It's all about bubbles.
This is one of my favourite times of the year. It’s the time of year when people head to the LCBO to pick up their champagne and other sparkling wines. In the middle of the summer, I will remind people that we shouldn’t keep our bubbles bottled up just for a special occasion. This time of year, any get-together is that special occasion.
Sparkling wine is perfect for the holidays because it is versatile regardless of your situation. Thanks to high acidity, it pairs well with just about any food you can put on your plate. If you don’t have a meal in front of you, it’s hard to resist a good glass of bubbly on its own.
I have a suggestion for enjoying your champagne over the holidays. Many hardened snobs and sommeliers have been ringing the death knell of the traditional champagne flute. This glass is the traditional tall, narrow stem that serves to keep the wine from going flat. These people have been moving to serving in more traditional white wine glasses. The idea is that you will uncover some more of the nuanced flavours in the wine than you would in a narrow glass. Exposure to air is a wine’s best friend and worst enemy. The wine glasses most people have in their cupboard will probably be perfect for serving these wines. Let’s face it, most people are drinking these wines before they go flat anyways.
This is where I get a little nerdy on you. There are a few different ways you can make a carbonated wine. When you’re thinking of champagne, these wines are made by letting the wines become carbonated in their bottle. It’s an expensive and time-consuming way to make sparkling wine.
These also make up some of the finest and most sought-after wines in the world. Bottles made in this style will usually display on the label Traditional Method/Méthode Traditionelle if they are made outside of France. Ontario is known for growing great Pinot Noir and Chardonnay so it should be no surprise that we make great sparkling wine here.
These grapes are also used to make champagne. The fruit harvested for sparkling wine is usually among the first off the vines. You want your fruit to retain its acidity so the finished wine is bright and crisp. When it comes to calling a wine “champagne,” only bottles from the eponymous region in France can bear its name.
Everything you need to know about calling a wine “champagne” was explained in Wayne’s World. The great news is, exactly as Wayne explains when he compares sparkling wine to champagne, these wines made outside of France will never be as celebrated as the original. The world-class wines coming out of Ontario are a fraction of the price of bottles coming from France.
Another popular method for making sparkling wine is called charmat. This is how prosecco is made. Instead of having the wine go through its secondary fermentation in each individual bottle this is achieved in large pressurized tanks before putting into bottles. You can get great bubbly through this method and it doesn’t take as long to get the wine into a bottle.
For most traditional method producers it can take two to three years of the wine developing in the bottle before it’s ready. From start to finish you can get great charmat-style sparkling wine in less than a year. These bottles will often be labelled as Charmat or Methode Cuvé Close. I know what you’re thinking: does this make one better than the other? Not necessarily. If you’re building a wine collection, you may not want to hold a bottle of charmat sparkling for more than a year or you risk having it go flat. A good bottle of traditional method sparkling will age for four to six years easily. But at this time of year I don’t think anyone is buying a bottle of bubbles to put away for a rainy day.
Here’s a few bottles to consider for the holidays.
Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne – LCBO 462432 – $59.95 – ****+
This has become one of my favourite bottles of champagne to keep around the house. It’s a few dollars cheaper than the standard bottle with a yellow label that we are familiar with. I realize this is still more than most of us spend on a regular bottle of wine, but this is not a time of year when most of us are stingy. It’s bright and crisp with aromas of lime and rising dough. This is citrusy on the palate with a nice vanilla note that reveals itself on the mid-palate.
2012 Featherstone Joy – Vintages 310334 – $34.95 – ****+
This is one of the most underrated wines on the market. Don’t let the crown cap fool you—this is a serious champagne-style wine from Ontario. This is one of those bottles that I only open for my closest friends and family as I tend to get greedy with the good stuff. The nose is bright citrus with lemon and orange and hints of vanilla and freshly baked bread. On the palate, this brings a little more complexity with apples and peaches mixed in with the bright citrus notes. This finishes bright, crisp, and clean.
Chateau des Charmes Brut – LCBO 224766 – $23.95 – ****
This is my go-to sparkling wine year round. It’s made in the traditional method and you won’t find another bottle of this quality, made in this style, at this price on the market. The aromas are bready and vanilla with Granny Smith apple. The flavours are lime and Granny Smith apple, and this wine finishes with crisp acidity. At this price I hope you make a mental note to enjoy this outside of the holiday season. Opening a bottle of wine like this can be a celebration on its own.
2014 Fresh Ideas Sparkling Riesling – LCBO 441162 – $15.95 – ***½+
This is a charmat-method sparkling Riesling. The aromas are floral and honeyed. This does start a little sweet both on the nose and on the palate. If you’re throwing a big party, this is a great bottle you can stock up on for your celebration. Even with the slight sweetness on the palate this finishes with nice acidity, keeping the wine balanced. This is a perfect wine to pair with salty snack foods. I imagine this being a great match to spinach dip.
Joiy – LCBO 424036 – $19.95 (4 x 250ml) – ***½+
This wine is sold in a four-pack of 250-ml bottles. There is nothing pretentious about this box of wine. I never thought I would believe it, but it turns out that there is a good wine that comes in a box. This is off-dry with nice acidity. It is easy drinking and it’s perfectly portioned in these nice little bottles. The great thing about how this wine is presented is that you can easily bring a box or two to the cottage in warmer weather or drink out of the bottle at your new year’s party, or you can open a bottle and pour into glasses if you feel like being classy.