A Sparkling Recap of VQA Into the Bubbles

If there’s one thing we love, it’s sparkling wine. We could talk your ear off about the diversity of the category, and not to mention blog about it all day long. If you’ve seen some of our ventures with the Sparkling Winos project – like, our Sparkling Wine Map of Ontario – you’d have noticed that not only are we passionate about bubbly, but we’re totally enamoured with what’s happening in our own backyard. So, it was with immense pleasure, excitement and gratitude that we took on hosting duties for Wine Country Ontario’s VQA Into the Bubbles event on September 26, 2018!

As you may have seen in our posts leading up to the event, VQA Into the Bubbles was a continuation of the incredible VQA Into the Vine event (put on by the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario). Running with the theme of deconstructed tasting, combined with an immersive artistic component, VQA Into the Bubbles was a “deep dive” into our favourite style of wine. And, with such a great turn out, clearly we aren’t the only ones willing to explore the category! With twelve VQA Ontario sparkling wines from twelve different wineries – representing different styles, sub-appellations and approaches – there was so much to explore, under one roof. And, it was a beautiful roof to boot! The gorgeous, historic Berkeley Bicycle Club in Toronto was the perfect venue to showcase how truly expressive, diverse and wonderful the world of VQA sparkling wine is!

VQA Into the Bubbles showcased Ontario sparkling wines in a thematic way. And who doesn’t love a good theme?! We sure do! From the Starlight Room, Rosé Way, and The Bubble Bar, to Rue Blanc de Blancs and the Flower Courtyard, the Berkeley Bicycle Club was transformed into a series of experiential rooms that showcased the diversity of Ontario bubbles. So, with that said, sit back, relax, and let us take you back to the incredible night of VQA Into the Bubbles! 😍

Rosé Way

A pink balloon sculpture. Pink lights. Pink flowers. Take a guess at what’s in this room? 😉 If you guessed rosé bubbles, you definitely guessed correctly! Representing this ever popular style of sparkling were three wineries: Trius and Two Sisters Vineyards, from Niagara-on-the-Lake, and Rosehall Run of Prince Edward County.

Highlighting traditional method pink bubbles were Trius with their Brut Rosé and Two Sisters with Lush. The Trius Brut Rosé, made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, is a staple in our household, representing a finessed, clean and elegant approach to bubbles, imparted by rockstar winemaker Craig McDonald. Having the chance to catch up with Craig over a glass of Trius Brut Rosé, was a lovely treat and we were delighted to see him showcase this incredible affordable and high quality sparkler. Oh, and no big deal, but the wine was just awarded Platinum Medal – and, 97 points – at the Decanter World Wine Awards. Sidebar: if you’re ever at the winery, we highly recommend visiting the Sparkling Cellar!

Joining Trius was the Two Sisters Lush, also a traditional method sparkling made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but with a Cabernet Franc dosage. That dosage offers a lovely, vibrant pink hue that was so in keeping with the theme of the room! The Lush was aromatic and zippy, with a unique, lingering finish that offered a different perspective on traditional method sparkling rosé.

Rounding out the group was the ever popular Pixie, hailing from Prince Edward County’s Rosehall Run. Rosehall Run might be our go to stop for bubbles in the County, so we were very delighted to have them pour this tasty, off-dry cuve close sparkler. Contrasting from the other wines in the room by way of style, residual sugar and varietal (it’s a blend of Vidal and Pinot Noir), the Pixie’s racing acidity cut through the residual sugar and proved how important balance is in winemaking. And, it helped to showcase how diverse the pink end of the sparkling spectrum can be!

We’d be remiss to not mention the exceptional food pairings for the rosé bubbles! Chef Nick of Dailo’s fried watermelon and tiny bowls of eggplant agedashi provided a perfect, yet insightful, little pairing. Not going to lie – we’re obsessed with the fried watermelon, paired with the Trius Brut Rosé!

Starlight Lane

With light installations casting an air of sophistication, Starlight Lane truly embodied the feeling of being – dare we say it – in the bubbles! Not to be outdone by the Trius Brut Rosé’s accolades, the wines in this effervescent room were superstars in their own right.

Serving the Premier Cuvée 2012 was Ilya Rubin, director of sales for 13th Street Winery. Now, what can we say about this winery? Aside from being incredibly beautiful and having a robust portfolio of wines, it’s the sparkling that we really adore. The Premier Cuvée 2012 is a traditional method wine, made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Frankly, it is just one exceptional wine, and the accolades it’s received recently seem to confirm our conclusion. At the recent Ontario Wine Awards, it received a gold medal and was named Ontario white wine of the year! Not big deal, right? Oh, and at the Decanter International Wine Awards it received a Gold Medal – a cool 95 points – and the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in Ontario Wines. Guided by winemaker Jean-Pierre Colas, this traditional method sparkling definitely earned its place in the Starlight Room.

No less impressive was Ravine’s Non-Vintage Brut, a traditional method wine made exclusively of Chardonnay. Aging on the lees between 3 to 5 years, this wine is rich, complex and yet with a refreshing, bracing acidity and a lovely fruit character. Winemaker Marty Werner was sharing his incredible sparkling with the crowd and the words that we kept hearing were “elegant” and “refined” (and, also “delicious” but that goes without saying). That’s a testament to Marty’s organic viticultural efforts and a desire to create wines that truly express the terroir of our lovely province. We agree that the Non-Vintage Brut is an incredible sparkling wine, and a testament to the potential of this style of wine here in Ontario. But we’re not the only ones who think so – Ravine’s Non-Vintage Brut received Platinum – or a super cool 98 points – at the Decanter International Wine Awards.

Now, you’re probably thinking… Starlight Lane. Exceptional wines. So many awards. What’s the damage in the wallet? Well, these incredible bubblies showcase the exceptional value of VQA Ontario sparkling wine, as the Premier Cuvée 2012 rings in at a very modest $35.99 and Ravine’s Non-Vintage Brut is not much more at $38. Not to sound too cliche, but these wines can stand against the finest of champagnes and come in at a fraction of a cost. And, we figure, that’s money well spent as anywhere between 3 to 9 times that goes back into the local economy. Pretty amazing, right? 😎

Now, these incredible traditional method wines are full bodied, rich and with bracing acidity. This, of course, means that they can stand up to the most rich of dishes. How rich? We talking Dailo’s Big Mac Bao and Hakka Brown Wonton rich. Savoury, complex and comforting flavours – from the nostalgic taste of Big Mac to the oh-so-delicious-and-fatty dumplings – paired perfectly with these VQA Ontario bubbles. Not only did we hear how much everyone loved Chef Nick’s creations in this room, we also heard how much people enjoyed exploring more substantial food pairings with bubble. It was music to our ears!

The Bubble Bar

Now, you can’t come to an event hosted by us without a Bubbly Bar! We have one at home and we often turn every place we visit in one (even if temporarily!). A more casual extension of the theme of exceptionally crafted traditional method sparkling wines, the Bubbly Bar was was flanked by two of our favourites: Henry of Pelham and Hidden Bench!

Henry of Pelham, located just outside of the City of St. Catharines, just so happens to be celebrating the big 3-0 this year. So, happy birthday HOP! While we’ve been saying for years that sparkling wine is not just for celebrations, in this case, we are totally behind raining a glass to celebrate this special milestone. Henry of Pelham is known for its large portfolio of wines, including a robust program of bubbly. While the Cuvée Catharine may be what you’re most familiar with – you know, that beautiful rose sparkler in the teal packaging? – it’s not the only exceptional sparkler they offer. We were lucky to have Daniel Speck pouring the Cuvée Catharine Blanc de Blanc “Carte Blanche” 2013 at VQA Into the Bubbles – he’s been incredibly busy celebrating the winery’s 30th!

Made in the traditional method from Chardonnay, this wine is rich, complex, elegant and refined. A stunning autolytic character (from 60 months of lees aging) and incredible citrus round out the experience. Like some of the other wines poured at the event, this wine also came with excellent accolades: Best in Show and Gold at 2018 InterVin, Gold at the 2018 Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships and 2018 National Wine Awards of Canada. Carte Blanche may mean ‘license to do anything,’ but this traditional method sparkler speaks volumes to ability of the Speck Brothers to produce exceptional sparkling wine. Like some of the others, the Carte Blanche can easily hold its own with many Champagnes.

Sharing the Bubbly Bar with Henry of Pelham were our friends at Hidden Bench. Now, Hidden Bench are as serious about terroir driven wines as they are about sparkling. So, it should come as no surprise that they were pouring the Natur 2013, a traditional method bubbly made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Now, it goes without saying that the Natur 2013 is an exceptional sparkling. After spending some 7 months in barrel and 47 months on lees in bottle, it’s a complex and rich bubbly, with notes of toast, almond and citrus. But what makes it unique among those poured at VQA Into the Bubbles is it’s residual sugar, which is basically 0. The Natur 2013 held the “Brut Nature” or “Zero Dosage” flag high, showcasing that wines produced in Ontario can too express terroir without the “mask” of sugar. Now, we’re no sugar haters, but we were very glad to see this wine making choice make itself known, seen and enjoyed! As we worked the room, the interest and enjoyment of the Natur 2013 was evident and we couldn’t be happier. And, in case you’re wondering, this bubbly walked away with the Gold Medal and 2018 National Wine Awards of Canada. No big deal, right?!

And how about this floral arrangement?! The sensory experience of the wine changed with the wafting of the beautiful bouquet. Next time you’re trying a sparkling, play with your surroundings to see how your palate and perception change based on what else is around you!

You didn’t think that was it, did you?!

Good, because there’s a whole other floor of the Berkley Bicycle Club – recounted through a few more paragraphs of this blog post – to experience! 😉

Rue Blanc de Blancs

Chardonnay is one of our favourite wines, still or sparkling. In its sparkling form, it has exceptional body, structure and finesse and we debate amongst ourselves if we love Blanc de Blancs or Blanc de Noirs more. But, that’s neither here nor there, as we’re hear to tell you about Rue Blanc de Blancs at VQA Into the Bubbles. And hey, if there’s one thing that Ontario wine country does well (spoiler alert: there are many), it’s Chardonnay! So, without further ado, this room was anchored by two of our favourite wineries: Angels Gate and Cave Spring.

Angels Gate was pouring their Archangel Chardonnay 2012, made in the traditional method from – you guess it – 100% Chardonnay. This bubbly, hailing from the Beamsville Bench, is citrus driven, with high acidity, hints of toast, and a great umami character. This medium bodied and flavourful wine benefited from a touch of residual sugar (at 9 grams a litre) and, at less than $30 for a bottle, is an incredible value.

Continuing our walk down Rue Blanc de Blancs, we found the Cave Spring Cellars Non-Vintage Blanc de Blancs Brut. Showcasing the power and versatility of Chardonnay in sparkling wine, this sparkling is medium bodied, vibrant and autolytic. Still, it’s quite fresh and, like it’s neighbour a steal (at less than $30 a bottle).

Chef Nick paired the crisp Blanc de Blancs with his oysters! While we didn’t get a chance to try one (we were too busy mixing and mingling), the word was out and everyone loved the oysters. As classic pairing, right? Ontario’s cool climate and mineral rich soils produce fruit that’s bracing with acidity, yet very juicy, the bubbles from the traditional method wines provided a refreshing, palate cleansing experience which worked well with the briny, saline oysters. We didn’t have one, but trust us, we know!

Flower Courtyard

Remember how we said we love a good theme? Well, the Flower Courtyard at VQA Into the Bubbles ticked off many boxes: all the wines were produced using the cuve close method, all the labels contained a floral or sparkling theme, and, everyone had a great time! Showcasing the cuve close end of the spectrum, the Flower Courtyard was a fun, buoyant room reflective of the style of wine. While each wine poured was as different as the wineries it originated from, we have to say that the common thread was the VQA Ontario sparkling wine represents beautifully in this category! Themes aside, the Flower Courtyard showcased the approachability of the cuve close wine style – making it a perfect starter for lovely evening or the perfect finish to a great meal! It’s a versatile production method that is an interesting counterpoint to more complex, traditional method sparkling wines!

Colio was representing the Lake Eerie North Shore appellation beautiful at VQA Into the Bubbles! Lake Erie North Shore, the southernmost and warmest wine region of Ontario, is known for some of it’s bigger reds and we were happy to see it being represented with the ever popular Lily Sparkling. This sparkler is made from 100% Riesling and is an approachable, every day wine. With a light mousse, it’s fruity and aromatic and downright delicious! At 15 grams of residual sugar, this wine has the perfect kiss of sweetness to enjoy on its own or with a snack.

Joining Colio was Westcott Vineyards, who poured the Violette 2017. Perfectly on-brand for the Flower Courtyard, the Violette is made from estate grown Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It’s is a light bodied, but elegant sparkler, that is balanced, refreshing and downright infectious! We were so excited to see proprietor Carolyn Hurst pouring one of our favourite Ontario cuve close sparklings! With notes of apple, pear and peach, this wine really does take places (like a vineyard picnic, or a walk back to see Carolyn for another taste). Westcott says that Violette is a wine for anytime, anywhere and any occasion (kind of like the little black dress of wines). We don’t wear many dresses, so that’s lost on us, but we do agree that the Violette 2017 is an incredible versatile bubbly!

And, last but definitely not least, Strewn Winery rounded out the poppin’ Floral Courtyard. Like the Lily (which was made with Riesling), Strewn’s Sparkler 2017 stood out for its use of an atypical varietal – this time, Sauvignon Blanc. The Sparkler was a fun addition to the room, showcasing the diversity of Ontario’s sparkling wine category and, at the same time, being a fun conversation starter. While it conveyed the floral theme through the aromatics of the wine, it was as enjoyable, approachable and delicious as its counterparts. Dry, with about 6 grams of residual sugar, this sparkling represented a “meet in the middle” profile of the old world and new world approach to Sauvignon Blanc. And special thanks to Assistant Winemaker Tyler for the insight into your (delicious) bubbles!

And, how about that Floral Wall?

Ok, one more selfie!

Now that we’ve taken you through the entire experience of VQA Into the Bubbles, we hope that you feel like you were right there with us, as we sipped and experience the diverse, unique and down right amazing range of sparkling wines being made in Ontario right now! From amazing value, to exceptional quality, to passion and hard work, there are so many wonderful aspects to VQA Ontario sparkling wine and we hope that we’ve been able to convey them through this recap. If you’re still not convinced, check out our Ontario Sparkling Wine Map, pick out a winery, pay ‘em a visit and try a bottle of VQA Ontario sparkling. Something tells us, you’ll be hooked and into the bubbles in no time. Cheers!

Photo courtesy of rockstar photographer Rick O’Brien! 😎📸