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COOL CLIMATE WINES…WHAT ARE THEY?

cool climate wines
Photo credit: Domaine St. Jacques

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

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

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

What is So Special about Cool Climate Wines?

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

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

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

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

What Grapes Grow Best in Cool Climates?

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

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

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

What Makes a Climate Cool?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Can I Find Cool Climate Wines?

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

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

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

Tasting Cool Climate Wines

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

Domaine Laroche 2018 Petit Chablis, France

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

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

Domaine Gueguen 1er Cru Vaucoupin 2018, Chablis, France 

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

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent Le Maitre de Chai

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

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

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

Paddy Borthwick Chardonnay 2018, Wairarapa, New Zealand

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

 Where to Buy: LCBO (25.00$)

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

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

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

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

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

Where to Buy: adamoestate.com/shop/

 

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IT’S TIME TO DRINK SOUTH AFRICAN WINE

drink south african wine

It’s Time to Drink South African Wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robertson Winery Chenin Blanc 2019

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

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

The Wolftrap Syrah, Mourvèdre, Viognier 2017, Western Cape

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

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

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

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

Where to Buy: SAQ (17.05$)

AA Badenhorst The Drifter Cinsault 2019, Swartland

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

Where to Buy: SAQ (18.45$)

Pearce Predhomme Wild Ferment Chenin Blanc 2018, Stellenbosch

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

Where to Buy: SAQ (22.95$)

Sijnn Low Profile 2016, Western Cape

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

Where to Buy: SAQ (29.95$)

Mullineux Old Vines White 2018, Swartland

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

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

 

 

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Wine Region Stereotypes: A Sancerre Story

Wine region stereotypes

Wine Region Stereotypes: A Sancerre Story

Photo credit: Domaine Joseph Mellot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to buy: SAQ (26.00$)

Joseph Mellot Sancerre (rosé) Le Rabault  2019

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

Where to buy: SAQ (26.80$)

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Affordable Wine Finds from Portugal

affordable wine finds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to Buy: SAQ (12.65$),

Poças, Vale de Cavalos Branco 2018, Douro, Portugal

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

Where to Buy: SAQ (16.60$)

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

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

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

Poças, Vale de Cavalos Tinto 2017, Douro, Portugal

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

Where to Buy: SAQ (17.95$)

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Drink Local Wine This Week-End

drink local wine
Photo credit: Stratus Vineyards

The imperative to drink local wine has never been stronger. Lock-down has deprived our wineries of two huge revenue streams: their on-site tasting rooms and their restaurant accounts. Sadly, whereas most country’s around the globe are proud to drink local wine, we eastern Canadians remain reluctant to embrace our growing wine industry.

I recently completed a series of interviews with Ontario wineries and almost all respondents mentioned the challenges they face convincing domestic consumers to drink local wine. “We’re still at that stage where it feels like our last worst wine is the one we get judged by” lamented one producer. Sure there are still poor quality wines made in Canada…just as there are disappointing wines from France, Italy, California and everywhere else on the winemaking globe. We do our winemakers a disservice when we stop trying local wines after one or two bad bottles.

Judging at the National Wine Awards of Canada last summer (article here) really drove home the excellent quality available from coast to coast. It also underlined the huge stylistic diversity of which we are capable – from racy, sweet-and-sour Rieslings, to elegant Sparkling wines, Chardonnay of every imaginable description, juicy Gamay, ripe, herbaceous Cabernet Franc….the list goes on and on.

While we pine away at home, looking for ways to stay apart yet come together, perhaps another gesture of solidarity could be making the choice to drink local wine.

Here are a few nice options in the 20 – 30$ range to get you started:

Domaine Bergeville Le Blanc Brut 2018

Located in Hatley, in the Eastern Townships, Domaine de Bergeville is one of Québec’s most respected wineries. Given the region’s icy winters and humid summers, their commitment to organic and biodynamic viticulture is a feat of courage and skill. Dry and ultra-refreshing, this clean, taut sparkling wine features tangy green fruit flavours and fine, lingering bubbles. Look out for the rosé, also in stores now.

Where to Buy: SAQ (27.85$)

Stratus Vineyards Tollgate Chardonnay 2017

This voluptuous Chardonnay, with its heady notes of melted butter and crème caramel, its medium bodied and rounded palate, is nicely balanced by vibrant acidity, tangy red apple and ripe lemon flavours and a lifted, subtly toasted finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (24.95$), LCBO (24.95$)

La Cantina Vallée d’Oka Rosé du Calvaire 2019, Québec

You will have to move quickly to snag a few bottles of this little gem. Last summer the stores in my neighbourhood couldn’t keep it in stock.  Imagine the bright, tangy rhubarb and red berry notes of cool climate Pinot Noir, combined with the rounded, subtly textural mouthfeel of Chardonnay….all in a pretty pink package.

Where to Buy: SAQ (19.95$)

Château des Charmes Gamay Noir ‘Droit’ 2017, Niagara, Ontario

Just a ferociously gluggable Gamay. The Château des Charmes”Droit” cuvée really showcases the St David’s Bench terroir nicely with its medium body, ripe dark fruit aromas and velvetty texture, all nicely balanced by really refreshing acidity and tangy fruit flavours.

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

Tawse Winery Unfiltered Cabernet Franc 2017, Niagara, Ontario

2017 was a rainy, tempestuous vintage saved by a long, warm fall that yielded some really top notch wines in Niagara. This is a lovely mid-way style for Cabernet Franc with rich, ripe blue and black fruit balancing out hints of bell pepper and sweet tobacco. Fresh and full-bodied on the palate with a suave texture, juicy dark fruit flavours and fine, chalky tannins.

Where to Buy: SAQ (29.95$)

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TASTING THE WINES OF CAVE SPRING CELLARS

Cave Spring Cellars
Photo Credit: Cave Spring Cellars (Beamsville Bench soil composition)

The end of the 1980s was a wild time for the Ontario wine industry. The newly signed General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT) signalled the end of protectionist measures in Ontario that put local wines on the shelf at substantially lower mark ups than foreign imports. Without these retail advantages, Niagara’s wineries knew that they would no longer be able to knock out the competition on price, and thus begun a remarkable quality revolution.

Among the intrepid pioneers that forged the path, replanting the Niagara Peninsula with noble vinifera grape varieties, were the Pennachetti family. The Cave Spring Cellars winery was established in 1986, though the first vines were planted some 10 years before. Riesling and Chardonnay were selected for the inaugural, Cave Spring Vineyard. This cool site on the Beamsville Bench, with its mineral-rich stony clay tills derived from escarpment limestone, shale, and sandstone (see picture above), rapidly proved its merit.

Cave Spring Cellars quickly became known for the high quality and consistency of their Riesling. Over thirty years later, Riesling remains a focal point for the Pennachetti family, and long time Cave Spring Cellars’ winemaker Angelo Pavan. “They are wines with structure; wines of substance. I pour verticals and people are shocked at how well they age” says Pavan. “They are approachable young. You can drink them today or in 20 – 25 years”. Indeed, in their youth, Cave Spring Cellars Rieslings show all the pretty aromatic brightness of well-made Riesling, yet over time, develop layers of beeswax and lanolin notes, adding complexity and depth.

Today, the Cave Spring Cellars range includes a variety of cool climate white and red cultivars, as well as Riesling Icewine and traditional method sparkling wines. “Our goal” explains Thomas Pennechetti, “is to let our cool climate style shine through”. The focus is on healthy, balanced vines yielding optimally ripened fruit. And with that result achieved, minimal intervention is needed in the cellar. The wines are fermented with indigenous yeast and aged in neutral vessels. The objective? Wines with pure, site specific, varietal character.

Curious to learn more about the taste profile of Cave Spring Cellars’ wines? Lucky for you, I ended my visit with a quick stop at the tasting room to check out the latest vintage releases:

Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs Brut NV Sparkling

This excellent Niagara cuvée regularly adorns my list of great value sparkling wines. Very elegant, with alluring toasty aromas, underscored by lemon, green apple, and floral hints. Mouthwatering acidity and fine, vigorous bubbles and an initially tightly knit structure give way to a smooth, creamy mid-palate. Lots of finesse on the finish. Blend of 60% Chardonnay, 40% Chardonnay Musqué. Ontario Price: 29.95$

Cave Spring Pinot Gris 2018, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Delicate aromas of melon, stone fruit and spice feature on the nose and palate. The palate is fresh and light with a smooth, rounded texture. Really easy drinking as an apéritif and quite a food friendly choice as well. Ontario Price: 16.95$

Cave Spring Estate Riesling 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench

Bursting with yellow apple, ginger, and white floral notes on the nose, this lovely Riesling drinks well above its 20$ price tag. The palate just sings with vibrant, lip-smacking acidity, a taut, light bodied frame, and pleasing depth of flavour. Very focused and pure, with just a faint hint of balanced sweetness. Ontario Price: 19.95$

Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench

Similar aromatic range to the Estate Riesling; the CSV really shows its pedigree on the palate. The racy acidity, firm structure, and very textural mouthfeel combine to create quite an elegant, dry expression of Riesling. The finish is long and lifted with layers of stony mineral, juicy yellow fruit, and delicate honeyed notes. Cellar 5 years + or decant an hour before serving. Ontario Price: 29.95$

Cave Spring Gamay 2018, VQA Niagara Escarpment

Really pretty, aromatic nose featuring violets, crushed black pepper, and just ripe dark berry fruit. The palate is bright and juicy, with a silky texture and soft, rounded finish. Ontario Price: 16.95$

Cave Spring Dolomite Cabernet Franc 2017, VQA Niagara Escarpment

Intense, fragrant aromas of ripe blue and black fruit are underscored by hints of sweet tobacco and bell pepper on the nose. The palate offers crisp acidity, medium weight, and moderate concentration of juicy cassis flavours. Ripe, velvety tannins frame the finish. Winery only: 24.95$

Cave Spring Estate Cabernet Franc 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench

The Estate Cabernet Franc shows all the perfumed fruit of the Dolomite cuvée but with the added complexity of dark chocolate, tobacco, and hints of cedar on the nose and palate. Medium weight, with a dense, concentrated mid-palate, and fine-grained tannins. Vibrant acidity reigns through out, lifting and lengthening the finish. Ontario Price: 39.95$

Where to Buy Cave Spring Cellars wines: Cave Spring Cellars on-line, a wide selection at the LCBO, and the Niagara Peninsula Dry Riesling 2017 at the SAQ (enquire with Québec agent: Séléctions Oeno for private import listings)

 

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AFFORDABLE SPARKLING WINES: THRIFTY SHOPPER’S GUIDE 2019

affordable sparkling wines

The festive season is here! Time to head to your local wine merchant and stock up on holiday tipples. Before you panic about what to buy, check out my thrifty shopper’s guide to the best, affordable sparkling wines of 2019.

If you are a curious minded wine lover and would like to know how sparkling wines get their bubbles, how to tell a dry from sweet style, and why fizz makes us festive, check out my sparkling wine primer article here.

Alternatively, if you prefer to curl up with a nice glass of wine and video I’ve also got you covered. Simply scroll down below my recommendations to learn all about Cava, Crémant, and other great affordable sparkling wines.

Now let’s get down to my thrifty shopper favourites for 2019’s best affordable sparkling wines. These wines were selected from a series of recent industry tastings:

Villa Sandi Il Fresco Prosecco DOC (Italy)

Classic Prosecco aromas of pear drop and peach, mingle with subtle floral notes on this light, easy drinking bubbly. The palate is clean and fruity with large, smooth bubbles, and a subtly off-dry finish. Great lower alcohol option at 11% abv. Perfect for cocktails.

Where to buy: SAQ (15.25$), LCBO (15.95$)

Bodegas Sumarroca Brut Nature Gran Reserva 2015 Brut (Spain)

Seductive nose featuring toasty, biscuity nuances, roasted almond, and baked pear. Fine bubbles and moderate acidity give way to a broad, ample, creamy textured mid-palate fairly brimming with toasted, ripe fruited flavours. If you like a leesy, ripe, brut style of bubbly, this is a steal at under 20$.

Where to Buy: SAQ (17.15$)

Château Moncontour Cuvée Prédilection Vouvray Brut 2016, (France)

This Vouvray sparkling wine offers excellent Chenin Blanc typicity with its nervy, high acid and aromas of red apple, raw honey and beeswax. Really zesty and light on the palate, with vigorous bubbles and a bright, fruity finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (19.80$), LCBO (try the Tête de Cuvée Brut Vouvray: 19.95$)

Bailly Lapierre Crémant de Bourgogne Réserve Brut (France)

Lovely orchard fruit, ripe lemon nuances on the nose underscored by delicate notes of brioche. Brisk acidity and vibrant bubbles lead into a medium-bodied, subtly creamy, moderately concentrated core. Quite a ripe fruited, rounded finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (21.00$), LCBO (19.95$, also available in half bottles)

Juvé y Camps Reserva de la Familia 2016, Cava Gran Reserva (Spain)

This Gran Reserva Cava, aged 36 months on lees, is quite a serious bottle of bubbly for the price. Lovely patisserie notes, mingle with ripe pear and yellow apple notes on the nose. The palate is fresh, broad, and pleasingly textural with nutty, honeyed nuances, well delineated, persistent bubbles, and a very dry, lifted finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (22.00$)

Bernard Massard Chardonnay Brut (Luxembourg)

A delicate, attractive nose offering hints of acacia, lemon, and apricot skins, with very subtle leesy undertones. Crisp, light and quite elegant on the palate with really vibrant pear and apple flavours, fine bubbles, and a touch of refreshing bitterness on the dry finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (23.60$), LCBO (try Massard’s Cuvée de L’Écusson: 19.95$)

Patrick Piuze Non Dosé Méthode Traditionnelle (France)

Quite a complex aromatic array for the price, featuring notes of lemon curd, yellow apple, bread dough, and wet stone. Racy and taut, with a moderately concentrated core of oxidative honeyed, nutty flavours. Very harmonious, with ripe fruit providing a nice counterweight to the vigorous mousse, mouthwatering acidity and bone dry finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (24.15$) – also available in magnums!

François Mikulski Crémant De Bourgogne 2016

Very elegant, Champagne drink-a-like bubbles from a fantastic Meursault producer. This blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and a dash of Aligoté is aged on its lees for 18 months. It has enticing lemon, yellow apple, biscuit aromas on the nose. The palate is really crisp and lively, with well delineated bubbles, a layered citrussy mid-palate and dry, lifted finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (27.35$)

Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs Brut Sparkling (Ontario, Canada)

This excellent Niagara cuvée regularly adorns my list of great value sparkling wines. Very elegant, with alluring toasty aromas, underscored by lemon, green apple, and floral hints. Mouthwatering acidity and fine, vigorous bubbles and an initially tightly knit structure give way to a smooth, creamy mid-palate. Lots of finesse on the finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (29.90$), LCBO (27.95$, on special!)

Reviews Wines

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?

Speaking of which…let’s get to the wines. A handful of the producers that really impressed me at Raw Wine Montréal and various 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