By Adem Tepedelen
Sparkling wine is liquid ebullience. There’s a reason fun-loving people with lively personalities are referred to as being “bubbly”: this effervescence and joie de vivre is something we associate with good times.
This being a celebratory time of year, your fridge should never be without a bottle of sparkling wine. Champagne is, of course, the renowned king of this category — for good reason, we can assure you — but it’s also pricey. Luckily, there are other high-quality options out there, many made right here in our own Island backyard.
Island Terroir Bubbles Up
Some of the first commercially produced Island wines were sparkling, in fact. Cowichan Valley wine pioneers Vigneti Zanatta brought Old World expertise to the small experimental vineyard that family patriarch Dennis Zanatta had started in the 80s. His daughter, Loretta Zanatta, left the family farm to study winemaking in Italy. There, she confirmed that the conditions that make certain parts of Europe — Spain, Italy, France and Germany, among others — exceptional for making sparkling wine exist here on Vancouver Island.
“The region where my family’s from [in Italy] is very similar to this region,” Loretta told me when I was doing research for Island Wineries of British Columbia (TouchWood Editions, 2011), which I co-wrote. “It’s not particularly hot in the summer and the season is not extensive like it is in Southern Italy or Tuscany. So they grew grapes that were good for sparkling wines.”
To make good sparkling wine, particular grape-growing conditions are required. The grapes need to be able to develop flavour and character while keeping good acidity and relatively low sugar. The high acidity, while potentially off-putting in a still table wine, gives sparkling wine vibrancy and a palate-cleansing freshness. That’s why bubbly is so good with food: it’s versatile enough to pair with so many different dishes.
Put the Bubble in Bubbly
So, how is still wine made into sparkling wine? There are two methods primarily used to make the finest bubbly in the world. The first is the méthode classique (or traditional method), which is how Champagne (among others) is made. Still wine is bottled, a dose of sugar and yeast is added to create a secondary fermentation, and each bottle is capped to referment and age. Then, after the second fermentation, the yeast sediment is removed (disgorged), the bottle is topped up and sealed with a cork and cage.
The second method is the charmat method, where a second fermentation, done in a pressurized stainless steel vat, creates the carbonation in the wine, which is then bottled. This is primarily associated with Prosecco and is less expensive and time consuming than méthode classique. The wine itself has a different character as well — maybe a bit less complexity, but a “charming” youthfulness.
Here on the Island, both methods are used and the prices vary accordingly. For Loretta Zanatta, who makes four different sparkling wines — Glenora Fantasia Brut, Allegria Brut Rosé, Brut Tradizionale and Taglio Rosso (Brut) — all in the traditional method, the extra work is worth it.
“The [grape] pressing is more delicate and it’s whole-cluster pressed, which goes slower,” she explains. “You have to make it very clean with very little sulfites, and when we bottle it we lay it down [age it] for a couple of years, so there’s a lot of storage involved. And then when we’re disgorging, that requires a lot of hands-on. So each bottle is handled quite a bit compared to a still wine.”
While some might argue that the traditional method is superior, sparklers made using the charmat method have a liveliness that is quite compelling and wonderful. Newer Island wineries such as Averill Creek, Salt Spring and Unsworth have brought to market their own Prosecco-style wines with island grapes — primarily Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris — which are lovely sparklers in the $20 to $25 range. Somewhat confusingly, all are named Charme de L’Ile.
Salt Spring also does a traditional-method sparkling wine called Karma (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) for $31, and Beaufort in the Comox Valley has, in the past, produced a Pinot Noir-based one called Carpe Diem, as well. Venturi-Schulze, another renowned Cowichan Valley sparkling winemaker, regularly produces traditional-style bubbly, though what they bring to market varies from year to year, as they let the grapes guide them with every vintage. You can generally count on their Brut Naturel (typically a blend of Pinot Auxerrois and Pinot Gris) to be available for about $32, but they will occasionally do a sparkling rosé as well. Rocky Creek’s traditional-method Katherine’s Sparkle is made with primarily Pinot Gris grapes and at $25 a bottle sells out quickly, not surprisingly. Blue Grouse Estate Winery’s sparkler, Paula, is made with traditional methods using estate-grown Pinot Gris, Orgeta, Müller-Thurgau and Pinot Blanc grapes. It’s excellent value at $28.
Think Local, Drink Local
Loretta Zanatta figured out decades ago that this area is ripe for sparkling-wine production. The ensuing wineries to spring up on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands over the years, however, have been slow to embrace this style of winemaking. Perhaps because it’s too labour intensive or perhaps because wine drinkers are still coming around to the many delights of sparkling wine. The fact that Vigneti Zanatta has held true to its original vision — augmented, of course, by other still and frizzante wines in its portfolio — is telling, however. “You have the potential to grow a lot of [sparkling wine] grapes,” she says encouragingly, “but as far as consumers … they just don’t drink sparkling wine like they do red wine. Which is very unfortunate. I try to encourage people to drink bubblies with their meals as well as their celebrations.”
Perhaps this is a good New Year’s resolution for 2017: Drink more sparkling wine. Better yet, drink more local sparkling wine.
A bubbly take on the Sidecar, with a bright, citrusy local sparkling wine taking the place of the lemon juice. It’s a beautiful golden colour accentuated by a lemon twist. Serves one.
• 1 oz (2 tbsp) Cointreau orange liqueur (chilled)
• 1/2 oz (2 tbsp) brandy
• 4 oz (1/2 cup) Vigneti Zanatta Glenora Fantasia Brut (chilled)
• Lemon twist, for garnish
Combine chilled Cointreau and brandy in a Champagne flute. Top up with about 4 oz of chilled sparkling wine. Drop in a lemon twist and serve.