Cipes Arial beside Krug Grande Cuvée: More of a love-in than a smackdown, TP photo

Champagne and sparkling wine producers enjoy a well earned rep for coming up with some pretty clever promos. We can certainly attest to that … However, we were still intrigued, a few weeks back, when Summerhill’s Ezra Cipes invited us to taste his 1998 vintage Ariel Brut beside nothing less than non-vintage—or more correctly multi-vintage—Krug Grande Cuvée. We were hooked, even more so, by the added lure of lunch cooked by star chef David Hawksworth.

Along with Sumac Ridge (the first to produce commercial sparkling in the Okanagan) and pioneering Blue Mountain, Summerhill has maintained its place among the triumvirate of leading ‘méthode traditionelle’ BC producers. Much of the credit goes to winemaker and GM Eric von Krosigk, who has made more than his share of sparkling over the years. (And who is rumoured to have a pretty heathy stash tucked away somewhere …) Von Krosigk was a founding partner in Summerhill when it was established by Stephen and Wendy Cipes in 1991. He later left to pursue a number of projects but returned as winemaker (and a whole lot more) in 2006.

Winemaker Eric von Krosigk and Summerhill CEO Ezra Cipes, TP photo

Summerhill CEO Ezra Cipes says the idea to pour the Ariel beside Krug was sparked by a wine shop host and tour guide from Epernay, (who has worked at both Moët and Krug), who suggested the wine reminded him of the Krug style. Ezra went to work selflessly doing his own research, sharing at least a couple of bottles of Grand Cuvée along the way with wine peeps Rhys Pender and DJ Kearney (both MWs) and David Scholefield (who also knows a thing or two about wine, as well as being the only person I’ve heard connect wine and birds with one word: terroir.)

As Kearney reminded everyone, the occasion was never intended as a “smackdown”, as—being quite different in age—the wines are not that easily compared. But we can report that the oxidative (sometimes referred to as ‘goût anglaise’), yeasty, ‘biscuit’ topped, creamy, slightly citrus, apple and nutty toned Ariel turned in a more than respectable performance. 91 pts.

At 85 bucks a pop, this isn’t exactly your everyday sparkler and, besides, unless, like Marilyn Monroe you like to bathe in the stuff, you probably don’t / won’t buy it every day. However, it does stand apart as a rare and rich BC bubble, picked early from a “vintage of the century”, well worthy of our attention—and based on comparable prices, not that far removed from the value of its vintage Champagne cousins.

Although the only connection to Champagne ‘proper’ may well be Summerhill’s 1932 vintage French corker, as the winery continues to disgorge and release small batches, 1998 Ariel Brut’s unabashed nod to the classic style of aged Champagne can only serve to help its notoriety.

Bottom line: if you want to celebrate in truly unique BC style, this special occasion bubble is worth tracking down—from the winery, and maybe a few private stores.

And as for the match up? Placing the Ariel beside the richness, layered complexity and elegance of the Krug was—as we tweeted—pretty ballsy!

And now we can’t wait for the 2004

Summerhill’s now certified organic vineyard overlooking Lake Okanagan, supplied