When it’s festive and you’re shopping for Champagne and sparkling wines, there’s “good,” there’s “great” and then there’s “good enough.” File under great: Veuve Clicquot typically has notes of apple, vanilla and bread dough and while it’s delicious, I can’t bear to part with $80 a bottle, especially at this cash-strapped time of year. And while I have an amateur palate, I draw the line at Baby Duck.

Thus have I been on the hunt for other, less-expensive fizz. There’s no shame in that, as Natalie MacLean elaborates in her recent book Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines. It takes the oenophile on a breezy, globe-trotting odyssey from Australia to Argentina on the hunt for the good, but cheap stuff.

I thought of MacLean’s quest this past summer, when I discovered an Ontario sparkling wine that tastes a lot like the good French stuff. In fact, ever since my first nose-tickling sip, I’ve been calling it “the poor man’s Veuve.”

This Champagne for the 99% is Jackson Triggs’ Méthode Classique Brut Sparkling 2006, one of their Entourage Silver Series ($22.95 through the estate winery and available at The Wine Rack and LCBO’s Vintages). Its grapes (70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay) were harvested between Sept. 17 and 21, 2006, at the brand’s estate vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

But how is this doppel-taster possible from a Niagara Peninsula winery? For that answer I turned to Jackson Triggs winemaker Marco Piccoli.

First of all, Piccoli explains, “because of the soil and the terroir where we live, the Niagara region is a very fortunate region to make Champagne style wine – it’s chalky … with a lot of limestone. There is a lot of acidity in the grapes, and we have the right season for sparkling grapes.”

The affable Piccoli hails from Udine in Northern Italy; he studied in Germany, with harvesting stints in Argentina. And he sees many commonalities in the way Jackson Triggs approaches viticulture management with the area of Germany where he did his early research. “It was a cold climate area with Riesling over 75% of their vineyards, with Pinot Noir as a second varietal, and they do a lot of sparkling with Rieslings.”

“Every year during the beginning of vintage, around September,” Piccoli continues, “we always find these blocks for sparkling grapes with nice ripeness, and where you don’t have a lot of colour on the Pinot Noir, which is very good.”

Jackson Triggs then tries to keep this vintage Brut using only the finest sugars. “The acidity with our wines in Niagara is very dominant and distinctive, and I think it’s a shame to cover it with sugar sometimes,” Piccoli says. “It’s a very important characteristic.”

“I’m a big supporter of the value quality of price,” Piccoli adds, and that’s a key factor for a brand that was started to create good quality wine with an affordable enough price tag.

 

You can read more reviews of my new wine book Unquenchable here.