By Rick VanSickle
One thing is perfectly clear — Ontario winemakers make some pretty awesome sparkling wines.
From traditionally made to the charmat method, wineries craft their bubbles from a rainbow of varieties that grow best in the cool climate of Ontario and the results are stunning. Bubbly is one of the fastest growing categories of wine styles in Niagara and Prince Edward County and winemakers are getting better and better finding their footing with fizz, thanks in part to the expertise and collaborative effort from Brock CCOVI’s Fizz Club led by senior scientist Belinda Kemp (below).
We’ve seen an explosion of bubbles in recent years and consumers are lapping them up. As the Fizz Club grows in popularity, so do fizz-loving consumers. Nearly 100 local wineries are now producing sparkling wines and sales are surging with overall sales of VQA sparkling up 13 per cent year-over-year (in 2018). So, with the holidays and New Year’s upon us, here’s our Sweet 16 list of some of the best bubbles we tasted in Ontario in the past year. The wines are listed in alphabetical order with original scores. Happy hunting!
The Sweet 16 Bubbles
Cuddy By Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling NV ($26, 89 points)— Made in the traditional method with 14 g/l of RS. Lovely understated aromas of pear, apple, biscuit, melon and lime. It has a vigorous bead in the glass and on the palate with lime, grapefruit and apple flavours in a fresh, approachable style.
Flat Rock Riddled Sparkling 2017 ($35, 89 points) – A nice sparkler made with 61% Pinot Noir and 39% Chardonnay. It pours with a vigorous, frothy mousse leaving very fine, persistent bubbles in the glass. Look for notes of buttery brioche, lemon, apple and pear. It’s crisp on the palate with apple and lemon zest balanced by a slightly creamy texture and clean finish. (Mike Lowe review)
Good Earth Aria Sparkling Rosé NV ($29, 90 points) — This 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay is primarily from the 2017 vintage. “Everybody needs a bubbly,” says owner Nicolette Novak. “It’s a good way to start a party.” It shows a light blush colour in the glass with a fine mousse and aromas of pretty red berries, herbs, citrus zing and freshness. The cherries rock on the palate with raspberries, savoury herb notes and a bright, crisp finish. Lovely sip.
Honsberger Brut NV ($32, 90 points) — The first sparkling made at the estate is 100% Riesling made in the traditional method and finished with just 3 g/l of residual sugar. A fresh and fragrant nose of limey citrus, green apple, minerals and subtle biscuit/toasty notes. It has pop on the palate with gorgeous mineral-laden lime, crisp apple and toasty notes with such uplifting freshness and finesse on the finish.
Huff Estates Cuvée Peter F. Huff 2016, Prince Edward County ($40, 92 points) — A 100% blanc de blancs (Chardonnay) sparkler that’s traditionally made with 24 months on the lees and a 9.2 dosage. Such beautiful and flinty PEC minerality and salinity on the nose with citrus, green apple, smoke, brioche and toasty notes. On the palate look for a gentle, persistent mousse with lovely leesy/bready notes then grapefruit, flint, apple, touch of honey and an electric, finessed finish. Can age this a few years to soften the racy acidity or enjoy now for a tingly fresh example of minerally-driven bubbles.
Huff Estates Cuvée Janine Sparkling Rosé 2016, Prince Edward County ($30, 91 points) — The bubbles program at Huff is on point. This blend of 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay from estate grapes spends 20 months on the lees and gets a 22 g/L dosage. It has a vigorous mousse with persistent bubbles and an attractive nose of fresh red berries, brioche, minerals and touch of citrus. It pops on the palate with lovely cherries, raspberries and rhubarb flavours to go with biscuit, minerals and leesy/baked bread notes on a crisp, balanced finish.
Kew Vineyard Organic Riesling Sparkling 2017 ($20, 88 points) — “I’ve got so much Riesling I don’t know what to do with it … so, OK, I’ll make a sparkling Riesling,” said winemaker Philip Dowell, half jokingly, when I tasted it with him. I love the nose on this sparkler, so much lime, grapefruit, apple and tangerine with plenty of sparkle in the glass. It’s quite fresh and true to the varietal in the mouth with a perky, vibrant finish.
Niagara College Teaching Winery Balance Blanc de Blanc 2014 ($27, 91 points) — A 100% Chardonnay traditionally made sparkler from estate grapes that spent 36 months on the lees before disgorging. Highly perfumed on the nose with notes of pear, green apple, grapefruit and toasty vanilla notes. It’s vibrant with a vigorous mousse and lovely texture that shines a light on the apple/citrus and pear fruits with well-integrated biscuit and vanilla accents. Such a racy and zesty finish. Delicious!
Queenston Mile Vineyard Brut Blanc de Noirs 2015 ($50, 92 points) — A 100% Pinot Noir sparkler that was whole bunch pressed from estate fruit and left on the lees for 26 months before disgorging. Very low dosage. Pretty cranberry colour in the glass with a nose of red berries, brioche, vanilla toast and citrus accents. A fairly energetic mousse is followed by tangy citrus, subtle raspberries, cherries and cranberries with biscuit and toasty notes through a long, vibrant finish. Quite lovely.
Redstone Pinot Noir Sparkling Rosé 2017 ($30, winery, 90 points) — A vibrant salmon pink colour in the glass, this second edition of the Redstone Sparkling Rosé is cafted in the traditional method from 100% Limestone Vineyard Pinot Noir, the juice went through a slow and cool fermentation after 3 days of skin contact then spent 12 months on the lees. It shows enticing raspberries, strawberries, red currants and lime-citrus notes on the nose. It has a vigorous mousse on the palate with bright and lively red fruits, biscuit, watermelon and currants with citrus zest on the finessed finish.
Strewn Sparkler NV ($24, 88 points) — This is Strewn’s second sparkling wine, a 100% Sauvignon Blanc made in the charmat method. It shows a subtle bead in the glass with a nose of tropical fruits, citrus and light herbaceous notes. It pops on the palate with juicy fruits and vibrantly fresh to the last drop.
Tawse Spark 2016 ($26, winery, 89 points) – This is a bright, easy-going sparkler from a blend of 44% Pinot Gris, 31% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay with an emphasis on the citrus. Look for candied lemon and lime, a faint pear note with a delicate floral character. The bubbles persist nicely making it a refreshing spring/summer sipper. (Michael Lowe review)
13th Street Grand Cuvée Blanc de Noir Sparkling 2013 ($60, 94 points) — Made from 100% Pinot Noir from the Whitty Vineyard, this top dog sparkler from JP Colas follows in the footsteps of the last time it was made from the 2007 vintage. It was on the lees for a full 60 months, did not go through malo and there was no sugar back added to dosage. Just wow! Such a delicate mousse with a beautiful yet complex nose of poached pear, mineral, citrus, lemon curd, brioche, bready/yeasty notes and a subtle, interesting oxidative note. It’s dry and austere on the palate with persistent tiny bead of bubbles and a rich, textured feel to go with a mélange of berries, creamy pear, baked apple, earth and smoky notes that all linger on a finessed palate and graceful finish.
13th Street Gamay Blanc de Noir 2017 ($35, 93 points) — For my money, one of the best new sparkling wines in Niagara. It’s 100% Gamay from the estate’s Whitty Vineyard, made in the traditional style with zero dosage, 12 months on the lees, and bottled with only 2 g/l of RS. It erupts on the palate with a rainbow of black cherries, robust plums, wild raspberries and roasted almonds amid a riot of bubbles that pop in the glass. It’s seductively rich with a creamy/fleshy feel until the acidity kicks in and drives the boat in a more linear direction. The smoky red berries are bright and cheerful and meld effortlessly with the minerals, toasted almonds and plums. There is plenty of pop on the palate all the way through the finish. Just a wonderful and very different sparkler you need to try.
2027 Cellars Edgerock Vineyard Brut Rosé 2016 ($29, 92 points) — Winemaker/2027 owner Kevin Panagapka sources the 100% Pinot Noir fruit from the Edgerock Vineyard, which is planted to 26 acres of reclaimed vineyards from a quarry developed near the brow of the Niagara Escarpment, south of Vineland. The Twenty Mile Bench vineyard is starting to make a name for itself because of Panagapka and other winemakers who source the expressive fruit from the property. This sparkler, like all 2027 bubbles, is made in a perfectly bone-dry (zero dosage) style and spent 30 months on the lees. “The vineyard is the key,” says Panagapka. “The winemaking is simple with no tricks and made the same way as all the wines I have made to date. It’s really about the viticulture, not the winemaking,” he adds, rather modestly. It shows a pale salmon colour in the glass with a persistent and tiny bead. The first impression is a beautiful stony minerality followed by fresh raspberry, cran-cherry, biscuit and lime zest. The elegant and delicate bubbles on the palate highlight a range of fresh red berries, beautiful texture, a toasty/biscuity note and wonderful verve and finesse on the finish. A knockout bubble from the solid 2027 Cellars portfolio.
Two Sisters Blanc de Franc 2016 ($62, 93 points) — Another Niagara sparkling wine that’s going to help lift the reputation of Ontario as a powerhouse bubbly mecca. Winemaker Adam Pearce uses 100% estate Cabernet Franc, whole-cluster pressed and crafts this sparkler in the traditional method. It spends 15 months on the lees with zero dosage. It shows a crystal clear colour in the glass with a vigorous, exciting mousse. It has a gorgeous nose of brioche, baked apple, creamy pear notes and zesty citrus that all jumps from the glass. It’s toasty and creamy on the palate with fresh and crisp orchard fruits in a perfectly dry style. Such finesse and energy with this sparkler, that will improve with age and gains some weight.