December is the month where get-togethers trend bubbly to pudding. Dry table wine will fill the festive middle but if ever there was a time of year where the libations bookend as sparkling and “sticky,” the holidays would be it.
“Stickies” is the term the Aussies use to describe sweet wines, also elsewhere referred to as pudding wines, off-dry wines or dessert wines. Every wine-producing region has a version. There is Ice Wine, Ice Cider, Port, Sherry, Tokaji, Vin Santo, Sauternes, Late Harvest, Auslese, Setubal, Banyuls, Sélection de Grains Nobles, Cote de Layon, Madeira, Quarts de Chaumes, Recioto and…the list goes on. A thimble full is often all that is needed to satisfy a postprandial, holiday craving.
I encourage every meal to start out on a sparkling foot. Nothing opens up the palate like a glass of fizz, or gets guests in the mood for the night ahead. A fluteful will suffice (or two if its Krug) to open the doors of vinous perception.
Here are seven sparklers and “stickies” to look for this holiday season.
The grape: Glera
The history: From Conegliano, in the province of Treviso.
The lowdown: The “Brut” designation means it’s dry, even for Prosecco. A skilled winemaker can elevate a Prosecco such as this beyond the realm of aperitif into courses unknown
The food match: Bertoldi’s Wild Boar Ragu & Gemelli Pasta
Masottina Brut Prosecco (297838, $16.95) jumps out with an effervescenza very few Prosecco display. Venetian hibiscus, creamy lemon marzolino and capped by a Trevisan chicory accent. Lovely stuff. 88
The grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris
The history: Okanagan fizz made in the Method Traditionnelle style
The lowdown: Champagne character comes as a result of spending 24 months sur-lie
The food match: B.C. Fanny Bay Oysters on the Half Shell
Blue Mountain Brut (206326, $27.95) walks faintly then explodes like a house on fire. A thick, embroidered hodgepodge of coal-driven, microbic complexity. Big tang for the buck, of citrus and pear tarte tatine. 89
The grape: Chardonnay
The history: An Ontario stalwart goes it alone with its first dated vintage fizz
The lowdown: Early harvested from Short Hills Bench estate vineyards and aged 54 months on the lees
The food match: Roast Salmon with Sweet and Sour Five-Spice Cranberry Sauce
Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc De Blanc 2007 (315200, $44.95) combines the exceptional ’07 growing season’s rich fruit with early harvested acidity and extreme patience to result in one serious Ontario sparkling wine. A frothing tonic of citrus zest, baking apples, soda bread, cut grass and creamy grume. Long and true. 90
The grapes: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
The history: A house driven by its terroir, the limestone, sand, chalk and clay of the valley and the river Marne
The lowdown: Pink Champagne made by blending white and red wines
The food match: Colville Bay Oysters, shallot mignonette
Tarlant Rosé Brut Champagne (664680, $49.95) goes yeast in a large way and fresh-picked strawberry faintly. Influenced by hircine and Sparnacien marks, this pretty in pink sparkler will conjoin small bites and appetizers. 90
The grapes: Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela, Rufete and Malvasia Preta
The history: Dates back to 1737, under the ownership of Sogrape since 1997
The lowdown: Single-vintage Port, bottled between the 4th and the 6th year thereafter. This one was bottled in 2011. Can be further aged but if you prefer young, accessible and cheaper, try Offley Port Ruby (293654, $13.95)
The food match: Upper Canada Cheese Company Niagara Gold
Offley Late Bottled Vintage Port 2007 (70086, $19.95) proves my theory that LBV is the most underrated, younger sibling sweety in the business. You really do get all the attributes of a Vintage Port from a well-designed LBV. The Offley gets figgy with it, with tons of spice, dried apricot and prune flavour. Full bodied, balanced and with the heat set to simmer. 90
The grapes: Tinta Madeira, Souzão, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cão
The history: Traditional Portuguese grapes used to make Port or Madeira
The lowdown: Pedroncelli the Zinfandel master pulls a rabbit out of the hat with this single vintage, Dry Creek Valley Port. There will be detractors but the value here is worth a look
The food match: Blue-Veined Cheeses, dried fruit
Pedroncelli Four Grapes Vintage Port 2006 (204487, 500 mL, $19.95) throws a gamut of Port aromas and flavours out of the glass. Christmas cake, dark chocolate, figs and mocha for sure. Further along in its evolution than its Porto counterparts so drink up. 89
The apples: Macintosh, Spartan, Lobo, Empire and Cortland
The history: Founded in 2007 by Daniel Brongo, Patricio Brongo and Francisco Antolino
The lowdown: High quality iced cider made from indigenous apple varietals in St-Joseph-Du-Lac
The food match: Brebichon Cheese from Les Fromages du Verger
Antolino Brongo Cryomalus Ice Cider 2009 (309492, 375 mL, $33.95) wakes me with a start as I have never nosed anything quite like this before. Like grape must and heated wax, like an herbal tea infusion, like apples in stereo. The aromas are closed in, as if in a conundrum and it is not until you swirl the viscous amber liquid in your mouth that it all comes together. Remarkable sticky that shows “the world is made of energy and the world is possibility.” 92
Good to go!