You may have read my People’s Choice sparkling column on Dec. 22, where I stepped back as a critic and let friends and neighbours judge their favourite bubblies from 41 different brands. Here, I cast my net wider, to bring you the best sparkling wines to ring in your New Year, chosen from more than 230 tasted in the past six months.
“Real” Champagne by name can only be made in that region of France. All others, by the French way of thinking, are pretenders, even if they are made in the identical fashion. My top choice of the year is Dom Pérignon Brut Rosé 2000 (#91777, $ 299.95, rating 94) with its delicate rose petals and apricot finesse.
However, more reasonably priced Champagnes have risen to the occasion recently. They are Perrier Jouet Grand Brut (#155341, $ 65.95, 92) with its refined biscuity aromas and toasty flavours and Louis Roederer Brut Premiere (#268771, $ 68.95, 92) with toasty brazil nut and roast apple richness.
Sparkling wines made outside the Champagne region are known as Cremants. They offer fine value, but you have to be choosey, as some are green and sour. Two decent ones are Chateau De Montgueret Cremant de Loire (#217760, $ 19.95, 88+) with roast apple and lime nuances and Ruhlmann Cremant D’Alsace Brut (#297853 $ 19.95, 88+) with ginger, apple and lime pertness.
Native appetisers: Croissants, brioche, brie, camembert, pâté de foie gras, napoleons.
Champagne-style bubblies began production in Spain back in 1872, at wineries that had closely studied the methods used by top French houses. They tend in general to be a bit lighter in style, with vibrant acidity and clean apple and citrus flavours. They often are real value leaders in the bubbly wars.
Segura Viudas Brut Reserva (#216960, $ 14.25, 89+) has that toasty-yeasty “real” Champagne style and often fools experts into thinking it is Champagne.
Its more elegant companion, in a fancy pewter-clad bottle, is the Brut Heredad (#558825, $ 29.95, 92) with toasty, very pure lemony-lime aromas and yeasty apple flavours. The bead of bubbles is very fine. It is not here all year round for reasons only the LCBO understands, despite that fact that it has a legion of Toronto fans.
Italians have their own bubbly to toast the milestones in life, Prosecco. It tends to be lighter, and often sweeter than global dry Brut bubblies. Its styles vary widely, but fans usually find the one they adore and will swear by it. Look for the fashion-designer style decorated bottles, of course!
My two favourites in recent tastings were Santa Margherita Prosecco (#687582, $ 17.95, 89+) with dry ginger and mellow sweet apple and pear stylings from the same producer who makes the very popular Pinot Grigio. My value choice is Astoria Prosecco (#593855, $ 13.95, 88+) with apple, ginger and marshmallow notes in a dry style.
Native apps: Biscotti, parmesano, gorgonzola, prosciutto ham, panzone.
This country has come of age with true Champagne-method sparkling wines. B.C. has some great ones, and Ontario has exploded with a wide range in the last two years. Recently, 18 Ontario bubblies were showcased under the auspices of the Wine Council of Ontario, and I know at least a dozen more exist.
Top choice from newly emerging wine region Prince Edward County is Huff Estate Cuvée Peter F. Huff 2008 (#198754, $ 39.95, 92) with classic toasty, yeasty lemon, lime, biscuits and strawberry. Tiny sparkling specialist Hinterland Winery in PEC has critics raving, but quantity is severely limited and at the winery only.
Niagara is a hotbed of sparklers. Traditional leader is 13th Street Winery, currently with Premier Cuvée 2008 ($ 34.95) and 2006 Grande Cuvée Blanc de Noirs ($ 59.95), but I have not tasted them recently. They are at the winery only, or restaurants. More widely available is Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Brut Rosé (#217505, $ 29.95, 90) with its fine bead, and lemony apple nuances.
B.C.’s sparklers are mostly absent, but one great one just arrived: Blue Mountain Brut (#206326, $ 27.95, 91) with vibrant nutty and toasty apple aromas and citrus flavours.
Native apps: Baking-powder biscuits, La Sauvagin, Balderson aged cheddar, chevre noir, peameal bacon, lemon tarts.
• California: Many French Champagne houses have sparkling wineries in California now. Maybe it’s the sunny, toasty climate! A classy Sonoma sparkler newly on shelves is Gloria Ferrer Va De Vi Ultra Cuvee (#200790, $ 26.95, 90) with roasted nuts and slightly sweet golden apple flavours.
• Australia: Wolf Blass Yellow Label Brut (#649996, $ 17.95. 88+) finished first in a recent Down Under tasting, with yellow apple, citrus and dry ginger delivery. More exciting is the new red bubbly, Katnook Founder’s Block Sparkling Shiraz (#53330, $ 24.95, 90+) with its intense blackberry, vanilla, black cherry and cassis flavours.
• Chile, Argentina: Not impressed with either land’s recent sparklers, but the fruit-infused Fresita (#56697, $ 13.95, 89) is pure fun, a fairly low alcohol Chilean sparkling wine deliciously tasting of fresh wild strawberries from Patagonia.