John Szabo’s Annual Fizz Guide 2021

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

Welcome back to the annual fizz guide; our well-timed round up of the best available bubbles in the market for the holiday season which have crossed our tasting table. And, it looks as though we’ll be sheltering in place with small groups again this year.  So, we’ll need all the comfort and pleasure we can get into our glasses to keep spirits up. We’ve assembled a broad range of styles that will cover all of your needs, perhaps even ones you weren’t aware you had. So, no unnecessary pre-amble other than a short primer on the two main methods of making sparkling wine. If you’re already a seasoned pro, jump straight to the buyer’s guide, which includes each wine’s availability. Use the store search function on WineAlign to find wines available in your local LCBO (VINTAGES and General List); consignment wines can be delivered by the case by the agent. And, of course, Canadian sparkling; also, deliverable right to your door. And, yes, it’s true about Champagne shortages. Global supply chain disruptions, short vintages and the continual unknowns about the restaurant businesses discourage agents from risking oversupply. This means that many of the most exciting Champagnes are in short supply. Indeed, not a single bottle was sent to WineAlign HQ for consideration in this guide. Fortunately, our best homegrown bubbly is equal to the task (and often far better value), so we encourage you to check out the complete list of top Canadian sparkling wines, all medal winners at the WineAlign 2021 National Wine Awards of Canada.


Sparkling Primer: How To Make Wines Effervesce

1. Tank Method

There are two principal ways to make sparkling wine: the “tank” method, aka Charmat, or, cuvée close, and the traditional method, aka méthode champenoise. The tank method involves a secondary fermentation in a large, usually stainless-steel tank with the lid closed to retain the bubbles (“cuvée close”). Carbon dioxide is a by-product of fermentation. So, by keeping the lid on, the CO2 remains trapped and dissolved in the wine. It’s then bottled under pressure to keep those bubbles in the wine. 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 (dead yeast cells) left over after the second fermentation adds virtually no toasty-yeasty flavour.  And, this 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.

2. Traditional Method

The traditional method, on the other hand, requires the secondary fermentation to take place directly in the bottle in which the wine will later be sold. The wine is left on the lees for a prolonged ageing period after fermentation has finished; anywhere from about 9 months to a decade, or, more. 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 three years ageing “sur lie”, and many spend much more than that – Henry of Pelham from Niagara just released a bubbly with nearly 10 years on the lees. It’s a time and space-consuming process, and the of removal the dead yeast cells (remuage, followed by disgorging) before the wine is sold to consumers. It also adds considerable cost, but these wines are almost always more complex and interesting than tank method bubbly.

Fizz Buyer’s Guide 2021: Canadian Sparkling

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc De Blanc 2016

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc De Blanc 2016, Short Hills Bench, Ontario
$49.95, Henry of Pelham (VINTAGES #315200)
John Szabo
Since its launch with the 2007 vintage in 2012, Henry of Pelham’s Carte Blanche has been a benchmark for quality, consistency and style in the growing, impressive universe of Canadian bubbly, and a regular on this list. As usual, this spent 5 years on the lees before disgorging, and offers a delicate brioche, lemon tart and curd, white flower and almond blossom nose, refined and complex. Classy and sophisticated wine; drink, or, cellar comfortably another 4-8 years. If you’re really into splurging, Henry of Pelham has just released the first “Centenary” version of Carte Blanche, a 2010 vintage that spent 100 months on the lees ($125, winery/consignment, Family Wine Merchants).
David Lawrason –
Consistently one of Canada’s top fizz performers, this took a Platinum medal at the 2021 National Wine Awards. It is so vibrant, yet richly flavoured, complex and nuanced. Great aromatics. A superb 2010 has just been released from the vault at the winery at $125.

Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Centenary Estate Blanc de Blanc 2010

Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Centenary Estate Blanc de Blanc 2010, Short Hills Bench, Ontario
$125.00, Family Wine Merchants (Winery/Consignment)
Sara d’Amato – The inaugural release of this ultra-premium, Niagara, Traditional Method vintage fizz is produced from the estate’s oldest chardonnay vines. Fermentation and maturation are in barrel and the wine stays on the lees for 100 months, hence the name “centenary”. Class and pedigree are evident here, showcasing focus and excellent concentration. Brimming with lemon zest, green apple skin, pine nut and ginger on the complex palate. Made in memory of Henry of Pelham’s wife, widow and family matriarch, Catharine Smith.

13th Street Premier Cuvée Sparkling 2015

13th Street Premier Cuvée Sparkling 2015, Traditional Method, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
$39.95, The Thirteenth Street Wine Corp (VINTAGES #142679)
Michael Godel – Racy sparkling wine of traditional ways, dry, toasty and of great vigour. Top notch autolysis, fine lees and guesses to the end would have to be in the 48-plus month arena. The real deal, richly rendered, acids in charge, instructive and carrying the fruit to the mountain’s peak. Hard to top this in Canada.

13th Street Cuvée Brut Rosé

13th Street Cuvée Brut Rosé, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
$29.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits (VINTAGES #147504)
David Lawrason – Sparkling wine has been the forte of 13th Street for years. This notably bright and deeply coloured salmon pink rosé is based on pinot noir. Exuberant nose of cran-cherry fruit with light, bread crust/brioche. It is fresh, crisp and lively with very well-defined fruit.
Sara d’Amato –
Pepper and spice lead on the nose of this Traditional Method Cuvée Rosé based both on pinot noir and chardonnay. Featuring a balanced degree of toastiness and brightness with the inviting flavour of cherry purée. Notably fruit-driven with a seemingly low dosage and great poise.

Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut Sparkling 2016

Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut Sparkling 2016, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario              
$29.95, Arterra Wines Canada (VINTAGES #234161)
David Lawrason – This NWAC 2021 silver medalist sparkler shows generous dried apple/peach, shortbread, hay and sunflower seed nuttiness from long bottles. It is medium weight, just vaguely off-dry with good balancing acidity. The flavour intensity and length are excellent. Good value.

Fizz Buyer’s Guide 2021: Traditional Method

Domaine Carneros Brut Cuvée Sparkling 2017, California
$50.00, Family Wine Merchants (VINTAGES 301655)
John Szabo – This is a lovely vintage for Domain Carneros’ traditional method bubbly, elegant, fragrant, driven by citrus and citrus blossom, fresh almonds, puff pastry and more in the classic register. It’s a real pleasure to sip, and surely one of the most sophisticated examples from California, and at a fair price. Drink, or, hold mid-term.
Sara d’Amato –
Founded by Champagne’s Taittinger family, Domaine Carneros’ estate in southern Napa sources its fruit entirely from their 400 acres throughout the Carneros appellation. This traditional method sparkling cuvée showcases choice fruit that has been transformed into a refreshing wine is considerable depth and poise. Toasty and lightly nutty with a mouthfilling roundness coming more from considerable time spent on lees, rather than on residual sugar from dosage.

Juve Y Camps Pinot Noir Brut Rosé Cava

Juve Y Camps Pinot Noir Brut Rosé Cava, Penedès, Spain
$24.95, Profile Wine Group (VINTAGES #385088)
John Szabo – Pinot noir-based rosé Cava made by at a century-old, family-run, organically-farmed estate. It offers great aromatic volume on the nose, and fine purity of fruit in the raspberry-strawberry spectrum. The palate is full and creamy, dry, but deeply fruity, with terrific depth and length in the category. Lovely wine all in all, for current enjoyment. Classy package, too.

Anthonij Rupert L'ormarins Cap Classique Blanc De Blancs 2013

Anthonij Rupert L’Ormarins Cap Classique Blanc De Blancs 2013, Traditional Method, Western Cape, South Africa
$24.95, John Hanna & Sons  (VINTAGES #15681)
Michael Godel – A pure chardonnay blanc de blancs, this is an exceptional, vintage-dated, traditional-method sparkling wine. It never ceases to amaze me how superb South African bubbly can be, against all odds of climate. You’ll find all of the expected citrus, lemon and lime zest, white flower and almond-type flavours of the category, with fine mousse, balanced acids, minimal dosage and very good to excellent length. A steal at $25.

Veuve Ambal Grande Cuvée Brut Crémant De Bour

Veuve Ambal Grande Cuvée Brut Crémant De Bourgogne, Burgundy, France
$19.70, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits (VINTAGES #4296898)
John Szabo – Plenty of toasty-biscuity-yeasty flavours lead off on this traditional method Crémant from Burgundy, indeed, the fruit is very much a secondary feature overall. Acids are lean and sharp, framing the light-mid-weight palate, which comes across as essentially dry. More of an earthy, traditional bubbly, ready to drink, and solid value. Worth buying a few bottles of, to have around.

Nana Blanc De Blancs Brut Nature Cuvee 2016

Nana Blanc De Blancs Brut Nature Cuvee 2016, Tejo, Portugal
$35.45, United Stars Coporation Group (LCBO #313782)
David Lawrason – Made from the high acid arinto and fernao pires grapes, this was aged 28 months in the bottle. It is very rich, solid and well balanced, a great surprise. The nose shows subtle complex and well integrated yellow plum, dried flowers, lemon, spice and nuttiness.
Sara d’Amato – A Traditional Method find from the Tejo region, just inland from Lisbon, based on the local varieties of arinto and fernão pires. Aged on its lees for 28 months, this assemblage offers a ravishing creamy toastiness with flavours of ginger, melon and green apple that are delivered by a fine mousse. Great value.

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut Vintage Champagne 2012

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut Vintage Champagne 2012, Champagne, France
$107.95, Charton Hobbs (VINTAGES #508614)
Sara d’Amato – Veuve Clicquot’s 66th vintage Champagne release sees the addition of 11% of foudre-aged wines to the blend adding aromatic character and depth. Dominated by pinot noir with lesser amounts from chardonnay and pinot meunier, exclusively sourced Grand and Premiers Cru sites, the wine is surprisingly vibrant and racy with undertones of toasted almond, brioche and crème fraiche. A highly memorable vintage exhibiting both focus and power.

Château de Bligny Grande Réserve Brut Rosé, Champagne, France
$65.95, The Case for Wine (VINTAGES #21290)
Sara d’Amato – An excellent value, so get it while it lasts. This finely textured Brut rosé features flavours of soft muddled strawberry and red currant. Pleasurably nervy acidity is balanced with a very delicate toastiness.

Fizz Buyer’s Guide 2021: Tank (Charmat) Method

Ceci Otello Lambrusco

Ceci Otello Lambrusco, Emilia Romagna, Italy
$27.20, Winehouse Imports LLC (Consignment)
David Lawrason – This top drop lambrusco pours luminous, deep, alluring ruby-purple. It has lifted perfumed, floral nose of sweet plums, pomegranate and vague, peppery spice. Firm, brisk and drier than the appearance and nose suggest.
John Szabo – Appealingly lively and fruity, succulent and juicy, mostly dry lambrusco here, quite a delight to sip. This would make a terrific turkey wine, among other applications, with its chutney-like, vibrant black cherry, black raspberry and plum flavours. Something unusual, but high quality to discover.
Sara d’Amato – Ready for just about anything that winds up on your festive table; this juicy, dry and vibrant Lambrusco offers a wealth of cherry and pomegranate fruit. Its angularity and saltiness add dimension to the palate. Won’t disappoint.

Bottega Petalo Il Vino Dell'amore Moscato

Bottega Petalo Il Vino Dell’Amore Moscato, Veneto, Italy
$13.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc. (LCBO #588780)
John Szabo – Clean and fragrant, very moscato-driven to be sure, this is medium-sweet, frothy bubbly in the style of moscato d’Asti, with 6.5% alcohol. It’s perfectly serviceable; indeed, delivers nicely at the price. A fine option for simple celebrations, mid-afternoons, and late-night sipping.
David Lawrason
Can’t think of a better inexpensive holiday off-dry brunch wine. Bottega is famed for prosecco but this is not prosecco as it is made from muscat, and the grape’s tropical pineapple fruit plus spearmint and lavender come through. It is cleanly made, light bodied, medium-sweet and frothy. The acid balance is fine. Serve well chilled.

Villa Sandi Il Fresco Prosecco, Treviso, Veneto, Italy
$12.95, Profile Wine Group (LCBO #394387)
David Lawrason – Great value while on sale until January 2nd. It is a light bodied, barely off-dry, frothy prosecco with clean green pear and subtle elderflower florality. Something mindful of ginger as well. It has decent acidity, intensity and length – a bit more characterful than most inexpensive prosecco.

Canti Organic Prosecco 2019

Canti Organic Prosecco 2019, Veneto, Italy
$25.00, Grape Brands Fine Wine & Spirits (Consignment)
David Lawrason – Organically grown, this shows far more fruit richness, complexity and depth than most, with classic pear/green melon and subtle fresh herbs. Quite fine mousse and a sense of volume plus fine lemony acidity. The length is excellent.

Ziraldo Prosecco, Veneto, Italy
$22.75, Winehouse Imports LLC (Consignment)
David Lawrason – Legendary Ontario wine pioneer Donald Ziraldo, who founded Inniskillin, is originally from northeast Italy. Seems he has a new calling with this Treviso DOC prosecco. It has an elegant, creamy feel as well, with a soft, frothy mousse. Easy and well balanced.

Bottega Il Vino Dei Poeti Prosecco Brut Millesimato 2020

Bottega Il Vino Dei Poeti Prosecco Brut Millesimato 2020, Treviso, Veneto, Italy
$15.90, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc. (LCBO #897702)
John Szabo – Simple, but clean and bright, youthful and fruity, well balanced, drier than the mean; this is another solid bottling from this reliable name in the region. It delivers all one could hope for, vibrant green apple and pear fruit, a whiff of citrus blossom, and solid intensity and length on the palate. Widely available, reliable, inexpensive; tick, tick, tick.

That’s all for this year. From the entire WineAlign Crü, we wish you very happy and safe holidays, filled with joy and cheer, and a brilliant new year. See you around for the next bottle in 2022!

John Szabo, MS