Eleven 11th hour holiday bubbles

Betella Franciacorta

Betella Franciacorta

Two weeks ago I laid bare the bubbles I’d buy were I faced with the welcoming necessity of a holiday shopping day. With those bottles long ago secured I followed up with more Sparkling wine tastings. Naturally.

Related – Godello’s guide to holiday effervescence

The idiomatic phrase has infiltrated all kinds of desperation, from settling political disputes, to diffusing bombs, to shopping. Its origins are Matthew 20:6. “And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?” If it’s Sparkling you want or Champagne you need, stand up and be counted. The choices are all around you.

First a disclaimer. I have no intention of making this a Champagne-free holiday. Some wine writers and perhaps even a consumer or two will be joining Jim Budd, a.k.a Jim’s Loire, in a Champagne boycott. This in response to what Budd calls the governing board’s (CIVC) “ludicrous, extremely heavy-handed and ruthless attempt to crush Jayne Powell (aka Champagne Jayne).” The powers that be that are Champagne are attempting to out Powell in court for allegedly attempting to capitalize on the name in illegal marketing ways. They claim she is misleading Twitter followers for monetary gain.

The trial is both ridiculous and smells of a witch hunt but the prosecution weighs of the big houses, not the small grower. One reader commented that the small producers should speak out. Speak out? Why would a French farmer jeopardize his business and the food he puts on his family’s table to protect “a respected international media commentator, independent reviewer and expert in champagne.” Why join the complaint department with something you neither endorse nor renounce? Why chime in on something further from your radar than Sparkling Outback Shiraz?

Perhaps Jim Budd’s request to boycott will do for the Champagne strong-arm dialectic what the Leonardo DiCaprio narrated 11th Hour did for the earth’s environmental discourse. That is, “push the debate further down the road.” Maybe it will assist, as the film may have, as the “montage rolls inexorably forward, pitched somewhere between Koyaanisqatsi and An Inconvenient Truth.”

Sparkling wine aims to please in so many ways and yes, there are a multitude of Champagne alternatives. A recent one day affair with Lombardian Franciacorta left me weak in the knees, despite all attempts to figure out where the two samples found at WineAlign came from? If anyone has the answer, please let me know. I want more for Christmas. Most exciting was a second tasting in as many weeks with Stephen Cohen from Groupe Soleil. Stephen’s portfolio of Grand Cru, Grower’s Champagne is nothing short of brilliant. Treats to the nth degree.

Here are 11 more Sparkling wines to seek out over the holidays, through the LCBO and at the import of Ontario agents. Bubbles are worth buying by the case.

Betella Franciacorta Brut Blanc De Blanc, Lombardy, Italy (WineAlign)

This 100 per cent Chardonnay is so direct, so grounded, so black and white. Just a hint of funky earth and a swath of painted lees but otherwise fruit entrenched in traction and fermentation in beautiful suspended animation. Defines modernity in Franciacorta, a still frame of concentrated, dry bubbles, life affirming and void of any extraneous conditioning. No add-ons, just straight up sock it to me Sparkling wine. Tight, bracing and built for serious fun, without ceremony or pageantry. So effective and so well constructed.  Tasted December 2014  @Franciacorta

Betella Lovera Di Franciacorta Rose Ardi, Lombardy, Italy (WineAlign)

Like the Betella Blanc de Blanc, this is quite direct, but in a much different way. It’s funky reductive and yet super, hyper transparent and understood. Wound tight with racy acidity and spumes of an aridity that steals saliva and is nearly heart-stopping. These blush bubbles are savoury in a way the Chardonnay just can’t seem to herbalize and bracing in a way that does not fully compute. Exciting and tart if noticeably out of balance. Tasted December 2014

From left to right: Wolf Blass Yellow Label Sparkling Brut, Mionetto M O Prosecco, Foss Marai Extra Dry Prosecco,13th Street Cuvée 13 Sparkling Brut Rosé,Sumac Ridge Steller's Jay Brut Sparkling Wine 2009

From left to right: Wolf Blass Yellow Label Sparkling Brut, Mionetto M O Prosecco, Foss Marai Extra Dry Prosecco,13th Street Cuvée 13 Sparkling Brut Rosé,Sumac Ridge Steller’s Jay Brut Sparkling Wine 2009


Wolf Blass Yellow Label Sparkling Brut, Australia (649996, $17.95, WineAlign)

Smells like strawberries covered in crème fraîche with a sprinkling of brown sugar. Slightly if negatively overripe and even oxidized, limping to bruised. The mouthfeel is nothing if not luxurious, in an expansive way Crémant d’Alsace fills spaces. The bruising is joined by a bronzing, in apples stuck to cold metal. Terpenes wind the fruit in elastic release. The persistence is quite good on a light (11 per cent) alcohol frame.  Tasted December 2014  @WolfBlassWines

Mionetto M O Prosecco, Treviso, Veneto, Italy (266023, $17.95, WineAlign)

Paradigmatic, stoic, poised and essential Prosecco of ultra-utilitarianism and yet spirited in ascent. Like the combined discourse of soft, acidulated, creamy granny smith apples and bosc pears in baking anticipation. A hero seltzer for aperitif goings on. Celebrates the reformed religion of Treviso fizz. Our Prosecco of inclusive ascension.  Tasted December 2014  @Select_Wines

Foss Marai Extra Dry Prosecco, Veneto, Italy (729392, $19.95, WineAlign)

Light, lithe and indiscernible from an alcohol perspective. Candy factory meet concrete truck aromas to form a strange, but effective union. Like yellow-banana salt water taffy rolled in coarse aggregate and portland cement. The filling brings sweetness and nondescript bitters. Finishes bold yet abrupt. From my earlier note: “Funky and advanced character. Aromas of green vegetables, celery stalks and oddly like botrytis, or an anti-botrytis. Has a platinum, minerality like no other in its Prosecco gang. Fun to think on and to work with.”  Last tasted December 2014  @FossMarai

13th Street Cuvée 13 Sparkling Brut Rosé, Traditional Method, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (147504, $24.95, WineAlign)

The intensity of strawberries is palpable, with the woodsy and earthy leaves on the ground soiling the oozing juices. Only Jean Pierre Colas can coax mushroom and truffles from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay destined for blush bubbles, grown in Niagara clay soils. Starts out sweet, turns dry and finishes with a concrete stamp of evidence. Not everyone’s cup of steeped, developed and all over the map tea. From my earlier note of April 2013: “Autolytic, Brut-finished, traditional method sparkling that has that something in her style. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay emitting so much strawberry energy you might find yourself lost in the fields forever. But there is more than that, “something in the way she woos me,” maybe the rhubarb replay, or the tarragon, or the faint tang of cheese. You gotta like the Jean Pierre Colas style and to like her, you need to like her style.”  Last tasted December 2014  @13thStreetWines

Sumac Ridge Steller’s Jay Brut Sparkling Wine 2009, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (264879, $25.95, WineAlign)

A worthy if warmer and fuller follow-up to the wise and evolving ’08. Presents more yeasty opulence and sweet cream, not to mention density and conceit in alcohol (13 per cent). A slightly oxidized false front reveals a gregarious personality, with aromas of clementine rind, spritz and a concentration of enzymatic lees. This has to be imagined as an absolute, unequivocal take on Okanagan Brut, with a glide from gravel and slate to citrus all around. Gives length like it should and it will say, “like I knew I would.” Thing is, these bubbles are good.  Tasted December 2014  @SumacRidgeWine

From left to right: Deutz Brut Classic Champagne, André Clouet Brut Rosé Champagne, Diebolt Vallois Prestige Brut Blanc De Blancs Champagne, Champagne Agrapart De Blanc Grand Cru Champagne

From left to right: Deutz Brut Classic Champagne, André Clouet Brut Rosé Champagne, Diebolt Vallois Prestige Brut Blanc De Blancs Champagne, Champagne Agrapart De Blanc Grand Cru Champagne

Deutz Brut Classic Champagne, France (Agent, $54.95, WineAlign)

The Deutz has every right to call itself classic Champagne; full of charm and chaste caste, of ingot, pleasure in bottle and a calm, slow play. An armoury of bronze, gold and platinum set yet malleable, ready to mold with all that comes its way. A sipper extraordinaire, a meal companion and a celebratory tipple. Works its metals with every facet of its mettle and being. Bread yeasty, non-violent citrus aromatics and very, very linear acidity. Elasticity in forward stretch, rebound rewind and cast forth again. Quite remarkable in such a simple way. Most excellent value.  Tasted December 2014  @TandemSelection

André Clouet Brut Rosé Champagne, France (Agent, $62.95, WineAlign)

Clouet does Rosé in a unique and special way. With the slightest early whiff in miasma it bleeds residual in sanguine, plasma vitality. Disgorged in April 2014, the base wine is 100 per cent Pinot Noir from the 2010 vintage, with (20 per cent) support from 2008 and 2009. Its 6 g/L of dosage saturates the plasmic flow, just at the edge of sweetness without any elevated or heightened sense of being there. A tease of concept and precept; citrus, wild sage savour and berry fruits. Very fine, natural and pronounced, in a calm and precise way. Tasted  December 2014  @GroupeSoleilTO

Diebolt Vallois Prestige Brut Blanc De Blancs Champagne, France (Agent, $68.00, WineAlign)

From the tiny town of Cramant, this B de B could never be confused with the lithe and lively Alsatian unequivalent. The Prestige bottling is exactly that; a bubbly of searing intensity from a Blanc de Blancs operative with an ever so slight bent to oxidation. The oxymoronic activity that is simultaneously weighty and aerified will only improve with some age. Disgorged in March 2014 at 9 g/L it eschews a Brut mentality for extreme pleasure. Savour the savour in this grower’s Champagne. The lemon-lime-grapefruit flavours pierce and inject along with organic sourdough fury and a density of just over the top toasty goodness. This is sword fighting, swashbuckling Champagne, bottled Tybalt of honour, terroir and incredible length.  Tasted December 2014

Champagne Agrapart Terroir Blanc De Blanc Extra Brut Grand Cru Champagne, France (Agent, $72.00, WineAlign)

Disgorged in February 2014 at 3.5 g/L, this is the Extra Brut Agrapart, as amplified a grower’s Champagne expression you are ever hopeful to come across. The base wine is from the 2009 vintage, with bits of 2008 and 2007 added in. There is an increased green feeling, in herbs and savour, nettle and apple. The citrus component is from lime, acting as the key to elevation and weightless simulation. Here the Grand Cru terroir for a GC strikes an immolate dagger into the hearts of basic, big name, monotone Champagne. Their are bitter roots as underlay and the aridity is simply nuts, peanuts even, the citrus condense of pith and putty. The flavours at times are at odds but thoughts always return to soil and blocks. This has specificity and idiosyncratic relevance written all over its fierce face. Most interesting specimen.  Tasted December 2014

Good to go!


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