One day Canada’s sparkling wines are going to rival those of Champagne. Maybe that day is already here.
Okay, it’s not. Champagne is truly the finest sparkling wine in the world – but not every single bottle; some of it is totally overrated and, accordingly, overpriced. Canadian bubblies, however, are quite modestly priced – especially when you consider that many are made in the same method as Champagne, which is a very labour-intensive, drawn-out process that results in a truly refined product.
Champagne guards its name very jealously – if you use the name “Champagne” on a wine label – even just on the back label to describe the process – you’ll get sued. So, sparkling winemakers who use this method refer to it as the “traditional” or “classic” method.
I recently finished the second Edmonton Wine Guide – it should be published within a couple weeks. To toast the finish of my epic writing marathon I opened not a Champagne, but rather a bubbly from Canada’s Okanagan Valley: Steller’s Jay Brut, from Sumac Ridge.
Steller’s Jay is delicious. It is made in the same method as Champagne, and from two out of the three classic grape varieties: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The third grape is where Steller’s Jay breaks from tradition, as it uses Pinot Blanc instead of the third permitted Champagne grape, Pinot Meunier.
The result? This is a wine that tastes like its region: peachy. The Pinot Blanc contributes flavours of Okanagan orchard fruit: white peach, nectarine, apricot. These are all on the slightly under-ripe end of the spectrum – the best sparkling wines are made in cool climates from grapes that retain a great degree of natural acidity; this is also why they are so damn good with food. Toasty overtones round out this wine, which is eminently drinkable.
Steller’s Jay bears a vintage too – the one I had was from 2008, so it actually has a fair number of years on it. This age has increased its complexity and proves that Canadian wines have staying power – only the best vintages of Champagne are labeled with a specific vintage date; the rest are generic blends of multiple vintages.
I truly do believe that Canadian sparkling wine has the potential to rival the world’s best bubblies, Champagne included. We may not have centuries of winemaking history behind us, but this means we aren’t crippled by the yoke of tradition – which can hinder as much as it can help. A winemaker using Pinot Blanc in a sparkling wine? Sacrilege in Champagne; just another day in the Okanagan.
This wine’s namesake is therefore appropriately chosen – the Steller’s Jay, British Columbia’s provincial bird, is a crafty devil. Keep your eye on him or he’ll make off with your lunch before you even notice – though he’s so charming that even if he does, you just won’t be able to bear a grudge for his transgressions.