Canada’s best bubbly

Over a decade ago, a long-time colleague/friend of mine, well-known Canadian winemaker/consultant Peter Gamble, was hired by Gerry McConnell of Benjamin Bridge winery in Nova Scotia’s Gaspereau Valley to create a world-class wine. He was given three years to complete the task. As it turns out, the Gaspereau Valley, a rural community located about 3 km from the town of Wolfville, showed that its climate is very similar to that of Champagne, France. So the obvious choice was to create a Champagne-method bubbly. He assembled a team of leading international winemakers to assist with the job. Low production yields extended aging on the lees (dead yeast), coupled with brilliant winemaking resulted in an amazing sparkling wine that can rival any top cuvée of Champagne.

Recently, Peter was in town to host a very rare, private tasting of several bubblies from the winery. To make the tasting more interesting and to showcase exactly how world-class these bubblies are compared to French Champagne, he presented them blind along with two other cuvée prestige Champagnes: the 2005 David Léclapart ‘L’Apôtre’ ($138) and the 2004 Cristal ($289). Thus two wines were Benjamin Bridge and the other two, the aforementioned, high-end Champagne.

First of all let me state that each one of the four bubblies was fabulous for varying reasons, displaying all the characteristics of top end Champers. After we tasted the four sparkles blind, we listened as many tasters commented. A final vote declared that, for most of the tasters, wine #2 was the favourite. Unveiling the wines revealed that #1 was the 2005 David Léclapart ‘L’Apôtre’, #2 was the 2004 Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve ($74.50), #3 the 2004 Cristal and #4 the 2004 Bemjamin Bridge Brut Reserve LD with an additional two years on the lees ($89.50).

The 2004 Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve was spectacular with rich, toasted, nutty brioche, flowers, pear, baked apple, limey citrus, minerality and tartness with vibrant acidity and elegance. The same wine with an additional two years on the lees (the LD) showed many of the same characteristics with more creamy notes and density. Just phenomenal! Both will age decades. Made from a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and French hybrids, Peter informs that future bottlings will be made from vinifera only. Unfortunately, they’re sold out. However, the 2005s will be released in October at similar price points, and according to Peter, should be even better, if that’s possible. If you ever get the chance to get your hands on either of these two sparkles, run, don’t walk to obtain them. They are easily the best sparkling wines I have ever tasted from Canada. And from Nova Scotia no less…who’d a thunk it?

There was also a reception wine from Benjamin Bridge, the 2011 Nova 7. Here, Moscato d’Asti meets Vinho Verde! This low alcoholic (6.5%), off-dry, Muscat-based wine is delicate with gobs of exotic honeysuckle, orange blossom and peach, like a Moscato, and extremely bracing acidity, à la Vinho Verde. Yummy! At the time of writing, there were some in the Vintages system for $25.95, but they won’t last.

P.S. – Peter also owns a vineyard in Mendoza, Argentina, where he grows Malbec. He brought along a rare bottling of his 2010 Versado and 2009 Versado Reserva. The 2010 was great with toasted dark fruit, licorice, floral, plumy, spicy complexity. The 2009 Reserva sported toasted vanilla, sappy plum, cherry, and spice with more lushness and opulence. Both wines were fabulous displaying power and a tannin character that is more akin to Italian reds than a Bordeaux varietal. 10+ years of aging easily for both wines is not out of the question. They take Malbec to a whole new dimension. Look for them in Vintages, Mar. 30/13 for approximately $25 and $60 respectively.

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