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Weekend Wine: All that sparkles...

We are entering the final week before the Holiday celebrations, and I am sure most of us are more concerned with getting our shopping finished than we are with the our choice of wines, though that, too, can be one more issue to deal with as time slip

We are entering the final week before the Holiday celebrations, and I am sure most of us are more concerned with getting our shopping finished than we are with the our choice of wines, though that, too, can be one more issue to deal with as time slips away.

As for finding the right wine to accompany our dinners and parties, it all depends on the main course and the way in which it is prepared.  If the flavours are lighter, then likely the wine should follow suit.

Riesling goes well with a traditionally roasted turkey, as would a richer white such as Pinot Gris.  I often serve a cranberry wine, which, though high in sugar, is counterbalanced by the bright and tart cranberry.  Both Stoney Ridge and Muskoka Lakes offer similar wines in this category for about $17.

Niagara’s Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2015, $16.95, is lively and off-dry with fruit and acid in great balance.  Foris Pinot Gris 2014, $22.95, from Oregon, shows apple pear and citrus with a Wine Enthusiast 90, and Willy Gisselbrecht Tradition Pinot Gris 2014, $17.95, from Alsace with lovely weight and balance would also perform admirably.

These same wines could serve well with ham, but you could also try a red such as a Shiraz or a Carmenère where the big fruit would counter-balance the saltiness of the meat. Australia’s Small Gully The Formula Robert’s Shiraz, currently a savings of $3 at $16.95, has long been a favourite with loads of flavour and almost 16 per cent alcohol, while Chile’s Concha y Toro Lot 148 Carmenère, $17.95, would also serve, with dark cherry fruit, some smokiness, and soft tannins all in play.

There are lots of options, and the store staff will be happy to help you find what you like.

When it comes to festivities, it is a sparkling wine that best signals celebration. From Christmas Eve to Christmas brunch and dinner, through to New Year’s Eve and even Reveillon – a meal in the early hours following Midnight Mass– sparkling wines can be enjoyed on their own, or can accompany a broad range of dishes perfectly.

When it comes to getting the sparkle into the wine, there are two principal methods.  The first is usually referred to as the “traditional method” outside of Champagne, and it refers to a secondary fermentation in the bottle.  The other means involves inducing carbonation into the wine under pressure in a closed tank, and is often referred to as the Charmat method.  This is the approach used for most inexpensive bubblies, including prosecco; however, there are many inexpensive traditional method wines available especially from Spain.

In most areas, a good traditional method sparkling wine will usually retail for half or less the price of most champagnes. explains that, since Champagne-style wines are aged longer on yeasts in the secondary fermentation, they will often have a toasty or biscuity flavour. Since the wines are aged in bottles under high pressure the bubble finesse is fine, persistent and sharp.

Proseccos are made in northern Italy, usually from the Glera grape.  Of Prosecco, writes that “because the wines are aged in large tanks with less pressure Prosecco bubbles are lighter, frothy and spritzy with less persistence. Finer Prosecco wines often exhibit notes of tropical fruits, banana cream, hazelnut, vanilla and honeycomb.”

Wine & Spirits gave a 91 rating to the Santa Margherita Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, currently $16.95 (-$2), saying “the texture of this wine deftly balances the richness of ripe stone fruit with the grip of fruit skins, like apple and apricot. A hint of white pepper adds subtle complexity, while the finish feels fresh and elegant.”

Ruffino Prosecco also $2 off at $14.95, delivers a fine mousse with an attractive touch of sweetness, good stone fruit, and lemony crispness on the finish. Of 20 reviews on Natalie MacLean’s website, 14 gave it a score between 89 and 91, with none dropping below a respectable 86.

If you prefer a wine made in the traditional method, Ontario’s Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve Entourage Sparkling Brut 2011, $24.95, remains available in some Vintages sections, and can also be found at the Wine Rack stores.  As I wrote earlier this year, sometimes we turn to a sparkling wine because it is less expensive than Champagne. In this case, I would be choosing it because it is what I would hope Champagne would taste like!  Pop the cork, and there is a lovely, baked bread, toasty aroma. Take a sip, and this golden wine delivers far more than prickly bubbles.

At just $13.95, Spain’s Cavas Hill 1887 Brut garnered 88 points from David Lawrason in Toronto Life, who perceived green olive, pear and almond on the nose, some bread-like notes on the palate, and called it firm and dry with “a slightly dusty finish.”

Pink, but dry, Niagara’s 13th Street Brut Rosé is currently $25.95, and has a touch of Gamay in the blend with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  The bubbles are persistent but soft, and there are tart fruit elements, a little rhubarb along with red berries. Some toast and mineral notes persist on the finish.

Probably the least expensive Champagne on our shelves is Champagne Victoire Brut Prestige at $39.95. The Wine Spectator gave it an 89 commenting on the density and persistence of the effervescence, and others have remarked on the bread and yeast notes common to a good traditional sparkling wine, as well as its significant length.

If your New Year’s Eve is going to be an intimate one, you might want to finish your dinner with dark chocolate and a bottle of Inniskillin’s Cabernet France Sparkling Ice Wine 2012.  Normally $80 for the half bottle, it is now yours for just $59.95 at both the LCBO and the Wine Rack stores.  Check ahead for availability.  It has that richness we expect in an Ice Wine, and an appealing lift of bubbles, but not the acidic sharpness we may be accustomed to with a sparkling wine; instead, the flavour reminds me of a rich strawberry cream truffle – all it needs  to complete the experience is the chocolate – milk or dark, your choice.

In all, there are always lots of wines to entice us, in every style and price range. I hope that, at the end of the day, and at the end of the year, you have a satisfying and blessed holiday, with the wine being merely a concluding toast to your enjoyment. 

Happy Holidays!