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Seriously good sparking from Nova Scotia

Lightfoot and Wolfville

Nova Scotia caught my eye for traditional method sparkling wines, but back in 1611 it was red Bordeaux varieties which were planted by French settlers in a place called  Bear River. This gives Nova Scotia the longest viticultural history in Canada. 

Not surprisingly the cold climate is better suited to white grapes, so when the modern wine trade began to flourish in the 1980s after Roger Dial released a wine from Grand Pré the province’s first farm/winery, it was hardy hybrids leading the field. There are now 58 growers including farm/wineries. 

The trade has been slow to develop, partly a legacy of prohibition – in the ‘Eighties there were still some dry areas – but largely access to market. The Canadian wine system obliges producers to export to the rest of Canada via the LBCO (liquor control board) limiting their domestic market to a population of about 1 million people, to whom wine is sold principally from the cellar door.  

So what defines a Nova Scotia wine? Certainly fresh acidity and lively energy. The best will have a light salty note. The vineyards are planted within spitting distance of the ocean with most not more than 20km away. Surrounded by large bodies of water Nova Scotia has a cool maritime climate moderated on the Atlantic side by the Gulf Stream; while on the other the Bay of Fundy has one of the world’s highest tides. The huge volume of cold water going in and out acts like a giant air pump delaying the bud break until the end of June, lowering the risk of spring frost, but all the tidal basins are effective in moving air around and Nova Scotia is less likely to suffer from the severe, vine killing cold, of Ontario. The ameliorated climate allows the season to stretch, providing a nice long hang time with harvest taking place from mid October into November.  

Blomindon Estate Winery looking down to the Bay of Fundy

The soils are generally sandy loam, glacial till left in the wake of glacier retreat. There’s also some basalt in a volcanic ridge called North Mountain. Here the top soil is heavy and rich and the meso-climate warmer thanks to the south facing slope. North Mountain scales all of 70m, but some of Nova Scotia’s vineyards are below sea level. “It’s quite good for the Dijon clone of Chardonnay here,” says Simon Refuse head winemaker of Blomindon Estate “but the wines don’t stand up to much oak.”   

Let’s consider still wines later. Nova Scotia’s Chardonnay, with its high acidity and just sufficient ripeness, is ideally suited to traditional method sparking wine production. 

When land was still cheap in 1999, Gerry McConnell CEO of a gold and diamond mining company, bought a 75 hectare plot in the Gaspereau Valley with the ambition to make a sparking wine. In this he was assisted by Peter Gamble, Canadian winemaking guru, and Raphael Brisbois Champagne native and specialist. Benjamin Bridge was the first Nova Scotia wine farm to plant Chardonnay specifically for a sparking wine and has become a benchmark winery for this style over the past twenty years. 

Benjamin Bridge

Benjamin Bridge’s wines have low dosage. This is typical in Nova Scotia where sugar ranges from 3 g/l to 8g/l. I prefer a low or no dosage style, but it’s all about balance.  Refuse comments “In the UK you balance high acidity in your sparkling wines with high dosage, but the acidity we get in Nova Scotia just doesn’t work with much dosage so we prefer to hold the wine a long time on lees and wait.” Most producers rely upon an extended period sur lie to balance the acidity, hence their current release of traditional method sparkling wine is 2016 and 2017.

*Sparkling highlights

*Lightfoot & Wolfville Brut 2017

100% chardonnay; 12%; TA 7.53. Stainless steel ferment. Full Malo. 46 months on lees. 8 gl/l dosage. A delicate wines which is floral and citrusy. Very fresh and the mousse is fine. (Propeller in the UK. £34)

Benjamin Bridge Brut 2017

100% Chardonnay. 12% TA 7.7 g/l. Fermented in large oak barrels with indigenous yeast. Full malo and 8 months elevage. 4 years on lees. Dosage 3 g/l. Scrumptious aroma. Nicely balanced palate with light notes of biscuit and hay. Good tension and fine bubbles. Quite long and rather refined. The 2016 was very attractive too. (Stannary Wines in the UK. £38) 

There are fewer sparkling wines made with red fruit than with Chardonnay. Pinot Noir is tricky in Nova Scotia. Pinot Meunier is easier and some Voltis, the hybrid newly permitted in Champagne, is being planted. The rosé wines are pretty but lack depth and finish.

Benjamin Bridge NV Brut Rosé

55% L’Acadie Blanc, 30% Chardonnay; 15% Pinot Noir. 12%. TA 8 g/l. 

A house blend of younger vines and reserve wines. A light rose petal aroma, this has a simple palate with light strawberry notes. Attractive, but straightforward. (Stannary. £26)

Lightfoot & Wolfville Brut Rosé 2019

100% Pinot Noir. 11%. TA 7.48 g/l. Combination of de-stemming and whole cluster. 100% malo and eleven months on lees. Dosage 4 g/l. This is a step up on the previous rosé. Light cherry perfume. Lively red fruit palate; lightly structured and delicate.  (Propeller £35)

Blomindon Blanc de Blanc 2011

100% Chardonnay.  Made with the oldest vines. 11%. TA 12 g/l. Fermented in stainless steel. Bottled august 2012 and disgorged Feb 2022. Dosage 6 g/l.

Mellow toasty bouquet with cream and caramel notes, while the palate is appley something between bruised apple and toffee apple, which I wasn’t sure I liked. It has some bite and a tacky texture, which becomes more sappy.  It’s certainly piquant and the finish stretches into a long lime-citrus line.  It grew on me. (Seeking UK representation. RRP £56)

Blomindon’s winemaker Refuse says 2011 was a very cold year, excellent for sparkling. (TA is 12 g/l). “Malolactic was not a good idea this year so we had to wait 12 years to release it.”  

*Blomindon Grande Reserve 2008

100% Chardonnay. 11.4%. TA 7.8 g/l. pH 3.17. Bottled 2009. Disgorged Feb 2022. Dosage 4 g/l. 

Rich, assertive bouquet in which yeasty, miso notes combine with truffle, acorns and – oddly – asparagus. A grippy, salty, savoury palate. Fresh and intense. An assured finish which is persistent and saline. Finely beaded, consistent mousse. This is rather good, but also rather expensive. (Seeking UK representation. RRP £78.50)  

photo courtesy of Luckett Vineyards


Although Chardonnay, which represents about 7% of planting Nova Scotia was introduced for sparkling wine production and Champagne clones were selected for this, recent warmer summers have seen an increasing popularity of of single varietal still Chardonnay. September makes or breaks the decision to produce one. From what I gather 2016 was a warmer vintage than 2017. 2019 was a poor vintage, while 2020 and 2021 were quite good.  

Most producers wouldn’t age Chardonnay in oak, wisely preferring stainless steel, but there is a trend for using 500l barrels. Simon Refuse points out that Blomindon don’t produce a still Chardonnay every year. Moreover only in the warmest, would it go through a malolactic fermentation. He is afraid the  high level of malic would produce too much “milky/yoghurt” lactic acidity. Cold years in Burgundy have high lactic acidity after MLF, but also more body and density. Maybe the fear is more about the balance than the flavour profile of lactic acid. 

Luckett Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2021

12% TA 7.6 g/l. RS 8 g/l.  Bright, juicy and nippy. Light and tight with a straight line. Lively, even nervy. Shiver of minerality to finish. It’s an very attractive wine from Luckett Vineyards which were established in 2000 by greengrocer Pete Luckett and have 100 hectare in the Gaspereau Valley and Bay of Fundy. (Seeking UK representation. RRP £34.25) 

Blomindon Reserve Chardonnay 2020

13%. TA 5.2 g/l. pH 3.48. Partially barrel fermented with full MLF and aged 12 months in oak. This is mainly from the old block planted in 1996 near the sea. The farm is located on the edge of the Minas basin in the Annapolis Valley and some vineyard stretch down to the water.  I found this rather oak dominated with a caramel aroma and butterscotch on the palate. It’s rounded and creamy. They are moving to using 500 litre barrels, which is a good move.   

Tidal Bay

I can’t write this blog without including Tidal Bay, the first and only appellation.. not for a specific place within Nova Scotia, but for a style of wine. Tidal Bay wines have lowish alcohol and fresh acidity and must be a blend of four varietals, drawn from a list of twenty. 

Each producer submits their blends to a tasting and technical panel. Tidal Bay cannot have an ABV of more than 11.5% or less acidity than 7.5 g/l (most have 8-10 g/l). Techniques including oak or lees ageing provoke an instant fail. Failure is not uncommon. I gather about 50% of samples are rejected, necessitating the producer to go back and create another sample blend. The goal is to achieve a lightly aromatic, crisp style which reflects the cool maritime climate. Those I tried had an attractive, fresh and saline note with more or less floral and spicy aromatics. 

The profile which most appealed was lightly citrusy and  saline, but I found some too aromatic and sweet for my palate. Residual sugars hit 10-12 g/l (and for fairly simple wines they are expensive.) 

The most popular varieties used are the cold and disease resistant hybrids, which make up the majority of Nova Scotia’s planting. Thirty percent of land under vine is planted to L’Acadie Blanc and 5% a piece to Vidal and New York Muscat. L’Acadie Blanc features strongly in Tidal Bay wines together with Seyval Blanc, Vidal and/or Geisenheim as the four varieties must make up the majority of the final blend.

If the weather is too warm L’Acadie Blanc quickly becomes quite tropical and pineapple in flavour and must be picked straight after the fruit destined for fizz. However it has solid green credentials, requiring fewer sprays than vitis vinifera. Some use it for sparkling, in a simple accessible style, but as I don’t like aromatic sparkling wines, those don’t appeal to me.      

Luckett Vineyards Tidal Bay 2021

26% L’Acadie Blanc; 26% Seyval blanc; 26% chardonnay, 22 % Ortega. 11%/ TA 8.9 g/l. 12.5 g/l residual sugar. This was my pick of the bunch. The most restrained of the Tidal Bay wines in the tasting with appealing white peach and floral aromatics and flavours. Fresh, light and airy with a light salt spray. 

Tidal Bay has a firm sense of place. It is an attractive ambassador for the wines of Nova Scotia. But if Nova Scotia’s wine producers want to world to take them seriously, this is not the wine by which to define themselves. That requires a more serious calling card. The sparkling wines have the gravitas for the job.   

photo courtesy Luckett Vineyards


In pursuit of excellence

bubbles & bread

Fred Loimer

I am very partial to Champagne – the good stuff, but it’s easy to fork out on Champagne and be disappointed. On the other hand, it’s a joy to discover delicious alternatives to traditionally method sparking wine and fun to share something a bit different with your friends. 

One such wine appeared at my door sent by Fred Loimer who is among Austria’s most applauded winemakers. I tasted his recently released 2016 Grosse Reserva Sekt Blanc de Noir and was rather impressed. Austria may not readily come to mind for its fine sparking wines, but choose carefully and you will be pleasantly surprised.  

In Austria there is quite a wide choice of grape varieties and some, including Riesling, are aromatic. I am not convinced by sparking wines with overtly scented characters. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are ideal, but not very Austrian and thus rather detract from an Austrian sense of identity, but they are an excellent conduit to the terroir.   

But first a  few words about Sekt – Austria’s sparking wine. I have written about this in a previous blog, but just to recap.  It’s pretty easy to understand the label. There are three tiers to the quality pyramid; classic is the simplest category from which you should expect something forward and crowd pleasing. This can be made by the Charmat method (used for Prosecco) and must have nine months ageing on lees. Reserve is a step up to a bottle fermented wine requiring 18 months ageing. Finally the top tier Grosse Reserve should deliver something in the ball part of a really rather good Champagne. 

For each level there are production regulations including hand picking, whole bunch pressing and time maturing on the lees. Like many good producers Loimer goes well beyond the statutory demands. For example his non-vintage Extra Brut Reserve has a full three years on lees. It was no surprise to hear Loimer describing his process of harvesting –  picking the grapes into small boxes which are tipped directly into the press, thus protecting the integrity of the grape. The attention to detail is reflected in his wine.

Loimer Extra Brut Reserve

This is generous, quite full bodied, rather luscious and almost buttery, while having a nice dry finish. The extra lees ageing is responsible for the finesses of the bubbles, but also the richness and depth. This wine delivered lots up front, in comparison with the more reserved Grosse Reserve, but as the wines developed  in the glass, the latter was the clear front runner.

Loimer Gumpoldskirchen Grosse Reserve Blanc de Noirs 2016

A lightly smoky aroma with a hint of burnt toast. This is straight and well defined with compact energy and good length. There is focus and precision. It is quite quiet, but there is power which carries the dry and saline finish. There is also an undertone of appetisingly caramelised, almost bitter umami.   

The Grosse Reserve comes from the ‘Burgundy’ of Austria – and area East of the Alps called Gumpoldskirchen. Loimer describes an East facing limestone slope with the vines planted on the bottom third. 

He arrived in 2013 to plant Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for still wine. At the time he felt Gumpoldskirchen had ‘the perfect temperature’. Now with climate change it is getting a little too warm for Pinot Noir and Loimer picks earlier and includes 100% of stems in his Pinot Noir for freshness. (Although the Pinot Noir for his sparking is whole bunch pressed like a white wine).

Loimer explained that the earlier ripening is not only due to climate change, but to biodynamics. He remarks that the vine’s shoots are shorter and grow more slowly than in a conventionally managed vineyard. “The vine focuses on growth before flowing and subsequently on ripening, which happens earlier. My vineyard will be brown by autumn, while the conventionally  managed will still be green. This has all be measured by the University of Geisenheim.”  

(I’d be concerned that this quicker ripening together with warmer summers might make the region increasing unsuitable to make a base wine for a fine bottle of fizz. But on the positive side it is well documented that biodynamic viticulture producers grapes with good acidity – actually a lower and more stable pH – so it seems likely Loimer’s grapes will retain their freshness.) 

Loimer is a founding member Respekt the biodynamic organisation which I wrote about in a blog last year. He stresses the importance of making his own compost and teas at the domaine to nourish and treat the vines. He finds this enhances the expression of terroir in the wine. The yeasts and bacteria on the grapes are carried to the winery and help to create a spontaneous and clean fermentation and of course the lees influence the character, favour and texture of the finished wine. Both the wines above have an initial ageing in large older oak casks. Both go though a full malolactic, which contributes to the complexity, but also makes them more stable. Hence just a touch of SO2 is necessary at bottling.

Loimer also makes a Blanc de Blanc from Langenlois in Kamtal which lies to the North West. This is a cooler region with a greater diurnal temperature. Here we are told the soil is lighter. The wine is certainly fresh and straight, stylish with a true sense of place. 

Loimer Langenlois Grosse Reserve Blanc de Blancs 2016

Crystalline with a direct, fine, light, vibrant and rather salty palate. The palate is well edged and the mouse fine. I really liked this.  

You will often hear producers of fine wine speaking of their pursuit of the expression of terroir. Even in Champagne, which has a cast iron regional identity and where blending is typical to create a consistent house identity, there is a trend for single vineyard wines. 

Arguably the expression of terroir is more difficult to achieve in sparking wine as the secondary fermentation and lengthy lees ageing distances the wine from the terroir. But where there there is no great tradition of making sparkling wine, it makes sense to home in on expressing the identity of the site. It gives the wine another layer of interest.  

Certainly you will hear producers of English bottle fermented sparking wine extolling the influence of the soil and topography of their vineyards. And why not.  The chalky soils of the South Downs are dotted with vineyards and if you have not tried the wines of Ambriel, you should. Just a few miles away you will find Wiston Estate.

Wiston Estate Blanc de Blancs Brut, 2014

Rich biscuits aroma.The palate is fresh and energetic. I like the brioche notes and slight marmite bite on the finish which is well sustained. (Available from Swig)

While the cool chalky downloads of West Sussex bear some resemblance to the hills of Champagne making them a good bet for a quality fizz, I was intrigued to be presented with a traditional method sparkling wine from Macedonia in Greece. It is made from Xinomavro, a quality indigenous variety with some similarities to Pinot Noir. 

Domaine Karanika, Brut Reserve 2015

This really packs a punch with a dense and rather compact palate. A burly wine for sure. The same domain make a Cuvée Speciate also from Xinomavro, which is lighter and brighter, but less intense and less expensive. (Available from Maltby & Greek) 

This is certainly a sparking wine with the structure to accompany a meal. And on that point, don’t consign a traditional method sparking wine to the aperitif or party slot. In Austria, Fred Loimer explains that sekt is more often paired with food than not. This might be at the beginning of a meal with a first course, but equally as a refreshing wine towards the end of a meal. However a rosé can have the firm structure to take on the main course with the proviso of a low dosage. Often roses are too sweet, but Loimer’s is bone dry at 2g/l. Loimer Brut Rosé Reserve NV has the structure and weight to partner fish and more delicate dishes of chicken. 

This brings to mind a tasting I tootled along to in the orangery in Holland Park last August. It was perfect summer’s day and I went expecting to taste wine, but was presented with an array of delicious Italian food specialities by the specialist importer Cibosano. These were gently washed down with a glass of prosecco. 

Among the tasty treats there were several panettone, but no ordinary panettone. These were made by master pastry chef Nicola Fiasconaro, who was there in person making his panettone into other delicious sweet creations. I had to taste them.

Nicola explained that panettone originated in Milan. However in 1953 his grandfather, Mario, set out to make a truly Sicilian version with local ingredients. These include the hazelnuts of Madonie, a mountain ridge above Palermo, and manna, a sugary sap from the bark of ash trees. 

The Fiasconaro clan live in the Madonie with rather illustrious neighbours – the Dolce family (yes, of Dolce and Gabbana fame). Nicola explains how he and Dolce grew up together and shared a dream to show the Italy – and the world – the very best of Sicilian creativity.

In the fullness of time, having become an international fashion icon, Dolce offered to deign the packaging for his friend’s panettone. The panettone have become every more creative over the years and I can vouch for their scrumptiousness and the sheer delight of the tins designed by Dolce.  

With Easter approaching, it would make a wonderful gift; an alternative to chocolate, but don’t consign panettone to festive occasions. It’s a delicate sweet bread to have at any time of year. I find this light and airy treat is perfect for a warm spring or summer’s day accompanied by a glass of sparking wine.

Just to round things off, I would recommend serving a light airy and buttery slice of Nicola Fiasconaro Panettone with a glass of Loimer Langenlois Grosse Reserve Blanc de Blancs 2016.


Busman’s holiday, Txakoli

Txakoli – a light, crisp white with a slight sptitz

If you’ve ever been to San Sebastian in Northern Spain to visit the pinchos bars you will certainly have drunk Txakoli – the light, white wine with a slight spritz which the Basque like to pour – with an engaging sense of theatre – into a glass, from an arm’s length. 

My son and I had decided to walk from Irun on the French border to Santiago de Compostela  and Finisterre along the Camino Norte/Primitivo. The Norte follows the Atlantic coast and passes by the pretty town of Getaria which lies about 25km west of San Sebastian. This is the homeland of Txakoli. I had always rather fancied visiting a Txakoli producer and it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

Now as it happened, one of the few wine events in London held in early summer was devoted to Spanish wine and included some Txakoli. One producer in particular stood out. I swiftly made an appointment to visit. 

Bodega Txomin Etxaniz was somewhat off the camino and the unhelpful GPS delivered us to the top of a hill, at the end of a track leading nowhere. The coastal landscape is beautiful and the terrain in the basque country provides plentiful steep gradients. I must have imagined we’d pick up where were left off last summer at the end of the Camino Frances, but with an appointment to make it was not proving a gentle start to our 1000km trek.

The vineyards, which are steeply sloped, have a thin chalky topsoil and more clay beneath.

Bodega Txomin Etxaniz

The region has misty mornings, quite a lot of drizzle, and monsoon-like downpours as we soon discovered, but not that day. By mid afternoon, it was pretty hot. The rucksacks, which included a tent for wild camping, were feeling increasingly heavy and I began to regret this ‘aside’ into a busman’s holiday. After all we had no where to stay and might have to resort to our tent some miles hence.

With some relief we made contact with Mikel just before my phone battery expired and within minutes he had scooped us up and we were delivered into the cool of the winery.  

The winery is modern, but the Txueka Etxaniz family’s history with wine dates back to 1649 and the founding of Getaria. More recently Mikel’s father was instrumental in establishing the Denomination of Origin Getariako Txakolina in 1989, which is the oldest DO in Getaria. (This bodega is still very much a family affair. Mikel seems to be in charge of the estate, but works alongside his five cousins)

Mikel under his pergola

There are two traditional grape varieties in the denomination. Ondarrabi Zuri (white) and Ondarrabi Beltza (red). Only a tiny quantity of red is produced. Of the four million bottles produced in the DO only 8,000 are red, but regulations demand that white wine should include some 15% of red grapes and that rosé contains 50%. 

The white variety has very high acidity and so the softer red was traditionally used to dial down  the sharpness. The practice was subsequently written into appellation law. These days the vineyards are managed in a way that the white grape is more naturally balanced. 

Most of the vines on the 50 hectares of Txomin Etxaniz estate (it’s the largest of the 32 producers in the region) are trained on traditional parral, which is a pergola system. This keeps the fruit 80cm to 1m above the ground and away from the humidity which is the downside of the Atlantic’s close proximity. 

There are issues with mildew, but once in a while, in the right conditions, this humidity can produce botrytis and when this happens the family make a late harvest wine called UYDI.

UYDI 2017

This has a delicately spicy mandarine character with lively citrus acidity, a touch of grapefruit and a tangy finish. It had about 70 g/l residual sugar so is not super sweet. In found it quite charming and elegant. 

As you might imagine, with the bunches of grapes suspended from a pergola, the vineyards have to be harvested by hand. The vineyards slope away in all directions, so no one aspect is utilised. Where the slopes become perilously steep, they are not terraced to accommodate pergola but espalier is used instead. 

On this espalier system the fruit is more exposed to the sun and gets riper hitting 12%. The fruit from this section of the vineyard is vinified separately, leaving a touch of residual sugar, and aged in 500l acacia barrels for 5-6 months with some batonnage. It’s labelled Tx.

Bodega Txomin Etxaniz Tx 2018

This has a lightly rounded body and showed ripe lemon and petrol notes; there is no oak showing, rather it has  a denser richer profile than typical Txakoli.

So let’s re-cap on the typical profile for a Txakoli. It’s a slim, light white wine carrying about 11% alcohol with a little residual sugar, which you don’t really notice.  The 5-7g/l of sugar  just nicely balance the punchy note of acidity. It has a slight sparkle – about 1 bar of pressure. This CO2 is natural. When the fermentation is over the tank is closed off retaining some CO2 while the wine ages in tank on the lees. It’s a little reminiscent of Riesling in shape, weight and flavour profile. 

As the white must contain some red fruit, the grapes are de-stemmed, crushed and quickly pressed. While for the rosé, the skins are allowed to gently macerate with juice. The skin contact lasts eight to ten hours, or overnight in the press. Rosé represents just 8% of the production and is clearly not what the local market demands 85% is exported. Conversely 85% of the white wine is sold at home, largely to restaurants in Getaria and San Sebastian. 

Bodega Txomin Etxaniz Txakoli

This is the wine which caught my eye in London. At the winery I tried the 2018 which has a vibrant gooseberry aroma that carries onto the palate where it combines with notes of fresh mint. It is bright and tingles with citrus freshness. A light and lively wine. After drinking many a glass of Txakoli on our walk, I can now say that this is a quintessential example of Txakoli.

Bodega Txomin Etxaniz Rosé Txakoli

This pastel tinted wine is light and pretty; peachy and zesty with lively crunch. Just yum.

And even more yummy with food. And so, after the tasting, which followed the vineyard and winery tour, we were able to dive into the delicious morsels we had seen Mikel’s mother bring to the table when we entered the winery. 

Here in Spain the food and wine culture are intrinsically woven and the wines were enhanced by the local specialities. Mikel explained that the anchovies and tuna were prepared and preserved in the traditional way by his mother who buys from the local fishermen. The Atlantic coast here is renowned for its fish and especially for its anchovies. It’s true we were ravenously hungry, but they seemed to be most delicious anchovies and tuna imaginable. The rich tuna made a mellow match with the Rosé Txakoli while the Txakoli was both vibrantly and delicately delicious with the anchovies.    

And suitably sustained, we enjoyed the late afternoon sunshine in Getaria before continuing on the camino, eventually finding a  stunning headland on which to pitch our tent.    

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