British Columbia Critics’ Picks December 2015
While the WineAlign West crew drink fizz, well, daily, there’s even more reason to pop the cork at year’s end. Between festive gatherings, Christmas dinner (and brunch!) and toasting to the start of a prosperous 2016, there is ample reason to celebrate this season. Here are a dozen of our favourite sparkling wines tasted this past year, any one of which we would be happy to raise a glass of to you, dear reader and fellow wine lover.
Cheers ~ TR
Our monthly BC Critics’ Picks is the place to find recent recommendations from our intrepid and curious BC critics – wines that cross geographical boundaries, toe traditional style lines and may push limits – without being tied to price or distribution through BCLDB or VQA stores. All are currently available for sale in BC.
If you want to know which of your friends is really into wine, check their refrigerator. If you find a chilled bottle of sparkling wine just waiting to be opened for no particular reason, chances are they are wine freaks. Some thirty years down the wine path I’m still baffled by consumer resistance to open, share, and generally drink sparkling wine on a regular basis. It’s almost as if we dare not be seen consuming a product widely associated with “celebrating” something. Confounding the issue is sparkling wine’s ability to pair with an almost infinite number foods. But why dwell on the dreary; it’s time for a break and a great bottle of fizz to celebrate a few days off.
My picks for the holidays are not cheap but if you are only going to celebrate with sparkling wine you might as well drink the best. The Veuve Clicquot 2004 La Grande Dame comes from a large harvest but you would never know it. Big and rich, yes, but with a brightness and acidity that travels throughout. Showing at its peak now but should age gracefully.
Taittinger 2005 Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs is not as big as the 2002 or 2004, so it’s ideally situated to drink now, providing breathing room for those wines to continue to age. Elegant as ever and delicate with full flavours.
The delicious Louis Roederer N/V Brut Premier Champagne continues to impress in recent years, especially for the price. Love its cherry, citrus, chalky salty mineral palate. Always classy.
Finally the latest Piper-Heidsieck 2002 Rare Brut is a treat. One of the last tête-de-cuvées to come to the market, it doesn’t look or taste its thirteen years. Balanced and complex consider this serious enough for the dinner table.
Rhys Pender MW
Let’s make no mistake. Bubbly should not be reserved only for this holiday time of the year. Yes, we loosen our wallets a bit more around Christmas and upgrade from Cava to Champagne a little more often but we have to remember that it is fine to drink the sparkling stuff year round.
That said, the holidays are a great chance to try some classy wines and really see what you get for those extra dollars. You should get wines with more intensity, more complex flavours and greater length. They should leave you thinking with each sip. Here are four sparklers I would recommend for this Christmas and New Year.
The first is a delicious chardonnay based wine from the small Philipponnat house. You can currently buy the Philipponnat 2004 Grand Blanc Brut at private stores in BC and it is worth seeking out. Great combination of racy freshness and complex age and autolysis.
Another Champagne that is new to the shelves of the BC Liquor Stores, and new to me, is the Tendil & Lombardi N/V Brut Champagne. On special ’til Jan 2 for $46.99 this has fresh, crisp, racy minerality and just a hint of toastiness. Pairs well with oysters. I tested this personally for you.
Tasmania is Australia’s Champagne region – making its best sparkling wines. We are lucky to have another wine with some bottle age on the shelf in BC for a special treat. The Arras Grand Vintage 2004, is $60.99 and offers a richer style of wine with lots of developed character and still holding on with freshness. Try it with gougères.
Of the more widely available Champagnes you often end up developing a favourite. Admittedly I have a couple, but perhaps my favourite is the Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve Champagne. This has the combination of toasty richness balanced with crisp, mineral acidity that I look for and it seems more complex and intense than most of its competition.
Fizz goes with everything from brunch to dinner and intimate date night to grand showy celebrations. And really, everything else. I’ll self award an A for Effort in my attempt to taste as many sparkling wines as possible in 2015. Here are four memorable bottles of bubbles.
The pristine, Champagne Pierre Gimonnet & Fils N/V Brut Rosé de Blancs is for those people who may not generally gravitate towards rosé champagnes (ahem – people like me). Delicate and intense at once, with a chalky textural minerality and precision that befits its 96 percent chardonnay. Four percent still pinot noir from Bouzy is added to the blend, yielding an ever-so-delicate peach hue and whiff of wild strawberries. One of the most memorable wines of my year.
Champagne Vilmart & Cie Grande Réserve N/V Brut Premier Cru is a graceful grower champagne, from premier cru vineyards around the village of Rilly, organically farmed. A fuller cushion of red fruit (red apples, currants) reflects the majority pinot noir in the cépage, balanced out with a vein of bright acidity from the chardonnay and plumped up with a minimum of ten months ferment and aging in oak.
You’ve probably heard about British bubble, and now you can taste it, with the first to our province, Coates & Seely Hampshire N/V Reserve Brut, currently on shelves. This is a tiny, hands-on, traditional method (Méthode Britannique) sparkling house. Salt, wet chalk, lemon pith and subtle earthiness rings on the intense nose and palate before a bite of crunchy, citrus-spun acids. Charms with honest exuberance.
It’s always rewarding to see local wines shine and stand shoulder to shoulder with their peers worldwide. That’s what I thought when I tasted the latest Haywire The Bub, Bottle Fermented & Aged 2013. Pinot noir and chardonnay from cooler sites in Summerland and Oliver were used in this crisp, bright, bone dry (brut zero) fizz. Stock up, drink up.
WineAlign in BC
In addition to our monthly Critics’ Picks report, we also publish the popular shortlist 20 Under $20, as well as the BC Wine Report, a look at all things in the BC Wine Industry. Lastly, Anthony Gismondi closes out each month with his Final Blend column – an expert insight into wine culture and trends, honed by more than 25 years experience as an influential and global critic.
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