Prince Edward County bubbly is born

Prince Edward County bubbly is born

A couple of milestones were celebrated during last Friday’s snowstorm, with the pop of a single cork at Huff Estate Winery in Prince Edward County. It was the first pouring of the first sparkling wine made in Canada’s newest VQA region, and the debut of Ontario’s most expensive sparkling wine to date (not counting sparkling icewine). Its proper name is Huff Estate 2004 Cuvée Peter F. Huff, named in honour of proprietor Lanny Huff’s late son. The price is $49.95—right up there with the many basic French champagnes that it dares emulate.

Its creator, French-raised winemaker Frederic Picard, is fully aware that the pricing is ambitious for a new wine in a new region, but feels it is justified because “the quality is there.” He also predicts the price may come down in the years ahead, as the larger productions of the 2006 and 2007 vintages (an estimated 600 cases) come on stream. Only 800 bottles of the 2004 were produced, with half released for Valentine’s Day, the next half scheduled for fall.

Picard has made this sparkler entirely from chardonnay, in the style of a champagne blanc de blanc. The grapes were grown in the Lighthall Vineyard, in a mix of sand, clay and limestone, not far from Long Dog winery in the south end of Prince Edward County, near Lake Ontario. The wine was aged on its lees in bottle for three years, and given a dosage upon disgorging, creating a barely perceptible nine grams of sugar per litre.

The quality is certainly very good to excellent or, translating into a numerical rating, 89 points (in the range of many $50 champagnes). Ripe green apple-melon, lime and floral aromas are very pure and appealing, if not showing as much yeast autolysis character as many champagnes. The palate texture is slim, bright and delicate, narrowing into a very long lime and mineral finish. Picard feels more complexity will come with further bottle age (but will anyone be aging the few bottles around?).

I actually tasted the wine the day after the opening, and by coincidence also tasted the base wine of two other future Prince Edward County sparklers: one at the Grange of Prince Edward, the other at Keint-he, a new winery project by Geoff Heinricks that is opening in 2009. They, too, are very good to excellent. Closson Chase will be making bubbly as well.

It has long been thought that Price Edward County’s cool climate and finesse-imparting limestone soils should (in theory) create fine bubbly, and now the first case has actually been made. Huff 2004 Brut is only available for direct sale at the winery, not even to restaurateurs. There is a limit of two per customer, and 250 of the first lot of 400 have already been sold. Go to the winery’s Web site for more details.