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Jacky Blisson

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Wine Region Stereotypes: A Sancerre Story

Wine region stereotypes

Wine Region Stereotypes: A Sancerre Story

Photo credit: Domaine Joseph Mellot

The sheer volume of wines being produced from an ever-increasing number of countries and regions is enough to leave even the most wine savvy shoppers feeling overwhelmed. Especially now, when picking out a bottle means lining up, disinfecting, playing the two-metre dance around fellow patrons and generally trying to get the hell out as fast as possible.

Since the lock-down many retailers are reporting sales spikes for well-known wine brands. This, of course, makes sense. Wine is a pleasure and a comfort in uncertain times. The consistency brands offer in terms of quality and taste profile is massively appealing.

Once could argue (and many have), that in the Old World, the region is the brand. You may not be able to list individual producers from any of these places, but names like Champagne, Rioja, and Chianti resonate. They embody a style of wine with distinctive aromas, flavours, and textures that have been honed over the centuries.

Famous for its racy, elegant Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre also produces small volumes of Pinot Noir-based rosé and red wine.

Sancerre is one such example. This 2900-hectare vineyard in the eastern part of the Loire Valley can trace its history back to antiquity. Famous for its racy, elegant Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre also produces small volumes of Pinot Noir-based rosé and red wine.

The region consists of low-lying hills and valleys, with three distinct soil types: Les Terres Blanches (clay-limestone soils), Les Caillotes (predominantly limestone), and Silex soils (clay, limestone, and silica mix). While these diverse elevations, orientations and soil types give a range of Sancerre styles, it is the taut, flinty, understated examples that have defined the region.

But what happens when wines from well-known brand-regions don’t fit their wine region stereotypes?

The other day I opened a bottle of Sancerre with a French friend. The wine was immensely drinkable (in my humble opinion). It had vibrant fruity aromas, balanced acidity, good depth of flavour and a dry, refreshing finish. And yet, my friend was disappointed. For him, a Sancerre without razor-sharp acidity and strident minerality was no Sancerre, and therefore no good.

I couldn’t help but wonder if he would have been so dismissive if he hadn’t known the wine’s origin?

Variations in weather conditions, site, and winemaking techniques can all result in radically different wines.

There are a multitude of reasons why various wines from the same grape variety and vineyard region taste differently. The Sancerre in question came from the exceptionally warm 2019 vintage. In warmer than average growing seasons, Sancerre’s usual tart green fruit and searing high acid gives way to riper stone or even tropical fruit and softer, rounder acidity.

Differing vineyard sites and individual winery choices in terms of vineyard care, yield levels, harvest date, and winemaking techniques can also affect a wine’s flavours, even in classically cool vintages. This is a hot topic of debate between traditional and modern wine producers the world over.

Should wines from famed regions conform to the region’s “branded” taste profile, or should they be a reflection of a specific vineyard site, or a vintage, or a winery’s unique vinification style? Will classic wine styles be lost if too many producers seek to differentiate their wines?

For certain regions, climate is the biggest factor shifting wine region stereotypes. Even the most ardent defenders of traditional, regional styles are helpless when faced with warming temperatures and increasingly erratic weather patterns. In Germany’s Mosel Valley, it is more and more challenging to produce the delicate, racy Rieslings that were once the norm. And in Sancerre, riper, fruitier wines are regularly to be found now.

Not all wines from famous regions fit their stereotypes, but this doesn’t necessarily make them lesser bottlings.

While you may think this adds yet another layer of confusion in the already fraught business of buying wine, perhaps it is enough to simply remember this: not all wines fit their wine region stereotypes, but this doesn’t necessarily make them lesser bottlings. If you want a classic example, don your mask and check with store staff. Otherwise, take a risk and judge the wine on pleasure alone.

The wines that sparked these musings were generously supplied by Québec wine agency: AOC & Cie Check out my tasting notes below.

Joseph Mellot Sancerre (blanc) La Chatellenie 2019, Loire Valley

Highly aromatic, with white peach and grapefruit notes fairly leaping from the glass. With aeration, hints of gooseberry and fresh-cut grass emerge. The palate is crisp and lively with a medium-bodied, rounded structure and really juicy peach, lime and herbal flavours that linger on the dry, lifted finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (26.00$)

Joseph Mellot Sancerre (rosé) Le Rabault  2019

Medium salmon pink in colour, with attractive red currant, rhubarb, and pink grapefruit aromas marrying nicely with an underlying earthiness on the nose. The palate is fresh, medium-weight and smooth, with a concentrated core of just-ripe red berries. Finishes dry, with a pleasant hint of refreshing bitterness. While this is a lovely aperitif rosé, it has the depth and body to pair nicely with a range of summery dishes.

Where to buy: SAQ (26.80$)

Reviews Wines

Affordable Wine Finds from Portugal

affordable wine finds

Shopping in stores is a stressful business these days. The line ups, the distancing, the masks, the fear of touching anyone or anything…  The days of browsing liquor store aisles at a leisurely pace, hunting down great, affordable wine finds seem but a distant memory.

Our current grab and go approach to in-store wine purchasing has led to major sales increases in bag-in-box wines and budget-friendly name brands around the globe. It makes sense. Uncertain times make inexensive, known brands all the more appealing. However, as the pandemic stretches on with no forseeable end in sight, you may find yourself in danger of falling into a bit of a wine rut.

Personally, I can’t think of anything more depressing than drinking the same wine everyday. It would be like eating the same meal or watching the same movie. In this bizarre, Ground Hog’s Day-like period, I find any novelty welcome. Luckily, widely available, affordable wine finds are plentiful these days. Case in point: the Coroa d’Ouro brand from Pocas.

The Coroa d’Ouro range of Douro Valley white and red table wines were launched 30 years ago and the brand is still going strong. My regular readers will know how fond of Portuguese wines I am in terms of affordable wine finds. From vibrant, layered whites to bold, yet elegant reds and luscious fortified wines, Portugal is hard to beat.

I recently received a sampling of Pocas wines and was immediately struck by the quality/price ratio. These are clean, well-made wines with no artifice or undue pretension. To learn a little more before picking up a bottle, check out my tasting notes on these affordable wine finds below:

Pocas, Coroa d’Ouro Branco 2018, Douro, Portugal

The Coroa d’Ouro Branco is a perfect everyday white for lovers of crisp, light-bodied, dry wines. It offers delicate lemon, herbal aromas on the nose and a smooth palate, with tangy, lemon curd flavours and a touch of refreshing citrus pith bitterness on the finish. 13% alcohol.

Where to Buy: SAQ (12.65$),

Poças, Vale de Cavalos Branco 2018, Douro, Portugal

A blend of native Portuguese white grapes: Codega, Gouveio Rabigato and Viosinho. Somewhat reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc on the nose with its vibrant gooseberry and lemon aromas, differentiated by intriguing hints of spearmint. Light in body, yet quite textural on the mid-palate, with really bright acidity and tangy green fruit and dried herb flavours. Dry, unoaked and refreshing. 13.5% alcohol.

Where to Buy: SAQ (16.60$)

Pocas, Coroa d’Ouro Tinto 2017, Douro, Portugal

A pleasant, simple, highly versatile red that will pair well with a wide variety of dishes. If you like unoaked Côtes-du-Rhône reds, this will likely suit your palate. Ripe mixed berries and a hint of spice on the nose. Fresh, medium-bodied, and smooth with juicy red fruit flavours. It finishes dry with fine, powdery tannins. 13% abv. Serve slightly chilled (16 – 18c).

Where to Buy: SAQ (13.95$, also available in magnums!)

Poças, Vale de Cavalos Tinto 2017, Douro, Portugal

This is a typical Douro blend with a dominance of Touriga Nacional, prized in the region for its elegance, florality and bold structure. Ripe black plum, dried herbs, hints of black licorice and baked fig feature on the nose. The palate is moderately firm, with juicy acidity and attractive black fruit and dark chocolate flavours. Medium weight, chalky tannins frame the dry finish. Pleasantly warming. 13.5% alcohol. Serve slightly chilled (16 – 18c).

Where to Buy: SAQ (17.95$)

Reviews Wines

Drink Local Wine This Week-End

drink local wine
Photo credit: Stratus Vineyards

The imperative to drink local wine has never been stronger. Lock-down has deprived our wineries of two huge revenue streams: their on-site tasting rooms and their restaurant accounts. Sadly, whereas most country’s around the globe are proud to drink local wine, we eastern Canadians remain reluctant to embrace our growing wine industry.

I recently completed a series of interviews with Ontario wineries and almost all respondents mentioned the challenges they face convincing domestic consumers to drink local wine. “We’re still at that stage where it feels like our last worst wine is the one we get judged by” lamented one producer. Sure there are still poor quality wines made in Canada…just as there are disappointing wines from France, Italy, California and everywhere else on the winemaking globe. We do our winemakers a disservice when we stop trying local wines after one or two bad bottles.

Judging at the National Wine Awards of Canada last summer (article here) really drove home the excellent quality available from coast to coast. It also underlined the huge stylistic diversity of which we are capable – from racy, sweet-and-sour Rieslings, to elegant Sparkling wines, Chardonnay of every imaginable description, juicy Gamay, ripe, herbaceous Cabernet Franc….the list goes on and on.

While we pine away at home, looking for ways to stay apart yet come together, perhaps another gesture of solidarity could be making the choice to drink local wine.

Here are a few nice options in the 20 – 30$ range to get you started:

Domaine Bergeville Le Blanc Brut 2018

Located in Hatley, in the Eastern Townships, Domaine de Bergeville is one of Québec’s most respected wineries. Given the region’s icy winters and humid summers, their commitment to organic and biodynamic viticulture is a feat of courage and skill. Dry and ultra-refreshing, this clean, taut sparkling wine features tangy green fruit flavours and fine, lingering bubbles. Look out for the rosé, also in stores now.

Where to Buy: SAQ (27.85$)

Stratus Vineyards Tollgate Chardonnay 2017

This voluptuous Chardonnay, with its heady notes of melted butter and crème caramel, its medium bodied and rounded palate, is nicely balanced by vibrant acidity, tangy red apple and ripe lemon flavours and a lifted, subtly toasted finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (24.95$), LCBO (24.95$)

La Cantina Vallée d’Oka Rosé du Calvaire 2019, Québec

You will have to move quickly to snag a few bottles of this little gem. Last summer the stores in my neighbourhood couldn’t keep it in stock.  Imagine the bright, tangy rhubarb and red berry notes of cool climate Pinot Noir, combined with the rounded, subtly textural mouthfeel of Chardonnay….all in a pretty pink package.

Where to Buy: SAQ (19.95$)

Château des Charmes Gamay Noir ‘Droit’ 2017, Niagara, Ontario

Just a ferociously gluggable Gamay. The Château des Charmes”Droit” cuvée really showcases the St David’s Bench terroir nicely with its medium body, ripe dark fruit aromas and velvetty texture, all nicely balanced by really refreshing acidity and tangy fruit flavours.

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

Tawse Winery Unfiltered Cabernet Franc 2017, Niagara, Ontario

2017 was a rainy, tempestuous vintage saved by a long, warm fall that yielded some really top notch wines in Niagara. This is a lovely mid-way style for Cabernet Franc with rich, ripe blue and black fruit balancing out hints of bell pepper and sweet tobacco. Fresh and full-bodied on the palate with a suave texture, juicy dark fruit flavours and fine, chalky tannins.

Where to Buy: SAQ (29.95$)

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.

 

 

 

Reviews Wines

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)

 

Reviews Wines

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!

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$)