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Jacky Blisson

Education

THE IMPORTANCE OF OLD VINE VINEYARDS

old vine vineyards
Photo credit: Jim Hunneyball, Old Vine Project (South Africa)

Great wine is made in the vineyard. Ask any producer with fine wine aspirations and they will agree. A vine in balance, producing healthy, optimally ripened grapes boasting complex, concentrated flavours –  this is the winemaker’s holy grail. It is for this reason that old vine vineyards are so highly prized.

Old vines is a term seen with increasing frequency on premium wine labels. While there is no legally agreed upon definition for what constitutes old vine vineyards, several wine regions have come up with their own specifications. The Barossa Valley’s Old Vine Charter separates mature vines into four categories: from “old vines” at a minimum of 35 years old, to “ancestor vines” that have surpassed the venerable age of 125.

In South Africa, an initiative called the Old Vine Project, works to classify and protect the country’s old vine vineyards.  Project founder and renowned viticulturist Rosa Kruger and her team travel the country in search of old vine vineyards, convincing vineyard owners to preserve these important sites. In South Africa, like in the Barossa Valley, the minimum age for old vine status is 35 years.

“Young vines are exploring their soils as they build structure above and below the ground and this leads to more vigour – larger canopies, more shade, bigger crops and resulting wines that are often thinner and lighter in style”, explains Swartland wine producer Chris Mullineux. “Old vines on the other hand tend to be in better natural balance. The yields are generally lower and the resultant wine has more texture and intensity without having to pick riper or aim for extraction in the cellar”.

Rosa Kruger agrees. She firmly believes that, “age in vines brings an intensity, a perceived freshness, a texture, and a sense of place”. Old vines have a deeper, more developed root system – up to 30% according to Kruger – giving them better nutrient and water reserves, and far greater adaptability to climatic variations. They show far less vintage variation than their younger counterparts.

Old vine vineyards are an important aspect of a wine region’s heritage. In certain sectors they prove a treasure trove of lost or forgotten grape varieties. Vineyards that predate the rise of clonal selections in the 1970s offer important genetic biodiversity. The fear that Spain is losing its old vine vineyards drove Aragon wine producer Fernando Mora MW to set up “save the old vines” an association with ambitions to register and conserve older vineyard plots.

There are many reasons why old vines are in short supply in many of the world’s vineyards. Growers are often paid based on the tonnage and sugar ripeness of their crop. Younger vines generally produce more plentiful crop loads and are thus more profitable, leading to uprooting of older, lower yielding vines. Vineyards are also regularly beset by pests, viruses, fungal infections, extreme weather events and other factors that can damage the vines, shortening their lifespan.

The South African Old Vine Project places great emphasis on caring for younger vines to ensure a healthy and productive old age. To this end, they are developing a second classification to register and monitor 25 year old vines, with the aim of increasing their likelihood of achieving old vine status. Perhaps the most important idea the group espouses however, is the notion of “planting to grow old”; encouraging growers to ensure they are planting clean, virus-free vine materials.

This sentiment is echoed by French nursery man Lilian Bérillon. In the late 1990s, Bérillon found himself increasingly alarmed at the rampant disease and mortality rate in French vineyards. This led him to launch a self-proclaimed “new grapevine nursery model” in 2005. Bérillon’s approach focuses on massal selections, biodynamic practices in the propagation of his cuttings, and rigorous sorting of newly grafted plants, keeping only plants exhibiting a strong graft union and healthy root system. To ensure his new plants are free from all pests, Bérillon submits them to a laborious hot water treatment prior to sale.

Bérillon’s driving principle is simple. The only way to achieve a healthy, sustainable vineyard capable of growing old and producing high quality wines is to start with a solid foundation; namely clean, robust, genetically diverse planting material.

From the preparation of soils, to the planting of clean plant materials well suited to the site, to the meticulous care required each and every growing season, achieving healthy, old vine vineyards is no easy feat. And yet, the advantages in terms of sustainability, biodiversity, and preserving vineyard heritage are undeniable. For quality minded wine producers, the uniquely complex, characterful wines derived from old vine vineyards are ample proof of their importance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Education

THE GREATEST (ACCIDENTAL) WINE DISCOVERIES

wine discoveries

The art of winemaking dates back over 8000 years. One would think, given this long history, that the skill would have been mastered long ago. But the diversity of grape varieties, styles, regional characteristics and so forth ensure a constant evolution of vinification practices. While many of the most revered wine styles today came about though trial and error, others were little more than accidental wine discoveries.

***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 wine education series. 

When you think about it, our first encounter with wine was accidental. Historians suggest that our ape ancestors discovered alcohol roughly 10 million years ago by eating damaged fruits that had fallen from the tree and fermented. How and when humans first attempted to transform this fruit into a palatable beverage is unknown. However, the earliest evidence of organized winemaking efforts date back to the South Caucasus area (modern day Georgia) circa 6000 BC.

So many of my favourite wine styles can be considered accidental wine discoveries…

Take sparkling wine. Carbonation in wine has existed since ancient Greece and Rome. Why some wines suddenly developed bubbles and others did not was a complete mystery at the time. The effervescence was often attributed to moon phases, or even to good or evil spirits. What these early winemakers did not realize was that the wines they thought had completed fermentation, had in fact not. Once placed into sealed amphorae for sale, certain began re-fermenting, producing carbon dioxide that dissolved into the liquid making bubbles.

According to wine historian Rod Philips, it wasn’t until the 15 to 16 hundreds that sparkling wine became an intentional, commercially produced wine style. Multiple claims exist as to who invented sparkling wine. From the fabled tale of Dom Pérignon seeing stars as he tasted his fizzy creation, to the labours of Benedictine monks in Limoux, to the research trials of a British scientists, the history of sparkling wine remains laced with intrigue.

As wine discoveries go, the creation of fortified wine styles – like Port – was incredibly beneficial for the times. In the 16th and 17th century, wines were often subjected to long sea voyages to reach their customers. During the journey, they were often exposed to overly high oxygen levels and extremes of temperature that caused spoilage. Through out Europe it became common practice to add brandy to the wine casks just before shipping. Brandy was found to act as a preservative – keeping the wine fresher for longer. Upon tasting the richer, sweeter, higher alcohol wines, customers found that they rather liked them and a new wine style was born.

The positive effects that oak ageing can have on wine quality was also among the greatest of accidental wine discoveries. Oak can impart pleasant aromas and flavours to wines, such as cedar, vanilla, and spicy notes. It can also soften wines’ tannins and give a rounder, smoother mouthfeel over time. But these benefits were not the original reasons for maturing wine in oak. Oak barrels were originally used to transport wine. They were lighter for Roman troops to carry than clay amphorae, as they moved further and further afield from Rome. Oak was plentiful in European forests, and a soft enough wood to easily bend into barrel shape.

Just like penicillin, microwave ovens, pacemakers, super-glue, the slinky…some of our greatest inventions in wine have come about entirely by accident. Perhaps with the hands off approach of today’s minimum intervention winemakers, the next accidental wine innovation is in the making.

 

 

 

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TASTING THE WINES OF CAVE SPRING CELLARS

Cave Spring Cellars
Photo Credit: Cave Spring Cellars (Beamsville Bench soil composition)

The end of the 1980s was a wild time for the Ontario wine industry. The newly signed General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT) signalled the end of protectionist measures in Ontario that put local wines on the shelf at substantially lower mark ups than foreign imports. Without these retail advantages, Niagara’s wineries knew that they would no longer be able to knock out the competition on price, and thus begun a remarkable quality revolution.

Among the intrepid pioneers that forged the path, replanting the Niagara Peninsula with noble vinifera grape varieties, were the Pennachetti family. The Cave Spring Cellars winery was established in 1986, though the first vines were planted some 10 years before. Riesling and Chardonnay were selected for the inaugural, Cave Spring Vineyard. This cool site on the Beamsville Bench, with its mineral-rich stony clay tills derived from escarpment limestone, shale, and sandstone (see picture above), rapidly proved its merit.

Cave Spring Cellars quickly became known for the high quality and consistency of their Riesling. Over thirty years later, Riesling remains a focal point for the Pennachetti family, and long time Cave Spring Cellars’ winemaker Angelo Pavan. “They are wines with structure; wines of substance. I pour verticals and people are shocked at how well they age” says Pavan. “They are approachable young. You can drink them today or in 20 – 25 years”. Indeed, in their youth, Cave Spring Cellars Rieslings show all the pretty aromatic brightness of well-made Riesling, yet over time, develop layers of beeswax and lanolin notes, adding complexity and depth.

Today, the Cave Spring Cellars range includes a variety of cool climate white and red cultivars, as well as Riesling Icewine and traditional method sparkling wines. “Our goal” explains Thomas Pennechetti, “is to let our cool climate style shine through”. The focus is on healthy, balanced vines yielding optimally ripened fruit. And with that result achieved, minimal intervention is needed in the cellar. The wines are fermented with indigenous yeast and aged in neutral vessels. The objective? Wines with pure, site specific, varietal character.

Curious to learn more about the taste profile of Cave Spring Cellars’ wines? Lucky for you, I ended my visit with a quick stop at the tasting room to check out the latest vintage releases:

Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs Brut NV Sparkling

This excellent Niagara cuvée regularly adorns my list of great value sparkling wines. Very elegant, with alluring toasty aromas, underscored by lemon, green apple, and floral hints. Mouthwatering acidity and fine, vigorous bubbles and an initially tightly knit structure give way to a smooth, creamy mid-palate. Lots of finesse on the finish. Blend of 60% Chardonnay, 40% Chardonnay Musqué. Ontario Price: 29.95$

Cave Spring Pinot Gris 2018, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Delicate aromas of melon, stone fruit and spice feature on the nose and palate. The palate is fresh and light with a smooth, rounded texture. Really easy drinking as an apéritif and quite a food friendly choice as well. Ontario Price: 16.95$

Cave Spring Estate Riesling 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench

Bursting with yellow apple, ginger, and white floral notes on the nose, this lovely Riesling drinks well above its 20$ price tag. The palate just sings with vibrant, lip-smacking acidity, a taut, light bodied frame, and pleasing depth of flavour. Very focused and pure, with just a faint hint of balanced sweetness. Ontario Price: 19.95$

Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench

Similar aromatic range to the Estate Riesling; the CSV really shows its pedigree on the palate. The racy acidity, firm structure, and very textural mouthfeel combine to create quite an elegant, dry expression of Riesling. The finish is long and lifted with layers of stony mineral, juicy yellow fruit, and delicate honeyed notes. Cellar 5 years + or decant an hour before serving. Ontario Price: 29.95$

Cave Spring Gamay 2018, VQA Niagara Escarpment

Really pretty, aromatic nose featuring violets, crushed black pepper, and just ripe dark berry fruit. The palate is bright and juicy, with a silky texture and soft, rounded finish. Ontario Price: 16.95$

Cave Spring Dolomite Cabernet Franc 2017, VQA Niagara Escarpment

Intense, fragrant aromas of ripe blue and black fruit are underscored by hints of sweet tobacco and bell pepper on the nose. The palate offers crisp acidity, medium weight, and moderate concentration of juicy cassis flavours. Ripe, velvety tannins frame the finish. Winery only: 24.95$

Cave Spring Estate Cabernet Franc 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench

The Estate Cabernet Franc shows all the perfumed fruit of the Dolomite cuvée but with the added complexity of dark chocolate, tobacco, and hints of cedar on the nose and palate. Medium weight, with a dense, concentrated mid-palate, and fine-grained tannins. Vibrant acidity reigns through out, lifting and lengthening the finish. Ontario Price: 39.95$

Where to Buy Cave Spring Cellars wines: Cave Spring Cellars on-line, a wide selection at the LCBO, and the Niagara Peninsula Dry Riesling 2017 at the SAQ (enquire with Québec agent: Séléctions Oeno for private import listings)

 

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AFFORDABLE SPARKLING WINES: THRIFTY SHOPPER’S GUIDE 2019

affordable sparkling wines

The festive season is here! Time to head to your local wine merchant and stock up on holiday tipples. Before you panic about what to buy, check out my thrifty shopper’s guide to the best, affordable sparkling wines of 2019.

If you are a curious minded wine lover and would like to know how sparkling wines get their bubbles, how to tell a dry from sweet style, and why fizz makes us festive, check out my sparkling wine primer article here.

Alternatively, if you prefer to curl up with a nice glass of wine and video I’ve also got you covered. Simply scroll down below my recommendations to learn all about Cava, Crémant, and other great affordable sparkling wines.

Now let’s get down to my thrifty shopper favourites for 2019’s best affordable sparkling wines. These wines were selected from a series of recent industry tastings:

Villa Sandi Il Fresco Prosecco DOC (Italy)

Classic Prosecco aromas of pear drop and peach, mingle with subtle floral notes on this light, easy drinking bubbly. The palate is clean and fruity with large, smooth bubbles, and a subtly off-dry finish. Great lower alcohol option at 11% abv. Perfect for cocktails.

Where to buy: SAQ (15.25$), LCBO (15.95$)

Bodegas Sumarroca Brut Nature Gran Reserva 2015 Brut (Spain)

Seductive nose featuring toasty, biscuity nuances, roasted almond, and baked pear. Fine bubbles and moderate acidity give way to a broad, ample, creamy textured mid-palate fairly brimming with toasted, ripe fruited flavours. If you like a leesy, ripe, brut style of bubbly, this is a steal at under 20$.

Where to Buy: SAQ (17.15$)

Château Moncontour Cuvée Prédilection Vouvray Brut 2016, (France)

This Vouvray sparkling wine offers excellent Chenin Blanc typicity with its nervy, high acid and aromas of red apple, raw honey and beeswax. Really zesty and light on the palate, with vigorous bubbles and a bright, fruity finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (19.80$), LCBO (try the Tête de Cuvée Brut Vouvray: 19.95$)

Bailly Lapierre Crémant de Bourgogne Réserve Brut (France)

Lovely orchard fruit, ripe lemon nuances on the nose underscored by delicate notes of brioche. Brisk acidity and vibrant bubbles lead into a medium-bodied, subtly creamy, moderately concentrated core. Quite a ripe fruited, rounded finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (21.00$), LCBO (19.95$, also available in half bottles)

Juvé y Camps Reserva de la Familia 2016, Cava Gran Reserva (Spain)

This Gran Reserva Cava, aged 36 months on lees, is quite a serious bottle of bubbly for the price. Lovely patisserie notes, mingle with ripe pear and yellow apple notes on the nose. The palate is fresh, broad, and pleasingly textural with nutty, honeyed nuances, well delineated, persistent bubbles, and a very dry, lifted finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (22.00$)

Bernard Massard Chardonnay Brut (Luxembourg)

A delicate, attractive nose offering hints of acacia, lemon, and apricot skins, with very subtle leesy undertones. Crisp, light and quite elegant on the palate with really vibrant pear and apple flavours, fine bubbles, and a touch of refreshing bitterness on the dry finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (23.60$), LCBO (try Massard’s Cuvée de L’Écusson: 19.95$)

Patrick Piuze Non Dosé Méthode Traditionnelle (France)

Quite a complex aromatic array for the price, featuring notes of lemon curd, yellow apple, bread dough, and wet stone. Racy and taut, with a moderately concentrated core of oxidative honeyed, nutty flavours. Very harmonious, with ripe fruit providing a nice counterweight to the vigorous mousse, mouthwatering acidity and bone dry finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (24.15$) – also available in magnums!

François Mikulski Crémant De Bourgogne 2016

Very elegant, Champagne drink-a-like bubbles from a fantastic Meursault producer. This blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and a dash of Aligoté is aged on its lees for 18 months. It has enticing lemon, yellow apple, biscuit aromas on the nose. The palate is really crisp and lively, with well delineated bubbles, a layered citrussy mid-palate and dry, lifted finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (27.35$)

Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs Brut Sparkling (Ontario, Canada)

This excellent Niagara cuvée regularly adorns my list of great value sparkling wines. Very elegant, with alluring toasty aromas, underscored by lemon, green apple, and floral hints. Mouthwatering acidity and fine, vigorous bubbles and an initially tightly knit structure give way to a smooth, creamy mid-palate. Lots of finesse on the finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (29.90$), LCBO (27.95$, on special!)

Education Life

Fast & Easy Ways to Remove Red Wine Stains

Red wine stains can signal the end of your favourite shirt, or your pristine white couch. Around my house, red wine stains are a frequent occurrence! I have tried pretty much every method I know of to get rid of red wine stains – from white wine, to club soda, to salt – and none of them really work. Thankfully, I finally discovered a fast, easy and super effective method to remove red wine stains.

Check out the video below to learn more…and while you are at it, why not click the little subscribe button in the bottom right hand corner so you never miss an episode of my wine education YouTube series!

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How to Find the Best Sauvignon Blanc Wines

sauvignon blanc wines
Photo credit: nzwine.com

Sauvignon Blanc wines can be found on virtually every retail shelf and wine list around the globe. This is hardly surprising, given that Sauvignon Blanc is the third most planted white grape variety world-wide. Different theories exist, but most experts agree that it hails from the Loire Valley in France.

Fun fact about Sauvignon Blanc, it is actually one of the parent grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon.

***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. 

So, how does it taste?

Sauvignon Blanc wines are generally high in acidity, dry, and fairly light bodied, with moderate alcohol; the very definition of thirst quenching. Sauvignon Blanc wines feature citrus fruits, gooseberries, fresh cut grass, and wet stone notes in cool areas. In warmer climates, riper and more intense flavours of passion fruit, guava, or peach are common. Sauvignon Blanc wines can also have some surprising aromatics…like sweat or cat pee. This may sound off putting, but mingled with Sauvignon’s fruity and vegetal flavour palate, the combination somehow works.

Where does the best Sauvignon Blanc come from?

Pretty much every wine producing country makes Sauvignon Blanc wines, and many produce outstanding examples. Some of the best known growing areas for high quality Sauvignon Blanc include:

France

The Loire Valley is quite a cool climate, revered for its elegant, restrained style of Sauvignon Blanc. Common features include piercing acidity, a lean, taut structure, and mineral-laden aromatics. Loire Sauvignon Blanc wines are rarely aged in new oak and tend to be bone-dry. Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé are the most famous Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc vineyard areas.

Sauvignon Blanc is also a major grape in Bordeaux, but here, it is often blended with another white wine grape: Sémillon. There are two major styles of dry Sauvignon Blanc wines in Bordeaux: one fairly simple, crisp, and light-bodied – notable appellations include Bordeaux and the Entre-Deux-Mers. The second style is much richer and weightier with toasty, vanilla flavours from extended ageing in oak barrels. The best of these more opulent wines come from the Pessac-Léognan appellation in the Graves area south of Bordeaux. Sauvignon Blanc is also an important blending component for the sweet, botrytised wines of Sauternes, but that is a topic for another post.

Finally, the Côtes de Gascogne appellation in the South West of France makes zesty, light, grassy Sauvignon Blanc that is often great value.

New Zealand

The majority of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wines come from the Marlborough region on the country’s South Island. Cooling sea breezes allow for excellent acid retention in this otherwise warm, sunny climate. This makes for Sauvignon Blanc that has really refreshing, mouthwatering acidity but also very ripe, fruity flavours. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc wines are known for their pungent grassy aromas. They have a touch more body than Loire Sauvignon Blanc wines, giving a rounder, smoother texture. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is generally unoaked, but some really interesting, flinty, lightly oaked premium Sauvignon Blanc wines are also being made.

Australia

Two regions making particularly exciting Sauvignon Blanc wines in Australia are Margaret River and the Adelaide Hills.

Margaret River, in Western Australia, often blends Sauvignon Blanc with Sémillon. The wines range from quite lean and unoaked to medium bodied and lightly oaked. They have crisp acidity and intriguing flavours, marrying vegetal, asparagus or green bean type notes, with tart gooseberry and citrus nuances, and intense lemon curd and passion fruit flavours.

Sauvignon Blanc generally performs a solo act in the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia. It is usually unoaked here, with lots of bright citrus, peach, guava type aromas. It is light, refreshing, smooth and dry.

California

Sauvignon Blanc wines are produced at all price points and quality levels in California. The most famous style is the Fumé Blanc, especially from the Napa Valley. The term Fumé Blanc was coined by legendary Napa winemaker Robert Mondavi, to indicate a dry, oaked, smoky scented style of Sauvignon Blanc. Stylistically, these Sauvignon Blanc wines are similar to Margaret River and Bordeaux oaked Sauvignons – with a weightier mouthfeel, more overt, ripe fruit, and pronounced toasty, vanilla oak flavours.

Other Rising Stars

South Africa and Chile also make fantastic Sauvignon Blanc wines in a range of styles. Higher acid, more mineral-driven, restrained wines can be found in Leyda, Chile or Elim and Elgin in South Africa. For riper, richer, fruitier Sauvignon Blanc wines look to the Casablanca Valley in Chile, and the Coastal Region districts of Constantia, Stellenbosch and Paarl in South Africa.

How should I drink Sauvignon Blanc?

Sauvignon Blanc is best served chilled, with light-bodied, unoaked wines at 8 – 10°C and fuller bodied, richer SB at 10 – 12°C.

For me, the ultimate food partner for Sauvignon Blanc is a goat cheese. If you ever visit the town of Sancerre, you will be served the local Sauvignon Blanc wines with crottin de Chavignol goat cheese. The pairing is divine! Sauvignon Blanc wines also work nicely with grilled white fish, oysters, green salads with lemony vinaigrettes, and asparagus…a notoriously tricky vegetable to pair with wine.

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GOOD, AFFORDABLE WINE FINDS FOR FALL

good, affordable wine

We can’t all buy 20$ + wines on a regular basis. Especially if you are like me, and enjoy a glass of wine most evenings. Fortunately, it is possible to find good, affordable wine that drinks well above its modest price tag.

At a recent tasting, I was impressed to see the pride with which a producer of mainly premium wines presented his sub-15$, entry-level wine. This was his introductory wine – as much of a flagship for the estate as his icon wine.

Not so long ago, wineries producing both every day wines and fine wine would take great pains to disassociate the two. The cheaper wines were sold under separate brand names. If the estate name was given, it was buried in the legal mentions on the back label.

While this practice still exists, it seems that an increasing number of vintners are reclaiming their “little wines”. Producing a good, affordable wine has become a point of honour, and a testament to the winemaker’s skill.

With sufficient expertise, and the right equipment, it is comparably easy to make high quality wine from a superior vineyard plot of optimally ripened grapes. However low priced wines are generally made from young vines and/ or high yielding vineyard sites. The grapes aren’t always in pristine condition and haven’t necessarily reached ideal ripeness levels. Their flavours are simpler, and more dilute.

Any number of winemaking tricks can be deployed in an attempt to hide the inadequacies of inferior grapes, but – much like the adage of putting lipstick on a pig – the resultant wines are often disappointing. The flavours and structural elements (acidity, tannins, body, etc.) seem disjointed.

To me, the definition of a good, affordable wine is one that tastes balanced. It likely isn’t a marvel of complexity or concentration, but it appears harmonious on the palate.

As fine wine prices continue to source (see recent article), many wine lovers are obliged to trade down and estates are increasingly being judged on their lower tier offerings. Producing a good, affordable wine is therefore the gateway to trial, to consumer loyalty, and hopefully, to instilling the confidence necessary for an occasional splurge on the estate’s fine wines.

The past couple of months have brought a handful of these little beauties my way. Top picks include:

Lykos Winery “Pop Art” White 2017, IGP Peloponnese (Greece)

Bright lemon, green apple, flinty aromas on the nose give way to a crisp, light-bodied, dry palate, with subtle nutty flavours, and a clean, refreshing finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (15.80$)

Kir-Yianni Paranga Roditis Malagousia 2018, IGP Macedonia (Greece)

Discreet nose featuring lemon, pear, and wild herbs. Fresh and light-bodied, with a bright citrus-driven mid-palate, and dry, herbal finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (13.90$)

Aranleon Blés Valencia Crianza 2017, DO Valencia (Spain)

This vibrant, organic red is a blend of Montastrell (aka Mourvèdre), Tempranillo, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Ripe, brambly red and black berry notes feature on the nose and palate. Light and silky with soft tannins.

Where to Buy: SAQ (14.55$)

The Wolftrap Syrah, Mourvèdre, Viognier 2017, Western Cape (South Africa)

Attractive aromas of baked red cherry, with underlying floral, spiced nuances. Smooth and easy drinking on on the medium weight palate, with soft tannins, and a pleasantly warming finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (14$), LCBO (14.95$)

Bacalhoa “Catarina Tinto” 2015, Setúbal Peninsula (Portugal)

Made from the native Castelão grape (aka Periquita) blended with Alicante Bouschet. Deep, brooding ruby colour, with matching intensity of ultra-ripe dark plum and black cherry aromas. Rich, full-bodied, and velvetty smooth on the palate, with hints of dark chocolate and vanilla spice on the finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (14.55$)

Rocca delle Macie “Sasyr” 2015, IGT Toscana (Italy) 

Sangiovese is blended with Syrah on this rich, spicy Tuscan red. The nose is redolent with baked red cherries and black pepper. The palate boasts fresh acidity that underscores the ripe fruit flavours nicely. Subtly chalky tannins provide fine structure for this good value every day red.

Where to buy: SAQ (15.80$)

Education Reviews Wines

THE TROUBLE WITH NATURAL WINE FANATICS…

natural wine fanatics

I live in a city awash with natural wine fanatics. I am a little less ardent in my appreciation. That is not to say there aren’t scores of natural wines that I like. There are. I found a whole lot to love at the Raw Wine show in Montréal last week.

The natural wine movement has done a lot for the world of wine. It has encouraged wineries of all sizes and doctrines to re-think their winemaking methods and decrease the quantity of potentially unnecessary additives. It has pushed the boundaries of experimentation in the vineyards and cellar. It has created new wine styles, offering consumers greater vinous choice. And it has yielded some fabulous, passionate advocates that do a great job educating wine lovers.

Unfortunately, it has also spawned a generation of natural wine fanatics; a breed of super fans that range from tiresomely vocal enthusiasts to closed minded zealots.

…the judgmental attitude of die-hard natural wine fanatics is doing a disservice to the entire natural wine movement.

Psychologist Jeremy Sherman, PhD describes fanatics as “…people who indulge in a heady, intoxicating and toxic concoction of self-affirming, know-it-all confidence that they have unique access to absolute truths, truths so perfect that they have to impose them on everyone.” It is exactly this mentality that makes me wary each time I enter a natural wine heavy establishment.

In my opinion, the judgmental attitude of die-hard natural wine fanatics is doing a disservice to the entire natural wine movement – alienating, rather than welcoming, potential new consumers.  In some quarters, there is almost a school yard mentality at play. Drinkers of anything other than natural wines are looked down on like kids on a playground wearing unfashionable clothes.

I remember being in a Parisian wine bar eight years ago politely listening to the sommelier expounding his theories on the superiority of natural wines. He insisted on choosing our wines  for us all night long. We made the appropriate noises, nodded, smiled, and on our way out, understanding that we were in the wine trade, he asked where we worked. We named the winery. His look of disgust was almost farcical. And he said, his words dripping with disdain, “Oh, I’ve heard of them. They’re conventional“.

…drinkers of anything other than natural wines are looked down on like kids on a playground wearing unfashionable clothes.

The urge natural wine fanatics feel to evangelize is frankly just irritating. If I dare to admit not liking a certain natural wine, I don’t want to listen to a super fan arguing with me, or rhapsodizing about the winemaker’s vision. This will not change my mind, or make the wine taste better.

Of course I prefer to drink wines that are made in an ethical, sustainable manner. A winemaker who sees themselves as a custodian of their vineyards for future generations is one I can get behind. Especially if said winemaker’s values extent to how they treat their staff, and their community. If that wine also happens to be made using only natural yeasts, with no additives, or maybe just a drop of sulphur at bottling, so much the better.

However, I will not suffer through a skin contact white with tannins so bitter they make my taste buds weep. I won’t marvel over a murky, gamey rosé. And, I refuse to drink a wine that tastes more like beer or cider. If I wanted beer or cider, I’d order it. Sure, the producer might have a compelling winemaking philosophy…but you can’t drink ideology. Or at least I can’t.

Sure, the producer might have a compelling winemaking philosophy…but you can’t drink ideology. 

To me, the world of wine is so marvellous because of its diversity of styles and flavour profiles. There is truly a wine out there for every budget and every palate. Opinion formers in the wine trade – sommeliers, wine merchants, wine writers, educators, etc. – have a vital role to play today in teaching consumers about the importance of supporting wineries working sustainably in their vineyards and cellars. However, we are there to act as guides, not dictators.

Why can’t we just drink and let drink?

Speaking of which…let’s get to the wines. A handful of the producers that really impressed me at Raw Wine Montréal and various other recent tastings of natural or low interventionist winemakers include:

Bret Brothers & La Soufrandière, biodynamic producers from the Maconnais region of Burgundy. Incredibly precise, mineral, textured whites.

Pearl Morissette, minimal interventionist winemakers from  the Niagara Peninsula, Ontario. Beautifully nuanced Chardonnay, Riesling & Cabernet Franc.

Domaine Frédéric Brouca, passionate producer of old vine wines on the Schist soils of Faugères. Lovely, pure Cinsault and bold, yet balanced Mourvèdre-Syrah blends.

Domaine aux Moines, organic producers currently undergoing biodynamic conversion. Racy, elegant Savennières.

Château Maris, a biodynamic, sulpher-avoiding producer  in Minervois-la-Livinière (who doesn’t choose to label himself a natural wine maker). Textured, expansive Grenache Gris and bold, fragrant Syrah.

Domaine Mann, an organic producer from Alsace. Lovely crémant, aromatic, layered Pinot Gris, and long-lived Riesling.

Reyneke, producer of organic and biodynamic wines from Stellenbosch, South Africa. Vibrant Chenin Blanc and rich, concentrated Syrah.

 

 

 

Reviews Wines

TASTING THE WINES OF MULLINEUX & LEEU

wines of mullineux

I first met Chris and Andrea Mullineux in South Africa back in 2007 under the shade of a kindly old tree at the Tulbagh Mountain Winery (now Fable Wines). Over the course of a leisurely lunch they laid out their plans to move west; to a region then better known for wheat than wine – the Swartland.

Their eyes shone at the idea of setting up in this new frontier. It offered the ideal, Mediterranean climate to craft wines from the Rhône varieties they had come to love during their internship years in Southern France. They were also toying with the idea of producing a straw wine.

I caught up with Chris and Andrea in France a few times in the ensuing years and they gave modest accounts of their Swartland winemaking adventures. It wasn’t until I emerged from my sleepy Gigondas existence, and started following international press accounts, that I discovered their impressive rise in prominence.

Last week, I was offered the opportunity to taste through the current Mullineux Swartland range available here in Montreal. Mullineux’s sales director Nicola Tipping led us through the tasting, and explained the nuances of terroir that give each wine such distinctive personality.

The schist soils of the Kasteelberg bring structure, body, and freshness, while 40  km away the decomposed granite of the Paardeberg gives racier acidity and flinty minerality. Between the two rocky outcrops, iron-rich soils offer a grippier, more concentrated expression. Mullineux’s wines are a testament to these varied soils and to the region’s benevolent climate.

To me, the common thread throughout the tasting was a sense of harmony. The Chenin Blanc based white wines showed mouthwatering acidity perfectly pitched against bright fruit and/ or textural weight. The Syrah-dominant red wines were fairly bold and weighty as should be expected from this hot South African region, yet displayed lovely freshness and juicy fruit flavours. The oak imprint is subtle if at all noticeable, and the Syrah tannins are ripe and rounded.

And the straw wine?

The project did indeed come to fruition, garnering an impressive 96 points Wine Advocate in its first vintage. Each subsequent vintage has achieved similar scores and sells out quickly.

Want to try a Mullineux wine for yourself? Check out my tasting notes from the event, and see which wines are available near you.

Kloof Street Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2018, Swartland

Really bright fruit on the nose, with tropical nuances underscored by ripe lemon, yellow apple, and subtle stony mineral hints. Very clean on the palate, with piercing acidity, a round, juicy fruited core, and dry, citrus-driven finish. Cool fermented in tank and a small portion of neutral barrels.

Where to Buy: SAQ (22.20$), LCBO (19.70$)

Mullineux Old Vines White 2018, Swartland

A blend of mainly Chenin Blanc, with white Rhône varietals, and a splash of Sémillon Gris. Initially quite flinty, with aromas of ripe lemon, yellow apple, gooseberry, and anis developing with aeration. The palate shows lovely balance of racy acidity, lifting the weighty, creamy textured mid-palate nicely. Finishes dry, with attractive nutty flavours, and well integrated toasty oak hints. Barrel fermented with native yeasts. Aged 11 months in mainly 3rd and 4th fill French casks.

Where to Buy: LCBO (37.95$). Private import in Québec, enquire with agent: Rézin.

Mullineux “Granite” Chenin Blanc 2018, Swartland

Slightly muted on the nose, with nuances of yellow orchard and stone fruit, hints of marzipan, and flint. This impressive wine really comes alive on the palate, with its powerful, tightly wound expression, its depth of honeyed yellow fruit, its mouthwatering acidity, and lingering saline finish. Needs a few years in cellar to unfurl, but should be a stunner. 40-year-old, dry farmed Chenin Blanc grapes, grown in granite soils. Barrel fermented with native yeasts. Aged 11 months in mainly 3rd and 4th fill French casks.

Where to buy: Special release at SAQ in Feb. 2020 (95.00$), enquire with agent in Ontario: Nicolas Pearce Wines

Kloof Street Red 2017, Swartland

Predominantly Syrah, with a touch of old vine Cinsault and Carignan. An easy drinking red with attractive plum, red currant, and cherry aromas. Light, smooth, and rounded on the palate, with juicy red fruit flavours, and soft tannins. Partial whole bunch fermentation at cool temperatures. Brief maturation in neutral oak.

Where to buy: SAQ (22.90$), enquire with agent in Ontario: Nicolas Pearce Wines

Mullineux Syrah 2016, Swartland

Intense aromas of smoked meat, baked red and black fruit, and black olive tapenade feature on the nose. Dense and brooding on the palate, giving way to a bright, juicy fruited core bringing lift and freshness. Finishes dry, with muscular tannins, and hints of tobacco and sweet spice.

Where to buy: SAQ (46.00$), LCBO (47.00$)

Mullineux “Granite” Syrah 2016, Swartland

Very elegant Syrah, with an alluring nose of violets, dark chocolate, red currant, and baked black fruit, with a subtle gamey undertone. The palate is full-bodied and firm in structure, yet pleasingly suave in texture with ripe, polished tannins. Highly concentrated flavours of juicy red and black fruit mingle with meaty nuances, lingering long on the finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (145.00$), enquire with agent in Ontario: Nicolas Pearce Wines

Mullineux “Schist” Syrah 2016, Swartland

Similar in weight and concentration, but with more blue and black fruit on the nose, underscored by both game and herbal nuances. The palate displays an attractive chalky texture and fine-grained tannins; more sinewy in nature than the Granite. Finishes wonderfully fresh, with layers of vibrant dark fruit and refreshing herbal hints.

Where to buy: SAQ (140.00$), enquire with agent in Ontario: Nicolas Pearce Wines

Mullineux Straw Wine 2018, Swartland

Wonderfully fragrant, with notes of pineapple, apricot, candied lemon, and honey fairly leaping from the glass. Searing acidity cuts through the concentrated core and honeyed sweetness effortlessly, and provides lovely lift on the long, crystalline finish.

100% Chenin Blanc grapes are picked at optimal ripeness to preserve vibrant acidity. Grapes are dried 2 – 4 weeks on outdoor, shaded straw mats, leading to an evaporation of (up to) 80% of liquid.  Cool, slow fermentation follows with native yeasts lasting upwards of 6 months in neutral barrels.

Where to buy: Sadly not available. Enquire with agents: RézinNicolas Pearce Wines

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