Pinot Noir is one of the most beloved red wine grapes on the planet. Curious to know what makes Pinot Noir special ? Check out this quick video guide to learn about Pinot Noir, what it tastes like, where to find the best Pinot Noir, and how to serve it.
If you love Pinot Noir and want to try other, similar grapes, here are some great options: Gamay (Beaujolais), Dolcetto (Piedmont), Cinsault (Central Coast of California, or Swartland in South Africa), or Nerello Mascalese (Mount Etna, Sicily).
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How long does an open bottle of wine last? You want to drink moderately, but you don’t want your leftover wine going bad too quickly! So how do you go about keeping wine fresh and how long does wine last after opening? Check out this wine 101 video for great tips on how to preserve wine after opening.
If you like this video, consider subscribing to my YouTube mastering wine channel so you never miss a weekly episode.
If you have been into a wine bar or trendy wine-focused restaurant in recent years, you have likely come across natural wine. Perhaps you were surprised by the colour or the flavours. Maybe you loved it, potentially you hated it! Still not sure exactly sure what is natural wine?
Learn all about natural wine in the short wine education video below where I break down: what is natural wine, and why wine experts have such fierce, conflicting emotions about this unique new wine style.
The recent passing of one of the wine world’s legends, Gerard Basset, has been on my mind a lot recently. Not because I knew him personally, though I wish that I had had that privilege. It was the remarks that people made about him being a mentor; someone who inspired wine enthusiasts to become scholars, and wine scholars to pursue ever loftier academic goals.
His death also made me re-visit the brutal realities of cancer.
I had such a teacher once. A man that instilled his passion for wine in me long before I could (legally) imbibe. A self-proclaimed ignorant farm boy from Saskatchewan who read every tome on wine grapes, vintages, regions and producers religiously. A man who carefully purchased the best vintage Ports of each of his children’s birth years to drink with them at their weddings.
Except that he only made it to one wedding, at a time when his Port drinking days were long passed.
The Christmas of 2006 started off with a bang. I was finishing up a job in Beaune and preparing to leave for a winemaking stint in South Africa early in the New Year. I had just flown home for the holiday. My father was standing over my open suitcase, watching with child-like glee as I pulled out all the smelly cheeses and pâtés that I had smuggled over. With our bounty on display and the week’s menus in mind, we headed down to the cellar to mull over the wines.
This was how it always went. He adored the ceremony of opening his carefully aged treasures (generally Bordeaux, red Burgundies, and Mosel Rieslings). He would pour a small glass, sniff, taste, and then, when the wine was good, a slow smile would spread across his face. He would say, “not bad, not bad at all” and then pass the glass over to me.
When I first decided to pursue a career in wine, he said to me, “You will have a wonderful time. You won’t make any money, but you’ll have a wonderful time”. On the eve of my initial departure to study wine commerce in Burgundy he pulled out a bottle of 1982 Léoville-Las Cases that I will remember to my dying day.
And then, on Christmas day in 2006, everything changed in an instant. We had just finished gorging ourselves on turkey and fixings, and were happily slumped in our chairs, paper hats askew, when my father suddenly became so ashen, he looked as though he had seen a ghost. The episode passed and he shrugged it off, though I won’t soon forget the nervous look on his face as he sipped his postprandial dram.
It was cancer. More specifically lung cancer that had already metastasized to his brain. The location of the 7 different brain tumors made any curative treatment impossible. I went off to South Africa, blithely ignorant of his fate. He didn’t tell me until my return because he so wanted me to enjoy my experience.
When I next saw him, the shrunken man in front of me with the big, haunted eyes seemed almost a stranger. On my mother’s urging (and bankrolling), my sister and I had arrived with 12 bottles of top Burgundies. I had even found a bottle of 1930s Nuits-St-Georges from an old, long deceased wine producer friend of my parents.
I brought them out with such pride only to be faced with a watery smile. Though he was able to share a few bottles with us, his ailing body soon couldn’t face wine’s acidic bite. His brilliant mind remained to the end though, and he continued his love affair with wine vicariously through me to the end.
Today would have been his 77th birthday. Tonight, I will open the finest treasure my paltry wine cellar has to offer and raise a glass to you, Ronald Cole, and to you, Gerard Basset, two wine lovers taken from their families and all those they inspired, far too soon.
The ultimate wine lover’s dream is a large wine cellar – with perfect temperature and humidity conditions – laden with treasures from around the wine producing globe. Unfortunately, not all of us have the space or the budget to make this fantasy a reality. But, if you love to drink wine regularly, and to entertain, it is still nice to have a small stock of “house wines” to avoid last minute rushes to the wine store.
Not sure what to buy? Keep reading!
I recommend having at least one bottle of these seven different styles of house wines on hand. They should cover the majority of wine drinking occasions.
***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.
2 Sparkling Wines (yes, you need two!)
First up, sparkling wine. When I moved to France a number of years ago, I discovered something incredible. Small growers in Champagne were selling excellent non-vintage fizz for 12 – 15 euros! At the time, only the big Champagne houses were making it to the liquor store shelves in Canada, and their basic bubblies were five times more expensive than these little gems. I started drinking Champagne regularly. I always had a cold bottle ready for any piece of good news – big or small. Every little triumph was a reason to drink Champagne. Those were the days…
Back home in Montréal, my budget doesn’t quite extend to weekly bottles of Champagne. This is potentially for the best though, as I have been forced to branch out and discover the wide world of excellent sparkling wines outside of France.
I recommend stocking two types of bubblies for your house wines: a more affordable version for the every-day celebrations, and a finer bottle for the big moments.
For your first bottle, even though you are spending less, you still want something you’d enjoy drinking. I suggest seeking out the higher quality tiers of budget-friendly sparkling wine regions. If you like delicate fruity aromas, soft bubbles, and fresh acidity, try Prosecco at the Superiore DOCG level. If you prefer the more vigorous, firm bubbles of Champagne, with hints of brioche, biscuit-type aromas, go for Cava at the Reserva or Gran Reserva level. Crémant wines, made through out France, will also provide a similar experience.
In terms of your fancier fizz, Champagne is obviously the classic choice. If you want to go all out, look for Vintage Champagne or a Prestige cuvées of a non-vintage wine. Don’t forget however, that really top-drawer sparkling wine is cropping up all over the world – potentially in your own backyard – and drinking local is awesome! Look to England, parts of Canada, Tasmania, Marlborough if you want something with that really racy acidity of Champagne. If you want something a little richer & rounder – try California or South Africa’s top sparkling wines.
To learn more about premium sparkling wines, click here.
An Aperitif-style White Wine
Ok…on to your every-day house wines. I enjoy drinking a glass of white wine while I am cooking supper. I want something fairly light in body, crisp, dry and generally un-oaked at this juncture of the evening; a wine that is easy-drinking on its own and as refreshing as lemonade on a hot day. These are also typically the kinds of wines I would serve at a dinner party as an aperitif, or with light fare such as oysters, grilled white fish, or salads.
An easy go-to white wine grape variety is Sauvignon Blanc (more elegant, restrained styles from Loire, more pungent grassy, passion fruit examples from New Zealand) or dry Riesling (try Alsace, or the Clare and Eden Valleys in Australia). If you would like to try something a little different, look for the zesty, peach-scented, mineral Albarino grape from Spain, the crisp, dry, herbal, lemony Assyrtiko grape grown mainly on the island of Santorini in Greece, or finally firmly structured, brisk, peach/ grapefruit/ earthy Grüner Veltliner from Austria.
A Richer, Fuller-bodied White Wine
If you are cooking poultry, fattier fish, cream-based sauces, or serving soft cheeses, you will need a weightier, more textural white that can stand up to the heavier food. Chardonnay wines, notably those aged in oak, work well here. Be careful however, because Chardonnay runs the gamut from quite lean, citrussy & mineral to very broad, heavy & tropical – check with store staff before buying to make sure you get a style that suits your palate.
Interesting alternatives to Chardonnay include white Rhône Valley blends featuring grapes like Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier. These can also be found outside of France, with fine examples made in Paso Robles, California and Victoria, Australia. Pinot Gris from Alsace, notably the Grand Cru versions, also have a lovely textural weight, depth, and vibrancy of fruit that will shine in this category.
A Light-bodied Red Wine (or Rosé)
Sadly, not all of your guests are going to love white wine (I know…it is a shock to me too). The perfect host will not be flustered by this set-back. They will simply trade out the white for a crisp rosé, or a light, juicy red wine. Pale, dry rosé works well for pre-dinner drinks. Rosés with deeper colour and more depth, or pale, fresh red wines will marry well with those fleshier fish or poultry dishes.
Pinot Noir, Gamay, and lighter styles of Cabernet Franc are excellent light-bodied red wine grapes. Look for cooler climate origins, as the hotter regions will likely verge into the medium to full bodied category, with more baked fruit flavours and higher alcohol. What you are looking for here is tangy acidity, a delicate structure, and fairly silky tannins.
For a more exotic option, try Etna DOC wines, made from the Nerello Mascalese grape, on the slopes of the famed Mount Etna in Sicily.
An ‘”All-Rounder” Red Wine
Between the delicate, tangy light reds and the big, bold ones, I always think that it is a good idea to have a more versatile red in your house wines arsenal. A wine that is medium in body, fresh (but not overly acidic), subtly fruity, smooth and rounded on the palate. These wines tend to pair with the widest range of foods making them a great option for your every-day fare.
Côtes-du-Rhône red wines (made from a blend of Grenache and Syrah) are a fantastic choice here. If you like the style, but prefer a wine with a touch more body and depth, look for the Villages level of Côtes-du-Rhône. Valpolicella from the Veneto in Italy is also a lovely, fruity option, or – if you like the vanilla, spice flavours of oaked reds – try a Rioja Reserva.
A Full-bodied Red Wine
When you are barbecuing steak, preparing a heartily flavoured stew, or serving pungent, hard cheeses, you need a wine with equally bold flavours. The tannins from these more powerful reds also binds with and softens proteins in meat, intensifying their rich savoury flavours, and in turn, reducing the astringency of the wine.
A wide range of options exist. Classics include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot blends (with more vibrant, tart fruited examples from Bordeaux vs. more lush, ultra-ripe fruited versions from the Napa Valley), Malbec and Syrah are also great traditional choices. Looking a little further afield, you could try Portuguese blends from the Douro region, or Grenache, Carignan blends from Priorat region of Spain.
In France, the dessert is sometimes accompanied by a sweet wine and it is common practice to offer a digestif (literally a wine/ spirit to help you digest) after the meal. The French really know how to live. Sigh…
There is a vast world of amazing options out there but, for most of us, after-dinner wines tend only to be served on special occasions. Unless space permits, you don’t necessarily need to stock these in advance.
I hope that this helps you a little with your next trip to the wine store. If you have any questions, or comments on any of the wines, write me a comment and I will happily respond.
One of the main questions I get asked when I mention my profession is: why do I get headaches from drinking white or red wine? Before I have a chance to answer, the asker generally presents me with a few explanations they have read or heard about. These theories are often misguided. So I decided to review current literature and let you know why wine is giving you headaches.
***Side note: I have also made this blog post into a three minute 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.
Let’s start with sulphites. Sulphites are a group of sulphur-based chemicals, which include sulphur dioxide. They are a naturally occurring by-product of wine fermentation. Sulphur is also added to many wines over the course of the winemaking process as it is a highly effective preservative against spoilage and oxidation. For these same reasons, sulphur is an ingredient in many processed foods like fruit juice, jams, flavoured yoghurts, pickled foods, mustard and dried fruits.
The European Union legal limit for total sulphur dioxide at bottling ranges between 100mg/L for organic dry red wines and 200mg/L for non-organic dry white wines – with all other organic and non organic dry wines falling between these limits. These are the maximum amounts, and most conscience winemakers are using far less nowadays. The majority of health professionals agree that, at these levels, the sulphites in wine do not cause headaches. Dried apricots can contain up to five times the sulphite levels of wine, and yet you rarely hear anyone insisting that dried fruit gives them migraines. It has been found that in roughly 1% of the population, generally people already suffering from issues like asthma, sulphites can cause breathing problems, but not headaches.
The tannin in red wine acts as an anti-oxidant, meaning that red wines generally contain less sulphur than white wines. If your wine headaches come primarily from red wine consumption, then there is even less likelihood that sulphites are to blame.
So why is wine giving you headaches? Several culprits have been identified by researchers:
People never seem to want to hear this but alcohol is often the problem. Many types of headaches are caused by simple dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that it makes you pee more frequently. This causes the body to lose more fluid and become dehydrated. Happily, there are lots of simple ways to avoid alcohol-related dehydration:
Drink moderately (health officials advise limiting consumption to 1 – 2 glasses of 120 – 150mL per day, depending on sex, weight, and tolerance)
Try switching to lower alcohol wines
Avoid sweeter wine styles (the combination of sugar and alcohol in wine is said to dehydrate the body even faster)
Drink lots of water while drinking wine to make up for the fluid loss (a good rule of thumb is one glass of water for each glass of wine)
Never drink on an empty stomach (food will help dilute the effects of alcohol)
Histamines are compounds found on grape skins. These same chemicals are released by the body during an allergic reaction and cause symptoms like headaches, a runny nose, or dry, irritated eyes. Red wines tend to have have higher histamine concentrations as they are fermented with their grape skins. White wines are pressed off their skins before fermentation. So if red wines make your head throb, histamines might be to blame.
Why would histamines bother some wine drinkers and not others? Because certain people lack sufficient levels of an enzyme that breaks down histamines in the small intestines. If histamine levels are too high in the blood, they can dilate blood vessels and cause headaches. If you suspect that you might fall into this category, you could try taking a histamine blocker before a glass of red wine that has previously caused you a headache. Obviously, this cannot be your long term solution for continued red wine consumption however!
Tannins are also naturally occurring compounds, or plant chemicals, found on grape skins, stems and seeds. Just like histamines, they are present in far higher concentrations in red wine. Tannins have been found to release serotonin in the brain. At low levels serotonin gives a sense of well-being and happiness. However, at high levels, it can cause some people to develop headaches.
Highly tannic wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or Nebbiolo, have a very firm, astringent texture on the palate. If you get the sense that these types of wines are causing you headaches try switching to white wine, or lower tannin reds like Pinot Noir, Gamay, or Grenache. Keep in mind though that many beverages and foods, like strong black tea and dark chocolate, are high in tannin. If these things don’t bother you…tannin is probably not your issue.
The Good News!
You don’t need to stop drinking wine altogether just because you are getting headaches. There are thousands of different wines and wine styles out there. It is unlikely that they will all give you a headache. Use the tips I mentioned above, and when you try a new wine, start with a small amount then wait to see the effects (usually within 20 minutes or so) and continue – with moderation – if the headache doesn’t come.
It’s an age-old scenario…we overindulge in December and then spend all of January repenting. Whether it be to atone for our excessive behaviour or simply to detox the body, Dry January has become a highly popular New Year’s Resolution in recent years.
But should we be lumping wine drinking in with all forms of alcohol consumption? Does demonizing wine for an entire month really make sense? In my humble opinion, no.
For those of you heaving a sigh of relief, you’re welcome. For others, staring agape at my reckless attitude, here are 5 great reasons to skip dry January:
***Side note: I have also made this blog post into a short YouTube video. To watch, just scroll down to the bottom & click play.
1. Overly Restrictive Diets often Lead to Binging
Many doctors, psychologists and nutritionists agree that excessive restrictions in your diet can lead to binging once the determined period of abstinence is over. People feel the need to reward themselves for their good behaviour. Even just a few glasses of wine too many once February 1st rolls around can erase the healthful benefits of a month off drinking.
2. Your Liver Doesn’t Need a Full Month Off
I will preface by saying that if you are a heavy drinker, taking an extended period of alcohol consumption is an excellent idea which can potentially lead to some positive, long term changes.
For those who generally drink moderately, but just had a couple too many Prosecco cocktails at holiday parties, the situation does not necessarily call for drastic measures like a month-long detox. In a healthy adult, the liver generally processes an ounce of alcohol every hour. This works out roughly to 5 hours for a large glass of wine. Even if your New Year’s Eve was particularly epic, your liver should have recovered within three or four days.
3. Wine is Good for You!
Again, I cannot stress moderation strongly enough here. This means 1 to 2 (approximately 150mL size) glasses of wine per day.
As I mentioned in my post on the role of alcohol in wine (see here), multiple studies show a strong correlation between modest red wine consumption and a decreased incidence of heart disease, an increase in good cholesterol, and even a slowed down pace of age-related brain decline.
4. Baby, It’s Cold Outside…
For those of us in the barren north, January is an icy cold, dark month that doesn’t need any help in being depressing. Christmas is over. Work picks up with a vengeance. Why would you want to deny yourself the pleasure of a pleasantly warming glass of wine to help you unwind after a hard day battling the elements?
5. New Year’s Resolutions Should be Sustainable
Maybe it’s just me, but I always saw New Year’s resolutions as a way we mortals try to make sustainable changes in our lives to be happier and healthier beings. Long-term success seems far more likely when we counter excess with moderation, rather than total abstinence.
So, instead of swearing off Sauvignon Blanc…why not skip Dry January and make some more enjoyable, positive resolutions instead, like:
Drinking less, but drinking better!
Instead of zero wine for a month, try not drinking for a couple of nights each week. Most health professionals agree that this will give your liver the break that it needs if you exceed the 1 to 2 glass amounts on certain nights. Also, stick to just a couple of glasses on your wine drinking days. With the money you save by drinking less, you could spend a little bit more per bottle of wine, have some fun testing out new grapes and regions, and (hopefully) enjoy your wine so much more.
And finally…you can resolve to:
Boost your wine knowledge!
Learning new things is good for your brain. It’s true! And don’t you find that you enjoy things far better when you understand a little more about them? Naturally, I am happy to help with your wine education.
So, check out my weekly wine series on YouTube: www.youtube.com/jackyblisson and if you like what you see, consider subscribing so you don’t miss an episode. Feel free to send me your comments. I’d love to hear from you.
New Year’s Eve is around the corner. It’s time to loosen our purse strings (and belt buckles…) and indulge in the finer things in life. And everybody knows that premium sparkling wines help to make the season bright!
Premium sparkling wines make the perfect holiday gift. Have you ever met someone that wasn’t happy to receive a bottle of Champagne? American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald once said: “Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.” I couldn’t agree more.
Over the past couple of months, I have had the good fortune to attend a series of tastings featuring Champagne and premium sparkling wines. Today, I am going to share my top 10 favourite bubblies of 2018 with you lovely folks.
Before the wine intelligentsia descends upon me with cries of “why didn’t you include this fabulous grower Champagne house”, let me explain my criteria:
40 – 75$ category
Offers fantastic value for price
Widely available in liquor stores so wine lovers can easily find them
Good diversity of styles from crisp, bone-dry and light to rich, opulent, and toasty
For the more scholarly wine lovers among you, click here for a refresher on the unique aspects of terroir and winemaking that make Champagne so alluring.
If you prefer your Champagne wine lesson in video format, scroll down to the bottom for a bonus video!
Classic Franciacorta blend of mainly Chardonnay, with a touch of Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc. Aged for 25 months on the lees, the 2016 vintage displays ripe yellow apple, grilled hazelnuts, and brioche on the nose. Crisp acidity and vigorous, moderately persistent bubbles are underscored on the palate by the medium body, rounded texture, and tangy, lemony flavours. Very dry, extra-brut finish (4g/L).
Champagne Forget-Brimont Premier Cru Brut Rosé – 92pts. LW
A quarter of the grapes in this Premier Cru rosé are sourced from Grand Cru vineyards. The blend is 80% black grapes (equal parts Pinot Noir and Meunier), 20% Chardonnay. Lovely pale pink colour. Quite restrained on the nose with hints of lemon, tart red fruits, and earthy, mineral nuances. Brisk, light in body, with very fine, persistent bubbles and wonderfully vibrant red berry fruit on the mid-palate.
Unquestionably one of the best value Champagnes I had the pleasure of drinking this year. Chardonnay looms large in this very elegant cuvée, aged 3 years on lees. Steely in acidity and structure, this light-bodied Champagne is flinty, with lemon/ lime aromas, underscored by brioche and white floral notes upon aeration. Ultra-fine bubbles, moderate concentration, and grilled, nutty notes that linger on the finish. Very dry (verging on extra-brut).
Champagne Fleury Père & Fils Blanc de Noirs Brut – 89pts. LW
This biodynamic bubbly composed exclusively of Pinot Noir is sourced from the Côte des Bar. Quite earthy, with red apple notes and toasty nuances. Bracing acidity and firm bubbles gives way to an expansive, rounded mid-palate. Highly textured, with savoury flavours, and a tangy, lifted finish. Great balance.
Where to buy:SAQ (58.50$). LCBO (39.95$ – 375mL bottles)
2012 was the inaugural release from this top quality Nova Scotia winery. Aged 5 years on its lees, made entirely of Chardonnay, this is world-class sparkling wine. The nose displays attractive citrus, green apple, biscuity aromatics. Piercing acidity and fine mousse feature on the ultra-sleek palate. Finishes bone-dry (zéro-dosage) with lovely saline hints.
Maison Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve Champagne – 93pts. LW
Meunier is the major grape in this blend, with equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, sourced entirely from Grand and Premier Cru vineyards. Subtle, yet enticing notes of red apple, wet stone, brioche, and acacia on the nose. The palate is brisk, medium in body, with intense lemon, orchard fruit, pâtisserie flavours, harmonizing nicely with the creamy texture. Fine, persistent mousse and long finish.
This is a great choice for lovers of toastier, more opulent styles of Champagne. Comprised of equal parts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and 20% Meunier, the base wines are partially aged in oak casks with weekly bâtonnage. 6 different vintages of reserve wine are used in the blend. Buttered toast nuances and grilled hazelnut notes feature on the nose, underscored by orchard fruit and citrus hints. Crisp, medium in body, with fine bubbles, and a very creamy, layered texture. Very long, subtly savoury finish.
Champagne Dhondt-Grellet Les Terres Fines Extra-Brut Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru – 94pts. LW
A very pure, precise Blanc de Blancs, sourced from the Premier Cru “Cuis” on the Côte des Blancs. 48 months ageing on lees gives tempting biscuity aromatics, underscored by pretty white floral notes, green almond, lime and flinty nuances. Racy and sleek on the palate, with ultra-fine bubbles, and mouthwatering citrus, mineral flavours. The high acid and bone-dry (extra-brut) finish are ably balanced by a delicately creamy, concentrated core. Very long, mineral-laden finish.
Similar in style to the Roederer, with slightly racier acidity. Sourced from Grand and Premier Cru villages, this blend of 3% Chardonnay, 42% Pinot Noir, 15% Meunier has elegant, restrained aromas of green apple, bread dough, anise, and wet stone on the nose. Incredibly harmonious on the palate, with the zesty acidity lifting the rich, nutty, rounded mid-palate nicely. Well-defined, persistent bubbles. Brut dosage (10g/L).
Ruinart is the oldest of the Champagne houses, and a perennial favourite of mine. This 60% Pinot Noir / 40% Chardonnay blend is composed of 40% reserve wine and aged on its lees for 3 years. Highly seductive nose featuring acacia, yellow fruits, lemon, and brioche. The palate is multi-dimensioned – with its soaring acidity, and taut, flinty character, harmonizing perfectly with a rich, expansive, nutty mid-palate. Delicate, persistent bubbles linger long in the glass.
This attractive Gran Cuvée blends Chardonnay and a touch of Pinot Noir with traditional Cava grapes. Tempting hints of brioche, grilled nuts and yellow apple feature on the nose. Firm bubbles and fresh acidity give way to a broad, rounded mid-palate and smooth, dry finish.
Delicate style of Prosecco with soft, faintly frothy bubbles and white orchard fruit aromas that amplify on the palate and linger on the clean, fresh finish. Great for lunch time imbibing with its feather light structure and 11% alcohol.
Very pleasant for the price. The nose is restrained upon opening but offers red apple, quince, hints of brioche and ripe lemon aromas with a little time in the glass. Crisp and light bodied on the palate with broad, rounded bubbles. Bright notes of lemon and apple lift the mid-palate. Finishes dry.
Auguste Pirou Brut NV Crémant du Jura (France) – 88pts PW
This Pinot Noir, Chardonnay blend from the Jura, while not overly complex or concentrated, is incredibly vibrant. Lemon and yellow apple aromas dominate, with gooseberry hints and a touch of brioche emerging with time. Tangy and light bodied on the palate, with firm bubbles, a faintly creamy texture and a fresh, lifted finish. Brut.
Juvé y Camps Reserva de la Familia 2015, Cava Gran Reserva (Spain) – 92pts. PW
In terms of value for money, this was the absolute star of the 70 odd sparkling wines at a recent industry tasting here in Montréal. Surprisingly complex on the nose, brimming with ripe yellow fruit aromas, underscored by hints of toast, star anise and earthy nuances. Brisk in acidity, with vigorous bubbles, moderate concentration and an attractive, textural quality on the mid-palate. Nutty, savoury notes linger on the bone-dry (extra-brut) finish.
Very pretty white floral, pear, and lime notes on the nose. Fresh and fruity on the palate, with delicate, well formed bubbles, light body, moderate depth of flavour, and hints of saline minerality on the dry (verging on extra-brut) finish.
Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs NV Sparkling, Niagara (Canada) – 91pts PW
This is some classy sparkling wine for the price. Aged 30 months on its lees, the Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs features enticing aromas of bread dough, green apple, and wet stone on the nose. Delicate floral and citrus notes develop with aeration. Crisp acidity, taut structure and fine, persistent mousse expertly balance the creamy, layered mid-palate and brut dosage. Lovely.
Rosehall Run Ceremony Brut Blanc de Blancs, Prince Edward County (Canada) – 92pts PW
Another serious, home-grown contender! Elegant, floral nose, mingled with red apple, hints of nectarine, green almond, and brioche. Crisp, taut and lean on the palate, with very fine bubbles, lovely saline minerality and a zesty, citrus-driven, bone-dry finish.
Where to Buy:LCBO (34.95$). Quebec: inquire with winery
Roederer Estate Brut NV, Anderson Valley (California) – 90pts. PW
Consistently well crafted from one bottling to the next, the Roederer Estate Brut is big and bold with intense aromas of yellow pear, pâtisserie notes, and exotic spice. Fresh, quite full bodied, and very creamy in texture, with firm, persistent bubbles and concentrated flavours of hazelnut and ripe, yellow fruits. Medium in length. Brut dosage.
Le Marchesine Franciacorta Rose Mellisimato 2013 (Italy) – 91pts. PW
Pale salmon in colour, with an initially restrained nose that develops intriguing hints of brioche, cinnamon spice, orange zest, and cranberry with aeration. Crisp, taut, light in body, and faintly creamy on the palate, with very fine, persistent mousse, and a zesty, dry finish. Brut dosage.
Curious to learn more about Italy’s most famous fizz? Check out my Prosecco 101 video featuring loads of great tips to help you understand the label and get the Prosecco that best suits your palate. If you enjoy it, consider subscribing to my channel to follow my weekly wine education series!
Alcohol in wine…you may think that its only redeeming quality is the mellowing effect it has on us after a hard day’s work. While this is important (in moderation, of course), alcohol actually plays a far more important role in shaping the way a wine tastes and feels on our palate.
***Side note: I have also made this blog post into a short 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.
Let’s start with the basics. Wine is simply fermented grape juice. What happens during the fermentation process? Sugar from the pulp of the grapes gets converted into ethanol (aka ethyl alcohol) and carbon dioxide by yeast. Wine by its very nature could not exist without alcohol.
The alcohol in wine gives a subtle impression of sweetness on the palate. To demonstrate this fact, Michael Schuster proposes an excellent, try-this-at-home experiment in his “Essential Wine Tasting” book. Pour a glass of still water, then in another glass, mix 25% vodka/ 75% water. Taste the plain water, and then taste the vodka mixture. You will immediately see that, even though there is no sugar in the alcoholic beverage, it tastes sweet in comparison with the plain water.
You can also do a similar taste test with wine. If you take two comparable wines with the same level of residual sugar, the lower alcohol wine will appear drier, while the higher alcohol one will seem sweeter.
Alcohol in wine also brings a hint of bitterness similar to that found in tonic water. This bitterness is more or less perceptible depending on how powerful the wine is, and, is also subject to how sensitive the taster is to bitter flavours.
The taste buds on our tongue contain taste receptor cells that allow us to perceive sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and umami flavours. Humans have 25 specific taste receptors for bitterness, as compared to only 2 receptors for salty tastes. However, despite this abundance, many people fail to perceive bitterness. Depending on our genes, our bitter receptors are more or less acute.
Alcohol in wine also has an enormous impact on wine’s texture. We tend to think that wine is something that we smell and taste, but there is also an important tactile component to wine tasting. Some call this “mouthfeel”, how the wine is perceived on the palate (smooth or chalky, thin or thick).
In the case of higher alcohol wines, there is a definite viscosity – an almost syrupy impression that gives weight and roundness to the wine. If you go back to the glass of water vs. vodka mixture and taste them again side by side you will see that the water feels much lighter and leaner on the palate. Wine’s body is, in part, connected to alcohol levels. Dry, lower alcohol wines will feel lighter on the palate than equivalent, higher alcohol versions.
The viscosity of higher alcohol wines also gives a mouth-coating effect that diffuses aromas around the tongue and makes them seem more intense, with greater persistent. They can also feel quite warm on the finish, with very high alcohol wines appearing unpleasantly hot or spirity.
The majority of dry wines are between 12% to 14.5% alcohol. There is no “perfect” amount though. A balanced level of alcohol in wine will depend on many factors, notably the density and structure of a wine. The famous Amarone wines of the Valpolicella area regularly reach 16% alcohol, and generally feel harmonious due to their bold, weighty structure and high levels of dry extract. Conversely, many simple, linear red wines at 13.5% alcohol can feel hot and unbalanced. How we perceive alcohol content also depends on personal taste, tannin levels, acidity, dryness or sweetness, and various other elements of a wine’s make-up.
Consumed in moderation, alcohol in wine has been found to clear fat from the arteries and reduce the blood’s tendency to clot thereby limiting the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and many types of strokes. Most major health organizations, deem 1 to 2 drinks per day (depending on sex, weight, height, etc.) to be moderate. A serving size is measured as 120 to 150mL (4 to 5 ounces) depending on which country’s guidelines you follow
As a parting note, keep in mind that the alcohol level quoted on the label is not necessarily 100% accurate. Eu wineries are allowed a 0.5% leeway up or down in wine alcohol labeling, while the USA permits a full 1% difference. I am always a little suspicious when I see a 14.9% bottle of US wine…Keeping it just shy of 15% seems much lighter, while in reality, the wine could actually be almost 16% alcohol!
So next time you are imbibing, try to think beyond the chill-out factor of alcohol in wine. Taste the sweetness, the bitterness, the viscosity, and the warming sensation on the finish, and you will see how vital alcohol is to shaping wine’s taste and texture.