The Ontario Sparkling Wine Technical Symposium. Like a Trekkie convention for oenophiles. To a wine geek it was eight hours spent searching for the meaning of life. To a consumer who just likes to drink it would have been time lost forever with no chance to get it back. The Brock University Cool Climate Oenology & Viticulture Institute’s Pond Inlet was the setting. The presentations were very technical, that is until Dr. Jamie Goode took the podium and breathed context into the room.
According to the LCBO, in 2013, sales in Vintages of VQA sparkling wine were up 59.2 per cent from 2012 sales data. In Canada there are 36 wineries producing sparkling wine and that number is growing. As it should.
The abstruse conditions of the #ONfizz event set the table as a vocational assurance draw for Ontario winemakers, viticulture and viniculture research specialists. Seated at my table were a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker. That should be loosely translated as a scientist (Dr. Jim Willwerth), a product manager (LCBO’s Ontario expert Astrid Brummer) and two winemakers (Hinterland’s Jonas Newman and Gaspereau Vineyards’ Gina Haverstock).
Brock’s Dr. Debbie Inglis introduced Bertrand Robillard, Ph.d., Director of Research and Development at the Institut Oenologique de Champagne. Before getting to the subject at hand, on disgorging, gushing and foaming, he first laid an open attack on beer. “The form is always better in a crystal glass,” insisted Robillard. For Champagne. Not beer. “That’s just false. It’s just appearance. People in Champagne do not appreciate this kind of resolute,” comparing the pouring of Champagne to beer.
Then on to Sparkling wine’s integral and necessary marketing draw. Bubbles. “No dishwashing,” begged Robillard. “It’s a very efficient way to kill the foam.” By principle, to have foam you need bubbles. It’s all about stabilizing the foam. High ethanol (five per cent) in fizz is good content for foam stabilization. CO2 (protein concentration and polysaccharides) all contribute to stability.
So why do the bubbles collapse? Why do they not make it from the centre to the wall of the glass? Why is a hole in the middle created and the bubbles fall into the hole and disappear? The answer is gushing. A “shameful disease” that can be considered as a disequilibrium between foam formation and foam collapse. Bubbles cannot exist if their radius are less than 0.1 microns, or they will dissolve into the wine. Bubbles are detached when gravity forces are higher than capillary forces.
The conclusion? Surface area and CO2 are the driving force behind gushing. Contaminations inside the wall of the bottle must be eliminated. Oxygen heterogeneity is essential, even more so more than CO2 and sugar. The news that there is no relationship between wine composition and gushing means winemakers can make the Sparkling wine style of their choosing. The representative from Champagne said so.
Next up was Ed Carr, Sparkling winemaker, Accolade wines in Australia. Carr plies his trade in Tasmania. Not the Tasmania of The English Passengers full of exiled convicts, invading Brits, sinister men like Dr. Thomas Potter and his thesis about the races of men. No, Carr makes bubbles on an island quickly becoming a (vinous) garden of Eden, known to a heroic aboriginal and envisioned by Reverend Geoffrey Wilson. Carr explained the company’s choice of locale. “These (cold and mostly maritime influenced climate) numbers are a gross simplification of what the world is really like, but this is why we went to Tasmania, looking at that 1000 number for heat degree days.”
On spacing: “The guy growing your vines is likely using the same tractor to grow spuds.” On vineyard management: “Lots of leaf plucking done, bunch thinning…canopy management is key. Supplemental irrigation a must.” On Sparkling wine stylistic choices: “Oxidation is a big thing, a real style choice. Chilling picked fruit reduces phenolic extraction and oxidation but also reduces fruit.”
On flaws: “Brettanomyces I refer to the ‘black death of Europe’ for wine. The little buggers love sulphur dioxide conditions. Residual sugar left in the bottle on the way to second fermentation helps the yeasts on their way. Rapid ferment and as dry as possible is the way to go.”
On closures: “I don’t really think you apply screw cap closure trials from still wines to sparkling. It does not translate to the reductive character of sparkling. We primarily believe in the use of traditional cork, with some agglomerate closure usage.”
Third speaker was Larry Mawby of Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula L. Mawby Vineyards. “The thing that I realized was negatively impacting on my ability to make good sparkling wine was the fact that I wasn’t just making sparkling wine.” The response from Hinterland’s (Prince Edward County Sparkling wine maker) Jonas Newman. “I like his style.” I can hear you thinking, Sparkling wine in Michigan? More than this. Mawby makes 21 different renditions, with the usual suspects, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, in traditional ways. He also goes at it Charmat-style with Riesling, Pinot Gris and Vignoles. Not to mention Cayuga, Vidal, Regent, Marechal Foch and Muscat in the Cuve Close method.
Continued Mawby, “in this century we’ve made nothing but sparkling wines.” During the terrible winter of 2003 there were temperatures of 45 degrees (Fahrenheit) and below. “Killed any vine not beneath the snow. I panicked.” So Mawby added his ‘Cuve Closed’ a bulk production, Charmat-style sparkling wine. On the technicalities of making fizz: “I don’t believe the chemistry of fruit should be your guideline. What does the fruit taste like?” On varietal integrity: “Almost nobody on the planet buys Sparkling wine based on grape variety.”
Jamie Goode, Ph.D., London-based wine writer (www.wineanorak.com) and wine columnist, The Sunday Express talked on wine closures and purchaser perception of local, national and international sparkling wines. Mostly he spoke about incontestable truths.
On closures: “Traditional is best but the Mytik in an excellent alternative.” It now closes 192 million of 6 billion bottles. The Crown Cap? “Yes, why not? It’s recognizable, like beer and comfortable. With the right liner it’s OTR transmission is very acceptable.” Dr. Goode’s closure talk resulted in some wine writer comedy.
On the world’s most famous fizz: “Champagne can be wonderful, but there’s some ropey stuff coming to the UK. With Champagne, your expectation is everything.” On Cava, “People don’t really like it. It’s made in the traditional method and it should be a really good product but it’s trying to be something it’s not.”
On vintage dated bubbles, Goode spoke from an unequivocal marketing perspective. “People don’t really care about vintage.” On the emerging Canadian and British sparkling wine industries. “Do English or Canadian wines need a special name?” No.”
On the now-universal nomenclature: “Sparkling wine has become an accepted one, not a pejorative one.” Goode’s perspective is always fresh, nearly cynical and full of truth. On leaving the country he bade farewell with thanks.
Participants also had the opportunity to taste two sparkling wine research trials that are currently underway at local wineries as well as a comparative blind tasting. The blind tasting presented a selection of local and international Sparkling wines and Champagnes and was moderated by Jamie Goode. The three flights featured Blanc de Blancs, Cuvée/blends and alternative varieties. Thank you can never be said too many times to Barbara Tatarnic, Magdalena Kaiser-Smit and Trisha Molokach for their generosity in invitation and unwavering hospitality. I am always humbled to be included in their warm world of wine.
I will admit that I would have liked to see more Ontario representation in the flights, as well as at least one example from both British Columbia and especially Nova Scotia’s Gaspereau Valley. With that emerging region and vintners like Benjamin Bridge and Gaspereau Vineyards on the Sparkling stardom stage/horizon, including their wines would have upped the complexity factor tenfold. Not to mention something British. New York State’s Finger Lakes (Chateau Frank Célèbre) and North Fork of Long Island’s (Sparkling Pointe Brut Seduction) should definitely be players in the next #ONfizz symposium.
Sparkling Wine Trial Tasting – Unfinished samples from Trius Wines
- Trius Base on lees two years. Chardonnay (70 per cent), Pinot Noir (25), Pinot Meunier (5). Each (cane sugar) dosage was 20 mL towards an end of 8 g/L of residual sugar. Barrel fermentation and barrel aging leans this towards an oxidixed style. Arid, high in citrus and high-toned oak character.
- Blanc de Noirs 2009. Left on the lees for four years. Use of cane sugar. Less giving and resolute in micro-wood spice. This sample is from the oldest (sparkling) wine in their cellar.
- From the Trius Brut wine. Dosage again with cane sugar. Acts the most polished and finished, the most accomplished. This is the rock and the anchor.
Comparative Blind Tasting – Flight 1: Blanc de Blanc
The sample poured at the OSWTS was unfortunately corked but here was my previous review: “Aromatic rhetoric would argue this Marlborough bottle of bubbles is a ringer for classic Blanc de Blancs. Promises pleasure and class from the first whiff. Decidedly lemon citrus tight and stony until an herbal, splintered, stemmy tarragon balm takes over, rendering the wine more of its place than what it tries to emulate. Still, a really terrific effort.” Tasted November 2013 @oenophilia1
L. Mawby Vineyards Blanc de Blanc Chardonnay NV, Michigan, USA (winery, US $23)
Like distilled white Swedish berries high on acidity. Herbal, tight, gainful simplicity. Pear ciderish and clear as a cool climate bell. @mibubbly
A not so dry (9.8 g/L residual sugar) stylistic choice leads this angel to sparkling late harvest territory with ripe orchard fruit that buzzes with terpenes, surface bruises and slight oxidized notes. The archangel rolls over a knife’s edge and sits too long in the sun but it’s neither cut nor cooked. There is beauty in its 90’s big hair, big sound and you might tell her that “tears drop like diamonds from your golden eyes.” There’s yet a spring in her step and a hay note from afield. Tasted May 2014 @angelsgatewines
House of Arras Blanc de Blancs 2004, Tasmania, Australia (winery, $80 AUS)
Big barrel oak influence leaves splinters in the mouth, albeit gentle and dissolvable ones. Creamy and chalky like ice cream made from tea. Not much yeast and biscuit activity as it’s all about fruit and barrel.
The freshest style of the #ONfizz B de B flight. Fruit, escarpment bench stone layering, richesse, biscuits and toast are all in. Acidity meets complexity. From my earlier, December 2012 note: “Sees no malolactic fermentation and sits at the top end of dry (12-14 dosage). Most of the fruit is 2008, despite the NV designation. A soda fountain of argon and nitrogen bunsens forth through clean lines and carries an entire cider house orchard of Spartan apple. This one certainly hints at Champagne-like characteristics, of brioche and toast. The apples never relent.” Last tasted May 2014 @CaveSpring
Drappier Signature Blanc De Blancs Brut Champagne, Ac, Champagne, France (599860, $46.95, WineAlign)
Here showing a bruised apple note with the lees and PH on steroids. Fruit seems to be in from a less than stellar vintage and so the lack of consistency is disappointing. “It’s a style,” says Jonas Newman. “He’s a natural wine guy.” NV Champagne needs aggregate scoring so my 90 comes down. From my earlier, April 2013 note: “Continues a VINTAGES string of excellent value in Champagne releases. Made from 100% Chardonnay, this BdB is pronounced in , yeasty dough definition, hinting at agave and unwashed cheese rind. Where there’s bubbles there’s a way and I like where this one is going. The agave replays in sweet waves, as does the sour in faint yet discernible sloshes. Much to contemplate in this NV sparkler.” Last Tasted May 2014
Rocks the driest end of the free world Blanc de Blanc spectrum. Lets carte blanche reign in a taut style and reeks of a minimum four years of autolytic lees activity. In that sense it loses some of its sense of place, in Catherine’s case that Short Hills Bench clay-silt-loam-gravel agglomeration. The soil composition usually brings vigor and richness to Chardonnay but here as a sparkling wine the sensation is of citrus soaked concrete. Racy bubbles of intensity that do not quite match the weight and elegance of the 2007. @HenryofPelham
Comparative Blind Tasting – Flight 2: Blends
An impressive debut for winemaker Richie Roberts and team. This is a classic Chardonnay (55 per cent) and Pinot Noir (45) cuvée from Fielding’s Tufford Road vineyard. A surprisingly rich example, toasty and with a sweet meets sweaty, minty-herbiage. A primer for even greater vintages (this is essentially 2009) to come, where the focus will be more on yeast fielding to citrus and less about yielding to a non-metallic elemental finish. @FieldingWinery
L. Mawby Vineyards Talismon NV, Michigan, USA (winery, US $37)
Tasted blind this strikes out as heteromorphic fizz from less than charted territory (like Michigan) with juicy, hybrid acting histrionics. Though it’s actually a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay it lacks vinifera varietal complexity. The fruit is clear and fair but the méthode champenoise brings no enzymatic or citric display.
Here is a cuvée of égalité that combines one-third each Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Like the varietal make-up, these slightly reductive yet elegant bubbles offer up thirds of brioche, toast and demi-glacé. Fashioned from the 2006 harvest with reserve wine added and aged in oak. Chic and affordable but in no shape or form a knock off of the real deal. There’s a theoretical Champagne void within filled with citrus, sharp ginger and pungent spice. Blessed with unmatched length as compared to the others in the #ONfizz cuvée flight.
House of Arras Grand Vintage 2004, Tasmania, Australia (winery, $60 AUS)
“A polarizing wine,” notes winemaker Ed Carr. Full of savoury, herbal notes but also the unmistakable scent of that other white meat. The cure is indeed a porcine one, sweating in a hung game way, which gives this fizz such an old-world, old cellar quality. A slow (spring) malolactic evolution in barrel gives this (65.9 percent) Chardonnay and (34.1) Pinot Noir its silky, milky feel. Good to even better than good length.
This is really bitter, in a really good way. The nobility in brine is likely a result of whole (non-separated) bunch pressing, the Pinot Noir skins impart giving the fruity must its resident bitterness. A highly distinctive style of high caste and longevity, composed of Pinot Meunier (45 per cent), Pinot Noir (35) and Chardonnay (25). As deep as any tasted at #ONfizz 2014.
Chardonnay (75 per cent) and Pinot Noir (25) at an attractive price. Attacks with a gently cloying, weeping sweetness, string-bending terpenes and fades out with a savoury, bitter finish. Light, approachable and wide-reaching style. Bubbles with broad appeal. @MBosc
House of Arras Rosé 2005, Tasmania, Australia (winery, $60 AUS)
The composition here is Pinot Noir (62.5 per cent) and Chardonnay (37.5) from pickings in Lower Derwent, Upper Derwent and the Houn Valley. Emerges out of a year where warmer temperatures coaxed an increase of richer fruit from the rounder and fatter white grape. Good lees effect (seven years) in 2005 and also a balmy tarragon accent atop strawberry, verging to cherry fruit. Finishes with expert balancing acidity, this fizz trumps its Blanc de Blanc and Grand Vintage sistren at this tasting.
Comparative Blind Tasting – Flight 3: Alternative Varieties
Trius at Hillebrand Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc 2009, VQA Niagara Peninsula, (winery, $35.20)
Spent 12 months ageing ‘sur lie’ in the estate’s underground sparkling caves. Winemaker Craig McDonald comments to the negative effect of light on bubbles. “Light strike causes a serious reaction on sparkling wine.” Here a mephitic aroma should likely be attributed to reduction or the beam of sunlight blanketing the room. There is a resinous salinity to this SB that does not want to blow off. Needs to be revisited from 2015 to 2018.
Green Extra-Sec by M. Lawrence, Michigan, USA (winery, $15)
The Green is part of Larry Mawby’s colourful, sexy and artfully named M. Lawrence investigation into the diversity of Sparkling wine. Absurdly dry, this put together Vidal and Cayuga concept is all about musky grape dehydration. Its cool climate constitution rescues the fruit to rehydrate and act like an orange picked straight from the greenhouse tree. There’s a malic medicinal tone that buries the sweet (17 g/L residual), resulting in a tart, low in alcohol, unwoven bottle of slim bubble.
Here is a modest and useful 100% Riesling, Charmat Method, Cuve Close bottle of fizz from Lake Erie North Shore producer Colio Estates. With a residual remainder of nearly 20 g/L it falls into the off-dry category with aromatic notes that stroll directly through Ontario orchards. Tasty, easy to enjoy and smelling peculiarly like bubble gum. Well-made, good quality bubbles nouveau.
A 100 per cent Glera, from Veneto’s Montello and the Asolo hills. As per Giusti’s description, this definitive Prosecco is “appropriately evanescent, with fine and lingering perlage.” Though reserved on the nose, the palate is very lively. A case in point for any aridity-driven examples to follow.
A touch yeasty, with citrus and large bubbles. Good verve, complex palate with a Champagne bent, or at least a toasted sentiment. From my earlier, November 2013 note: “Arid, frothy and fitful, atomically speaking. White peach and preceding spring flowers. Charcoal rubbed, also clean and fine. Sparkling Chenin Blanc done right.” Last tasted May 2014
A more than interesting set of aromatics define and drive this blend of Királyleányka Rizling (Rhine Riesling), Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. A stinky, reductive twang is joined by peach, rubber, pencil, duff and sandy sediment. Although the palate is a bit dullish with a taste of wet concrete there thickens a liqueur-like viscous texture to win sweet hearts. Would win even more were the residual (9 g/L) even higher.
Released back in October of 2013, the Ancestral is what Hinterland’s Vicky Samaras refers to as the “unicorn” or the “babymaker.” This is Gamay Noir in postal service of the ancient process known as méthode ancestrale. Fermentation, which produces the carbon dioxide, occurs in the bottle and lees disgorgement is skipped. Hinterland’s Ancrestral brings sweet currant jelly, strawberry and mint notes (36 g/L residual sugar) to a wine low in alcohol (8 per cent) yet high in balancing (7.8 g/L) natural acidity. The components are all lifted to such great heights. A babymaker because the aromatics, palate, texture and finish “are mirror images and when we kiss they’re perfectly aligned.”
Good to go!