John Szabo’s Annual Fizz Guide 2020

By John Szabo MS, with notes from David Lawrason, Michael Godel, Sara D’Amato

It’s that time of year and one of my favorite tastings every December: the annual Fizz Guide. This year, the Crü tasted through several dozen bubblies from $15 to $115 to bring you our top picks of currently available wines, in time for the holidays. We’ll all be glad to see the back side of 2020 no doubt, and while magnums may not be the order of the day, there’s nothing like sharing a half-magnum of bubbly with your micro-bubble to lift the spirits and say goodbye to words like “unprecedented’ and “pivot”. I wish us all fully precedented and un-swivelling times in 2021.


Considering the new retail landscape in Ontario, this year I’ve divided the picks into three shopping categories, for convenience: 1) wines that can be delivered to your door, by-the-bottle, covering the increasingly large and excellent range of Canadian sparkling wines; 2) wines that can be delivered to your door, by the case (of 6 or 12 bottles) covering consignment and private order wines, and 3), for the masochists who will brace the cold and lineups and potential exposure, the stuff you can only get at the LCBO. If you are planning inter-store transfers, plan ahead!

Tank/Charmat vs. Traditional Method

I’ve also split each category into tank/Charmat method sparkling wines, and traditional method sparkling. The former technique, as the name implies, calls for the secondary fermentation in a large, stainless steel tank with the lid closed to retain the bubbles (“cuve close” is yet another way of referring to this method). Frenchman Eugène Charmat takes credit for devising the technique in 1907, though his method was simply an improvement on Italian Federico Martinotti’s innovation in sparkling wine production in 1895. It’s used most often for fresh wines from aromatic varieties like moscato or glera (aka prosecco), as the large volume of wine relative to the small amount of lees left over after the second fermentation adds virtually no toasty-yeasty flavour, and allows the character of the grape variety to shine. It’s also faster and cheaper than the traditional method, and the wines, too, are invariably less expensive.

The traditional method, on the other hand, also known as the méthod champenoise, requires the secondary fermentation to take place in bottle. The wine is then left for a long ageing period after fermentation has finished, on the lees (dead yeast cells). Over time, a process called yeast autolysis causes the spent yeast cells to break down, releasing those marvelous toasty, biscuity, brioche-like flavours for which traditional method sparkling wines are appreciated. Vintage Champagne, for example, spends a minimum of 3 years ageing “sur lie”. It’s a time and space-consuming process, and the of removal the dead yeast cells before the wine is sold also adds considerable cost.

1) Delivered to Your Door By-the-Bottle

As I wrote in the intro to the Buyer’s Guide to Canada’s Best Wines, “If a single category of wine could be said to unite Canada’s best from coast to coast, and attract significant international interest, sparkling wine is it. It’s the single most improved style category over the last decade, and now the most consistently excellent…. Most importantly, dollar for dollar, Canada’s top sparkling wines are among the world’s best values.”

If you are still unconvinced, take the Pepsi challenge and taste any of these recommendations, blind, alongside a similarly priced wine from anywhere on the planet.

Traditional Method

Benjamin Bridge 2016 Brut Nature Hand Crafted Small Lot, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia
$119.50, Benjamin Bridge
John Szabo – Quite simply one of the best sparkling wines yet produced in Canada. Mature flavours put this in the same category as long-aged, Vintage champagne, à la Dom Pérignon or Cristal. So, the price? Actually, rather cheap.

Henry Of Pelham 2015 Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc De Blanc, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario
$49.95, Henry of Pelham (also at LCBO)
John Szabo – With its lovely aromatics in the classic Blanc de Blancs spectrum, Henry of Pelham delivers yet another superb traditional method sparkling chardonnay in the top class in Canada. You won’t find much better from anywhere in the world, including Champagne, at this price.

Cave Spring Blanc De Blancs Brut Sparkling, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
$29.95, Cave Spring Cellars (Also at LCBO)
Michael Godel – It seems every three years is the interval for reviewing this arch-classic Ontario sparkling wine but be assured that the time in between actually drinking this fine Niagara wine is a much tighter and repetitive proposition. Terrific balance accorded and afforded from this latest cuvée. Good toasty bubble for any and all toasts, plus innocuous glasses for drinking in between.
David Lawrason – Here’s a textbook traditional method Niagara chardonnay Blanc de Blancs. It has a lovely soft nose of apple sauce, vanilla bean and shortbread pastry. Very pretty. It is light to mid-weight, just off-dry, lively with fine acidity.

Tawse Quarry Road Spark Rosé 2017, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario
$29.95, Tawse Winery
Michael Godel – Surely a much different sort of sparkling blush, aromatic in fresh bouquets but also part potpourri. A masala of spice and dried fruit on that nose gives and gives. The palate is all lemon and tisane, part orange pekoe and part rooibos. Herbals too, lemon balm, grass and then a tannic finish.

Tawse Spark 2013 Laundry Vineyard Blanc De Noirs, Lincoln Lakeshore
$30.15, Tawse Winery
John Szabo – A pure pinot noir from the Laundry Vineyard in the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation, with an uncommon six years on the lees, this is remarkably fresh and youthful, indeed still shockingly fruity, with lovely, sapid, strawberry-raspberry-red currant flavours and an intriguingly saline-briny finish. There’s genuine vinosity and concentration here to be sure, and excellent length – a fine wine from Tawse at an attractive price.

Blue Mountain Gold Label Brut Sparkling, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
$34.95, Rogers & Co. (Also at LCBO)
David Lawrason – Worth searching Vintages for remaining bottles or ordering direct from the winery, Blue Mountain is my top pick for fine traditional method B.C. sparklers. It is light to mid-weight, nicely balanced, fresh and taut with fine fruit, toast and minerality. Very well balanced.

Tank/Charmat Method

Malivoire Che Bello, VQA Ontario Sparkling White, Canada
$17.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc. (also at LCBO)
John Szabo – A tank method bubbly made of riesling, seyval and vidal by Malivoire’s assistant winemaker Elisa Mazzi, Che Bello is designed in the Italian-prosecco style, with 11.5% alcohol, though surprising flavour intensity.  The equal of many proseccos in the price category.
Sara d’Amato – A local alternative to Prosecco, this upbeat Charmat method blend of riesling, seyval and vidal is fresh, fragrant and just off-dry. Nicely balanced, widely appealing and certified sustainable.

2) Delivered to your Door By-the-Case

Traditional Method

Champagne Collet Brut Rose, Ay Champagne, France
$73.15, The Vine Agency
John Szabo – Sustained pink-reddish-salmon colour. The nose is reserved and reticent off the top, revealing little, though the palate really picks up the flavour intensity offering a rich mouthful of creamy red fruit, well-measured yeasty autolysis-toasty character, and seamlessly integrated effervescence. This is really an excellent mouthful of wine, balanced, poised, more complex and complete than many in the rosé genre. Length, too, is excellent. Quality wine; drink or hold mid-term.

Schramsberg Brut Rosé Methode Traditionelle 2017, California, USA
$75.15, The Vine Agency
Michael Godel – Right off the aromatic bat you are introduced to something different, something reverential in Schramsberg’s Brut Rosé 2017. Backbone, spice, fruit, subtleties and nuance. Terrific and generous vintage with much goings on, here, there and in every point in between.
Sara d’Amato – This historic St. Helena estate has been producing sparkling wine since 1965 and were responsible for making the very first American sparkling chardonnay. This Brut Rosé is a result of an assemblage of pinot noir and chardonnay from four North Coast regions. A quarter of the wine was fermented in barrel given adding to the wine’s delicately toasty appeal.  A complex, vibrant and gently matured fizz that is worth the premium price.

Fresne Ducret Le Chemin Du Chemin Premier Cru Champagne, AC Champagne
$66.81, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
Michael Godel – High-toned, well-oaked and spiced like few others. The success is in the survival and in terms of structure a good bet would be to see this open up more and more with two, three or four days. Impressive weight, balance and grip.
John Szabo – Smoky and savoury, toasty and biscuity, mature champagne in the English style, balanced and savoury. I really like the developed, mature profile here, the great length. This is very good champagne, ready to go.


Monmarthe Secret De Famille Brut Premier Cru Champagne, AC Champagne, France
$47.95, Cru Wine Merchants
Michael Godel – Toasty is one thing, sultry smouldering another and gingered a third. All these components launch from the get go in Monmarthe’s Brut at a Premier Cru cost that asks for nothing. Love how this tackles with energy and also walks that fine oxidative line. Really complex Champagne for a song is always a great thing.

Antech Blanquette de Limoux Brut Nature, Languedoc, France
$25.05, Noble Estates
Sara d’Amato – The sparkling wines of Limoux in southern France are said to have pre-dated those of Champagne yet they still fly under the radar of most consumers. One of France’s leading ladies of sparkling, proprietor Françoise Antech specializes in this treasured appellation and the local mauzac grape variety (aka blanquette). This incarnation blends chenin blanc and chardonnay with mauzac giving the wine added mouthfeel.  Lightly creamy and toasty due to 15 months ageing on the lees (slightly higher than the minimum requirement for Champagne). Fresh, enticing and of great value.

Pares Balta Brut Cava, Penedes, Spain
$17.95, Noble Estates
David Lawrason – This organically grown cava is firm, dry and fairly intense in flavour with intriguing Mediterranean aromas of rye bread, sunflower seed, green olive and green pear. Intensity and structure beyond its price. Ideal with assorted appetizers.
John Szabo – Another fine edition of this organic, vegan Cava, showing more toasty-traditional method, yeasty character and above average complexity in the category. Ready to enjoy.
Sara d’Amato – Organic, of good value and widely available, this light, aromatic, fresh and foamy Cava offers notes of pepper and musk along with white flowers, toasted almond and lemon zest. Clean and easy drinking, with an appealing balance of fruity and savoury.


Charmat/Tank Method

Sorelle Bronca Modi Prosecco, Valdobiaddane, Veneto, Italy
$20.20, Cru Wine Merchants
John Szabo – Fine, juicy-fruity bubbles here from the Bronca sisters, with quality and intensity above the mean. I like the slightly candied yellow fruit flavours, the integrated, balanced effervescence and the crisp acids on a mostly dry frame. This rises above in the category.

Mosole 2019 Prosecco, Doc Treviso, Italy
$25.15, The Vine Agency
Michael Godel –  Sleek, stylish and minimalist in a very good way. No extra or added distraction and the fruit source feels ripe, proper and real. Crunchy and fresh, lemon, lime, grapefruit and lots of pear. Sumptuous and full of freedom. Top quality to be sure with a sense of place.
David Lawrason – Not intense but quite sophisticated and more complex than many proseccos this “Extra Dry” is off-dry to medium sweet with mild, ripe pear, caraway, vague lemon blossom and vanilla. Chill and enjoy with soft ripened cheeses.
Sara d’Amato – Made during the 10th anniversary of the Prosecco Treviso DOC, this vintage-dated sparkler is certainly a step up from many wines produced under the more basic Prosecco DOC appellation. The traditional glera grape is enhanced with a small amount of chardonnay for rounder appeal. Beautifully packaged, off-dry and brimming with peach, pear and rose petal.

3) Line Up to Buy at the LCBO

Traditional Method

Louis Roederer Premier Brut Champagne, Ac, Champagne (375ml)
$44.95, Authentic Wines
David Lawrason – This half-bottle of my go-to Brut NV Champagne would be ideal for a quiet couple’s New Year’s toast, to an obviously better year ahead. Expect classic and complex Champagne notes of dried apple, toast and hazelnut, with a bracing palate and excellent length.

Bailly Lapierre Reserve Brut Cremant De Bourgogne, Burgundy, France
$19.95, Vinexx
John Szabo – Sparkling specialist Bailly Lapierre, from the northern edges of Burgundy, delivers another crisp, fresh, fruity crémant here, a model of bright, crunchy, thirst-quenching, traditional method bubbly. Toastiness is modest overall, making for a perfect aperitif.

Gruet Sauvage Blanc de Blancs Sparkling, Zero Dosage, USA
$28.95, Southern Glazer’s
Sara d’Amato – This dry-as-can-be chardonnay-based sparkler made in the traditional method is a top fizz value in this last VINTAGES release. Made from grapes hand-harvested in New Mexico and California, this lightly creamy wine is the Gruet Family of Champagne’s American outpost.

Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut Cava Winter/Hiver Edition 2021, Penedès, Spain
$14.95, Mark Anthony Group
John Szabo – Clean and fresh, rather fruity and lively, this is a fine edition for this standard classic, good value wine. It’s quite dry and crisp, with moderate toasty character, more focused on fresh, white-fleshed orchard fruit and green apple flavours. Really a sharp value in the category.


Tank/Charmat Method

Bottega Il Vino Dei Poeti 2019 Prosecco Brut, Italy
$15.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
John Szabo – Reliable as always, the 2019 Poeti prosecco from Bottega displays the classic pear and apple, citrus blossom character of the variety, on a light, frothy, off-dry frame. Length and depth are above the mean. representative and perfectly serviceable at the price.
David Lawrason – Tasted among several proseccos, this showed more firm acidity and better energy, with a fresh nose of green apple and white flower. I like the brightness and definition. All purpose aperitif.

Foss Marai Prosecco, Italy
$19.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
John Szabo – Frothy and fruity, clean and lively, this comes across as drier it seems than previous editions. Certainly with decent depth and richness on the palate, and solid length. Reliable bubbles.

That’s all for this year – we’ll all be glad to see the back side of 2020.
See you around the next bottle in 2021!

John Szabo, MS