I have an addiction to champagne. I don’t need to have the most expensive red wine with dinner, or share a top-rated white wine with friends. But when it comes to sparkling wine, I love nothing less than the best. Because of this, I rarely have sparkling wine.
Who can afford a $65 bottle every week? That’s why I’ve been hunting for affordable substitutes that I can enjoy while spending less money. My timing is good. There has never been such a great selection of sparkling wine available in Halifax, including Italian Prosecco, Spanish Cava, and locally made wines.
This is the only time of year many people drink sparkling wine. So my second task is to convince you to drink it year round. There is something celebratory about hearing a cork pop and seeing the fizzing up of the bubbles in a nice champagne glass. Why should we save this just for the holidays?
Wherever you find fine wines being made, you invariably find sparkling wine. Every wine-producing nation produces their version. Some countries excel in quality and others in value. The major players on the shelves here are Cava from Spain, Prosecco from Italy, champagne from France, Sparkling Wine from the U.S., and of course sparkling wine from Nova Scotia.
There are three basic methods to making sparkling wine. But first you need good wine that has lots of acidity. Since cooler climates produce grapes with that great acidic spine, regions like Northern France, Northern Italy, and Nova Scotia make some of the best.
The carbonation method is the cheapest way but also produces the lowest quality. (Do you recall drinking sparkling wine in a bottle with a plastic cork?) It basically involves injecting C02 into a tank of still wine.
The Charmat method is used in many regions, and is more complex, even though the still wine is still in a tank. Vintners add yeast and sugar, introducing a second fermentation to the wine.
The result is lots of more naturally produced fine bubbles and a more interesting complexity in flavour. The most popular of this style are Prosecco and Spumante from Italy. This is the fastest growing category of sparkling wines today, and the local selection is growing. You’ll pay $15 to $20 for a tasty version.
The most time consuming to make, but highest quality sparkling wines, are produced by the traditional method, or Methode Traditionelle (also called Methode Champenoise). Here the second fermentation takes place in the bottle.
The best of these wines rest on the lees (the dead yeast cells left after the second fermentation), for several years. Winemakers then turn the bottles upside down and “disgorge” the yeast cells by freezing them in the top of the bottle and allowing them to pop out.
Cava from Spain, sparkling wine from the U.S., and champagne from France are the best-known examples to this method. Start with Cava, which you can find locally for under $20 a bottle. Then move up to U.S. examples at $30 or more. But when the occasion calls for it, treat yourself to champagne.
Champagne contains varying percentages of three grape varieties (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay). Every champagne house has its own style and blend. I usually stick with Brut, which is very dry, but there are many styles with more sweetness.
And don’t forget about Nova Scotia’s own sparkling wines. They’re among the province’s best wines, and world-class examples of the style. Almost all Nova Scotian wineries produce sparkling wines, and the ones that use the traditional method have made some stunning examples using both the traditional French varietals and local hybrid varietals like L’Acadie Blanc.
The sparkling wine pioneer in Nova Scotia is Bruce Ewert at L’Acadie Vineyards, who makes delicious and organic sparkling wines available for as little as $27, winning many awards for his efforts.
Even more famous is Benjamin Bridge Winery, whose owner has invested a lot to produce sparkling wines on par with, and in some cases, better than those from Champagne. If money is no object, in your “support local” efforts, here is your holy grail.
The best sparkling wines have low alcohol and a refreshing and palate cleansing ability to make even the most boring occasion better. Their great acidity allows them to pair with almost any kind of food, and they are a great way to start a dinner party or happy hour. Cheers!
The under-$25 wine review
Bouvet Brut, Methode Traditionelle NV Saumur, France, NSLC, $20.49
A Traditional Method French Sparkling wine at just over $20 is a must-try. Classic champagne aromas of bready and yeasty notes, plus some intriguing peach. Fine, persistent bubbles. Crisp acidity. The dry finish complements bright apple and pear notes. Unfussy and easy to drink. A great introduction to French sparkling wines. Pair with a nice cheese tray. 89/100
Blomidon Estate Winery Methode Traditionelle Cremant 2012 Nova Scotia, NSLC, $24.99
This Traditional Method sparkler has been a favourite of mine for years. The combination of Chardonnay with local favourites Seyval Blanc and L’Acadie Blanc results in a delicious flavour profile. The nose is rich and creamy lemon meringue pie. Balanced flavours with a subtle vein of sweetness; citrus and peach notes. The trademark Nova Scotian acidity keeps it all in check. A complex wine. Pair with baked local oysters. 91/100
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