John Szabo’s Annual Fizz Guide 2022: Canadian Wines Sparkle, with Bonus Non-Wine Gift Ideas

By John Szabo MS, with notes from David Lawrason, Michael Godel, Sara d’Amato and Megha Jandhyala

Canadian Wines Sparkle

Once again, the story this year is the quality of Canadian sparkling wines, and in particular traditional method sparklings, an industry evolution that we have been following for well over a decade now. As National Wine Awards of Canada (NWAC) judge Treve Ring noted in her introduction to this year’s sparkling wine category winners: “With 200+ wineries producing a diverse range of sparkling across the country, consumers have a greater selection of quality homegrown sparkling than ever before.”

Yet producing top-notch sparkling wine requires no small amount of technical expertise, and comes at considerable capital expense, requiring a serious commitment from producers. It’s a tough game to get in to, and to do well. So, it’s not surprising that through the NWAC, our tastings throughout the year, and this annual fizz guide, we see the same producers consistently bubble up to the top of list, those who have devoted themselves to the style.

In the Okanagan Valley, for example, Blue Mountain has established itself as a leading sparkling wine specialist. Pretty much everything in their portfolio is worth a look, though perhaps most impressive this year is the 2013 Blanc De Blancs RD ($49.90), a marvellously complex wine which spent a full seven years on the lees, garnering triple alignment from the WineAlign Crü. No champagne can touch it for price/quality/complexity. Close behind is Blue Mountain’s 2013 RD Brut Reserve.

Over in Ontario, Henry of Pelham is one of the most experienced sparkling wine producers — its Cuvée Catharine an industry reference. The Carte Blanche 2017 ($49.95) we’ve included in this buyer’s guide is a step up from the non-vintage cuvée, the equivalent of a vintage or prestige cuvée from Champagne.


Cave Spring, meanwhile, has quietly been turning out some of the best-value sparkling in the country for years now, and its most recent release of the Blanc De Blancs at $32.95 is in a category of its own. 13th Street has also dedicated significant resources to their sparkling program, the results of which are clearly apparent in the 2015 Premier Cuvee ($39.95), also a Platinum medal winner at the 2022 NWAC.

A more recent addition to the roster of reliable Ontario producers, Malivoire appears to be edging closer to perfection with each vintage. The latest release of the Bisous Rosé ($29.95), in particular, delights with its lively berry fruit while remaining sophisticated and elegant, again at a highly attractive price.

Stratus’s foray into sparkling wine, on the other hand, has been at least 10 years in the making. The Crü was mightily impressed with the 2012 “Trials,” a one-off experiment gone right after a shocking 10 years on the lees. That’s Krug, Cristal and Dom Pérignon-like ageing times, so at $75 can be considered an economic folly for the winery and an exciting opportunity for everybody else.

Maturing Industry

Indeed, one common thread seen in Canada’s best sparkling wines is the remarkable length of time they spend maturing on the lees, a process which adds complexity, but requires lots of storage space and capital tied up in inventory. It’s a testament to the enviable natural chemistry of these wines that they can not only withstand such long periods of ageing on the lees but, indeed, improve and develop. Wines with less suitable levels of acid/pH and alcohol, along with flavour intensity, tend to fall apart during extended lees ageing, especially those made in warmer climates where sugars accumulate too rapidly, before flavours have a chance to develop, and acids drop perilously low. It’s one advantage of Canada’s generally cool climate. Examples with five, seven and even ten years on lees in bottle before disgorging — once rare — are now far more commonplace. It’s another sign of a maturing industry.

All things considered, it’s a very good time to be enjoying Canadian sparkling wines and supporting local industry without compromising on pleasure.

Non-Wine Gifts

We love wine at WineAlign, as we guess you do, too. But wine lovers are notorious for taking pleasure in a great many things… So, I asked each of the Crü to pick a non-wine item or two that they would be proud to gift to a wine loving friend (or receive themselves). Here’s what we came up with:

WineAlign Non-Wine Buyer’s Guide

John Szabo – Ciselier Pallarès 8″ Profesional Cocina  12 reviews $145 – I first heard of Ciselier through our editor, Dick Snyder, who was unusually excited about these scissors. I was intrigued. What can be so special about scissors? Then I learned.

“It honestly all started with a question: ‘Where do you buy really good household scissors?’ Many of us have wonderful knives, but I’d never really seen any similar-quality scissors,” serial entrepreneur Maggie Fox , the woman behind Ciselier, tells me. Her company specializes in artisanal scissors made by small, often family-run ateliers in Europe and the U.K. All serious chefs guard their knives like an ancient heirloom sword. But scissors, too, are extraordinarily handy in the kitchen.

“We discovered that there are a small number of historic makers — less than a few dozen — hand-making scissors in the traditional way, in regions famous for centuries of metal working and sword-making. Once swords were no longer required, many firms moved to household blades.” These makers are disappearing fast under pressure from mass-produced, cold-stamped and rubber-handled products. While more expensive, these scissors will last a lifetime.

Ciselier sells scissors for the kitchen, embroidery and paper and craft, including left-handed versions. I opted for the Pallarès Professional Cocina, a substantial pair of 8-inch kitchen shears designed for the serious home or professional chef. They’re perfect for fish and fowl alike, and once you use them, you may never go back to your knife. Any foodie on your list will love this gift.

Michael Godel – Subscription to InVintory’s cellar management system, $9.99/month

Professional wine cellar management — or you own — is effortless with the Invintory App. The Prestige account costs just $9.99 a month and I can think of several friends and colleagues who would greatly benefit from the service.

Michael Godel – Barque Smokehouse Gift Cards, $60- and $120 – A famous southern-Jewish Ontario proverb reads as follows: “Giving the gift of BBQ is a Mitzvah.” The folks at Barque Smokehouse are offering gift cards at 20% off for the month of December 2022. Two BBQ rubs and two sauces cost just $25. Smoking hot gifts for whichever holiday you may observe.

David Sensory Masterclass, $599 – Both Sara d’Amato and I, as well as colleague Jennifer Heuther MS, teach a series of WSET and other courses in Toronto for James Cluer’s Fine Vintage Ltd, and a crammed 2023 schedule is full of opportunities to further your wine education. But no course is as much fun and intriguing as this two-day exploration of your olfactory senses using Jean Lenoir’s Le Nez du Vin aroma kit. While building your olfactory library you will get to know the common characteristics of 14 major grape varieties, and taste up to 25 different excellent wines.  The course runs Feb 15/16 at the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel at the foot of Yonge Street in downtown Toronto, convenient to TTC and GO service.

Lina Wine Bottle Holder

Sara d’Amato – Lina Wine Bottle Holder $168 – When hosting, I’m forever looking for elegant ways to present multiple bottles at a party. Esthetically appealing and practical, this hand-carved, self-service, lazy Susan-style wine station will keep your bottles at an even temperature without the fuss of an ice bucket. If you are service sparkling or sweet wines, I would recommend an ice bucket but for most whites and reds served at parties, an insulating medium will do for the short while that wine remains in the bottle.

Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol by Mallory O’Meara

Sara d’Amato – Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol by Mallory O’Meara Chapters/ $34.99 – Hardcover When travelling in the world of wine, it is striking to see how producers continue to genderize their products either through language like “it’s a feminine pinot noir” or “the sweetness will appeal to women.” Are these stereotypes founded? This is one of the many questions author Mallory O’Meara asked herself when writing this entertaining and well-researched book that turns our preconceived notions of alcohol production throughout the millennia on its head. From the Sumerian and Egyptian goddesses of beer and wine to the Middle Ages of Hildegard of Bingen and the most famous wine widow of the 19th century, Veuve Clicquot, women’s contribution to the production of alcohol is more significant than most of us realize. A thought-provoking read for just about anyone on your gifting list.

Intessere Mosaic Kits

Sara d’Amato – Intessere Mosaic Kits, Etsy, $225 – For the crafter in your circle, these mosaic kits are a work of art in of themselves. I’ve started piecing one together for an outdoor terrace, but this would also make a gorgeous piece for the back wall of your cellar. Each kit is individually assembled in Narni, Italy by Tiziana Mondini who is classically trained and qualitied as a “mosaicista progettista” and includes hand-cut marble tiles, professional tools, detailed instructions, and a video tutorial. Shipping is fast and Tiziana is impressively responsive.

Indian Monsooned Malabar Coffee,

Megha Jandhyala  – India Monsooned Malabar Coffee, $17/pound – With its fascinating origin story, this coffee makes for a unique gift. During the British Raj, coffee was transported by clippers — 19th-century sailing ships — from India to Europe. On this long journey, the beans were exposed to wind and humidity, causing them to lose some of their acidity and develop a distinctive flavour profile. Today, this process is simulated in south-west India by exposing dried beans to monsoon winds. A cup of Monsooned Malabar is full-bodied and mellow, with low acidity, delicate notes of spice and hazelnuts, and a faintly earthy ambience. Available freshly roasted through Dark City Coffee.

Fizz Buyer’s Guide 2022: Traditional Method

Blue Mountain Blanc De Blancs R.D. 2013,

Blue Mountain Blanc De Blancs R.D. 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
$49.90, (Winery)
Michael Godel – A sparkling wine of nature that has become one of nurture, now a perfectly posit tug between edginess and oxidation, tension and generosity. They call this the sweet spot. Raise a glass to recently disgorged.
John Szabo – Disgorged in August of 2021, which means seven years on the lees, this is a mature and toasty bubbly, well past the age of fruit, complex enough to rival Champagne’s prestige cuvées ay a very attractive price. It’s best served at the table with elegant, upscale fare.
Megha Jandhyala – This is an opportunity to enjoy a complex, evolving traditional method sparkling wine at a relatively reasonable price. It is a symphony of flavours, and seven and a half years on its lees have lent it a rich, gently mellifluous character.

Blue Mountain Reserve Brut RD 2013

Blue Mountain Reserve Brut RD 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
$49.95, (Winery)
Sara d’Amato – A gently evolving cuvée of chardonnay and pinot noir that features exceptional depth, complexity, purity and richness with a nervy core of freshness. With over 7 years on its lees, this recently disgorged Reserve offers remarkable value.

Stratus Blanc De Blancs 2012

Stratus Blanc De Blancs “Trials” 2012, VQA Niagara-on-the Lake, Ontario
$75.00, Stratus Vineyards
Michael Godel – It’s not so much the toasty and beautifully oxidative-fino nutty character. The impression digs deeper than green olives in brine and sweet pear compote, it grabs us by the emotive heartstrings and holds us close. In fact it’s not unusual for B de Bs ’12 X Trials to be loved by anyone.
John Szabo – Of the trials (small, one-off experimental lots) performed at Stratus, I’d have to rank this as one of the most successful (if not economically speaking!). Remarkably tight and compact after an extraordinary 10 years on the lees, this is an almost fino sherry-like expression – I love the saline, mineral notes, the lingering, non-fruit flavours. Top notch kit.
Sara d’Amato – A special bottling from Stratus that has been aged an astounding 10 years on the lees, yet the wine exhibits a notably youthful disposition. Despite its low dosage, this chardonnay-based fizz is not at all austere and features a complex flavour profile established from an extended period of yeast autolysis. Be sure to sip slowly as this Blanc de Blancs evolves delightfully in the glass.

Cave Spring Estate Blanc De Blancs

Cave Spring Estate Blanc De Blancs, Beamsville Bench Ontario, Canada
$32.95, Cave Spring Cellars
Michael Godel – Never disappoints and continues to rise, surge ahead, power forward and capture necessary tension.
John Szabo – Quietly, consistently Cave Spring continues to turn out some of the best value traditional method sparkling wine in Ontario, and Canada. This is premium Blanc de Blancs in everything but price. Another fine edition (LDO72021).
Megha Jandhyala – This is a concentrated, nuanced Blanc de Blanc that represents very good value. The nose displays a plurality of fruit flavours from ripe orchard to citrus fruit, alongside subtle notes of apple blossoms and toasted breadcrumbs. I really like the refined but energetic mousse, taut, supportive acidity, and sonorous notes of citrus and toast on the finish.

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc De Blanc 2017

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc De Blanc 2017, Short Hills Bench, Ontario, Canada
$49.95, (Winery)
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 at this price.
David Lawrason – The 2017 continues the tradition of the over-delivering, chardonnay-based Carte Blanche. All kinds of intensity, verve and flavour here. The aromas are lifted and very complex with brioche, green apple, toast and macadamia nut, plus a subtle greenness and some chalky minerality.

13th Street Premier Cuvée Sparkling 2015

13th Street Premier Cuvée Sparkling 2015, Traditional Method, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
$39.95, (Winery)
Michael Godel – “In the zone” as it is said so at this price 13th Street Premier Cuvée 2015 tells Champagne to “hold my fizz.”
John Szabo – Still lively on the palate, the 2015 Premier Cuvée, a blend of 60% chardonnay, 40% pinot noir, features a high degree of complexity and composure, elegance and refinement, in a peak drinking window.
Megha Jandhyala – The 13th street Premier Cuvée is poised and vibrant, with notes of ripe and dried apples, juicy lemons, and toasted brioche, delicately glazed with honey. The palate is rich but dry, sculpted by firm acids, and lifted by a fine, almost velvety effervescence.

Malivoire Bisous Rosé

Malivoire Bisous Rosé, Beamsville Bench Ontario, Canada
$29.95, (Winery)
Sara d’Amato – This traditional method pinot noir rosé pours a very pale pink from short skin contact. A delicate spiciness is in part due to whole cluster pressing followed by a primary fermentation in older French barriques. This most recent cuvée of Bisous was disgorged in April 2022 after having spent 24 months on its lees. Features a playful mouthfeel that is both tart and rich. Precise but with a lovely fleshiness.
John Szabo – This is a bright, forward and fruity rosé bubbly in the traditional method from Malivoire, with attractive red cherry-raspberry-strawberry fruit, essentially dry and balanced. Lovely rosé for the money, sophisticated and elegant, ready to enjoy.
Megha Jandhyala – Flush with sweet, fleshy strawberries, red cherries, and raspberries, this is a youthful, cheerful, and inviting peach-toned rosé that is both certified sustainable and vegan-friendly. The flavourful palate is enlivened by fresh acids and a rejuvenating effervescence.

Veuve Ambal Grande Cuvée Brut Crémant De Bour

Veuve Ambal Grande Cuvée Brut Crémant De Bourgogne, Burgundy, France
$21.15, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits (LCBO)
Michael Godel – A really nicely aged, lees cumulate traditional method sparkling wine is just this kind, crunchy, textured, toasty and satisfying. Delivers 10 times the complexity of Prosecco for a mere five dollars more than most premium bottles.
John Szabo – Here’s a toasty, creamy, complex Crémant de Bourgogne, punching above its price category. The palate is frothy but contained, and flavour concentration is impressive; the palate is quite dry, and length is very good.
Megha Jandhyala – This is a classic, elegant traditional method sparkling wine from Bourgogne. The gently foaming mousse gives way to a delicately rounded, and ever so subtly sweet palate, balanced by crisp, tart acids.

Parés Baltà Brut Cava

Parés Baltà Brut Cava, Penedès, Spain
$20.55, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc. (Consignment)
John Szabo – Always a solid value, Parès Balta’s latest bottling delivers a raft of apple fruit in a ripe and gently oxidative style, mostly dry and lively on the palate. Tough to beat this. Bonus: certified organic. Worth buying by the case.
Michael Godel – Must repeat. You may not find better value in sub-$20 traditional method bubbles. In fact you will not find better value in $20 Charmat Method bubbles. Balance so rightfully and righteously performed.

Antech Brut Nature

Antech Brut Nature, Limoux, France
$21.99, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc
John Szabo – Clean and appley in the Limoux style, Antech’s latest brut nature is bone dry and crisp, a fine sort of aperitif style.
Sara d’Amato – I’ve been a long-time fan of the sparklers from Françoise Antech, whose winery is in Limoux, in southern France’s Languedoc region. Uber crisp in the Brut Nature style, yet there is phenolic maturity here that adds a welcome fruity amplitude to the palate. An assemblage of chardonnay and chenin blanc with flavours of lime leaf, white tea and beeswax.

Fizz Buyer’s Guide 2022: Tank (Charmat) Method

Nino Franco Grave Di Stecca Brut Prosecco Valdobbiadene 2016

Nino Franco Grave Di Stecca Brut Prosecco Valdobbiadene 2016, Veneto, Italy
$48.95, Carpe Vinum International
John Szabo – The price alone will tell you this is no ordinary prosecco, and it’s well worth a look if you are under the impression that all prosecco is fruity and frivolous. It’s a doubly rare, vintage-dated and single vineyard bottling from the Grave di Stecca walled-in ‘clos’ at the foot of the southern slope of Mount Cesen in Valdobbiadene. It smells unlike most prosecco you’ll come across: mature, toasty, so much so that one might even guess traditional method sparkling, with a predominance of non-fruity, stony, flinty character. Impressive substance.

Bottega Il Vino Dei Poeti Prosecco Brut Millesimato 2021

Bottega Il Vino Dei Poeti Prosecco Brut Millesimato 2021, Treviso Veneto, Italy
$15.45, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
Michael Godel – It is this 2021 dedicated Treviso Millesimato that takes a step to provide something extra. Airy mousse and so easy going down and void of complication.
John Szabo –
Bottega’s classic prosecco brut from Treviso is the sharpest value in the portfolio, a true-to-type, fruity, slightly off-dry (despite the brut designation) example that finds excellent balance and freshness in the 2021 vintage. A perfect bottle to have on hand for any and all occasions, from morning mimosas to afternoon aperitif sipping.
Megha Jandhyala –
This is a bright, fresh, and fruity prosecco, vivacious and perceptibly sweet but balanced, with an exuberant mousse and crisp acids. Inexpensive and versatile, this youthful prosecco is a good addition to the bar at a holiday party.

Lazzara Bianco Secco

Lazzara Bianco Secco, Ontario, Canada
$17.95, Family Wine Merchants
John Szabo – Lazzara is Henry of Pelham’s local answer to prosecco, a light, fruity, slightly off-dry, Charmat method bubbly that delivers the necessary at the price. A perfectly serviceable, home-grown alternative.
Sara d’Amato – From the Speck Brothers at Henry of Pelham, this Prosecco-style wine pays homage to their great grandmother, Julia Lazzara. Off-dry with a pleasant hit of ginger and honeysuckle on the palate and with more oomph than expected. Attractively packaged and well-priced to compete with the wealth of international selections available at this price.

Val d'Oca 2020 Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore

Val d’Oca 2020 Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, Veneto, Italy
$20.05, Family Wine Merchants (LCBO)
Sara d’Amato – You don’t often find a Prosecco with a “millessimato” (or vintage) designation. Sourced from the hilly “Superiore” territory around the town of Valdobbiadene (emphasis on the fourth syllable), this off-dry glera is a slight step up in seriousness from your typical Prosecco DOC with a more impactful presence on the palate.

Ceci Otello Lambrusco

Ceci Otello Lambrusco, Emilia Romagna, Italy
$27.20, Winehouse Imports LLC (Consignment)
Sara d’Amato – The flagship Lambrusco of Ceci, that is vibrant but not bitter with an inviting dose of residual sugar and a plush, juicy palate. Candied violets, black cherry and blackberry fruit are tangled up with bramble and black tea. Offers just the right angularity to offset the richness of fruit. Enjoy before or after the meal with sharp cheese or a slice of Prosciutto di Parma.
John Szabo – Lovely, open, blackberry-infused aromatics lead off on this authentic and intriguing Lambrusco, dry and savoury, crying out for a plate of prosciutto di Parma. Would also work a treat at the table with roast turkey and all the trimmings, or salty ham, or even beef brisket to enliven the palate between rich mouthfuls.
Megha Jandhyala – Cast in a dramatic and alluring, deep ruby-red shade, this is a flavourful lambrusco, awash in ripe strawberries, tart cherries, and black raspberries. The pallet is svelte, like satin-silk, with subtle sweet and savoury notes, lifted by tart acids. It is delicious by itself but should pair well with all kinds of spicy foods given its generous juicy red fruit flavours.

That’s all for this report. See you around the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS