Annual Fizz Report – December 2019

The Top Sparkling Wines Available Now

By John Szabo MS, with picks from Sara, David, Michael and Steve

The year can’t roll over without our annual year-end Fizz Report, your guide to some of the best, and best value, bubblies currently available in Ontario. The WineAlign crü combed through reviews from multiple tastings at our headquarters, the LCBO, and elsewhere on the road to curate this selection, all available at the time of writing. To simplify your shopping, I’ve gathered wines with two or more recommendations under the heading “Picks with Multiple Alignment”, the wines sure to please most broadly. Or, check out the picks of Sara, David, Michael, Steve or John.

John deep in the Fizz

John deep in the Fizz

And as a bonus for home chefs, I asked friend and chef de cuisine Michael Pataran of Clayoquot Wilderness Resort on Vancouver Island (a Relais & Château, voted one of the best resorts in the world by Conde Nast in 2019) for one of his favourite sparkling wine-friendly recipes. He sent me his excellent version of “Fish Amok”, a Cambodian specialty featuring the exotic fragrance of kaffir lime, galangal, lemongrass and turmeric in a rich coconut-egg custard. It’s the perfect contrast to a crisp, dry (not bone dry) bubbly, with the complexity garnered from the traditional method – lots of options to choose from below. A perfect start for a special meal this holiday.

From all of us at WineAlign, we’d like to thank you for another year of support – we greatly appreciate the trust you put in us for your wine drinking pleasure. We wish you all the very best for the holidays and a most happy and prosperous 2020.

Until the next cork pops…

John Szabo, MS

Exchange Gift Certificate 

Picks with Multiple (Wine)Alignment

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava, Spain ($15.95)
David Lawrason – I have been including this “best value” in year-ender sparkling wine reports for just about as long as I have been writing about wine. Scores on complexity and very good flavour depth within a dry, nicely balanced, fresh style, with quite delicate traditional method mousse.
John Szabo – In the world of entry-level cavas, this is surely one of the more interesting expressions. Length and depth are more than adequate – this even seems to have crept up in quality over the years. Reliable, inexpensive bubbly.

Desiderius Pongrácz Brut Cap Classique Sparkling, South Africa ($16.95)
John Szabo – South Africa and fine sparkling may not readily associate in your mind, but the country has been a source of surprisingly good traditional method sparkling wine since 1971. Called Methode Cap Classique, or MCC, these often deliver complexity equal to wines at twice the price. This excellent example is named for Desiderius Pongrácz, a colourful Hungarian Count who spent ten years in a Siberian labour camp after WWII before escaping to Africa during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. He was a key early figure in the development of a quality modern wine industry in South Africa in the 1970s and 80’s. His eponymous wine, a pinot chardonnay blend, offers textbook biscuity-toasty flavours alongside citrus, while the very dry palate rests on crisp, firm acids. Fine length, too.
David Lawrason – Great value for this surprisingly complex, deeply flavoured traditional method sparkler. Shows generous, baked apple, dried fried onion, a touch of honey and spice on the nose. It is medium bodied, tart, bold and grippy – not quite as fine as the average Champagne, but delivering similar complexity and depth.

Flama D’or Brut Cava, Spain ($18.22)
John Szabo – This is a step up in seriousness and sophistication from the mean in the sub-$20 traditional method bubbly category, offering more than respectable complexity, including florals, white-fleshed fruit, lightly nutty-honeyed character, and citrus-green fruit. It’s also bone dry, and crisp, filling the aperitif slot comfortably.
Sara d’Amato – At under $20, this rather complex, traditional method fizz is a real stand-out. The autolytic character is quite emphatic adding body and welcome flavours of fresh bread. The dosage is on the higher side of Brut adding texture and affability but finishes dry.

Antech Emotion Rose Crémant De Limoux 2017, Traditional Method, Ac, Limoux, France ($19.95)
John Szabo – A highly respectable rosé from the region that lays claims to producing the world’s first traditional method sparkling wines, attractively priced for parties and larger gatherings, or casual afternoon drop-ins. It delivers more toasty character and complexity than many similarly priced (or more expensive), simple and fruity rosés, you might say a little more serious.
Sara d’Amato – The birthplace of sparkling wine, the appellation of Crémant de Limoux in southern Languedoc gives producers a chance to feature a more modern, less traditional grape blend. As opposed to “Blanquette de Limoux” that is dominated by the local mauzac grape, this assemblage of chardonnay, chenin blanc, pinot noir and mauzac has a more Champenoise feel. Bright and cheerful, this floral rosé is balanced by just the right level of dosage giving roundness yet not taking away from its inherent freshness.

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava  Desiderius Pongrácz Brut Cap Classique Sparkling Chardonnay/Pinot Noir  Flama D'or Brut Cava  Antech Émotion Rosé Crémant De Limoux 2017

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc De Blanc 2014, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($49.95)
John Szabo – A reliable local classic since its first release in 2007, HofP’s latest top-of-the-range Carte Blanche, a pure chardonnay with 5 years on the lees, is textbook blanc de blancs with excellent length and depth, remaining in the more brisk, tight, aperitif style. A sophisticated wine, well worth the premium.
Sara d’Amato – The 2014 Blanc de Blanc is ageing so gracefully that it presents itself as a fresh cuvée. This traditional method chardonnay has the depth and character to stand up to many more expensive Champagnes making it an excellent choice for festivities over the holidays. Fresh, complex and undeniably compelling.

13th Street Winery Grande Cuvee Blanc De Noir 2013, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($59.95)
John Szabo – And to contrast Henry’s blanc de blancs in a local sparkling showdown, line up 13th Street’s top end sparkler, a pure pinot noir also given at least 60 months on the lees. The style is decidedly oxidative, the “gout anglais” as they said back in the day, with a slightly earthy-medicinal nose, heavily inflected with autolytic (toasty-biscuity, lees-derived) flavour alongside autumnal fruit. Ample acids frame the mid-weight palate, and intensity and length are impressive. With its bone dry nature, it comes across as a touch austere, but fans of good bubbly will be satisfied.
Sara d’Amato – A rich, high acid, nervy style that is surprisingly full and fleshy on the palate. This dichotomy results in an immensely satisfying experience that will please the most discerning of fizz fans. Still vibrant with very little matured character.  Excellent value.

Henriot Brut Souverain Champagne, France ($69.99)
John Szabo – Henriot’s latest classic Brut Souverain is an attractive, well-balanced, subtle and complex wine on the leaner and fresher side of the champagne spectrum, an excellent all-around, all day/night sipper.
David Lawrason – This is a lighter, bright and tidy Champagne with a fine nose of hazelnut, brioche, lemon and hay. It is very nicely balanced, dry and lemony without being austere.  A style you could serve all round and sip all evening.  Available from Woodman Wines & Spirits.

Ruinart R De Ruinart Brut Champagne, France ($88.95)
David Lawrason – My pick for the classy New Years Eve celebration!  Just a bit out of the mainstream, from the house said to be first established in Champagne. Impressive aromatic intensity with quite toasty, lemony and apple notes. Really taut, firm, dry and intense on the palate.
Sara d’Amato – A rich and savory cuvée, classic with elegant styling. Offering a great depth of flavour, superb acid balance and with just enough autolytic creaminess. Floral notes, brioche, clarified butter, lightly dried lemon, white tea and a touch of honey make up the complex palate. A highly memorable find.

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc De Blanc 2014 13th Street Winery Grande Cuvee Blanc De Noir 2013  Henriot Souverain Brut Champagne Ruinart R De Ruinart Brut Champagne

John Szabo’s Picks

Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Extra Brut Champagne 2012

Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Extra Brut Champagne 2012, Ac France ($93.95)
John Szabo – My pick for a readily available splurge to ring in the new decade, Moët & Chandon’s Grand Vintage 2012, the 74th edition, is an absolute classic in the making, from a brilliant champagne vintage. The palate is almost perfectly pitched, and I love the seamlessly integrated effervescence and the ripe acids on an essentially bone dry frame. One very classy and elegant sophisticated wine to be sure, and you can buy almost 4 bottles of it for the price of one Dom Pérignon.

David’s Picks

Muré Cuvée Prestige Brut Crémant d’Alsace,  Alsace, France ($28.95)
David Lawrason – It has the distinctive nose of Alsatian aromatic varieties, with riesling likely dominant, but comes across with complexity and elegance. Just a blush of sweetness upfront but narrows and dries to a firm, almost mineral finish. Very well defined. Try with scallops.

13th Street Premier Cuvee Sparkling 2013, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($39.95)
David Lawrason – There is a tightly wound austerity and depth to the sparkling wines of 13th Street – in my view the most successful style in its portfolio. Expect lifted aromas of macadamia nut, toast, hay, honey and dried apple fruit set in tart-edged and intense frame. Oyster wine!

Muré Cuvée Prestige Brut Crémant d'Alsace  13th Street Premier Cuvée Sparkling 2013

Michael’s Picks

Flat Rock 2017 Riddled Sparkling, Traditional Method, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($34.95)
Michael Godel – A couple of months back we attended a crown cap vs cork retrospective with Ed Madronich and David Sheppard of Flat Rock Cellars. The results were fascinating which makes this 2017 Riddled a gift for someone curious and willing to save this bottle for a future tasting. Really curious, notable and complex stuff.

Graham Beck Brut Rosé Méthode Cap Classique N/V, WO Western Cape, South Africa ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) is a South African term indicating a sparkling wine made in the traditional method (the same way Champagne is made). Graham Beck’s Pieter Ferreira has put in the time and the research over 20-plus years to really understand the category but more importantly the potential.

Ravine Vineyard Brut, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario ($38.00)
Michael Godel – A chardonnay and pinot mix in the vicinity of 60/40 with five years on the less. “We don’t mess around with that,” says Marty Werner and in fact the inverse relationship with sales can determine up to a seven year aging. Minor sugar, major complexity and might as well be (2011) vintage dated. Available through Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery

William Saintot La Cuvée Prestige Champagne Premier Cru, France ($77.00)
Michael Godel – The Prestige is pinot noir and chardonnay based on a Solera ideal with fruit inclusion going back to 2010. It’s not nearly as oxidative as you might expect, in fact its freshness is a sustainable guarantee. There are layers and layers involved that will take as long to peel away as they took have taken to accumulate since 2010. Available through Riverdale Wines.

Flat Rock Riddled Sparkling 2017  Graham Beck Méthode Cap Classique Brut Rosé  Ravine Vineyard Brut  William Saintot La Cuvée Prestige Champagne Premier Cru

Steve’s Pick

Dom Pérignon Vintage Brut Rosé Champagne 2006Dom Pérignon Vintage Brut Rosé 2006, Champagne, France ($350.00)
Steve Thurlow – It was at lunch in November with winemaker Nicholas Lane that I tasted this superb rose Champagne. 2006 is the best vintage I can recall of this classic. It is exquisitely elegant with a delicate yet complex nose of pure ripe red berry fruit with apricot, fig and orange citrus that develops wonderfully in the glass. It is lightweight and silky smooth with great focus and purity and outstanding length. Subtle with a slight salty tang to the finish to accentuate the mineral tone evident on the nose and palate. Still amazingly youthful without any hint of oxidation. Drinking well now as an aperitif or with delicately flavoured seafood. Only 44 bottles and only at LCBO Summerhill.




Khmer Fish Amok

Khmer “fish amok” in banana leaf with fresh coconut cream, egg, galangal, kaffir lime leaf, bird’s eye chile, cilantro, jasmine scented rice and fried shallots


  • 3 tbsp.  soybean oil
  • 400 gm.  lean, firm, white fish, 3 cm. cubes
  • 4 tbsp.  yellow kroeung paste (recipe below)
  • 400 ml.  coconut milk
  • 2 tsp.    fish sauce
  • 3/4 tsp.  sugar, white
  • 2 tsp.    soy sauce, (Khmer or Vietnamese)
  • A/N     shrimp or fish stock (as needed)
  • 1         large whole egg
  • 1 cup     fish or chicken stock
  • 2         egg yolks
  • TT        salt, kosher
  • TT        black pepper, ground
  • 2 tbsp.   coconut cream
  • 1         kaffir lime leaf, sliced hair thin
  • 1         bird chilies, sliced thin
  • 2 tbsp.   fried shallots
  • 8         whole coriander leaves
  • 2 small square banana leaf (10 cm.)


  1. Set up a bamboo steamer over pot water to high simmer.
  2. Season the fish with salt. Put a medium sized heavy based non-stick pan on a high heat. Add oil, fish, searing for around 1 minute, and keep aside.
  3. Put a medium sized heavy based pan on a medium heat. Add the oil, when heated, add the kroeung to the pan. Cook this on medium heat for 2-3 minutes until fragrant but not coloured.
  4. Add the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar, water.  This is called the amok sauce.
  5. Whisk egg yolks and slowly temper into the amok mix and then stir to vigorously until incorporated. Add in the salt and pepper to season and mix again. Keep stirring and mixing on low heat for about 3-5 minutes until the amok mixture starts to thicken. Remove from heat.
  6. Add the fish and stock into the pan and mix well. Now place the Amok/fish mix into 2 medium-sized ceramic soup/serving bowls and cover with lid or resinite wrap and place in the steamer and steam for 5 minutes longer. Remove from the steamer and allow to rest 2 minutes covered and then remove resinite wrap.
  7. Garnish each of the amok bowls with the sliced bird chilies, sliced kaffir lime leaf, coconut cream, fried shallots and coriander leaves.
  8. Serve with steamed jasmine rice in a separate bowl and garnish with fried garlic.




  • 400 gm.  lemongrass, sliced
  • 10       garlic cloves, peeled
  • 15       shallots, peeled
  • 4        kaffir lime leaves
  • 2 tsp.   galangal, sliced (or ginger)
  • 1 tbsp.  fresh turmeric, peeled, chopped


  1. Use a food processor or mortar and pestle.
  2. Add ingredients in the order listed above:
  3. Remove the outer leaves of the lemongrass. Roughly smash and chop then put into the food processor/mortar and grind into a paste.
  4. Peel and roughly chop the galangal, kaffir lime zest and the fresh turmeric, add to the food processor/mortar and continue to grind it down to a thick paste
  5. Peel and roughly chop the garlic and shallots, add to the food processor and continue to grind it down to a paste
  6. Grind the paste as smooth as possible, reserve and keep for up to 2 weeks in fridge or freeze until needed.

(YIELD: 700 gm.)