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What wines can bring a sparkle to the end of the year

Our wine expert, Vin Greco, offers tips and advice on how to choose the perfect wine for your holiday celebrations
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For many, sparkling wine has become synonymous with celebration. As we head to the Holidays at the end of the year, we may find ourselves trying to select a bubbly to welcome the New Year, to mix up a batch of Mimosas or Bellinis for Christmas morning, or to toast friends and family during the festivities.

Making a selection can be challenging. Sparkling wines come in every price range from around $16 to several hundred dollars. If you already know what you like and what you are comfortable spending, you’re well on your way; even then, the choices can be considerable.

Take Prosecco. This style of wine associated with northeastern Italy has become so popular that, in addition to wineries ‘native’ to that region – primarily in the Veneto – we find producers from many other areas across Italy and other countries getting into the act.

To be called Prosecco, which is the actual name of a town in the Trieste region of Italy, it must be produced from the Glera grape in the specific regions mentioned. But companies such as Ruffino, in Tuscany and Freixenet in Spain, and even California companies such as Josh Cellars and Bread & Butter are now venturing into Italy’s Veneto to produce Proseccos.

Prosecco is a prime example of a sparkling wine that gets its carbonation in tanks under pressure – the Charmat method. The alternative is for a wine to undergo a second fermentation in the bottle, as is the case with Champagne. No one making wine in this fashion, however, can call it Champagne unless it is made in that area of France and adhering to all the regulations governing its production, “la méthode Champenoise.”

So, in many other areas of the world, they refer to it as the “méthode traditionelle” or traditional method. In Spain, they use their own term, Cava.

On our shelves, in addition to Spanish Cava, you can find traditional method wines from California, various parts of France, and great examples from Ontario.

You can also find numerous charmat method wines from Australia, the states, and yes, Ontario.

There are dozens of Proseccos listed at the LCBO, and many available in our stores. In general, prosecco offers citrusy and green apple flavour with the potential for melon and some creamy notes.

There will be a nice fizzy effect, of course, but the bubbles in a traditional method usually are long-lasting. It has to do with pressure. There are about three “atmospheres” of pressure in a tank-method sparkling wine, and five to six atmospheres in a traditional, bottle-fermented sparkler, the additional pressure holding the bubbles longer.

Depending on how quickly you’re drinking the wine, it usually isn’t a problem!

Mionetto Prestige Prosecco Brut DOC Treviso is currently $2 off at $14.95, a great price for a very decent wine. Tropical flavours such as mango or pineapple may be detected, and with 12 grams of sugar per litre, it is a drier example of the type. The company owning this brand is actually Germany’s Henkell, which has populated the LCBO shelves for as long as I can remember. (The Henkell Trocken, in spite of ‘Trocken’ meaning dry, has almost twice the sugar at 22 grams per litre.)

Blu Giovello Prosecco is also $2 0ff at $14.95 until Jan. 2. It is slightly sweeter with 16 g/l of sugar, with flavours suggestive of apple and pear. Packaging plays a significant role with this category of wine, from bottle shape, label design, and even the colour. Here, the wine is presented in a blue glass bottle.

The producer Bottega presents their wines in bottles shaped like chubby bowling pins, shrink-wrapped in silver, gold white or pink. They also have their “red” prosecco in a red bottle with a red-foil closure… but the wine itself is as clear as every other example.

Santa Margherita’s Pinot Grigio is the top-selling white wine in Vintages, and their Brut Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore is also $2 off for $18.95. The reviews are consistently high. A couple of years ago Decanter gave it a 92, as did the Toronto Star, which waxed lyrically “Seaspray and fresh pears on the nose lead to an austere, decidedly saline and deeply stony wine that brings to mind slate, flint and a stroll by the ocean. The bubbles are fine, the mouthfeel creamy, and the acidity razor-sharp, coming together in a taut, intense experience that persists on the finish.”

Santa Margherita Brut Sparkling Rosé, $19.95 appears on the Dec. 11 Vintages release. It is not a Prosecco, as it contains Chardonnay as well as Glera, and gets its colour from 5 per cent Malbec. Prosecco can now come as a Rosé, since the regulations have been changed to allow up to 15 per cent Pinot Noir in the blend.) This wine offers hints of grapefruit, strawberries, and Seville orange. It should be delicious.

One Prosecco producer who relies not on eye-appeal but quality is La Marca. Both its white and Rosé proseccos are available With 18 g/l of sugar, the white, $17.95, carries some subtle sweetness and characteristics of honeysuckle and citrus. The Rosé is a shade drier -16 g/l. The LCBO suggests that we will find “vibrant citrus notes, honeysuckle, peach, pear, red berry and cherry.”

Two Ontario tank-method wines are the Jackson-Triggs Reserve Sparkling Wine 2019, $15.95, and Colio’s Lily Sparkling Rosé, now $1 off at $16.95. The J-T wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir, with good, persistent effervescence and suggests flavours of Honeycrisp apple and lemon. It is available at Wine Rack stores as well as the LCBO.

The Lily Rosé is 90 per cent Riesling and 10 per cent Cabernet Franc – it can’t get more “Ontario” than that. It has a creamy texture and red berry characteristics are followed up with an impression of baked bread and a persistent citrus aftertaste. It can be found at both the LCBO and the Colio outlet in Pino’s.

Turning to sparkling wines made in the traditional method with a secondary fermentation induced in the bottle, we encounter wines with a dimension quite distinct from the wines described above.

After the initial fermentation, the wine is bottled, and a “dosage” of sugar and yeast is introduced before the wine is sealed with a metal cap. The yeast feeds off the sugar and the result is carbonation and a sediment of dead yeast cells called the lees. When ready, the lees are frozen in the neck of the bottle, the cap removed, and the plug of cells expelled. The bottle is topped up with more of the wine, and sealed with a cork, commonly.

Wine Folly explains that “most sparkling wines improve with extended aging during tirage (“Tear-ahj.”)”, the period when the wine rests in the bottle on the lees. They go on to say that the lees “give sparkling wine fuller body, creamier texture, and more nutty flavours.” The longer the tirage, the more significant the impact. In Champagne, some of the more expensive wines can go through tirage for up to 8 years!

Relatively inexpensive wines of this type obviously spend a lot less time in tirage. Outside of Champagne, French sparkling wines usually go by the name “crémant.”

Louis Bouillot Perle d'Aurore Brut Rosé Crémant de Bourgogne from Burgundy, $2 off at $20.95, spends just 12 months on the lees, as they aim for freshness. It shows strawberry and citrus flavours with a touch of fresh-baked brioche along with decent depth.

From Luxembourg Bernard-Massard Cuvée de L'Écusson Brut Sparkling is an excellent buy in a gift package at $24.95, coming as it does in a presentation case with two glasses. Of this wine, the 2021 Decanter World Wine Awards write “A bright lemony nose with apples and melon. Wet stones and white peaches lead to a mouthfilling weight. A fine mousse, good intensity and a good length. – 90

From Ontario, Henry of Pelham’s Cuvée Catharine Brut is available in both white and Rosé for $28.95, which is $4 off the usual price. This is always well-crafted and well-received. The “White” has been described as refined and nuanced, displaying that ‘brioche’ note on the nose, strawberry and creamy lemon on the palate, and a tinge of saltiness. It is classic and has been compared favourably with champagnes with its blend of the traditional Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. It spends a full 36 months on its lees. The reviews are consistently in the 90’s.

One of my favourites in this category is the Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve Entourage Brut, $29.95, available at the Wine Rack store in Rome’s and in the Churchill Plaza Metro. This has 30 months on the lees and delivers in a classic fashion. It carries biscuit, apple and berry on the nose, and green apple, peach and a mineral note on the palate. Its scores, too, usually surpass the 90 threshold.

From Champagne itself, you can find examples from $40 (Champagne Victoire Brut Prestige) to $350 (Cristal - the wine that rock stars write into their contracts to have in their dressing rooms… along with Jelly Bellies!).

Tarlant Brut Reserve Champagne, $45.95, is the output of a well-respected smaller family-owned house under the hands-on direction of Benoit Tarlant. David Lawrason wrote in Toronto Life that “this a more restrained, elegant yet complete style. Expect reserved, complex nutty, dried apple fruit and garlicky aromas. It’s medium weight with precise acidity and minerality set within a creamy texture. The length is excellent.” – 91.

You can find, in limited numbers, several others in the $70 to $90 range from well-known producers. Veuve Clicquot has a number of options, including a couple in “ice-jacket” carrying cases, and Moet & Chandon has a couple in “Black Tie” - one developed to be served on ice.

From Yellowtail Bubbles at $12.95 to the darling of the stars, Cristal at $350, I am confident you will find exactly what suits you to celebrate the holidays or welcome the New Year. Cheers!

Dec. 11 marks the final Vintages Release of 2021. As expected, it has many great choices for you to give as gifts or to enjoy yourselves. At the same time, it also has some inexpensive sleepers that will surprise you in a very good way.

White Wines

Featherstone Four Feathers 2020, $14.95, is a very popular white blend just at the balancing point of dry and off-dry from Niagara. “It surges over the palate with a bracing line of excellent acidity intertwined with mixed spicy flavours of yellow peach, rosewater and hints of herbs.”– 91

Chile’s Matetic EQ Quartz Chardonnay 2018, $19.95, is enticing. “After a short time in the glass, the concentrated fruits begin to emerge in a white with tremendous intensity, and most of all, tremendous creaminess.” guiadescorchados – 94.

Pieropan Soave Classico 2019, $19.95, from Italy’s Veneto is #15 in the Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100. “Vibrant and tangy, the savoury palate doles out juicy grapefruit, white peach and lemon drop before a saline mineral finish. Bright acidity keeps it crisp and balanced.” – 94

Sauvignon Blanc enthusiasts have three impressive examples from New Zealand to choose from in the $22 to $30 range, as well as a gold medal gem from France’s Languedoc, Domaine de La Baume Les Mariés 2019, $15.95. Vintages says to “look for juicy gooseberry, citrus, and green garden veggies.”

New Zealand’s Rapaura Springs Rohe Sauvignon Blanc 2020, $24.95, is described as sophisticated in bouquet and palate. It is “vibrant, loaded with texture and mouthfeel…Great balance and very youthful.” – 93.

Red Wines

Portugal’s Rede Reserva 2016, $14.95, is just rounding into form. It has a solid 88, from The Wine Enthusiast’s Roger Voss, who tells us it is “a ripe, perfumed wine… still rich in tannins but also with black fruits that have developed maturity and spice while leaving plenty of fresh acidity.

From the southwest of France, we have Chateau Bellevue La Forêt 2018, $14.95. Made from a blend of the lesser-known Negrette grape along with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, it “is dark-fruited with pepper, smoky, cocoa and blueberry notes. The tannins are formed, yet they [should soften] with time and the fruit does come out. It is ready now, but it'll age nicely over the next five to seven years.” four stars out of five –

Spain’s Balbás Barrica 5 Tempranillo 2020, $15.95, is made from grapes grown on 25-year-old vines and spends five months in American oak prior to bottling. The winery explains that, “it is characterized by a cherry colour with a marked violet rim, and has notes of sweet spices and red berries. This wine has a long and persistent finish, with sweet tannins and subtle toast flavours from the barrel aging.”

From the house of Fonterutoli comes the Mazzei Ser Lapo Riserva Chianti Classico 2018, $23.95. Italian critic Luca Gardini gives it a whopping 96+, and explains “the nose reveals a velvety texture of small red fruits, currant, then cinnamon and a touch of Mediterranean scrub. The mouthfeel is thick, full-bodied, with iodized tannins and a small red fruitsweet spice aftertaste.”

Zuccardi José Malbec 2016, $44.95, from Argentina, was #56 in 2020 Top 100 for the Wine Spectator, which praised it for its “Explosively fruity aromas and flavours of blackberry, dark cherry and plum tart are creamy and filled with rich savoury and cooking spice accents. Powerfully structured, showing dark chocolate and mocha on the finish, with hints of dried mint.” – 94.

Tarot Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, $49.95, is the brain-child of Jean-Charles Boisset. Boisset is a large firm in France, but Jean-Charles is also married to Gina Gallo an important member of the Gallo family and a winemaker herself. This is bottled under the trade name Secret Indulgence. I don’t know my Tarot, but the wine is definitely indulgent. The Wine Advocate tells us it “offers notes of minted black cherries, blackcurrant pastilles, and redcurrant jelly with hints of potpourri, fallen leaves, and cedar chest. The full-bodied palate is chock-full of black fruit preserves with loads of spicy sparks and a firm, grainy texture, finishing long with a display of invigorating sparks.” – 91

Gina Gallo has her own wine on this release, the Gallo Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, $60.95, with a 93 from, but it isn’t destined for our store. You can order it online at starting Saturday morning.

I know I have gone overboard with the suggestions, but it’s Christmas, and these are just a fraction of the truly terrific selections on this Dec. 11 release. For more help, pick up a catalogue at the store or just speak with Jeanie Fremlin, our knowledgeable consultant.

Enjoy your holidays and best wishes for a thriving 2022!