The world is full of snobs who think only the French can make a decent sparkling wine. There's no question that champagne is remarkable, but so is its price. For those of us who adore a glass of fizz before serious dining and drinking but are financially challenged in these subprime/post-bailout days, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate the quality of locally produced bubblies.
There's a big divide between sparkling wines made by fizz factories and those produced by artisans. With the former, regular wine is carbonated or vast volumes of it are bottled under pressure. With the latter, individual bottles are produced using the original methode champenoise, wherein each bottle undergoes its final fermentation in the very bottle from which you pour. The difference between the two types can be detected in the delicacy of the wine's flavour and the fineness of its bubbles. The best sparkling wines hail from the coolest wine regions of the world, which guarantees Canada a place on the podium. Here are my picks.
Sumac Ridge Estate Winery released its first bottle-fermented sparkling wine in 1989. Today, Steller's Jay ($27) is Canada’s bestselling vintage-dated bubbly. The winery, which is based in Summerland, B.C., also developed Canada’s first sparkling red, Sparkling Shiraz Brut ($30); it’s ideal for pairing with chocolate. For its 25th anniversary in 2006, Sumac Ridge unveiled Sparkling Pinnacle ($30), a premium, all-Pinot Noir wine and elegant sparkler that boasts a faint pink hue, creamy mousse and an abundance of rich flavours.
Sister winery See Ya Later Ranch, located on Hawthorne Mountain in the southern Okanagan Valley, produces only one sparkling wine, SYL Brut ($23), which makes a very fine dry aperitif. Nearby Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars makes wines that are available only in British Columbia and a few high-end Alberta restaurants, as production is small but of exceptional quality. First, look for Gold Label Brut ($24), a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, with delicate nuances of apple and lemon. Blue Mountain also makes vintage bubblies -- I recently tasted R.D. 2000 Blanc de Blanc Brut and R.D. 2001 Reserve Brut ($35 each) -- but these tend to sell out quickly.
In the central part of the valley, Summerhill Pyramid Winery offers the largest menu of sparkling wines, including Cipes Brut ($25), Pinot Noir Brut ($29), Blanc de Noir ($35) and Gabriel ($45), and the unique Cipes Ice ($45), which contains a small amount of icewine as a sweetener. These wines are produced from organically grown grapes and are aged in a pyramid-shape cellar, which owner Stephen Cipes believes gives them a unique character and smoothness.
In Ontario, Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery in the Niagara Peninsula has built a reputation for quality production with all of its brands. However, for me, their fine bubblies, like Cuvée Catharine Brut and Brut Rosé ($30 each), are without a doubt the flagship.
Nova Scotia's oldest winemaking family, the Josts, own Jost Vineyards, where the small production of sparkling wine is still carried out with modern carbonation. The flavourful signature grape, L'Acadie Blanc, is the basis for Prost ($18) -- the biggest and bestselling locally produced bubbly.