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GOOD, AFFORDABLE WINE FINDS FOR FALL

good, affordable wine

We can’t all buy 20$ + wines on a regular basis. Especially if you are like me, and enjoy a glass of wine most evenings. Fortunately, it is possible to find good, affordable wine that drinks well above its modest price tag.

At a recent tasting, I was impressed to see the pride with which a producer of mainly premium wines presented his sub-15$, entry-level wine. This was his introductory wine – as much of a flagship for the estate as his icon wine.

Not so long ago, wineries producing both every day wines and fine wine would take great pains to disassociate the two. The cheaper wines were sold under separate brand names. If the estate name was given, it was buried in the legal mentions on the back label.

While this practice still exists, it seems that an increasing number of vintners are reclaiming their “little wines”. Producing a good, affordable wine has become a point of honour, and a testament to the winemaker’s skill.

With sufficient expertise, and the right equipment, it is comparably easy to make high quality wine from a superior vineyard plot of optimally ripened grapes. However low priced wines are generally made from young vines and/ or high yielding vineyard sites. The grapes aren’t always in pristine condition and haven’t necessarily reached ideal ripeness levels. Their flavours are simpler, and more dilute.

Any number of winemaking tricks can be deployed in an attempt to hide the inadequacies of inferior grapes, but – much like the adage of putting lipstick on a pig – the resultant wines are often disappointing. The flavours and structural elements (acidity, tannins, body, etc.) seem disjointed.

To me, the definition of a good, affordable wine is one that tastes balanced. It likely isn’t a marvel of complexity or concentration, but it appears harmonious on the palate.

As fine wine prices continue to source (see recent article), many wine lovers are obliged to trade down and estates are increasingly being judged on their lower tier offerings. Producing a good, affordable wine is therefore the gateway to trial, to consumer loyalty, and hopefully, to instilling the confidence necessary for an occasional splurge on the estate’s fine wines.

The past couple of months have brought a handful of these little beauties my way. Top picks include:

Lykos Winery “Pop Art” White 2017, IGP Peloponnese (Greece)

Bright lemon, green apple, flinty aromas on the nose give way to a crisp, light-bodied, dry palate, with subtle nutty flavours, and a clean, refreshing finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (15.80$)

Kir-Yianni Paranga Roditis Malagousia 2018, IGP Macedonia (Greece)

Discreet nose featuring lemon, pear, and wild herbs. Fresh and light-bodied, with a bright citrus-driven mid-palate, and dry, herbal finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (13.90$)

Aranleon Blés Valencia Crianza 2017, DO Valencia (Spain)

This vibrant, organic red is a blend of Montastrell (aka Mourvèdre), Tempranillo, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Ripe, brambly red and black berry notes feature on the nose and palate. Light and silky with soft tannins.

Where to Buy: SAQ (14.55$)

The Wolftrap Syrah, Mourvèdre, Viognier 2017, Western Cape (South Africa)

Attractive aromas of baked red cherry, with underlying floral, spiced nuances. Smooth and easy drinking on on the medium weight palate, with soft tannins, and a pleasantly warming finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (14$), LCBO (14.95$)

Bacalhoa “Catarina Tinto” 2015, Setúbal Peninsula (Portugal)

Made from the native Castelão grape (aka Periquita) blended with Alicante Bouschet. Deep, brooding ruby colour, with matching intensity of ultra-ripe dark plum and black cherry aromas. Rich, full-bodied, and velvetty smooth on the palate, with hints of dark chocolate and vanilla spice on the finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (14.55$)

Rocca delle Macie “Sasyr” 2015, IGT Toscana (Italy) 

Sangiovese is blended with Syrah on this rich, spicy Tuscan red. The nose is redolent with baked red cherries and black pepper. The palate boasts fresh acidity that underscores the ripe fruit flavours nicely. Subtly chalky tannins provide fine structure for this good value every day red.

Where to buy: SAQ (15.80$)

Education Reviews Wines

THE TROUBLE WITH NATURAL WINE FANATICS…

natural wine fanatics

I live in a city awash with natural wine fanatics. I am a little less ardent in my appreciation. That is not to say there aren’t scores of natural wines that I like. There are. I found a whole lot to love at the Raw Wine show in Montréal last week.

The natural wine movement has done a lot for the world of wine. It has encouraged wineries of all sizes and doctrines to re-think their winemaking methods and decrease the quantity of potentially unnecessary additives. It has pushed the boundaries of experimentation in the vineyards and cellar. It has created new wine styles, offering consumers greater vinous choice. And it has yielded some fabulous, passionate advocates that do a great job educating wine lovers.

Unfortunately, it has also spawned a generation of natural wine fanatics; a breed of super fans that range from tiresomely vocal enthusiasts to closed minded zealots.

…the judgmental attitude of die-hard natural wine fanatics is doing a disservice to the entire natural wine movement.

Psychologist Jeremy Sherman, PhD describes fanatics as “…people who indulge in a heady, intoxicating and toxic concoction of self-affirming, know-it-all confidence that they have unique access to absolute truths, truths so perfect that they have to impose them on everyone.” It is exactly this mentality that makes me wary each time I enter a natural wine heavy establishment.

In my opinion, the judgmental attitude of die-hard natural wine fanatics is doing a disservice to the entire natural wine movement – alienating, rather than welcoming, potential new consumers.  In some quarters, there is almost a school yard mentality at play. Drinkers of anything other than natural wines are looked down on like kids on a playground wearing unfashionable clothes.

I remember being in a Parisian wine bar eight years ago politely listening to the sommelier expounding his theories on the superiority of natural wines. He insisted on choosing our wines  for us all night long. We made the appropriate noises, nodded, smiled, and on our way out, understanding that we were in the wine trade, he asked where we worked. We named the winery. His look of disgust was almost farcical. And he said, his words dripping with disdain, “Oh, I’ve heard of them. They’re conventional“.

…drinkers of anything other than natural wines are looked down on like kids on a playground wearing unfashionable clothes.

The urge natural wine fanatics feel to evangelize is frankly just irritating. If I dare to admit not liking a certain natural wine, I don’t want to listen to a super fan arguing with me, or rhapsodizing about the winemaker’s vision. This will not change my mind, or make the wine taste better.

Of course I prefer to drink wines that are made in an ethical, sustainable manner. A winemaker who sees themselves as a custodian of their vineyards for future generations is one I can get behind. Especially if said winemaker’s values extent to how they treat their staff, and their community. If that wine also happens to be made using only natural yeasts, with no additives, or maybe just a drop of sulphur at bottling, so much the better.

However, I will not suffer through a skin contact white with tannins so bitter they make my taste buds weep. I won’t marvel over a murky, gamey rosé. And, I refuse to drink a wine that tastes more like beer or cider. If I wanted beer or cider, I’d order it. Sure, the producer might have a compelling winemaking philosophy…but you can’t drink ideology. Or at least I can’t.

Sure, the producer might have a compelling winemaking philosophy…but you can’t drink ideology. 

To me, the world of wine is so marvellous because of its diversity of styles and flavour profiles. There is truly a wine out there for every budget and every palate. Opinion formers in the wine trade – sommeliers, wine merchants, wine writers, educators, etc. – have a vital role to play today in teaching consumers about the importance of supporting wineries working sustainably in their vineyards and cellars. However, we are there to act as guides, not dictators.

Why can’t we just drink and let drink?

End of rant…now, let’s get to the wines. A handful of the wineries that really impressed me at Raw Wine Montréal and some other recent tastings of natural or low interventionist winemakers include:

Bret Brothers & La Soufrandière, biodynamic producers from the Maconnais region of Burgundy. Incredibly precise, mineral, textured whites.

Pearl Morissette, minimal interventionist winemakers from  the Niagara Peninsula, Ontario. Beautifully nuanced Chardonnay, Riesling & Cabernet Franc.

Domaine Frédéric Brouca, passionate producer of old vine wines on the Schist soils of Faugères. Lovely, pure Cinsault and bold, yet balanced Mourvèdre-Syrah blends.

Domaine aux Moines, organic producers currently undergoing biodynamic conversion. Racy, elegant Savennières.

Château Maris, a biodynamic, sulpher-avoiding producer  in Minervois-la-Livinière (who doesn’t choose to label himself a natural wine maker). Textured, expansive Grenache Gris and bold, fragrant Syrah.

Domaine Mann, an organic producer from Alsace. Lovely crémant, aromatic, layered Pinot Gris, and long-lived Riesling.

Reyneke, producer of organic and biodynamic wines from Stellenbosch, South Africa. Vibrant Chenin Blanc and rich, concentrated Syrah.

 

 

 

Reviews Wines

TASTING THE WINES OF MULLINEUX & LEEU

wines of mullineux

I first met Chris and Andrea Mullineux in South Africa back in 2007 under the shade of a kindly old tree at the Tulbagh Mountain Winery (now Fable Wines). Over the course of a leisurely lunch they laid out their plans to move west; to a region then better known for wheat than wine – the Swartland.

Their eyes shone at the idea of setting up in this new frontier. It offered the ideal, Mediterranean climate to craft wines from the Rhône varieties they had come to love during their internship years in Southern France. They were also toying with the idea of producing a straw wine.

I caught up with Chris and Andrea in France a few times in the ensuing years and they gave modest accounts of their Swartland winemaking adventures. It wasn’t until I emerged from my sleepy Gigondas existence, and started following international press accounts, that I discovered their impressive rise in prominence.

Last week, I was offered the opportunity to taste through the current Mullineux Swartland range available here in Montreal. Mullineux’s sales director Nicola Tipping led us through the tasting, and explained the nuances of terroir that give each wine such distinctive personality.

The schist soils of the Kasteelberg bring structure, body, and freshness, while 40  km away the decomposed granite of the Paardeberg gives racier acidity and flinty minerality. Between the two rocky outcrops, iron-rich soils offer a grippier, more concentrated expression. Mullineux’s wines are a testament to these varied soils and to the region’s benevolent climate.

To me, the common thread throughout the tasting was a sense of harmony. The Chenin Blanc based white wines showed mouthwatering acidity perfectly pitched against bright fruit and/ or textural weight. The Syrah-dominant red wines were fairly bold and weighty as should be expected from this hot South African region, yet displayed lovely freshness and juicy fruit flavours. The oak imprint is subtle if at all noticeable, and the Syrah tannins are ripe and rounded.

And the straw wine?

The project did indeed come to fruition, garnering an impressive 96 points Wine Advocate in its first vintage. Each subsequent vintage has achieved similar scores and sells out quickly.

Want to try a Mullineux wine for yourself? Check out my tasting notes from the event, and see which wines are available near you.

Kloof Street Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2018, Swartland

Really bright fruit on the nose, with tropical nuances underscored by ripe lemon, yellow apple, and subtle stony mineral hints. Very clean on the palate, with piercing acidity, a round, juicy fruited core, and dry, citrus-driven finish. Cool fermented in tank and a small portion of neutral barrels.

Where to Buy: SAQ (22.20$), LCBO (19.70$)

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.

Mullineux “Granite” Chenin Blanc 2018, Swartland

Slightly muted on the nose, with nuances of yellow orchard and stone fruit, hints of marzipan, and flint. This impressive wine really comes alive on the palate, with its powerful, tightly wound expression, its depth of honeyed yellow fruit, its mouthwatering acidity, and lingering saline finish. Needs a few years in cellar to unfurl, but should be a stunner. 40-year-old, dry farmed Chenin Blanc grapes, grown in granite soils. Barrel fermented with native yeasts. Aged 11 months in mainly 3rd and 4th fill French casks.

Where to buy: Special release at SAQ in Feb. 2020 (95.00$), enquire with agent in Ontario: Nicolas Pearce Wines

Kloof Street Red 2017, Swartland

Predominantly Syrah, with a touch of old vine Cinsault and Carignan. An easy drinking red with attractive plum, red currant, and cherry aromas. Light, smooth, and rounded on the palate, with juicy red fruit flavours, and soft tannins. Partial whole bunch fermentation at cool temperatures. Brief maturation in neutral oak.

Where to buy: SAQ (22.90$), enquire with agent in Ontario: Nicolas Pearce Wines

Mullineux Syrah 2016, Swartland

Intense aromas of smoked meat, baked red and black fruit, and black olive tapenade feature on the nose. Dense and brooding on the palate, giving way to a bright, juicy fruited core bringing lift and freshness. Finishes dry, with muscular tannins, and hints of tobacco and sweet spice.

Where to buy: SAQ (46.00$), LCBO (47.00$)

Mullineux “Granite” Syrah 2016, Swartland

Very elegant Syrah, with an alluring nose of violets, dark chocolate, red currant, and baked black fruit, with a subtle gamey undertone. The palate is full-bodied and firm in structure, yet pleasingly suave in texture with ripe, polished tannins. Highly concentrated flavours of juicy red and black fruit mingle with meaty nuances, lingering long on the finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (145.00$), enquire with agent in Ontario: Nicolas Pearce Wines

Mullineux “Schist” Syrah 2016, Swartland

Similar in weight and concentration, but with more blue and black fruit on the nose, underscored by both game and herbal nuances. The palate displays an attractive chalky texture and fine-grained tannins; more sinewy in nature than the Granite. Finishes wonderfully fresh, with layers of vibrant dark fruit and refreshing herbal hints.

Where to buy: SAQ (140.00$), enquire with agent in Ontario: Nicolas Pearce Wines

Mullineux Straw Wine 2018, Swartland

Wonderfully fragrant, with notes of pineapple, apricot, candied lemon, and honey fairly leaping from the glass. Searing acidity cuts through the concentrated core and honeyed sweetness effortlessly, and provides lovely lift on the long, crystalline finish.

100% Chenin Blanc grapes are picked at optimal ripeness to preserve vibrant acidity. Grapes are dried 2 – 4 weeks on outdoor, shaded straw mats, leading to an evaporation of (up to) 80% of liquid.  Cool, slow fermentation follows with native yeasts lasting upwards of 6 months in neutral barrels.

Where to buy: Sadly not available. Enquire with agents: RézinNicolas Pearce Wines

Wines

TASTING THE WINES OF YALUMBA

wines of Yalumba
Photo credit: Yalumba 

Louisa Rose has a big job. She is the head winemaker at Yalumba; Australia’s most historic family-owned winery. The wines of Yalumba are renowned for their consistent, high quality – from the affordable “Y Series” to revered icons like “The Caley”. This reputation is maintained by the hard work and dedication of Louisa and her team. So when her visit to Montréal was anounced – her first since 2011 – I was keen to meet her.

Yalumba is based in the Barossa Valley, in South Australia. “We are incredibly lucky in the Barossa” says Louisa. “The climate is Mediterranean, with rainfall in the winter and spring months, and a warm, dry summer”. The mild winters and dry growing season conditions keep fungal pressure and other vine maladies to a minimum, allowing vineyards to thrive into venerable old age. The Barossa Valley is home to some of the oldest bush vines in the world.

These ideal climate conditions also allow growers to practice organic viticulture with (relative) ease; a philosophy that has long been at the heart of Yalumba’s vineyard management strategy. Encouraging increased biodiversity in the vines is a huge part of this plan. “We work hard to protect our native vegetation, insects, and bird life” says Louisa.

Another benefit of such vibrant, diverse vineyard ecosystems, according to Louisa, is the healthy vineyard populations of wild yeasts. The wines of Yalumba are fermented almost exclusively with yeasts from their vineyards and winery. Louisa is a huge proponent of native yeasts. “They bring so much complexity and texture to our wines”.

From wild yeasts, we moved on to a conversation about signature grapes. Viognier is one such focus among the white wines of Yalumba. In fact, the winery was one of the first to plant Viognier in Australia, back in 1980. “At the time, there was barely any Viognier left in the world” explains Louisa, “what little remained was all concentrated around Condrieu”.  Yalumba boasts its own nursery. Established in 1975 to ensure quality grafted planting material for their vineyards, the nursery brought in a handful of Viognier vines, and the rest is history.

From Viognier, we moved on to a discussion on Grenache, and the complexity and succulence brought by the old bush vines for which the Barossa is famous. Perhaps the most famous of the red wines of Yalumba however, is Shiraz, and the blends of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. “A colleague once described Shiraz to me as a highly aromatic grape, and that really resonated with me” said Louisa. In recent years, the style of Yalumba Shiraz has definitely become more fragrant, with a lighter oak signature, and fresher acidity.

Overall, the wines of Yalumba are impressive. While we in the wine trade love to extol the virtues of tiny, craft wineries, there is no denying the accomplishment of a larger firm providing great quality, consistent wines at all price levels, for all wine lovers, vintage after vintage.

  

Scroll down for my wines of Yalumba tasting notes from today’s event:

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

Yalumba “The Y Series” Viognier 2018, South Eastern Australia – 88pts. VW

The Y series Viognier is fermented in stainless steel tanks, with native yeasts, then matured on its fine lees for 3 to 4 months. The result is a fresh, fruity, smooth textured white with loads of easy-drinking appeal. Initially quite closed on the nose; hints of honeysuckle and ripe lemon give way to riper stone fruit nuances upon aeration. Light bodied, with bright peach and melon flavours and a refreshing hint of bitterness on the dry finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (14.95$), LCBO (14.95$)

Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2017 – 91pts. PW

Fermented in a mix of mature French oak barrels and puncheons, and stainless steel tanks, this heady Viognier spends 10 months ageing on its lees, with regular bâtonnage. “If I want to show someone the essence of Yalumba Viognier, this would be it” said Louisa Rose. It is easy to see why. Exotic notes of ginger, orange rind, and apricot fairly leap from the glass. Brisk acidity provides lift and balance to the rich, creamy mid-palate. Finishes dry, with spicy ginger notes and citrus oil. Long and layered.

Where to buy: SAQ (22.00$)

Yalumba “Samuel’s Collection” Bush Vine Grenache 2018, Barossa Valley – 89pts. PW

“Grenache has great drinkability; beautiful succulence, juiciness, lift, and spice” explains Louisa Rose, in reference to Yalumba’s old bush vine Grenache from the Barossa Valley. Grapes are sourced from vineyards ranging in age from 35 to 100-years old. An appealing balance of lightness and warmth is on display here. Pretty crushed raspberry, dark plum, and baking spice aromas give way to a mix of fresh and macerated fruit flavours on the palate. The palate is medium in body, suave in texture and pleasantly warming on the finish.

Where to buy: Private import in Québec (27$), enquire with agent: Elixirs Vins & Spiritueux 

Yalumba Organic Shiraz 2017, South Eastern Australia – 87pts. VW

Very fragrant, fruit-driven nose featuring black cherry, blueberry, and blackberry notes. Medium-bodied and broad on the palate, with marginally low acidity giving a slight flatness to the mid-palate. Ripe, chunky tannins frame the finish. The Organic Shiraz is vinified in stainless steel tanks with native yeasts.

Where to buy: SAQ (16.95$)

Yalumba “Samuel’s Collection” Shiraz 2017, Barossa Valley – 89pts. PW

Hints of eaux-de-vie and vanilla, coconut oak nuances give way to lovely ripe blueberry aromas with a little time in the glass. The palate is full bodied and moderately firm, with a velvety texture, and a concentrated core of black fruit, milk chocolate, and savoury hints. Big, ripe tannins accentuate the fine structure of this bold, yet well balanced red. Aged in 15% new French, American, and Hungarian oak.

Where to buy: Private import in Québec (27$), enquire with agent: Elixirs

Yalumba “Samuel’s Collection Shiraz – Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Barossa Valley – 92 pts.

Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic Australian blend that, according to Louisa Rose, has existed for over 100 years. This is a fantastic example of how well the two grapes harmonize. The nose is incredibly vibrant, with notes of spearmint, cedar, blueberry, and dark cherry. The palate is equally vivid, with lively acidity, a firm structure, concentrated flavours of baked black and blue fruit, mingled with cedar and dark chocolate. The finish is long and layered, with polished tannins, subtle oaked nuances, and bright fruit. Drinks well above its price point.

Where to buy: Private import in Québec (27$), enquire with agent: Elixirs

Yalumba “The Signature” Cabernet Sauvignon – Shiraz 2015, Barossa Valley – 94pts. LW

Deep, brooding, complex red with layers of ripe cassis, dark chocolate, cedar, earth, prune, and baking spice on the nose and palate. Initially firm, though finally quite expansive with its impressive depth and lingering finish of tobacco, cedar, and macerated fruit. Dry, with fine-grained tannins and lovely integration of cedar, spiced oak nuances. A powerful, yet highly elegant wine that espouses its 20 months in 30% new French and American oak barrels and casks beautifully.

Where to Buy: LCBO (75$, 2013 vintage). Sadly out of stock in Québec, enquire with agent: Elixirs

Reviews Wines

MODERN MALBEC: FROM CAHORS TO MENDOZA

modern malbec

Over the course of two days in September, I attended two excellent tastings that highlighted the versatility, ageability, and downright drinkability of Modern Malbec. On the Tuesday, reputed Argentine wine writer Joaquin Hidalgo took me through an exciting line up of white and red wines, including a delicious range of Mendoza Malbec and Malbec dominant blends. On the Wednesday, I tasted with Bertrand-Gabriel Vigouroux, proprietor of esteemed Cahors estates: Château de Haute-Serre and Château de Mercuès.

Native of France’s South West, Malbec was once widely planted through out France. The variety was so common that, according to Jancis’ Robinson’s Oxford Companian to Wine, there exist over 1000 different synonyms for it. Côt, Pressac, and Auxerrois are just a few examples.

Native of France’s South West, Malbec was once widely planted through out France.

From its pre-phylloxera heydey, Malbec saw a long, steady decline to near oblivion in France over the course of the 19 hundreds. It is a finicky grape, sensitive to frost damage and fungal infections, and prone to uneven flowering and poor fruit set. Once a major red grape in Bordeaux, it is now very much a minor player. After a particularly severe frost in 1956 that decimated Malbec vines, growers preferred to replant with more reliable Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Today, Malbec is principally grown in the Cahors AOC in France’s South West wine region. Here, the vine flourishes in the dry, sunny climate. The classic style of Cahors is can be quite rustic, with its deep, brooding colour, its powerful palate structure, robust tannins, and gamey flavours. Yet, quality-minded producers like Georges Vigouroux’ Château de Haute-Serre are increasingly moving toward a more approachable, modern Malbec . “Our goal is elegance over power”, explains Bertrand-Gabriel Vigouroux. “The focus is on drinkability”.

The classic style of Cahors can be quite rustic…quality-minded producers are increasingly moving toward a more approachable, modern Malbec.

This same objective is being sought some 11 000 km away, in Mendoza, Argentina. First planted in the mid 19th century with cuttings from France, Malbec’s popularity surged in the 1990s and remains Argentina’s signature grape to this day.

Mendoza Malbec has traditionally been a lush, weighty, overtly fruity affair: inky black, fuchsia-rimmed colour with intense, baked black fruit aromas, a full-bodied, velvety smooth palate, and warm (sometimes boozy) finish. These styles still abound from the flat plains around Mendoza city, but over the past 10 to 15 years, growers have been heading ever further up the Andes mountains in search of cooler temperatures,  fresher wines and the incredibly concentrated flavours that the higher UV levels can bring.

The Valle de Uco and Lujan de Cuyo are the two best known Mendoza sub-zones for cool(er) climate Malbec. The vineyards here range in altitude from 850 metres to over 1500 metres above sea level. Each of these areas is further sub-divided into smaller vineyard sub-regions that boast distinctive flavour traits. In very general terms Valle de Uco wines are often described as elegant, spicy, and floral, while Lujan de Cuyo wines are denser, and more mineral, with black fruit flavours.

…over the past 10 to 15 years, growers have been heading ever further up the Andes mountains in search of cooler temperatures,  fresher wines and the incredibly concentrated flavours that higher UV levels can bring.

This “modern Malbec”, in Cahors and Mendoza, is indeed more drinkable. Shedding some of its power and tannic thrust has resulted in lighter wines, without diminishing their ageing ability. A vertical of Château de Haute-Serre back to 1983 was indeed proof of both the evolution in style, and the ability of the more finely structured, pure fruited wines of the 2000s to age with grace.

Some Modern Malbec favourites from the two tastings included:

D.V. Catena Tinto Historico Mendoza 2017

A blend of mainly Malbec, with Bonarda, and a splash of Petit Verdot sourced from several sites in Mendoza, notably the Valle de Uco. This is a really fresh, lively red with enticing floral aromas, underscored by hints of iron, and fresh red and black berry fruit. The palate is fleshy and round, with herbal, minty notes lifting the tangy black fruit and dark chocolate flavours nicely. Great value for the price.

Where to Buy: SAQ (19.95$), LCBO (19.95$)

Bodega Norton Lote Negro 2015

Intense aromas of macerated dark fruits mingle with cedar and tobacco notes on the nose of this intriguing Malbec, Cabernet Franc blend. The palate is weighty, with a combination of brisk acidity and firm structure that ably counterbalance the concentrated core of rich, dark fruit. Polished tannins frame the finish. Needs a couple of hours decanting, or some additional cellaring to open further.

Where to Buy: SAQ (29.95$)

Bodega Norton “Privada” Family Blend 2016

Discreet nose that reveals pretty blue fruit, graphite, and herbal notes with aeration. Really crisp and juicy on the palate, with loads of tart red and dark fruit, a firm, full-bodied structure, and fine grained tannins. Spicy French oak notes are well integrated on the finish.

Blend: 40% Malbec, 30% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon

Where to Buy: SAQ (24.05$)

Casa Petrini Malbec, Tupungato, Mendoza 2016

Tupungato is the northernmost sub-region of the Valle de Uco. It is famed for the rich, concentrated expression of its wine. This lovely Malbec is no exception. It boasts a freshness and purity of flavour beautifully balanced by a dense, concentrated core. Red and black fruit mingle with violet, dark chocolate and tar notes on the nose and palate. Loads of finesse & lovely length.

Where to buy: Sadly not available here in Quebec! Look out for it on your travels.

Château de Haut-Serre Cahors 2000

The freshness of fruit impresses on this almost 20-year old Cahors. Notes of ripe blueberry and black cherry lift the tertiary earthy, potpourri aromas nicely. Quite elegant and understated on the palate, with mellow tannins, and delicate fruit and graphite flavours. Ever so slightly drying on the finish. Drink now.

Where to buy: Sold out. Buy the 2016 and age it for a decade or so 😉

Château de Haut-Serre Cahors 2016

Really fragrant; brimming with crushed black and blue fruit, violets, earth, and licorice. The palate, while dense and tightly knit, offers pleasingly bright acidity and juicy fruit flavours.  Firm, ripe tannins and notes of tobacco and mark the finish. Would benefit from 2 – 3 years additional cellaring.

Where to Buy: SAQ (25.25$)

Château de Haute-Serre Cuvée Prestige “Géron Dadine”

Slightly muted on the nose, with notes of kirsch, black plum, earth, cedar and spice developing over time. Bold and dense on the palate, with a powerful core of dark fruit and spice, giving way to big, velvetty tannins and a long, lifted finish. Needs 2 – 3 years in cellar to integrate further and reveal the full extent of its undeniable elegance.

Where to buy: Enquire with agent: Philippe Dandurand

 

 

 

Reviews Wines

WHY YOU SHOULD DRINK (MORE) CANADIAN WINE

Canadian Wine
Photo credit: Wines of British Columbia, WineBC.com

Because it is delicious. Voila. Enough said. End of article. Seriously though, Canadian wine has come a hell of a long way in a very short time. There have never been so many great reasons to drink Canadian wine.

The first commercial Canadian vineyard was established in Cooksville, Ontario in 1811. However, wide-scale production of quality wine didn’t truly get under way for another 160 years. Temperance movements, prohibition, inhospitable climates, negative consumer reaction to the “foxy” tasting wines crafted from the mainly hybrid grapes planted for their cold hardiness… the hurdles faced by the pioneers of the Canadian wine industry were immense.

Happily, an intrepid band of believers persevered, eventually finding sheltered, well exposed sites, with favourable soil conditions, and over time, matched these to Vitis vinifera and quality hybrid grapes that would thrive there. These parcels of land are notably found surrounding Lake Okanagan, its tributaries, and downstream lakes in British Columbia, and hugging Lake Ontario in Ontario.

Thomas Bachelder, acclaimed Niagara Peninsula winemaker, is convinced of his region’s vast potential, “We have the degree days, and complex limestone-rich soils. Niagara Chardonnay is elegant; racy, mineral and floral, with a solid core of rich dry extract”, he explains. Riesling and cool climate red grapes like Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Cabernet Franc also produce award-winning results here.

The over 160km stretch north to south from Lake Country/ North Okanagan to Black Sage and Osoyoos in the Okanagan Valley equates to a diverse terrain and significant temperature differentials, allowing a wide array of grapes to flourish though out the region. The cooler north focuses on varieties that can handle colder conditions – think Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, while the warmer south excels at Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon blends, and the like.

Québec and Nova Scotia also have small but noteworthy, emerging Canadian wine industries. Nova Scotia is proving particularly successful with sparkling wines. The high tides of the Bay of Fundy bring constant wind movement, tempering the winters, allowing the region a long, moderate growing season. “Nova Scotian sparkling wine has very recognizable characteristics, namely its bracing acidity and pure, focused palate” says Josh Horton, head winemaker at top-quality Annapolis Valley winery: Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards.

Québec offers a wide palate of early ripening, winter hardy hybrid white, red, rosé, and sparkling wines, with a move toward noble, cool climate Vitis vinifera grapes in isolated, warmer sites. The quality of the sparkling, still whites and rosés has improved significantly in recent years, with favourite estates like Les Pervenches regularly selling out.

Last month, I had the great pleasure of joining a group of 22 Canadian wine experts as a judge for the 2019 National Wine Awards of Canada. Over 1800 wine entries were blind tasted through out the week. Without further ado, here are a selection of my top-rated wines from my tasting panels.*

* This list does not reflect the full extent of my enthusiasm for Canadian wine! Many of my favourite producers were not represented, or not in the tasting flights that I participated in. If you are looking for other suggestions for top class Canadian wine, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

Want to know what the LW, PW & LW stand for in my wine scores? Check out my wine scoring system page.

SPARKLING WINE

Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards Blanc De Blancs Brut 2014, Nova Scotia – 93pts. PW

Racy, precise sparkling wine from one of Nova Scotia’s masters. Thrilling lemon zest, green apple notes give way to a saline finish, with ultra-fine, persistent bubbles and impressive length. World-class quality for the price.

Blend: Blanc de Blancs, Chardonnay 100%

Price: 38.95$, contact winery

Two Sisters Vineyards 2016 Blanc de Franc, Niagara River – 92pts. LW

Intriguing hints of raspberry, anis and spice underscored by inviting brioche notes on the nose. The palate, while quite light weight, has lovely textural appeal and creaminess to the core. Finishes long, with bright, lifted fruit and fine bubbles.

Blend: Blanc de Noirs, Cabernet Franc 100%

Price: 62$, contact winery

Lundy Manor NV Brut, Niagara Peninsula – 92pts. PW

Opulent, with heady aromas of biscuit, red apple, golden pear and lemon. Medium in body, with brisk acidity, and layered, leesy mid-palate and a hint of sweetness to the brut finish.

Blend: Pinot Noir 75%, Chardonnay 25%

Price: 45$, contact winery

Dark Horse Estate Winery, Valegro 2015 Traditional Method, Ontario – 91pts. PW

Interwoven notes of brioche, grilled nuts, lemon and apple feature on the nose. The palate is very pure and focused, with a subtly creamy texture, light body, and a very dry, refreshing finish.

Blend: Blanc de Blancs, 100% Chardonnay

Price: 39.95$, contact winery

RIESLING

Harper’s Trail 2018 Silver Mane Block Riesling Thadd Springs Vineyards, Kamloops, BC – 93pts. VW

With aeration, displays quite a complex nose of flint, green apple, lemon and lime. The palate is pitch perfect: taut, racy, and textural, bursting with zesty citrus fruit, and a lip-smacking, subtly off dry finish. Absolute steal for the price.

Price: 18.30$, contact winery

Hidden Bench 2016 Riesling Felseck Vineyard, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula – 92pts. PW

Lovely complexity on the nose, with hints of marmalade, mingled with red apple, white floral and lemon tones. Racy acidity gives way to a medium weight palate, with lifted orchard and citrus fruit flavours and subtle wet stone mineral hints on the long finish.

Price: 29$, contact winery

50th Parallel 2018 Riesling, Okanagan Valley – 92pts. VW

Another great value, with attractive grapefruit, green apple and lemon notes on the nose. Medium weight, with crisp acidity, a focused, linear core and lovely saline mineral notes that lift and draw out the finish.

Price: 19.90$, contact winery

Tawse 2016 Riesling, Sketches of Niagara, Niagara Peninsula – 91pts. VW

Classic Riesling nose, with petrol, white flowers, lemon, and apple nuances fairly leaping from the glass. Crisp and clean on the palate, with a vibrant, fruity core, and a taut, lengthy, off-dry finish. Delicious!

Price: 18.95$, contact wineryLCBO

CHARDONNAY

Quails’ Gate 2017 Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley, BC – 93pts. PW

Puligny-esque on the nose, with nuances of flint, white orchard fruit, lemon and melted butter. Crisp acidity is ably matched by taut, finely chiselled structure, with well integrated hints of toasty, spiced French oak, and a lengthy, mineral-laced finish.

Price: 40$, contact winery

Leaning Post 2017 Chardonnay Senchuk Vineyard, Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula – 93pts. PW

Very flinty on the nose, with hints of toasted oak, spice and white orchard fruit. The palate is fresh, yet quite broad and rich, with intermingled apple, vanilla, and toasted oak nuances on the long finish. Would benefit from a few years additional cellaring to further integrate.

Price: 45$, contact winery

Flat Rock Cellars The Rusty Shed 2017, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario – 92pts.

Surprisingly complex for the price, with stony mineral nuances overlaid by white floral notes, ripe lemon, and yellow apple on the nose. Brisk acidity gives way to a medium weight, creamy, layered core with a hint of that buttered popcorn flavour that is so tempting on Chardonnay (when balanced by sufficiently high acid, as is the case here). Long, nuanced finish.

Price: 26.95$, contact winery

Fort Berens 2017 White Gold, Okanagan Valley – 92pts. PW

Very elegant white, with a subtle fragrance of lemon, white orchard fruit, linden and flint. Medium in weight, with a lovely creaminess balanced by vibrant, juicy acidity. Notes of sweet vanilla and toasted oak underscore the tangy citrus, apple flavours on the persistent finish.

Price: 26$, contact winery

Trail Estate Winery 2017 Chardonnay, Foxcroft Vineyard Twenty Mile Bench Niagara – 90pts. PW

The Trail Estate wines (from Prince Edward County and Niagara) impressed me across the board, from their lively Riesling to their elegant Pinot Noir. This Niagara Chardonnay was particularly tempting, with its zesty acidity, its textural mid-palate, and its salty tang on the lifted finish.

Price: 35$, contact winery

ROSE

La Cantina Vallée d’Oka 2018, Rosé du Calvaire, Québec – 92pts. VW

I can’t help but admit to have been thrilled to see that my favourite, blind tasted rosé was from Québec! This unusual rosé blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir offers pretty pink grapefruit, gooseberry and yellow pear notes on the nose. The distinctive personality of each grape really shine through, and harmonize nicely on the palate. Mouthwatering acidity leads into a very focused, medium bodied mid-palate with layers of orchard fruit and exotic citrus flavours. A very food friendly rosé!

Blend: Chardonnay 56%, Pinot Noir 44%

Price: 19.95$, contact winery, SAQ

Harper’s Trail 2018 Rosé, British Columbia – 91pts. VW

Pretty Pinot Gris-based rosé, with crushed strawberry, gooseberry and pink grapefruit aromas. The medium weight palate is brimming with tangy red fruit tempered by a subtle creaminess and a soft, rounded finish.

Blend: Pinot Gris 93%, Cabernet Franc 7%

Price: 17$, contact winery

Trius 2018 Rosé, Niagara Peninsula – 89pts. VW

Lively red apple and herbal notes feature on the nose. The palate is crisp and juicy, with a lightweight texture, and smooth, rounded structure. Finishes subtly off-dry.

Price: 17.95$, contact winery, LCBO

GAMAY

Deep Roots 2017 Gamay, Okanagan Valley – 92pts. VW

Very appealing nose marrying ripe red berry and violet notes, with undertones of blood orange and rhubarb. The palate offers tangy acidity, medium body and a silken texture that lengthens the finish nicely.

Price: 23.90$, contact winery

Desert Hills 2018 Gamay Noir, Okanagan Valley – 91pts. VW

Pure, Beaujolais nose with its beguiling dark raspberry, spice and violet aromas. Very lively on the palate, with moderate concentration, supple tannins, and a clean, precise finish.

Price: 22.90$, contact winery

Tawse 2017 Gamay Noir, Redfoot, Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula – 89pts. PW

Quite a peppery style of Gamay, with tart red fruit flavours and crisp, refreshing acidity. Light weight on the palate, with fine, powdery tannins and a juicy, red fruited finish.

Price: 28.95$, contact winery, SAQ

PINOT NOIR

Blasted Church 2017 Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley – 94pts. PW

Wonderfully fragrant, with ripe red cherries, red berries, exotic spice, and floral tones that really come to the fore with aeration. The palate is tightly knit, with mouthwatering acidity, and ripe, chalky tannins. Finishes with harmonious hints of cedar and spice from well executed oak maturation.

Average price: 32$, contact winery

Hidden Bench 2017 Pinot Noir Unfiltered, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula – 93pts. PW

An intriguing nose featuring wild herbs, red berries and stony mineral nuances. The palate is beautifully balanced; vibrant freshness amply counters the weighty core of red berries, savoury nuances and notes of citrus oil. Fine-grained tannins frame the finish nicely.

Price: 31.75$, contact winery, LCBO

Howling Bluff Pinot Noir 2016, Three Mile Creek, Okanagan Valley – 93pts. PW

Intense, aromatic style of Pinot Noir, brimming with ripe red cherries, crushed strawberries and floral tones. Lots of finesse on the palate, with the moderately firm, medium bodied core book-ended by brisk acidity and weighty, yet ripe, diffuse tannins.

Price: 35$, contact winery

Rosehall Run 2017 JCR Pinot Noir , Prince Edward County (Ontario) – 92pts. PW

Very Burgundian nose, with its small red berries, griotte cherries, hints of earth and cedar. Crisp acidity gives way to a silky smooth texture and soft tannins on this ready-to-drink, medium bodied Pinot Noir.

Price: 39.95$, contact winery

Arrowleaf 2017 Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley – 92pts. VW

Lots of finesse on this subtle yet highly complex Pinot Noir. The nose offers discreet nuances of cranberry, wild strawberry, tea leaf and earth. The palate is crisp and light, with lovely powdery tannins and a vibrant, fruity finish. Fantastic value for the price!

Price: 22.80$, contact winery

CABERNET FRANC

Peller Estates 2016 Andrew Peller Signature Series Cabernet Franc, Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula – 91pts. LW

Raspberry, plum, and rose petal hints play across the nose. On the palate, brisk acidity leads into a smooth textured, weighty core of ripe dark fruit. Finishes with bold, yet polished tannins. Very long and layered with finely integrated cedar, spice nuances.

Price: 54.80$, contact winery

Foreign Affair 2016 Apologetic Red, Niagara Peninsula – 90pts. LW

A very stylish, full-bodied offering, with understated notes of cranberry, dark plum, bell pepper and cedar on the nose. The palate offers fresh acidity and a taut structure, with a concentrated core of baked black fruits. While ripe, the tannins are still pretty grippy and need a little time (or a few hours’ decanting) to mellow. Finishes with pleasing notes of tobacco and graphite.

Price: 69.95$, contact winery, LCBO

SYRAH

Mission Hill 2016 Reserve Shiraz, Okanagan Valley – 93pts. PW

Very pretty, ultra-ripe black berry and blueberry fruit underscored by notes of violet, pepper and dark chocolate. Quite sweet fruited on the palate, with a bold, weighty profile, firm tannins, and well-integrated cedar spice.

Price: 30$, contact winery

Le Vieux Pin 2017 Syrah Cuvée Violette, Okanagan Valley – 92pts. PW

Intense, complex nose featuring crushed cassis, black cherry, notes of exotic spice, tea leaf, and a hint of black pepper. Full-bodied and compact on the palate with ripe, grippy tannins and a fresh, lifted finish.

Price: 35.60$, contact winery

Ursa Major 2016 Syrah, Eagle Nest Vineyards, Okanagan Valley – 91pts. PW

A fleshy, dense Syrah with a powerful array of fresh black fruits, pepper, baking spice and floral hints on the nose and palate. Finishes with attractive, chalky tannins and subtle toasted oak nuances.

Price: 40$, contact winery

RED BLENDS

Nk’Mip Cellars 2016 “Winemakers Talon” Okanagan Valley – 93pts. PW

Perfumed nose featuring an array of fresh and baked black and blue fruits, floral hints, cedar and baking spice. The palate is ripe fruited, firm and quite powerful in structure, yet achieves quite an elegant balance with its bright acidity and muscular tannins.

Blend: Syrah 44%, Cabernet Sauvignon 18%, Merlot 13%, Malbec 13%, Cabernet Franc 10%, Pinot Noir 2%

Average price: 24$, contact winery

Riverstone Estate Winery “Stone’s Throw” Okanagan Valley – 93pts. PW

Intense aromas of ripe dark plum, black cherry, and bell pepper are nicely interwoven with graphite and cedar undertones. Full-bodied and highly concentrated on the palate, brimming with rich dark fruit flavours, and finishing with bold yet polished tannins, and lingering tobacco notes.

Blend: Merlot 78%, Cabernet Sauvignon 11%, Malbec 8%, Petit Verdot 3%

Average price: 28.90$, contact winery

Corcelettes 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah Menhir Estate Vineyard, Similkameen Valley (BC) – 92pts. PW

Very pretty nose featuring ripe cassis, plum and black cherry aromas, mingled with cedar, spice and vanilla. Upon aeration, pleasing floral hints develop. This weighty, dense red is lifted by its freshness, its fine-grained tannins, and well-integrated oak flavours.

Blend: Cabernet Sauvignon 58%, Syrah 42%

Price: 39.90$, contact winery

Stag’s Hollow Winery 2016 Renaissance Merlot Okanagan Falls – 92pts. PW

Highly perfumed, with notes of crushed cassis, dark cherry, baking spice, and cedar. The palate offers crisp acidity and very bright red and black fruit flavours that amply off-set the dense, weighty core and firm tannins.

Blend: Merlot 86%, Cabernet Sauvignon 7%, Cabernet Franc 6%

Average price: 35$, contact winery

Megalomaniac “Big Kahuna” 2016 Niagara Peninsula – 92pts. PW

Really juicy, medium weight red offering vibrant aromas and flavours of red currant, plum, and black cherry, mingling with hints of violet and cigar box. Quite taut in structure yet still highly approachable, with attractive fine-grained tannins and harmonious hints of oak.

Blend: 87% Cabernet Franc, 13% Syrah

Price: 34.95$, contact winery

ODDBALLS

Mooncurser Vineyards 2017 Touriga Nacional, Okanagan Valley – 93pts. LW

Deep, brooding red with a pleasing peppery, herbal flavour profile, balanced by masses of ripe black berries and cherries that linger on the finish. Very fresh on the palate, with a powerful structure and imposing tannins that require a little time to soften.

Price: 46$, contact winery

Mooncurser Vineyards 2017 Tempranillo, Okanagan Valley – 91pts. PW

Highly appealing floral nose, with underlying notes of blueberries, blackberries and plums. The palate is bold and weighty, with juicy black fruit flavours mingled with prominent, yet harmonious vanilla, spice oak nuances. Very grippy, firm tannins. Needs another year or two in the cellar.

Price: 35.75$, contact winery

Mt. Boucherie 2017 Blaufränkisch, British Columbia – 91pts. PW

A fine example of Blaufränkisch, with its pretty mulberry and spice nose, and its subtly earthy flavours. The palate is crisp, full-bodied and moderately firm with tangy fruit subduing the somewhat grainy tannins.

Price: 32$, contact winery

ICEWINE

Quail’s Gate Riesling Icewine 2017, Okanagan Valley – 95pts. LW

Wonderfully complex nose brimming with caramel, pineapple, confit lemon, apricot and hints of stony minerality. Highly concentrated on the palate, with its rich, layered texture and luscious sweetness perfectly balanced by racy acidity that lifts and lengthens the finish.

Average price: 39.95$, contact winery

Magnotta Winery 2018 Riesling Icewine Limited Edition, Niagara Peninsula – 94pts. LW

Enticing notes of pineapple, quince, ripe lemon and candied stone fruits feature on the nose. Vibrant, mouthwatering acidity lifts the unctiously sweet palate and underscores the concentrated, fruity core nicely. The finish is long and layered.

Average price: 39.95$, contact winery

Megalomaniac Wines 2017 Coldhearted Riesling Icewine , Niagara Peninsula – 93pts. LW

Irresistibly fragrant, brimming with exotic pineapple, guava, and mango aromas underscored by hints of candied lemon and caramel. Mouthwatering acidity provides the perfect counterweight to the dense, layered mid-palate and the enticingly sweet finish. Ripe peach and salted caramel flavours linger long on the finish.

Average price: 39.95$, contact winery

 

Reviews Wines

TASTING THE WINES OF DOMAINE LOUIS MICHEL & FILS

the wines of domaine louis michel

The wines of Domaine Louis Michel epitomize all that I love in top Chablis. They are pure, precise, and incredibly elegant in a lean, steely style that, while understated, remain incredibly complex and powerfully structured.

Established in 1850, the estate has passed down from one generation to the next, to its present day configuration of 25-hectares graced with prime vineyard locations in three Grand Cru terroirs (Les Clos, Grenouilles, Vaudésir) and eight Premier Cru sites, as well as Chablis and Petit Chablis holdings.

Present day owner, Guillaume Michel is clearly passionate about his vines and his region. His enthusiasm is infectious as he explains his team’s vineyard and winemaking philosophies. Crucial to his ideology, is the cultivating of healthy, optimally ripened grapes that ably express their terroir.

The headaches and sleepless nights start early in the Chablis vineyard growing season. Spring frosts are becoming increasingly frequent in the region, keeping vineyard owners up at all hours checking weather data and lighting “bougies” (large parafin candles) in their best parcels on high-risk nights.

Roughly 40 years ago, the Michel family made a radical change to their winemaking procedure. They decided to stop fermenting and ageing their wines in oak barrels. The reasoning? The Michels began to see oak as an artifice, masking or altering the flavour profile of the grape and its terroir. They also felt that the wine should be manipulated or moved as little as possible to allow a purer expression.

Since then, the wines of Domaine Louis Michel have been vinified and matured in 100% stainless steel tanks. The gently pressed must is cooled down to 12°C – 13°C for clarification, and then slowly, cool fermented to temperatures up to 18°C. Maturation on fine lees lasts 8 – 10 months for Petit Chablis and Chablis, whereas the Premier and Grand Cru parcels remain in tank for up to 18 months to integrate further and reveal their full potential.

I recently attended an incredible tasting of the wines of Domaine Louis Michel; all Premier and Grand Cru wines from the 2015 and 2016 vintage. When asked how these vintages compared, Guillaume Michel explained that, “2015 was atypical. A very hot, sunny growing season resulting in rich, fruity wines brimming with white stone fruit flavours. 2016 was a challenging vintage beset by frost, rain, and hail that drastically lowered yields. The wines are surprisingly good however; highly aromatic, with lots of energy and pleasing tropical hints”.

Favourites from the tasting included:

Domaine Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Montmain 2015 – 90pts. LW

According to Guillaume Michel, Montmain is “always very floral and elegant, with lovely saline minerality”. This is definitely the case here, with underlying notes of star-anise, ripe lemon, yellow apple and earthy, white mushroom hints. Very sleek and racy on the palate, with a bone-dry, lingering finish.

Price: 51.50$, private import (enquire with agent)

Domaine Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Butteaux Vieilles Vignes 2016 – 92pts. LW

Fairly discreet on the nose, with notes of wet stone underscored by green apple, forest floor, and fresh almonds. This elegant white really comes alive on the palate, with its thrilling acidity, its powerful structure, layered core of juicy yellow pear, white peach and tingly minerality. Finishes with a subtle, appealing bitterness.

Price: N/A, coming to the SAQ before year’s end (enquire with agent)

Domaine Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Butteaux Vieilles Vignes 2015 – 92pts. LW

The 2015 vintage is quite similar, and equally impressive, with slightly broader, rounder acidity and more honeyed, spiced nuances to the flavour profile. Very juicy and fresh on the finish.

Price: 70.50$ at the SAQ

Domaine Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre 2016 – 93pts. LW

Montée de Tonnerre is a south west facing parcel just south of the Grand Cru hill, sharing many geological features. It is one of the best-known and admired of the Premier Cru vineyards, and for good reason. This elegant white boasts a powerfully flinty nose, with vibrant citrus notes, an array of ripe orchard fruits and subtly earthy hints. High, zesty acidity gives way to laser-like precision on the palate, and a lingering mineral-rich (almost spicy) finish.

Price: 60.50$ at the SAQ

Domaine Louis Michel Chablis Grand Cru Vaudésir 2016 – 95pts. LW

Quite a diverse terroir boasting a warm meso-climate, with slopes facing both south and north. Louis Michel’s vineyards are found on the north side. The 2016 is hugely aromatic, with oyster shell nuances interwoven with exotic citrus notes, pineapple, yellow plum, star-anise and earthy undertones. Broad, bracing acidity defines the palate, providing lovely lift for the opulent, richly textured core. A symphony of yellow fruit, ripe lemon and briny mineral notes on the finish.

Price: N/A, coming soon as a private import (enquire with agent)

Domaine Louis Michel Chablis Grand Cru Vaudésir 2015 – 93pts. LW

Similar opulence and aromatic intensity to the 2016, with a more ample frame and softer, juicier acidity. The flavour profile is also comparable, but veers towards baked rather than fresh fruit, with a very long, spicy, warming finish.

Price: 108.50$, in stock, private import (enquire with agent)

Domaine Louis Michel Grand Cru Les Clos 2016 – 95pts. LW

Guillaume Michel described Les Clos as being “austere in its youth; far more expressive on the palate than the nose, with notes of white pepper on the finish”.  Again, an able description for this compact, racy white with its discreet nose featuring white mushrooms, lemon, and green fruits. Lovely mid-palate concentration, vibrant tangy fruit flavours, and an incredibly long, peppered finish attest to the vast potential for those with the patience to wait a few years.

Price: N/A, coming to the SAQ end of 2019, enquire with agent

Domaine Louis Michel Grand Cru Grenouilles 2016 – 97pts. LW

For me, this was the star of the show. The nose is utterly alluring, at first offering pretty white floral notes, an array of yellow fruits, citrus, kiwi and earthy hints. Upon aeration, flinty mineral aromas come to the fore. The palate is crisp, firm, and very juicy, fairly brimming over with stone fruit and grapefruit flavours, nicely matched by the smooth, creamy texture. A hint of grapefruit pith bitterness adds additional textural intrigue on the long finish.

Price: N/A, coming to the SAQ end of 2019, enquire with agent

Life Wines

BURGUNDY REVISITED: WINE TASTING IN BURGUNDY

wine tasting in burgundy

On a cool and blustery day late December, I was speeding along the route nationale 74 in a rented, mint green Fiat 500. My destination? Gevrey-Chambertin to kick off a few days of wine tasting in Burgundy. I smiled as I passed the blink-and-you-miss-it village of Prémeaux-Prissey and a flood of memories assailed me.

I arrived in Burgundy in 2004 to study International Wine Commerce at the CFPPA de Beaune. I didn’t drive stick, my French was lousy, and my only acquaintance was an elderly widow. To make matters worse it was November – the month where a thick, grey fog descends over Burgundy and rarely lifts before the following March.

To say that my first couple of months were challenging is a vast understatement.

I had found accommodations at Domaine Jean-Jacques Confuron in the sleepy town of Prémeaux-Prissey. Slowly but surely my French improved. I made friendships that I cherish to this day. And I drank some incredible wine. If someone had told me back then how lucky I was to be drinking top Burgundy on a regular basis, perhaps I would have sipped it more slowly and thoughtfully.

It has been 12 years since I called Burgundy home. After my formation and a two-year stint sourcing small lots of high-end Burgundy for North American private clients and importers, I moved on, to South Africa, then Avignon, and eventually home, to Montréal. I make the pilgrimage to Beaune most every year though. The siren song of Chambolle always lure me back. And there is nothing quite like popping a warm gougères in your mouth, washed down with a taut, tangy Puligny.

On this particular visit mid December, I was on a fact-finding mission. I have been drinking Burgundy in a fairly nonchalant way these past 10 years. But with the Master of Wine tasting exam looming (and not my first stab at it….sigh), it is time to get serious.

I had tastings lined up at excellent estates from Marsannay all the way down to Givry. The goal was to re-visit Burgundian wine styles and winemaking practices.

Much has changed in Burgundy since the early 2000s. Wine producers are far more ecologically conscience, wines are handled less reductively pre-fermentation, and the percentage of new oak – even at the Grand Cru level – has decreased significantly.

The resultant wines are, for the most part, silkier, lighter, and more ethereal than I remember. The difference between appellations is also less clear cut. Individual winemaking styles and the unique expression of each climat (vineyard plot) distinguishes the wines far more distinctly today.

The following series of articles covers my visits, tastings, and impressions from a few days’ intensive wine tasting in Burgundy.

 

 

Reviews Wines

PREMIUM SPARKLING WINES: BEST IN SHOW 2018

premium sparkling wines

New Year’s Eve is around the corner. It’s time to loosen our purse strings (and belt buckles…) and indulge in the finer things in life. And everybody knows that premium sparkling wines help to make the season bright!

Premium sparkling wines make the perfect holiday gift. Have you ever met someone that wasn’t happy to receive a bottle of Champagne? American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald once said: “Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.” I couldn’t agree more.

Over the past couple of months, I have had the good fortune to attend a series of tastings featuring Champagne and premium sparkling wines. Today, I am going to share my top 10 favourite bubblies of 2018 with you lovely folks.

Before the wine intelligentsia descends upon me with cries of “why didn’t you include this fabulous grower Champagne house”, let me explain my criteria:

  1. Recently tasted
  2. 40 – 75$ category
  3. Offers fantastic value for price
  4. Widely available in liquor stores so wine lovers can easily find them
  5. Good diversity of styles from crisp, bone-dry and light to rich, opulent, and toasty

For the more scholarly wine lovers among you, click here for a refresher on the unique aspects of terroir and winemaking that make Champagne so alluring.

If you prefer your Champagne wine lesson in video format, scroll down to the bottom for a bonus video!

My top 10 premium sparkling wines of 2018 are:

Ca’del Bosco Cuvée Prestige Franciacorta 2016 – 88pts. PW

Classic Franciacorta blend of mainly Chardonnay, with a touch of Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc. Aged for 25 months on the lees, the 2016 vintage displays ripe yellow apple, grilled hazelnuts, and brioche on the nose. Crisp acidity and vigorous, moderately persistent bubbles are underscored on the palate by the medium body, rounded texture, and tangy, lemony flavours. Very dry, extra-brut finish (4g/L).

Where to buy: SAQ (44.75$). LCBO (42.95$)

Champagne Forget-Brimont Premier Cru Brut Rosé – 92pts. LW

A quarter of the grapes in this Premier Cru rosé are sourced from Grand Cru vineyards. The blend is 80% black grapes (equal parts Pinot Noir and Meunier), 20% Chardonnay. Lovely pale pink colour. Quite restrained on the nose with hints of lemon, tart red fruits, and earthy, mineral nuances. Brisk, light in body, with very fine, persistent bubbles and wonderfully vibrant red berry fruit on the mid-palate.

Where to buy: SAQ (54.50$). LCBO (52.15$)

Champagne Henriot Brut Souverain – 91pts. LW

Unquestionably one of the best value Champagnes I had the pleasure of drinking this year. Chardonnay looms large in this very elegant cuvée, aged 3 years on lees.  Steely in acidity and structure, this light-bodied Champagne is flinty, with lemon/ lime aromas, underscored by brioche and white floral notes upon aeration. Ultra-fine bubbles, moderate concentration, and grilled, nutty notes that linger on the finish. Very dry (verging on extra-brut).

Where to buy: SAQ (57.50$)

Champagne Fleury Père & Fils Blanc de Noirs Brut – 89pts. LW

This biodynamic bubbly composed exclusively of Pinot Noir is sourced from the Côte des Bar. Quite earthy, with red apple notes and toasty nuances. Bracing acidity and firm bubbles gives way to an expansive, rounded mid-palate. Highly textured, with savoury flavours, and a tangy, lifted finish. Great balance.

Where to buy: SAQ (58.50$). LCBO (39.95$ – 375mL bottles)

Lightfoot & Wolfville Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature 2012 (Nova Scotia) – 91pts. LW

2012 was the inaugural release from this top quality Nova Scotia winery. Aged 5 years on its lees, made entirely of Chardonnay, this is world-class sparkling wine. The nose displays attractive citrus, green apple, biscuity aromatics. Piercing acidity and fine mousse feature on the ultra-sleek palate. Finishes bone-dry (zéro-dosage) with lovely saline hints.

Where to buy: Inquire with estate: Lightfoot & Wolfville (65.22$) or agent: Delaney Vins & Spiritueux

Maison Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve Champagne – 93pts. LW

Meunier is the major grape in this blend, with equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, sourced entirely from Grand and Premier Cru vineyards. Subtle, yet enticing notes of red apple, wet stone, brioche, and acacia on the nose. The palate is brisk, medium in body, with intense lemon, orchard fruit, pâtisserie flavours, harmonizing nicely with the creamy texture. Fine, persistent mousse and long finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (66.25$)

Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne – 92pts PW

This is a great choice for lovers of toastier, more opulent styles of Champagne. Comprised of equal parts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and 20% Meunier, the base wines are partially aged in oak casks with weekly bâtonnage. 6 different vintages of reserve wine are used in the blend. Buttered toast nuances and grilled hazelnut notes feature on the nose, underscored by orchard fruit and citrus hints. Crisp, medium in body, with fine bubbles, and a very creamy, layered texture. Very long, subtly savoury finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (70.75$). LCBO (74.95$)

Champagne Dhondt-Grellet Les Terres Fines Extra-Brut Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru – 94pts. LW

A very pure, precise Blanc de Blancs, sourced from the Premier Cru “Cuis” on the Côte des Blancs. 48 months ageing on lees gives tempting biscuity aromatics, underscored by pretty white floral notes, green almond, lime and flinty nuances. Racy and sleek on the palate, with ultra-fine bubbles, and mouthwatering citrus, mineral flavours. The high acid and bone-dry (extra-brut) finish are ably balanced by a delicately creamy, concentrated core. Very long, mineral-laden finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (72.75$)

Champagne Gosset Grande Réserve Brut – 92pts. LW

Similar in style to the Roederer, with slightly racier acidity. Sourced from Grand and Premier Cru villages, this blend of 3% Chardonnay, 42% Pinot Noir, 15% Meunier has elegant, restrained aromas of green apple, bread dough, anise, and wet stone on the nose. Incredibly harmonious on the palate, with the zesty acidity lifting the rich, nutty, rounded mid-palate nicely. Well-defined, persistent bubbles. Brut dosage (10g/L).

Where to buy: SAQ (76.25$)

Champagne Ruinart Brut – 93pts. LW

Ruinart is the oldest of the Champagne houses, and a perennial favourite of mine. This 60% Pinot Noir / 40% Chardonnay blend is composed of 40% reserve wine and aged on its lees for 3 years. Highly seductive nose featuring acacia, yellow fruits, lemon, and brioche. The palate is multi-dimensioned – with its soaring acidity, and taut, flinty character, harmonizing perfectly with a rich, expansive, nutty mid-palate. Delicate, persistent bubbles linger long in the glass.

Where to buy: SAQ (82.00$)