By Rick VanSickle
The bubbly explosion across this great country of ours continues to pop with more and more wineries entering the fray.
It’s a trend worth celebrating. And as we get ready to kick 2020 to the curb (good riddance!), it’s time to make sure you have a great bottle of Canadian sparkling wine at the ready to usher in hope and a return to our old lives.
Related: We wrap our best-of lists on Wednesday with our first-ever top Niagara spirits list from writer Stephen Beaumont.
From traditionally made to charmat and ever-evolving pét-nats, Canadian wineries craft their bubbles from a rainbow of varieties that grow best in the cool climate of our main wine growing regions and the results are stunning.
So, with New Year’s in mind, and a year ahead that offers more optimism than we have seen in our entire lives, here is a list of 33 of the best sparkling wines Wines In Niagara has tasted and reviewed this year. The wines are listed in alphabetical order with original scores. I’ve included all sparkling wines regardless if they are sold out and include mostly Niagara sparkling wines, with one from Prince Edward County (sorry we couldn’t get there more often this year) and a few from B.C. Conspicuous by their absence is anything from Nova Scotia (I need to rectify that soon). Happy New Year’s to you one and all!
Back 10 Cellars Smitten Sparkling 2018 ($25, 90 points) — This 100% Riesling bubbly, made in the charmat method, is the estate’s most popular wine, outselling all others 3-1, says Brooks. You can see why, it’s such a lovely sparkling wine with notes of pear, citrus, apple and lime on the nose. It pops on the palate with a brisk mousse followed by lovely pear, apple and lime in a slightly off-dry, but balanced, finish. Simple, fresh and lively.
Fielding Brut NV ($40, 93 points) — This consists mostly of the 2014 vintage with 50 months on the lees when disgorged. The blend is 65% Chardonnay and 35% Pinot Noir and it’s made in the traditional method with a tiny dosage of 6 g/l of RS. What a gorgeous sparkling at an attractive price point. It has a lovely toasty nose with lemon, brioche, crisp apple, cream and citrus zest with a persistent bead in the glass. It’s vibrant and fresh on the palate with underlying toasty/brioche notes, baked apple, a creamy texture, lemon tart and wonderful finesse and energy on the finish.
Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc de Blanc 2015 ($50, 94 points) — The 2014 vintage of this stunning Niagara bubbly was named the 2020 Ontario Wine Awards Sparkling Wine of the Year, and for good reason — it’s always one of the top vintage dated sparklers made in Ontario each and every year. The 2015 version is no different. The Chardonnay grapes are hand-picked from estate vineyards on the Short Hills Bench and the best of the best juice is isolated, partially barrel fermented and then aged for an incredible 54 months before post-fermentation prior to being disgorged. The nose is enthralling with brioche, lemon cream, pear, vanilla toast and citrus. It has elegant vigor on the palate with a generous, energetic mousse to go with a creamy texture, leesy/smoky notes, broad swaths of lemon, citrus, baked apple, bready/brioche notes and beautiful vitality and finesse through a long, long finish. Such a gorgeous wine that will improve in the cellar for 5+ years. Bravo!
Hidden Bench Blanc de Blanc Zero Dosage 2014 ($48, 93 points) — This is the second release of this traditionally-made 100% Chardonnay sparkler crafted at Hidden Bench, a sister wine to the Chard/Pinot sparkler called Natur (also zero dosage). The wine spends 7 months in oak barrels and 48 months on the lees in bottle before disgorging. It has a gorgeous nose of brioche, green apple, toasted vanilla, cream, lemon biscuit, flinty notes and almonds all flowing from a fine, persistent bubble in the glass. It’s texturally beautiful on the palate with razor sharp acidity that yields crisp citrus and apple that’s all framed by toasty and creamy notes leading to a finessed and long finish. Can cellar 5+ years.
Inniskillin Sparkling Vidal Icewine 2018 ($80 for 375 mL, 94 points) — This is such a hedonistic, luxurious wonder made by winemaker Bruce Nicholson. Making a sparkling icewine is tricky business and can only be accomplished via the charmat method where the secondary fermentation creates bubbles, which are captured under pressure in a sealed stainless tank. The bubbles act as a perfect foil for the 241 g/l of residual sugar from the icewine. This shows a subtle bubble in the glass and vivid notes of apricot jam, tropical fruits, peach compote, marmalade, lychee, wild honey and spice notes on the nose. The tiny bubbles of delight light up the palate followed by a gushing river of super-charged peach, apricot, pineapple, candied citrus, honeycomb and caramel that’s all concentrated and long on the finish but nicely held together by those lovely bubbles and acidity. What an exotic treat. Ready to drink now and not recommended for the cellar, if you can avoid, to better enjoy the bubbles.
Jackson-Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut Sparkling 2016 ($30, 93 points) — What a beautiful, nicely mature and elegant sparkling wine from J-T at a remarkably affordable price for a wine at this level. The grapes were hand picked from the estate vineyard and it is a blend of Chardonnay (49%), Pinot Noir (47%) and Pinot Meunier (4%) that was whole-bunch pressed, clarified and fermented in individual varietal batches then aged en tirage for three years. It has such a beguiling nose of lemon biscuit, green apple, brioche, creamy pear with a persistent bubble in the glass. It has mouth-filling flavours of apple, pear, quince, some tropical fruits and lemon tart with toasted vanilla, almonds, marzipan and a finessed, luxurious finish. There’s pure elegance here that’s reached a nice plateau and should continue for a few more years.
Kacaba Effervescence Sparkling 2019 ($32, 90 points) — This is a blend of 62.5% Pinot Noir and 37.5% Chardonnay and made in the charmat style. It has berry-laden nose of ripe cherries, raspberries, subtle citrus zing, cranberries and herbs. It has a soft and caressing bubble on the palate with sweet red berries that are ripe and juicy with a smidge of lemon zest and herbs. The sweetness would make this a lovely aperitif served with warm Brie cheese or a fresh berry tart.
Leaning Post Traditional Method Sparkling Zero Dosage 2017 ($45, 93 points) — This first traditionally made bubby from Ilya Senchuk is sourced from over 35-year-old vines on the Beamsville Bench. The base wine was barrel fermented and aged for seven months, spent 28 months on the lees and was disgorged in August and no dosage was added. Going forward, the sparkling at Leaning Post will be a Blanc de Blancs. It shows a light golden colour in the glass with an energetic mousse and has a nose of toasty/brioche notes, golden apple, lemon tart, pear, cream and a flinty mineral edge. It has a creamy, rich texture and persistent fine bubbles on the palate with lovely autolytic notes, apple and pear fruit, toasty vanilla and underlying citrus freshness that carries this through a vibrant and finessed finish. Such an accomplished first effort. Can cellar 5+ years.
Leaning Post Petillant Naturel 2019 ($25, 90 points) — This 100% Muscat Ottonel sourced from the Twenty Mile Bench was first introduced to Leaning Post by assistant winemaker Ryan de Witte under his First Fruit label. De Witte left Leaning Post to become the winemaker at Rust Wine Co. in B.C. but Senchuk liked the wine and has continued to make it in the same style. It’s a natural style sparkling wine with fermentation finished in the bottle and with lees left in the bottle. There is nothing added (including sulphur) and nothing taken away. The only difference is Senchuk inoculated the wine as opposed to wild fermentation. It pours a lovely cloudy light gold colour in the glass with a perfumed nose of peach, grapefruit, creamy/leesy notes, ginger, bright citrus and just the right amount of funk. It’s tangy, juicy and sparkly on the palate with grapefruit dominating and creamy peachy/orchard fruits chiming in. It’s bright, fresh and vibrant through the finish.
Malivoire Bisous Brut NV ($35, 93 points) — Now, this is a fascinating sparkling wine from the Beamsville Bench. The blend is 59% Chardonnay and 41% Pinot Noir with the grapes whole-cluster pressed and fermented separately in French oak. The wine is made in the traditional method and aged on the lees for 36 months. It’s a zero dosage bubble and has a bright and energetic nose of lemon, pear, crisp apple, biscuit and creamy notes with an elegant, persistent mousse. On the palate, look for fresh-squeezed lemon, brioche, rich pear, baked apple and vanilla cream in a rich, yet finessed, and vibrant style. Gorgeous bubbles.
Malivoire Che Bello Sparkling Wine NV ($20, 88 points) — The blend for this non-vintage charmat style everyday sparkler from Malivoire is Riesling, Seyval and Vidal. It shows a frisky bubble in the glass with aromas of citrus/grapefruit, lime and fuzzy peach. There is some sweetness on the palate with a range of citrus fruits, white peach and subtle tropical fruits. A crushable bubbly at an attractive price point.
Marynissen Charmed 2019 ($23, 88 points) — This is a blend of 60% Riesling, 30% Gewurztraminer and 10% Muscat made in the charmat style. It has a lemony, peachy, citrusy, appley nose with an energetic mousse. The bubbles pop on the palate with flavours of lime, apple, some herbs, white peach and a touch of sweetness. Delicious summer sipper with only 11% abv.
Ravine Charmat Rosé NV ($28, 90 points) — This sparkling rosé is made from 100% Cabernet Franc. The pretty pale pink colour in the glass and delicate mousse set the mood perfectly for the rainbow of red berry aromas in the glass. The palate shows a lovely creamy texture, vigorous bubbles, strawberries, cherries and a savoury note that’s all nicely balanced by the racy acidity.
Stratus Blanc de Blancs Méthode Traditionelle 2013 ($75, sold out in a day, 95 points) — Made from 100% Chardonnay and aged for six years on the lees (disgorged in January), this is all about elegance and finesse, and, my, what a gorgeous sparkling wine that shows a subtle yet persistent bubble in the glass and a fresh entry on the nose with lemon tart, perfumed apple notes, grapefruit, saline minerality, pretty floral accents and a lovely toastiness that builds in intensity as it breathes. The palate tingles from the finesse and freshness and a more generous mousse evolves into an elegant creamy texture showing green apple, citrus and pear with subtle biscuit notes, minerals and an energetic and lavishly finessed flare on the finish. I sense this will just keep getting better and better if you can save a bottle or two. It has a completely dry but not too austere profile that will gain some richness and fat in the bottle. Would love to see this wine in five years, but certainly attractive right now. As mentioned, only 140 six packs available.
Stratus Brut Nature 2013 ($600 for a set that included five Brut Natures, each with its own Canadian artist label, and one bottle of the Blanc de Blancs, sold out, 94 points) — The same wine as above, but this is bottled with the lees and has zero dosage. Winemaker JL Groux feels this will age longer than the Blanc de Blancs and keep gaining complexity as it sits on the lees. Essentially, it’s already six years on the lees and gains another year of lees aging annually — the ultimate sparkling do-it-yourselfer! The extra year of lees aging has brought the fruit along a bit on the nose with a more overt nose of golden apple, a mélange of citrus fruits, saline minerality, toasted almonds and creamy notes. Such elegance, austerity, vitality and freshness on the palate with citrus, apple, brioche/leesy notes, a creamy texture yet dry and finessed with a persistent bead in the glass. Such length and a subtle chalky accent on the finish. Another beauty.
Tawse Laundry Vineyard Blanc de Noir Spark 2013 ($35, 93 points) — This traditionally made 100% Pinot Noir from the Laundry Vineyard is aged for 6 years on the lees. It has quite an energetic mouse on opening with lovely lemon, brioche, pear, apple, toasted hazelnuts and biscuit on the nose. It’s crisp and fresh on the palate with a gorgeous creamy texture to complement the pear, apple and citrus fruits with toasted almonds, vanilla, brioche and lifted finesse on the vibrant finish. Just a gorgeously aged sparkler.
Thirty Bench Sparkling Riesling NV ($39, 89 points) — This is a traditionally-made, non vintage sparkler that’s back sweetened slightly from a dosage of Steel Post Riesling. Soft, persistent bubbles lead to an expressive nose of green apple, lime, grapefruit and toasty/leesy/mineral accents. All that citrus, apple and peach fruit on the palate is lifted by electrified acidity and leads to a fresh and vibrant finish.
Trius Brut Rosé Sparkling NV ($30, 92 points) — The blend for this rosé brut (only 4 g/l of residual sugar) is Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gamay (primarily for colour), with 18 months resting on the lees, and shows a pretty light pink hue in the glass. The nose is fresh and inviting with notes of crushed red berries, smoky/yeasty notes, cassis and biscuit. It’s lively on the palate with raspberries, strawberries and subtle cassis with bright acidity through the finish that keeps it fresh and popping.
Trius Showcase Brut Nature NV ($55, 93 points) — “My view of sparkling wines is the drier the better,” says winemaker Craig McDonald. “I want it to be finessed and aged in some way.” He achieves that in spades with this “Showcase” sparkling that spends five years on the lees with zero dosage (no sugar added) leaving just 1 g/l of sweetness. The blend is Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier with a complex, interesting nose of pear, profound saline minerality, apple peel, yeasty/flinty notes and lemon zest. It’s lively and fresh on the palate with a vigorous mousse and flavours of pear, brioche, flint, citrus, wonderful texture and verve that all lead to a bright, finessed finish. This is a beautiful wine that can age 10+ years.
2027 Cellars Blanc de Blancs Wismer Vineyard — Fox Croft Block 2016 ($40, 93 points) — The Chardonnay for this traditionally made sparkler is sourced from the Wismer Vineyard — Fox Croft Block. It spent three years on the lees, and, as per nearly every sparkling wine winemaker Kevin Panagapka has made, there is zero dosage (no sugar added). The nose is expressive with toasty brioche notes, salinity, pear, sharp apple and rousing lemony/citrus notes that pours an elegant mousse in the glass. It explodes on the palate with stony/saline minerality, green apple and quince, lovely toasty/brioche, lemon zest, length through the finish and pure finesse and energy. This is gorgeous right now but still has room to gain fat with some bottle age and round out the searing acidity.
Two Sisters Blanc de Franc 2017 ($62, 93 points) — No one else (that I know of) is making a traditionally made sparkling wine from 100% Cabernet Franc in Ontario. I do not know why because this is such a wonderfully expressive style of sparkling wine. It was disgorged in December after 522 days on the lees with zero dosage. There will be subsequent disgorgements and triage will be noted on the back of label. The nose is all about toasty brioche, lemon biscuit, creamy pear, baked apple and zesty citrus with an elegant, persistent mousse. It really is a delight on the palate with rich apple, tangy citrus, pear and biscuit with depth, vigor and some weight that will round out with a bit of time in the cellar. In all, a crisp, perfectly dry sparkler in a unique style. Wonderful wine. I also had a preview of the first 100% Chardonnay sparkler from winemaker Adam Pearce, admittedly years away from reaching consumers, but showing some wonderful flavours of bright apple, grapefruit and subtle peach. Obivously needs years of sitting on its lees to pick up complexity and personality, but nice to a sister for the Blanc de Franc.
Vineland Estates Reserve Pinot Meunier Sparkling 2019 ($30, 92 points) — We don’t see a lot of Pinot Meunier, one of three traditional grapes used in Champagne, being made into a single-variety wine here in Niagara, but winemaker Brian Schmidt has always been a champion of this grape — both still and bubbled. It shows a pale salmon colour in the glass with a pretty and enticing nose of cherries, field raspberries and lovely creamy/toasty notes. It has a vigorous and lively mousse on the palate with racy acidity that brightens the red berries and citrus notes from start to finish. It has such vibrancy and verve on the finish. Uplifting and energetic bubbly.
Vineland Estate Frienzy Sparkling Rosé 2019 ($20, 90 points) — The blend for this delightful sparkling rosé is 59% Cabernet Franc and 41% Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a charmat style bubbly that pours a pale salmon colour in the glass with a lively effervescent mouse and aromas of fresh-picked raspberries, black cherries and black currants. It has a touch of sweetness on the palate but nicely balanced by the juicy acidity and ripe berries that shine though a vibrant finish. At only 11% abv, this is a guilt-free summer staple perfect for the porch, pool, beach or cottage.
Westcott Brilliant 2013 ($40, sold out) — Westcott is gaining quite a reputation for its sparkling program. Both the Brilliant and Brilliant Rosé 2018 ($33) quickly sold out — and for good reason; they are simply delicious. Both are traditionally made with Brilliant being a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, hand riddled, hand disgorged and on the lees for 75 months. The 2017 version of this sparkler was to be released after Christmas this year. The ’13 Brilliant has such a glorious nose of lemon tart, crisp apple, biscuit and brioche with a vigorous mousse. There’s freshness and an elegant attack of bubbles on the palate with bready/yeasty/brioche notes to go with pear, apple and citrus on a vibrant and long finish. The Rosé 2018 shows an exciting range of red berries, an energetic mousse, toasty/biscuit notes and a finessed finish.
One from Prince Edward County
Rosehall Run Pét-Nat 2019 ($32 and $69 in magnum, 91 points) — Rosehall Run’s first foray into the world of pét-nats is a celebration of blended estate County fruit that I can safely say has never been attempted anywhere on this great Earth of ours. Winemaker Dan Sullivan looked to his experimental plantings in the estate vineyard and took Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Gamay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Muscat Ottonel and Tempranillo to craft this one of a kind sparkler. He wasn’t done yet — a top up of sparkling Chardonnay, or pre-bottling triage, was used to up the bubble potential. It shows a bright magenta colour in the glass with a soft effervescence to go with aromas of blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and earthy/brambly notes and just a subtle hint of reduction. It’s bright and dry on the palate with defined red berries, earth, black cherries, searing acidity and remarkably clean through the finish.
CederCreek Home Block Sparkling Brut NV ($25, 89 points) — This tasty sparkler is from single-vineyard estate Muscat Ottonel grapes and made in an innovative variation of the pét-nat method. It has a unique, vivacious nose of lime, grapefruit, pineapple and nectarine that’s fresh and inviting. It’s peppy on the palate with honeyed tropical fruits, zesty citrus and all nicely balanced on the finish. A fun wine for porch sipping that comes in an attractive package.
40 Knots Soleil Rosé 2018 ($37, 92 points) — This bubbly blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is made in the traditional method and has an attractive nose of fresh-picked raspberries, strawberries, bramble, herbs and underlying lemon, citrus and biscuit notes. It has an energetic bead of bubbles in the glass with a basket of red berries, brioche, vibrancy and lemon accents of the fresh finish. Just a hint of sweetness, but nicely balanced.
Free Form Blanc de Noir 2017 ($40, 93 points) — This Pinot Noir sparkler was whole bunch pressed to concrete tank for natural fermentation. In early January 2018 bottles were filled for secondary fermentation and aged sur lie. After 20 months the wine was disgorged and finished with zero dosage. It has a nose of bright lemon, green apple and pear with lovely creamy/toasty/brioche and mineral notes. The mousse is delicate and persistent on the palate with apple, lemon cream, melba toast, a hint of baked bread, minerals and a tangy/zesty finish. A complex and perfectly dry, finessed bubbly that will gain some fat with cellaring.
Hester Creek Ti Amo 2019 ($20, 88 points) — This is Hester Creek’s inaugural frizzante-style sparkler made with Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and a touch of Semillon. It shows a soft bubble in the glass with a nose of citrus, pear, apple, lychee and pear. It’s more lively on the palate with layers of flavour and a perky finish. Fun bubbly for every day celebrations.
Sperling Speritz Pet Nat 2019 ($30, 89 points) — This unique pétillant naturel (“natural sparkling”) wine is made from Perle of Csaba grapes planted at the estate in 1934. It’s fermented in bottle, has naturally low alcohol, no added sulphites, no fining, no filtration, wild fermentation and bottled with lees. It’s vegan, gluten free and as natural a wine as you will find. It pours with a light effervescence in the glass with a nose of peach, apricot, apple, biscuit, leesy accents and poached pear. It has tangy acidity on the palate with notes of fuzzy peach, lemon zest, nectarine and a minerally, lifted finish.
Township 7 Seven Stars Vega 2018 ($33, 90 points) — This is the inaugural vintage of this traditionally made sparkler from 100% Viognier sourced from the Fool’s Gold Vineyard in Oliver. It shows a vigorous mousse in the glass with lovely notes of pear, bright apple, citrus, lemon cream, grapefruit and toasty/yeasty undertones. It’s generous on the palate with a healthy bubble and revealing a fleshier, rounder profile with peach, apricot, apple, pear and toasty/creamy notes that lead to lively finish.
Township 7 Seven Stars Equinox 2016 ($46, 93 points) — This 100% traditionally made, 100% Pinot Noir sparkling Brut Rosé, sourced from the organic/biodynamic Sperling Vineyard in West Kelowna, spends 29 months en tirage. What a beauty! It shows a light amber colour in the glass with a tiny persistent bead in the glass. The nose reveals lovely fresh strawberries, raspberries, biscuit, crisp apple and brioche/leesy notes. The bubbles are elegant and subtle on the palate while the flavours of red berries, fresh cream, apple, quince and toasty/bready notes are seamless and balanced and all lead to a finessed and long finish. An elegant offering for the best moments in your life.
Township 7 Seven Stars “Polaris” 2017 ($36, 90 points) — A traditionally made sparkler made from 100% Chardonnay. The nose is fresh with green apple, lemon and a yeasty bread note. Mouthfeel is generous and round on the palate with flavours of tart apple and lemon backed up with a lees/yeast background. A great match for shellfish or creamy sauces. (Michael Lowe review)