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Jacky Blisson

Producers Reviews Wines

Producer Profile – Ferraton Père et Fils

Saint Joseph - Ferraton
Photo credit: Ferraton Père & Fils (Saint Joseph vineyards)

The French have a wonderful word for describing certain wines: digeste. I have never been able to find an adequate counterpart in English. The literal translation is digestable which, one would hope, most wines are.

Basically, the term refers to wines that are elegant, balanced and fresh, with low to medium alcohol. In my experience, these are the kind of wines that make you thirsty for another sip and, when consumed in moderation, won’t leave you fuzzy headed the next morning. They are pretty much the exact opposite of the big, oaky fruit bombs that coat your tongue, and finish warm and boozy.

Cool climate Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc are the most frequently cited digeste reds. And what of Syrah? Cue the raised eyebrows. If you think Syrah (aka Shiraz) is the poster child for massive, jammy reds, you have clearly not tasted enough Northern Rhône.

In the Northern hemisphere, the vast majority of wine growing regions lie within the 30th and 50th degree of latitude. The 45th parallel runs directly through the Crozes-Hermitage appellation, making the Northern Rhône among the more northerly, cooler vineyards of Europe.

If you think Syrah (aka Shiraz) is the poster child for massive, jammy reds, you have clearly not tasted enough Northern Rhône.

Syrah here is mainly crisp and lively, with tart red fruit, medium body and earthy, peppery flavours. The famed hill of Hermitage and roasted slopes of Côte Rôtie offer denser, more powerful reds yet, even here, beautifully fresh acidity and tangy fruit flavours provide exceptional balance and, yes, digestibility.

A couple of weeks back, I had the good fortune to attend a tasting of Ferraton Père & Fils wines. Before we delve into the reviews, I’ll give you a little background on the estate.

Ferraton Père & Fils was established seventy-odd years ago. Jean Orens Ferraton started out with just one tiny plot of land; less than half a hectare of Hermitage. The estate was passed down, as the name suggests, from father to son for several generations. As time passed, the estate grew, acquiring well situated parcels of Crozes Hermitage, Hermitage and St Joseph.

Concern for the health and sustainability of their vineyards led the Ferraton family to embrace biodynamic farming techniques in the nineteen nineties. With an eye to expansion, the Ferratons took on a likeminded investor: the Maison Chapoutier.

The quality is consistently high, even in lesser vintages. This, to me, is a sure sign of a strong estate.

Sadly, Samuel Ferraton suffered a bad motorcycle accident in the early two thousands which left him unable to carry on the family business. In two thousand and six, Ferraton was officially purchased by Maison Chapoutier, with the aim of maintaining and even furthering the high quality for which the Ferraton name stood.

Fast forward 10 years, and Chapoutier’s promise seems kept. The estate’s vineyard holdings continues to be managed according to strict biodynamic principles. The négociant wines (made from purchased grapes or wine) are essentially sourced from sustainable or organic farms. The quality is consistently high, even in lesser vintages. This, to me, is a sure sign of a strong estate.

Until recently, the tendency in the Northern Rhône was to create just one blend per appellation. Many producers still espouse this philosophy, claiming that the whole is better than the sum of its parts. However, a growing band of outliers are starting to bottle individual vineyard plots separately, to showcase the particular features of the terroir. This Burgundian approach is dear to the heart of Ferraton’s team.

“Our parcel selections allow us to showcase the superior qualities of our vineyard sites” says Ferraton’s Sales Director Patrick Rigoulet. “They play a critical role in defining what makes our wines unique”.  

Our parcel selections…play a critical role in defining what makes our wines unique

Ferraton Père & Fils has been a favourite of SAQ and LCBO buyers for years now, with a variety of the following wines on offer currently.

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

Ferraton Père et Fils Côtes du Rhône red “Samorëns” 2014 – 88pts. VW

Moderately intense aromas of ripe black fruits, violets and subtle spice feature on the nose. The palate is medium bodied, with a fairly firm structure and lots of juicy black fruit. Ripe, chewy tannins give way to a hint of sour cherry that lifts the finish. This is a serious style of Côtes du Rhône, to be paired with food. Drink within 3 years.

Where to Buy: LCBO (15.95$) – as of January 2017

Pierre Henri Morel Côtes du Rhône Villages Laudun White 2014 – 89pts. VW

Pierre Henri Morel is one of Ferraton’s négociant labels. Fragrant, moderately complex nose featuring honey, macerated apricots, poached pear, and hints of cinnamon. Lovely balance on the palate; the rich, rounded mouthfeel is nicely lifted by fresh acidity. This dry, medium bodied white ends with a vibrant kick of ripe lemon and just a touch of bitterness. Drink now.

Where to Buy: LCBO (18.95$)

Ferraton Père & Fils Saint Joseph “La Source” White 2014 – 92pts. PW

This 100% Marsanne offers a lot of finesse. Elegant aromas of white flowers, lemon curd, marzipan and subtle minerality feature on the nose. A fresh, lively attack gives way to a moderately rich, rounded mid-palate with great depth of flavour. The finish is long; layered with honeyed fruit, lemon and lingering minerality.

Where to Buy: Enquire with agent Mosaiq 

Ferraton Père & Fils Crozes Hermitage “La Matinière” Red 2014 – 89pts. PW

Attractive, somewhat restrained nose of tart red fruits, with perfumed floral hints and earthy undertones. The palate offers crisp acidity, a full bodied, densely structured style and concentrated, just ripe red fruit flavours. The tannins are still quite firm, though are ripe and finegrained.

Where to Buy: SAQ (24.95$)

Ferraton Père & Fils Saint Joseph “La Source” 2014 – 92pts. PW

This is a very well crafted Saint Joseph. Elegant, layered aromas of violet, ripe red berries, red currant, white pepper and spice feature on the nose. The fresh acidity is nicely balanced by the full body and concentrated red fruit flavours. Despite a certain firmness of structure, the texture is quite silky, finishing with ripe, finegrained tannins. The oak is quite subtle, adding more structure than aroma. The finish is long and nuanced. Drinking well now, but will certainly improve with 3 – 5 years’ cellaring and should hold well for another couple of years.

Where to Buy: SAQ (31.50$) – 2012 vintage

Ferraton Père & Fils “Les Miaux” Hermitage 2009 – 92pts LW

2009 was a warm vintage in the Northern Rhône. This is evident on the heady, fragrant nose featuring crushed red berry and cherry aromas, overlaid with toasty, spiced notes. Hints of leather and tobacco emerge upon aeration. The palate is big and bold, with fresh acidity, a muscular structure and lovely depth of fruit and dark chocolate flavours. The oak is subtle and well integrated, and the finish is long and layered.

Where to Buy: SAQ Signature (90.00$)

Ferraton Père & Fils “Les Miaux” Hermitage 2010 – 93pts. LW

The 2010 Les Miaux from Ferraton is a highly complex, beautifully balanced expression of Hermitage. While it lacks the full throttle fruit and power of 2009, it amply makes up in finesse and precision. Ripe red fruit, exotic spice, candied orange peel and hints of leather feature on the nose and in mouth. The palate is full bodied, with lovely fresh acidity and great concentration. The finish is very long, with subtle oaked nuances.

Where to Buy: SAQ Signature (90.00$)

Ferraton Père & Fils “Le Méal” Ermitage 2013 – 95pts. LW

Intense, highly complex nose featuring tobacco, red currant, cherry, earthy notes and attractive minerality. A fresh, lively attack gives way to a full bodied, firmly structured, yet velvetty textured mid-palate. The depth and concentration of flavour is impressive, as is the long, layered finish. This powerful red needs 3 – 5 years additional cellaring for the grippy tannins to soften. It should continue to improve for many years to come.

Where to Buy: Enquire with agent Mosaiq 

Reviews Wines

TOP PICKS – GALLEON WINES TASTING

Wine Bottles

When I tell people that I work in the wine industry, I invariably get a lot amused comments. The general assumption is that the job entails sitting around, drinking all day. Sadly, this is usually not the case. I mean, come on folks, would you pay someone to do that?

Even on those days where wine tasting really is my assigned task, the selection on offer is often a little dreary. Mass produced wines, like any high volume consumer item, generally have little that sets them apart from their competitors. They are often passably good, but rarely great.

Every once in a while, however, I attend a tasting where the wines (from small and large wine producers alike) are really fantastic…and I do just sit around, drinking all day.

I had one such day last week, at the launch of a new agency called Galleon Wines. They are actually more of a sub-agency; the fine wine division of large, national wine company Philippe Dandurand Wines.

Just a quick segue for those of you who don’t know what I mean by wine agency: in Canada, our cherished liquor boards (a.k.a monopolies) are the sole wine importers in the majority of provinces. They are also the sole retailers in most cases. With hundreds of stores, and thousands of wines on offer, a product can easily get lost in the shuffle. A wine agency is there to represent wine producers’ products locally. Their sales force will push for greater distribution in stores, try and get restaurants to purchase and so forth.

Galleon Wines is ably steered by wine expert Denis Marsan (long time SAQ Signatures buyer) and the savvy wine salesman Pierre-Adrien Fleurant. Together with their team, they have hand selected an exciting line up of wines. The accent is definitely on French wine; with a particularly fine range of Burgundies. The common thread for much of the portfolio is freshness, purity of fruit and balance.

The majority of these wines are not available at the SAQ or LCBO, however Galleon is on the verge of launching an e-commerce platform. Consumers will be able to buy directly from the website.

This is still Canada, with all our complicated rules and regulations, so you do unfortunately have to buy cases of 6 or 12 (depending on the wine).  I recommend getting together with like-palated friends to share orders.

Here are my top 11 favourites (because I couldn’t whittle it down to 10)What do VW, PW and LW mean?  Click on my wine scoring system to find out:

Kracher und Sohm Grüner Veltliner 2015 – 92pts. PW (20 – 25$/bttle)

Kracher und Sohm is a brilliant partnership between Alois Kracher, highly acclaimed Austrian vintner, and Aldo Sohm, top New York based sommelier.

Pale straw. Elegant, moderately intense aromas of ripe peach, fresh hay and white flowers. Lively acidity and lovely precision define the light bodied palate. This unoaked white finishes with a subtle saline note and lingering white pepper. Drink now, or hold 3 – 5 years.

Domaine Franck Millet Sancerre Blanc 2015 – 90pts. PW (25 – 30$/bttle)

The 22-hectare estate in the heart of Sancerre has been passed down from father to son for 3 generations. Textbook Sancerre; with a restrained, mineral-driven nose underscored by citrus and hints of gooseberry. Racy acidity, moderate concentration, rounded mid-palate and a lingering, citrus-infused finish.

Domaine Ravaut Bourgogne Blanc 2014 – 91pts. PW (25 – 30$/bttle)

This small, 12 hectare estate is situated in Ladoix-Serrigny, 5 km from Beaune. This well-crafted white Burgundy offers a surprising amount of complexity for such a modest appellation. Pale gold in colour, with attractive lemon curd, white pear, mineral and buttery aromas. Very fresh on the medium weight palate, with a subtly creamy texture and a clean, medium length finish. Unoaked.

Domaine Queylus Chardonnay Tradition 2013 – 89pts. PW (25 – 30$/bttle)

With local star Trevor Bachelder making the wines, the Domaine Queylus is among the better estates in Niagara today. This harmonious white offers good value at under 30$. Intense floral, apricot and ripe pear aromas on the nose. The palate is quite richly textured and fruit-driven, yet balanced by vibrant acidity. The toasty, vanilla nuances from long oak ageing are fairly well integrated. Finishes just a touch short.

Domaine Nathalie & Gilles Fèvre Chablis 2015 – 90pts. PW (25 – 30$/bttle)

This sustainably farmed estate can trace its history in the local wine industry back to 1745. Pale straw in colour, the subdued nose offers hints of lemon, lime and chalky minerality. The rasor sharp acidity is nicely offset by vibrant, pure citrus and apple flavours. The texture is smooth, with subtle leesy notes. Attractive minerality comes back to the fore on the long finish.

Château de la Maltroye Chassagne-Montrachet Blanc 2014- 94pts. LW (65 – 70$/bttle)

The stunning 18th century manor house is among the most beautiful properties in Burgundy. Pale gold. Very elegant, complex aromas featuring white flowers, fresh almonds, citrus, green apple and underlying minerality. Lively and taut on the palate, with a creamy, textured mid-palate and hint of buttery richness. The oak is subtle and well integrated. Finishes long, with lovely mineral and aniseed notes.

Domaine des Varinelles Saumur Champigny 2014 – 89pts. PW (20 – 25$/bttle)

Domaine des Varinelles is situated in the heart of Saumur, and boasts mainly mature vines ranging in age from 35 to 60 years on average. Youthful, purple colour. Vibrant raspberry, green pepper, and subtle cedar notes on the nose. The palate is fresh, medium bodied and dry, with tart red fruit flavours and ripe, grainy tannins that frame the finish nicely.

Domaine Coillot Marsannay “Les Boivins” 2014 – 91pts. PW (45 – 50$/bttle)

This sustainably farmed estate is commited to keeping yields low to best express the individual terroirs. The “Les Boivins” cuvée is a lovely example. Medium ruby, with pretty floral, red berry and brambly fruit notes on the nose. Fresh acidity is amply balanced by a smooth, velvetty texture and fleshy tannins.  The oak is very subtle and harmonious. Medium length finish.

Domaine Heresztyn-Mazzini Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes 2013 – 94pts. LW (80 – 85$/bttle)

This is a relatively new estate, borne from the mariage of Champenois winemaker Simon Mazzini and Burgundian Florence Heresztyn (descendant of the long established Domaine Heresztyn). This is a big, bold style of Gevrey-Chambertin. The intense, complex nose features earthy, animal notes underscored by just ripe red and black fruits, violets and exotic spice. Fresh on attack, with highly concentrated fruit flavours and prominent coffee and cedar-scented oak. The tannins are ripe and chewy. The finish is very long and nuanced, with intriguing hints of cumin. This dense, tightly woven wine needs a few more years to unwind and harmonize in cellar, but shows enormous potential.

Frescobaldi Lamaione IGT Toscana 2010 – 95pts. LW (125$/magnum)

Frescobaldi’s Lamaione Merlot strikes the perfect balance between power and purity.  Deep ruby. Moderately intense brambly fruit, with underling tobacco and cedar. Very fresh on the palate, nicely counterbalancing the big, brooding structure and ripe, dark fruit flavours. The firm, fine-grained tannins and well integrated cedar oak provide additional complexity. The finish is long, with hints of tobacco and lively mint.

Trapiche Imperfecto 2012 – 90pts. LW (50 – 55$/ bttle)

Youthful, inky purple colour. Very pretty nose featuring violets, ripe black berries and dark chocolate. The palate shows lovely harmony of fresh acidity, velvetty texture, full body and concentrated dark fruit flavours. Rounded tannins and spicy oak define the finish.

Life

FROM BEAUNE CANUCK TO RHONE CANUCK

Dentelles de Montmirail
Photo credit: Gabriel Meffre

Hi folks. Here is the second installment in the “Throwback Thursdays” republication of my 2010 Rhône Canuck blog. This brief post details my move from Burgundy to the Rhône Valley. Enjoy!

So here I am happily ensconced in the foothills of the majestic Dentelles de Montmirail (the range of craggy mountains that towers over the sleepy hamlet of Gigondas).  My new job? To sing the praises of the noble marriage of Grenache & Syrah.

Please don’t think that I have forsaken my first loves, Pinot & Chardonnay.  They still stand mightily on their pedestals and I make the pilgrimage back to the motherland regularly!  But somewhere around my 3rd winter in Beaune the endless winter fog got the better of me.  The locals scoffed at a Canadian complaining about the cold, but these people don’t heat their lofty 17th century homes. The damp seeps in every corner and you can only put on so many sweaters before you start feeling like the Michelan man.  Sure the vin chaud helps, but what with the glass or so of petit Chablis at lunch, a kir or three for the apéro, a nice bottle of Pommard with dinner and maybe a Poire Williams for the digéstif…Beaune was definitely having a wee effect on my young liver!

So what’s a wine-loving Canuck to do?  Go home and work for one of our beloved monopolies, scheming up ways to bring the next Fuzion to Canada?  Certainly not! A stint in South Africa as a lowly winemaking assistant for Hamilton Russell Vineyards, that was the solution.  What an incredible place…the endless blue skies, the breathtaking sunsets, the generosity of spirit!  Almost, but unfortunately not quite, makes you forget the endless shantytowns, the breathtaking inequality…

A few months and a pair of callused, purple hands later, I realised what a great job sales is!  So off back to France, to start anew, in the sunny and WINDY southern Rhône as a proud footsoldier for the maison Gabriel Meffre.

Life

My Father’s Daughter

Jacky Blisson in Beaune

I have decided to partake in few throwback Thursdays this fall, and republish excerpts from the blog I wrote in 2010 while living in France. I called myself “The Rhône Canuck” and shared my musings as a Canadian wine lover living and working in France.

This first introductory post summarizes my decision to move to France. I hope you enjoy it!

As a child sitting on my father’s knee while he sipped his wee dram and told stories about the good old days…Paris in the ’60s, drinking crate loads of excellent, cheap Bourgogne rouge…I never thought I would one day end up living in the country of his wistful reveries.  But the seed was planted early and, it would seem, in fertile soil.

By age seven my dad swore that I had “the palate of the family” as he poured out Sherries of varying qualities and asked me to sniff out the best.  Though I’m sure my correct response must surely have been a fluke, the die was nevertheless cast.

And so eighteen years later I found myself winging my way to Beaune, my personal mecca, with visions of Corton dancing in my head.  I had been accepted at the CFPPA de Beaune (an agricultural college linked to an engineering university in Dijon) for a year-long course in “Connaissances et Commerce International des Vin”. My Dad and I celebrated my new adventure with a bottle of his coveted 1982 Leoville Las Cases. I knew from the first heady sip that I was on the right path.

With my head filled with glossy Wine Spectator images of elegant, refined looking winemakers, I was in for a shock when I came across my first red-blooded Burgundian vigneron! And so launched my 6 years…and counting…love affair with Burgundy and the Rhône; the wines, the savoir-vivre and of course the people (had to throw that one in since I just married one!).

Yes, the administration is a nightmare, the rudeness of the public service industry is hard for a nice Canadian to bear and everyone truly is always on strike. On the other hand, taking two hours for lunch everyday is a perfectly acceptable practice, and wine is always served.

Education Reviews Wines

DRY SHERRY…DON’T CALL IT A COMEBACK

Photo credits: http://www.sherry.wine/

The story of Sherry is an incredibly fascinating one. The rich history of the region, the diversity of styles, and the complexity of the vinification process make these wines a truly exceptional tasting experience.

So why isn’t it more popular?

Trendy wine bar goers in New York and London would argue that Sherry is making a come back, but browse the aisles of your local wine shop and I doubt you’ll find more than a few dusty bottles tucked away in corner.

According to Christopher Canale-Parola, North American sales manager for reputed bodega Gonzalez Byass, the main issue is poor “brand” image. Sherry is seen by many as an “old person’s wine”; not enough is being done to draw in a younger crowd.

This puts me in mind of the Old Spice brand of men’s grooming products. For years, Old Spice was dismissed as grandpa’s cologne and largely forgotten. However, the crafty marketers at Proctor & Gamble were able to skyrocket sales 5 odd years ago with the “Old Man Spice: The man your man could smell like” campaign. The product didn’t change, but the funny, engaging commercial changed people’s perception and the brand became cool again.

Sherry is seen by many as an “old person’s wine”.

Sadly, the Sherry wine region doesn’t have quite the same advertising budget as Proctor & Gamble, but knowledge is cool (it’s true…my mum said so). Educating the more adventurous consumers among you and encouraging everyone to get out there and try a Sherry or three is our best bet.

So if you are curious to learn more about Sherry, read on!

Sherry is produced in the region of Andalucia, in southwestern Spain. The heartland of cultivation lies within the “Sherry Triangle”, the area between the three main production cities of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

What is so special about this land?

First of all, the dazzling white soil. Albariza is a mixture of chalk, limestone, clay and sand formed from the sediment of ancient marine fossils. The excellent water holding capacity of this porous soil allows vines to flourish despite the region’s arid summer conditions.

vinos_jerez_sherry_wines_vinas_con_cipreses 

Secondly, the unique interplay of weather patterns. The rainy fall/ winter weather brings the necessary water. The long, sunny summers spur vigourous growth. And two dueling winds: the poniente (western breeze bringing moisture-rich from the Atlantic ocean) and levante (south-eastern hot, dry gale said to drive men mad) provide perfect wine ageing conditions.

The majority of Sherry wines are made from the Palomino Fino grape. The prized attributes of this variety are its high yield levels, relatively neutral character and moderate acidity. It is the perfect blank canvas on which to display the winemaking techniques that result in Sherry’s particular aromatic profile and palate character.

The wine produced here is fortified, meaning that a neutral grape spirit has been added to increase the alcohol content. In this health conscious day and age, you might be wondering why anyone would want to deliberately boost alcohol? The practice of fortification was borne out of necessity to withstand long boat journeys. Harmful yeasts and bacteria that regularly caused wine to referment (becoming fizzy), turn to vinegar, or spoil in other ways were found to become inactivate in higher alcohol environments. With further experimentation, it was also determined that the level of alcohol added had a significant effect on one of the major factors that makes Sherry so unique: the flor.

Palomino…is the perfect blank canvas on which to display the winemaking techniques that result in Sherry’s particular aromatic profile and palate character.

Dry Sherry is made initially in much the same way as any other unoaked white wine.  Fermentation produces a dry, base wine of 11 – 12% alcohol, called mosto. During the roughly 6 week period of maceration and settling that follows, a curious thing occurs. A film of yeast forms, gradually covering the surface of the wine completely. The yeast coating, called flor, is either encouraged in its development, or destroyed, by the fortification.

vinos_jerez_sherry_wines_catando_con_venencia vinos_de_jerez_sherry_wines_0

Flor develops best at alcohol levels of 14.5% to 16%. The pale, delicate Fino and Manzanilla styles of Sherry are fortified to 15% and spend their entire maturation under the flor barrier. The flor has a number of intriguing effects on the mosto. It acts as a natural oxygen barrier, keeping the underlying wine pale and fresh. Think of it as the plastic wrap you would use to keep cut apples from turning brown. The flor also performs a complex set of metabolic processes that result in the development of attractive nutty, green apple aromas and in the conversion of all remaining glycerol, leaving the wine bone dry.

At over 16.5%, the blanket of yeast is destroyed. Rich, dark Oloroso Sherry is fortified to 17% or 18% alcohol and deliberately exposed to oxygen. Over time, the wine slowly turns a deep shade of mahogany and gains in power and concentration as the water evaporates.

The activity of the flor leaves the wines pale, fresh and bone dry…with attractive nutty, green apple aromas.

After fortification, the wine is transferred to barrel for ageing (or crianza). Both styles of Sherry are aged in large, old American oak casks. The casks are filled to only 5/6 of capacity allowing ambient oxygen to either feed the flor, or create the oxidative reactions mentionned above for Oloroso.

The barrels are arranged in a multi-level set-up called a solera system. Essentially, this is a form of fractional blending whereby the top tier of barrels are filled with the new wine of the vintage. At each bottling, a small portion of wine is withdrawn from the bottom layer of barrels (called solera), in a process named the saca. The bottom tier is then replenished with wine from the level above (the first criadera), which is in turn re-filled from the level above this (the second criadera) and so on for as many levels as the bodega chooses to have.

senor-tio-pepe-02 vinos_jerez_sherry_wines_bodega_crianza

Wines age in this manner for anywhere from 5 to 6 years for many Finos to 30 years + for fine Oloroso. A quick overview of dry Sherry styles is as follows:

FINO: Made only from the delicate free run juice, fortified to 15%, and aged entirely under flor. Pale straw in colour, bone dry, with a sharp quality and singular aromatic profile of baker’s yeast, fresh almonds and green apple.

MANZANILLA: Produced in the same manner as Fino, but exclusively in the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda where the proximity to the sea results in thicker, denser flor growth. Delicate floral aromas and a faint salty flavour set this style apart.

AMONTILLADO: Starts out as a Fino but, for various reasons, is eventually re-fortified to 17% and continues its maturation in oxidative conditions, like Oloroso. Amontillado has the yeast aromas and dry texture of Fino, with the deeper colour and more intense flavours of Oloroso.

PALO CORTADO: Also begins ageing as a Fino, but for a shorter time period than Amontillado (only 1 – 3 years). Once the flor veil has disappeared, ageing takes place under oxidative conditions. According to the Jerez DO Regulatory Council, Palo Cortado “combines the smooth, delicate and sharp qualitites of Amontillado with the vinous, rounded qualities of Oloroso”.

OLOROSO: Made from the gently pressed juice, yielding darker, more structured, tannic wine. Fortified to 17%, this wine ages under oxidiative conditions. Dark in colour, full bodied, rich and rounded with a nutty, vinous flavour profile.

What about the sweet stuff? While many people are more familiar with the sweeter, cream styles à la Harvey’s Bristol Cream, the majority of Sherry consumed in Spain is actually dry. That being said, sweet Sherry can be exquisite. It exists in two forms:

VINO DULCE NATURAL: naturally sweet wine made from the Pedro Ximénez or Moscatel grapes, fortified after the partial fermentation of grapes left to shrivel in the sun (soleo). These are rich, heady, highly viscous wines that can contain dizzying levels of residual sugar (350g/L + for many PX wines).

BLENDED SHERRY: in this style, dry Fino, Amontillado or Oloroso is blended with sweet Vino Dulce Natural (or concentrated grape must). Depending on the Sherry style used and the sweetness level, these wines are labelled pale cream (off dry), medium (slightly sweet) or cream (lusciously sweet)

If you find yourself grabbing your keys, eager to go out and buy a Sherry to taste tonight, here are a few suggestions (What do VW, PW and LW mean?  Click on my wine scoring system to find out):

Tio Pepe Extra Dry Fino – 90pts. VW

According to Sherry expert César Saldaña, Director of the Regulating Council of the Sherry appellation (DO), Tio Pepe is a classic example of well-made Fino. Brilliant pale straw, with aromas of baker’s yeast, green apple and fresh almonds. Sharp, bone dry and precise on the palate, with a clean, zesty finish. Aged in barrel for a minimum of 4 years.

Where to Buy: SAQ (18.80$), LCBO (17.95$)

Valdespino “Deliciosa” Manzanilla – 88pts PW

Pale straw colour. Delicate chamomile flower and orchard fruit notes are underscored by baker’s yeast and nutty aromas. Bone dry, with a tangy saline note on the palate and a clean, linear structure through to the medium length finish. Aged 5 years in a 7 tier solera system.

Where to Buy: LCBO (24.00$), try “La Gitana” Manzanilla at the SAQ (21.25$)

Bodegas Hidalgo “Napoleon” Amontillado – 87pts. PW

Pale amber in colour. Somewhat restrained nose with hints of yeast, mingled with grilled almond, caramel, woody and spiced notes. Very dry on the palate, with medium body and warming alcohol.

Where to Buy: LCBO (23.00$), 

González Byass “Alfonso” Seco Oloroso – 91pts VW

Pale amber in colour. Intense woody, spiced notes feature on the nose, with undertones of hazelnuts, leather and caramel. Rich, rounded and full bodied, with a dry, lifted finish.

Where to Buy: LCBO (20.00$)

Bodegas Lustau “Peninsula” Palo Cortado – 91pts PW

Medium amber in colour. Elegant, complex aromas of cinnamon, nutmeg, marzipan and citrus, overlaid with woody notes. Crisp and fresh on the medium bodied palate, with attractive baker’s yeast notes on the dry, lingering finish.

Where to Buy: LCBO (35.00$), try Lustau Almacenista Palo Cortado Vides at the SAQ (35.25$)

Gonzalez Byass Del Duque VORS Amontillado – 93pts LW

VORS on a label means “very old rare Sherry”. These fine wines are aged for 30 years or more. This outstanding example is medium topaz in colour. Intense, and highly complex with aromas of dried fruit, grilled nuts, mixed spice, leather and caramel on the nose. Crisp, dry and richly textured, with excellent concentration of flavours. The finish is very long with nutty, yeast and dried orange peel notes.

Where to Buy: LCBO (40.00$, half bottle)

Life

A Partial Pass! The Long Road to MW

Jacky Blisson

As many of you know, I have been toiling away for the past two years, working towards a Masters of Wine (MW). For those unfamiliar with this qualification, the MW is among the highest levels of scholastic achievement in the field of wine.

The path to MW is a long and difficult road for most candidates. Just being accepted onto the program is cause for celebration. At the end of the first year, many students are asked to repeat first year or even take a few years out. The second year (or stage as it is now called) of the program culminates with the notoriously difficult final exams. These consist of: 5 theory papers in viticulture, oenology, wine handling (bottling, storage, shipping, etc.), business and contemporary issues, and 3 practical (ie. blind tasting) exams in white still wines, red still wines and a mixed bag tasting of any possible wine style (dry, sweet, fortified, sparkling, rosé, and so on).

It is a grueling week. I can honestly say that I have never worked so hard in my entire life. I was mentally, physically and emotionally drained at the end of the 5 days. However, when time is called on the last paper and the ordeal ends, a magical thing happens. Bottles of Bollinger Champagne are produced and the stress of the week is washed away on a tide of delicate, little bubbles.

And then, the wait…

The 2016 exams ended on June 10th and the results came back on September 5th. For three months, I dreamt about all the various possible outcomes. The wait became almost a way of life. So when the big day finally rolled around, it suddenly seemed too soon. The email came through when I was navigating the Lyon airport with my lovely husband and rowdy toddler in tow. We were rushing to catch a plane, but still decided to take five minutes to sit, (attempt to) calmly sip espresso and read the blessed or dreaded words.

Nervously scanning the text, I came across these wonderful six words “I am delighted to report that…”. I had passed the theory portion of the exam.

Fireworks went off in my brain. A huge sense of relief flooded over me. 5 hours of daily study was over!

I was also proud to see that I had passed the red wine practical exam. Five years ago, I never would have believed I could achieve this level of tasting ability so I was literally overjoyed. Unfortunately, I was not so successful on the white wines (C+…a “near pass”) or the mixed bag tasting (D….total fail!).

Sadly, any failed practical exams mean that all three exams must be re-sat. So, this is my mission for 2016/2017. I will taste, and taste, and taste. White, red, rosé, sparkling, fortified, botrytised, straw wine, natural wine, orange wine…any and all kinds. It is a hard job, but someone’s got to do it, right?

 

Reviews Wines

Breaking out of the wine rut

Bernard-Massard
Photo credit: Bernard-Massard

It is easy to get stuck in a wine rut. We know what we like and the temptation is to just pick up more of the same, reliable labels…the same way we always buy Coca Cola or Oreo cookies. But while the majority of ingestible consumer goods are painstakingly crafted to taste exactly the same from one batch to the next, wine is a much more elusive beast.

Even producers of large scale commercial brands aiming for consistency of style admit to some vintage variation from year to year. You just can’t beat nature. Despite all the tools in the modern winemaker’s armory, a vintage with non stop rain and cool weather through out the growing season is just not going to produce the same wine as a hot, sunny year. And this is a good thing! It is one of the key factors that set wine apart and make it so endlessly fascinating (at least to geeks like me…).

So with the knowledge that you can’t rely on your Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to taste exactly the same every time you purchase, isn’t it time to mix it up a little? Wouldn’t it be fun to show up at the next dinner party with a wine that no loud mouth can claim to know better than you, or suggest that an alternative winery in that region makes a better version? Here are a few interesting countries/ regions to think about…

Wouldn’t it be fun to show up at the next dinner party with a wine that no loud mouth can claim to know better than you?

Luxembourg. Yes, it is easy to forget about this teeny, tiny country of just over 500 000 inhabitants that would fit into Canada almost 4000 times over. Nestled in between the border of North East France and central Western Germany, it might (reasonably) seem too cool a climate for quality wine production. And yet, on the other side of the Mosel river, Germany produces incredible whites that have been revered for centuries.

Luxembourg grows much the same grapes, but produces wines in a drier, more nervy style. Its international reputation is largely based on its fine Brut Crémant sparkling wines. As per Champagne, Luxembourg sparkling wines are produced using the traditional method of secondary fermentation in bottle. The resultant wines are generally quite dry, with elegant, vinous aromatics, lively acidity and subtle creaminess. They make the perfect apératif wine, at a fraction of the price of many comparable bubblies.

Hungary. While the sweet wines from Tokaji are world renowned, the dry wines of the region are less well known. And yet the grapes that comprise the noble rot versions lend themselves well to dry wine production. Furmint is thought to be the off-spring of the almost extinct Gouais Blanc variety, making it a half-sibling of Chardonnay and Riesling. Dry Furmint is noted for its firm acidity, light to moderate body and smoky, citrus, orchard fruit aromas. Hárslevelű , the secondary blending grape in Tokaji, is a bigger, more full bodied white with spicy, floral aromatics.

Greece. It seems like more and more Greek wines are popping up on liquor board shelves these days, so perhaps this is a little less exotic for some. Unfortunately, many think only of the pine resin flavoured Retsina when they consider Greek wines. Excellent dry whites, rosés and reds are in abundance in all corners of the mainland and islands of this sunny paradise.

Excellent dry whites, rosés and reds are in abundance in all corners of the mainland and islands of this sunny paradise.

The white grape Assyrtiko of the Aegean Islands, thrives in the volcanic soils of Santorini, where a light, crisp, mineral-edged style is produced. The most widely planted red is Agiorgitiko (pronounced: Ah-yor-YEE-te-ko). The style is a little harder to pin down as, depending on the region and winemaking style, it can range from soft and smooth, to fairly robust and tannic. The majority of commercial styles feature fairly low acidity, plush, plummy fruit and rounded tannins; best served slightly chilled.

Bulgaria. Though it may be hard to believe today, Bulgaria was the second largest wine producer world-wide in the early 1980s. Anti alcohol regulations put in place in the region by Gorbachev, followed by the demise of the country’s communist regime led to a sharp decrease in vineyard cultivation. Production levels have crept back up in recent years, with foreign investment in the now privatized vineyards. While volumes remain far lower than at their heyday, the quality is far superior.

The Thracian Valley in Southern Bulgaria has a moderate, continental climate ideal for producing hearty, fruit-laden reds. While the area is best known for full-bodied, oak-scented Cabernet Sauvignon, wineries are increasingly diversifying their offer to include interesting indigenious varieties like the bold, spicy Mavrud or earthy, fruity Pinot Noir.

Here are a few of my recent, great value finds (What do VW, PW and LW mean?  Click on my wine scoring system to find out).:

BM_Cuvee_de_lEcusson_rose_136x520   PajzosTokaji    cq5dam.web.1280.1280 11885377_is

Photo credits: Bernard-Massard, Château Pajzos, LCBO (Argyros bottle shot), SAQ (Soli bottle shot)

Bernard-Massard Cuvée de L’Ecusson Brut Rosé NV – 88pts. VW

Pretty, salmon coloured pink colour. Inviting aromas of ripe red berries and subtle floral undertones feature on the nose. Lively acidity defines the palate, with tart berry flavours lifting the palate, and a subtle creamy mid-palate weight. The bubbles are fine and persistent. Dangerously easy drinking; pairs really well with sushi.

Where to Buy: SAQ (20.65$), not currently available at the LCBO, but the white is a bargain at 18.95$)

Château Pajzos Tokaji Furmint 2015 – 89pts. VW

Pale straw in colour. The nose opens with moderately intense aromas of lemon curd, hawthorn flowers and orchard fruit. While light in body and in concentration, the rounded structure provides a nice counter weight to the bracing acidity, making for a very refreshing white. Sweet citrus and faintly grassy flavours feature on the finish. Amazing value for the price, in a very classy package.

Where to Buy: (SAQ: 15.15$)

Argyros Assyrtiko IGP Santorini 2015 – 90pts. PW

Pale straw in colour. Intriguing nose featuring anis, saline aromas, citrus and underlying herbal notes. Tangy and fresh on the palate, with crisp, lemony acidity, a light, linear structure and lingering saline, citrus notes through the finish. Unoaked, well balanced and utterly drinkable.

Where to Buy: LCBO (22.95$), SAQ (22.15$)

Soli Pinot Noir Thracian Valley 2014 – 87pts. VW

This is an interesting little Pinot Noir, with a smoky-edged, earthy, moderately concentrated red and black berry profile. The fresh acidity is nicely counterbalanced by medium weight, bright fruit and ripe, just slightly chewy tannins. Serve chilled, with grilled, herb crusted meats.

Where to Buy: (SAQ: 15.30$)

 

 

Life

Salt, pepper & Pinot Noir

Pousse dOr Volnay and cheese
Photos: Claude Rigoulet

In my previous life as a winery sales manager I used to do lots of in-store tastings. They required a lot of standing around, and serving wine in terrible conditions…too warm, in awful little plastic cups, in overly hot or cold stores…not ideal. You do learn a lot about how different cultures around the world relate to wine however.

In the UK, people will taste any time of day. A free sample is a free sample. They won’t necessarily hang around to hear your shtick about the wine and they probably won’t buy a bottle, but they will happily take the proffered glass. Whenever.

French people will take the glass, sniff and swirl, and then proceed to tell you about their cousin so and so who has a vineyard in the Beaujolais, or their buddy in Paris who is a caviste (wine merchant). They want to make sure that you know that they are “connected”, and that you can’t pull the wool over their eyes.

In North America, it all depends on when you are offering. Before 3pm the majority of people will turn down your wine sample with a shocked “I’m driving” or “I’m in the middle of my work day”…as though a thimble full of wine will suddenly turn them into deranged, drunken lunatics. However, come mid-afternoon, the driving stress somehow goes out the window and everyone takes a glass.

…as though a thimble full of wine will suddenly turn them into deranged, drunken lunatics

Business lunches are more of the same. In France, if you go out for a meal, you drink wine. Period. This side of the Atlantic, if people do accept to have a glass of wine before 5pm, they generally feel the need to justify their extraordinary behaviour, along the lines of: “It’s almost Friday” or “It must be six o’clock somewhere”, followed by a nervous chuckle.

This is not to say that North Americans are repressed, or that Europeans are more liberated. It is simply a reflection of wine’s role in different societies. My husband is French. He grew up with wine on the table at every meal. Aside from special occasions, wine was consumed in moderation to slake thirst and punctuate conversation.

Guillaume’s take on wine is one that I wish more people shared. He sees wine as a condiment; something to be used to flavour your food. A seasoning agent, if you will, to be consumed in much the same way as mustard in a sandwich.

He sees wine as a condiment; something to be used to flavour your food.

Wine is increasingly being taken out of context; evalutated on its own and consumed separately from food. The intoxicating effects of wine are overly glorified or demonized, so that many see this as its principal attribute.

But wine is so much more…

One of the many things that sets it apart is its interaction with food. Tannin binds with and softens proteins in meat, intensifying their rich savoury flavours and reducing the astringency of the wine. Acidic sensations from lemon or tomato based dishes can be tempered by pairing with an equally acidic wine. Certain aromas or flavours can be underscored by matching with similarly scented wines.

Olive oil tastes rich and delicious on its own, but sprinkle a pinch of sea salt on it and the flavour comes alive. This is what wine and food can and should be to each other. Just think of the briny tang of oysters washed down with fine Champagne bubbles…

Oysters and Charles Heidsieck

Olive oil tastes rich and delicious on its own, but sprinkle a pinch of sea salt on it and the flavour comes alive. This is what wine and food can and should be to each other.

A number of years ago, my husband and I were in Piedmont for the annual Fiera del Tartufo (truffle festival). The white truffle is one of my all time culinary favourites. There are few flavours out there that can rival this pungently earthy, yet delicately refined taste. The mamma at our guest house overheard our rhapsodising and sent us off truffle hunting with her winemaker neighbour Luigi and his truffle dog. Bilbi proved a valiant beast, quickly unearthing several nuggets of white gold.

What came next was an evening I won’t soon forget.

Luigi took us to his cellar to taste his latest vintage of pleasant yet fairly rustic Grignolino and Barbera wines. Then on to dinner. Luigi’s charming wife had prepared a simple, creamy white risotto. After passing around the plates, she proceeded to shave great mounds of white truffle on each bowl. Luigi brought out his Barbera d’Asti Superiore. What had seemed a fairly ordinary wine in the winery was suddenly transformed. It seemed richer and rounder, with more earthy nuances and brighter fruit. Each bite of risotto called for another sip, and each sip, another bite.

I could recount a hundred tales like this but I’d sooner let you discover this pleasure for yourself.  On the menu tonight, caramelized onion and gruyère quiche. I am thinking that a rich, smoky Alsatian Pinot Gris might just do the trick.

 

 

Education Reviews Wines

The Mighty South West

Photo credit: IVSO / P. Poupart
Photo credit: IVSO/ P. Poupart

From a Canadian’s perspective, France is a small country. 15 times smaller to be specific. A mere blip on the world map. Yet in terms of wine output, France is enormous. Not only in terms of sheer quantity, but also the diversity of wine styles, the number of producing regions and so on. Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne have become household names, even for you reasonable folks out there that don’t spend all of your waking moments thinking about wine. The oceans of wine coming out of the Languedoc have also assured this area pretty good visibility on the world stage. And the Loire and Rhône Valleys, with appellations like Sancerre and Châteauneuf-du-pape respectively, can hold their own quite nicely. But there is another vast wine producing area that often gets forgotten…

The South West of France is the 5th largest vineyard area in France with 47 000 hectares of vines. It cups Bordeaux to the south and east (of the right bank), extends to the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and continues south to the Spanish border and the Pyrénées mountains. The region is often a little too neatly summed up as being a cheaply priced Bordeaux alternative. While many good value Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends are to be had from places like Bergerac and the Côtes du Marmandais, there is a wealth of other grape varieties and wine styles out there.

There are 29 designated AOP (protected appellations) and 14 IGP (vin de pays) growing areas.  As well as the two mentionned above, the best known appellations, and easiest to find on most international markets, include: Madiran and Cahors (best known for their big, bold reds), AOP Fronton (lighter, violet scented reds), AOP Gaillac (where everything from still to sparkling to sweet white, rosé and red are crafted) and AOP Jurançon (where prized late harvest, sweet white wine is made). The largest territory however, is that of IGP Côtes du Gascogne, where crisp, lively, easy drinking white wines are the mainstay. Due to the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean, these wines often take on an intriguing saline note that adds to their refreshing appeal.

Given the size of the region and the diverse climate conditions and soil types, it is only natural that the grapes that grow well in one area are not suited to another.  Over 300 different varieties are grown here, with just over half native to the area. The majority of AOC wines, and many IGP wines are blends. I will give you a quick over view of some of the major players, and where to find them.

GAILLAC  COTES DU TARN                   Photo credit: IVSO/ P. Poupart

White Wine

Colombard – a major player in the production of IGP wines like Côtes de Gascogne and also in in the digéstif Armagnac. When over cropped it produces a fairly neutral white. The best examples have intense exotic fruit aromas, light body and moderate acidity.

Chenin Blanc – widespread in the eastern appellations and IGPs of the South West. Highly appreciated for its fruity, floral palate of aromas, medium body and bright acidity

Gros Manseng – a major blending component in many IGP Côtes de Gascogne, as well as dry Jurançon and Pacherenc du Vic-Bihl whites. Gros Manseng gives vibrancy and spicy notes.

Mauzac – adaptable to a wide variety of wine styles, it is used for sparkling, and still, dry and sweet wines, principally around the Gaillac area. It gives fresh orchard fruit in youth, and honeyed notes with age.

Petit Manseng – related to Gros Manseng, this grape has smaller berries with thicker skins, generally producing wines with greater aromatic complexity. The grape has the ability to produce high sugar levels while retaining fresh acidity; perfect for the sweet Jurançon dessert wines.

Sauvignon Blanc – used either as a single grape, notably in IGP designations, and as a blending element in several AOPs (Béarn, Tursan, Pacherenc du Vic-Bihl). The grape gives its characteristic citrus, gooseberry, cat pee notes as well as vibrant acidity.

Red Wine

Cabernet Franc (Bouchy, Acheria) – Though widely grown in Bordeaux and the Loire, this grape actually originated in Basque country. Slightly less tannic and more red fruit scented than its offspring Cabernet Sauvignon, it nevertheless provides good structure to red blends from many AOP & IGP regions (notably Madiran, Fronton, Irouléguy)

Cabernet Sauvigon – A second stringer in the South West. It provides fragrant cassis notes, firm tannins and deep colour. It is found in the same appellations as Cabernet Franc.

Duras – One of the most oldest grapes grown in the Tarn Valley. It is a major player in Gaillac, giving finesse, deep colour, moderately firm tannins and a fruity, peppery perfume.

Fer Servadou (Fer, Pinenc, Braucol, Mansois) – Similar aromatics and structure to Cabernet Sauvignon. Blending component in many appellations, notably Marcillac, Béarn & Gaillac.

Gamay – Off spring of Pinot Noir, the Burgundian grape Gamay is bright, fresh and very red fruit driven. It is a blending component in Gaillac and many surrounding appellations.

Malbec (Cot) – Originally from the South West, Cot (as it is called there) is the principal grape in the Cahors appellation. It produces densely coloured, full bodied, structured wines with black fruit aromatics, moderately fresh acidity and firm, chewy tannins. Well crafted versions have great aging potential.

Merlot – Also offspring of Cabernet Franc (like Cabernet Sauvignon), Merlot makes an excellent blending component due to its fleshy mid-palate, rounded tannins and fragrant plum aromas. It is notably grown in Cahors as a minor blending component.

Négrette – The major grape of the Fronton appellation. It is a parent to Malbec. Négrette brings attractive violet notes, and sometimes animal and leather undertones. Fruity and medium bodied with moderate tannins, it is an ideal grape for rosé and easy drinking reds.

Syrah – A blending component in appellations like Fronton, Syrah brings elegance, fine tannins, black fruit and spiced notes.

Tannat – The principle red grape of Madiran. Named for its very firm tannic structure, the grape gives full-bodied, deeply coloured, raspberry scented reds that generally require a little time to unwind

1.ESTAING   CAHORS Photo credit: IVSO/ P. Poupart

Great Wines to Try

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

Chateau Montauriol Prestige AOP Fronton 2013 – 89pts. VW

This blend of 55% Negrette, 25% Syrah, 20% Cabernet Franc is just delicious. Attractive aromas of plum, kirsch and pepper on the nose. The palate is lively, medium bodied, showing moderate depth and complexity, with lingering dried fruit, floral and pepper flavours. Firm, yet ripe tannins frame the finish. The cedar oak imprint is quite subtle.

Where to Buy: SAQ (18.10$)

Château Montus AOP Madiran 2010 – 92pts. PW

Consistent high quality is a feature of this estate. A blend of 80% Tannat and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, this big, brooding red features complex aromatics of cherry, spice, prune and dark chocolate. Full bodied, densely structured yet velvetty on the palate, with chewy tannins and harmonious cedar oak. Long, layered finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (30.25$), LCBO (35.45$)

Château Montus AOP Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh 2011 – 91pts. PW

Made from 80% Petit Courbu, a little known grape from the obscure appellation of Pacherenc du Vic Bilh, this cuvée is absolutely worth discovering. Smoky citrus notes feature on the nose. Fresh, long and layered on the palate with lots of creamy lees character and well integrated toasty oak. Very stylish!

Where to Buy: SAQ (24.85$), LCBO (35.45$)

Odé d’Aydie AOP Madiran 2012 – 87pts. VW

Attractive aromas of fresh red cherries, with floral and spice undertones. Medium bodied, with lively, balanced acidity, firm tannins and subtle oak. No great aging potential, but pleasant every day drinking quality.

Where to buy: SAQ (19.35$)

Château de Gaudou “Renaissance” AOP Cahors 2012 – 87pts. PW

Pleasant earthy, animal notes on the nose, underscoring the fresh red and black fruit aromatics. Fresh acidity, full body, with attractive spiced, oak notes on the finish. This cuvée falls down a little on the finish due to the green, bitter edge on the tannins.

Where to buy: SAQ (22.85$), LCBO (25.95$)

Domaine du Tariquet “Classic” IGP Côtes de Gascogne 2015 – 88pts VW

At only 10.5% alcohol, this is a great option for an every day house white. It is light, refreshing, crisp and lively, with lots of citrus and floral notes. Fairly simple, but nice for the price.

Where to buy: SAQ (12.95$)

South West Vineyard photos, courtesy of IVSO/ P. Poupart

Education Life

Veneto Travel Diaries Part 5 – Valpolicella 101

Valpolicella

Valpolicella…land of wine, charm and tradition. So proclaims the Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicella, responsable for the marketing and promotion of the region. And they are not wrong. Those three descriptors aptly sum up what awaits you when you arrive in this sunny paradise. Lush green hillsides and plains covered in vines, cherry and olive trees, farmers out tending to their crops and ancient stone villages boasting delicious trattorias.

The vineyards of Valpolicella lie in the province of Verona in Northeastern Italy. There are three distinct areas. Firstly, the “Classico” region, the historic heart of the appellation which consists of three major valleys (Fumane, Marano and Negrar). This area is slightly higher in altitude than the outlying DOC area and benefits from optimal ripening conditions. “Classico” on a label of Valpolicella is generally a good indication of quality, although increasingly producers from the outlying areas further to the east (Valpantena and the generic Valpolicella DOC area) are now producing excellent wines.

Valpolicella is red wine country. All of the wines are blended from the same set of indigenous grapes featuring the prerequisite Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella. Corvina is the major grape. It gives structure, body, bright acidity and attractive cherry and herbal notes to the wines. Its thick skin is a vital quality for the appassimento process (more on this later). Corvinone was originally thought to be a clone of Corvina, but has been proven to be a separate variety. The bunches are looser, with bigger grapes. It gives heady, perfumed wines, redolent with cherry and floral notes. Molinara is the minor player, accounting for 5 – 30% of blends. It is also a fairly aromatic grape, with the necessary thick skins. Small amounts of lesser known varieties like Molinara and Oseleta are sometimes thrown in for seasoning. Each producer will determine their own blend (within the DOC regulations), depending on what grows best in their vineyard, and what style they are looking to craft.

Corvina…gives structure, body, bright acidity and attractive cherry and herbal notes…

There are two key elements that make the wines of Valpolicella so enticing. Firstly, there is incredible value for money on offer here. While Tuscany and Piedmont enjoy greater international renown, the producers of Valpolicella have quietly but surely ramped up quality, while keeping the prices nice! Secondly, the region boasts unique winemaking methods resulting in a range of wine styles from light and fruity to rich and full-bodied.

As with so many classic, Old World wine regions, the wine classifications are best understood by picturing a multi-tiered pyramid. At the bottom of the pyramid, you have basic Valpolicella DOC. This is your every day, barbeque wine. It is lively, with tart cherry fruit flavours, medium body and smooth tannins. Served slightly chilled, it is dangerously drinkable. The next step up the pyramid brings us to Valpolicella Superiore DOC. These “superior” wines are aged a minimum of one year in oak or other wood vessels, and have a minimum alcohol content of 12%. They retain the bright, fruit driven character of the basic level, but with a little more depth and persistence. Ripasso della Valpolicella DOC offers even greater concentration and complexity. The vinification technique for Ripasso is unique. Dry base wines are made in the same manner as basic Valpolicella. Several months later, the base wine is transferred into a tank containing the leftover pommace of grape skins from the vinification of another wine, the Amarone. These skins are still rich in sugars and yeasts, provoking a second fermentation for the Valpolicella. The wine is “repassed” (hence the name Ripasso). This process adds glycerol (leading to a rounder mouthfeel), gives richer flavours and higher alcohol levels.

At the top of the pyramid, we have the two DOCG wines: Amarone della Valpolicella and Recioto della Valpolicella. This is where the “appassimento” process comes into play. Appassimento is the act of drying grapes for an extended period so that 40% or more of the water evaporates, resulting in shrivelled berries rich in flavour and sugar. The Amarone destined grapes are dried for 90 to 120 days on average, in large drying lofts designed to permit good air circulation. The bunches are carefully inspected throughout the process to ensure they remain in good condition, free of moulds that would taint the flavour. The raisined bunches are then carefully transferred to tanks or large wooden vats for fermentation, followed by long aging (2 years for Amarone, 4 years for Amarone Riserva) in large, generally neutral wood casks. The wine is opulent, bold, rich, full bodied, highly alcoholic, generally over 15% and often up to 17%. These are reds to cellar for 7 – 12 years and serve with savoury, hearty fare. Recioto winemaking begins in the same way, but the drying period is longer (120 to 150 days on average), and instead of then fermenting the wines dry, the process is halted mid-way to give a rich, concentrated, cherry and dried fruit scented, sweet wine (often up to 150g/L of residual sugar).

The wine is opulent, bold, rich, full bodied, highly alcoholic…best served with savoury, hearty fare.

Recioto is the oldest wine style of the area with a history dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. The “Retico” was the wine of choice for the emperor Augustus, and the pride of all growers. It was in crafting this fine nectar that the Amarone style was (accidently) born. Amarone derives from the Italian word for bitter, and was the adjective used when the Recioto was occasionally left too long during fermentation with all of the sugar transformed to alcohol. The dry, alcoholic wine was considered overly bitter and generally thrown away. Not until the 1050s did opinions change and the Amarone style become appreciated in its own right.

Valpolicella is a storied region, with a long history of crafting unique, captivating wines. From light and fruity to heady and rich, there is a wine for every palate. Try this local recipe with a glass of Ripasso or Amarone and you will be packing your bags for Verona!

http://www.amaronetours.it/wines/amarone/amarone-recipes-risotto