Readers of my blog pages will be well aware that I love my sparkling wines and so, perhaps as karma for being laid up with an injured knee over my birthday weekend, I was delighted to take delivery of a rather special bottle.
When Christmas approaches (and probably year-round too, but perhaps less publicised) there seems to be a good availability of Canadian Ice wine to purchase. What seems to be less available (but just as relevant over the festive season) is Canadian sparkling wine. If the word on the street is anything to go by, this is a shame as they are really rather good.
Thanks to a new collaboration between producer Benjamin Bridge and London based wholesaler and retailer Friarwood, this scarce availability could all be about to change with their range about to hit the UK market.
The Benjamin Bridge story started in 1999 when 60 acres of land were purchased in the Gaspereau Valley in Nova Scotia. Linking in with a former Piper Heidsieck chef de cave, vines were planted and experimental cuvées made. In little over a decade, and following numerous plaudits from the world’s leading Champagne authorities, they have grown to be one of Canada’s foremost sparkling producers.
The grapes grow in vineyards moderated by the nearby Bay of Fundy. This cooled environment, similar in climate to that of Champagne, allows the fruit to have a long ‘hang-time’ on the vine, enabling natural acidities and flavour profiles to develop additional complexities.
Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Brut 2008 Nova Scotia, Canada, 11.5%, £30.00
Hailing from the standout vintage of 2008, the grapes were hand harvested in the October, and bottled in June 2009. This cuvée is comprised of 42% L’Acadia (a local hybrid grape variety), 40% Seyval, 10% Pinot Noir and 8% Chardonnay.
Visually the wine is gold in colour with touches of amber shining through. Even with 8 years of age under its belt it exudes a clear youthful frothiness on the pour and vibrant pinprick bubbles throughout, highlighting the traditional method secondary fermentation in bottle.
On the nose there’s the immediate evidence of maturity (it spends 4-5 years maturing on the lees) with the fruits all showing signs of development. As such the citrus has moved on to lemon curd and the tropical elements are towards dried pineapple. There’s also some honey, peach and biscuit/brioche detectable. The lightness of touch married with the developed fruit characters is a wonderful juxtaposition.
The palate is rich and rounded with a weighty, elegant and creamy mouthfeel. Firstly I get the fresh characters of green apple flesh, apple pips, honey and butter, as well as a touch of woodiness and a light tannin. This is followed up with the citrus and breadiness, and almost a hint of raspberry/cranberry showing through from the Pinot Noir (even though it is only 10% of the blend).
There’s a medium acidity layered throughout that is well balanced with the fruit and keeps everything fresh. The subtle mousse evaporates in the mouth and the overall feeling is of a zippy, fresh, elegant and developed sparkling.
There’s a good length carried by the lemon curd flavour, which also adds a touch of root ginger on the end palate.
I tried this sparkling on the same day as I had a glass or two of a top quality NV Champagne (well, it was my birthday!). Even if it is a little unfair to judge NV against vintage, the Benjamin Bridge was the clear winner and at £30 is an absolute steal in value, even before comparing it to the market prices of vintage Champagne.
This probably leads me to my only negative of the experience (and it is nit-picking) in that, in the quest to be every bit as good as Champagne, this has become exactly like Champagne. Like Cava and Prosecco have shown, it is possible to be a leading light in the sparkling world whilst retaining some sort of typicity. I was struggling to pin-point it here, unless it was simply just the sheer commitment to quality which clearly puts it on a level pegging with Vintage Champagne.
Still, that’s not a bad problem to have, is it?
With thanks to Clementine Communications, Friarwood and Benjamin Bridge for the bottle used in this tasting.