Ontario Sparkling Wines
Ontario makes great bubbly; I will happily go on record to state that. The province has a history with sparkling wine production that dates to the late 1970’s, but began in earnest in the early 2000’s. The cooler climate and typically limestone heavy soils allow for the base materials with which to craft exceptional traditional method sparkling. Not to mention some incredibly talented people who live in Ontario that are focusing on making it.
Ontarians certainly drink sparkling and specifically Champagne. While overall volume of wine imports fell between 2020 and 2021 by 2%, both bubbly categories grew; sparkling by about 12% and Champagne by a whopping 33%.
Bubbles are on the radar of the industry organization Ontario Grape and Wine Research; an arm of Grape Growers of Ontario, Ontario Craft Wineries and Wine Growers Ontario. Two of their proposed areas of focus for research in 2022 were sparkling wine production and sparkling wine in the domestic market.
So, who to watch and what to buy for your holiday season and beyond? Here are some exceptional wines as well as some really, really good ones. Some trends I have been seeing are attention to detail such as the use of top-quality fruit and/or vineyard sites, extended lees aging or both. Bonus? The ceiling of what high quality Ontario-made traditional method sparkling costs is near the baseline compared to Champagne – for many reasons such as Champagne’s prestige and global demand. One key difference can be noted; the wines reviewed below are to my knowledge single vintage wines, and so stylistically and qualitatively we see a difference when we are looking at Champagnes with a high proportion of back-vintage base wines and therefore a more vinous profile. When looking at single vintage Champagne, there is not such a chasm between Champagne and Ontario versions in terms of quality. They call that a bang (aka cork pop!) for your buck.
Queenston Mile 2017 Grand Mile VQA St David’s Bench ($50)
Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend. A robust and serious wine. Harvest was completed in mid-September from the estate vineyard whose location in St David’s bench contributes to riper fruit. Aromatically a bit shy- lemon pith, granny smith apple pie, bakery at 5am. Flavors of baked pear, almond, golden delicious apple, pomegranate, and a broadness/richness. Aged just over three years before disgorgement.
Hinterland 2009 Les Etoiles VQA Prince Edward County 1500ml (current release $40 for 750ml)
60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir from estate vineyard. A reminder of what excellent fruit and winemaking can accomplish. Nearing the end of its peak lifespan and as such it has a lot of wisdom. The developed green and golden fruit aromas are dialed back, and the nose is dominated by toast, patisserie, and almond brittle. On the palate a fresh, yeasty salinity emerges along with a fresher fruit profile. Expansive flavors and a bright acidity take over for the bubbles which are delicate, creamy, and expectedly fleeting. The current release is 2018; I always have grand expectations of this wine and am never disappointed. In the exceptional camp.
Rosehall Run 2017 ‘Ceremony’ Blanc de Blanc VQA Prince Edward County ($40)
Fine aromas, delicate in nature. This exists on the fresh, mineral side and shows green/tart fruit character-pear and lemon, and flinted stone. Beautifully bright on the palate, lean and juicy, with a broader flavor profile to include brioche toastiness and lemon curd. Particularly good and drinking well now; could age 5 years easily.
Hidden Bench 2014 Blanc de Blanc VQA Beamsville Bench ($48)
From organically farmed Locust Lane estate vineyard from a cooler year, a small crop and concentrated fruit. All signs point to yes, this is delicious. Aromatically delicate, with pretty notes of green apple, pear, apple blossom, flinty minerality, yeasty but not baked bread notes. This is a zero dosage, taught style with 4 years of bottle aging before disgorgement and a further several years prior to release. Lingering on the finish, ending with firm, appetite awakening freshness. Exceptional, and frankly a steal of a price for the quality.
Cave Spring Blanc de Blanc CSV 2015 VQA Beamsville Bench ($50)
Beautiful. From such a great site for conveying sense of place, the eponymous CSV vineyard; well known for its limestone and sloping, perfect aspect. Lovely fruit ripeness, more golden and voluptuous but still fresh with minerally, saline notes. Fine and precise on the palate but creamy in texture. This is aged over 5 years on lees, giving a complexity to the effort from the grapes. On par with the quality expected of world class traditional method sparkling. Exceptional, ready to drink for NYE 2023 or hold for up to 5 years.
13th Street Blanc de Blanc 2020 VQA Niagara Peninsula ($30)
Really pleasant and wonderfully balanced. Nothing outshines and this wine feels very cohesive. This is Chardonnay from both Niagara Escarpment as well as Niagara-on-the-Lake. Stainless steel held the first fermentation, the second bottle fermentation took just over 12 months. Citrus, green apple, bread dough, salinity. Not too complex but a lovely bottle.