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UPDATE: FREE TRADE FOR CANADIAN WINES

free trade canadian wines

UPDATE: Free Trade for Canadian Wines

Last summer, I wrote the article below bemoaning Canada’s archaic laws that prohibit the cross-border movement of alcohol. A year later, while there has been some movement, free trade for Canadian wines (and other alcoholic beverages) remains a long way off.

In April 2019, the Liberal government introduced legislation to remove the federal requirement that alcohol moving from one province to another be sold or consigned to a provincial liquor authority. However, it remains at the discretion of each province to forbid or allow direct-to-consumer shipping of out of province alcohol…so essentially, nothing has changed.

We remain a country where, unless you live in the progressive havens of BC, Manitoba or Nova Scotia, “you can order a gun from another province and have it delivered to you, but you can’t order a bottle of wine” laments Dan Paszkowski, president of the Canadian Vintners Association. 

Great wine is being made across Canada – from British Columbia to Nova Scotia. If you want to stand behind Canadian grape growers and winemakers, head on over to FreeMyGrapes and make your voice heard.

To read my full article from last year, click here or simply scroll down below the image. 

PS – Wines from Ontario, BC and Nova Scotia are STILL shelved in the USA or “Autres Pays” (Other Countries) aisles in the majority of SAQ outlets

free trade canadian wines

FREE TRADE FOR CANADIAN WINE

This past week-end, I attended the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (I4C). Held in the Niagara region of Ontario, this joyous event is equal parts professional conference on cool climate winemaking, and raucous party toasting Canada’s arrival in the realm of world-class fine wines.

I tasted so many delicious sparkling wines, Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Cabernet Francs that I literally lost count. I came home brimming over with enthusiasm, ready to stock my cellar with Canadian wine. But I can’t.

Why you ask?

Because in Canada, we cannot legally order wine for home delivery from an out-of-province winery (except in BC, Manitoba and Nova Scotia). And because we have provincial alcohol monopolies, I can only buy what one single retailer decides to offer me.

In Canada, we cannot legally order wine for home delivery from an out-of-province winery.

According to the Canadian Vintners Association, 100% Canadian wine represents less than a 5 % wine sales market share in eight of our 10 provinces. No other wine producing country in the world has such ludicrously low domestic market share.

To test this theory, I took a stroll through my local SAQ the other day. I was happy to see a prominent “Origine Québec” section. However, when I looked for wines from Canada’s other provinces, I was sorely disappointed. There were a total of three wines. They were sitting in the category headed “Autres Pays” (Other Countries), mixed in with wines from obscure eastern European origins.

When I asked an employee if this was the extent of their domestic range, he reassured me that there were more in the produits réguliers (general list) section. He led me to the aisle. Under the category “United States”, I found 2 more Canadian wines.

Canadian wine represents less than a 5 % wine sales market share in eight of our 10 provinces.

Granted, this was one of the smaller format, SAQ Classique stores. But it is located in the heart of one of Montréal’s busiest commercial and residential neighbourhoods. While the larger SAQ Séléction outlets have a better range of Canadian wines, these stores are fewer and farther between.

I can always order on-line from the liquor board, but the selection is a mere fraction of what is on offer direct from the wineries.

So why can’t I just order direct? Because federal restrictions and provincial laws exist across Canada that prohibit the cross-border movement of alcohol. Even if I were to get in my car and drive the 4.5 hours to Prince Edward County or 6.5 hours to Niagara, I still couldn’t legally bring back more than 12 bottles (9 litres).

Nearly a century since the end of prohibition, and we are still being told that we require public supervision of our alcohol intake…

In 2012 Gerard Comeau, a New Brunswick native, was fined 292$ for bringing Québec purchased beer into the province. Comeau refused to pay, citing section 121 of Canada’s constitution which promises free trade of goods between provinces. After a 5-year legal battle, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against Comeau. They argued that the New Brunswick provincial legislation (section 134B) was not intended to restrict trade, simply to “enable public supervision of the production, movement, sale, and use of alcohol within New Brunswick”.

Nearly a century since the end of prohibition, and we are still being told by the Canadian powers-that-be, that we require public supervision of our alcohol intake. And that this imperative trumps our constitutional right to free trade.

The subject of interprovincial alcohol trade was on the agenda of last week’s meeting of Canada’s premiers. The consensus reached was less than impressive. While the premiers agree to “significantly increase personal use exemption limits”, according to New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant, no specific amount or clear indication of timelines were given.

It is not simply the principle of the matter that irks me, it is the great disservice being done to our fledgling wine industry.

And no matter what the new limits are, the very fact that there are limits flies in the face of free trade. It is not simply the principle of the matter that irks me, it is the great disservice being done to our fledgling wine industry. It would seem that our governments are far more concerned with protecting the revenue stream from alcohol monopolies, than supporting the development of Canada’s wineries.

Great wine is being made across Canada – from British Columbia to Nova Scotia. If you want to stand behind Canadian grape growers and winemakers, head on over to FreeMyGrapes and make your voice heard.

You can toast your contribution with a glass of fine Canadian wine. Need a recommendation? Check out my list of favourites (here) from my recent week judging the 2019 National Wine Awards of Canada.

Education

HOW TO READ A WINE LABEL

how to read a wine label

Have you ever stopped to actually read a wine label? I mean, not just a quick glance at the picture of a stately Château or a cheeky hippo, but really taken a few seconds to peruse the contents of the front and back label? You would be amazed by how much you can learn about a wine’s style and quality level once you know how to read a wine label.

***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. 

The wine label, as I describe it below, often encompasses the front and back labels as many producers prefer to keep the front label information to a minimum to focus on the estate or brand name and the art work. With that in mind, the useful information on wine labels includes:

 

The Brand/ Estate Name

Generally displayed fairly prominently on the front label. This is the name of the wine producer’s estate or one of their brands. This is key information to retain if you enjoy a wine and want to purchase it again.

 The Cuvée Name

Most wineries produce more than one wine. A cuvée name like “Yellow Label”, “Bin 407”, or “Hommage à…” is a good way to differentiate one wine from another; especially if the estate makes more than one wine from the same grape variety. This information is useful to note down, alongside the estate/brand name for re-purchasing.

 The Grape Variety

The taste of a specific grape variety, once it has been transformed into wine, can vary depending on the climate of the vineyards and/ or the winemaking techniques employed. Just because you like one producer’s Malbec, you are not guaranteed to like another winemaker’s take on the same grape…especially if one hails from Mendoza and the other from Cahors. Most grape varieties do tend to have basic character traits though that regularly occur regardless of origin, so knowing your preferred varieties can be helpful.

That being said, many European regions traditionally don’t, or legally can’t, write the grape name on the label. For these regions, like Chianti or the Rhône Valley, the expression of the local terroir is more important than varietal typicity.

In Europe, if a single variety is listed on the label, the wine will contain a minimum of 85% of that variety, with up to 15% of other grapes allowed. In the USA however, a wine with one single grape mentioned on the label can have just 75% of that variety in the blend.

 The Vintage

The vintage refers to the year in which the grapes were harvested. Each growing season is different, especially in cooler climate areas. Colder growing seasons will give wines with more tart flavours and higher acid. Wines from warmer growing seasons will be riper and fleshier. When you are purchasing premium wines, it is worth considering the vintage conditions to get a sense of how the wine will taste or, potentially, how well it will cellar.

If you are buying more affordable, every day wines there is generally less vintage variation but these wines usually don’t age very well, so you want to make sure you are buying a recent bottlings. For white and rosé wines  look for a harvest date within the last 18 months or so, for most red wines you can push this up to 3 years.

 The Appellation of Origin

Somewhere on the front and/ or back label, you will see an indication of the wine’s origin, sometimes called an appellation. An appellation can be as wide as a whole region like Bordeaux or California, or it can be as specific as a single village or vineyard site. Generally, the more site specific the appellation, the better quality the wine. If you see terms like Premier Cru or Grand Cru on French wine, Classico on Italian wine, Erste Lage or Grosse Lage on German wines, these are indications of superior (sometimes single vineyard) sites.

Quality Designations

Riserva, Reserva, Gran Reserva, Superiore, Smaragd…  Each region and country, especially in Europe, has their own set of terms to denote superior quality wines. Wines with these mentions usually come from better vineyard sites, have achieved a high level of ripeness, and are aged for longer at the winery. I go into more detail about these mentions and appellation specifications in region specific articles.

There are also a couple of very vague terms that wineries love to throw on labels. Some of the most notorious mentions include : “Old Vines” and “Reserve” or “Prestige”.

Older vines generally produce a lower yield of more flavourful, concentrated grapes. Wines from healthy 30-year-old or older vines often give high quality wines. However, there is no set legal definition for the term. So, if you see the term Vieilles Vignes or Old Vines on the label, you never really know if the vines are barely teenagers or really are mature adults. If you see a wine labelled “old vine” under 15$, I would be a little suspicious.

The words Reserve and Prestige can also be pretty meaningless. They are meant to imply a step up in quality from the producer’s basic wines, and many wineries do employ these terms honestly. Frustratingly, there are countless Prestige or Reserve wines out there that are barely palatable. Sadly, for many wineries, these words are nothing but marketing hype.

The Alcohol Percentage by Volume

A wine’s alcohol percentage will tell you a lot about its taste profile. The lower in alcohol the wine, generally the lighter it will be in body. Alcohol gives viscosity to wine, giving a weightier, more rounded sensation. A 12% alcohol red wine will taste very lean on the palate as compared to a 14.5% alcohol version.

Health & Dietary Information

If you look at a wine’s back label, you might see some health warnings like:

Contains Sulphites: Yes, many wines contain sulphites – both naturally as a by-product of fermentation – and potentially added to protect them from oxidation and bacterial spoilage. Don’t be alarmed though, the level is well within health and safety norms, and contrary to popular belief, most health officials agree that sulphites in wine do not cause headaches.

Suitable for vegetarians/ or vegans: substances are often added to wines before bottling to absorb any sediments and, occasionally, to soften tannins. These are called fining agents. Certain are composed of milk products, egg whites, and gelatin so are not always vegetarian/ vegan friendly. If a wine has been labelled “suitable” for one group or both, it will either be fined using an alternative substance like bentonite clay, or has been bottled without fining.

Other Information

Each wine label or capsule will have a lot code (a string of multiple digits) somewhere on the wine capsule or label that will allow wineries to trace a bottle back to the exact bottling date, batch, and so forth for quality control reasons.

A reference to the bottler, and whether it was estate bottled or not, is included in some countries as well. Some labels also carry information on the importer, wine agency, or distributor that carries a wine. This is a good point of contact for consumers looking for retailer information or wanting to report an issue with a purchased bottle.

Finally, many back labels will also give information about the winery, the winemaking techniques, food pairing options, service temperature suggestions and so on. That can also make for interesting reading if you so desire.

The Video

For those visual learners among you who prefer to watch… here is a video version of the above article!

 

Education

HOW TO FIND THE BEST ROSÉ WINES

best rosé wines

You know that spring has arrived when stacks of rosé wine start hitting the wine shops. From still to sparkling, dry to sweet, pale pink to deep fuscia , there is a huge diversity of styles when it comes to rosé. This can make finding the best rosé wines to suit your palate a little tricky!

What is Rosé?

Rosé is essentially a paler, lighter bodied version of red wine. It is generally made with red wine grape varieties. The difference is that rosé wines spend as little as a few hours, or up to two to three days, in contact with their skins, before being pressed and then fermented like white wine. Red wines are macerated on their skins for far longer (anywhere from one to three weeks).   Rosé’s shorter maceration period means that the colouring pigments, aromatic compounds, and tannins found in grape skins have less time to leach into the wine, resulting in paler wines, with more delicate aromas and softer tannins.

What Grape Varieties are used to Make Rosé?

Each rosé producing country and region has its favourite grape varieties. I have tasted rosé wines made from dozens of different grapes, but some of the most popular varieties include:

  • Grenache: fragrant raspberry aromas, moderate acidity, high alcohol
  • Syrah: dark fruit & spice flavours, fresh acidity, firm structure, tannic
  • Cinsault: light, perfumed (ripe to candied red berries), refreshing, low tannins
  • Vermentino (aka Rolle): minor white grape used in Côtes de Provence rosé blends. Said to accentuate aromatics and give subtle saline nuances on the finish.
  • Pinot Noir: elegant, with tart red berry and floral notes, crisp acidity, low to moderate tannins
  • Sangiovese: high, crisp acidity, sometimes a faint sour cherry bitterness, generally very dry
  • Cabernet Sauvignon: similar aromas as the red wine, if more restrained: bell pepper, black currant notes, crisp, medium bodied, with a firm structure, subtle tannic grip
  • Zinfandel: overt candied red and black fruit, often produced in a simple, low alcohol, sweet style

How much or how little the chosen grape variety(ies) influence the style of the wine depends on how long the rosé macerates on its grape skins, and what percentage of each grape is used if a blend of two or more varieties is made.

Fun Fact about Rosé Wine!

Thanks to a big celebrity boost and some clever social media campaigns, rosé wine has skyrocketed in popularity over the last decade. Despite what you might think though, rosé is far from a new wine style. The Greeks were making rosé wines in the colony of Massilia (Marseille) back in 600 B.C. Long after the Romans arrived and started producing fuller-bodied red wines, the pale pink Provincia Romana wines remained popular.

Different Rosé Styles

The stylistic range of rosé wine is immense. From light-bodied, refreshing, bone-dry rosés to sweet, low alcohol, fruity rosés, and elegant sparkling rosés, there is definitely a rosé wine out there for you.  The major styles include:

Sparkling rosé 

The majority of sparkling rosé wines follow the same initial winemaking as still rosés, followed by a secondary fermentation in tank or bottle to render the wines effervescent. Depending on the region, they can be mono-varietal wines or blends, and tend to have a fairly similar profile to their sparkling white counterparts, with more vibrant fruit, and a slightly weightier, rounder mid-palate. In Champagne, rosé is produced by blending still white wines and red wines together. This gives a slightly firmer, more structured style of sparkling rosé.

Try these styles:

  • Champagne rosé, France (generally Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Meunier blends)
  • Franciacorta rosé, Italy (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc blends)
  • Cava Rosado, Spain (a blend of white Cava grapes with a minimum of 25% red grapes including: Garnacha, Monastrell, Pinot Noir or Trepat)

Pale Pink to Salmon Coloured, Dry Rosé

Pale coloured rosé wine is generally “direct pressed”. This means that the grapes are only in contact with their skins for a very brief period (4 – 6 hours is common). This style of rosé tends to have fairly restrained aromas ranging from pink grapefruit, to subtle red berry notes, to floral or herbal nuances. They are light in body, often quite crisp and refreshing, with a bone dry finish. Pale, dry rosé is a great alternative to crisp white wines for pre-supper sipping.

Try these styles:

  • Côtes-de-Provence, France (Grenache or Cinsault dominant blends from Provence)
  • Côtes-du-Rhône or Costières-de-Nîmes, France (Grenache, Syrah led blends from the Southern Rhône)
  • Pale Spanish rosado (Tempranillo-led blends from Navarra or Rioja)

Coral to Fuscia Coloured, Dry Rosé

Medium to dark coloured rosé wine is often fermented on its skins like a red wine for anywhere from 10 to 36 hours, before being drawn off its skins and finishing fermentation in a separate vessel. This process is called “saignée” which literally means bleeding off. Rosés made in this style tend to have more intense fruity aromas, a weightier mouthfeel, and firmer structure. They can also have subtle tannic grip on the finish. This denser style of rosé will pair well with a variety of lighter fare. You can serve it in place of light red wines.

Try these styles:

  • Tavel, France (Grenache dominant blends from the Southern Rhône Valley)
  • Navarra, France (Garnacha single varietal wines)
  • Bandol, France (Mourvèdre dominant blends, South Eastern France)
  • Marsannay, France (Pinot Noir from Burgundy) or Sancerre rosé (Pinot Noir, Loire Valley)

Sweet Rosé

Off-dry to sweet styles of rosé have a long-standing and staunchly loyal following. They are often quite low in alcohol, with overtly fruity/candied flavours, and a smooth, rounded palate. Sweetness levels vary from subtle to pronounced. They can be anywhere from pale pink to deep fuscia in colour. These rosé styles are perfect for wine lovers with a sweet tooth.

Try these styles:

  • White Zinfandel, California (medium sweet, low 9 – 10% alcohol, moderate acidity)
  • Pink Moscato, California & Australia (Mosato, often blended with a touch of Merlot, medium sweet to sweet, very low 7.5 to 9% alcohol, moderate acidity, still and semi-sparkling versions)
  • Rosé d’Anjou, France (mainly Grolleau grape, medium sweet, low 10% alcohol, brisk acidity, Loire Valley)
  • Cabernet d’Anjou, France (Cabernet Franc and/ or Cabernet Sauvignon, off-dry, Loire Valley)

Oak Aged, Premium Rosé

Don’t be surprised if you see rosé wines well over the 30$ mark on wine store shelves these days. Many of these, especially from the rosé hot spot of Provence, are starting to employ fine white winemaking techniques for rosé. This treatment is usually reserved for the estate’s best parcels of old vines. Vinification practices include barrel fermentation, lees stirring, long barrel ageing, and so forth. The result is a concentrated yet voluptuous style of rosé with a creamy, layered texture and a complex array of subtle fruity, spicy and woody nuances.

Try these wines:

  • Côtes-de-Provence top cuvées such as: Château d’Esclans “Garrus”, Clos Cibonne “Cuvée Speciale des Vignette”
  • Bandol, France: Château Romassan (owned by Domaine Ott)
  • Rioja, Spain: López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva Rosado
  • Abruzzo, Italy: Valentini Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo

 

Expert Tips to Get Maximum Enjoyment from your Next Glass of Rosé Wine! 

Education Life

LOW CALORIE WINES: HOW TO DRINK WINE ON A DIET

low calorie wines

So you want to lose a few pounds, but you don’t want to give up your evening glass of wine? I am with you! Never fear, there is a way. It does involve moderation though…or failing that, seeking out low calorie wines.

The calories in wine come from wine’s alcohol and its sugar content. Alcohol actually contributes more calories than sugar; 7 calories per gram of alcohol, compared to just 4 calories per gram of sugar. So, you want to pay particular attention to alcohol levels. Want to learn more about the best low calorie wines + great tips and tricks to keep your wine consumption moderate? Just click on the video, and if you like what you see, consider subscribing to my channel so you never miss a weekly episode!

 

Education

How Long Does an Open Bottle of Wine Last?

How long does an open bottle of wine last

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.

Education

WHAT IS NATURAL WINE?

What is natural wine

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.

Education

7 HOUSE WINE STYLES TO ALWAYS KEEP IN STOCK

house wines

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Education

WHY WINE IS GIVING YOU HEADACHES

wine headaches

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. 

Sulphites

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:

Alcohol

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:

  1. Drink moderately (health officials advise limiting consumption to 1 – 2 glasses of 120 – 150mL per day, depending on sex, weight, and tolerance)
  2. Try switching to lower alcohol wines
  3. Avoid sweeter wine styles (the combination of sugar and alcohol in wine is said to dehydrate the body even faster)
  4. 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)
  5. Never drink on an empty stomach (food will help dilute the effects of alcohol)

Histamines

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

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.

Education

HOW ALCOHOL IN WINE SHAPES FLAVOUR

alcohol in wine

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.

 

Education Reviews Wines

Perplexed about Pinot Gris(gio)?

pinot gris pinot grigio
Photo Credit: Trentino vineyards, G. Blisson

If you drink white wine you have definitely had Pinot Grigio. It is the king of by-the-glass wine options in bars and cafés around the world. Why? Because even the cheapest versions are pretty inoffensive. They are smooth, easy drinking, and fairly neutral on the nose and palate. What’s not to tolerate?

What you may not know however is that this little grape  is capable of so. much. more.

Just like Syrah and Shiraz, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are one and the same. The variety also goes by many other names but Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the two most commonly used monikers. They have come to define quite varied stylistic approaches.

Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are one and the same. Pinot Gris wines tend to be richer and weightier, while Pinot Grigios are fresher, lighter in body, and leaner in structure.

Pinot Gris wines tend to be richer and weightier with fragrant aromas of ripe orchard and stone fruits, underscored by hints of spice. They often feature an oily, textural mouthfeel, and modest acidity. They can be unoaked or lightly oaked, and are often subtly sweet.

Pinot Grigio wines are generally much fresher, lighter in body, and leaner in structure. They are generally unoaked and bone-dry, with restrained citrus, orchard fruit, and almond aromas and flavours. This more delicate style is often achieved by early harvesting while grape acid levels remain relatively high.

The grape is a colour mutation of the Pinot Noir variety.

The grape is a colour mutation of the Pinot Noir variety. While most white wine grape skins are green when ripe, Pinot Gris/Grigio grapes range from a golden-pinkish shade to quite a deep grey-blue in warmer climates (hence the name Pinot Grid or grey Pinot). This dark skin colour often results in a subtle copper or pink tinge in the resultant wines. It also explains the existence of Pinot Grigio rosé.

While Pinot Gris/Grigio grapes are grown all over the world, France and Italy are by far the best known producers. Let’s go on a little tour of where the grape is most widely grown.

In Alsace, France Pinot Gris accounts for 15% of all vineyard plantings. It is considered one of the four “noble” grapes in Alsace (along with Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Muscat). With a few minor exceptions, these are the only grape varieties permitted in Alsace’s finest, Grand Cru vineyards. Alsace Pinot Gris is pale to deep gold in colour, with rounded acidity, complex aromas of earth, ripe stone and orchard fruits, hints of smoke and spice, and honeyed notes on late harvest wines.

In Alsace, France Pinot Gris accounts for 15% of all vineyard plantings.

Sweetness levels in Alsace range from off-dry (9 to 15g/L residual sugar) for the majority of wines, to marked, yet balanced, juicy sweetness for the late harvest categories of Vendanges Tardives (60 – 90g/L) and Sélection Grains Nobles (120 – 160g/L).

Alsatian Pinot Gris ranges from medium to full-bodied, has a rounded, subtly oily texture, and attractive phenolic grip on the finish. It is generally aged in neutral vessels like stainless steel or old oak foudres (large-scale barrels of varying sizes). The regional quality hierarchy ranges from: AOC Alsace, to AOC Alsace Grand Cru, with some producers also producing a “Réserve” level of AOC Alsace to define a middle ground.

In Italy, Pinot Grigio is produced predominantly in Northeastern Italy with strong holds in the Veneto and Friuli notably, but also Trentino, Alto Adige and Lombardy. The entry level examples are pale, crisp, dry, and neutral (as explained above). They are often labelled IGT (indicazione geografica tipica – which basically indicates that grapes can come from anywhere within a large region) or DOC delle Venezie.

In Italy, Pinot Grigio is produced throughout Northeastern Italy with strong holds in the Veneto and Friuli notably.

More premium versions have far more body, grip, and perfume. The Alto Adige region borders Austria and Switzerland. Pinot Grigio vineyards are planting on slopes at high altitudes, bringing vibrant acidity, attractive mineral hints, and aromatic notes of peach, pelon, pear, and spice. The wines tend to be light to medium bodied, precise, elegant, and quite long.

In Friuli-Venezia Giulia, excellent Pinot Grigio wines are made in several sub-zones. These wines tend to be slightly less fragrant than Alto Adige, but fuller-bodied and richly textured. The steep slopes of the Collio DOC gives zesty acidity. The wines are very powerful, and often delicately oaked. In Colli Orientali del Friuli, pretty aromas of white flowers and ripe apples feature.

In Germany, the grape is referred to as Grauburgunder or Ruländer (often used for sweeter styles). It is grown predominantly in the warm Baden and Pfalz regions, and also Rheinhessen. Styles range from the Grigio to Gris profiles, with the most powerful, fuller-bodied wines often displaying tropical fruit nuances and spice.

In Germany, the grape is referred to as Grauburgunder or Ruländer.

Oregon tends to produce a hybrid style featuring the fresher acidity and drier finish of Pinot Grigio, with the textural quality, body and higher alcohol often seen on Pinot Gris. The wines are more fruit-driven (less earthy/ mineral/ smoky) than European versions, with white orchard fruit and subtle tropical notes. Most wines are unoaked or aged in neutral oak to allow subtle oxygenation.

New Zealand is also a very fine up-and-coming region for Pinot Gris. Aromas of apple, pear, honeysuckle, and spice are common. On the warmer North Island the style is riper, weightier, and oilier.  Look to the regions of Hawkes Bay and Gisbourne for this. On the cooler South Island, the wines are fresher, more taut, and often more structured. Marlborough, Canterbury, and Central Otago are the main Pinot Gris producing regions here.

New Zealand is also a very fine up-and-coming region for Pinot Gris.

The majority of New Zealand Pinot Gris is off-dry, though with such a fresh character that the residual sugar is often barely perceptible. Ageing in used barrels with extended fine lees contact is becoming increasingly common in premium New Zealand Pinot Gris, giving a more layered, creamy mouthfeel to the wines.

The Pinot Gris/Grigio grape is the theme variety of this year’s: La Grande Dégustation de Montréal (on this Thursday to Saturday, Nov 1st to 3rd). I recently participated in the jury that selected the top 10 Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigios to feature at the fair, and in SAQ stores.

Among the winning wines, here is my top 5:

(What do VW, PW, LW mean? Check out my wine scoring system to find out.)

Domaine Schlumberger Pinot Gris AOC Alsace Grand Cru “Kitterle” 2013 – 92pts. PW

Initially muted, with notes of ripe yellow fruits (peach, plum, yellow apple), underscored by hints of mushroom, raw honey, and spice, becoming quite powerful with aeration. Brisk acidity, full-body, and a rich, layered texture expertly balance the medium sweet, fruity finish. Vibrant fruit flavours linger on the finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (coming soon), inquire with agent: Sélections Oeno

Vignoble des 2 Lunes Pinot Gris “Sélénité” AOC Alsace 2016 – 89pts. PW

Moderately aromatic, with an initial earthy, wet stone character, giving way to pear, lemon and floral hints as it opens in the glass. This dry Pinot Gris is medium in body, with bright acidity, and a savoury, moderately firm palate profile. It finishes with tart apple and honeyed hints on the juicy finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (coming soon), inquire with agent: Vin Vrai

Maison Pierre Sparr Successeurs Pinot Gris “Calcaire” AOC Alsace 2015 – 88pts. VW

Earthy, with inviting peach, apricot notes, lemon zest, and hints of smoke on the nose. Really juicy and lively on the palate, with moderate concentration, a rounded structure, and subtle off-dry finish. Easy-drinking week-day white.

Where to buy: inquire with agent: Robert Peides

Tenute Salvaterra Pinot Grigio DOC Delle Venezie 2017 – 88pts VW

Expressive nose featuring yellow apple, melon, and apricot notes. Crisp, light-bodied, and precise on the palate with zesty citrus and orchard fruit flavours, and subtle candied fruit notes on the dry finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (coming soon), inquire with agent: Le Grand Cellier

Piera Martellozzo P.M. Pinot Grigio “Terre Magre” DOC Friuli 2017 – 87pts. VW

Delicate notes of white orchard fruit and lemon on the nose. The palate is juicy and rounded, with brisk acidity adding vibrancy and definition. Short, but pleasantly fruity, dry finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (coming soon), inquire with agent: Divin Paradis