All that sparkles: nine outstanding bottles of bubbly without the elitism

All that sparkles: nine outstanding bottles of bubbly without the elitism

(Illustration: Jack Dylan)

French champagne is still the standard-bearer for the world’s sparkling wines. But New World winemakers are tinkering with its conventions and challenging its supremacy, making bubbly more fun and diverse—for celebrating everyday life, not just its highlights. Understanding sparkling wine means wrapping your head around confusing nomenclature: in champagne terms, the driest styles are called brut, but the sweeter ones are “extra-dry.” More extra-dry wine is being made whether labelled thus or not, reflecting the fact that most of humanity actually prefers sweetish wine. Of late, in the New World, we’re seeing grapes other than the champagne triumvirate of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier—such varietals as sauvignon blanc, riesling and even shiraz. The final kick in the shins to champagne is that quality has improved substantially throughout the sparkling-wine spectrum—from Italian prosecco to Spanish cava, from French cremants to the global legions of chardonnay-pinot champagne emulators. Whatever the style, these sparklers are all cheaper than champagne, sometimes astonishingly so considering their fine quality.

Angels Gate 2008 Archangel Sauvignon Blanc Sparkling
$19.95 | Beamsville Bench | 89 points
This engaging bubbly successfully catches herbal sauvignon nuances among honeyed grapefruit, guava and white flowers on the nose and palate. It’s light bodied, frothy and semi-sweet, but built on solid acidity. Chill well and serve with spicy canapés.

Bottega Petalo Il Vino Dell’Amore Moscato
$12.80 | Italy | 87 points
The ideal wine for Sunday brunch or breakfast in bed. It’s sweet and quite fizzy, with only 6.5 per cent alcohol and a floral nose of lily, green melon and the lime of the moscato grape. Also terrific with fruit salads and pastries. Serve cold. LCBO 588780

Flat Rock 2007 Riddled Sparkling
$24.95 | Twenty Mile Bench | 89 points
From owner Ed Madronich (who successfully petitioned the VQA to allow the use of crown caps on Ontario bubbly), this off-dry style is open hearted, with ripe pear fruit, and mild biscuit and honey complexity; slightly frothy effervescence and very good length. Chill it well. Vintages. LCBO 187377

Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Rosé Brut
$29.95 | Niagara Peninsula | 90 points
One of the classiest pink bubblies from Ontario shows a subtle nose of fresh raspberry, icing sugar and fresh bread—altogether like a
delicate raspberry pastry. It’s light to mid-weight and vaguely sweet, with a fine, racy effervescence and a drier, bracing finish. Very good length. LCBO 4051

Hinterland 2009 Whitecap
$20 | Niagara Peninsula | 87 points
This is a new vidal-based bubbly from a small Prince Edward County winery that specializes in sparkling wine. Bottled under a crown cap, it’s a light, tight, off-dry fizz with clean, simple apple and floral aromas. Almost a moscato style, but drier, with the County’s mineral edge.

Piper-Heidsieck Brut
$49.95 | Champagne | 92 points
My favourite non-vintage brut champer has shed $9 in the past year. It’s slim, racy and ultra-refreshing. The nose is almost piercing, with flinty minerality, dried apple, lemon loaf and light smokiness. Very refined, with lemony and almond flavours hitting excellent length. LCBO 462432

Roederer Estate Brut Sparkling Wine
$28.95 | Anderson Valley, California | 91 points
California’s best champagne-style sparkler, in my books, comes from the Anderson Valley in Mendocino, a cool coastal region of grand fir and pine forests. I’d swear there are coniferous scents amid its honeyed pastry flavours. It’s weightier than many; bold, dry yet elegant. Excellent length. Vintages. LCBO 294181

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva
$14.55 | Spain | 89 points
Champagne drinkers will need to retune their palates to the unique green olive and damp chalk scent of Spanish cava, which uses local grape varieties led by macabeo. This textbook, brisk edition offers a steely centre and softness on the edges. Great with mixed nuts, olives and seafood. LCBO 158493

Villa Sandi Prosecco $14.05 | Treviso, Italy | 88 points
Italy’s northeastern Venetia region is producing increasingly good, casual and affordable prosecco. Most of the current, gentle offerings catch pure honeydew melon. This particular wine has a light-hearted charm and a touch of sweetness, but it’s also more flavourful than most others of its kind. LCBO 249722