi-sweet, but built on solid acidity. Chill well and serve with spicy canapés. www.angelsgatewinery.com
CASA-DEA 2008 DEA’S CUVEE
$15.95 / Prince Edward County / 85 points
This is the first sparkler from this Prince Edward County Winery. It is a tank-fermented, or cuve close, version made with pinot noir and chardonnay. It captures considerable complexity, balance, and depth for the money (reduced from $18.95 at time of review) and for the method used. There is some dried apple fruit and yeasty character, and something a bit papery and not quite fresh, as well. But this is only a nuance. It’s a decent value. Available for delivery in six-bottle cases. www.casadeaestates.com
FLAT ROCK 2007 RIDDLED SPARKLING
$24.95 / Twenty Mile Bench / 89 points
Owner Ed Madronich petitioned for a change in VQA regulation to permit the use of crown caps in Ontario bubbly. This one has an off-dry style. It’s a generous, open-hearted bubbly with quite ripe pear fruit, mild biscuit, and honey complexity, a slightly frothy effervescence, and very good length. Keep it well chilled. LCBO 187377.
HENRY OF PELHAM CUVÉE CATHARINE ROSÉ
$29.95 / Niagara Peninsula / 90 points
One of the classiest pink bubblies from Ontario shows a subtle nose of fresh raspberry, icing sugar, and fresh bread — altogether like a delicate raspberry pastry. It’s light- to mid-weight and vaguely sweet, with a fine, racy effervescence and a drier, bracing finish. Very good length. LCBO 4051.
HINTERLAND 2010 ANCESTRAL
$23.95 / Prince Edward County / 88 points
Jonas Newman and Vicki Samaras, the innovative sparkling wine specialists of PEC, have made a delicious, light (seven percent alcohol), off-dry pink, gamay fizz they call “The Babymaker.” Ancestral takes its more serious name from a process used in Bugey, a village along the Rhône River in eastern France. The fizz is created by capturing the CO2 of the primary fermentation (which occurs at very low temperature) to preserve the fruitiness. It’s pale pink and very bright, with a fresh nose of raspberry-redcurrant fruit jam. It’s medium-sweet yet delightfully fresh and pure, with a lingering redcurrant fruit. Great wine in bed — Valentine’s Day or not. www.hinterlandwine.com
HUFF ESTATE 2007 CUVÉE PETER F. HUFF
$39.95 / Prince Edward County / 90 points
The new vintage of the County’s pioneering bubbly (first vintage 2004) is being released in February. Previously chardonnay only, winemaker Frederic Picard has moved to a 60 percent chardonnay and 40 percent pinot noir blend, aged 36 months on the lees. It was a warmer vintage and the pinot acidity helps bolster this wine. Overall it’s quite gentle, with lightly toasty shortbread, vanilla, and dried apple nose. It’s light- to medium-bodied, with firm lemon-nutty acid grip and dry chalky finish. Stays well focused and hits excellent length. www.huffestates.com
HUFF ESTATE VIDALESCCO
$19.95 / Prince Edward County / 87 points
Made in the fruity spirit of Italian prosecco, this is a great use of vidal, which grows so well in PEC but still lacks cachet as a table wine. The nose has a sweet, gentle vanilla cream and pear character — not complex, but quite pretty. It’s light bodied (11.5 percent), off-dry, crisp, and effervescent. Given that this is simply a carbonated bubbly (not re-fermented in the bottle), the sparkling lingers nicely. The length is good, and there is streak of County minerality on the finish. www.huffestates.com
JACKSON-TRIGGS 2005 PROPRIETORS GRAND RESERVE METHODE CLASSIQUE
$22.95 / Niagara Peninsula / 87 points
This slim, taut young bubbly has a fairly complex, slightly bready, garlicky nose with bruised apple fruit. It’s light and tart with a sweet middle, then a touch bitter on the finish. Very good length, with a trace of icing sugar pastiness on the finish. Vintages 587691.
13TH STREET PREMIER CUVÉE BRUT SPARKLING WINE
$29.95 / Niagara Peninsula / 88 points
Niagara’s 13th Street Winery is becoming a sparkling wine specialist. Made from the traditional duo of chardonnay and pinot noir, this one has a mild, slightly yogurty, toasty nose with a touch of vanilla. It’s slender with a fine, frothy mousse, very good acidity, and vanilla cream cookie and lemon flavours on the finish. Quite stylish; with very good length. Vintages 113035.
$24.95 / Niagara Peninsula / 90 points
This consistently improving, classically made bubbly took back-to-back gold medals at the Canadian Wine Awards in 2009 and 2010. It is pale yellow in colour, with a gentle, well-integrated nose of dried apple fruit, nuts, and lemon. It’s dry with very good grip, yet also some gentleness without ever being too sweet or pasty. I have tasted it often, and enjoyed drinking it often as well — without fatigue. The underground bubbly storage cellar is among the largest in Canada and an impressive visit. LCBO 451641.