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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$)

 

 

 

Reviews Wines

SPARKLING WINES: THRIFTY SHOPPER’S GUIDE 2018

sparkling wines

Back by popular demand, my thrifty shopper’s guide to sparkling wines! I bring you 10 great value recommendations to help you glide merrily through the holiday season without breaking the bank.

Last year, I covered the basic styles of sparkling wines, why fizz makes us festive, and gave broad production method explanations. If you would like a refresher, click here.

This year, I am going to dive right in with my top tipples. If you scroll to the bottom, I have also included a bonus video all about Prosecco.

So, without further ado…the sparkling wines to test out this holiday season:

Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut NV, Cava Reserva (Spain) – 88pts. VW

This attractive Gran Cuvée blends Chardonnay and a touch of Pinot Noir with traditional Cava grapes. Tempting hints of brioche, grilled nuts and yellow apple feature on the nose. Firm bubbles and fresh acidity give way to a broad, rounded mid-palate and smooth, dry finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (18.60$)

Ottopiu V8+ Sior Carlo Brut Millesimato 2017, Prosecco DOC (Italy) – 87pts. VW

Delicate style of Prosecco with soft, faintly frothy bubbles and white orchard fruit aromas that amplify on the palate and linger on the clean, fresh finish. Great for lunch time imbibing with its feather light structure and 11% alcohol.

Where to buy: SAQ (19.85$)

Moingeon Prestige Brut NV Crémant de Bourgogne (France) – 89pts. VW

Very pleasant for the price. The nose is restrained upon opening but offers red apple, quince, hints of brioche and ripe lemon aromas with a little time in the glass. Crisp and light bodied on the palate with broad, rounded bubbles. Bright notes of lemon and apple lift the mid-palate. Finishes dry.

Where to buy: SAQ (19.85$)

Auguste Pirou Brut NV Crémant du Jura (France) – 88pts PW

This Pinot Noir, Chardonnay blend from the Jura, while not overly complex or concentrated, is incredibly vibrant. Lemon and yellow apple aromas dominate, with gooseberry hints and a touch of brioche emerging with time. Tangy and light bodied on the palate, with firm bubbles, a faintly creamy texture and a fresh, lifted finish. Brut.

Where to Buy: SAQ (21,05$)

Juvé y Camps Reserva de la Familia 2015, Cava Gran Reserva (Spain) – 92pts. PW

In terms of value for money, this was the absolute star of the 70 odd sparkling wines at a recent industry tasting here in Montréal. Surprisingly complex on the nose, brimming with ripe yellow fruit aromas, underscored by hints of toast, star anise and earthy nuances. Brisk in acidity, with vigorous bubbles, moderate concentration and an attractive, textural quality on the mid-palate. Nutty, savoury notes linger on the bone-dry (extra-brut) finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (22.25$)

Bisol Crede 2017, Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG (Italy) – 89pts. PW

Very pretty white floral, pear, and lime notes on the nose. Fresh and fruity on the palate, with delicate, well formed bubbles, light body, moderate depth of flavour, and hints of saline minerality on the dry (verging on extra-brut) finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (22.15$)

Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs NV Sparkling, Niagara (Canada) – 91pts PW

This is some classy sparkling wine for the price. Aged 30 months on its lees, the Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs features enticing aromas of bread dough, green apple, and wet stone on the nose. Delicate floral and citrus notes develop with aeration. Crisp acidity, taut structure and fine, persistent mousse expertly balance the creamy, layered mid-palate and brut dosage. Lovely.

Where to Buy: SAQ (29,90$). LCBO (29.95$)

Rosehall Run Ceremony Brut Blanc de Blancs, Prince Edward County (Canada) – 92pts PW

Another serious, home-grown contender! Elegant, floral nose, mingled with red apple, hints of nectarine, green almond, and brioche. Crisp, taut and lean on the palate, with very fine bubbles, lovely saline minerality and a zesty, citrus-driven, bone-dry finish.

Where to Buy: LCBO (34.95$). Quebec: inquire with winery

Roederer Estate Brut NV, Anderson Valley (California) – 90pts. PW

Consistently well crafted from one bottling to the next, the Roederer Estate Brut is big and bold with intense aromas of yellow pear, pâtisserie notes, and exotic spice. Fresh, quite full bodied, and very creamy in texture, with firm, persistent bubbles and concentrated flavours of hazelnut and ripe, yellow fruits. Medium in length. Brut dosage.

Where to Buy: SAQ (35.35$). LCBO (37.95$)

Le Marchesine Franciacorta Rose Mellisimato 2013 (Italy) – 91pts. PW

Pale salmon in colour, with an initially restrained nose that develops intriguing hints of brioche, cinnamon spice, orange zest, and cranberry with aeration. Crisp, taut, light in body, and faintly creamy on the palate, with very fine, persistent mousse, and a zesty, dry finish. Brut dosage.

Where to Buy: SAQ (38.75$)

 

Curious to learn more about Italy’s most famous fizz? Check out my Prosecco 101 video featuring loads of great tips to help you understand the label and get the Prosecco that best suits your palate. If you enjoy it, consider subscribing to my channel to follow my weekly wine education series!

 

 

Reviews Wines

TOP 10 VALUE WINES OF THE MONTH

value-wine-recommendations

Studying for the Master of Wine and writing about wine involves lots of…you guessed it…wine tasting! Though you may picture me sipping wine while chatting and nibbling from cheese boards, there is a little more to it. Professional tastings regularly include dozens of wines, which each need to be carefully tasted, analyzed, and noted in the space of 1 – 2 minutes per wine.

This past month, I participated in a professional jury tasting, attended multiple large wine fairs, sat down to a number of intimate, individual winemaker tastings and completed a series of blind tastings.

One of the major factors I consider when analyzing a specific wine is whether – in comparison to wines of similar style, origin, and price – it offers good value for money.

One of the major factors I consider when analyzing a specific wine is whether – in comparison to wines of similar style, origin, and price – it offers good value for money. This is a tricky proposition for various reasons. Firstly, as the criteria for measuring value at a 10$ price vs. 100$ is vastly different.

For entry-level to mid-tier wines (under 20$ CAD), I consider wines good value when they are clean, harmonious, and easy drinking. For premium wines (20 – 50$ CAD), I am looking for a little more personality; at least moderate aromatic complexity, some depth of flavour, and decent balance. Once, we venture into the territory of upper-premium to luxury wines (50$ CAD +), I expect wines to truly shine; ably representing their terroir and vintage, displaying excellent balance, length, intensity, complexity and concentration.

The criteria for measuring value at a 10$ price vs. 100$ is vastly different.

The notion of value is also deeply personal – depending on each person’s tastes and means. I struggle to identify the Burgundy wines that I love so much as being “good value” these days. A recent tasting of De Montille’s 2014 Corton Charlemagne will remain a highlight of my year, but am I willing to shell out 250$ to drink another bottle? Sadly, no…though I highly recommend it for those with spare cash lying around.

The notion of value is also deeply personal – depending on each person’s tastes and means.

The following is a list of my top 10 value wine recommendations that really stood out over the past month of tasting. Drop me a line and tell me what you think! I’d also love to hear about your go-to value wines.

MID-TIER (20$ or less)

Anselmi San Vincenzo 2017, IGT Veneto – 88pts. VW

This is a great white wine to sip while cooking dinner. Roberto Anselmi’s vineyards lie in and around the Soave appellation of northeastern Italy.  This easy-drinking, unoaked white is composed of the same major grape – Garganega – as Soave, and vinified in the same way. Attractive citrus, stone fruit and almond notes feature on the nose. Fresh, light-bodied and rounded on the palate, with attractive herbal hints on the dry finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (17.05$), LCBO (17.95$)

Avondale Trust Jonty’s Duck 2016, Paarl, South Africa – 89pts. VW

Organic wine from the Western Cape. Estate proprietor, Johnathan Grieve, is known as ‘Jonty’ around the farm. This wine is named after Jonty’s ducks, who patrol the vineyards destroying snails, which eat the vines. Chenin Blanc dominant blend, with a touch of Roussanne, Viognier, and Semillon. Zesty acidity, earthy nuances, bright citrus and hints of tropical fruit. The palate is medium in body, quite textural, with modest depth, and a clean, lifted finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (17,00$)

Gabriel Meffre Plan de Dieu « St Mapalis » 2017, Côtes du Rhône Villages, France – 90pts. VW

This Southern Rhône valley vineyard is a flat, sun-drenched plateau featuring the same stony soil as found in Châteauneuf-du-pâpe. This charming red is medium-bodied, with ripe black cherry, plum and raspberry flavours. Velvety in texture with smooth tannins and sufficiently fresh acidity for good balance.

Where to buy: SAQ (19.35$)

Viña Echeverría RST Chardonnay 2017 – 90pts. VW

This vibrant, lightly oaked Chardonnay hails from a newly discovered, cool coastal vineyard area of the Rapel Valley in Chile. This new wine range sees quality Chilean producer Viña Echeverría partner with Canadians: Thomas Bachelder (Niagara winemaker) and Steven Campbell of Lifford Wines. Ripe lemon, yellow apple, and subtle pineapple notes feature on the nose and palate. Medium in weight, with lively acidity and delicately creamy texture.

Where to buy: SAQ (19.95$), LCBO (20.00$)

PREMIUM (20$ – 50$)

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir 2016 – 89pts PW

This red is absolute proof that Niagara can make delicious wine at (reasonably) affordable prices. The Twenty Mile Bench consists of sheltered north-facing slopes with excellent air circulation from the lake. This brings moderate temperatures year-round and results in consistent, even ripening. Bright crushed strawberry on the nose. Light in body, with juicy acidity, smooth texture, rounded tannins and lingering red berry fruit on the mellow finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (23.95$), LCBO (20.95$)

Raul Perez Saint Jacques Ultreia Bierzo Mencia 2016 – 92pts. PW

The red wines of Bierzo in northwestern Spain were traditionally light, crisp, and fragrant. There is a current of quality producers who have moved into the area however, with Raul Perez as an undoubted star, that have revolutionized Mencia. This is a great example for a fantastic price. Inviting aromas of black cherry, pepper, and violets are underscored by earthy, savoury notes. Moderately firm on the palate with ripe, chewy tannins that need a little time to unwind. Juicy dark fruit flavours linger on the finish. Harmonious hints of vanilla and spice suggest well-executed, subtle oak ageing.

Where to buy: SAQ (22.80$)

Château de Maligny Chablis « Vigne de la Reine » 2016 – 89pts. PW

This classically styled Chablis regularly punches above its weight. Restrained orchard fruit notes, mingle with earthy mushroom hints, wet stone and lemon aromas on the nose. The palate offers racy acidity, a light body, taut structure, delicate leesy texture, and bone-dry finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (24.45$)

Agnès Paquet Auxey-Duresses 2015 – 94pts PW

Auxey-Duresses is a lesser-known Côte de Beaune village that can be quite lean and tart in cooler vintages. This 2015 from fantastic producer Agnès Paquet is anything but! Elegant cranberry, red cherry, and earthy notes feature on the nose. The palate is crisp, light-bodied and silken in texture with fine-grained tannins and a long, delicately oaked finish. For my palate, this beauty beat out Burgundies at twice the price in a recent tasting.

Where to buy: SAQ (34,75$)

Remelluri Rioja Reserva 2011 – 92pts. PW

From vines planted in the higher altitude Rioja Alavesa sub-region, this firmly structured, full-bodied Rioja has really vibrant acidity. Intense and moderately complex, with intriguing orange zest, dark plum, cassis, licorice and crushed raspberry on the nose and palate. Surprisingly youthful, with its deep ruby colour, bright fruit and pronounced tannins. Decant several hours before serving.

Where to buy: LCBO (39.95$). Québec: private import, inquire with agent: Trialto.

LUXURY (50$ +)

Champagne Jeeper Grande Réserve Blanc de Blancs

A surprising, yet memorably named Champagne house that got its moniker from the jeep gifted to the estate’s proprietor by American soldiers following world war two in recognition of his service. This is a rich, opulent style of Champagne, fermented in oak and aged on its lees for 5 years. Toasty, brioche, grilled hazelnut aromas feature on the nose, underscored by hints of ripe lemon and orchard fruit. Zesty acidity and fine bubbles are nicely matched by a concentrated core, creamy texture and brut dosage.

Where to buy: SAQ (73.50$), LCBO (74,35$)

 

 

Education Reviews Wines

Perplexed about Pinot Gris(gio)?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Among the winning wines, here is my top 5:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to buy: inquire with agent: Robert Peides

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Education Reviews Wines

Acidity in Wine & Why it Matters

acidity in wine

What do experts mean when they praise acidity in wine? Critics regularly enthuse about the racy acid of a German Riesling or the lively, crisp nature of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Why is acidity so important in wine appreciation?

According to tasting expert Michael Schuster in his excellent, Essential Winetasting book: “Acidity shapes and puts into relief the flavours in wine”.  Consider a well-made Beaujolais or Burgundian Pinot Noir. The red berry and cherry notes seem to pop on the palate. This is due to the acidity in wine lifting and highlighting the fruit; giving it a juicy, tangy quality.

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

“Acidity shapes and puts into relief the flavours in wine”.

Acidity is a crucial factor in wine balance. Low acid wines – think cheap Viognier from a hot region – can feel flat and heavy. Sweeter wine styles lacking sufficient acidity are cloying. High alcohol wines, without freshness, appear almost thick on the palate and warming on the finish.

Balance is the ultimate gauge of wine quality. When all components that make up a wine’s character – its flavours, body, acidity, alcohol, dryness/sweetness, tannin, etc. – are in harmony, you may barely even perceive them individually. Rather, they coalesce to form a cohesive whole.

Acidity is a crucial factor in wine balance…though what constitutes balance is entirely personal…

What constitutes balance, when it comes to acidity in wine,  is entirely personal however. High acid white wines like Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc can appear pleasant to some, and aggressive to others. The combination of high acidity and a very dry palate (˂2 grams/litre of residual sugar) can appear particularly austere to many tasters. Residual sugar (occurring when fermentation is stopped before transforming all grape sugars into alcohol) can be a good thing for highly acidic wines, softening their sharp edges. It may surprise you how many notoriously high acid, seemingly dry wines are actually slightly sweet. Champagne, Riesling from multiple origins, and many New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc are just a few examples.

The capacity of a wine to age well is also greatly impacted by its acidity; notably when it comes to white wine. Acidity in wine acts like a preservative, significantly slowing down oxidation and playing a role in bacterial stability.

The capacity of a wine to age well is also greatly impacted by its acidity; notably when it comes to white wine.

It might be a little more apparent now why wine writers use so many terms to describe acidity in wine. In case you are wondering how to situate all of these weird and wonderful words on the scale of low to high acidity, I tend to use the following lexicon:

Low acidity: soft, lush, flabby, thick, heavy

Medium acidity: moderate, round

Medium + acidity: fresh, bright, lively, vibrant, brisk

High acidity: crisp, zesty, zippy, racy, bracing, piercing, laser-like, tangy, mouthwatering, steely, firm

Overly high acidity: sharp, jagged, tart, hard, malic, sour

Here is a selection of pleasingly balanced medium + to high acid wines that I have enjoyed recently:

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

Man Vintners Chenin Blanc Free-run Steen 2017, Western Cape, South Africa – 88pts VW

Attractive notes of yellow fruit are 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. For more on the Chenin Blanc grape, click here.

Where to buy: SAQ (17.05$)

Paco & Lola Albarino 2017, Rias Baixas, Spain – 89pts. VW

Not as exuberantly fruit forward as certain Albariños, but very pleasant all the same. Bright floral aromas mingle with candied white fruits (apple, pear, peach). Light in body, this crisp, yet rounded easy-drinking white features tangy orchard fruit flavours and saline hints on the finish. For more on the Spanish grape: Albariño click here and scroll down to the 4th paragraph (on Galicia).

Where to buy: SAQ (18.20$), LCBO (19.95$)

Domaine des Fines Caillottes Pouilly Fumé 2017, Loire Valley, France – 91pts. PW

I liked this so much in a recent blind tasting that I immediately went out to buy another bottle. Drinking very well now despite its youthful vigour, this aromatic Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc is brimming with gooseberry, tropical fruit, and grapefruit notes. Upon aeration herbaceous nuances and hints of oyster shell develop. Bracing acidity is ably balanced by the medium body and expansive palate structure. Bone-dry and unoaked, with a long, lively finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (26.40$)

Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Turkheim 2016, Alsace, France – 93pts. PW

Fantastic value for the price. Intensely fragrant and complex, with spicy aromas (cinnamon, clove, and star anise) overlaying yellow fruits, white flowers, and wet stone nuances. The medium bodied, earthy palate is lifted by pure, racy acidity and a steely structure. Mineral hints and bright yellow fruis linger on the finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (27.10$)

Oremus “Mandolas” 2016, Tokaj, Hungary – 92pts. PW

This wine is made from the Furmint grape in the Tokaj region of Hungary, better known for their sweet, botrytised Tokaji wines. An incredibly stylish wine with intriguing hints of fennel, anise, and lemon on the nose. Crisp and highly textural on the palate, with medium body and a concentrated core of lemon, quince and orchard fruit. An attractive touch of phenolic bitterness frames the long finish nicely.

Where to buy: SAQ (30.25$)

Bret Brothers Mâcon-Villages “Cuvée Ephémère” 2016, Burgundy, France – 93pts. PW

I have yet to be disappointed by a wine from this producer. This lovely Mâcon is no exception. Lovely honeysuckle, yellow peach, and stony mineral notes feature on the nose. The palate is brisk, full-bodied and richly textured with good depth of flavour (yellow apple, peach, mango hints). The fruit is tangy and bright on the long, mineral-laced finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (35.50$)

Château Thivin Côte de Brouilly Cuvée Les Sept Vignes 2016, Beaujolais, France – 91pts PW

I tasted this first at the domaine earlier this summer, and subsequently bought a bottle upon returning home. Firstly, because it was so good. Secondly, because it was the same price at the cellar door and here! This wonderfully lively red features brisk acidity, and juicy red berry, cherry, violet, and spiced flavours. It is medium bodied, with earthy hints from ageing in oak oak foudres, and lovely, velvety tannins. Serve slightly chilled.

Where to buy: SAQ (24.55$)

Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva 2014, Tuscany, Italy – 92pts. PW

I tasted a series of Chianti from this producer recently, including an exquisite 2013 ‘Vignetto Il Poggio” that was pretty darn near perfection in my humble opinion. Sadly, the 99$ price of this wine is a little out of my reach…sigh. For less than half that price, this Chianti Classico Riserva is really fantastic. Enticing aromas of sweet, stewed tomatoes, red cherry, dried herbs, and potpourri feature on the nose. Very fresh on the palate, with a lovely chalky texture, medium body, and spicy, cedar hints. The tannins are still a little firm. Cellar for 2 – 3 years, or serve with red meat to soften the tannins.

Where to buy: SAQ (35.25$), inquire with agent about the “Il Poggio” 2013: Elixirs Vins & Spiritueux 

Reviews Wines

The Lost Wines of Valdeorras

valdeorras wines
Photo credit: www.telmorodriguez.com

“Il passado esta el futuro” cried Telmo Rodriguez, swirling a glass of Godello in one hand while gesturing energetically with the other. The past is the future. Thus began an impassioned speech on the recent history of Spanish wine, and the replanting of Valdeorras.

Rodriguez is well placed to comment on the subject. His family purchased the historic Remelluri estate in Rioja when he was just a boy. He witnessed first-hand the frantic pace of progress that engulfed the Spanish wine industry in the 1980s to early 2000s. He saw native grapes uprooted in favour of more popular international varieties. He saw gleaming stainless steel tanks replace concrete and wood. He was there for the “Parkerization” of wine styles, and has followed the aftermath.

In 1994, Rodriguez struck out on his own. He head east from Rioja to Navarra, a region then little known for its wine outside of Spain. In a time when Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot reigned supreme, he focused on the native grape Garnacha (aka Grenache).

As the company grew, Rodriguez continued his pursuit of indigenous grapes, from both famed and forgotten terroirs throughout Spain. In 2002, his wanderings took him to Valdeorras in Galicia – the rugged, rainy northwest corner of Spain.

Valdeorras, the “golden valley” acquired its name in Roman times, due to its wealth of gold mines. As was the case across much of Western Europe, the Romans planted vineyards that, centuries later, were tended by industrious monks.

Phylloxera, the Civil War, and the ensuing exodus of countryside dwellers saw Valdeorras’ vineyards abandoned en masse. The remote location, steep slopes, and unpopular grape varieties, doomed the valley to a long winter’s sleep.

Thankfully, enterprising young producers like Rodriguez have slowly begun filtering into the region and winemaking is once again a proud local tradition.

Situated on the eastern edge of Galicia, Valdeorras is located in the Ourense province, bordering Ribeira Sacra to the west and Bierzo to the north east. While maritime influences play a minor role on the local climate, the area is largely continental, with cold winters, warm summers and mild spring and fall seasons.

Slate mining is a major industry in Valdeorras, and a major soil type for the appellation’s vineyards. The hilly terrain, with altitudes raning from 300 to 700 metres above sea level boasts a wide diversity of other soils as well, ranging from alluvial, to calcaerous, to iron-rich clay, and granite.

White wine, made from the local Godello grape, is King in Valdeorras. Godello has long been touted the next “it” grape for white wine lovers. Although with a mere 1200 hectares planted, Godello won’t be bursting onto the international wine scene anytime soon. Wine experts liken Godello to Burgundian Chardonnay, with its crisp acid, lemon-fresh scent, mineral-laced flavours, affinity for oak ageing, and rich, weighty structure.

Red wines from Valdeorras are generally made solely or predominantly from Mencia. Better known as the major grape in neighbouring Bierzo, Mencia gives lively, light bodied reds with floral aromas, tart red fruit flavours, peppery hints and moderately firm tannins.

When Rodriguez first arrived in the area, he headed to the town of Santa Cruz, perched 600 metres above sea level, and spoke with its tiny community of just 938 souls. He observed the local vineyard practices and asked questions.

When he purchased a vineyard, it was upon the advice of the village elders, who deemed it the best. The “A Falcoeira” plot had been abandoned many years prior. Rodriguez set about replanting the land, and to the surprise of the locals, he did so in the historic manner. Rather than growing one single grape vine, he co-planted native red grapes.

Rodriguez just shrugs his shoulders when asked the blend of his signature wine from the A Falcoeira vineyard. The technical sheet for the “A Capilla” cuvée reads: Mencia, Brancellao, Sousón, Garnacha and others.

Reviving forgotten native varieties, and the ancient local tradition of field blends is what drives Rodriguez’s Galician endeavours today. He believes that Spanish winemakers across the country need to work harder to prove how unique, diverse, and exciting their top terroirs can be. For Rodriguez, incorporating the traditions of the past, with the high level of winemaking skill and tools of today, is perhaps the answer.

At a recent gathering in Montréal, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Telmo Rodriguez and tasting his range.

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

Gaba do Xil Godello 2017 – 88pts PW

Crisp, dry white with pretty lemon, green almond, fennel notes on the nose. Full-bodied, with a subtle, textural quality and moderate concentration of honeyed, nutty, savoury flavours. Finishes clean and fresh.

Where to buy: SAQ (21.60$)

Gaba do Xil Mencia 2016 – 87pts. VW

Discreet nose. Upon aeration, intriguing notes of red currant, blood orange, and white pepper come to the fore. Medium bodied, with brisk acidity, juicy red fruit flavours and a subtle vegetal hint. Tannins are silky, making for a smooth finish. Unoaked.

Where to buy: SAQ (19.80$)

Telmo Rodriguez “As Caborcas” 2015 – 93pts. PW

The first of the trio of Rodriguez’s top tier red wines from Valdeorras. As Caborcas hails from a 2.5 hectare vineyard in Santa Cruz featuring shallow granite soils planted on steep terraces. The is an old vineyard, boasting 60 year old co-planted vines of Mencia, Merenzao, Sousón, Godello, and Garnacha. Only 2500 bottles made.

Highly aromatic, with heady notes of macerated red cherry, cranberry, crushed strawberry, peony, and milk chocolate. Wonderfully fresh on the palate, with incredibly vibrant, highly concentrated notes of brambly, just ripe wild berries. This medium bodied, moderately firm red, finishes with powdery tannins that bring just a hint of attractive bitterness. Ageing in large, old foudres brings a rounded, earthy quality. Lovely!

Where to buy: SAQ (4 cases coming soon!). 77.25$

Telmo Rodriguez “O Diviso” 2015 – 94pts. PW

High altitude vineyards, 550 to 725 metres above the town of As Ermitas. The northwest exposure and soil diversity of this green slope long fascinated Rodriguez. The vineyard has a mix of old and recently planted vines; mainly Mencía, Brancellao, Sousón, and Garnacha, along with other red and white varieties.

A fuller, richer red than the As Caborcas. Intense aromas of ripe red cherry and black plum mingle with notes of rose, milk chocolate, and exotic spice on the nose. The palate is lively yet generous with impressive depth of flavour. Hints of leather and tobacco underscore the ripe red and black fruit flavours, and linger long on the finish. Fine grained tannins and well-integrated oak bring further polish.

Where to buy: SAQ (2 cases coming soon!). 77.25$

Telmo Rodriguez “A Capilla” 2015 – 96pts. PW

From the revered A Falcoeira vineyard, this 2015 cuvée is a stunner. The hot summer weather caused the vine to shut down briefly, allowing fresh acidity to be preserved. The steep granite-based slopes above Santa Cruz were largely replanted and are just now giving mature fruit of the depth and complexity sought by Rodriguez.

Incredibly elegant, with layer upon layer of aroma and flavour developing upon aeration. Notes of red currant, strawberry, rose, and cranberry, are underscored by autumnal, earthy hints and vibrant dried citrus peel. Brisk acidity is beautifully balanced by a rich, velvety mouthfeel, highly concentrated core, and full-bodied structure. Tannins are firm, yet perfectly ripe. The finish is almost endless, with notes of tea leaf, dark chocolate, fresh fruit, and cedar oak hints. Brimming with finesse.

Where to buy: SAQ (4 cases coming soon!). 77.25$