Nothing says celebration better than Champagne. So it’s time to pop the corks as Waterfront Magazine celebrates its 15th anniversary and toasts the achievements of 15 outstanding women in the greater Toronto area with The Waterfront Awards 2018.
The vrai Champagne is French naturellement. It comes from Champagne, a specific region in France about an hour and a half drive northeast of Paris (or 45 minutes by high speed TGV train). Other bubblies which can be made in the same method as Champagne rightly go by other names such as Cava in Spain, Franciacorta in Italy or Crémant in other regions of France. On these bottles you might see the words méthode champenoise, metodo classico or méthode traditionelle to indicate that they are made using the same methods as Champagne.
That method involves a second fermentation within each individual bottle, the bubbles contained within it and the spent yeast (from fermentation) removed by a labour intensive system. Sparklers produced in this way have fine, lingering bubbles and often a delicious biscuity flavour from the yeast. A cheaper way to make a bubbly is the tank method also known as ‘cuve close’ or charmat in which the second fermentation takes place in a large closed pressure tank. Prosecco for example is made in the tank method and the cost of a bottle reflects this.
Top quality Champagne is pricy because of its production method and other reasons. Within Champagne there is a system which grades the vineyards according to the quality of grapes that they produce. The very top Grand Cru communes are “100%” rated because whatever price is decided for the grapes for a vintage, they will get 100%. Premier Crus receive between 99 and 90% according to their place on the ladder of quality and so forth. Secondly, while most Champagnes are blends of different vintages, in a top year some are bottled as a single vintage.
Dom Pérignon is an iconic brand of vintage only Champagne produced by the Champagne house Moët & Chandon. It’s perhaps the single most recognized wine in the world. Each vintage is a unique creation that expresses both the character of the year, and the character of Dom Pérignon, which can be described as elegant and harmonious, not necessarily powerful. Richness in the wine comes from age alone. All Dom Pérignon vintages spend at least eight years in the cellars before being released.
Dom Pérignon is produced in about seven out of ten vintages. Some years the grape quality is not good enough. I had the pleasure of trying the 2009 vintage just released in Canada ($231.95 at the LCBO). From a hotter vintage, it has a lovely ripeness and biscuity nose balanced by fresh acidity and finesse on the palate with a long lingering finish.
Champagne house Moët & Chandon established in 1743 has held the Royal Warrant since Queen Victoria first recognized the quality of Champagnes in 1893. In 1955 HM Queen Elizabeth II granted her Royal Warrant to Moët & Chandon which has maintained it over the last 57 years. Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial ($68.55) is the champagne house’s flagship wine. Created to give immediate pleasure and foster spontaneity, it’s one of the most loved champagnes on the globe. You’ll find toasted brioche in the bouquet and a crisp citrus freshness on the palate with suggestions of honey.
Women ran some famous Champagne houses – a fitting pick to celebrate The Waterfront Awards’ outstanding Toronto women. The most renowned is Barbe Ponsardin, best known as Veuve Clicquot (Widow Clicquot). When her husband François Clicquot died at a young age, she took over the reins of the family business when she was just 27. She did marvelously, and Veuve Clicquot Champagne founded in 1772 (by the father of François, Philippe Clicquot), is now famous throughout the world. A bottle of Veuve is opened somewhere in the world every three and a half seconds, according to the company.
Canada received the first bottles of Veuve Clicquot in 1855 in Montreal and Quebec City in what was then called Lower Canada, 163 years ago. The company marked the occasion of their 160th anniversary in Canada with a grand celebration gala at the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec in which they gave awards to Canadian women entrepreneurs.
(The Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Award was created in 1972, at the bicentennial of the House, and the same year as their first production of their top vintage wine Grand Cuvée Dame. The Award has honoured more than 300 women in 27 countries since its inception.)
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut Yellow Label ($73.80) is Canada’s top seller. The house style is focused on richness and yeasty flavours. The Yellow Label typifies this with its fuller body, very toasty nose and fruity fullness finishing somewhat citrus.
Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé ($91.20.) a deep salmon coloured bubbly is based on Brut Yellow Label’s traditional blend (about 50% pinot noir with the rest pinot meunier and chardonnay) with the addition of red wine. It has a fruity, yeasty brioche bouquet and is full bodied, creamy textured and full of red berry flavours. La Grande Dame Brut is their prestige blend of Grand Crus, with a dominance of pinot noir (the 2008 vintage is 90%) and the rest chardonnay. At the LCBO is Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2006 for $$277.
By contrast Ruinart Champagne, founded in 1729, bears the crisp elegant signature of the chardonnay thread through all its blends which aim for delicacy along with complexity. Ruinart Brut Rosé ($113) is a deep salmon colour with a toasty, fruity nose and fresh medium bodied elegance with lingering flavours of red berries. This is another Champagne House with a famous widow, Mary Kate Charlotte Riboldi. On the death of her husband, André Ruinart, this Englishwoman who was orphaned at an early age and from a modest background, took the helm of the House from 1919 to 1925, until her son was old enough to succeed her. She firmly put the House back on its feet following the terrible destruction of the First World War.
If you don’t have a Champagne budget, there are good sparkling wines made in the same method. The Loire is France’s largest producer of AOC sparkling wines outside of Champagne. Monmousseau, a great Loire sparkling wine producer, is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. Just a few minutes’ drive from Chenonceaux village in Touraine, it is home to one of the largest limestone caves in the area. Their products come into vintages from time to time. Available now, Château Moncontour Tête De Cuvée Brut Vouvray, (traditional method) is a chenin blanc based sparkling Loire nicely representative of wines from Vouvray area ($17.95).
Louis Bouillot Perle D’aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne (traditional method) is a well priced Burgundy sparkler ($21.95) made from largely pinot noir with some gamay.
From Canada’s Niagara region, I’ve always been a fan of Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Brut ($29.95) named by the brothers who own the winery after the matriarch of the family, Catharine Smith, wife of Henry Smith of Pelham. A medium full-bodied blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, there’s a nice touch of toast throughout and good depth of fruity-citrus flavour with mineral notes.
Château des Charmes Rosé Sparkling 2014 ($20.25) is made in the traditional method from chardonnay and pinot noir grapes grown in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It’s a pretty pronounced pink colour with a forward strawberry, rhubarb, red berry nose and taste that’s just slightly off-dry.
Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique ($32.95) from Nova Scotia has been winning accolades around the globe. It contains reserve wines (chardonnay and pinot noir) up to 15 years old, along with younger base wines from L’Acadie, Seyval and Vidal and spends an average of three years on the lees (spent yeast) overall.
Argentina makes some great sparklers. I especially like those from Fin del Mondo in Patagonia but haven’t seen them at the LCBO. Available here now is Domaine Bousquet Organic Pinot Noir/Chardonnay Brut Rosé from Mendoza ($16.95). Made in the traditional method, it’s great value with lots of red berry character, fresh acidity and decent complexity.
For fizz and fun at a bargain, look to Spain, a country which makes many millions of bottles of traditional method bubblies (called cava) at low prices. Freixenet is one of the largest cava houses in Spain. They’ve been making natural sparkling wine following the methods used in Champagne since 1914. Their Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut Cava from local garnacha and other grapes sells for $14.75. It has a strawberry nose and colour, a silky texture and a ripe strawberry flavour.
Whatever your choice, let’s raise a glass to Waterfront Magazine and outstanding women.
Margaret Swaine has visited over 120 countries writing about the good things in life such as wine, spas, restaurants and fine hotels. She spent over two decades as the wine and drink columnist for both Toronto Life and Chatelaine magazines and 16 years writing features and wine and culinary travel columns for the National Post. Follow her on winealign.com