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Rías Baixas Vineyards: Exploring the Sub-Regions

Rías Baixas vineyards

Rías Baixas vineyards are located on the northwestern coast of Spain, in the region of Galicia. In the Galician dialect, the name Rías Baixas means “Lower Rias”, and this refers to the four estuaries that dissect the area.

Side note: This Rías Baixas vineyards article is also available in video format (produced in partnership with Rías Baixas wines). To watch, just scroll to the bottom. If you enjoy the video, consider subscribing to my YouTube wine education channel (click here) so you never miss an episode!

The estuaries of Rías Baixas are home to a rich diversity of marine life. They shape the landscape and are a major part of what make Albariño from Rías Baixas vineyards so unique.

Rías Baixas Vineyards: Five Unique Sub-Regions

Five distinct vineyard sub-regions were identified in Rías Baixas based on proximity to or distance from the coast, altitude, orientation, soil variations and so forth.

They are: Val do Salnés, O Rosal, Condado do Tea (con-dah-doh d-oh tay-ah), Soutomaior (S-oh-toh-my-or), and Ribeira do Ulla (Ree-bay-ra do Oo-ya).

Rías Baixas Vineyards Map

 Rías Baixas Vineyards: Val do Salnés

Val do Salnés, on the Atlantic coast, is the region’s oldest sub-region. Over half of Rías Baixas vineyards, and two-thirds of its wineries, are based here. It is also considered to be the birthplace of the Albariño grape variety.

Both 100% Albariño and blended white wines are made in Val do Salnés. According to Rías Baixas DO regulations, blends must be made from a minimum of 70% Albariño, with local varieties: Loureiro, Treixadura, or Caiño Blanco.

Val do Salnés has the coolest and wettest weather patterns of all Rías Baixas vineyards, with average yearly temperatures of just 13 degrees Celsius. The soils here are granite-based and quite rocky. These factors give the wines of  Val do Salnés high, nervy acidity and marked salinity.

Cooler vineyard sites within the sub-region have tart fruit flavours on the citrus and green fruit spectrum, whereas sunnier spots tend to have riper, tropical fruit nuances.

Rías Baixas vineyards Val do Salnés

 Rías Baixas Vineyards: O Rosal

O Rosal is a small, coastal sub-region south of Val do Salnés. It follows the northern bank of the Miño River, looking out to Portugal on its southern bank. The vineyards directly along the river are planted on terraces, with excellent sun exposure.

This area is slightly warmer with alluvial topsoil over granite and outcrops of slate. Albariño is often bottled varietally, but when it is blended, Loureiro is the secondary grape variety authorized in O Rosal. This delicate white variety gives a subtle floral note to wines.

In general, the white wines of O Rosal have intense stone fruit flavours and a rounded mouthfeel.

Rías Baixas vineyards O Rosal

Rías Baixas Vineyards: Condado do Tea

The terroir of Condado do Tea extends inland from O Rosal following the Miño River into a rugged, mountainous territory. The vineyards are dissected by a tributary of the Miño, called the Tea River and Condado do Tea (the “Country of Tea”) is named for this.

As Condado do Tea is further from the coast, it is less affected by cooling marine breezes, so it is a warmer territory. The soils are quite shallow here, with granite and slate sub-layers quite near the surface. Slate is an excellent conduit for radiating heat, which helps boost ripening.

Albariño is, again, the major grape. When it is blended, the permitted secondary variety is Treixadura (aka Trajadura) which has quite a firm, steely structure.

Condado do Tea wines are earthier than other sub-regions, with less overt fruit flavours.

Rías Baixas vineyards Condado do Tea

Rías Baixas Vineyards: Soutomaior

 If we head due north of Condado do Tea, we arrive at the smallest Rías Baixas sub-region: Soutomaior (S-oh-toh-my-or). A mere 12 hectares of vines and three wineries are based here.

Soutomaior starts at the head of the Rías de Vigo. It is a hilly area with light, sandy soils over a granite bedrock. The wines are taut and mineral-driven.

Rías Baixas vineyards Soutomaior

Rías Baixas Vineyards: Ribeira do Ulla

 Ribeira do Ulla (Ree-bay-ra do Oo-ya) is the newest Rías Baixas vineyards’ sub-region, located north east of Val do Salnés and directly south east of Santiago de Compostela. The vineyards are planted on the hillsides and plains along both banks of the Ulla River.

The soils here are rich and alluvial, giving very fruity, rounded, easy drinking white wines.

Rías Baixas vineyards Ribeira do Ulla

Rías Baixas Vineyards’ Wines Tasted in the Video!

Rectoral do Umia Abellio Albariño, Val do Salnés

Bodegas Altos de Torona, Pazo de Villarei, O Rosal

Fillaboa Winery Albariño, Condado do Tea

Photo credit: https://www.riasbaixaswines.com/

Education

The Sensational Spanish White Wines of Rías Baixas

Photo credit: Rías Baixas Wines (Spanish White Wines of Rías Baixas)

When most people think of Spanish wine, they imagine sun-drenched vineyards and bold, spicy red wines. Few consider the exciting Spanish white wines being made throughout the country today. One of the most exciting of which to emerge in recent years, is the crisp, aromatic Albariño.

Side note: This Spanish White Wines of  Rías Baixas article was also produced as a sponsored video (in partnership with Rías Baixas wines). To watch, just scroll down to the bottom and click play. If you enjoy the video, consider subscribing (click here) to my YouTube wine education channel so you never miss an episode. 

Experts agree that the finest vineyard region for Albariño is Rías Baixas. But what is it that makes Rías Baixas so uniquely suited to produce top-quality Spanish white wines?

Locating Rías Baixas

 Rías Baixas has a winemaking tradition dating back to Roman times. The region is located on the northwestern coast of Spain, in Galicia. This part of the country is often referred to as Green Spain. With its cool, rainy weather and lush, emerald-green hillsides it is easy to understand why.

Visitors frequently compare Galicia to parts of Ireland or Scotland, not only for these landscapes but also the lingering architectural, cultural, and musical traces of its Celtic origins.

The wine growing area of Rías Baixas stretches along the Atlantic coast for roughly 100 kilometres, from due south of the famous Christian pilgrimage site, Santiago de Compostela, to the Portuguese border.

Spanish White Wines - Rias Baixas

Spanish White Wines – Rias Baixas region map

The Climate & Soils of Rías Baixas

Rías Baixas has moderate year-round temperatures. The combination of abundant sunshine, cooling Atlantic breezes, and regular rainfall leads to slow, even ripening and excellent acid retention in the grapes. This gives wines with racy acidity and pure, vibrant aromas.

The topography of the region is highly varied, with jagged inlets, shallow fjords, flat lands, and gentle slopes. Vineyard plots tend to be quite small. Indeed, the region has well over 5000 growers – often small family holdings passed down from generation to generation.

The growing areas of Rías Baixas are divided into five sub-regions which we will explore in more detail in an upcoming, part two of this series.

Granite and schist-based soils are common Rías Baixas with mineral-rich alluvial top-soil. The minerality from the soil and salinity from the Atlantic climate are hallmarks of Rías Baixas wines.

Albariño, A Noble Grape Among Spanish White Wines

A whopping 99% of Rías Baixas’ production is of dry, white wine. The vast majority of these wines are made from Albariño, which makes up 96% of the region’s plantings. Small volumes of other white varieties like Treixadura, Loureiro, Caiño Blanco are also grown here.

These secondary grapes serve as minor blending elements to add nuance to the wines. Minute quantities of top-quality traditional method sparkling wine and red wine is also made in Rías Baixas.

Albariño  is a late ripening grape that thrives in Rías Baixas’ cool, sunny climate. To counter the region’s high humidity levels, the majority of vines are trained on pergola style wire trellises, affixed to granite posts, called “parras”. This vine training system allows breezes to circulate in and around the vines fruiting area.

Spanish white wines - Parras trellis

Spanish white wines – harvesting in Rias Baixas

Vinifying the Spanish White Wines of Rías Baixas

Most grapes are hand-harvested in Rías Baixas. A short cold soak on the skins is common before fermentation to enhance aromatic potential. Wines are then generally fermented in stainless steel, then aged on their fine lees for anywhere from four to nine months to preserve freshness and give a layered, textural mouthfeel.

As temperatures rise, many of Rías Baixas winemakers are moving away from full malolactic fermentation.  This process converts harsh malic acid to softer lactic acid. Blocking this transformation keeps acidity levels high. This is vital in Rías Baixas. The bright acidity of the region’s Albariño is one its signature traits, making these Spanish white wines so popular.

When it is practiced, oak ageing (and in rare cases, fermentation in oak) tends to be reserved for premium cuvées. In these cases, large, neutral oak casks or smaller, seasoned barrels are used so that oak flavours don’t overpower the wine’s bright, fruity character.

A Dynamic, Empowered Wine Region for Spanish White Wines

Rías Baixas is an incredibly dynamic wine region. When the DO origin status was granted in 1988 there were just 14 commercial wineries. Now, there are almost 200 producers. And the Spanish white wines of Rías Baixas are served in wine-focused restaurants around the globe.

What’s more, women are leading the charge in Rías Baixas. More than half of the region’s winemakers and winery executives are women. Marisol Bueno, co-owner of Val do Salnés winery Pazo Señorans was instrumental in Rías Baixas achieving DO status and international recognition.

Tasting the Spanish White Wines of Rías Baixas

In general, Rías Baixas white wines are bone dry, with mouth watering acidity, medium body, refreshing salinity, and intense stone, citrus, and tropical fruit flavours.

Curious to try the three Spanish white wines of Rías Baixas presented in the video? Here are the producer’s and cuvée names:

Education Reviews

A Vinophile’s Guide to Brunello di Montalcino Wines

In the 1970s, the Tuscan municipality of Montalcino was home to some 30 wineries producing DOC-level red wines sold primarily within Italy. Now, the region boasts well over 200 producers and bottlers. Elevated to the coveted DOCG status in 1980, Brunello di Montalcino wines are among the most sought after Italian wines today.

Side note: This Brunello di Montalcino wines article was also produced as a sponsored video (in partnership with the Consorzio del Brunello di Montalcino).  To watch, just scroll down to the bottom and click play. If you enjoy the video, consider subscribing (click here) to my YouTube wine education channel so you never miss an episode. 

Montalcino lies forty kilometres south of Siena and roughly 50 kilometres inland from the Tyrrhenian Sea. This fortified, medieval town is perched atop a lone hill that rises from the gentle pasture lands of the Unesco World Heritage Val d’Orcia region. It is from the vineyards that surround Montalcino that the fabled Brunello di Montalcino wines are produced.

Among the rolling pasture lands of the Val d’Orcia, rises a lone hill. Perched near the top is the medieval village of Montalcino. 

Montalcino enjoys a warm, dry Mediterranean climate. The region is sheltered from rain and hail by Mount Amiata to its south east. Conditions are cooler at higher elevations. From mid-slope to the higher reaches, a significant difference in day to nighttime temperatures slows down vine ripening. This results in ripe, concentrated, tannic wines ably balanced by fresh acidity.

Many millions of years ago most of Italy was underwater. Tuscany lay under a shallow sea with the top of Montalcino emerging like a small island in its midst. Over the span of numerous geological eras, the oceans receded and returned in the area around Montalcino, causing massive landslides pulling soils from the summit toward the middle of the hill.

These influences, coupled with volcanic activity from the now extinct Mount Amiata, created an incredible diversity of soils in the region. Lower lying vineyards have lighter, more fertile, alluvial soils for the most part, whereas higher vineyard sites tend to be rockier, with limestone and marl-rich soils.

Many millions of years ago Tuscany lay under a shallow sea, with the top of Montalcino emerging like a small island in its midst.

The commune of Montalcino spans over 31 000 hectares, with a mere 15% devoted to grape vines. Forests, olive groves, and seeded crop lands cover much of the territory. While international demand is high, the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino (the grower and winery consortium for Brunello di Montalcino wines) only permits a 3% annual increase in total vineyard acreage so as to protect the region’s rich biodiversity.

Whereas many Tuscan Sangiovese strongholds allow blending in of secondary grape varieties, Brunello di Montalcino wines are made exclusively from Sangiovese. Historically, one specific group of Sangiovese clones (referred to locally as ‘Brunello’, or more specifically ‘Sangiovese Grosso’) was planted. This is no longer the case.

Sangiovese Grosso grapes have a high pulp-to-skin ratio. Given that the highest concentration of phenolic (colour, tannins) and flavour compounds are found in the skin, a higher skin-to-pulp ratio is favourable for truly concentrated, complex wines. Nowadays, a large variety of clonal selections exist in Montalcino; a boon to both quality and stylistic diversity.

Whereas many Tuscan Sangiovese strongholds allow blending, Brunello di Montalcino wines are made exclusively from Sangiovese.

Brunello di Montalcino wines are aged for 5 years before release (with a minimum of 2 years in oak casks). Even more premium, are the Brunello ‘Riserva’ wines which see a full 6 years’ maturation. Traditionally, large Slavonian oak botti (one to ten thousand litre casks) were used for ageing. Nowadays, Brunello producers use both Slavonian botti and French oak barrels of varying sizes.

Brunello di Montalcino wines offer red and dark fruit aromas, underscored by dried herbs, and balsamic notes. They are fresh and full-bodied on the palate, with concentrated, ripe fruit flavours, and muscular tannins. Due to their complexity and structure, Brunellos have excellent ageing potential, softening and developing attractive dried floral, fig and leather flavours over time.

Due to their complexity and structure, Brunello di Montalcino wines have excellent ageing potential, softening and developing attractive tertiary flavours over time.

While waiting for Brunello di Montalcino wines to mature, enthusiasts can sip on the region’s “second wines”; namely Rosso di Montalcino DOC. Made from younger plantings of Sangiovese, or from less favourable vineyard sites, Rosso di Montalcino wines are aged for just one year before release.

Dubbed “baby Brunello” by many producers, these early-drinking reds are a great foreshadowing of the potential of a Brunello vintage. They have similar aromas and flavours, but are lighter in body and structure, with softer tannins.

Rosso di Montalcino wines

In preparation for a series of masterclasses on the region, I had the great pleasure of chatting with a number of Montalcino winemakers and winery owners. The impression I got was of a dynamic region, with a firm focus on sustainable viticulture and winemaking practices, and a growing contingent of women in leadership positions.

Donatella Cinelli Colombini shared her story of hiring an oenologist back in the days where male winemakers were in high demand while their female counterparts were decidedly not! That realization led her to create an all women winery team; an initiative that has inspired women throughout the region.

Il Paradiso di Frassina winemaker, Federico Ricci, spoke of their Mozart in the vineyards project (see more here). Castello di Banfi general manager, Enrico Viglierchio, detailed the important clonal research the winery has undertaken to isolate top quality Sangiovese clones. 

Many more fascinating tales were told, and at the heart of each discussion, were the themes of increasingly organic vineyard practices and measures undertaken to reduce vineyard and winery carbon footprint.

Brunello di Montalcino wines line up

The best way to experience Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino wines is glass in hand, wandering through the vineyards on a sunny day in Tuscany. Unfortunately, for now we must use our imagination and travel through our tastings.

The Montalcino region has been blessed with a number of excellent to outstanding vintages in recent years. Our masterclass wines included the highly varied 2012, 2014, and 2015 vintages of Brunello di Montalcino wines, as well as the 2018 and 2019 Rosso di Montalcino vintages.

2012: 5-star vintage. Rich, concentrated wines that show a fine balance between ripe fruit flavours and vibrant acidity. Exceptional cellaring potential. Hold.

2014: 3-star vintage. Cool, rainy growing season that produced a smaller than average crop. Light, finely chiselled wines with bright fruit and tangy acidity. Drink now.

2015: 5-star vintage. Warm summer with cool overnight temperatures resulting in ripe, rich wines with balanced freshness, and powerful tannic structure. Hold.

2018: 4-star vintage. Summer heatwaves followed by cooler, rainier weather near harvest. The wines are shaping up to be elegant and silky, with a charming, upfront fruit profile. Rosso: drink now. Brunello: not yet released.

2019: 5-star vintage. A warm season with slow, even ripening. The wines look to be very fruit-forward, with ripe tannins, and lots of finesse. Rosso: drink now/hold 1 year. Brunello: not yet released.

Check out these excellent Brunello producers: Altesino, Caparzo, Il Paradiso di Frassina, Carpineto, La Poderina, Castello Romitorio, Campogiovanni (San Felice), Col d’Orcia, Castello BanfiDonatella Cinelli ColombiniFornacina, Fattoria dei Barbi

Photo credit: Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino

Education Producers

Central Otago Pinot Noir: Discover the Sub-Regions

Central Otago Pinot Noir
Photo credit: Misha’s Vineyard/ NZ Winegrowers

 The Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island is famous for Pinot Noir. Wine has been produced in this rugged, mountainous region since the heady days of the 1860s Gold Rush. Today, as critical acclaim continues to grow for Central Otago Pinot Noir, the diverse styles of each vineyard sub-region are gaining in recognition.

Regional Overview

The Central Otago is a land formed by glacier activity and the many lakes and rivers that traverse the region. At its most northerly point, the Central Otago crosses the 45th parallel south. According to the New Zealand Winegrowers organization, Central Otago is the world’s most southerly commercial wine region.

Ancient mountains, many rising well over 2000 metres, shelter the Central Otago region from the maritime influences that define all other New Zealand wine growing areas. While meso-climates vary significantly, in general Central Otago has a dry, semi-continental climate with strong diurnal variation.

The region’s exceptionally high UV light levels give deep colour to many of its Pinot Noir. Soil composition is also varied, but stony, free-draining subsoils are common, with schist or greywacke bedrocks.

A mere 1,930 hectares of vineyards spread across the slope sides and valleys of Central Otago. Pinot Noir accounts for 80% of these plantings. The reputation the region has carved out internationally for Central Otago Pinot Noir stems in part from this monovarietal dedication.

Central Otago Pinot Noir Styles by Sub-Region

Due to the region’s diverse terrain and multitude of mesoclimates, the growing areas are divided into multiple sub-regions, all offering a different expression of Central Otago Pinot Noir. From north to south, Central Otago’s sub-regions include:

Wanaka

Wanaka, the smallest sub-region, is situated 80km northeast of Queenstown. The vineyards surround Lake Wanaka, on gravel and silt-based soils overlying a schist bedrock. These soils provide excellent drainage, encouraging the vine to root deeply.

This is among the cooler sub-regions, marked by cold winters, rainy spring weather, warm, dry summers, and long, temperate autumn conditions that allow for excellent ripening while preserving lively acidity.

Central Otago Pinot Noir from Wanaka is often described light, delicate, and very elegant in style, with intense, bright red fruit flavours. Producers of note include: Rippon, Maude Wines, and Akitu.

Bendigo

Moving southeast across the mountains, east of the Clutha River, bordering Lake Dunstan lie the stony, hillside vineyards of Bendigo. This is the largest and warmest sub-region in Central Otago.

The vineyards are planted on moderate slopes of 200 to 350 metres in altitude in the foothills of the Dunstan Mountains. They are oriented north to abundant sunshine. Conditions are hot and dry here, and there is significant diurnal variation preserving fresh acidity.

The Central Otago Pinot Noir from Bendigo is among the ripest, most full-bodied, and tannic styles of the region, balanced by fresh acidity. Wineries to watch include: Prophet’s Rock, Quartz Reef, and Balgownie Estate.

Cromwell/Lowburn/Pisa

The trio of Cromwell/Lowburn/Pisa includes low terraces and valley floor vineyard sites stretching 25 kilometres northward from the township of Cromwell. They sit along the western shore of Lake Dunstan, parallel to the Pisa Mountain range.

The climate is dry and warm, with temperature extremes moderated by the lake. Soils are quite diverse, with large areas of sandy-loam, and of gravelly, schist- based zones at higher elevations in Lowburn.

This early ripening area produces supple, approachable, generously fruited styles of Central Otago Pinot Noir, with silky tannins. Great producers from this region include: Burn Cottage, Wild Earth, Rockburn.

Gibbston

Gibbston is the highest altitude and coolest of all Central Otago sub-regions. It is located along the Kawarau Gorge, directly east of Queenstown. Vineyards are planted from 320 to 420 metres above sea level on northern exposures.

The areas’ soils are composed of loess with underlying layers of schist rocks and alluvial gravel. This is a late ripening area that can be quite rainy, experiencing more vintage variation than more easterly sites.

Central Otago Pinot Noir from Gibbston is described as light and ethereal, with fragrant red berries, fresh herbs, and mixed spices on the nose. It is generally soft on the palate. Top wineries include: Valli, Peregrine, Mount Edward, and Gibbston Valley.

Bannockburn

Southwest of Cromwell lies Bannockburn, a very warm, dry, early ripening sub-region. It is located on the southern shore of the Kawarau River, by the Cairnmuir Mountains.

The soils of Bannockburn are remarkably diverse. A long history of mining in the area, has left heavy deposits of gravel in certain vineyard sites. Other gravel-rich sites, of schist and greywacke, are naturally occurring. Elsewhere, pockets of heavy clay loam and sandy loam exist.

Central Otago Pinot Noir from Bannockburn is renowned for its dense, concentrated dark fruit flavours and bold tannic structure. Notable wineries in the area include: Felton Road, Mt. Difficulty, Doctor’s Flat, Ceres, Akarua

Alexandra

Alexandra is the most southerly of Central Otago’s sub-regions. It is situated in a mountain basin, bordering the Clutha River. Marked continentality, in the way of very hot, dry summers and exceptionally cold winters, define the climate.

Compared to Queenstown, Alexandra sees over 100 additional sunshine hours each year, and 600 millimetres less rainfall. The region’s wide temperature swings give highly aromatic, lively wines. Free draining alluvial gravel and loess soils dominate here.

Central Otago Pinot Noir from Alexandra is known for its fragrant aromatics, fine structure, and signature dried thyme notes. Excellent producers from this region include: Grasshopper Rock, Black Ridge, Three Miners.

 

*** This Central Otago Pinot Noir article was written for SOMM360  Want to learn more about wine & spirits? Check out their excellent learning platform for articles, audio capsules, and loads of fun quizzes to test your knowledge. ***

Education

Georgian Wine through the Ages…from Antiquity to Today

Georgian wine
Georgian wine qvevri photo credit: Wines of Georgia

The history of Georgian wine is a fascinating tale…

Archeological evidence to date suggests that Georgia has the most ancient winemaking traditions in the world. Researchers uncovered 8000-year-old clay vessels at a site in the country’s southeast. Grape and grape seed residues found within were carbon dated to 6000 BCE.

Georgian Wine in Antiquity

According to the Wines of Georgia marketing body, this ancient Georgian wine was appreciated in the first cities of the Fertile crescent, including Babylon and Ur. The writings of ancient Greek poets Homer and Apollonius of Rhodes made reference to Georgian vineyards and winemaking.

The word wine is said to derive from the Georgian gvino – which became vino in Italian, vin in French, and wine in English.

20th Century Decline in Georgian Wine Quality

The proud traditions of Georgian winemaking were compromised during the soviet occupation, which lasted from 1922 to 1991. The soviets split up countless family estates, reconstituting them into large, collective blocks.

Georgian wine was so popular in Russia that low yielding white and red varieties were massively uprooted in favour of more productive grapes. The impetus to produce higher yields and meet consumer demand led to a marked decline in wine quality.

Russia continued to be the major export market for Georgian wine after independence – consuming over 90% of the country’s exports. This continued until a 2006 politically fueled embargo on Georgian wine, followed by the 208 Russo-Georgian war forced Georgian producers to look further afield for export opportunities.

 The Modern Age of Georgian Wine

The opening up of the Georgian wine industry, coupled with the slow regeneration of smaller size, family-run estates generated interest around the globe. Today, Georgian wine can be found on trendy restaurant wine lists from Paris to New York.

Georgian wine is often categorized as traditional or modern. Traditional producers make wine much as they did in antiquity – crushing grapes and placing them – sometimes with, sometimes without stems – in egg shaped earthenware vessels called qvevri (kway-vree), then burying them under ground.

Many variations on this traditional process exist and experimentation is rife. Certain practices fit the current mold for the orange wine and/ or natural wine categories, giving them even greater appeal in specialist realms.

Modern Georgian producers make wines in the conventional manner seen across the globe – using stainless steel, concrete, or oak barrels, in winery settings, with temperature controls, etc.

 Quick Facts on Georgian Wine 

The country of Georgia sits at the juncture where Western Asia and Eastern Europe meet. It is bordered by Russia and the Greater Caucasus Mountain range to the north, Azerbaijan to the east, Armenia and Turkey to the south, and the Black Sea to the West.Georgian Wine Map

There are currently 55 000 hectares of vines planted in Georgia – this is half the size of Bordeaux’s vineyard area – so it is quite a small winegrowing country. Almost three-quarters of vines are planted in the eastern, Kakheti region.

Kakheti has a diverse range of vineyard mesoclimates and soil types – though many prime vineyard sites feature semi arid, temperate continental climates and iron-rich sandy and calcareous clay soils. This iron content is thought to bring a certain earthy, rusticity to the local wines, as well as concentrated flavours. This could also be due to the otherwise poor nutrient levels of the soils, and dry climate, which oblige the vines to dig deep for sustenance.

Over 500 indigenous grape varieties are planted in Georgia, this includes a number of endangered varieties that are only cultivated in Georgia. 75% of Georgian wine is white and 25% is red wine. The two-best known, most widely produced grape varieties in Georgia are: Rkatsiteli (kha-se-telli) and Saperavi.

Rkatsiteli is grown throughout Georgia and produces a white wine with bracing acidity, medium body, and green apple, quince, and peach notes. It takes on more textural appeal and interest when fermented and aged in qvevris.

Saperavi is a teinturier grape variety – meaning that its flesh as well as its skin is deeply coloured. It produces dark, inky reds with dark fruit, spicy and savoury flavours, full body, and brisk acidity. When produced skillfully from lower yielding sites it is a complex, concentrated, ageworthy red.

Rising Trend for Georgian Wine

Master of Wine Lisa Granik attributes the rise in popularity for Georgian wine to its “indigenous grape varieties, incredible bargains, and off-the-beaten-path wine styles”. She explains that the Georgian wine industry has grown from 80 registered wineries in 2006 to 961 in 2018.

And while qvevri wines only account for about 1% of production in Georgia – global interest is high. They are diverse in style – as both red and white wines are produced in this fashion. According to Granik, the white wines, fermented on their skins to an amber hue are “Georgia’s calling card” to sommeliers and wine merchants around the world.

*** This Georgian Wine article was written for SOMM360  Want to learn more about wine & spirits? Check out their excellent learning platform for articles, audio capsules, and loads of fun quizzes to test your knowledge. ***

Education

Vegan Wines…What they are & how to find them!

vegan wines

Vegan wines… You would be forgiven for finding this idea puzzling. After all, wine is just fermented grape juice. How could it not be vegan friendly? Well, it’s a little bit more complicated than that.

Side note: I have also made this vegan wines blog post into a short YouTube video. To watch, just scroll down to the bottom & click play. If you enjoy the video, consider subscribing (click here) so you never miss an episode of my wine education series. 

After fermentation, a newly finished wine is pretty cloudy to look at. It contains lots of tiny particles including pieces of grape skin, pulp, or stems, dead yeast cells, bacteria, tartrates, proteins, pectins, tannins, and so forth.

If left for sufficient time in a tank or barrel, those particles get dragged down by the force of gravity and form a sediment. The clear wine can then be drawn off the top in a process called racking.

However, this takes quite a long time and is not always guaranteed to yield a perfectly limpid wine. Many winemakers prefer to bottle their wines fairly quickly after harvest. There are many reasons for this, the main one being to preserve the fresh, fruity style of the wine.

The most rapid and effective method for getting wines of perfect clarity, is to employ a winemaking technique called fining.

What is Fining?

Essentially, fining consists of adding a substance to the tank or vat containing the soon-to-be-bottled wine. This substance forms an absorbent, enzymatic or ionic bond with the suspended particles, producing larger particles that will precipitate out of wine more readily and rapidly.

Certain fining agents have the added benefit of removing polymerized tannins, making the wines less astringent on the palate.

What does this have to do with Vegans?

The problem for vegetarians and vegans is that many of these fining substances contain animal products or by-products like gelatin, egg whites, or a milk protein called casein.

Also, certain types of synthetic corks are made using mik-based glues.

There are two ways to produce vegan wines. A more common practice for early-released, high volume vegan wines is to use a vegan friendly fining agent like bentonite (a natural clay). For more premium vegan wines, many producers choose not to fine or filter their wines, allowing natural settling to occur. These wines may still contain a slight sediment, but it is harmless and tasteless.

How do I find Vegan Wines?

Wineries in North America and the EU are not obliged to list their ingredients on labels, so it is not always easy to know what fining agent, if any, was used. That being said, vegan wines are an increasingly common prerequisite for many major retailers, especially super-markets. As such, many wine producers have made the switch in recent years.

If you want to be 100% sure, look for wines that carry a vegan friendly logo, or clearly state “suitable for vegetarians and vegans” on their back label. Alternatively, you can seek out wines that were bottled without fining.

Finally, don’t hesitate to ask your local wine merchant to help you out. Some stores will house vegan wines in a special section. If not, they generally have the technical details of the wines they carry on file, so if you are wondering about a specific wine, they can check for you.

Education Reviews Wines

2019 VINTAGE BURGUNDY: AN EN PRIMEUR TASTING

2019 Vintage Burgundy

Each growing season is a new beginning for wine producers. In marginal climates ripening can be challenging, and hazards like frost, hail, and fungal disease lurk at every turn. With this in mind, stellar years, like the 2019 vintage Burgundy recently experienced, are to be treasured.

After a mild winter, cool weather set in over spring, with April frost episodes – notably in the Mâconnais region- threatening the crop. The unseasonably chilly conditions lasted through June leading to uneven flowering and fruit set in certain sectors. The thermostat shot up in July and August, with spells of extreme heat leading to sunburnt grapes and hydric stress in many vineyards. Harvest came early, with a small crop of ripe, compact grapes. Despite the season’s challenges, 2019 vintage Burgundy is being hailed by many critics as highly promising.

According to the Bureau interprofessionnel des vins de Bourgogne (BIVB), the overall yield of 2019 vintage Burgundy was some 15% below average, at 1.23 million hectoliters. The low volume and reports of universally high quality across all regions and wine styles will likely equate to rising Burgundy prices once again. While this is bad news for Burgundy lovers, these ripe vintages result in excellent quality wines from less prestigious appellations. Read more on this here.

Surprisingly, given the prolonged summer heat waves and drought episodes, the 2019 vintage Burgundy report from the BIVB speaks of vibrant acidity levels from Chablis down to the Mâconnais, ably balancing ripe fruit flavours and rich, textural palates.

Curious to taste such a vaunted vintage, for both white and red wines, across the vast expanse of the Burgundy region, I gladly accepted an offer of en primeur samples from Bourgogne de Vigne en Verre. This group of 35 wine producers from Chablis to Mâcon, have joined forces to jointly promote their wines at home and abroad.

The 36 bottles of 2019 vintage Burgundy arrived cleverly packaged in 20mL single serving formats. After letting them rest for a few days, I sat down with my favourite oenologist (aka my husband) and we got down to tasting.

Bourgogne Vigne Verre 2019

Overall, we found that the 2019 vintage Burgundy wines showed real appellation typicity despite/alongside a ripe, fragrant fruit-forward style. On the whole, the wines were fresh, densely structured, and quite concentrated on the palate. For the most part, the red wines had ripe, approachable tannins with the best showing a tempting, almost chocolatey appeal. Some evidence of warming alcohol, freshness fading on the finish, and chewy tannins was also found in less successful examples.

In true Burgundian fashion, here are my 2019 vintage Burgundy tasting notes – red wines followed by whites:

RED WINES

Côte Chalonnaise

Domaine Meix-Foulot Mercurey 1er Cru “Clos de Château de Montague” : Moderately intense aromas of ripe raspberry, morello cherries, and hints of spice. Brisk and taut on the palate, with rustic savoury flavours underlying bright red berries. Faintly chewy tannins on the short finish. 86pts.

Domaine Meix-Foulot Mercurey 1er Cru “Les Veleys” : Bright red fruit, floral and blackberry hints on the nose. Crisp and somewhat angular on the attack, giving way to a smooth mid-palate, and fine-grained tannins. 87pts.

Domaine Meix-Foulot Merc 1er “Les Saumonts” : More restrained on the nose, with subtle red fruit and barnyard hints emerging with aeration. Similarly styled on the palate – brisk and taut – but with very fine, elongated tannins and a marginally longer finish. 87pts.

Domaine Chofflet Givry 1er Cru “Clos Jus”: High toned red berry, cherry, and marzipan notes on the nose. Lively and light on the palate with a silky texture, moderate depth of ripe dark fruit and kirsch flavours. Finishes smooth and fresh. – 88pts.

Domaine Chofflet Givry 1er Cru “En Choué” : Fragrant floral notes on the nose, with pretty red berry undertones. The palate shows a lovely ripeness of fruit, balanced by bright acidity and firm tannins. 90pts.

Côte de Beaune

Domaine Labry Hautes Côtes De Beaune: Intense aromas of crushed strawberry on the nose. Fresh and rounded, with a soft, short finish. Drink now. 86pts.

Domaine Labry Auxey Duresses: Perfumed notes of prunes, baking spice, and dark berry jam. Initally bright, but with a faintly bitter, hard edge to the baked fruit flavours. Soft tannins. 85pts.

Domaine Edmond Cornu Chorey-Les-Beaune “Les Bons Ores” : Delicate strawberry, cherry, and earthy nuances on the nose. Fresh, precise and firm in structure, with moderate concentration of tangy red berries and nutty flavours. Attractive chalky tannins frame the finish. 89pts.

Domaine Edmond Cornu Aloxe-Corton: Pretty nose featuring ripe black berries, morello cherry, and violets. Brisk and polished on the palate, with juicy black and red fruit flavours well knit with toasty spiced nuances. Silky tannins linger on the finish. 91pts.

Domaine Edmond Cornu Ladoix: Similar to Cornu’s Aloxe on the nose, with a slightly riper, more fruit-forward charm. Medium in body, with a firm texture verging on austere yet balanced by good depth of fruit and ripe tannins with an almost chocolatey sweetness. 90pts.

Domaine Georges Lignier Volnay 1er Cru: Complex, highly perfumed nose of ultra-ripe red fruits, with underlying notes of peony, sweet spice, and dried herbs. Really tangy, vivid acidity on the palate giving way to a silky, medium bodied palate with bright fruit flavours, and a lifted finish. Needs a few years to soften. 92pts.

Domaine Edmond Cornu Ladoix 1er Cru “Le Bois Roussot”: Moderately intense aromas of pomegranate and macerated red cherry, underscored by dark fruit and spice hints.  The palate is fresh, with a concentrated core of sweet red fruit, balanced by lifted, tangy flavours on the finish. Slightly warming, with firm, chewy tannins. 90pts.

Domaine Edmond Cornu Corton-Bressandes Grand Cru: Initally discreet, with complex aromas of morello cherry, orange peel, underbrush, floral nuances, and spice developing with aeration. The palate is fresh and lively, with a weighty core, velvety texture, and ultra-fine, powdery tannins. Elegant, with lingering stony minerality. 95pts.

Côte de Nuits

Domaine Jean Chauvenet Nuits-St-Georges: Intense notes of morello cherry and cassis on the nose, with earthy undertones. Lively on the attack, though somewhat rustic on the mid palate with a certain graininess of texture giving way to dense tannins. Soft fruit and earthy, underbrush nuances on the finish. 86pts.

Domaine Jerôme Chezeaux Vosne-Romanée: Intense, fairly complex aromas of crushed strawberries, morello cherry, marzipan, mixed spice, and violets on the nose. The palate is initially vibrant and suave, with medium body, and concentrated red and black fruit flavours, which become slightly overpowered by cedary oak nuances and somewhat drying tannins on the warming finish.  89pts.

Domaine Philippe Cheron Vosne-Romanée “Les Barreaux”: this high quality climat sits just above Richebourg. Initially restrained, with a multitude of ripe to macerated red fruits unfurling with aeration, underscored by layers of dried fruit, spice, floral, and nutty aromas. Dense and voluptuous on the palate, with suave rounded tannins, and a fresh, persistent flavourful finish. 93pts.

Domaine Philippe Cheron Chambolle Musigny “Clos de L’Orme”: Another well situated plot, lying just beneath Les Charmes and Les Plantes. Perfumed notes of morello cherry, dark plum, citrus oil, dried red fruits, and baking spice on the nose. The palate is wonderfully bright, with medium body, and concentrated fruit flavours that mirror the nose. Velvety tannins finish the medium length, marginally warming finish.  92pts.

Domaine Philippe Cheron Chambolle Musigny “Les Quarante Ouvrées”: Similarly ripe, expressive nose as the “Clos de L’Orme”; slightly more marked by its élévage with toasted, mocha nuances that will likely soften over time. Very silky and textural on the palate, with fine, smooth tannins. Light and elegant. 92pts.

Domaine Philippe Gevrey-Chambertin “Le Meix des Ouches”: out of condition

Domaine Georges Lignier Gevrey-Chambertin: Intense, nuanced nose with layers of marzipan, dark cherry, cassis, violets, and attractive herbal undertones.  Incredibly lively on the palate, with layers of juicy black fruit flavours, quite a firm structure, and ripe, fine-grained tannins. Balanced and long.  92pts.

Domaine Jean Chauvennet Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru “Les Perrières”: Stewed dark cherry and plum notes mingle with undertones of leather, dates, and allspice on the nose. Very firm and brisk on the palate, giving way to a highly concentrated core of dark fruits, savoury notes, and cedar spice. Bold, yet ripe, elongated tannins frame the long, layered finish. Needs a few years’ cellaring to unwind. 91pts.

Domaine Jean Chauvennet Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru “Les Vaucrains”: out of condition

Domaine Jean Chauvennet Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru “Rue de Chaux”: Attractive, highly expressive nose of blackberries, plum, and cassis, with underlying stony minerality and well integrated cedar, spiced nuances.  Firmly structured but generously fruity and polished on the palate, with muscular tannins. Excellent length. 94pts.

Domaine Jean Chauvennet Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru “Les Bousselots”: Quite a different offering than the Rue de Chaux, though equally complex. Macerated red berry and cherry aromas are underscored by kirsch, underbrush, and savoury nuances on the nose. The palate is tightly wound, with mouth watering acidity, and  very firm, yet fine-grained tannins. Needs a good five years + in cellar to soften. 90pts.

Domaine Jerôme Chezeaux Nuits-St-Georges » 1er Cru “Aux Boulots”: Quite restrained on the nose, with ripe black berry and cherry notes, violets, and marzipan notes emerging after a period of aeration. This Nuits really comes in to its own on the vibrant, juicy fruited palate, with its elegant structure, fine-grained tannins, and long, vivid finish. Very harmonious. 94pts.

Domaine Jerôme Chezeaux Vosne Romanée 1er Cru “Les Chaumes”: Highly perfumed, with sweet aromas and flavours of ultra-ripe blackberry, plum, and raspberry, mingled with floral and citrus peel notes. Brisk and firm on attack, deepening on the mid-palate, and finishing taut with densely wound tannins. Needs time to resolve but shows excellent potential. 93pts.

Domaine Georges Lignier Morey St Denis 1er Cru “Clos des Ormes”: Already quite tertiary on the nose, with crushed strawberry notes overshadowed by aromas of prunes, leather, and dried herbs. Fresh on the palate, with both tart and ultra-ripe fruit flavours vying for primacy. Attractive chalky texture and tannins. 89pts.

Domaine Philippe Cheron Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “Champonnet”: Intense mocha, toasted, nutty aromas, slightly overpowering dark fruit notes. The palate is somewhat angular, with mouth watering acidity, a firm structure, and somewhat lean mid-palate. 88pts.

Domaine Philippe Cheron Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “La Romanée”: Ripe red and black berry fruit on the nose, with attractive hints of baking spice, nutty nuances, and subtle florality. Vivid and dense on the palate, with tangy acidity, and a concentrated core of dark fruit. Somewhat rustic, chewy tannins on the medium length finish. 89pts.

Domaine Georges Lignier Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “Les Combottes”: Les Combottes is surrounded by illustrious neighbours including grand crus: Mazis-Chambertin and Latricières-Chambertin. This 1er Cru offers restrained cassis and plum notes on the nose. The palate is firm, with animal nuances, and grippy tannins. 87pts.

Domaine Philippe Cheron Clos Vougeot Grand Cru: Moderately intense notes of marzipan, plum, and dark cherry with animal undertones. Brisk and tightly wound on the palate, with a dense, concentrated structure, and firm, moderately astringent tannins. 87pts.

Domaine Philippe Cheron Charmes-Charmbertin Grand Cru: Discreet on the nose, with mocha, cedar, and spice aromas after aeration. The palate is dense, velvety, and broad, with concentrated, ultra-ripe fruit flavours underlying bold, toasted oak flavours. Firm, somewhat grippy tannins. 88pts.

Domaine Georges Lignier Clos St Denis Grand Cru: Vibrant herbal, blackcurrant bud aromas mingle with red currants and earthy, underbrush nuances on the nose. The palate is quite taut and weighty, with firm, lifted acidity and dense, chewy tannins. 87pts.

Domaine Georges Lignier Clos de la Roche Grand Cru: Fragrant, floral nose with vivid crushed raspberry, morello cherry, and black berry fruit aromas. Over time, mixed spice and citrus oil notes emerge. The palate is lively and firm, with quite a powerful structure, and concentrated flavours. The tannins are grippy and taut on the long finish. Needs time to soften. 90pts.

WHITE WINES

Domaine Labry Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune: Delicate notes of red apple and white blossoms on the nose. The palate is crisp on the attack, giving way to a broad, rounded, supple mid-palate with lingering lactic nuances. Finishes smooth and soft. 86pts.

Domaine Beaufumé Chablis:  Discreet lemony, green apple nose. Light and racy on the palate, with subtle mineral hints. 87pts.

Domaine Chofflet Givry 1er Cru “Les Galaffres”:  Attractive poached pear, red apple, and spiced aromas on the nose. The palate is crisp and very juicy, with a rounded, ultra-smooth appeal. Tangy orchard fruit notes linger on the finish. Harmonious. 90pts.

Domaine de Montarge Montagny 1er Cru “Montorge”: Pretty floral nose, with underlying yellow orchard fruit, and lactic hints. Initially fresh with a supple, creamy mid-palate, and fairly short, somewhat flabby finish. 87pts.

Domaine Labry Auxey Duresses: Vibrant nose featuring ripe lemon, white fleshed orchard fruits, and hints of anis. Searing acidity on the palate leads into a taut, moderately concentrated core, with tangy citrus notes. Finishes fresh with hints of attractive bitterness. 88pts.

Lavantureux Frères Chablis 1er Cru Fourchaume: Classic, highly complex aromas of red apple, flint, ripe lemon, white blossoms, and fresh almonds unfurl on the nose. The palate is racy and firm, yet broadens on the mid palate revealing a creamy, textural core with concentrated fruity, mineral flavours. Very precise, elegant, and long. 94pts.

Lavantureux Frères Chablis Bourgros Grand Cru: Ripe, sweet orchard fruit aromas mingle with white peach, anis, and toasted nutty aromas on the powerfully nuanced nose. Crisp acidity lifts the concentrated, layered mid-palate, and underscores vivid yellow fruit and brioche flavours. Smooth and harmonious on the long finish. 95pts.

 

Education Reviews Wines

EIGHT APPELLATIONS, EIGHT WINES FROM THE MÉDOC

wines from the medoc
Photo credit: Philippe Caumes

The Médoc region of Bordeaux is famous for its cru classés châteaux and its refined, ageworthy Cabernet-Sauvignon, Merlot blends. However, wines from the Médoc can also be incredibly affordable, offering great value for every day consumption.

Médoc Geography

The Médoc region is located north of Bordeaux, on the left bank of the Gironde estuary. Over 16,000 hectares of vineyards are planted here, spread over eight appellations. Heading north from the city of Bordeaux, these are: Haut-Médoc, Margaux, Moulis-en-Médoc, Listrac-Médoc, Saint-Julien, Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe, and Médoc.

The Médoc region has a warm, maritime climate. Sandwiched between the Atlantic ocean and the Gironde estuary, the Médoc peninsula benefits from the temperature moderating effect and the air circulation provided by these two large bodies of water.  While spring and early summer can be fairly damp, dryer conditions later in the growing season allow for consistent most vintages.

The soils of the Médoc are quite diverse in nature. In the south-east, gravel-rich soils are most prevalent. These gravels, mixed with sand and other alluvial deposits, originate from two sources: the Massif Central and Pyrenees mountains. They were carried along the Dordogne and Garonne rivers respectively, over thousands of years. Gravel is prized for its ability to warm quickly in the spring, reflect heat up into the vines during the day, and radiate it at night, aiding with ripening. It is also free draining, encouraging deep vine rooting. Late ripening grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot are most planted in the gravelly soils of the Médoc.

In lower lying areas, and notably, as you move further north and west, heavier clay-limestone soils, often with quite stony surface layers, dominate. These cooler, water retaining soils are common in large swathes of the Médoc AOC, as well as the appellations of Moulis, Listrac and Saint-Estèphe.  Early to mid ripening grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Franc thrive in these clay-based areas, yielding fruity, fleshy wines that round out the often angular Cabernet Sauvignon.

For an excellent 3D ariel view of the Médoc vineyards, click here.

Photo credit: Conseil interprofessionnel du vin de bordeaux

Quality Classifications

Two quality hierarchies exist for wines from the Médoc. The most famous, the 1855 classification, ranks top châteaux in five tiers from Premier Grand Cru Classé (first growths) to Cinquième Grand Cru Classé (fifth growths). With few exceptions, this ranking has remained unchanged since its inception. To learn more about the history and debate surrounding the 1855 classification, listen to my audio overview here.

A second estate classification system, Cru Bourgeois, was established in 1932 to highlight high-quality wines from the Médoc not included in the original list. This ranking has had quite a tumultuous history, with numerous revisions, an annulment, and much debate. The latest update was finalized as recently as February of this year. The 2020 Cru Bourgeois classification includes 249 châteaux ranked in three categories: Cru Bourgeois, Cru Bourgeois Supérieurs, Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnels. The ranking is set to be revised every five years, and all estates up for consideration must hold the French agricultural sustainability certification: Haute Valeur Environnementale. 

Earlier this month I tuned in to a virtual seminar on wines from the Médoc, which gave an overview of each of the appellation and highlighted one wine from the area.

MÉDOC AOC

The region-wide Médoc AOC can be used for any wine produced within the Médoc production area. For example, producers in Margaux or Saint-Julien may choose to declassify to Médoc AOC, potentially for young vines or areas of the vineyard yielding less ripe or pristine fruit. However, this practice is not frequently seen.

The appellation is generally reserved for the designated Médoc AOC section of vineyards that covers the northern third of the Médoc peninsula. This large area has 5,560 hectares of vines planted on mixed gravel and clay-limestone soils. Wine styles vary widely, depending on site and producer, but tend to be fashioned in a light, early-drinking, approachable style, with minimal oak ageing.

Merlot is the dominant grape here, and tends to make up the lion’s share of blends. Wines from the Médoc AOC are notably good value in warmer vintages, where grapes ripen fully, yielding wines with greater concentration, and more vibrant fruit flavours. Recent such vintages include 2015, 2016, 2018.

Château Tour St. Bonnet Médoc 2015 – 87pts. PW

The 2015 Château Tour St. Bonnet is a blend of 65% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot. It is vinified in concrete tanks and aged for 18 months in the same vessel. The hot, sunny 2015 growing conditions are apparent in the ripe red fruited nose, the smooth, supple structure, and velvety tannins. Fairly linear and short on the finish, but overall a pleasant, every day Bordeaux with attractive savoury undertones.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($23.85)

LISTRAC-MÉDOC

Listrac-Médoc neighbours Moulis-en-Médoc to the north. It boasts a marginally higher elevation than surrounding vineyards, reaching 43 metres at its highest point. Small in Médoc terms, with just 787 hectares of vines, Listrac-Médoc represents 5% of the Médoc vineyard area. The soils composition consists of three Pyrenean gravel terraces to the west, a Garonne gravel outcrop to the east, and a large central, flat land of clay-limestone.

This more marginal vineyard area is buffeted by strong winds and thus tends to ripen quite slowly. In warm vintages, this slow rate of berry maturation is an advantage, allowing for good acid retention and full phenolic development. However, in cooler growing seasons, Listrac-Médoc wines can be quite lean and vegetal.

Château Vieux Moulin Listrac-Médoc 2016 (Cru Bourgeois) – 88pts. PW

A blend of 58% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Petit Verdot, the Château Vieux Moulin 2016 is aged for 12 months in, mainly seasoned, French oak barrels. Restrained aromas of dark fruit, tobacco leaf, and hints of bell pepper on the nose. Brisk acidity on the attack, followed by a moderately firm, somewhat angular palate, with moderate concentration of tangy red and black fruit, with underlying dried herbal notes. Attractive chalky tannins frame the finish.

Moulis-en-Médoc

This narrow strip of vineyard land lies just north of Margaux, touching Listrac-Médoc. It is the smallest appellation of the Médoc, with 610 hectares planted, and 46 wine producers. The western part of the region is a fairly flat expanse with mainly sandy-clay soils. The central area features gravelly top soils with underlying clay-limestone layers. In the easternmost vineyards, closest to Margaux’s northern border, outcrops of Garonne gravels are highly prized vineyard soils.

Quality is variable depending on producer and vineyard site. Neither Moulis-en-Médoc nor Listrac-Médoc contain classed growth châteaux, however both have reputed Cru Bourgeois estates. Some famous names in Moulis-en-Médoc include Château Chasse-Spleen, Château Poujeaux, and Château Garricq.

Château La Garricq Moulis-en-Médoc 2015 (Cru Bourgeois) – 90pts. PW 

This blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 20% Petit Verdot is aged for 12 months in 1/3 new French oak. This is evident from the spicy, cedar notes on the nose, mingled with black fruit, dark chocolate, and hints of graphite. The palate shows more harmonious oak integration, with its concentrated red and black fruit flavours, tangy acidity, broad structure, and plush texture. Firm, ripe tannins frame the finish nicely.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($34.75)

HAUT-MÉDOC

The Haut-Medoc appellation stretches some 60 kilometres in length from just north of the city of Bordeaux, to north west of Saint-Estèphe. Due to its size, and diversity of soil types, orientations, aspects, proximity or distance from the Gironde, and so forth, wine style and quality from the Haut-Médoc is incredibly varied.

For much of its history, the Haut-Médoc, as well as the appellations along its north-south expanse, were salt marshes, unusable for viticulture. In the 17th century, Dutch merchants drained the marshes to expand Bordeaux vineyard acreage.

The majority of the Médoc’s Cru Bourgeois Supérieurs and Exceptionnels estates, as well as five cru classé châteaux are located in the Haut-Médoc.

Château de Gironville Haut-Médoc 2016 (Cru Bourgeois) – 91pts. PW

Château de Gironville is situated in the commune of Macau, just south of Margaux, near the mouth of the Garonne River. The estate boasts deep, fine gravel soils on their Cru Bourgeois ranked property. This blend of equal parts Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is completed with 10% Petit Verdot. According to estate director, Yannick Reyrel, the Petit Verdot gives an intriguing peppery, fruity nuance to the blend and the gravel soils bring a suave texture.

Initally closed. High toned plum, cassis, and dark cherry aromas emerged with aeration, underscored by complexifying notes of black licorice, nutmeg, and earth. Fresh, full-bodied, and stylish on the palate with lively dark fruit flavours, ripe, polished tannins, and a lengthy finish. Drinking well now, with 4 – 5 years ageing potential.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($30.00, $62.00 for magnums)

SAINT-ESTÈPHE

Saint Estèphe is the northermost and largest of the cru appellations within the Haut-Médoc. The region’s 1,229 hectares of vineyards are spread across an undulating landscape, with gentle hillsides reaching 20 metres at their highest point. While gravel-rich soils are prevalent, notably at higher elevations, Saint Estèphe has significant areas of clay-dominant soils, with a limestone bedrock. Greater concentrations of clay in Saint-Estèphe equate to wider plantings of Merlot, giving the bold, full-bodied wines of the area a certain mid-palate roundness.

Saint Estèphe has a mere five cru classé estates. However its best properties, including second growths, Château Cos d’Estournel and Château Montrose, and third growth, Château Calon-Ségur, are highly esteemed.

Château Beau-Site St. Estèphe 2015 (Cru Bourgeois) – 92pts. PW  

Château Beau-Site overlooks the Garonne River, from one of Saint-Estèphe’s higher grounds. The stony soils of the estate are deep and free-draining. The 2015 vintage is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc, aged 18 months in 35% new French oak.  Intense aromas of prune, mocha, and pencil shavings, are lifted by underlying hints of menthol and red currant. The palate is remarkably fresh, given the hot summer, with concentrated flavours of dark chocolate, black fruit, menthol, and cedar, and a dense, weighty structure. Excellent length and balance. Drinking well now.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($43.75)

MARGAUX

Margaux is the southernmost of the Haut-Médoc cru appellations, situated near the confluence of the Garonne and Gironde rivers. Vast quantities of Garonne gravel cover Margaux’s central area. This nutrient-poor soil is has excellent drainage stimulating deep vine rooting. Margaux has a marginally warmer mesoclimate than surrounding areas. The wines of the area are often described as quite velvety in texture, with floral overtones, and exotic spice nuances.

With its 1500 hectares of vines, Margaux accounts for 9% of the Médoc region’s vineyards. Among its 65 producers, Margaux has a whopping 21 classed growth châteaux – more than any other Médoc appellation. The region also boasts a number of highly regarded Cru Bourgeois estates.

Château d’Arsac Margaux 2014 (Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel) – 89pts. PW 

Château d’Arsac is a well-regarded 112-hectare property in the western part of the appellation. This blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon and 47% Merlot is reflective of the cooler 2014 vintage with its restrained bell pepper, dried herbal, and tart red currant aromas. The palate is far more inviting, with brisk acidity nicely balancing a broad, textural mid-palate and moderate concentration of dark fruit, graphite, and herbal flavours. Overall, a pleasant, supple wine – yet lacking the depth and opulence of top Margaux.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($38.50)

SAINT-JULIEN

Bordering the Gironde, just south of Pauillac, lies Saint-Julien. The 910 hectares of the appellation are planted on fairly uniform, gravel-rich soils. This factor is given as an explanation for the impressive concentration of classed growth estates here. Indeed, of a total 19 wine producers in Saint-Julien, 11 were included in the 1855 classification. There are no first growth vineyards in Saint-Julien, but its second growths are often referred to as “super seconds” inferring that they are worthy of first growth status. These include: Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, Chateau Gruaud-Larose, Léoville-Las Cases, Léoville-Barton, and Léoville-Poyferré.

The wines of Saint-Julien are often described as a combination of the silkiness and floral elegance of Margaux, with Pauillac’s power and heft.

Sarget de Gruaud Larose St. Julien 2016 – 94pts. LW

Sarget is the second label from Château Gruaud Larose. The 2016 cuvée is made from 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and  4% Petit Verdot. Fragrant aromas of black plum, raspberry, violets, and exotic spice feature on the highly complex nose. The palate is full-bodied and firm, with a highly concentrated core of tangy red and black fruit, savoury notes, and subtle cedar nuances. Very polished and precise overall, with fine-grained tannins and a lengthy finish. Drinking well now, but should improve over the next eight to ten years.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($54.00)

PAUILLAC

The vineyard region of Pauillac is named for the Gironde port town of the same name. Cabernet Sauvignon dominates on the region’s gravel rich soils. However, marked variations in the depth, origin, and concentration of gravels across higher and lower lying sites leads to significant quality differences. In general terms, the wines of Pauillac are considered the most muscular and long lived of the Médoc, with notable cassis and graphite aromas.

Pauillac is the only Haut-Médoc cru appellation with two first growth estates: Château Lafite Rothschild and Château Mouton Rothschild. In all, Pauillac consists of 1213 hectares of vines, and has 18 classed growth estates.

Lacoste-Borie Pauillac 2016 – 93pts. LW

This is the second wine from fifth growth, Château Grand Puy Lacoste. The 2016 blend features 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, aged in 45% new French oak for 15 months. Classic Pauillac aromas of cassis, dark plum, graphite, cedar, and hints of earthy, black truffle feature on the attractive, highly complex nose. The palate is lively, with a dense, full-bodied structure, and excellent depth of savoury, dark fruited flavours. Well-knit cedar nuances and firm, quite muscular tannins mark the finish. Would show best with six to eight years further cellaring, though has the power to hold nicely for another decade.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($59.00)

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

Médoc Wine
Education Reviews

WITHIN THE REGIONAL APPELLATIONS OF BURGUNDY

regional appellations of burgundy
The Regional Appellations of Burgundy Revised. Photo credit: Charnay-les-Mâcon, BIVB / Aurélien Ibanez

When the notion of terroir is evoked, Burgundy is often top of mind for wine lovers.  The painstaking work of the Cistercian monks in the Middle Ages laid down the foundations for the patchwork of unique terroirs (called climats) that define the region today.

While wine enthusiasts the world over are familiar with Burgundy’s famous village, premier cru, and grand cru AOCs, the regional appellations of Burgundy possess similarly detailed vineyard lieux-dits that are decidedly less well understood. And yet, this tier accounts for over half of total production

Burgundy Appellation Overview 

Image credit: bourgogne-wines.com

Quality-minded viticulturists and wine producers the world over have emulated the Burgundian model of carving vineyards into blocks or plots based on individual mesoclimates, soil types, and topographical features. While enthusiasts applaud this origin-specific approach, detractors suggest that creating layer upon layer of appellations, sub-appellations, single vineyards and so forth is an overcomplication in the already complex world of wine. The risk of overwhelming new consumers, already tasked with comprehending grape variety, region, and vintage differences, is indeed high.

So when I initially learned that Burgundy had formalized sub-divisions (some admittedly pre-existing, others new) within the seemingly simple Bourgogne and Mâcon AOCs, I shook my head in despair. These sub-divisions of the Bourgogne and Mâcon AOC are called Dénominations Géographiques Complémentaires (additional geographical indications, or DGIs). There are now 14 DGIs within the Bourgogne AOC and 27 DGIs within the Mâcon AOC.

Sound complicated? That is what I thought. And then, I sat down with François Labet, president of the Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB), to gain a better understanding of the regional appellations of Burgundy.

Why the Regional DGIs are Useful

Continued high demand, coupled with low production volumes for the village to grand cru tier is making Burgundy less and less attainable for the average wine lover. The idea that Burgundy has become too expensive could serve to drive consumers away, and yet a quick search on the SAQ website reveals over 100 wines at or under $25/bottle.

New wine lovers, who are perhaps familiar with Burgundy’s reputation, but lack the means (or the inclination) to spend a fortune on their first bottle, are starting at the regional level. If the essence of Burgundy is its terroir-focused, climat approach doesn’t it make sense that the regional appellations of Burgundy also reflect their wide diversity of vineyard sites?

As an example, the regional Bourgogne AOC can be used for Chardonnays or Pinot Noirs made from across a swathe of vineyards stretching from Chablis to Beaujolais. Without even considering the wide variety of soil types, altitudes, orientations, etc., the sheer difference in climate from north to south is significant.

When selecting a Bourgogne blanc, the consumer has little idea whether it will be a racy, taut Chablis style wine or a sun-baked, rounded Mâconnais look-a-like (although the latter is more likely). However, if the Bourgogne blanc carried the additional mention “Côtes d’Auxerre”, the curious oenophile could quickly establish that the wine originates from a northerly terroir, west of Chablis, giving them a far clearer idea of the potential wine style.

This is great for involved wine enthusiasts, but what of my initial concern that casual imbibers will be overwhelmed by these additional complexities?

In examining the labels of new regional appellations of Burgundy – those with DGIs – my fears were assuaged. Bourgogne (or Mâcon) remain the AOC, and the prominent mention on the label. Consumers who don’t want to delve further can simply ignore the additional geographic mentions, much as they would a cuvée name.

Also, a number of these place names, like Bourgogne’s Hautes Côtes de Beaune or Mâcon’s Lugny are far from new to Burgundy lovers. They have existed in official capacities for many years, but have now been formally classified within this DGI sub-appellation style hierarchy.

The Seven Regional Appellations of Burgundy 

The regional tier of AOC wines accounts for 52% of Burgundy’s total output. White wine reigns in terms of production, making up more than half of production. Red wine volume is 27%, Crémant makes up 21%, and rosé a mere 1%.

  1. Bourgogne AOC * – Pinot Noir (some César in the Yonne) or Chardonnay wines produced across designated vineyards from Chablis to Beaujolais
  2. Bourgogne Aligoté AOCused for white, Aligoté wines made across designated areas of the Burgundy region
  3. Bourgogne Mousseux AOCused for red sparkling wines made across designated areas of the Burgundy region
  4. Bourgogne Passe-tout-grains AOC – used for rosé and red wines made from a minimum of 1/3 Pinot Noir and maximum of 2/3 Gamay, across designated areas of the Burgundy region
  5. Côteaux Bourguignons AOC – replaces the Bourgogne Ordinaire & Grand Ordinaire appellations; covers large stretches of Burgundy, more permissible white and red grape varieties vs. Bourgogne AOC 
  6. Crémant de Bourgogne AOCused for white and rosé traditional method sparkling wines made across designated areas of the Burgundy region
  7. Mâcon AOC * – used for white (mainly) and red wines made across the Mâcon region
    • Mâcon Villages exists within the Mâcon AOC, specifically for Chardonnay wines produced in 11 Mâconnais communes  

The Bourgogne & Mâcon Geographical Indications (DGIs)

Certain vineyard areas within the regional appellations of Burgundy: Bourgogne AOC and Mâcon AOC have the right to append their name to the AOC mention, indicating to consumers that the wine comes from a specific, named area. These Bourgogne or Mâcon “plus” wines, as François Labet calls them, must meet stricter production standards in terms of yield and ripening levels.

See the list of DGIs below, you can click on each one to learn more about them.

Bourgogne AOC:

Mâcon AOC:

 

Education Reviews Wines

A WINE TASTER’S SENSE OF SMELL

wine tasters sense of smell

A wine taster’s sense of smell is their most vital faculty. I remember reading once that Robert Parker’s nose was insured to the tune of one million dollars. Fan or not, it is hard to deny the global influence Parker wielded as a wine critic from the late 1990s to early 2010s. His livelihood was contingent on an acute sense of smell; any lasting impairment of which would have very likely ended his career.

As one of the main symptoms of COVID-19, anosmia, the loss of smell, has been on my mind a lot these past months. Research conducted by Harvard Medical School suggests that permanent olfactory damage due to COVID-19 is unlikely, and that most sufferers fully regain their sense of smell within weeks of being struck ‘smell blind’.

Be this as it may, I can’t help but shudder every time I hear a story about ‘so and so’s cousin’ or ‘a friend of a friend’ that still hasn’t recovered their sense of smell months after recovering from the virus. I think about all of my colleagues in the world of wine, food, perfume, and so on who rely so wholly on their nose to perform their job. I also worry, from a purely selfish standpoint, about losing the pure pleasure of eating and drinking; two of my most beloved activities.

The Link Between Smell & Flavour

“All of what you consider flavor is smell. When you are eating, all the beautiful, complicated flavors … they are all smell.” – Venkatesh Murthy, Department Chair, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University (article link)

Our ability to taste is directly linked to our sense of smell. If our olfactory abilities are impaired, we can’t taste flavour correctly. Strictly speaking, taste refers to the primary sensations which our taste buds can identify; namely sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami.

In order for flavour to develop on the palate, molecules of our food or beverage travel to the nasal cavity (via a passage that connects the nose to the back of the throat). Signals are then sent to the brain that transform these basic tastes into flavours.

How Smell Triggers Memory

The processing of smell is related to the area of the brain called the limbic system, which deals with emotion and with memory. When a scent is perceived, connections are made by the brain relating the odour to the feelings or events the person is experiencing. According to olfactory branding expert, Dawn Goldworm, smell is the only sense that is fully developed in-vitro and is the most powerful of the five senses in children (article link).

This facet of my work, plunging my nose into a glass of wine and being suddenly overtaken by a rush of nostalgia or an inexplicable feeling of quiet contentment, this is why I find wine so endlessly fascinating. The sense of joy that a great bottle of wine provides me is what spurred me on for five long years of Masters of Wine (MW) study. To have it suddenly vanish is an unimaginable.

Retraining the Nose

When I was preparing for the MW tasting exams, I found myself unconsciously training my nose throughout the day. I literally did stop and smell the roses each time I walked the dog. I nosed the coffee grounds as I filled the bodum. I sniffed the cumin and pepper jars while preparing dinner.

A common after-effect of anosmia, in those that recover any sensation, is a range of smell distortions – from finding once enjoyed smells abhorrent to perceiving certain smells differently. Various therapies exist to help the ‘smell challenged’ regain their olfactory abilities. The most popular method is simply to re-train the nose through repetitive smelling.

A sense of relief overcomes me each time the aromas waft out of my evening glass of wine. The thought of losing, and labouring to regain, these precious scents fills me with dread. Put more positively, it makes me appreciate my nose more than ever.

While I doubt my sense of smell will ever merit a one million dollar insurance policy, it is worth immeasurable riches to me.

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Here are a trio of recently tasted, aromatic wines. If you can’t smell these fragrant beauties, a Covid-19 test might be in order!

Granbazan Etiqueta Verde Rias Baixas 2018

One of my favourite Albariño  currently on offer in Québec. Really juicy white peach, lemon zest, and grapefruit flavours on the palate, heightened by mouthwatering acidity, a rounded, textural palate and a hint of refreshing, pithy bitterness on the finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (19.60$)

Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc 2019, Marlbough, New Zealand

Textbook Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with exuberant notes of gooseberry, passion fruit, guava and fresh cut grass on the nose. Mouthwatering acidity cuts across the lightweight palate providing definition to the clean, citrussy flavours and lifting the medium length finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (21.40$)

Domaine Marcel Deiss Complantation 2018, Alsace, France

The cuvée name ‘Complantation’ refers to a traditional viticultural practice of growing a variety of different grapes within the same vineyard plot. This blend of thirteen different Alsatian grapes is so vibrant it hums. Notes of lemon, wet stone, marzipan and macerated yellow fruits leap from the glass. The palate’s crisp acidity ably balances its rounded texture and dry, fruity finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (24.80$)