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Jacky Blisson

Wines

TASTING THE WINES OF YALUMBA

wines of Yalumba
Photo credit: Yalumba 

Louisa Rose has a big job. She is the head winemaker at Yalumba; Australia’s most historic family-owned winery. The wines of Yalumba are renowned for their consistent, high quality – from the affordable “Y Series” to revered icons like “The Caley”. This reputation is maintained by the hard work and dedication of Louisa and her team. So when her visit to Montréal was anounced – her first since 2011 – I was keen to meet her.

Yalumba is based in the Barossa Valley, in South Australia. “We are incredibly lucky in the Barossa” says Louisa. “The climate is Mediterranean, with rainfall in the winter and spring months, and a warm, dry summer”. The mild winters and dry growing season conditions keep fungal pressure and other vine maladies to a minimum, allowing vineyards to thrive into venerable old age. The Barossa Valley is home to some of the oldest bush vines in the world.

These ideal climate conditions also allow growers to practice organic viticulture with (relative) ease; a philosophy that has long been at the heart of Yalumba’s vineyard management strategy. Encouraging increased biodiversity in the vines is a huge part of this plan. “We work hard to protect our native vegetation, insects, and bird life” says Louisa.

Another benefit of such vibrant, diverse vineyard ecosystems, according to Louisa, is the healthy vineyard populations of wild yeasts. The wines of Yalumba are fermented almost exclusively with yeasts from their vineyards and winery. Louisa is a huge proponent of native yeasts. “They bring so much complexity and texture to our wines”.

From wild yeasts, we moved on to a conversation about signature grapes. Viognier is one such focus among the white wines of Yalumba. In fact, the winery was one of the first to plant Viognier in Australia, back in 1980. “At the time, there was barely any Viognier left in the world” explains Louisa, “what little remained was all concentrated around Condrieu”.  Yalumba boasts its own nursery. Established in 1975 to ensure quality grafted planting material for their vineyards, the nursery brought in a handful of Viognier vines, and the rest is history.

From Viognier, we moved on to a discussion on Grenache, and the complexity and succulence brought by the old bush vines for which the Barossa is famous. Perhaps the most famous of the red wines of Yalumba however, is Shiraz, and the blends of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. “A colleague once described Shiraz to me as a highly aromatic grape, and that really resonated with me” said Louisa. In recent years, the style of Yalumba Shiraz has definitely become more fragrant, with a lighter oak signature, and fresher acidity.

Overall, the wines of Yalumba are impressive. While we in the wine trade love to extol the virtues of tiny, craft wineries, there is no denying the accomplishment of a larger firm providing great quality, consistent wines at all price levels, for all wine lovers, vintage after vintage.

  

Scroll down for my wines of Yalumba tasting notes from today’s event:

(What do VW, PW and LW mean?  Click on my wine scoring system to find out):

Yalumba “The Y Series” Viognier 2018, South Eastern Australia – 88pts. VW

The Y series Viognier is fermented in stainless steel tanks, with native yeasts, then matured on its fine lees for 3 to 4 months. The result is a fresh, fruity, smooth textured white with loads of easy-drinking appeal. Initially quite closed on the nose; hints of honeysuckle and ripe lemon give way to riper stone fruit nuances upon aeration. Light bodied, with bright peach and melon flavours and a refreshing hint of bitterness on the dry finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (14.95$), LCBO (14.95$)

Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2017 – 91pts. PW

Fermented in a mix of mature French oak barrels and puncheons, and stainless steel tanks, this heady Viognier spends 10 months ageing on its lees, with regular bâtonnage. “If I want to show someone the essence of Yalumba Viognier, this would be it” said Louisa Rose. It is easy to see why. Exotic notes of ginger, orange rind, and apricot fairly leap from the glass. Brisk acidity provides lift and balance to the rich, creamy mid-palate. Finishes dry, with spicy ginger notes and citrus oil. Long and layered.

Where to buy: SAQ (22.00$)

Yalumba “Samuel’s Collection” Bush Vine Grenache 2018, Barossa Valley – 89pts. PW

“Grenache has great drinkability; beautiful succulence, juiciness, lift, and spice” explains Louisa Rose, in reference to Yalumba’s old bush vine Grenache from the Barossa Valley. Grapes are sourced from vineyards ranging in age from 35 to 100-years old. An appealing balance of lightness and warmth is on display here. Pretty crushed raspberry, dark plum, and baking spice aromas give way to a mix of fresh and macerated fruit flavours on the palate. The palate is medium in body, suave in texture and pleasantly warming on the finish.

Where to buy: Private import in Québec (27$), enquire with agent: Elixirs Vins & Spiritueux 

Yalumba Organic Shiraz 2017, South Eastern Australia – 87pts. VW

Very fragrant, fruit-driven nose featuring black cherry, blueberry, and blackberry notes. Medium-bodied and broad on the palate, with marginally low acidity giving a slight flatness to the mid-palate. Ripe, chunky tannins frame the finish. The Organic Shiraz is vinified in stainless steel tanks with native yeasts.

Where to buy: SAQ (16.95$)

Yalumba “Samuel’s Collection” Shiraz 2017, Barossa Valley – 89pts. PW

Hints of eaux-de-vie and vanilla, coconut oak nuances give way to lovely ripe blueberry aromas with a little time in the glass. The palate is full bodied and moderately firm, with a velvety texture, and a concentrated core of black fruit, milk chocolate, and savoury hints. Big, ripe tannins accentuate the fine structure of this bold, yet well balanced red. Aged in 15% new French, American, and Hungarian oak.

Where to buy: Private import in Québec (27$), enquire with agent: Elixirs

Yalumba “Samuel’s Collection Shiraz – Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Barossa Valley – 92 pts.

Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic Australian blend that, according to Louisa Rose, has existed for over 100 years. This is a fantastic example of how well the two grapes harmonize. The nose is incredibly vibrant, with notes of spearmint, cedar, blueberry, and dark cherry. The palate is equally vivid, with lively acidity, a firm structure, concentrated flavours of baked black and blue fruit, mingled with cedar and dark chocolate. The finish is long and layered, with polished tannins, subtle oaked nuances, and bright fruit. Drinks well above its price point.

Where to buy: Private import in Québec (27$), enquire with agent: Elixirs

Yalumba “The Signature” Cabernet Sauvignon – Shiraz 2015, Barossa Valley – 94pts. LW

Deep, brooding, complex red with layers of ripe cassis, dark chocolate, cedar, earth, prune, and baking spice on the nose and palate. Initially firm, though finally quite expansive with its impressive depth and lingering finish of tobacco, cedar, and macerated fruit. Dry, with fine-grained tannins and lovely integration of cedar, spiced oak nuances. A powerful, yet highly elegant wine that espouses its 20 months in 30% new French and American oak barrels and casks beautifully.

Where to Buy: LCBO (75$, 2013 vintage). Sadly out of stock in Québec, enquire with agent: Elixirs

Reviews Wines

MODERN MALBEC: FROM CAHORS TO MENDOZA

modern malbec

Over the course of two days in September, I attended two excellent tastings that highlighted the versatility, ageability, and downright drinkability of Modern Malbec. On the Tuesday, reputed Argentine wine writer Joaquin Hidalgo took me through an exciting line up of white and red wines, including a delicious range of Mendoza Malbec and Malbec dominant blends. On the Wednesday, I tasted with Bertrand-Gabriel Vigouroux, proprietor of esteemed Cahors estates: Château de Haute-Serre and Château de Mercuès.

Native of France’s South West, Malbec was once widely planted through out France. The variety was so common that, according to Jancis’ Robinson’s Oxford Companian to Wine, there exist over 1000 different synonyms for it. Côt, Pressac, and Auxerrois are just a few examples.

Native of France’s South West, Malbec was once widely planted through out France.

From its pre-phylloxera heydey, Malbec saw a long, steady decline to near oblivion in France over the course of the 19 hundreds. It is a finicky grape, sensitive to frost damage and fungal infections, and prone to uneven flowering and poor fruit set. Once a major red grape in Bordeaux, it is now very much a minor player. After a particularly severe frost in 1956 that decimated Malbec vines, growers preferred to replant with more reliable Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Today, Malbec is principally grown in the Cahors AOC in France’s South West wine region. Here, the vine flourishes in the dry, sunny climate. The classic style of Cahors is can be quite rustic, with its deep, brooding colour, its powerful palate structure, robust tannins, and gamey flavours. Yet, quality-minded producers like Georges Vigouroux’ Château de Haute-Serre are increasingly moving toward a more approachable, modern Malbec . “Our goal is elegance over power”, explains Bertrand-Gabriel Vigouroux. “The focus is on drinkability”.

The classic style of Cahors can be quite rustic…quality-minded producers are increasingly moving toward a more approachable, modern Malbec.

This same objective is being sought some 11 000 km away, in Mendoza, Argentina. First planted in the mid 19th century with cuttings from France, Malbec’s popularity surged in the 1990s and remains Argentina’s signature grape to this day.

Mendoza Malbec has traditionally been a lush, weighty, overtly fruity affair: inky black, fuchsia-rimmed colour with intense, baked black fruit aromas, a full-bodied, velvety smooth palate, and warm (sometimes boozy) finish. These styles still abound from the flat plains around Mendoza city, but over the past 10 to 15 years, growers have been heading ever further up the Andes mountains in search of cooler temperatures,  fresher wines and the incredibly concentrated flavours that the higher UV levels can bring.

The Valle de Uco and Lujan de Cuyo are the two best known Mendoza sub-zones for cool(er) climate Malbec. The vineyards here range in altitude from 850 metres to over 1500 metres above sea level. Each of these areas is further sub-divided into smaller vineyard sub-regions that boast distinctive flavour traits. In very general terms Valle de Uco wines are often described as elegant, spicy, and floral, while Lujan de Cuyo wines are denser, and more mineral, with black fruit flavours.

…over the past 10 to 15 years, growers have been heading ever further up the Andes mountains in search of cooler temperatures,  fresher wines and the incredibly concentrated flavours that higher UV levels can bring.

This “modern Malbec”, in Cahors and Mendoza, is indeed more drinkable. Shedding some of its power and tannic thrust has resulted in lighter wines, without diminishing their ageing ability. A vertical of Château de Haute-Serre back to 1983 was indeed proof of both the evolution in style, and the ability of the more finely structured, pure fruited wines of the 2000s to age with grace.

Some Modern Malbec favourites from the two tastings included:

D.V. Catena Tinto Historico Mendoza 2017

A blend of mainly Malbec, with Bonarda, and a splash of Petit Verdot sourced from several sites in Mendoza, notably the Valle de Uco. This is a really fresh, lively red with enticing floral aromas, underscored by hints of iron, and fresh red and black berry fruit. The palate is fleshy and round, with herbal, minty notes lifting the tangy black fruit and dark chocolate flavours nicely. Great value for the price.

Where to Buy: SAQ (19.95$), LCBO (19.95$)

Bodega Norton Lote Negro 2015

Intense aromas of macerated dark fruits mingle with cedar and tobacco notes on the nose of this intriguing Malbec, Cabernet Franc blend. The palate is weighty, with a combination of brisk acidity and firm structure that ably counterbalance the concentrated core of rich, dark fruit. Polished tannins frame the finish. Needs a couple of hours decanting, or some additional cellaring to open further.

Where to Buy: SAQ (29.95$)

Bodega Norton “Privada” Family Blend 2016

Discreet nose that reveals pretty blue fruit, graphite, and herbal notes with aeration. Really crisp and juicy on the palate, with loads of tart red and dark fruit, a firm, full-bodied structure, and fine grained tannins. Spicy French oak notes are well integrated on the finish.

Blend: 40% Malbec, 30% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon

Where to Buy: SAQ (24.05$)

Casa Petrini Malbec, Tupungato, Mendoza 2016

Tupungato is the northernmost sub-region of the Valle de Uco. It is famed for the rich, concentrated expression of its wine. This lovely Malbec is no exception. It boasts a freshness and purity of flavour beautifully balanced by a dense, concentrated core. Red and black fruit mingle with violet, dark chocolate and tar notes on the nose and palate. Loads of finesse & lovely length.

Where to buy: Sadly not available here in Quebec! Look out for it on your travels.

Château de Haut-Serre Cahors 2000

The freshness of fruit impresses on this almost 20-year old Cahors. Notes of ripe blueberry and black cherry lift the tertiary earthy, potpourri aromas nicely. Quite elegant and understated on the palate, with mellow tannins, and delicate fruit and graphite flavours. Ever so slightly drying on the finish. Drink now.

Where to buy: Sold out. Buy the 2016 and age it for a decade or so 😉

Château de Haut-Serre Cahors 2016

Really fragrant; brimming with crushed black and blue fruit, violets, earth, and licorice. The palate, while dense and tightly knit, offers pleasingly bright acidity and juicy fruit flavours.  Firm, ripe tannins and notes of tobacco and mark the finish. Would benefit from 2 – 3 years additional cellaring.

Where to Buy: SAQ (25.25$)

Château de Haute-Serre Cuvée Prestige “Géron Dadine”

Slightly muted on the nose, with notes of kirsch, black plum, earth, cedar and spice developing over time. Bold and dense on the palate, with a powerful core of dark fruit and spice, giving way to big, velvetty tannins and a long, lifted finish. Needs 2 – 3 years in cellar to integrate further and reveal the full extent of its undeniable elegance.

Where to buy: Enquire with agent: Philippe Dandurand

 

 

 

Education Reviews

The Sunshine Wine from Washington State

wine from washington state
Photo credit: Washington State Wine Commission (Horse Heaven Hills AVA)

On the northwestern tip of the USA, bordering the Pacific Ocean, lies Washington State. Given its northerly, maritime location one would assume the climate is cool and damp. Not the kind of place where vineyards would thrive. And yet, Washington is second only to California in vineyard acreage and wine production in the United States.

Despite its northerly location, wine from Washington State is often pretty heady stuff. The Cascade Range of mountains divides the state from north to south, creating a rain shadow for the region that lies to its east: the Columbia Valley. It is in this warm, semi-arid land that a vast and flourishing vineyard lies.

Approximately 55 000 acres (over 22 000 hectares) of vines are planted here, almost entirely within the immense Columbia Valley region. According to the Washington State Wine Commission, the Columbia Valley gets a whopping 16 hours of sunshine per day on average in the summer months. This makes it sunnier even than California’s Napa Valley. This abundance of sunshine means that wine from Washington State tends to be rich, ripe, and robust in style.

However, it is dangerous to over generalize when it comes to wine from Washington State. Due to its massive size and wide diversity of soil types, the Columbia Valley AVA (appellation ) contains 10 sub-appellations within its boundaries. Each possesses distinctly different mesoclimates. AVAs in the northern part of the region, such as Ancient Lakes have a cooler, continental climate, where grapes like Riesling and Chardonnay thrive. Conversely, Wahluke Slope in the south, central area is far warmer, favouring production of bold, fruity red wine from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah grapes.

Wine from Washington State that is labelled with a sub-appellation thus offer a slightly better notion to wine drinkers of the style of wine they are likely to discover upon uncorking the bottle. That is, if the wine drinker in question knows a little about these vineyards, or wants to do a quick google search. Washington wines labelled with just the Columbia Valley AVA (the majority) are harder to pin down.

A recent tasting of 34 white and red wine from Washington State consisted of mainly Columbia Valley AVA wines. On the whole, the wines were big and ultra-ripe. Many were pleasant, in a smooth, rounded, fruity style but there was a sense of sameness from glass to glass. This is not an indictment of wines from Washington State. There are scores of exciting wines being made in a  lighter, more nuanced style…they just aren’t as widely available on our retail shelves just yet.

My stand-out wines from the event are listed below:

L’Ecole N° 41 Sémillon 2017, Columbia Valley AVA – 90pts. PW

Very inviting nose featuring white floral notes and ripe lemon, with underlying hints of custard cream and exotic fruit. Full-bodied, with a rounded mouthfeel, and sufficient freshness to balance the faintly warming alcohol. Finishes dry, with lingering vanilla, toast nuances.

Where to Buy: SAQ (25.30$)

Barnard Griffen Fumé Blanc 2016, Columbia Valley AVA – 89pts. VW

Classic Sauvignon Blanc nose mingling musky aromas with vibrant guava, gooseberry and passion fruit notes. The palate is slightly lean, but fresh and clean, with hints of anise and bright citrus fruit flavours that give a pleasant bitterness to the finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (19.45$)

Alexandria Nicole Cellars “Shepherd’s Mark” 2016, Horse Heaven Hills AVA – 91pts. PW

Aromatic Viognier-led blend, with fragrant apricot, yellow pear and honeysuckle notes, underpinned by pleasant herbal nuances. Richly layered and plump on the palate, with macerated stone fruit flavours, lifted by a refreshing lemon-y tang. Finishes dry. A highly versatile white wine for food pairing.Q

Where to Buy: SAQ (26.00$)

Charles & Charles Riesling 2016, Yakima Valley AVA – 88pts. VW

Quite Germanic in style; highly aromatic with a lovely balance of tangy acidity and subtle sweetness. The nose displays petrol, ripe lemon and baked apple notes. The palate is lean, with a sleek, racy structure, and lifted finish. Great everyday apéritif style Riesling.

Where to Buy: SAQ (18.00$)

Hedges Family Estate “Le Merlot” 2016, Columbia Valley AVA – 92pts. PW

Seductive nose redolent with crushed blackberry, black plum, cedar and baking spices. Full bodied, with a velvety texture, polished tannins, and moderate depth of mingled black fruit and dark chocolate flavours. Finishes surprisingly fresh for such a ripe, heady red. Good value.

Where to Buy: SAQ (25.15$)

Barnard Griffen Syrah 2016, Columbia Valley AVA – 90pts. PW

This is a big, brooding Syrah. The ultra-ripe nose offers notes of baked blackberry, black cherry, violets, and dark chocolate. The palate starts fresh, with a firm grip, that gives way to a concentrated, fruity core. Notes of graphite and sweet tobacco linger on the finish. Decant several hours before drinking. Serve slightly chilled to tone down the warming alcohol.

Where to Buy: SAQ (25.35$)

Matthews Winery Claret 2013, Columbia Valley AVA – 91pts. LW

A rich, opulent Bordeaux blend with intense aromas of candied cassis cedar, baking spice and chocolate. Full-bodied and dense on the palate; brimming with macerated black fruit, sweet tobacco and cedar. Weighty, muscular tannins frame the long finish. A powerhouse red requiring an equally bold food pairing.

Where to Buy: SAQ (57.00$)

Hedges Family Estate “In Vogue” 2016, Columbia Valley AVA – 93pts. LW

Ultra-ripe cassis and black plum weave together nicely with notes of cedar, tobacco, leather, and spice on the complex nose. The palate is offers bright acidity, tightly knit structure, and a weighty core of luscious fruit. Finishes dry, with fine, sinewy tannins and lovely freshness. Bold, but well balanced with lots of finesse.

Where to Buy: SAQ (57.00$)

Life

MASTER OF WINE EXAM SUCCESS

master of wine exam success

I am delighted…

Those three words have been running through my head for months now. This is how the form letter that signals Master of Wine Exam success begins. A pass brings, “delighted”, and defeat is announced by, “unfortunately”.

There is a three month period between sitting the notoriously challenging Master of Wine (MW) exams and receiving results. Three months of wondering and worrying. The list of wines used for the blind tastings is published a week after the exams, leaving 12 weeks to fret over all missed wines, misjudged quality levels, erroneous vintages, etc.

For those that haven’t been following my progress, I started my MW studies back in 2015 pregnant with my now four year old pre-kindergartner.  I successfully navigated stage one and managed to pass the theory aspect of the stage two exams on my first attempt in 2016 (read article). With baby number two due right around exam time, I decided to take 2017 off. In 2018, I took a second stab at passing the stage two practical (tasting) exams.

“Unfortunatelyyou haven’t succeeded this time”.

This crushing sentence followed a neat little table detailing my failing marks. Oh, how my heart sank. Oh, how I wallowed in self pity. It took me a good month to dust myself off and get back in the game. The fear of failing again, of disappointing my family and friends, was overwhelming. The financial burden was also considerable.

I also had to get over my ego. Friends and acquaintances not in the wine industry would often say to me, “Oh, are you still studying for that wine course?”. Which led me to offer long, rambling over-justifications about the difficulty of achieving Master of Wine exam success. It took me more than a few glazed over looks to realize that no one was judging me, other than myself.

In preparation for my third attempt at the Master of Wine practical exams, I decided to throw everything I had at it. I would train not only my palate, but also my mind and body. I went to see a hypnotherapist to improve my confidence levels. I saw a physiotherapist weekly to remedy a nerve issue which was slowing down my writing speed. I meditated regularly. And I blind tasted. Every day.

When June rolled around I felt ready. Walking into the exam centre each morning I felt just the right mix of nervous energy to propel me through the 12-wine blind tastings without any of those terrible dear-in-the-headlights moments I had felt in previous years. I came home in a state of cautious optimism which I tried my damnedest to maintain throughout the long summer.

And I am DELIGHTED to announce that this was my year! I can’t claim to have nailed every single wine but I did write detailed and, I suppose, sufficiently convincing arguments to have achieved an overall pass.

Words cannot describe the immense joy and huge sense of relief I felt waking up to those precious 9 letters on Monday morning. The outpouring of kind words and messages from family and friends was overwhelming. The celebration was epic.

So what’s next? I now have the pleasure of writing a 10 000 word research paper on a wine-related topic of my choosing. Only then will I have the ultimate thrill of being able to append the coveted letters “MW” to my name.

 

Education Reviews

AFFORDABLE FINE WINE ALTERNATIVES

Affordable Fine Wine Alternatives

AFFORDABLE FINE WINE ALTERNATIVES

Many of the world’s classic wine regions have longstanding quality hierarchies, with the best wines – the Grand Crus, the Riservas, the Gran Reservas, the Grosse Lages – at the top of the pyramid. These wines have always been rare and expensive, necessitating long cellaring and much debate on when and with whom to serve them.

In recent years however, fine wine prices seem to have run rampant, with increases significantly outpacing inflation as explained in the recent Wine Searcher article: The Inexorable Rise of Wine Prices. Gone are the days where a middle income earner could occasionally splurge on a couple of cases of Bordeaux futures or cru Burgundy.

…fine wine prices seem to have run rampant, with increases significantly outpacing inflation.

The situation may seem bleak for cash strapped wine lovers, but all hope is not lost…

In general terms, quality – at all price levels – has soared over the past thirty years. Large-scale uprooting of unsuitable vineyard areas, and replanting of more qualitative rootstocks and grape varieties in mass production areas like the Languedoc-Roussillon has resulted in vastly superior entry to mid-tier wines.

Modern vinification techniques, marked improvements in winery hygiene, and the requirement of most appellations, regional bodies, and/ or retail buyers that wines pass stringent laboratory analyses and quality approval tastings, are also important contributing factors.

Many fine wine producers have also stepped up their game in terms of the quality of their “lesser wines”. By this, I mean their second wines, or regional to village tier wines. On a recent trip to Burgundy I was surprised to see how many estates vinify their more humble vineyards in almost exactly the same manner as their top terroirs – the same well trained harvest teams handpicking into small crates to avoid damaging the grapes, the same carefully monitored fermentation techniques, the same high quality maturation vessels. Only the duration of barrel ageing varied.

In an age where average wine consumers are having to trade down, wine producers will increasingly be judged on their lower tier offerings.

This scenario is not unique to Burgundy. In numerous recent tastings of prestigious estates from Piedmont, Tuscany, Rioja, Rhône, Bordeaux and the like, I was regularly struck by how good the more modest wines in the line-ups were. And this makes sense. In an age where average wine consumers are having to trade down, to more affordable, fine wine alternatives, estates will increasingly be judged on their lower tier offerings.

Granted, these wines won’t necessarily impress the more label conscience wine aficionados in your life. And they rarely possess the level of intensity, complexity, or ageability as their more illustrious counterparts. However, crafted by the right producers, in good vintage years, they can still provide a highly satisfying drinking experience.

Vineyard areas long dismissed as inferior are increasingly finding their champions.

Another phenomenon has also taken hold. Vineyard areas long dismissed as inferior are increasingly finding their champions. Quality-minded wine producers are moving in and proving that, on certain well-exposed plots, with careful vineyard management, lower yielding, often older vines can produce grand wines, far exceeding the reputation of their origin. As these wines and winemakers gain in stature, prices are creeping upwards, but there is still some affordable fine wine alternatives to be had. Areas like the Roussillon in France, or the Swartland in South Africa come to mind.

Curious to test out my theory? Check out these affordable fine wine alternatives from a handful of excellent wine estates:

Renato Ratti Ochetti Langhe Nebbiolo 2016, Piedmont, Italy – 91pts. PW

The Langhe designation covers a large area south of Alba, in Piedmont, and encompasses the famous enclaves of Barolo and Barbaresco. The vineyards for Barolo master Renato Ratti’s Langhe Nebbiolo “Ochetti” cuvée are situated approximately 240 metres above the Tanaro river, with an ideal, southwestern exposure. This is quite a silky style of Nebbiolo, with wonderfully fragrant cranberry, floral, and truffle aromas. It is medium in body, with vibrant acidity, and juicy red fruit flavours nicely balanced by lingering earthy nuances.

Where to buy: SAQ, 25.65$

Château Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône red 2018, Rhône Valley, France – 90pts. PW

Generic Côtes du Rhône AOC reds are often fairly simple, fruity, every day wines. Not so here. This gem from revered Gigondas estate, Château Saint Cosme, punches well above its weight. Ripe, dark cherry, blueberry and black plum notes mingle with hints of garrigue and exotic spice. The palate is pleasingly fresh, with a bold structure and firm tannins. Cellar for 1 – 2 years or decant a couple of hours before serving.

Where to buy: SAQ, 19.70$

Château Bujan Côtes de Bourg 2016, Bordeaux, France – 94pts. PW

The Côtes de Bourg is one of Bordeaux’s lesser known appellations, on the right bank of the Gironde Estuary, roughly 40km north west of famed right bank vineyards Pomerol and St. Emilion. I picked this wine up on a whim, knowing nothing about the estate, simply trusting in the often excellent wine selections of the Rézin wine agency. What a find! A blend of 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Franc, with an incredibly inviting and surprisingly complex nose (given the price) featuring black plum, cassis, and licorice. Hints of violets, tobacco leaf and cocoa develop with aeration. The palate is velvety smooth, and medium in body, with excellent depth of flavour mirroring the aromatics. Finishes fresh, with moderately firm, polished tannins. Ready to drink.

Where to buy: SAQ, 22.10$

Raul Perez Ultreia Bierzo 2017, Castile and León, Spain – 92pts. PW

The mountainous region of Bierzo in Northwest Spain was little known internationally until Priorat star producer Alvaro Palacios invested in the area, paving the way for outstanding local producers like Raúl Pérez Pereira to gain international attention. All the wines in Perez’s range have impressed me; notably this lower premium priced Ultreia cuvée with its lovely floral notes, ripe black fruit flavours and savoury undertones. It is fresh, medium bodied and quite suave on the palate, with subtly grainy tannins. Drink now, lightly chilled.

Where to buy: SAQ, 29.60$

Casanova di Neri Rosso di Montalcino 2016, Tuscany, Italy – 91pts. PW

The term “baby Brunello” was coined to describe the DOC Rosso di Montalcino, as these wines hail from the same region and grape (Sangiovese) as the mighty Brunello di Montalcino. Rosso di Montalcino wines are aged a minimum of 1 year before bottling vs. 5 years for Brunello, with no oak maturation required. Top Brunello estate Casanova di Neri makes quite a serious style of Rosso di Montalcino, especially from the elegant 2016 vintage. The nose is redolent with red cherry, wild berries, licorice and cloves, with earthy undertones. The palate is dry, with bright acidity, lovely depth of fruit and fine, chalky tannins. Decant several hours before serving.

Where to buy: SAQ, 30.25$

Joseph Faiveley Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2017, Burgundy, France – 89pts. PW

A light, very pretty Burgundian Pinot Noir with pure, ripe strawberry and cherry notes, and underlying herbal, briary hints. Brisk, silky smooth and juicy fruited on the palate, this is not a massively complex wine but, served nicely chilled, is a very satisfying Pinot Noir. A recent tasting of the Joseph Faiveley Gevrey Chambertin 2015 reminded me what fantastic quality and value there is to be had from this first-rate Burgundian négociant.

Where to buy: SAQ, 25.25$

Education

UPDATE: FREE TRADE FOR CANADIAN WINES

free trade canadian wines

UPDATE: Free Trade for Canadian Wines

Last summer, I wrote the article below bemoaning Canada’s archaic laws that prohibit the cross-border movement of alcohol. A year later, while there has been some movement, free trade for Canadian wines (and other alcoholic beverages) remains a long way off.

In April 2019, the Liberal government introduced legislation to remove the federal requirement that alcohol moving from one province to another be sold or consigned to a provincial liquor authority. However, it remains at the discretion of each province to forbid or allow direct-to-consumer shipping of out of province alcohol…so essentially, nothing has changed.

We remain a country where, unless you live in the progressive havens of BC, Manitoba or Nova Scotia, “you can order a gun from another province and have it delivered to you, but you can’t order a bottle of wine” laments Dan Paszkowski, president of the Canadian Vintners Association. 

Great wine is being made across Canada – from British Columbia to Nova Scotia. If you want to stand behind Canadian grape growers and winemakers, head on over to FreeMyGrapes and make your voice heard.

To read my full article from last year, click here or simply scroll down below the image. 

PS – Wines from Ontario, BC and Nova Scotia are STILL shelved in the USA or “Autres Pays” (Other Countries) aisles in the majority of SAQ outlets

free trade canadian wines

FREE TRADE FOR CANADIAN WINE

This past week-end, I attended the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (I4C). Held in the Niagara region of Ontario, this joyous event is equal parts professional conference on cool climate winemaking, and raucous party toasting Canada’s arrival in the realm of world-class fine wines.

I tasted so many delicious sparkling wines, Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Cabernet Francs that I literally lost count. I came home brimming over with enthusiasm, ready to stock my cellar with Canadian wine. But I can’t.

Why you ask?

Because in Canada, we cannot legally order wine for home delivery from an out-of-province winery (except in BC, Manitoba and Nova Scotia). And because we have provincial alcohol monopolies, I can only buy what one single retailer decides to offer me.

In Canada, we cannot legally order wine for home delivery from an out-of-province winery.

According to the Canadian Vintners Association, 100% Canadian wine represents less than a 5 % wine sales market share in eight of our 10 provinces. No other wine producing country in the world has such ludicrously low domestic market share.

To test this theory, I took a stroll through my local SAQ the other day. I was happy to see a prominent “Origine Québec” section. However, when I looked for wines from Canada’s other provinces, I was sorely disappointed. There were a total of three wines. They were sitting in the category headed “Autres Pays” (Other Countries), mixed in with wines from obscure eastern European origins.

When I asked an employee if this was the extent of their domestic range, he reassured me that there were more in the produits réguliers (general list) section. He led me to the aisle. Under the category “United States”, I found 2 more Canadian wines.

Canadian wine represents less than a 5 % wine sales market share in eight of our 10 provinces.

Granted, this was one of the smaller format, SAQ Classique stores. But it is located in the heart of one of Montréal’s busiest commercial and residential neighbourhoods. While the larger SAQ Séléction outlets have a better range of Canadian wines, these stores are fewer and farther between.

I can always order on-line from the liquor board, but the selection is a mere fraction of what is on offer direct from the wineries.

So why can’t I just order direct? Because federal restrictions and provincial laws exist across Canada that prohibit the cross-border movement of alcohol. Even if I were to get in my car and drive the 4.5 hours to Prince Edward County or 6.5 hours to Niagara, I still couldn’t legally bring back more than 12 bottles (9 litres).

Nearly a century since the end of prohibition, and we are still being told that we require public supervision of our alcohol intake…

In 2012 Gerard Comeau, a New Brunswick native, was fined 292$ for bringing Québec purchased beer into the province. Comeau refused to pay, citing section 121 of Canada’s constitution which promises free trade of goods between provinces. After a 5-year legal battle, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against Comeau. They argued that the New Brunswick provincial legislation (section 134B) was not intended to restrict trade, simply to “enable public supervision of the production, movement, sale, and use of alcohol within New Brunswick”.

Nearly a century since the end of prohibition, and we are still being told by the Canadian powers-that-be, that we require public supervision of our alcohol intake. And that this imperative trumps our constitutional right to free trade.

The subject of interprovincial alcohol trade was on the agenda of last week’s meeting of Canada’s premiers. The consensus reached was less than impressive. While the premiers agree to “significantly increase personal use exemption limits”, according to New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant, no specific amount or clear indication of timelines were given.

It is not simply the principle of the matter that irks me, it is the great disservice being done to our fledgling wine industry.

And no matter what the new limits are, the very fact that there are limits flies in the face of free trade. It is not simply the principle of the matter that irks me, it is the great disservice being done to our fledgling wine industry. It would seem that our governments are far more concerned with protecting the revenue stream from alcohol monopolies, than supporting the development of Canada’s wineries.

Great wine is being made across Canada – from British Columbia to Nova Scotia. If you want to stand behind Canadian grape growers and winemakers, head on over to FreeMyGrapes and make your voice heard.

You can toast your contribution with a glass of fine Canadian wine. Need a recommendation? Check out my list of favourites (here) from my recent week judging the 2019 National Wine Awards of Canada.

Reviews Wines

WHY YOU SHOULD DRINK (MORE) CANADIAN WINE

Canadian Wine
Photo credit: Wines of British Columbia, WineBC.com

Because it is delicious. Voila. Enough said. End of article. Seriously though, Canadian wine has come a hell of a long way in a very short time. There have never been so many great reasons to drink Canadian wine.

The first commercial Canadian vineyard was established in Cooksville, Ontario in 1811. However, wide-scale production of quality wine didn’t truly get under way for another 160 years. Temperance movements, prohibition, inhospitable climates, negative consumer reaction to the “foxy” tasting wines crafted from the mainly hybrid grapes planted for their cold hardiness… the hurdles faced by the pioneers of the Canadian wine industry were immense.

Happily, an intrepid band of believers persevered, eventually finding sheltered, well exposed sites, with favourable soil conditions, and over time, matched these to Vitis vinifera and quality hybrid grapes that would thrive there. These parcels of land are notably found surrounding Lake Okanagan, its tributaries, and downstream lakes in British Columbia, and hugging Lake Ontario in Ontario.

Thomas Bachelder, acclaimed Niagara Peninsula winemaker, is convinced of his region’s vast potential, “We have the degree days, and complex limestone-rich soils. Niagara Chardonnay is elegant; racy, mineral and floral, with a solid core of rich dry extract”, he explains. Riesling and cool climate red grapes like Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Cabernet Franc also produce award-winning results here.

The over 160km stretch north to south from Lake Country/ North Okanagan to Black Sage and Osoyoos in the Okanagan Valley equates to a diverse terrain and significant temperature differentials, allowing a wide array of grapes to flourish though out the region. The cooler north focuses on varieties that can handle colder conditions – think Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, while the warmer south excels at Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon blends, and the like.

Québec and Nova Scotia also have small but noteworthy, emerging Canadian wine industries. Nova Scotia is proving particularly successful with sparkling wines. The high tides of the Bay of Fundy bring constant wind movement, tempering the winters, allowing the region a long, moderate growing season. “Nova Scotian sparkling wine has very recognizable characteristics, namely its bracing acidity and pure, focused palate” says Josh Horton, head winemaker at top-quality Annapolis Valley winery: Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards.

Québec offers a wide palate of early ripening, winter hardy hybrid white, red, rosé, and sparkling wines, with a move toward noble, cool climate Vitis vinifera grapes in isolated, warmer sites. The quality of the sparkling, still whites and rosés has improved significantly in recent years, with favourite estates like Les Pervenches regularly selling out.

Last month, I had the great pleasure of joining a group of 22 Canadian wine experts as a judge for the 2019 National Wine Awards of Canada. Over 1800 wine entries were blind tasted through out the week. Without further ado, here are a selection of my top-rated wines from my tasting panels.*

* This list does not reflect the full extent of my enthusiasm for Canadian wine! Many of my favourite producers were not represented, or not in the tasting flights that I participated in. If you are looking for other suggestions for top class Canadian wine, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

Want to know what the LW, PW & LW stand for in my wine scores? Check out my wine scoring system page.

SPARKLING WINE

Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards Blanc De Blancs Brut 2014, Nova Scotia – 93pts. PW

Racy, precise sparkling wine from one of Nova Scotia’s masters. Thrilling lemon zest, green apple notes give way to a saline finish, with ultra-fine, persistent bubbles and impressive length. World-class quality for the price.

Blend: Blanc de Blancs, Chardonnay 100%

Price: 38.95$, contact winery

Two Sisters Vineyards 2016 Blanc de Franc, Niagara River – 92pts. LW

Intriguing hints of raspberry, anis and spice underscored by inviting brioche notes on the nose. The palate, while quite light weight, has lovely textural appeal and creaminess to the core. Finishes long, with bright, lifted fruit and fine bubbles.

Blend: Blanc de Noirs, Cabernet Franc 100%

Price: 62$, contact winery

Lundy Manor NV Brut, Niagara Peninsula – 92pts. PW

Opulent, with heady aromas of biscuit, red apple, golden pear and lemon. Medium in body, with brisk acidity, and layered, leesy mid-palate and a hint of sweetness to the brut finish.

Blend: Pinot Noir 75%, Chardonnay 25%

Price: 45$, contact winery

Dark Horse Estate Winery, Valegro 2015 Traditional Method, Ontario – 91pts. PW

Interwoven notes of brioche, grilled nuts, lemon and apple feature on the nose. The palate is very pure and focused, with a subtly creamy texture, light body, and a very dry, refreshing finish.

Blend: Blanc de Blancs, 100% Chardonnay

Price: 39.95$, contact winery

RIESLING

Harper’s Trail 2018 Silver Mane Block Riesling Thadd Springs Vineyards, Kamloops, BC – 93pts. VW

With aeration, displays quite a complex nose of flint, green apple, lemon and lime. The palate is pitch perfect: taut, racy, and textural, bursting with zesty citrus fruit, and a lip-smacking, subtly off dry finish. Absolute steal for the price.

Price: 18.30$, contact winery

Hidden Bench 2016 Riesling Felseck Vineyard, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula – 92pts. PW

Lovely complexity on the nose, with hints of marmalade, mingled with red apple, white floral and lemon tones. Racy acidity gives way to a medium weight palate, with lifted orchard and citrus fruit flavours and subtle wet stone mineral hints on the long finish.

Price: 29$, contact winery

50th Parallel 2018 Riesling, Okanagan Valley – 92pts. VW

Another great value, with attractive grapefruit, green apple and lemon notes on the nose. Medium weight, with crisp acidity, a focused, linear core and lovely saline mineral notes that lift and draw out the finish.

Price: 19.90$, contact winery

Tawse 2016 Riesling, Sketches of Niagara, Niagara Peninsula – 91pts. VW

Classic Riesling nose, with petrol, white flowers, lemon, and apple nuances fairly leaping from the glass. Crisp and clean on the palate, with a vibrant, fruity core, and a taut, lengthy, off-dry finish. Delicious!

Price: 18.95$, contact wineryLCBO

CHARDONNAY

Quails’ Gate 2017 Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley, BC – 93pts. PW

Puligny-esque on the nose, with nuances of flint, white orchard fruit, lemon and melted butter. Crisp acidity is ably matched by taut, finely chiselled structure, with well integrated hints of toasty, spiced French oak, and a lengthy, mineral-laced finish.

Price: 40$, contact winery

Leaning Post 2017 Chardonnay Senchuk Vineyard, Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula – 93pts. PW

Very flinty on the nose, with hints of toasted oak, spice and white orchard fruit. The palate is fresh, yet quite broad and rich, with intermingled apple, vanilla, and toasted oak nuances on the long finish. Would benefit from a few years additional cellaring to further integrate.

Price: 45$, contact winery

Flat Rock Cellars The Rusty Shed 2017, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario – 92pts.

Surprisingly complex for the price, with stony mineral nuances overlaid by white floral notes, ripe lemon, and yellow apple on the nose. Brisk acidity gives way to a medium weight, creamy, layered core with a hint of that buttered popcorn flavour that is so tempting on Chardonnay (when balanced by sufficiently high acid, as is the case here). Long, nuanced finish.

Price: 26.95$, contact winery

Fort Berens 2017 White Gold, Okanagan Valley – 92pts. PW

Very elegant white, with a subtle fragrance of lemon, white orchard fruit, linden and flint. Medium in weight, with a lovely creaminess balanced by vibrant, juicy acidity. Notes of sweet vanilla and toasted oak underscore the tangy citrus, apple flavours on the persistent finish.

Price: 26$, contact winery

Trail Estate Winery 2017 Chardonnay, Foxcroft Vineyard Twenty Mile Bench Niagara – 90pts. PW

The Trail Estate wines (from Prince Edward County and Niagara) impressed me across the board, from their lively Riesling to their elegant Pinot Noir. This Niagara Chardonnay was particularly tempting, with its zesty acidity, its textural mid-palate, and its salty tang on the lifted finish.

Price: 35$, contact winery

ROSE

La Cantina Vallée d’Oka 2018, Rosé du Calvaire, Québec – 92pts. VW

I can’t help but admit to have been thrilled to see that my favourite, blind tasted rosé was from Québec! This unusual rosé blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir offers pretty pink grapefruit, gooseberry and yellow pear notes on the nose. The distinctive personality of each grape really shine through, and harmonize nicely on the palate. Mouthwatering acidity leads into a very focused, medium bodied mid-palate with layers of orchard fruit and exotic citrus flavours. A very food friendly rosé!

Blend: Chardonnay 56%, Pinot Noir 44%

Price: 19.95$, contact winery, SAQ

Harper’s Trail 2018 Rosé, British Columbia – 91pts. VW

Pretty Pinot Gris-based rosé, with crushed strawberry, gooseberry and pink grapefruit aromas. The medium weight palate is brimming with tangy red fruit tempered by a subtle creaminess and a soft, rounded finish.

Blend: Pinot Gris 93%, Cabernet Franc 7%

Price: 17$, contact winery

Trius 2018 Rosé, Niagara Peninsula – 89pts. VW

Lively red apple and herbal notes feature on the nose. The palate is crisp and juicy, with a lightweight texture, and smooth, rounded structure. Finishes subtly off-dry.

Price: 17.95$, contact winery, LCBO

GAMAY

Deep Roots 2017 Gamay, Okanagan Valley – 92pts. VW

Very appealing nose marrying ripe red berry and violet notes, with undertones of blood orange and rhubarb. The palate offers tangy acidity, medium body and a silken texture that lengthens the finish nicely.

Price: 23.90$, contact winery

Desert Hills 2018 Gamay Noir, Okanagan Valley – 91pts. VW

Pure, Beaujolais nose with its beguiling dark raspberry, spice and violet aromas. Very lively on the palate, with moderate concentration, supple tannins, and a clean, precise finish.

Price: 22.90$, contact winery

Tawse 2017 Gamay Noir, Redfoot, Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula – 89pts. PW

Quite a peppery style of Gamay, with tart red fruit flavours and crisp, refreshing acidity. Light weight on the palate, with fine, powdery tannins and a juicy, red fruited finish.

Price: 28.95$, contact winery, SAQ

PINOT NOIR

Blasted Church 2017 Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley – 94pts. PW

Wonderfully fragrant, with ripe red cherries, red berries, exotic spice, and floral tones that really come to the fore with aeration. The palate is tightly knit, with mouthwatering acidity, and ripe, chalky tannins. Finishes with harmonious hints of cedar and spice from well executed oak maturation.

Average price: 32$, contact winery

Hidden Bench 2017 Pinot Noir Unfiltered, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula – 93pts. PW

An intriguing nose featuring wild herbs, red berries and stony mineral nuances. The palate is beautifully balanced; vibrant freshness amply counters the weighty core of red berries, savoury nuances and notes of citrus oil. Fine-grained tannins frame the finish nicely.

Price: 31.75$, contact winery, LCBO

Howling Bluff Pinot Noir 2016, Three Mile Creek, Okanagan Valley – 93pts. PW

Intense, aromatic style of Pinot Noir, brimming with ripe red cherries, crushed strawberries and floral tones. Lots of finesse on the palate, with the moderately firm, medium bodied core book-ended by brisk acidity and weighty, yet ripe, diffuse tannins.

Price: 35$, contact winery

Rosehall Run 2017 JCR Pinot Noir , Prince Edward County (Ontario) – 92pts. PW

Very Burgundian nose, with its small red berries, griotte cherries, hints of earth and cedar. Crisp acidity gives way to a silky smooth texture and soft tannins on this ready-to-drink, medium bodied Pinot Noir.

Price: 39.95$, contact winery

Arrowleaf 2017 Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley – 92pts. VW

Lots of finesse on this subtle yet highly complex Pinot Noir. The nose offers discreet nuances of cranberry, wild strawberry, tea leaf and earth. The palate is crisp and light, with lovely powdery tannins and a vibrant, fruity finish. Fantastic value for the price!

Price: 22.80$, contact winery

CABERNET FRANC

Peller Estates 2016 Andrew Peller Signature Series Cabernet Franc, Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula – 91pts. LW

Raspberry, plum, and rose petal hints play across the nose. On the palate, brisk acidity leads into a smooth textured, weighty core of ripe dark fruit. Finishes with bold, yet polished tannins. Very long and layered with finely integrated cedar, spice nuances.

Price: 54.80$, contact winery

Foreign Affair 2016 Apologetic Red, Niagara Peninsula – 90pts. LW

A very stylish, full-bodied offering, with understated notes of cranberry, dark plum, bell pepper and cedar on the nose. The palate offers fresh acidity and a taut structure, with a concentrated core of baked black fruits. While ripe, the tannins are still pretty grippy and need a little time (or a few hours’ decanting) to mellow. Finishes with pleasing notes of tobacco and graphite.

Price: 69.95$, contact winery, LCBO

SYRAH

Mission Hill 2016 Reserve Shiraz, Okanagan Valley – 93pts. PW

Very pretty, ultra-ripe black berry and blueberry fruit underscored by notes of violet, pepper and dark chocolate. Quite sweet fruited on the palate, with a bold, weighty profile, firm tannins, and well-integrated cedar spice.

Price: 30$, contact winery

Le Vieux Pin 2017 Syrah Cuvée Violette, Okanagan Valley – 92pts. PW

Intense, complex nose featuring crushed cassis, black cherry, notes of exotic spice, tea leaf, and a hint of black pepper. Full-bodied and compact on the palate with ripe, grippy tannins and a fresh, lifted finish.

Price: 35.60$, contact winery

Ursa Major 2016 Syrah, Eagle Nest Vineyards, Okanagan Valley – 91pts. PW

A fleshy, dense Syrah with a powerful array of fresh black fruits, pepper, baking spice and floral hints on the nose and palate. Finishes with attractive, chalky tannins and subtle toasted oak nuances.

Price: 40$, contact winery

RED BLENDS

Nk’Mip Cellars 2016 “Winemakers Talon” Okanagan Valley – 93pts. PW

Perfumed nose featuring an array of fresh and baked black and blue fruits, floral hints, cedar and baking spice. The palate is ripe fruited, firm and quite powerful in structure, yet achieves quite an elegant balance with its bright acidity and muscular tannins.

Blend: Syrah 44%, Cabernet Sauvignon 18%, Merlot 13%, Malbec 13%, Cabernet Franc 10%, Pinot Noir 2%

Average price: 24$, contact winery

Riverstone Estate Winery “Stone’s Throw” Okanagan Valley – 93pts. PW

Intense aromas of ripe dark plum, black cherry, and bell pepper are nicely interwoven with graphite and cedar undertones. Full-bodied and highly concentrated on the palate, brimming with rich dark fruit flavours, and finishing with bold yet polished tannins, and lingering tobacco notes.

Blend: Merlot 78%, Cabernet Sauvignon 11%, Malbec 8%, Petit Verdot 3%

Average price: 28.90$, contact winery

Corcelettes 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah Menhir Estate Vineyard, Similkameen Valley (BC) – 92pts. PW

Very pretty nose featuring ripe cassis, plum and black cherry aromas, mingled with cedar, spice and vanilla. Upon aeration, pleasing floral hints develop. This weighty, dense red is lifted by its freshness, its fine-grained tannins, and well-integrated oak flavours.

Blend: Cabernet Sauvignon 58%, Syrah 42%

Price: 39.90$, contact winery

Stag’s Hollow Winery 2016 Renaissance Merlot Okanagan Falls – 92pts. PW

Highly perfumed, with notes of crushed cassis, dark cherry, baking spice, and cedar. The palate offers crisp acidity and very bright red and black fruit flavours that amply off-set the dense, weighty core and firm tannins.

Blend: Merlot 86%, Cabernet Sauvignon 7%, Cabernet Franc 6%

Average price: 35$, contact winery

Megalomaniac “Big Kahuna” 2016 Niagara Peninsula – 92pts. PW

Really juicy, medium weight red offering vibrant aromas and flavours of red currant, plum, and black cherry, mingling with hints of violet and cigar box. Quite taut in structure yet still highly approachable, with attractive fine-grained tannins and harmonious hints of oak.

Blend: 87% Cabernet Franc, 13% Syrah

Price: 34.95$, contact winery

ODDBALLS

Mooncurser Vineyards 2017 Touriga Nacional, Okanagan Valley – 93pts. LW

Deep, brooding red with a pleasing peppery, herbal flavour profile, balanced by masses of ripe black berries and cherries that linger on the finish. Very fresh on the palate, with a powerful structure and imposing tannins that require a little time to soften.

Price: 46$, contact winery

Mooncurser Vineyards 2017 Tempranillo, Okanagan Valley – 91pts. PW

Highly appealing floral nose, with underlying notes of blueberries, blackberries and plums. The palate is bold and weighty, with juicy black fruit flavours mingled with prominent, yet harmonious vanilla, spice oak nuances. Very grippy, firm tannins. Needs another year or two in the cellar.

Price: 35.75$, contact winery

Mt. Boucherie 2017 Blaufränkisch, British Columbia – 91pts. PW

A fine example of Blaufränkisch, with its pretty mulberry and spice nose, and its subtly earthy flavours. The palate is crisp, full-bodied and moderately firm with tangy fruit subduing the somewhat grainy tannins.

Price: 32$, contact winery

ICEWINE

Quail’s Gate Riesling Icewine 2017, Okanagan Valley – 95pts. LW

Wonderfully complex nose brimming with caramel, pineapple, confit lemon, apricot and hints of stony minerality. Highly concentrated on the palate, with its rich, layered texture and luscious sweetness perfectly balanced by racy acidity that lifts and lengthens the finish.

Average price: 39.95$, contact winery

Magnotta Winery 2018 Riesling Icewine Limited Edition, Niagara Peninsula – 94pts. LW

Enticing notes of pineapple, quince, ripe lemon and candied stone fruits feature on the nose. Vibrant, mouthwatering acidity lifts the unctiously sweet palate and underscores the concentrated, fruity core nicely. The finish is long and layered.

Average price: 39.95$, contact winery

Megalomaniac Wines 2017 Coldhearted Riesling Icewine , Niagara Peninsula – 93pts. LW

Irresistibly fragrant, brimming with exotic pineapple, guava, and mango aromas underscored by hints of candied lemon and caramel. Mouthwatering acidity provides the perfect counterweight to the dense, layered mid-palate and the enticingly sweet finish. Ripe peach and salted caramel flavours linger long on the finish.

Average price: 39.95$, contact winery

 

Reviews Wines

TASTING THE WINES OF DOMAINE LOUIS MICHEL & FILS

the wines of domaine louis michel

The wines of Domaine Louis Michel epitomize all that I love in top Chablis. They are pure, precise, and incredibly elegant in a lean, steely style that, while understated, remain incredibly complex and powerfully structured.

Established in 1850, the estate has passed down from one generation to the next, to its present day configuration of 25-hectares graced with prime vineyard locations in three Grand Cru terroirs (Les Clos, Grenouilles, Vaudésir) and eight Premier Cru sites, as well as Chablis and Petit Chablis holdings.

Present day owner, Guillaume Michel is clearly passionate about his vines and his region. His enthusiasm is infectious as he explains his team’s vineyard and winemaking philosophies. Crucial to his ideology, is the cultivating of healthy, optimally ripened grapes that ably express their terroir.

The headaches and sleepless nights start early in the Chablis vineyard growing season. Spring frosts are becoming increasingly frequent in the region, keeping vineyard owners up at all hours checking weather data and lighting “bougies” (large parafin candles) in their best parcels on high-risk nights.

Roughly 40 years ago, the Michel family made a radical change to their winemaking procedure. They decided to stop fermenting and ageing their wines in oak barrels. The reasoning? The Michels began to see oak as an artifice, masking or altering the flavour profile of the grape and its terroir. They also felt that the wine should be manipulated or moved as little as possible to allow a purer expression.

Since then, the wines of Domaine Louis Michel have been vinified and matured in 100% stainless steel tanks. The gently pressed must is cooled down to 12°C – 13°C for clarification, and then slowly, cool fermented to temperatures up to 18°C. Maturation on fine lees lasts 8 – 10 months for Petit Chablis and Chablis, whereas the Premier and Grand Cru parcels remain in tank for up to 18 months to integrate further and reveal their full potential.

I recently attended an incredible tasting of the wines of Domaine Louis Michel; all Premier and Grand Cru wines from the 2015 and 2016 vintage. When asked how these vintages compared, Guillaume Michel explained that, “2015 was atypical. A very hot, sunny growing season resulting in rich, fruity wines brimming with white stone fruit flavours. 2016 was a challenging vintage beset by frost, rain, and hail that drastically lowered yields. The wines are surprisingly good however; highly aromatic, with lots of energy and pleasing tropical hints”.

Favourites from the tasting included:

Domaine Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Montmain 2015 – 90pts. LW

According to Guillaume Michel, Montmain is “always very floral and elegant, with lovely saline minerality”. This is definitely the case here, with underlying notes of star-anise, ripe lemon, yellow apple and earthy, white mushroom hints. Very sleek and racy on the palate, with a bone-dry, lingering finish.

Price: 51.50$, private import (enquire with agent)

Domaine Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Butteaux Vieilles Vignes 2016 – 92pts. LW

Fairly discreet on the nose, with notes of wet stone underscored by green apple, forest floor, and fresh almonds. This elegant white really comes alive on the palate, with its thrilling acidity, its powerful structure, layered core of juicy yellow pear, white peach and tingly minerality. Finishes with a subtle, appealing bitterness.

Price: N/A, coming to the SAQ before year’s end (enquire with agent)

Domaine Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Butteaux Vieilles Vignes 2015 – 92pts. LW

The 2015 vintage is quite similar, and equally impressive, with slightly broader, rounder acidity and more honeyed, spiced nuances to the flavour profile. Very juicy and fresh on the finish.

Price: 70.50$ at the SAQ

Domaine Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre 2016 – 93pts. LW

Montée de Tonnerre is a south west facing parcel just south of the Grand Cru hill, sharing many geological features. It is one of the best-known and admired of the Premier Cru vineyards, and for good reason. This elegant white boasts a powerfully flinty nose, with vibrant citrus notes, an array of ripe orchard fruits and subtly earthy hints. High, zesty acidity gives way to laser-like precision on the palate, and a lingering mineral-rich (almost spicy) finish.

Price: 60.50$ at the SAQ

Domaine Louis Michel Chablis Grand Cru Vaudésir 2016 – 95pts. LW

Quite a diverse terroir boasting a warm meso-climate, with slopes facing both south and north. Louis Michel’s vineyards are found on the north side. The 2016 is hugely aromatic, with oyster shell nuances interwoven with exotic citrus notes, pineapple, yellow plum, star-anise and earthy undertones. Broad, bracing acidity defines the palate, providing lovely lift for the opulent, richly textured core. A symphony of yellow fruit, ripe lemon and briny mineral notes on the finish.

Price: N/A, coming soon as a private import (enquire with agent)

Domaine Louis Michel Chablis Grand Cru Vaudésir 2015 – 93pts. LW

Similar opulence and aromatic intensity to the 2016, with a more ample frame and softer, juicier acidity. The flavour profile is also comparable, but veers towards baked rather than fresh fruit, with a very long, spicy, warming finish.

Price: 108.50$, in stock, private import (enquire with agent)

Domaine Louis Michel Grand Cru Les Clos 2016 – 95pts. LW

Guillaume Michel described Les Clos as being “austere in its youth; far more expressive on the palate than the nose, with notes of white pepper on the finish”.  Again, an able description for this compact, racy white with its discreet nose featuring white mushrooms, lemon, and green fruits. Lovely mid-palate concentration, vibrant tangy fruit flavours, and an incredibly long, peppered finish attest to the vast potential for those with the patience to wait a few years.

Price: N/A, coming to the SAQ end of 2019, enquire with agent

Domaine Louis Michel Grand Cru Grenouilles 2016 – 97pts. LW

For me, this was the star of the show. The nose is utterly alluring, at first offering pretty white floral notes, an array of yellow fruits, citrus, kiwi and earthy hints. Upon aeration, flinty mineral aromas come to the fore. The palate is crisp, firm, and very juicy, fairly brimming over with stone fruit and grapefruit flavours, nicely matched by the smooth, creamy texture. A hint of grapefruit pith bitterness adds additional textural intrigue on the long finish.

Price: N/A, coming to the SAQ end of 2019, enquire with agent

Education

HOW TO READ A WINE LABEL

how to read a wine label

Have you ever stopped to actually read a wine label? I mean, not just a quick glance at the picture of a stately Château or a cheeky hippo, but really taken a few seconds to peruse the contents of the front and back label? You would be amazed by how much you can learn about a wine’s style and quality level once you know how to read a wine label.

***Side note: I have also made this post into a YouTube video. To watch, just scroll down to the bottom & click play. If you enjoy the video, consider subscribing to my YouTube channel so you never miss an episode of my weekly wine education series. 

The wine label, as I describe it below, often encompasses the front and back labels as many producers prefer to keep the front label information to a minimum to focus on the estate or brand name and the art work. With that in mind, the useful information on wine labels includes:

 

The Brand/ Estate Name

Generally displayed fairly prominently on the front label. This is the name of the wine producer’s estate or one of their brands. This is key information to retain if you enjoy a wine and want to purchase it again.

 The Cuvée Name

Most wineries produce more than one wine. A cuvée name like “Yellow Label”, “Bin 407”, or “Hommage à…” is a good way to differentiate one wine from another; especially if the estate makes more than one wine from the same grape variety. This information is useful to note down, alongside the estate/brand name for re-purchasing.

 The Grape Variety

The taste of a specific grape variety, once it has been transformed into wine, can vary depending on the climate of the vineyards and/ or the winemaking techniques employed. Just because you like one producer’s Malbec, you are not guaranteed to like another winemaker’s take on the same grape…especially if one hails from Mendoza and the other from Cahors. Most grape varieties do tend to have basic character traits though that regularly occur regardless of origin, so knowing your preferred varieties can be helpful.

That being said, many European regions traditionally don’t, or legally can’t, write the grape name on the label. For these regions, like Chianti or the Rhône Valley, the expression of the local terroir is more important than varietal typicity.

In Europe, if a single variety is listed on the label, the wine will contain a minimum of 85% of that variety, with up to 15% of other grapes allowed. In the USA however, a wine with one single grape mentioned on the label can have just 75% of that variety in the blend.

 The Vintage

The vintage refers to the year in which the grapes were harvested. Each growing season is different, especially in cooler climate areas. Colder growing seasons will give wines with more tart flavours and higher acid. Wines from warmer growing seasons will be riper and fleshier. When you are purchasing premium wines, it is worth considering the vintage conditions to get a sense of how the wine will taste or, potentially, how well it will cellar.

If you are buying more affordable, every day wines there is generally less vintage variation but these wines usually don’t age very well, so you want to make sure you are buying a recent bottlings. For white and rosé wines  look for a harvest date within the last 18 months or so, for most red wines you can push this up to 3 years.

 The Appellation of Origin

Somewhere on the front and/ or back label, you will see an indication of the wine’s origin, sometimes called an appellation. An appellation can be as wide as a whole region like Bordeaux or California, or it can be as specific as a single village or vineyard site. Generally, the more site specific the appellation, the better quality the wine. If you see terms like Premier Cru or Grand Cru on French wine, Classico on Italian wine, Erste Lage or Grosse Lage on German wines, these are indications of superior (sometimes single vineyard) sites.

Quality Designations

Riserva, Reserva, Gran Reserva, Superiore, Smaragd…  Each region and country, especially in Europe, has their own set of terms to denote superior quality wines. Wines with these mentions usually come from better vineyard sites, have achieved a high level of ripeness, and are aged for longer at the winery. I go into more detail about these mentions and appellation specifications in region specific articles.

There are also a couple of very vague terms that wineries love to throw on labels. Some of the most notorious mentions include : “Old Vines” and “Reserve” or “Prestige”.

Older vines generally produce a lower yield of more flavourful, concentrated grapes. Wines from healthy 30-year-old or older vines often give high quality wines. However, there is no set legal definition for the term. So, if you see the term Vieilles Vignes or Old Vines on the label, you never really know if the vines are barely teenagers or really are mature adults. If you see a wine labelled “old vine” under 15$, I would be a little suspicious.

The words Reserve and Prestige can also be pretty meaningless. They are meant to imply a step up in quality from the producer’s basic wines, and many wineries do employ these terms honestly. Frustratingly, there are countless Prestige or Reserve wines out there that are barely palatable. Sadly, for many wineries, these words are nothing but marketing hype.

The Alcohol Percentage by Volume

A wine’s alcohol percentage will tell you a lot about its taste profile. The lower in alcohol the wine, generally the lighter it will be in body. Alcohol gives viscosity to wine, giving a weightier, more rounded sensation. A 12% alcohol red wine will taste very lean on the palate as compared to a 14.5% alcohol version.

Health & Dietary Information

If you look at a wine’s back label, you might see some health warnings like:

Contains Sulphites: Yes, many wines contain sulphites – both naturally as a by-product of fermentation – and potentially added to protect them from oxidation and bacterial spoilage. Don’t be alarmed though, the level is well within health and safety norms, and contrary to popular belief, most health officials agree that sulphites in wine do not cause headaches.

Suitable for vegetarians/ or vegans: substances are often added to wines before bottling to absorb any sediments and, occasionally, to soften tannins. These are called fining agents. Certain are composed of milk products, egg whites, and gelatin so are not always vegetarian/ vegan friendly. If a wine has been labelled “suitable” for one group or both, it will either be fined using an alternative substance like bentonite clay, or has been bottled without fining.

Other Information

Each wine label or capsule will have a lot code (a string of multiple digits) somewhere on the wine capsule or label that will allow wineries to trace a bottle back to the exact bottling date, batch, and so forth for quality control reasons.

A reference to the bottler, and whether it was estate bottled or not, is included in some countries as well. Some labels also carry information on the importer, wine agency, or distributor that carries a wine. This is a good point of contact for consumers looking for retailer information or wanting to report an issue with a purchased bottle.

Finally, many back labels will also give information about the winery, the winemaking techniques, food pairing options, service temperature suggestions and so on. That can also make for interesting reading if you so desire.

The Video

For those visual learners among you who prefer to watch… here is a video version of the above article!