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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
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TASTING THE TORRES ANTOLOGIA WINES

Torres Antologia

The Familia Torres Antologia wines are a collection of the Spanish powerhouse winery’s top five bottlings. According to Torres, this range represents the family’s most prized terroirs – they hold cherished historical significance, with a combination of old vines, mesoclimate, soil composition, and topography that set them apart.

Familia Torres’ 150 Year History

In the 150 years since Jaime and Miguel Torres established Torres y Compañia in Penedès, the winery has seen five generations successively take up the reins. And with each changing of the guard came new innovations. Miguel Torres Carbó was the first in the region to bottle wine. Miguel A. Torres is largely credited for modernizing Spanish winemaking practices and bringing international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon to Catalonia.

The current generation has been instrumental in reviving ancient grape varieties in Penedès and neighbouring regions. Ancestral Spanish cultivars like Moneu, Querol, and Garró had all but disappeared post Phylloxera. Miguel and Mireia Torres Maczassek are slowly replanting these forgotten grapes to preserve their region’s viticultural heritage.

Spurred on by Miguel A. Torres’ passion and dynamism, the family is also leading the way globally in terms of winery sustainability. In 2019, the Familia Torres co-founded International Wineries for Climate Action to “galvanize the global wine community towards creating climate change mitigation strategies and decarbonizing the industry”.  From 2008 to 2019, the company reduced their carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per bottle by 30%, and target a 55% reduction by 2030.

Familia Torres Antologia Tasting

In celebration of their 150th anniversary, a series of Torres Antologia tastings were organized. Participants received an elegant wood case of judiciously sized, 187-millilitre samples and an invitation to virtually taste through the range with chief winemaker, Josep Sabarich.

In discussions with wine professionals (and enthusiasts alike) I am regularly faced with a tiresome stereotype: that boutique-scale wineries necessarily produce more complex and interesting wines than their high-volume counterparts. They dismiss the idea that a winery can produce both commercial, mass-market brands and serious, single vineyard wines. Having worked for a producer who ably proved this possible, I am always keen to see what “terroir wines” look like from bigger bottlers.

The Torres Antologia tasting started with the only white wine in the line up, followed by a range of four reds:

Milmanda

Milmanda is a white wine made exclusively from Chardonnay. It is sourced from a Torres’ vineyard planted in the early 1980s in the Conca de Barberà DO. This inland growing region is located in south central Catalonia between two rivers, the Riu Sec and El Francoli. The soils are a red, silty clay formed by alluvial deposits. In a region where summer rainfall is scarce, the high water holding capacity of these clay-rich soils is crucial. The vines are forced to dig down deep for sustenance, resulting in low yields of concentrated fruit.

The 2017 vintage was particularly dry, with 40% less rainfall than an average growing season. It was also a warm year, though cooler conditions prior to harvest allowed for good acid retention. The Milmanda parcel is hand harvested. Fermentation is started in tank at cool, 16°c to preserve freshness. At the mid-way mark, the wines are transferred to barrels to allow for harmonious oak integration. Malolactic fermentation is blocked half way in further efforts to retain vibrancy. The wine is then aged on its fine lees in 50% new French oak for four to six months before racking to stainless steel tanks for a further 10 to 14 months with regular bâtonnage throughout.

Torres “Milmanda” Conca de Barberà DO 2017 has attractive aromas of lemon, yellow pear, acacia, and beeswax on the nose. The palate is fresh, broad, and subtly creamy, with moderately concentrated notes of juicy yellow fruit, grilled notes and hints of crème caramel. Round and faintly warming on the finish –  89pts. LW. Where to Buy: Inquire with Canadian agent Vins Dandurand for Torres Antologia wines (Winesearcher average price for Milmanda 2017: $68.00 CAD).

Mas La Plana

This iconic Torres cuvée hails from 60-year-old organically farmed Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in the Turons de Vilafranca subzone of Penedès. This vineyard is on the site of the Torres winery. The vines are planted on a slope ranging in altitude from 180 to 240 metres above sea level.  The soils are very deep, diverse in nature, and of alluvial origin. They are moderately coarse, with layers of gravel, sand, silt, and clay; giving them good water holding potential. Huge efforts have been made in recent years to protect and improve biodiversity in the vineyard. The creation of wildlife corridors, planting of cover crops, installation of insectariums, use of integrated pest management techniques, and move to electric tractors are just some of the main initiatives in place.  Vineyard planting on this site began at the beginning of the 1960s, with many original vines still in existence.

Mas La Plana is fermented in a combination of vessels. Sabarich prefers large wooden vats for vineyard areas with warmer soils. These sites yield smaller grapes, with greater concentration and firmer tannic structure. He uses stainless steel for the cooler areas where grapes are larger and more acidic. Gentle punch downs helps with extraction, as does an extended maceration of up to two weeks. Ageing occurs in 85% new French oak in 300 to 500 litre casks.

Torres “Mas La Plana” Penedès DO 2016 is remarkably fresh given the hot, dry growing season. Ripe red currant, black cherry, and cassis mingle with notes of cigar box, graphite, and cedar on the complex, harmonious nose. The palate is firm and dense, with excellent depth of black fruit, dark chocolate, and cedar spice flavours. Tannins are muscular, yet ripe and fine-grained. Finishes long, with overt toasty oak and vibrant dark fruit – 92pts. LW. Where to Buy: Inquire with Canadian agent Vins Dandurand for Torres Antologia wines (Winesearcher average price for Mas La Plana 2016: $85.00 CAD)

Reserva Real

This blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, and 12% Merlot comes from the four-hectare vineyard, Les Arnes, in the Costers de l’Anoia subzone of Penedès. This area is due north of Mas La Plana. The site’s rocky Silurian slate soils are dark in colour, absorbing heat throughout the day and aiding with ripening. They are mineral-rich and free draining, yet quite shallow as hard rock blocks the vine from deeper rooting.

Grapes for Reserva Real are hand harvested. The three varieties are vinified separately, with a similarly long maceration and gentle extraction as Mas La Plana. However, instead of ageing in larger foudres (casks), Reserva Real is aged in new 225 litre French barrels for 18 months.

Torres Reserva Real Penedès DO 2016 is incredibly suave, with high-toned aromas of dark plum, cassis, cedar, menthol, and graphite on the nose. Intriguing earthy, black truffle notes emerge with aeration. Multifaceted in structure; initially brisk and quite firm, then broadening and deepening on the dense, flavourful mid-palate, tapering to elegant, polished tannins. Dark fruit, savoury nuances, and cedar-spice linger on the finish. Merits additional cellaring – 94pts LW. Where to Buy: Inquire with Canadian agent Vins Dandurand for Torres Antologia wines (Winesearcher average price for Reserva Real 2016: $167.00 CAD)

Gran Muralles

The Gran Muralles is a Mediterranean blend of mainly Garnacha and Cariñena, with small additions of Monastrell and native varieties Querol and Garró. Sabarich feels that “Garnacha brings the soul, while Cariñena provides the backbone of Gran Muralles”. He likes Monastrell for its bright fruit. Querol and Garró are among the grape varieties that the Familia Torres is endeavouring to bring back from near extinction in Catalonia. According to Sabarich, they add a hint of rusticity which furthers the aromatic complexity of the blend. The six-hectare vineyard site for Gran Muralles neighbours Milmanda, in the Conca de Barberà DO. This hilly plot features deep rocky, slate and granite-based soils with sandy areas.

The 2016 growing season was markedly different in Conca de Barberà as compared to Penedès. The weather was distinctly cool and rainy, producing a fresh and fruity style of wine. Much like Reserva Real, the Gran Muralles varieties are vinified separately, and then aged in new French oak barrels for 18 months before bottling.

Torres Gran Muralles Conca de Barberà DO 2016 has a seductive floral perfume, underscored by ripe blue and black fruit, baking spice, and toasty, nutty hints. Bright acidity and a moderately firm structure counterbalance the plush, richly textured mouthfeel, intensity of ripe black fruit and cocoa flavours. Hints of cedar and spice from extended oak ageing are nicely integrated. Finishes smooth and very long – 94pts. LW. Where to Buy: Inquire with Canadian agent Vins Dandurand for Torres Antologia wines (Winesearcher average price for Gran Muralles 2016: $220.00 CAD)

Mas de la Rosa

Tucked away in a secluded valley of the Priorat near Poboleda, this small 1.86-hectare plot of 80-year old Garnacha and Cariñena was first vinified by the Familia Torres in 2016. The vineyard is perched on a sharply angled slope of nearly 30% grade. All vineyard work is done by hand, or by horse, due to the steepness of the hillside and the bush vine plantings. The parcel faces northeast and is shaded from midday onwards. This, coupled with the moderately high, 420 metre altitude create a cooling effect that preserves freshness in the wines. The soils are a pure, disintegrated slate called llicorella. They are shallow, nutrient-poor soils that encourage the vines to root deeply.

The 2017 growing season in Priorat was very hot and dry in the spring through to mid-summer, with marginally cooler conditions at harvest. Small berries produced dense, richly coloured wines. After an eight to nine day cold soak, fermentation takes place at cooler, 24°c temperatures “to avoid creating a massive wine, and losing the soul of the grapes”, explained Sabarich. The blend is then aged for 16-months in new French oak barrels.

Torres Mas de la Rosa Priorat DOQ 2017 is initially shy, but gains in intensity with aeration. Crushed raspberry and blue fruit aromas gain in complexity with the development of savoury undertones and violet hints. The palate is medium in body, with a very focused quality and a seductive, silky texture giving way to fine, powdery tannins. Lively, concentrated red fruit flavours mingle with stony mineral hints on the finish – 93pts. LW. Where to Buy: Inquire with Canadian agent Vins Dandurand for Torres Antologia wines (Winesearcher average price for Mas de la Rosa 2017: $312.00 CAD)

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

 

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SIX WINES FOR THE WEEK-END

SIX WINES FOR THE WEEK-END!

The week-end is here, and yes, you may be thinking to yourself…meh, week day, week-end, what difference does it make? Wine. Wine is the difference. We can’t go out to restaurants at the moment, so why not splurge on a nicer bottle of wine and make a complicated recipe from that cookbook gathering dust in your kitchen cabinet?

I have been tasting up a storm over the past few weeks, traveling via my wine glass. I visited the Russian River Valley with the wines of Gary Farrell. I toured top tier vineyard sites of the Penedès and Priorat with Familia Torres’ Antologia range. I strolled through the gravelly flat lands of the Médoc, stopping at each of its eight appellations. And I spent a happy morning exploring Chablis, the Côte d’Or, and Côte Chalonnaise, while tasting Burgundy En Primeur 2019 wines. Those latter two articles should be out next week.

In the meanwhile, assorted samples have been gathering dust on my desk, my floor, my wine rack, etc. Their accusing looks from across the room finally wore me down, so this morning I gathered them up and grabbed a glass. Without further ado, here are six wines for the week-end – a selection of my top picks from the tasting.

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

Best for Brunch

Ponte G Pinot Grigo delle Venezie, Vino Spumante Brut (Veneto, Italy) – 87pts. VW

Pleasant aromas of white pear, apple, and hints of spice on the nose. The palate is medium in body, with smooth, rounded bubbles, fresh, stone fruit flavours, and a subtly fruity, brut finish. Similar to a Prosecco, with a bit more body, and less frothy bubbles.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($16.75)

Best for Spicy Asian Dishes

Albert Mann Gewürztraminer 2018 (Alsace, France) – 90 pts. PW

If not carefully managed, Gewürztraminer can become a little flabby, soft, and overly sweet on the palate. The organically-farmed Albert Mann 2018 is a testament to how fine it can be in skillful hands. Nuanced aromas of white blossoms, lychee, spice, and apricots feature on the nose. The palate is wonderfully silky and layered, with a lifted, fresh finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($34.25)

Best for Roasted Fowl & Mellow Earthy Flavours

La Grange Tiphaine Clef de Sol Montlouis-sur-Loire 2018 (Loire Valley, France) – 94pts. PW

I almost swooned when I tasted this white. It just checks all the boxes for me. This nose has classic Loire Chenin Blanc aromas (red apple, raw honey, nutmeg, and earthy nuances) that gain in intensity and depth with aeration. The palate is full-bodied and boldly flavoured with tangy, yet honeyed orchard fruit overlying savoury hints. Crisp acidity brings lift and vibrancy, while a subtly creamy, layered mid-palate gives huge textural appeal. Decant one hour before serving.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($37.00)

Best for Gourmet Pizza

Head High Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2018 (California, USA) – 90pts. PW

Vivid aromas of red cherry, pomegranate, and mixed spice on the nose. The palate is true to its origin, marrying mouth watering acidity with a plush texture and ripe red fruit flavours. Finishes smooth and fresh, with delicate green herbal nuances. Great value for the price.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($24.95)

Best for Bold Flavoured, Mildly Spiced Meals

Valley of the Moon “Cuvée de la Luna” 2014 (California, USA) – 89pts. PW

An interesting blend of 44% Zinfandel, 21% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Sangiovese. The nose is perfumed with ripe blackberry, candied cherry, and milk chocolate aromas. Full-bodied and velvety smooth on the palate, with fresh acidity giving vibrancy to the blue and black fruit flavours. Finishes with subtle sweet tobacco and spicy oak nuances.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($27.40)

Best for Refined French Cuisine & for the Cellar

Château La Tour de By Médoc 2016 (Bordeaux, France) – 92pts. PW

Another exceptional value that drinks way above its humble appellation and mid $20 price point. The 2016 vintage is excellent throughout Bordeaux, with lots of great finds at affordable prices. The sustainably-farmed Château La Tour de By offers attractive red currant, plum, red pepper, and cedar hints on the nose. The palate is brisk and tightly knit, with vibrant red and black fruit flavours mingling with earthy undertones. The tannins are firm, yet fine-grained and elegant. Will cellar well over the next four to six years. Decant an hour before serving.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($26.50)

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TASTING THE WINES OF GARY FARRELL

wines of gary farrell
Photo credit: Gary Farrell Vineyards (winery, eagle’s nest view)

The wines of Gary Farrell are a testament to the unique and contrasting climate of the Russian River Valley. Plunging your nose in a glass of the 2017 Chardonnay, the ripeness of fruit evokes warmth and abundant sunshine, and yet lipsmacking acidity greets you on the taut, lively palate. The wines are a study in opposites, that most definitely attract.

Gary Farrell launched his eponymous wine label back in 1982. At the time, Napa was starting to gain worldwide attention thanks to the efforts of pioneers like Robert Mondavi, and the media attention garnered from the 1976 Judgement of Paris. However, on the other side of the Mayacamas mountains, Sonoma County remained a discreet and rugged frontierland. That is not to say exciting developments were not afoot. In the Russian River Valley, wineries like Davis Bynum were quietly proving how well suited cool climate varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were to the region’s cool, Pacific-influenced climate.

Farrell got his start at Davis Bynum, initially as an apprentice and finally as head winemaker. When he bottled his first wine, it was with fruit sourced from renowned local growers like Rochioli, Allen, and Hallberg, using the winery at Davis Bynum. By the late 1990s, the wines of Gary Farrell were widely respected, and production had expanded sufficiently to warrant construction of his own winery. Farrell chose a secluded, area in Healdsburg, the heartland of the Russian River Valley, to build his facility.

Today, the property is owned by an investment group including Bill Price, of reputed Sonoma and Napa Chardonnay specialist, Kistler Vineyards. Farrell may no longer be involved, but his legacy remains. Many of the same grower partnerships, established with a handshake nearly 40 years ago, hold strong. Since 2012, experienced local winemaker, and former chemist, Theresa Heredia has crafted the Gary Farrell wine style. In 2019, the winery attained “Year 2 Status” as a California Certified Sustainable Winemaking (CCSW) winery.

Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Theresa (virtually), to chat Russian River, how she crafts the wines of Gary Farrell, and taste a couple recent releases.

Russian River Valley Overview

Russian River Valley Map

Image credit: Gary Farrell Vineyards

The Sonoma County AVA (American Viticultural Area) of Russian River Valley begins on a sharp bend in the Russian River, where it changes its north-south course to head westward toward the Pacific coast. Many liken the region’s shape to a heart, extending south and west over a roughly 25-kilometre span in both directions. Despite decidedly warm, sunny day-time temperatures, the climate is generally deemed cool due to the heavy fogs that permeate the area, slipping through the Petaluma Gap to the south and via a wind tunnel formed by the Russian River, to the west. This phenomenon results in significant diurnal variation, with night time lows up to 20ºC cooler than day time highs.

Just over 6000 hectares are planted here, mainly to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as some coveted old vine Zinfandel. The region consists of five vineyard areas (or neighbourhoods as they are called locally): Middle Reach, Santa Rosa Plain, Green Valley, Sebastopol Hills, and Laguna Ridge. Each of these neighbourhoods has a distinct mesoclimate, elevation, soil composition, and so forth. The wines of Gary Farrell are made from grapes sourced through longstanding grower partnerships across the valley, producing blends with complimentary elements from various sites, as well as single vineyard cuvées.

Green Valley, the foggiest, coolest neighbourhood of Russian River Valley due to its location closest to the coast, possesses such an individual character that it has been granted separate sub-AVA status within the Valley. It is from the sandy soils of the Hallberg Vineyard located here, that Heredia sources one of Gary Farrell’s most admired Chardonnays.

Gary Farrell Sustainability Commitments

Sonoma County is committed to leading the way in terms of vineyard and winery sustainability. In fact, in 2014 the region set themselves the goal of achieving 100% sustainability for the sector. By 2019, they had achieved 99% of their target. At Gary Farrell, sustainability initiatives include a solar array spanning the length of the winery roof that defrays 93% of the property’s power usage. Their parking lot includes Tesla/EV charging stations to encourage electric car use among staff and visitors. As part of their progression through the CCSW certification process, the winery is developing a continuous improvement plan assessing areas like water conservation, enery efficiency, waste management, social sustainability, and so forth.

The wines of Gary Farrell are made from over three-quarters certified sustainable Chardonnay vineyard sources, and nearly 90% certified sustainable Pinot Noir partners.

Gary Farrell Winemaking & Tasting Notes

Chardonnay Winemaking

Freshness and vibrancy of fruit are key watchwords for Heredia. She prefers to harvest early, when Chardonnay reaches 21 to 23 brix. “My ideal scenario” says Heredia “is Chardonnay with a pH between 3.2 to 3.5 and total acidity of 7 to 9 grams/litre, but obviously this doesn’t always happen!”. After experimenting with varying periods of skin contact, she concluded that she generally prefers the fresh, more delicate quality of rapidly pressed whites. Heredia uses a range of different pressing techniques, each tailored specifically to the Chardonnay source and clone. Fermentation and ageing takes place in lightly toasted barrels on fine lees, using a careful selection of yeasts including Burgundian favourite RC212 and Montrachet.

Gary Farrell Chardonnay “Russian River Selection” 2017

The “Russian River Selection” cuvée is made from a blend of grower partner sites in the Middle Reach, Laguna Ridge, and Santa Rosa Plain neighbourhoods (including Rochioli, Rochioli-Allen, Bacigalupi, Westside Farms, Olivet Lane, and Martinelli). The harvest took place during a total eclipse, at a frenetic pace to beat a forecasted intense heat wave. Ageing lasted nine months, in 35% new French oak.

Initially shy, the nose reveals complex notes of ripe lemon, poached pear, white blossoms, and hints of buttered toast with aeration. The palate is defined by zesty acidity, a taut structure, medium body, and tangy white grapefruit and yellow fruit notes. A subtle layered creaminess comes through on the long, dry, delicately toasted finish. A vibrant, refined Chardonnay with harmonious oaked undertones. Still quite tightly-knit, would benefit from another year or two in cellar for the acidity to soften.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($53.25)

Pinot Noir Winemaking

Heredia has an equally restrained, site-specific approach when it comes to Pinot Noir. She harvests at 22 – 24 brix. Decisions on whether to destem or vinify whole clusters differ depending on the vintage and vineyard, though she likes the “tannin structure, backbone, and spice” that whole cluster fermentation can bring to Pinot Noir. After a three – five day cold soak, must is fermented at cooler temperatures with gentle punch downs, using wild yeasts when possible. Lightly toasted barrels are also employed for Pinot Noir ageing.

Gary Farrell Pinot Noir “Hallberg Vineyard” 2016

Sourced from the Hallberg vineyard site in the cool Green Valley sub-AVA, and aged 15 months in 40% new French oak, this Pinot Noir is fragrant and floral, with vibrant black cherry, exotic spice, and tea leaf aromas. Medium weight on the palate, with brisk acidity, nicely balanced by concentrated flavours of juicy red and black fruits with mocha undertones. Elegant, moderately firm tannins with just a touch of refreshing bitterness that adds interest on the finish.  Drinking well now for lovers of more taut, high acid reds, otherwise cellar for three to four years to allow a more supple expression to develop.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($57.00)

 

Life Reviews Wines

Thanksgiving 2020 Wines & Reasons to Celebrate

Thanksgiving 2020 Wines

It is Turkey time! So let’s pick out some Thanksgiving 2020 wines. No, international readers, Thanksgiving is not solely an American holiday. We Canadians celebrate the bounty of harvest and the blessings of the year on the second Monday of October. Sure, many of you might be thinking that there is not much to be thankful for in these challenging times of deadly viruses, rampant wildfires, ongoing global conflict, and the uncertain future of democracy. But, I would like to offer the following anecdote as a counter argument.

A couple of years ago I met a charming Piedmontese wine producer at an Italian wine trade fair. He poured through a selection of wines that I greatly enjoyed and we had a very interesting conversation. Fast forward to last week and the delivery of a mystery bottle of wine to my door. It was a bottle of Barolo, offered as a gift to congratulate me on my Master of Wine success. When I wrote back to thank Gabriele for his generosity, he said that, especially in these hard times, we have to take every occasion to celebrate our victories. He signed off with the sentence, “thank God 2020 is not only about bad news”!

Bad news is indeed all around us – big and small. While I feel petty relating my trivial problems, the daily reality of living in a “red zone” – where gatherings are prohibited, quashing our Thanksgiving family gathering, and threatening to ruin our children’s Halloween festivities – is pretty glum. I am therefore all the more determined to seize every opportunity for fun. And what could be more fun than cooking a massive feast and pairing it with the perfect wines? Not. Much!

So here are my “screw the seriously messed up world situation, let’s eat some turkey and drink something delicious” Thanksgiving 2020 wines (or just regular old week-end) meal.

Under the “I’m just keeping it casual and need to save my pennies” category, I recommend these Thanksgiving 2020 wines:

Mont Gras “Amaral” Sauvignon Blanc 2019, Leyda Valley, Chile

Drink this while you are stuffing the turkey, chopping potatoes, and bopping along to your favourite tunes. Its lively, light bodied style and vibrant lemon, passion fruit, herbal aromas will keep your palate refreshed.

Where to Buy: SAQ (14.60$), Ontarians, try slightly pricier, but fantastic value San Pedro 1865

Maison Ogier Ventoux Rosé

This Southern Rhône Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault blend is the epitome of easy drinking charm with its soft, rounded mouthfeel and inviting candied red fruit aromas. This medium bodied, dry rosé is a perfect Turkey wine for your red wine averse friends.

Where to Buy: LCBO (14.55$), Québeckers, try the Maison Gassier Buti Nages Languedoc rosé

Châsse Galerie Languedoc Red, by Jean-Noël Bousquet 2017, Languedoc, France

Great value for the price, with baked dark fruit, chocolate, and subtly smoky notes on the nose. The palate is full bodied and velvety smooth, with ripe, rounded tannins and and a dry, bright-fruited finish. The combination of rich, ripe fruit and fairly unobtrusive tannins will compliment the turkey, stuffing, and savory side dishes.

Where to Buy: SAQ (15.35$), Ontarians, try the Mathilde Chapoutier Languedoc 2017

Under the “I am upping my game, but still want to keep things reasonable” category, check out these Thanksgiving 2020 wines:

Bisol Crede Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore 2019, Italy

A lovely, harmonious Prosecco with none of the frothy, mouth-filling bubbles of lesser examples. This dry, silky textured bubbly has delicate apple, pear, white floral aromas and a clean, fresh palate.

Where to Buy: SAQ (22.50$), Ontarians, try the Varaschin Prosecco Superiore DOCG

Domaine Labranche-Laffont Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh 2018, South-West, France

Another great apéritif white, with an intriguing, aromatic nose of star anise, beeswax, fresh almonds & citrus. The palate is racy and sleek, with tangy tangerine and grapefruit flavours lingering on the dry finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (24.45$)

Flat Rock Cellars Estate Pinot Noir 2018, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario, Canada

The 2018 Estate Pinot Noir has perky aromas of ripe cherry, red berries, and hints of menthol. The palate hums with juicy acidity and tangy red berry flavours on a smooth, lightweight backdrop. Much like a tart, subtly sweet cranberry sauce, this Pinot will offset the richness of Thanksgiving fare perfectly.

Where to Buy: SAQ (23.95$), LCBO (22.95$)

Domaine Cazes “Marie Gabrielle” Côtes de Roussillon 2019, Languedoc-Roussillon, France

Classic rich, smooth and ripe fruited Côtes du Roussillon redolent with macerated black, blue fruit and lingering notes of dark chocolate. The finish is fresh, with moderately firm tannins. A hearty wine great for chilly fall evenings.

Where to Buy: SAQ (18.90$), Ontarians, try Domaine de la Rougeante Corbières 2016

Under the “I’m splashing out, who know when this madness will end?” category, how about these Thanksgiving 2020 wines:

Domaine St. Jacques Brut Rosé Sparkling, Québec, Canada

Initially shy, revealing delicate cranberry, red apple, savoury herbal notes on the nose, with just a hint of brioche. Crisp and taut on the palate, with fine mousse and a nice balance of tangy red fruit and subtly creamy texture. Finishes crisp and dry.

Where to Buy: SAQ (34.85$), Ontarians, try the Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catherine Rosé Brut

Tawse Winery Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2016, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario, Canada

This is an opulent, yet harmonious Chardonnay with vibrant acidity and subtle stony minerality to offset the rich, layered texture. The nose features seductive aromas of raw honey, yellow apple, white floral notes, and almonds. The palate is crisp and full bodied, with a concentrated core of ripe orchard fruit, subtle butter, and vanilla nuances. Long and layered.

Where to Buy: LCBO (46.15$), SAQ (48.25$ – 2015 vintage)

Agnès Paquet Auxey-Duresses 2018, Burgundy, France

An appellation which is often austere in its youth, however the warm 2018 vintage in the skillful hands of Agnès Paquet is a delight. Bright red berry and cassis notes on the nose, with floral and faintly earthy undertones. The palate is incredibly vivacious, with a silken texture, tangy fruit flavours, and fine-grained tannins. The finish is long and lifted.

Where to Buy: SAQ (45.00$)

 

 

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.

_______________________________________________________________

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$)

 

Education Reviews Wines

COOL CLIMATE WINES…WHAT ARE THEY?

cool climate wines
Photo credit: Domaine St. Jacques

If you have spent any time chatting with wine geeks lately you may have heard them refer to certain wines as being “cool climate” in style. Perhaps you found yourself wondering, what are cool climate wines?

Vitis vinifera, the major grape vine species used to make wine, is a Mediterranean plant. It likes warm, sunny, fairly dry climates and produces abundant, ultra-ripe crops in these areas. In more marginal growing regions, the vine often struggles to fully ripen its grapes.

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

What is So Special about Cool Climate Wines?

It might seem counter-intuitive to grow a plant in a climate where the ripening of its crop is a constant concern. However, Vitis vinifera is a very particular species. The old adage goes that a grape vine needs to struggle to produce great wine. While not all winemakers would agree, many top producers do share this sentiment. Stressed vines generally produce lower grape yields which ripen at a slower rate. Proponents feel that this produces wines of greater concentration and complexity.

That is not to say that struggling vines always produce better quality. In the case of cool climates, grapes that have failed to fully ripen make thin, bitter, highly acidic wines that could strip the enamel from your teeth. However, grapes that have just attained that magical balance of vibrant acidity and sufficiently sweet fruit, with skins ripe enough to have lost their tough thickness and astringent taste, can produce incredibly elegant and refreshing wines.

Cool climate wines are generally lighter in body, with lower alcohol, and higher, more mouthwatering acidity than their counterparts from warmer growing regions. The fruit flavours are often subtler, ranging from tart to fresh, with green to white fruit notes on white wines and tangy cranberry, red berry and cherry aromas on reds.

In comparison, wines from warmer climates tend to be fuller-bodied, with higher alcohol, softer acidity, and more baked or jammy fruit flavours.

What Grapes Grow Best in Cool Climates?

Major concerns in cool climate growing areas include late budding, early autumn frosts, and cold winters. Grapes that ripen early and are able to withstand winter’s chill are best suited to cool climates.

In regions with frigid winters, where the thermostat regularly dips down below -20°C, cold-hardy hybrid grape varieties are often preferred by growers. Grapes like Frontenac, Maréchal Foch, Vidal and L’Acadie Blanc are popular in the coldest parts of Canada and northern USA.

Where winter conditions are slightly milder, Vitis vinifera varieties like Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Chardonnay, Gamay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc thrive.

What Makes a Climate Cool?

According to acclaimed American wine writer Matt Kramer, “the notion of cool climate is, in many ways, a New World concept”. Kramer made this assertion during a webinar exploring the evolution of cool climate wines for this year’s virtual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4C).

Wines have been produced in marginal climates – like Chablis and Champagne – for centuries. However, classifying wines from these regions as “cool climate” is a relatively new phenomenon; one which has grown in prominence over the past ten years.

So, what factors make a wine region cool? To date there is no formal definition or set rules as to what constitutes a cool climate. With this in mind, a second i4C webinar, led by John Szabo MS, looked at major contributing factors to cool climates.

Latitudes between 30° and 50° in the northern and southern hemispheres are generally agreed to be the areas where wine grapes can successively be cultivated. Latitude has long been used as a primary argument for climate, with wine regions closer to 50° regularly typecast as cool climate.

Various measurement tools have also been developed in an attempt to codify viticultural climates. One system, called growing degree days (GDD) measures heat accumulation over the growing season. Another, called growing season temperature (GST), measures the average monthly temperature over the 7 months of the grape growing season. According to climate experts Gregory Jones and Hans Schultz, regions with GST averages between 13 – 15c, and GDDs of 850 – 1389 are classic cool climates regions.

However, climate classifications based solely on one-size-fits-all indicators like latitude or GDDs are increasingly being called into question. Each region has its own unique geography and weather patterns. Wind circulation, altitude, soil types and colours, proximity to bodies of water capable of tempering temperature extremes…these are just a handful of factors that can significantly affect a region’s temperatures and exposure to sunlight.

Where Can I Find Cool Climate Wines?

The lighter, fresher wine styles associated with cool climates are becoming increasingly popular with wine lovers. Wine regions proclaiming themselves cool are popping up all over the world, leading to growing critical skepticism.

That being said, most wine experts agree that vineyard areas like Champagne, the Loire Valley, and Burgundy produce cool climate wines. Well known cooler areas in the USA include much of Oregon, coastal areas of Sonoma, and parts of Santa Barbara County. In Australia, Tasmania is an exciting region for cool climate wines. In New Zealand, several areas make the cut, such as the Awatere Valley in Marlborough, and parts of Central Otago.

If you want to go slightly off the beaten track, England has a growing reputation for fine cool climate sparkling wines. Here are home, Nova Scotia and Québec are also great cool climate sparkling contenders. Ontario and British Columbia each possess a number of cool climate terroirs making a wide array of cool Chardonnay, Riesling, Gamay, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir wines.

Tasting Cool Climate Wines

The series of i4C lectures discussing and debating cool climate wines and regions culminated as all great wine conversations should, with a tasting. Here are my notes on the six wines from Chablis, New Zealand, and Ontario generously supplied to me by the regions to celebrate i4C and all things cool climate.

Domaine Laroche 2018 Petit Chablis, France

Excellent as an aperitif, this light-bodied, taut Petit Chablis offers discreet earthy, yellow apple and nettle notes on the nose. White grape fruit and lime flavours provide an attractive juiciness to the nervy, high acid. Finishes bone dry.

Where to Buy: SAQ (23.45$), inquire with agent in Ontario: Select Wines

Domaine Gueguen 1er Cru Vaucoupin 2018, Chablis, France 

Very elegant premier cru Chablis, with pretty white blossoms and ripe orchard fruit notes on the nose. With a little time in the glass, underlying aromas of wet stone and white mushroom develop. The palate is defined by a firm, almost strident acidity on the attack that softens and broadens on the mid-palate. Vibrant white fruit flavours mingle with tingly saline notes that linger on the long, dry, finish.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent Le Maitre de Chai

Villa Maria Single Vineyard Taylor’s Pass Chardonnay 2018, Marlborough, New Zealand

A really harmonious Chardonnay with bright yellow fruit aromas layered with buttered, flinty nuances and subtle toasty oak. The palate features vibrant acidity that enhances the juicy meyer lemon, passion fruit, and apricot flavours and balances the rich, round, textural palate. Pleasantly warming on the lengthy finish.

Where to Buy: LCBO (33.95$), inquire with agent in Québec: Vins Dandurand

Paddy Borthwick Chardonnay 2018, Wairarapa, New Zealand

Initially discreet nose, with an array of ripe, yellow fruit and flinty hints upon aeration. Fresh acidity provides definition to the rounded, full-bodied palate structure. Juicy stone fruits and subtle grapefruit pith bitterness on the dry, medium length finish. Slightly warming.

 Where to Buy: LCBO (25.00$)

Leaning Post Senchuk Vineyard Chardonnay 2018, Lincoln Lakeshore VQA, Niagara, Ontario 

Restrained earthy aromas on first approach, with delicate white floral, green apple, and lime hints developing after a few minutes in the glass. The racy acidity and very firm structure on this medium bodied white are balanced by a layered, textural mid-palate. Intriguing flavours of green fruits, earth and wet stone linger on the mouthwatering, dry finish. Needs 2 – 3 years cellaring to unwind.

 Where to Buy: LCBO (45.00$, 2017 vintage), leaningpostwines.com 

Legacy Willms Vineyard  Chardonnay 2017, Four Mile Creek VQA, Niagara, Ontario

A highly aromatic style of Chardonnay (potentially Chardonnay Musqué?), brimming with white peach, Bartlett pear and vanilla notes on the nose and palate. Fresh, fruity, and rounded on the palate, with medium weight and a smooth finish. Best for lovers of soft, fruit-forward Chardonnay styles.

Where to Buy: adamoestate.com/shop/

 

Education Reviews Wines

IT’S TIME TO DRINK SOUTH AFRICAN WINE

drink south african wine

It’s Time to Drink South African Wine

The Covid lock-down has been hard on wineries all across the globe. Months of sale revenues from winery tasting rooms and restaurant clients lost, stocks of unsold wines piling up. The situation for many producers is dire.

In South Africa, the circumstances are particularly challenging. For the second time since the beginning of the pandemic, domestic alcohol sales have been banned. A recent BBC article quotes South African President Cyril Ramaphosa as saying that this enforced prohibition is meant to “take pressure off the national healthcare system”.

Alcohol-related hospital visits are a significant concern in South Africa. According to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, cited in The Economist: “admissions to trauma wards fell by 60-70% in April and May” (the first alcohol ban). The idea behind the ban is to ensure that sufficient space is freed up to dedicate hospital intensive care units to COVID-19 sufferers.

While this decision may have yielded initial, good results, increasing reports of a boom in illicit alcohol sales and home-made moonshine abound. Over the long run, these unregulated liquors may prove far more harmful to heavy drinkers. Meanwhile, South Africa’s wine industry is suffering. The Economist claims that “the first ban put 350 wine producers out of business”.

South Africa, with its rich winemaking heritage, its diverse range of regional and varietal styles, and its often impressive quality for price, has much to offer wine lovers . To learn more about South Africa’s wine history, regions and wines, check out my three-part series on The Renaissance of South African Wine.

The best way to show your support for the South African wine industry is simply to drink South African wine! To help get you started, here is a list of South African wines at all price points that I have enjoyed recently:

Robertson Winery Chenin Blanc 2019

A simple but easy drinking, every day white wine with cheerful yellow apple and melon flavours, fresh acidity, a light-bodied structure and soft, fruity finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (9.90$), LCBO (9.45$)

The Wolftrap Syrah, Mourvèdre, Viognier 2017, Western Cape

Reminiscent of a Côtes-du-Rhône red wine, The Wolftrap features baked red cherry, plum and baking spice aromas on the nose. The palate is smooth and rounded, with moderate acidity and subtle dark fruit flavours.

Where to Buy: SAQ (13.95$), LCBO (13.95$)

Man Vintners Chenin Blanc Free-run Steen 2017, Western Cape

Attractive notes of yellow fruit underscored by steely, mineral hints on the nose. Zesty acidity is matched by a taut structure and vibrant, ripe lemon flavours on this light bodied, unoaked Chenin Blanc. Clean and citrussy on the finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (17.05$)

AA Badenhorst The Drifter Cinsault 2019, Swartland

A really bright, silky textured Cinsault that, served slightly chilled, is just perfect for summer. The nose offers temptingly ripe dark berry fruits, with pretty violet accents. The palate offers just enough freshness to provide lift and verve to the light, fruity core.

Where to Buy: SAQ (18.45$)

Pearce Predhomme Wild Ferment Chenin Blanc 2018, Stellenbosch

This lovely Chenin Blanc is the result of a collaborative effort between Canadian wine pros: Nicholas Pearce and Will Predhomme, and reputed South African producer: The Winery of Good Hope. It offers really bright citrus, quince, tart apple aromas and flavours. The palate features nervy acidity that provides excellent balance to the rich, layered texture and medium body. Tangy citrus and green fruit notes linger on the dry finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (22.95$)

Sijnn Low Profile 2016, Western Cape

This 100% Syrah is deep and brooding in colour, with heady aromas of macerated black fruit, blueberry, dark chocolate and exotic spice, lifted by fresh eucalyptus and floral hints. The palate is full bodied and moderately firm, with a velvety texture, and a concentrated core of ripe dark fruit. A pleasing freshness throughout and subtle, well integrated spicy oak nuances make for a very harmonious red wine.

Where to Buy: SAQ (29.95$)

Mullineux Old Vines White 2018, Swartland

A blend of mainly Chenin Blanc, with white Rhône varietals, and a splash of Sémillon Gris. Initially quite flinty, with aromas of ripe lemon, yellow apple, gooseberry, and anis developing with aeration. The palate shows lovely balance of racy acidity, lifting the weighty, creamy textured mid-palate nicely. Finishes dry, with attractive nutty flavours, and well integrated toasty oak hints. Barrel fermented with native yeasts. Aged 11 months in mainly 3rd and 4th fill French casks.

Where to Buy: LCBO (37.95$). Private import in Québec, enquire with agent: Rézin.

 

 

Reviews Wines

Wine Region Stereotypes: A Sancerre Story

Wine region stereotypes

Wine Region Stereotypes: A Sancerre Story

Photo credit: Domaine Joseph Mellot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to buy: SAQ (26.00$)

Joseph Mellot Sancerre (rosé) Le Rabault  2019

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

Where to buy: SAQ (26.80$)

Reviews Wines

Affordable Wine Finds from Portugal

affordable wine finds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to Buy: SAQ (12.65$),

Poças, Vale de Cavalos Branco 2018, Douro, Portugal

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

Where to Buy: SAQ (16.60$)

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

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

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

Poças, Vale de Cavalos Tinto 2017, Douro, Portugal

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

Where to Buy: SAQ (17.95$)