All Posts By

Jacky Blisson

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!

Reviews

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.

Reviews Wines

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?

End of rant…now, let’s get to the wines. A handful of the wineries that really impressed me at Raw Wine Montréal and some 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

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$