Sparklers, Whites and Sweeties
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato
I’m climbing volcanoes in Italy this week so my boots will be covered in tephra and assorted pyroclasts by the time this reaches your inbox. But David, Sara and I have managed to assemble a smart list of sparkling wine recommendations from the December 6th VINTAGES release – the theme of the week – along with a handful other white and sweet wine picks for your consideration. And some highly recommended Canadian wines have risen to the top as well. We will be following up with a more comprehensive Fizz Report on sparkling wines currently available in Ontario on December 23rd, just in time for the holidays and of course New Year’s Eve. We’ll be sifting through dozens of bubblies to find the sharpest buys at all prices, including a wide range of grower champagnes as well as local sparkling.
In Part Two, next week David and Sara will highlight the best reds of the December 6th release.
Benjamin Bridge 2009 Reserve Brut Sparkling, Nova Scotia ($47.95)
David Lawrason – Most Canadians are still in disbelief that Nova Scotia can make bubbly to rival Champagne in terms of quality and price. I visited the pastoral Gaspereau Valley in October and spent two hours tasting with owner Gerry McConnell, consultant Peter Gamble and winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers. I encountered deep seated passion, patience and belief in the future of Nova Scotia sparkling. In fact BB will be doubling its vineyard acreage in the next few years. I find Nova Scotia bubbly to be lighter in body than many other traditional method sparklers, but they possess real finesse and class.
John Szabo – Since launching with the 2002 vintage, Benjamin Bridge has significantly raised the bar on Canadian sparkling. And although this 2009 is less evolved than earlier ‘reserve’ releases, it’s evidently made with the care and very low yields necessary to make top-notch wine in Nova Scotia (or anywhere else). Expect a lean, essentially dry and crisp, fruity wine, with serious vinosity on the palate.
Sara d’Amato – Benjamin Bridge continues to fool sommeliers and critics alike when tasted blind for top end, much pricier vintage Champagnes. In an elegant package and full of the potential to surprise and wow – here is a great option for festive gatherings.
Moët & Chandon 2004 Grand Vintage Brut Champagne, France ($84.95)
John Szabo – Fully mature at this point, Moët’s 2004 Grand Vintage is a particularly dry (just 5 grams of dosage) and toasty blend of about equal parts of champagnes three main varieties. It’s pricy to be sure, but quality is definitely on par.
Moët & Chandon 2004 Grand Vintage Brut Rosé Champagne, France ($91.95)
Sara d’Amato – The 2004 growing season in Champagne was long and drawn out and delivered an abundance of healthy, good quality fruit – ideal conditions for a standout vintage. This Grand Vintage Brut Rose is surprisingly youthful, concentrated and compelling with happy funk, perky fruit and elegant bubbles.
Château De Bligny Blanc De Blancs Champagne, France ($49.95)
John Szabo – A particularly vinous grower champagne from the Rapeneau family, the second largest owners of vineyards in the region, made from pinot noir and chardonnay grown in the Côtes des Bars in the southern end of champagne. The southern richness shows through in spades.
Sara d’Amato – With elegance, power and a great deal of complexity, this non-vintage grower Champagne is a shockingly good value. The secret to the wine’s potency is the location of the estate’s vineyard which allows for a greater degree of ripeness at harvest than is the norm.
Lallier Rosé Champagne, France ($56.95)
John Szabo – A pinot noir based wine sourced from Lallier’s home village of Aÿ in the Montagne de Reims, as well as Bouzy and Avize (all grand cru-rated villages) with a splash of chardonnay. I like the spicy ginger-tinged profile, powerful but finessed, suitable for the apéro hour or at the table with a wide range of seafood, shellfish, or white meat.
Perrier Jouet 2006 La Belle Epoque Champagne, France, $189.95
Sara d’Amato – I admit a weakness for La Belle Epoque which characteristically exudes sophistication, elegance, an ethereal texture and nuanced flavours and all in the most lovely packaging of any Champagne. The airy, gilded, floral, Art Nouveau bottle imagery created in 1902 symbolically illustrates the house’s very consistent style. The 2006 is an exceptional vintage and exhibits charm, poise, harmonious composure and impressive persistence on the palate.
Josef Chromy 2008 Sparkling Méthode Traditionnelle, Tasmania, Australia ($29.95)
John Szabo – Tasmania is quickly making an international reputation for fine sparkling wine (and more – watch this short video filmed last fall in Tassie including commentary from Bill Zacharkiw and I on the industry), and Chromy makes a premium version at an attractive price. The style is brisk and fresh, full of green apple and citrus, well suited for those who like it very dry, apéritif style.
Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut Cava, Spain ($19.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a keenly priced, satisfying bubbly, albeit not exactly traditional in style – there’s significant chardonnay in the blend, but all the more widely appealing for it. Serve chilled if you prefer it more crisp, or allow to warm a few degrees for added richness.
Vineland Estates 2012 Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling, Niagara Peninsula Canada ($19.95)
John Szabo – A highly reliable Ontario riesling from some of the province’s oldest riesling vines planted in the late 1970s. Serious flavour sits on a just 9% alcohol frame.
David Lawrason – This is not only among the best Canadian wines on this release, it is one of my top scoring whites period. The St. Urban Vineyard at Vineland has real heritage, being among the very first riesling sites in Niagara, now more than 35 years old.
Southbrook Triomphe 2013 Chardonnay, Niagara-on-the-Lake ($22.95)
David Lawrason – This is well-structured yet refined and tender organically grown wine. I like the weaving of the complex flavours as well, and it’s fairly priced. I continue to be impressed by Ontario’s 2013 whites.
Cave Spring 2012 Estate Chardonnay, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – The estate-grown vines used to create this chardonnay are low yielding at between 29-35 years of age. The wine’s captivating floral aromas are in part due to the 18% chardonnay musqué in the blend. Powerful, elegant and certainly exhibiting above average complexity for the price – this highly appealing chardonnay will certainly do the job of impressing relatives from afar over the holidays.
Pieropan 2013 Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – This youthful Soave Classico delivers an unexpected explosion of fruit at first sip. Not only impactful, it also offers a delightful degree of complexity from organically farmed, estate vineyards.
Tselepos 2013 Classic Moschofilero, Mantinia, Greece ($17.95)
John Szabo – The best Mantinia I’ve tasted from regional leader Yiannis Tselepos, with an almost muscat-like perfume, and uncommonly rich, mouth filing palate (this has 13% alcohol declared, a good 1% higher than the regional average). Think serious, dry pinot gris and you’re in the right style camp.
Dr. Bürklin-Wolf 2012 Estate Trocken Riesling, Pfalz, Germany ($19.95)
John Szabo – Bürklin-Wolf really seems to have turned the corner after they converting to biodynamic farming, as evinced by this precise, well-chiselled example, with a pitch-perfect equilibrium of acids and residual sugar. Drinking now, but better in 1-3 years.
Thierry Delaunay 2013 Sauvignon Blanc Touraine, Loire, France($14.95)
David Lawrason – Touraine sauvignons are usually bright, shiny and simple with lip-smacking granny smith apple. This one is notable for backing extra depth and complexity, getting close to Sancerre stylistically but of course being up to $10 less
Medium-Sweet & Sweet
Château Suduiraut 2010, Sauternes, 1er Cru Classé, Bordeaux, France ($62.85)
John Szabo – A brilliant Sauternes, full stop. This would make an extravagant holiday treat. Best 2014-2028.
David Lawrason – I have been pouring fine Sauternes all year in my Fine Vintage Ltd. WSET classes. Again and again students who have never laid lips on Bordeaux’ famous botrytis-affected semillons are shocked at how much they love it. And this bottling steps it up even more; earning one of my highest ratings of the year.
Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben 2012 Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany ($29.95)
John Szabo – A medium-sweet wine in which significant residual sugar is pitched against serious acids, with salty-mineral flavours and genuine vibration, from one of the Würzgarten vineyard’s top interpreters. Best 2014-2028.
Puklus Pincészet 2008 Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos, Tokaj-Hegyalja Hungary ($35.95)
John Szabo – An accurate, old school aszú from a great vintage, complete with orange blossom, honey, green tea, Chinese five-spice and dried apricot-botrytis flavours. The palate is sweet but balanced in the way that tokaji does so well. Best 2014-2020.
That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.
John Szabo MS
From VINTAGES Dec 6th: