By Rick VanSickle
With the LCBO clearly focused on Champagne and bubbles from across the globe in the Nov. 19 Vintages release, we’re breaking out our Ontario Sparkling Wine report a bit early this year.
Note, also in this report: We have our Niagara wine recommendations from the Nov. 19 Vintages release, including wines from Hidden Bench, two wines from Le Clos Jordanne, and an icewine from Inniskillin.
Thirsty consumers tend to gobble up all the tiny bubbles on LCBO shelves well before New Year’s, so it’s best to have a plan to stock your holiday wine cellar with sparkling wines before all that’s left are magnums of Baby Duck at $12 a bottle. The choice is clear: You can party like it’s 1971 (the year Baby Duck was born) or you can up your game significantly and shop early either at the upcoming Vintages release, the many choices now on LCBO shelves, or head to your favourite winery and stock up (this is the best option as it gives local wineries a greater bang for your buck).
There are two key methods for making sparkling wine in Ontario, according to Wine Country Ontario, traditional method and charmat (also known as cuve close). But all sparkling wines are bottled under pressure which give the finished wine their characteristic bubbles.
This method of crafting sparkling wine is perhaps the most celebrated, crafting a wine with delicate bubbles, bright acidity, and often bread-like or fine brioche aromas. The key factor in this method is that the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle, where sugar and yeast are added to the still wine to create CO2, producing fine bubbles. It is often aged in the bottle for several years to create complexity and depth.
In this method, the secondary fermentation takes place in large steel tanks, where sugar and yeast are added to the still wine. The CO2 that is produced from this reaction is released into the tank, creating the bubbles before the wine is bottled. This method produces sparkling wines that are fresh, vibrant and fruit forward.
Pét-nat or méthode ancestrale, is a method of sparkling wine production that is unlike the traditional method, in which sugar and yeast are added to the bottle to begin secondary fermentation. Pét-nat is created by bottling partially fermented wine. The first and only fermentation occurs in bottle and traps the CO2, creating pét-nat’s bubbles, which typically have a light and fizzy mouthfeel. These wines are sometimes cloudy, as they are often unfiltered. They are also lower in alcohol and sweeter, due to naturally unfermented sugars.
Ontario bubbles gaining traction
Ontario has been a draw for serious sparkling winemakers as far back as 1974 when the Podamer Champagne Company first made Chardonnay-based traditional method wines, according to WCO. But the market for serious sparkling did not develop until the late 1990s and early 2000s when Niagara wineries like 13th Street, Henry of Pelham, Trius, and Cave Spring Cellars equipped themselves to make sparkling that was fermented and aged in bottle. By the 2004 vintage, Huff Estates in Prince Edward County, led by French-trained winemaker Frédéric Picard, had realized the potential of the area’s even cooler climate and limestone soils. They were followed quickly by Hinterland, which focuses on sparkling winemaking in Prince Edward County. As the thirst for high-quality sparkling expands, so does its production, with over 100 wineries in Ontario now making bubbly.
We’ve gathered up a selection of 26 bubbly wines from Ontario, all from Niagara and Prince Edward County, to help you navigate the local choices out there. Our recommendations run the gamut from traditionally made, to charmat, natural and everything in between. Our picks are culled from reviews published on Wines in Niagara in 2022 plus a few new wines tasted recently. If price is your jam, we have a selection of value bubbles, and even a couple of “out there” styles. We can’t guarantee that all these wines are still available, but there is a lot to choose from.
We will start with a beauty leading the Ontario contingent coming to Vintages Nov. 19, followed by a couple of new bubbles not previously reviewed. The rest of our recommendations are broken down by price (over $35, under $35) and the natural sparkling wines. All the wine are presented in alphabetical order.
First up …
A vertical of Carte Blanche
I recall when this was first released into the world many years ago. It was (to my knowledge) the first sparkling wine made in Ontario that spent 54 months on its lees. It was radical at the time and thrilling to taste such a beautiful sparkling wine from Ontario. Henry of Pelham is not alone any longer in that arena, but it continues to turn heads. The new 2017 vintage of this wine is being released at Vintages on Nov. 19, but I recently tasted a vertical going back to 2015 and thought I would share my notes with you.
Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc de Blancs 2015 ($50, 94 points) — The Cuvée Cathaine wines are named in memory of Henry Pelham’s wife, widow, and family matriarch, Catharine Smith, while Carte Blanche is a vintage expression of Cuvée Catharine. The fruit is sourced from the estate’s oldest and best estate-grown Chardonnay vineyards. It is hand-picked, the best of the best juice is isolated, partially barrel fermented and then aged for 54 months on the lees. It shows a golden colour in the glass with a flinty opening followed by brioche, lemon curd, pear, baked bread, and biscuit. It has an elegant bead in the glass on the palate and wears its age well with flinty-stony notes, bin apples, baked pear, lemon zest and creamy notes all leading to wonderfully finessed finish.
Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc de Blancs 2016 ($50, 94 points) —This has an inviting nose of toasty biscuit, pear, mineral, fresh apple, soft vanilla, brioche, and cream with a vigorous, elegant mousse. The elegant, creamy texture is the first impression on the entry, with a lively bubble, toasty vanilla and brioche, ripe pear, quince, lemon toast and rousing freshness on the perky finish. It’s drinking so well right now but has the energy and stuffing to age gracefully for a few more years. Beautiful sparkling wine.
Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc de Blancs 2017 ($50, Vintages Nov. 9, 95 points) — The fresher 2017 vintage of Carte Blanche is easily among the best sparkling wines made in Ontario that I have tasted. Such an intriguing nose of brioche/autolytic notes, lemon cream, apple/quince fruit, an elegant bead in the glass and citrus zest. The crackling bubbles on the palate are invigorating with notes of baked bread/biscuit notes, lemon tart, pear, fresh salinity, and mouth-watering acidity keeping it clean and fresh through the lifted finish. Wow, just beautiful!
A pair of just released sparkling wines:
Trius Brut Rosé NV ($30, 92 points) — Winemaker Craig McDonald prefers to craft most of his large portfolio of sparkling wines as non-vintage bottlings. The blend changes from time to time, and the price has held steady, representing good value. As far as I can ascertain, this is a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Gamay Noir and has a dosage of just 8 g/l of residual sugar. It shows a pale salmon colour in the glass with a vigorous bead of bubbles followed by brambly red berries, fresh citrus, brioche, biscuit, and red apple skin. The bubbles are highly energetic on the palate with a lovely melange of red berries, lemon zest, red currants, and apple notes that all together is quite refreshing through a lifted finish.
Henry of Pelham Lazzara Bianco Secco ($18, 88 points) — This is a friendly Charmat style sparkling wine a fruity nose of peach, apple, melon, and pear with a full bead of bubbles in the glass. It’s quite fresh with a lovely melange of orchard fruits, subtle sweetness, and persistent bubbles through a tingly, vibrant finish. Good value sparkling wine here.
Previously reviewed bubbles over $35
Divergence Brut Nature 2020 ($40, 92 points) — This traditionally made sparkling wine from the Hughes Vineyard in the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. It spent 18 months on the lees and no sugar was added in the dosage. Only 600 bottles, all bottled by hand, were made. It has an elegant, persistent bead in the glass with a nose of creamy pear, fresh lemon, rich apple, biscuit, and salinity. It’s bright and vibrant on the palate with a rich and creamy texture, apple/pear notes, flinty/chalky notes and lovely freshness and vigour driving through the finessed finish.
Fred Wines Primrose 2021 ($39, 92 points) — This is a 100% Gamay sparkling wine made in the charmat method from grapes sourced in the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation. It has pronounced aromatics of ripe plums, wild raspberries, some subtle earthy notes, herbs and a floral lift. It’s bright and lifted on the palate with juicy plums, raspberries and strawberries that straddle the line of tart and sweet with a freshening sturdy bubble and a clean, lifted finish. A joy to drink.
Hidden Bench Natur Zero Dosage 2016 ($42, 93 points) — This “zero dosage” (no sugar added) traditional method sparkling wine spent five years on its lees before being disgorged in January of this year. It’s a blend of 72% Pinot Noir and 28% Chardonnay from the estate vineyards and spends 6 months in 100% French oak, all neutral barriques. It pours an elegant, persistent mousse and has a complex toasty/biscuity/brioche first impression with lemon, grapefruit, pear, raspberry bramble, a touch of flint and toasted almonds with subtle autolytic notes. It has energy and verve on the palate with green apple, lemon curd and pear in a rich and suave style that combines length and elegance through a lifted finish. A fabulous sparkling wine.
Mason Vineyard Sparkling Rosé Blanc de Noirs 2020 ($55, 94 points) — This méthode traditionnelle Pinot Noir sparkler was on the lees for 1.5 years and only gets a 2 g/l dosage from the base wine. This second effort has a bit more colour than the 2019 version but the same lovely, elegant, and persistent bead in the glass. There is an intriguing, lifted floral/rose petal note on the nose followed by bready/yeasty notes, fresh-picked red berries, flint, salty salinity, and citrus zest. It’s energetic on the palate with fresh and tart raspberry/cherry fruit, rhubarb, citrus zest, flint, and a bright, finessed finish.
Mason Vineyard Sparkling Blanc de Blancs 2020 ($55, 94 points) — This first 100% Twenty Mile Bench Chardonnay sparkling wine from Mason gets a 2 g/l dosage from the Mason + Bachelder Collab Frontier Block at the Grimsby Hillside Vineyard. It has a firm and elegant bubble in the glass with a bready/yeasty note on the nose followed by bright lemon, grapefruit, flint, and apple skin. It’s energetic on the palate with a subtle autolytic note, grapefruit, fresh apple, flint, a certain saline quality with a bright, lifted finish. Lovely wine here that will age nicely as it fattens up.
Rosehall Run Ceremony Blanc de Blancs 2017 ($39, 93 points) — This traditionally made, 100% Chardonnay has an inviting nose of brioche, toasted almonds, quince, grapefruit zest and a rich vein of fresh salinity. It has a vigorous mousse, a creamy texture with apple/pear fruit, flinty notes, citrus zest with mouth-watering acidity on the lifted finish.
13th Street Grande Cuvée Blanc de Noir 2013 ($70, 94 points) — The Grande Cuvée is only produced in exceptional vintages. It is 100% Pinot Noir sourced from the estate’s Whitty Vineyard in the Creek Shores sub-appellation. After careful manual harvest, the whole bunches of Pinot Noir are put into the press where the free run juice is separated out and blended with the first gentle press to extract juice but not colour or phenolics. The wine was aged on its lees for seven years and no sugar was added, only the base wine was used for the dosage. What a masterpiece! Such a personable sparkling wine with an intriguing nose of mature apple, pear, smoky/flinty notes, lemon curd and brioche/autolytic accents. The colour is golden in the glass with a soft, persistent, and elegant bead. On the palate look for baked pear, stony/saline minerality, ripe apple, lifted lemon-centric citrus notes with rousing acidity keeping it fresh and lifted though a luxurious and long finish. Wow!
13th Street Premier Cuvée 2017 ($40, 93 points) — This blend of mostly estate Chardonnay (55%) and Pinot Noir (45%) was aged on the lees for a minimum of 48 months. After disgorging, winemaker JP Colas felt the wine was in perfect balance so decided to not add any sugar to the dosage resulting in a classically dry sparkling wine in the zero-dosage style. This wine was not exposed to oak and did not undergo malolactic fermentation. It is gorgeous on the nose with bright, fresh saline minerality, lifted lemon and ripe apple, with baked bread and toasty autolytic notes along with subtle berries. The bubble in the glass and on the palate is persistent and lively with stony/flinty minerality, apple and pear fruit, lemon-citrus accents, bready/brioche notes, and all together lifted and finessed through a brilliantly crisp finish. Can cellar 5+ years for further development.
Trail Estate Traditional Method Pinot Noir 2017 (not released yet, in the $75 range, 93 points) — This 100% estate Pinot Noir was pressed and cold settled before being wild fermented in stainless steel. After settling, it was sterile filtered prior to bottling for a secondary fermentation. It was aged for 3.5 years and will be disgorged 72 bottles at a time every three or four months over the next few years. There was zero dosage. It has such an interesting and beautiful nose of fresh cranberries, baked bread/biscuit, an array of red berries, spice, and toasted almonds. It has an elegant, persistent bead in the glass with tart forest berries, cran-cherries, white raspberries, pink grapefruit, brioche, toasty/nutty notes, spice and a lifted, bright finish. Beautiful sparkling wine.
Trius Showcase Pinot 2 Sparkling NV ($55, 93 points) — This sparkler is a non-vintage blend of 72% Pinot Meunier (sourced from reserve wines from 2014-17, but mostly 2016-17), 24% Pinot Noir (from 2013-2017) and 4% Chardonnay (mostly from 2015). The final cuvée (with 36 months of lees aging) is close to six years of aging on release. “Non-vintage is something I fervently believe is the key to complexity and nuance in the drier styles of sparkling,” says winemaker Craig McDonald. This one has only is 3 g/l RS. Only 1,260 bottles were made with another 2,100 bottles of the same cuvée still on tirage, which McDonald hopes to release after another 2-3 years. Trius has a rich history of making sparkling wines and it has grown exponentially to be the largest producer of VQA sparkling wines in the country under the care and guidance of McDonald. The Showcase bubbles are small lot, long elevage and carefully blended examples of the best bubbles made at the estate. This is a pretty and finessed wine on the nose with fresh red berries, brioche, biscuit, and subtle lemon zest. It’s both elegant and vibrant on the palate with a vigorous mousse, leesy/biscuit notes, wild raspberries and strawberry tart with citrus zest and mouth-watering acidity on the finish. Very fine now but will age gracefully and gain fat over the next 5-7 years in the cellar. A rarity that sparkling lovers need in their collection.
2027 Cellars Wismer Vineyard-Fox Croft Block Blanc de Blancs 2017 ($45, winery now, 94 points) — Sparkling wine is a category that continues to raise the bar in Niagara and Ontario. The best examples are coming from those winemakers who employ long lees aging and minimal sugar added, such as this beauty from winemaker Kevin Panagapka. The wine spent 4.5 years on the lees and is made in a “brut nature” style, in other words, zero sugar added in the dosage. This is a thrilling sparkling wine with a flinty nose of pear, lemon curd, pure salinity, leesy/autolytic notes and a persistent, elegant bead in the glass. It’s a lovely, caressing bubble in the mouth with creamy notes, tart apple, fresh pear, lemon peel, tingly acidity and length through a lifted and bright finish. It’s bright and lively, yes, but nicely mature with elegance, grace, and poise with room to gain fat in the cellar.
Two Sisters Lush Sparkling Rosé 2019 ($54, 93 points) — This is a traditionally made Chardonnay (63%) and Pinot Noir blend that spends over 588 days on the lees before disgorging. It’s the first Lush from Two Sisters that is vintage dated and was tasted with winemaker Adam Pearce at the winery. A small amount of Cabernet Franc from 2015 is used for the dosage (primarily for colour). It shows a pretty soft pink hue in the glass with a vigorous, frothy mousse. The nose shows enticing field strawberries and cream, fresh lemon, biscuit and toasty notes. It’s crisp and lively on the palate with an energetic mouse, an elegant creamy texture, bright red berries, citrus zest, toasty vanilla and baked bread in a dry and refreshing style through a lifted finish.
Previously reviewed value
bubbles $35 and under
Closson Chase Mosaic Charmat Method 2021 ($32, 89 points) — The fruit for this 100% Chardonnay charmat method sparkling wine was sourced from Niagara-on-the-Lake. It was 50% cool fermented in stainless steel at 16 C for 10 days and spent 60 days on the lees, 50% in neutral oak barrels. It pours a vigorous mousse with a light golden colour in the glass. It has a peachy/apply nose, zesty citrus, and some creamy notes. With good energy and a steady bead of bubbles on the palate, the orchard fruits are joined by lemon zest on the palate with a creamy texture and a lifted, finessed finish.
Ravine Charmat Rosé NV ($32, 90 points) — This sparkling wine is made from a base of Gamay and Riesling with a bit of Chardonnay and Pinot for good measure. Secondary fermentation took place in charmat tanks to create the precious bubbles. It shows a lively a mousse in the glass with aromas of fresh red berries, plums, and subtle earthy/savoury notes. It has a lively feel on the palate with the full spectrum of raspberries, cherries and strawberry tart with juicy plums, touch of citrus zest and mouth-watering acidity. Made in a dry, fresh style.
Rosehall Run Indigo 2021 ($25, 90 points) — A fun sparkling blend of Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Muscat Ottonel, Chardonnay Musque and Chardonnay from both estate and Niagara fruit made in the charmat method. It’s fresh and vibrant on the nose with an energetic mousse that tapers off to a gentle bead. Look for melon, citrus zest, green apple, and orange rind. It’s bright and lively on the palate with a kiss of sweetness to go with lemon, melon, apple, lychee, and lovely floral notes with a zesty finish.
13th Street Cuvée Rose NV ($35, LCBO, winery, 91 points) — This is the top selling Canadian sparkling wine at the LCBO and the only one in the portfolio to receive a dosage of 8 g/l, which is still dry but a bit of a departure from the other sparklers in the portfolio. It’s a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a splash of Gamay that’s fermented and aged in the traditional method. It was aged sur lattes (en tirage) for a minimum of 18 months during which the bubbles became smaller and more compact. It shows a gorgeous rose petal colour in the glass with an energetic mousse. It’s loaded with red berries, cranberries, rhubarb, lemon zest and a subtle toasty note. It’s fresh and the bubbles pop on the palate with a barrage of red berries, subtle earthy/autolytic notes, red currants, and a dry impression through a finish that features mouth-watering acidity and verve.
13th Street Blanc de Blanc 2020 ($30, on sale for $27 until Nov. 27, 92 points) — This popular, traditionally made sparkler, is true to the Colas style. It’s a brut zero (no sugar added), 100% Chardonnay sourced mainly from a neighbouring vineyard. This was disgorged after 14 months on the lees and finished with just 3 g/l of sugar. It has an energetic bubble and a fresh and lemony nose with biscuit, pear and flinty minerality. It’s lively on the palate with subtle smoky/flinty notes, bright apple, fresh pear, toasted almonds, lemon zest and a lifted, minerally finish. Lovely bubbles.
Vineland Estates Chardonnay Reserve Charmat 2020 ($30, 91 points) — A simply delicious bubbly with aromas of bright apple, some peach, lemon biscuit, pear, and a vigorous mousse. It’s all together bright and fresh with wonderful texture that highlights the stone fruits, zesty citrus, and quince notes.
Westcott Violette Sparkling Brut 2021 ($26, 90 points) — This sparkling blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Pinot Meunier is made using the charmat method. It has a pale pink hue in the glass with a nose of fresh strawberries, field raspberries, lime-citrus, and red apples. It shows a vigorous mousse that tapers to a gentle and persistent bead on the palate with an array of red berries, zesty citrus, apple slices and mouth-watering acidity keeping it fresh and lively through the finish.
Something just a little different
Hidden Bench Rachis and Derma Chantilly Rosé 2021 ($30, 90 points) — This fun wine is made from 100% Pinot Noir and is bottled on the lees in the ancestral method (second fermentation in the bottle to give it fizz) and is bone-dry with only a minimal about of sulphur added at bottling. It shows subtle effervescence in the glass and has a tangy nose of brambly red berries, rhubarb pie and watermelon in a clean and refreshing style. It’s laden in red berries on the palate, but super-dry and bursting with flavours through the bright finish. Just a unique and fun sparkling wine.
Trail Estate Red Pét Nat 2021 ($35, 90 points) — I originally paired this with Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze in a kind of musical pairing with Trail’s natural series of wines.vThe pairing works here because this pét-nat is a riot of purple haze fruit, and, oh, the edgy guitar of Hendrix is so absolutely, completely and brilliantly chaotic that you won’t be able to get enough of both. Please crank this tune up to 11. The blend is 40% Riesling, 37% Baco Noir and 23% Cabernet Franc from a combination of Niagara and estate Trail fruit. It was fermented with temperature control and racked for clarity and the wine was bottled three months after the first grapes were picked. Another interesting nose of savoury wild blackberries, anise, cherry cola, black raspberries, and minty herbs. It’s already showing a vigorous mousse in the glass and lights up on the palate with a mix of red and dark berries, a basket of herbs, earthy/savoury notes and a bright, lifted finish.
Niagara wines at Vintages Nov. 19
Hidden Bench Terroir Caché 2018 ($45, 94 points) — The blend is 46% Merlot, 31% Malbec and 23% Cabernet Franc all sourced from the three estate vineyards on the Beamsville Bench. It’s aged in French oak (38% new) for 20 months. Such an enthralling nose of anise, cassis, blackberries and cherries with dried tobacco, earth, charred cedar, and rich spice notes. It’s smooth but has structure on the palate with super dense wild red berries, tobacco, leather, blackberries, earth, and elegant spice notes all leading to a mouth-watering and lifted finish. Such a beautiful red wine with style and power that will continue to get better for 7+ years in the cellar.
Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2020 ($48, 93 points) — The fruit is sourced 100% from the “grand cru” Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard for this impressive top Chardonnay. A dominant note of chalky minerality is the first impression, then notes of fresh pear and quince, Meyer lemon and elegant spice notes. It’s generous and rich on the palate with ripe pear, lemon oil, golden apple, chalky minerality and spice in a complex and layered style with an echoing and fresh finish. A special Chardonnay.
Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Pinot Noir 2020 ($48, 93 points) — Compared to the Claystone bottling, this shows more elegance and less muscular qualities with a more delicate, perfumed nose of wild red berries, rose petals, mulberries, seamless spice notes and subtle earthiness. The black raspberries, dark cherries, mulberries, and rhubarb fruit are bolstered by fine grained tannins on the palate providing an elegant structure, integrated woodsy/spicy notes with a long, finessed finish. This should cellar for 6+ years.
Inniskillin Riesling Icewine 2021 ($80 for 375 mL, 92 points) — Such a unique nose of ripe grapefruit, lychee nuts, spice, apricot tart and nutmeg/ginger notes. It’s thick and unctuous on the palate with an array of compoted apricot jam, mango, spice, marzipan, tropical notes, peach preserve and juicy acidity on the finish. Excellent job here keeping it somewhat balanced.
Other Niagara wines released, but not reviewed by Wines in Niagara:
• Flat Rock Riddled Sparkling 2020 ($35)
• Pondview Gold Series Vidal Icewine 2021 ($20 for 200 mL)
• The Hare Wine Co. Frontier Collection Cabernet Franc Icewine 2017 ($30 for 200 mL)
• 13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2020 ($20)
• Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2019 ($20)
• Magnotta Limited Edition Shiraz 2016 ($22)
• Sue-Ann Staff Mountain Bell Merlot 2028 ($40)
• Wildass Red 2018 ($22)