Rows of dark bottles lie atop each other, lining the walls in the cellar of Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards near Peachland. Passing under the arch doorways, one feels the importance of the aging that is taking place in these dark corners. While missing the touch of decades of dust, the sense of place is definitely European. Following in the steps of Champagne, France, this house—dedicated to B.C. sparkling wines—is aging bottles of Brut, Crémant and Blanc to Blanc on the lees.
Choosing a sparkling makes you confront a lexicon of luxury, full of French words that add to the elegance of this celebratory libation. So let’s break it down a bit, starting with sweetness.
Sparkling wines range from very dry to very sweet with a scale moving from extra brut, brut, sec and demi-sec to doux—a similar sweetness of adding a quarter teaspoon up to two full teaspoons per glass. (A vodka and sprite has six.)
Now, for the black and white of naming: Blanc de Noir (white from black) is made from the dark-skinned red wine grape Pinot Noir. As the grapes are pressed gently with no skin contact during fermentation, the resulting wine is white. Blanc de Blanc is made entirely of Chardonnay grapes.
Chardonnay grapes originate in the Champagne region, together with Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Blanc. The name Champagne is reserved for sparkling wines from that region; in the Okanagan, Brut often doubles as the sparkling wine’s name.
Onto the bubbles. In a single glass, a million bubbles rise towards the surface and burst when they meet the air—an aromatic and delightful experience.
How do we get bubbles? Traditional sparkling wine goes through two fermentations: the first in tank, and the second happens in the bottle, where additional yeast and sugar create carbon dioxide gas, trapping it in the bottle and thus carbonating the wine.
After doing their job, the yeast dies. Those yeast particles are called lees, and “aging on the lees” gives traditional sparkling is yummy yeasty, brioche, pastry taste. The final stages are the slow rotation of the bottles, gently moving the less to the neck. The neck is then placed in a frozen bath so the lees can be popped out of the bottle. A small amount of reserved wine (dosage) tops up the final bottle of sparkling.
Other winemakers choose the Charmat or méthode cuvée close. Here secondary fermentation takes place in a large stainless-steel tank in a method well known to Prosecco fans of Italian bubbles.
In the Okanagan, you can also find bubbles done frizzante style, with an injection of gas into the wine to create carbonation.
For some serious celebration (and for serious sparkling fans ), stop in the Kelowna wineshop for a 2011 Sperling Brut Reserve ($90). This is a big wine, an elegant lady showing her fine age, but so full of zip. On the nose, you get hints of an old-world port or sherry, and fine bubbles and a deep golden glow in the glass. Take her to dinner as the tart notes and high acidity calls for a food pairing. Residual sugar (R.S.): 1.9 g/L.
The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes were harvested from the Sperling estate after the coolest growing season on record since 2000, ideal conditions for sparkling. Each was made into a traditional sparkling and then blended with no dosage: 80 percent Pinot Noir and 20 percent Chardonnay.
Also crafted in the traditional method, 2013 Sperling Blanc de Blanc ($75) offers beautiful bubbles that show off the lemony notes of the Chardonnay grapes and a lovely tartness. RS 1.8 g/L.
Canada’s first sparkling wine made in the traditional style comes from Sumac Ridge in Summerland. Today their 2017 Mountain Jay Brut ($24.99), a traditional blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir, remains a stunning choice: perfect bubbles, light taste of bread and lemon.
The 2018 Fitz Brut ($35.50) is a traditional blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and two percent Meunier all grown at the Great ranch Vineyard estate. The Chardonnay-dominant blend (73 percent) is a zippy wine with a crisp acidity that will keep you awake until the clock strikes the new year. R.S. 6.6 g/L.
And now for some not-so-traditional sparkling, but done in the traditional style.
At Road 13 near Oliver, the vines are so thick they look like tree trucks. This plot of Chenin Blanc was planted in 1968, one of the oldest vineyards in the Valley. In 2017 forest fires threatened, but the smoke in the sky shielded the grapes from the scorching fall heat—the result: full ripeness and all the acidity needed to make a traditional sparkling wine. Three years on the lees give the 2017 Road 13 Sparkling Chenin Blanc ($45) a beautiful sparkle, with a hint of pastry and fruit on the nose and delicious pear apple and creamy flavours. RS 6.8 g/L.
They also offer a 2012 Sparkling Chenin Blanc ($90) that spent eight years on the lees. RS 7.6 g/L.
Pinot Blanc is the grape of choice for the 2020 Fitz Crémant ($24.50). The softer bubbles come from a smaller amount of sugar added for the secondary fermentation: nine months on the lees in bottle. The winemaker looked to the traditional style of sparkling from Alsace to make this creamy wine with its subtle peach and pear aromas.
The final pick is a beautiful sparkling from Arrowleaf Cellars in Lake Country crafted in the Charmat method. The delicate white bubbles of the 2021 Wildblume ($24.10) explode in your mouth. This aromatic wine made of Vial and Auxerrois presents a fruity bouquet and flavours of apple and lemon. RS 12.0 g/L.
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