The other two themes (because one should never lack for themes) were Grenache and Spain.
So you better believe there were a lot of Cavas, what with all that overlap in themes. Cavas are Spanish sparkling wines made with, oftentimes, different grapes than traditional Champagne, which is usually made of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier.
There were also French crémants (sparkling wines not made in the Champagne region of the country), Italian Prosecco and sparklers from Australia and the US.
But the thing about sparkling wines is that a lot are really poorly made.
They taste okay, at least at first, but contain tons of sugar and preservatives and non-indigenous yeasts – extras that make them consistent, easier to produce and tastier, but also potentially give you more of a headache. I spat out almost everything I tried (not because it was bad, but because this is normal when you’re tasting 40 or 50 wines in a few hours) and I still felt hungover – not drunk, hungover – at the end of the salon. To me, that’s a sign of excess sugar and additives.
There were, however, highlights. So if you go buy these bottles, at least I won’t have suffered in vain.
First, a rosé from Deutz.
This is the high-end of Deutz. It’s a brut, which means it’s not bone dry, but it’s not Baby Duck either. 2006 was a good year in Champagne, it seems. It goes for about $200 a bottle and it’s hard to find, but it’s a lot nicer than your average Veuve Cliquot. And it doesn’t have any of that funky aftertaste than can come with the colour in less well-made bottles.
Next, L’Intemporelle from Mailly.
This 2008 brut is lovely. It’s 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. It’s all fine bubbles and decadence. Definitely worth the $110 price tag.
There was a distinct lack of organic, biodynamic or natural Champagnes at the Palais des Congrès. I hunted all through the rows for organic options and came across about 10 with the sustainability logo on their signs – which was an impressive move by the Dégustation organizers this year. This was the first one I found, and I fell into the Cava here like a lost, thirsty travel discovering a freshwater stream in the desert.
The Aranleón Deshora Brut is $20.95 in private importation, and while it’s not as fine as the Champagnes above, it does a heck of a convincing job. It’s a blend of Macabeo, Xarello and Parellada, three Spanish varietals that, apparently, make great bubbly. It’s a little more fruity, a little more summer in your mouth, and ethically satisfying.
Next it was on to the brut nature bubbles. That’s a special type of process that means no sugar is added for the second fermentation. It’s a natural fermentation trick that generally results in usually very dry, sometimes weird sparkling wines. This was a successful example:
Vilarnau is a vintage Cava (made with grapes from one year only) with Macabeo, Parellada and Chardonnay. So it’s a little more familiar in the mouth for Champagne-only sparkling wine drinkers and just refreshing and perfectly pleasant for everybody else. And this one’s at the SAQ, or should be coming; it’s not on the SAQ website at the moment. At $22, it’s a steal.
Another brut nature was the AA Bruant:
This one’s a riserva, meaning a special selection of grapes, and it’s organic. Win win. It’s 100% Xarel-lo. Think pear, green apple and almond. That’s a little too much fruit in my bubbly, but for a time when you want more flavour like a regular white or red non-sparkling wine but get suckered into bubbles with a group, here’s a great choice.
Did I mention there was a sparkling wine competition by type of sparkling wine? For example, there were Cava winners, Prosecco winners and Crémant winners, which I think is just an excuse to give more awards.
Here was one of the Crémant winners:
It’s a Vitteaut-Alberti, brut, blanc de blanc, which means it’s Chardonnay. In this case, there’s also a little Aligoté in there. It’s $23 at the SAQ. I don’t think it’s amazing, but it’s the Champagne method for a whole lot cheaper.
Another award winner, but in the Cava category, was the Muga 2011 vintage brut.
This one is for Cava snobs. It’s 95% Viura and 5% Malvoisie. Snobs in the sense of wanting to know everything about Cavas and try all the unique varieties of grapes – not in the money sense, because this bottle goes for a paltry $20. It’s definitely not trying to be Champagne, but that’s not a bad thing.
Boy was that ever enough sparkling wine! “Is that possible?” you say. “Too much sparkling wine?” My head definitely thought so later.
After all that sugar, there was no way I could go back to dry whites, so it was either on to reds or into dessert wines. Just at that moment I stumbled across the Hardy table and the first organic Cognac I’d ever seen.
After trying this, I have to say I really like Cognac. This is very drinkable. It’s not cloying. It’s not fiery like Grappa. And it’s doesn’t pack a knock-out punch like Scotch can – it’s elegant and clean. At $79 a bottle at the SAQ, it should be. But ’tis the season, and this would be a lovely thing to gift or be gifted.
Better, though, was the Hardy family reserve. It’s now ruined all Cognac for me. It made the organic version look like a joke. It’s aged and rich, like the grown up version of Cognac. It’s also over $1000 a bottle. You would never mix it into a Cognac Sazerac at Dominion Square Tavern, which is probably my favourite drink in the Montreal downtown core. That would be a sin. Now all I want to do is make Cognac, because I’ll certainly never be able to justify buying that.
And on that sad and happy note, you should probably raise a glass of something organic to the makers of fine sips and cry into your affordable bubbles before dreaming of aged Cognac. That’s what I’ll be doing.