There's something special about Champagne, the French region that revolutionized and perfected sparkling wine and made it a luxury. Not.
There’s something special about Champagne, the French region that revolutionized and perfected sparkling wine and made it a luxury. Not least of its many attributes is its unique approach to winemaking, one of the most important contributions to the world of wine.
Most of its hillsides, though dotted with big-name maisons like Veuve Clicquot and Moet & Chandon, contain orderly, family-owned vineyards 80 per cent of landowners in Champagne produce roughly 20 per cent of the wine. But large or small, the local focus is the fresh and delicately carbonated local wine, as much a cultural phenomenon as a product that’s been successfully commodified for the past 200 years.
The wines of Champagne, made in large part from France’s (and arguably the world’s) most beloved varieties, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, owe their global esteem to a locally developed technique known as the methode champenoise.
The tiny bubbles that make champagne so desirable come from a secondary fermentation that takes place inside the bottle. When cellared at around 10C, yeast sleepily consumes an added dose of sugar, leaving behind fine CO2 (and alcohol) before expiring. The wine is then left to languish on the lees (the yeast residue), sometimes for years, to develop champagne’s trademark complexity.
This method, also used in Spanish cava and delicious Italian-made Franciacorta, is also producing top-notch Ontario sparkling. We might be a wine infant compared to the venerable French region, but Niagara and Prince Edward County boast undeniable parallels with Champagne.
We grow the same cool-climate grape varieties in limestone soils from which our winemakers produce textured, fruit- and mineral-driven bubbly using the traditional method. Producers like Cave Springs, Huff Estates, Henry of Pelham, Trius, Hinterland and Rosehall Run are putting out consistently awesome traditional-method sparkling wines, many of them from estate-grown grapes.
At its best, champagne is perfection, but our local sparkling wines aren’t lagging too far behind. Traditional-method sparkling wine is a product at which our province’s teenage regions already excel, and I doubt we’ll need hundreds of years to prove it to the world.
Why There are many things to love about Cave Spring’s blanc de blancs, from the attractive toasty nose to its lemony freshness. The price might seem steep for a local wine until you find out this wine was cellared for eight years before it was released, emulating a common practice amongst the best champagne houses.
Price $39.95/750 ml
Availability At the winery or online at wineshop.cavespring.ca
Why This dry sparkler from one of Prince Edward County’s oldest wineries is made entirely from estate-grown Chardonnay. Rosehall Run takes an extra step backwards, riddling every bottle by hand, as is traditional with champagne. Clean and classy, with glittery acidity.
Price $34.95/750 ml
Availability At the winery or online at rosehallrun.com
Why Made from hand-picked estate-grown Chardonnay, this is one hell of a sparkling wine. Smells like warm pastries slathered in lemon custard. Completely delightful and consistently a favourite.
Price $44.95/750 ml
Availability Vintages 315200
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