Stratus Finds Its Sparkle

We’ve had our pulse on all things effervescent in Niagara for a while now, and it goes without saying that the region is producing some exceptional, world class sparkling wines. 

Stratus’ sparkling wine project has been something that we’ve heard a lot about (through the grapevine, if you will) over the years. Perhaps, you could call it Niagara’s worst kept secret. Luckily, Stratus’ foray into traditional method sparkling wine is no longer a secret with the launch of their 2013 Blanc de Blancs and its companion, the 2013 Brut Nature.

The release of the 2013 Blanc de Blancs came to much fanfare. With so much expectation behind the scenes, and the exceptional quality of winemaker J.L. Groux’s other wines within the Stratus portfolio, it should not be a surprise that the 2013 Blanc de Blancs sold out in less than 24 hours of its release. While we missed the opportunity to taste when it was first released last week, we were privileged enough to taste both the 2013 Blanc de Blancs and the 2013 Brut Nature side by side with J.L earlier this week.

And wow, what an exceptional duo these wines make! 😍

In our conversation and tasting with J.L. at Stratus, one of the words that we felt very attached to was “precision” (along with “patience”, which is a virtue one must have when beginning a traditional method sparkling program). J.L.’s strategic choices in the vineyard during the 2013 harvest all speak to this precision, with resultant wines echoing that philosophy. The precision, patience, together with the labour, restraint and respect for the wine by the winemaker is evident. We may also suggest a sense of contemplative adoration and pride was evidenced by a few remarks J.L. made throughout the tasting (such as Blanc de Blancs being the purest expression of sparkling wine, something that we can say these two wines exemplify beautifully).

The two wines are in many ways related, and not only because they’re traditional method sparkling wines made from 100% Chardonnay. On that topic, the fruit itself (Clone 76 for those wondering) comes from a section of the winery’s vineyard that was originally planted in the early 1990’s and located not too far from Stratus’ iconic facility on Niagara Stone Road. The resultant base wine was split into two allocations, two thirds of which would be reserved for what would become the 2013 Blanc de Blancs, and the remaining one third for the 2013 Brut Nature. After extensive dosage trials, J.L and his team decided on 1 g/L for the 2013 Blanc de Blancs, insisting the single gram does in fact make a large difference over no dosage, and reserved the no dosage approach for the 2013 Brut Nature (hence the name), which is bottled on its lees. What a treat! 

We must say, the wines were absolutely worth the wait.

The 2013 Blanc de Blancs is electric, with a zippy acidity that is still so fresh despite the wine’s 6 year ageing period. There is plenty of tart lemon, apple and toast on the nose and palate, but these work in complete harmony and express J.L.’s vision and foray into traditional method sparkling at Stratus (though, we must add, he is no stranger to Ontario sparkling wine being a pioneer in the category at what is now Trius). 

The 2013 Brut Nature is perhaps the Blanc de Blancs’ fraternal twin. Bottled with its lees, its hazy profile in the glass is both beautiful and evocative (but not completely unsurprising, as Stratus is known for its Unfiltered Chardonnay – another favourite of ours!). J.L. was not shy about sharing his love of lees. “Yeast is never tired” he said, speaking to its continuous work in the bottle and the aging potential it adds. We can’t disagree. In describing the 2013 Brut Nature, he noted that it’s “not about being cloudy, but about being complex.” We can’t disagree with that either. As a prolific winemaker with a career with major imprints in France and here in Niagara, he noted that he waited 42 years to make this type of sparkling. Pretty hefty words, no? And so, it was with great pleasure that we tasted this wine, which like the  2013 Blanc de Blancs was zippy with acidity, but with a profile that would be described as amplified. The lemon, apple and toast were there, but the overall profile was more complex and rich. 

Though the 2013 Blanc de Blancs sold out in less than 24 hours, the even more limited 2013 Brut Nature will be available beginning tomorrow (December 6th) through a lottery system. The Brut Nature is labelled as part of the Stratus’ Artist Label Series, where five celebrated Canadian artists’ pieces grace the labels. Only 40 box sets are available, featuring one bottle of the sold out 2013 Blanc de Blancs and five 2013 Brut Nature bottles each feature one of the five artworks. Having had the chance to preview the labels prior to their release, we have to say they add even more beauty to the experience of the wines.

Oh, and fear not: J.L’s sparkling program is now an almost annual affair, with subsequent vintages resting in Stratus’ cellar as we speak. Phew!