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7 HOUSE WINE STYLES TO ALWAYS KEEP IN STOCK

house wines

The ultimate wine lover’s dream is a large wine cellar – with perfect temperature and humidity conditions – laden with treasures from around the wine producing globe. Unfortunately, not all of us have the space or the budget to make this fantasy a reality. But, if you love to drink wine regularly, and to entertain, it is still nice to have a small stock of “house wines” to avoid last minute rushes to the wine store.

Not sure what to buy? Keep reading!

I recommend having at least one bottle of these seven different styles of house wines on hand. They should cover the majority of wine drinking occasions.

***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 weekly wine education series. 

2 Sparkling Wines (yes, you need two!)

First up, sparkling wine. When I moved to France a number of years ago, I discovered something incredible. Small growers in Champagne were selling excellent non-vintage fizz for 12 – 15 euros! At the time, only the big Champagne houses were making it to the liquor store shelves in Canada, and their basic bubblies were five times more expensive than these little gems. I started drinking Champagne regularly. I always had a cold bottle ready for any piece of good news – big or small. Every little triumph was a reason to drink Champagne. Those were the days…

Back home in Montréal, my budget doesn’t quite extend to weekly bottles of Champagne. This is potentially for the best though, as I have been forced to branch out and discover the wide world of excellent sparkling wines outside of France.

I recommend stocking two types of bubblies for your house wines: a more affordable version for the every-day celebrations, and a finer bottle for the big moments.

For your first bottle, even though you are spending less, you still want something you’d enjoy drinking. I suggest seeking out the higher quality tiers of budget-friendly sparkling wine regions. If you like delicate fruity aromas, soft bubbles, and fresh acidity, try Prosecco at the Superiore DOCG level. If you prefer the more vigorous, firm bubbles of Champagne, with hints of brioche, biscuit-type aromas, go for Cava at the Reserva or Gran Reserva level. Crémant wines, made through out France, will also provide a similar experience.

In terms of your fancier fizz, Champagne is obviously the classic choice. If you want to go all out, look for Vintage Champagne or a Prestige cuvées of a non-vintage wine. Don’t forget however, that really top-drawer sparkling wine is cropping up all over the world – potentially in your own backyard – and drinking local is awesome! Look to England, parts of Canada, Tasmania, Marlborough if you want something with that really racy acidity of Champagne. If you want something a little richer & rounder – try California or South Africa’s top sparkling wines.

To learn more about premium sparkling wines, click here.

An Aperitif-style White Wine

Ok…on to your every-day house wines. I enjoy drinking a glass of white wine while I am cooking supper. I want something fairly light in body, crisp, dry and generally un-oaked at this juncture of the evening; a wine that is easy-drinking on its own and as refreshing as lemonade on a hot day. These are also typically the kinds of wines I would serve at a dinner party as an aperitif, or with light fare such as oysters, grilled white fish, or salads.

An easy go-to white wine grape variety is Sauvignon Blanc (more elegant, restrained styles from Loire, more pungent grassy, passion fruit examples from New Zealand) or dry Riesling (try Alsace, or the Clare and Eden Valleys in Australia). If you would like to try something a little different, look for the zesty, peach-scented, mineral Albarino grape from Spain, the crisp, dry, herbal, lemony Assyrtiko grape grown mainly on the island of Santorini in Greece, or finally firmly structured, brisk, peach/ grapefruit/ earthy Grüner Veltliner from Austria.

 A Richer, Fuller-bodied White Wine

If you are cooking poultry, fattier fish, cream-based sauces, or serving soft cheeses, you will need a weightier, more textural white that can stand up to the heavier food. Chardonnay wines, notably those aged in oak, work well here. Be careful however, because Chardonnay runs the gamut from quite lean, citrussy & mineral to very broad, heavy & tropical – check with store staff before buying to make sure you get a style that suits your palate.

Interesting alternatives to Chardonnay include white Rhône Valley blends featuring grapes like Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier. These can also be found outside of France, with fine examples made in Paso Robles, California and Victoria, Australia. Pinot Gris from Alsace, notably the Grand Cru versions, also have a lovely textural weight, depth, and vibrancy of fruit that will shine in this category.

A Light-bodied Red Wine (or Rosé)

Sadly, not all of your guests are going to love white wine (I know…it is a shock to me too). The perfect host will not be flustered by this set-back. They will simply trade out the white for a crisp rosé, or a light, juicy red wine. Pale, dry rosé works well for pre-dinner drinks. Rosés with deeper colour and more depth, or pale, fresh red wines will marry well with those fleshier fish or poultry dishes.

Pinot Noir, Gamay, and lighter styles of Cabernet Franc are excellent light-bodied red wine grapes. Look for cooler climate origins, as the hotter regions will likely verge into the medium to full bodied category, with more baked fruit flavours and higher alcohol. What you are looking for here is tangy acidity, a delicate structure, and fairly silky tannins.

For a more exotic option, try Etna DOC wines, made from the Nerello Mascalese grape, on the slopes of the famed Mount Etna in Sicily.

An ‘”All-Rounder” Red Wine

Between the delicate, tangy light reds and the big, bold ones, I always think that it is a good idea to have a more versatile red in your house wines arsenal. A wine that is medium in body, fresh (but not overly acidic), subtly fruity, smooth and rounded on the palate. These wines tend to pair with the widest range of foods making them a great option for your every-day fare.

Côtes-du-Rhône red wines (made from a blend of Grenache and Syrah) are a fantastic choice here. If you like the style, but prefer a wine with a touch more body and depth, look for the Villages level of Côtes-du-Rhône. Valpolicella from the Veneto in Italy is also a lovely, fruity option, or – if you like the vanilla, spice flavours of oaked reds – try a Rioja Reserva.

A Full-bodied Red Wine

When you are barbecuing steak, preparing a heartily flavoured stew, or serving pungent, hard cheeses, you need a wine with equally bold flavours. The tannins from these more powerful reds also binds with and softens proteins in meat, intensifying their rich savoury flavours, and in turn, reducing the astringency of the wine.

A wide range of options exist. Classics include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot blends (with more vibrant, tart fruited examples from Bordeaux vs. more lush, ultra-ripe fruited versions from the Napa Valley), Malbec and Syrah are also great traditional choices. Looking a little further afield, you could try Portuguese blends from the Douro region, or Grenache, Carignan blends from Priorat region of Spain.

Final Thoughts

In France, the dessert is sometimes accompanied by a sweet wine and it is common practice to offer a digestif (literally a wine/ spirit to help you digest) after the meal. The French really know how to live. Sigh…

There is a vast world of amazing options out there but, for most of us, after-dinner wines tend only to be served on special occasions. Unless space permits, you don’t necessarily need to stock these in advance.

I hope that this helps you a little with your next trip to the wine store. If you have any questions, or comments on any of the wines, write me a comment and I will happily respond.

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!

 

 

Education Life

Refreshing Wines to Beat the Heat

refreshing wine low alcohol

Remember when you were a kid, and your mum would help you make lemonade on a hot day? You would get a little table ready with your cups, your pitcher of juice, and your home-made “Lemonade for sale” sign.

The adults would dutifully line up, buy a cup, and make jokes about how it was so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk.

Stepping out into the searing heat that is Montréal this week, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some street omelettes forming…that is, if it weren’t for the tropical humidity.

So, for those of us who have moved on from lemonade, what wine should we drink to beat the heat?

Lemonade is high in acidity, and generally served ice cold. This makes it thirst-quenching, with a cooling sensation. When choosing wine for a hot summer’s eve, this same refreshing quality is a must.

Look for wines that can be chilled down to 8 to 12°c. These tend to be lighter in body, and predominantly white or rosé in colour. Combine this with crisp, lively acidity, and tart fruit flavours, and your palate is sure to feel invigorated.

Sound good? Not so fast…

Our bodies produce sweat to cool us down in hot weather. This process dehydrates us, so we need to drink more. Alcohol is a diuretic. It makes us ***ahem*** expel more liquid than we are taking in. Drinking lots of alcohol in hot weather is never a good idea.

Still want that glass of wine? I know I do. Lucky for us, there are lots of fantastic grapes/ regions producing lower alcohol wines. Here are but a few:

Vinho Verde

This wine style hails from the cool, rainy northwest of Portugal. While its literal translation is “green wine”, the name refers to the youthfulness of the wine, rather than its colour. Vinho Verde is bottled a mere 3 to 6 months after harvest.

Vinho Verde can come in white, rosé, and red. The most popular exported style is white wine. It is made from a blend of indigenous white grapes including Alvarinho, Avesso, Azal, Arinto, Loureiro, and Trajadura. Vinho Verde generally has subtle effervescence, tangy acidity, a light, delicate structure, and low 8.5 to 11% alcohol. Aromas and flavours are usually quite restrained, ranging from marginally ripe stone and citrus fruit, to floral, and sometimes mineral nuances.

Value to Premium Recommendations: Aveleda (for good value), Quintas de Melgaco (Astronauta series, for high quality)

Niagara Riesling

German Riesling is an obvious choice for high quality, lower alcohol white wine with racy acidity. To read more about this, click here.

But perhaps you don’t think of the Niagara region when you reach for a Riesling? This is a situation which needs to be rectified…immediately. Niagara produces some beautifully precise, bracing, light-bodied Rieslings in styles ranging from bone-dry to subtly sweet. Highly aromatic, brimming with lemon, apple, peach, and sometimes tropical fruit notes, these wines are dangerously drinkable. 10.5 to 12% alcohol is the norm.

Value to Premium Recommendations: Cave Spring, Tawse, Henry of Pelham

Prosecco

If it’s bubbles you are after, Prosecco often sits at a modest 11%. Made from the Glera grape in the north east of Italy, this frothy semi-sparkling wine is softer on the palate than Champagne or Cava. It boasts fresh acidity, pretty pear, peach, and floral aromas, and a very light palate profile.

Be sure to read the label before picking up a bottle though, as the term “dry” is actually (confusingly) used for the sweeter styles. If you want something literally dry, look for the word “brut”. A subtly sweet style will be called “extra dry”.

Brut to Dry Recommendations: Bisol “Crede” (brut), Adami “Vigneto Giardino Rive di Colbertaldo” (extra-dry), Marsuret “II Soler” (dry)

What about Rosé?

My favourite rosé wines are generally from the sunny south of France or similarly hot regions. Alcohol tends to creep up to 13% or higher here. I would be lying if I said this stopped me, but I definitely try to keep better track of consumption when imbibing the pink stuff.

Value Recommendations: Louis Bernard Côtes du Rhône Rosé (great value, SAQ Dépôt), Château de Nages Vieilles VignesS. de la Sablette Côtes de Provence 

It’s Gotta be Red?

For you red wine lovers out there, lighter styles (~12%) with vibrant acidity, and mouthwatering fruit flavours can be found in Cabernet Franc, Gamay, and Pinot Noir. The Loire Valley and Niagara make great cool climate examples. Cabernet Franc has lovely raspberry fruit flavours, but can be quite vegetal (leafy, bell pepper notes). This quality can be very attractive, when amply balanced by fruit.

Beaujolais is king for the Gamay grape. Gamay features pretty red berry and violet notes. It ranges from light bodied, with silky tannins, to grippy and powerful. For the lightest styles of Beaujolais, look to the villages of Brouilly, Chiroubles, or Fleurie.

Cool styles of Pinot Noir can be found around the globe. Burgundy is the best known and arguably the finest region, but prices are creeping ever upward. For best value options, look for the generic, region-wide designation of Bourgogne AOC, or southern Burgundian village wines from Mercurey, Rully, or Givry.

All three grapes can be served quite cool, at around 14 to 16°c.

Recommendations: Agnes Paquet Bourgogne RougeDomaine Michel Juillot Bourgogne Rouge, Thierry Germain “Domaine Roches Neuves” Saumur-Champigny, Bernard Baudry Chinon.

Parting Thoughts

A glass of wine, a glass of water. This golden rule has always stood me in good stead on nights where temptation gets the better of moderation.

Santé!

 

 

 

 

Education Reviews Wines

BUBBLES – PART 1: The Thrifty Shopper’s Guide

Budget friendly sparkling wines

Oh yes indeed, Christmas is just around the corner! Perhaps you are among those more evolved earthlings that despair at the endless stream of jazzified holiday jingles, and resent the pressure to make merry this time of year. But before you lose yourself in a bitter monologue about the manipulative schemes of Hallmark or Coca-Cola, think of the benefits of the “hap, happiest season of all”…  In a word: Bubbles!

Sparkling wine flows pretty freely at every office party and holiday get-together through-out the month of December, which should make even the Grinchiest among you smile. For, in my experience, nothing gets people in the festive spirit faster than a glass (or three) of the fizzy stuff.

Scientists explain the phenomenon thusly: carbon dioxide bubbles expand when shaken, therefore when they hit the stomach, they fizz, pushing the alcohol rapidly down into the small intestine where it is absorbed. This quickfire process makes us feel intoxicated more quickly than a still wine, whose journey from stomach to intestine is more leisurely.

I think it is the combination of this fact, with the glamour and sophistication we attribute to sparkling wine consumption. We picture movie stars on red carpets, rich people on yachts, etc. Whenever I open a bottle of bubbly for guests I am always met with appreciation and enthusiasm for this “special treatment”.

The good news (if you are the one supplying the drinks) is that sparkling wine doesn’t necessarily have to cost a fortune. There are a wealth of decent, budget friendly offerings in the 20$ – 40$ range these days. The trick is to pick the premium versions from less prestigious regions, rather than the cheapest Champagne.

For the nerdy among you, let me first give a brief overview of how sparkling wine is made, and the regions offering good value. Those that are just looking for a quick recommendation can skip to the bottom.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a by-product of alcoholic fermentation. Simply put, yeast converts grape sugar into alcohol and CO2. When making still wines, the CO2 is allowed to escape from the tank. In sparkling winemaking, the vessel is sealed, thus trapping the CO2 which dissolves into the wine, creating bubbles. Voila!

The most important stylistic difference between the sparkling wines of the world relates to the vessel used for this carbonation process. For quality bubblies, two major methods exist: the “tank method” and the “traditional method”.

The tank method (aka Charmat method) has several variants, but in basic terms, the bubbles are created in sealed, pressurized tanks holding large volumes of wine. Once the process is complete, the wine is rapidly bottled to preserve its fresh, fruity character. It is best consumed within a year or two of release.

The tank method produces bigger, frothier bubbles that range in intensity from a very soft sparkle (referred to as frizzante in Italy), to slightly firmer, more persistent mousse (as is the case with many Italian spumante wines).

These wines are a great option if you prefer a gently bubbly, fruity, light wine. They are generally smooth, easy drinking and often quite low in alcohol. Styles range from bone dry (extra-brut) to quite sweet. The sweetness level is usually indicated on the label.

Some famous tank method sparkling wines include:

  • Moscato d’Asti: white, floral & grapey aromas, ~5.5% alcohol, frizzante style bubbles, always sweet
  • Prosecco: white, citrus & orchard fruit notes, ~11% alcohol, generally spumante, though frizzante styles exist, ranging from quite dry (brut) to semi sweet (dry). *** For best quality, look for Prosecco Superiore DOCG.
  • Lambrusco: red sparkling wine, red berry & currant flavours, ~12% alcohol, mainly frizzante, and dry (secco), though popular commercial styles exist that are off-dry (semi secco) or sweet (amabile)
  • Sekt: white sparkling wine from Germany, ~11.5% alcohol, spumante, semi sweet

The traditional method (formerly called the Champagne method) refers to the process of rendering a formerly still wine sparkling, once it is in the bottle. The grapes are initially fermented in a barrel or tank, to yield a dry, still wine. The wine is then bottled, dosed with a measure of sugar and yeast, and then capped. This provokes a second fermentation to occur within the bottle. The resultant bubbles, despite being more vigorous, are generally finer (less explosive on the palate) and more persistent than tank method wines.

Sparkling wines made in this way are less overtly fruity, but tend to boast more complex aromas and flavours. This is due to quite a complex process which occurs once the yeast cells – spent from their hard work creating alcohol and CO2 from sugar – begin to break-down. Over time, as these “lees” degrade they begin to give off attractive bakery/ patisserie type aromas that range from fresh bread to buttery pastry notes.

Value priced traditional method sparkling wines are generally matured on their lees for 9 to 24 months. This time length gives quite a subtle, lees character. Pricier wines can age for many years, gaining in complexity, developing a rich, creamy texture, as well as smaller, more refined bubbles.

Traditional method wines can be from a specific vintage (as identified on the label), or “non vintage”, meaning that they are a blend of several different vintages. I will delve into what this means for the wines, stylistically speaking, in part 2 of this article.

Some well-known traditional method wines include:

  • Champagne: Elegant, complex aromatics & flavours (brioche, orchard fruits, floral, chalky minerality). Racy, and taut in structure. Fine, persistent mousse. ~12% alcohol. Generally quite dry (brut).
  • Crémant: Name for sparkling wines from 7 French regions outside of Champagne. The taste profile depends on the grape variety used, climate, etc. Generally speaking, crémants are similar to Champagne; though a little broader, rounder and fruitier.
  • Cava: Spanish bubbly. Fairly lean, with bracing acidity, and pronounced lemon and apple aromas. 11 – 12% alcohol. Generally dry (brut).
  • Franciacorta: Italy’s most prestigious bubbly. Mainly Chardonnay, with Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc. Ripe lemon, peach and floral notes. 18 months’ minimum ageing on lees (30 months for single vintage wines) gives Franciacorta a rich, rounded mid-palate.
  • There are also wonderful bubblies from right here in Canada (Nova Scotia & Niagara notably), as well as California, South Africa (Cap Classique), Tasmania, England, Marlborough (New Zealand) and the list goes on. I will endeavour to write more about these in future posts!

The historical variant of producing sparkling wine in bottle, is the ancestral method. It consists of a single fermentation that begins in tank, and finishes in bottle. Classic versions of this wine style are quite cloudy as the sediment is not removed. Gently sparkling, medium sweet, low alcohol wines are still produced in this way in the French regions of Limoux, Bugey, Gaillac and Cerdon.

Renewed interest in the ancestral method has come about with the trend toward low interventionist (or “natural”) winemaking. Pétillant naturel (aka “pét nat”) wines are springing up from all corners of the winemaking globe. This style is harder to pin down, as the range is enormous…from murky, sour horror stories to very elegant, fresh, finely sparkling wines that are a delight to drink. If possible, ask to taste the pét nat that your hipster sommelier is trying to push on you, before commiting to a whole bottle!

A series of recent tastings of all manners of sparkling wines revealed these budget friendly sparkling wines; perfect for your holiday parties (or for kicking back on a Monday night…if you are a lesser mortal like me who LOVES every cheesy commercial and shopping mall Santa that mark the festive season).

Parés Baltà Cava Pink – 88pts. VW

Pink Cava. Who knew? And it’s organic! This pretty little number is a Grenache dominant blend with tangy red berry and red apple flavours. Crisp and light bodied, with vibrant bubbles and a clean, dry finish. Not overly complex, but a great every day fizz.

Where to buy: SAQ (17.60$), agent: Trialto

Moingeon Prestige Brut Crémant de Bourgogne – 89pts. VW

Restrained notes of brioche, hazelnut and yellow apples on the nose. Well-delineated, persistent bubbles and crisp acidity set the tempo, and are nicely underscored by a broad, textured mid-palate offering nice depth of flavour. The finish is dry, with lingering hints of orchard fruit and brioche.

Where to buy: SAQ (18.80$), agent: Divin Paradis

Segura Viudas Gran Cuvée Reserva Cava – 89pts. VW

A solid performer, from one of the major Cava houses. Aromas of yellow fruit and almond feature on the nose. Brisk acidity is ably balanced by a concentrated core of ripe orchard fruit and hints of brioche. Subtly creamy in texture, with a fresh, dry finish and fine, persistent bubbles.

Where to buy: SAQ (19.85$), agent: Featherstone Désautels

Marcel Cabelier Crémant du Jura Brut – 90pts PW

This organic, 100% Chardonnay was a favourite for me. Pretty floral and white pear aromas, lovely freshness, and a subtly creamy texture won me over. This dry bubbly is medium bodied, with a broad structure, and a bright, fruity finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (21.80$), agent: Séléctions Fréchette

Bortolomiol BandaRossa Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore – 87pts. PW

Classic Valdobbiadene profile, with fragrant notes of candied pear and ripe lemon. Hints of anise and white flowers develop upon aeration. Very fresh and light on the palate, with moderate concentration and a fruity, off-dry finish. Overly frothy, foaming bubbles brought this otherwise attractive wine down a couple of points for me.

Where to buy: SAQ (22.50$), agent: Maison InVino

Langlois-Château Crémant de Loire Brut Rosé – 89pts. PW

Lovely pale pink in colour, with muted aromas of tart red berries and spice. Incredibly vibrant, with juicy raspberry flavours and just a hint of cream. This dry, Cabernet Franc based wine is light and fresh. Only moderately persistent mousse, but otherwise, very pleasant.

Where to buy: SAQ (23.50$), agent: Authentic Wines & Spirits

Bernard Massard Cuvée de L’Ecusson Chardonnay Brut – 91pts. PW

I am a fan of the great value sparkling wines from Luxembourg producer Bernard Massard (click here for other reviews). This new, black label Chardonnay is no exception! Intriguing notes of lemon, fresh herbs and orchard fruits feature on the nose. Crisp acidity and fine, persistent mousse frame the palate nicely, with bright fruit and a subtle lees character lingering on the dry finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (23.60$), agent: UniVins

Domaine Moutard-Diligent, Patrick Piuze Non Dosé – 90pts. PW

I often find extra-brut sparkling wines (those with virtually no residual sugar) a little too lean and mean, but this Burgundian bubbly has enough depth and body to withstand a bone dry finish. Initially quite restrained, developping notes of brioche, green apple and fresh almons with time. The racy acidity is elegantly balanced by quite gentle bubbles and a subtly creamy, layered mid-palate

Where to buy: SAQ (24.20$), agent: La Céleste Levure

Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley – 90pts. PW

Intense aromas of yellow pear, red apple, toast and candied lemon fairly brim over on the nose. Lively and broad on the palate, with lots of body, a sedutively creamy, toasty mid-palate and a lengthy, fruit-laden finish. This dry bubbly is a great value alternative to Champagne, if you like a richer, more opulent style.

Where to buy: SAQ (32.85$), agent: Bergeron-les-Vins. LCBO (37.95$), agent: Authentic Wine & Spirits

Parés Baltà Blanca Cusiné Cava Gran Reserva 2010 – 90pts. PW

A certain elegance, and aromatic complexity sets this Cava apart. Nuances of fresh bread, lemon, green apple and white flowers linger long in the glass. The palate is very focused and precise, with laser-like acidity and well-delineated, fine bubbles.

Where to buy: SAQ (35.25$), agent: Trialto

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

Life

VENETO TRAVEL DIARIES PART 3 – A TASTE OF SPRING

My jaunt through the vineyards, cantinas, trattorias and castellos of Conegliano Valdobbiadene is sadly at an end. The festivities culminated in a lovely closing dinner with much merriment. The old, low beamed roof creaked under the weight of hundreds of old copper pots hanging from the rafters. The Prosecco DOCG was flowing freely and when we asked the charming Ernesto from Marsuret winery what the locals drank other than Prosecco, he cried “Grappa”…at which point liveried sommeliers arrived with snifters of the fiery golden liquid.

Over the past two days we have been visiting wineries. From mid sized family affairs to gigantic operations with massive, 200hL tanks gleaming out in the sun. Over the course of our conversations and tastings the difference between entry level Prosecco DOC and premium Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG became increasingly apparent. Much of what we are exposed to on international markets is the entry priced, aggressively frothy, candied peach and pear scented concoctions served at cheap banquets and sold on promotion in supermarkets. The finer examples of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG shine in comparison. When you see the steep hillsides, worked entirely by hand around Valdobbiadene, with only half the yield of the flat plains of Prosecco DOC, it is easy to understand why.

The best of the best have much finer mousse, only faintly frothy on the palate, with delicate floral, zesty apple and ripe pear aromas. On the palate, subtle spiced notes of aniseed or ginger are common. Some even offer attractive hazelnut or mineral undertones. From crisp, bone dry “Extra Brut” to overly fruity “Dry” styles, the best DOCG Proseccos offer balance. The sugar is offset by fresh acidity and vibrant bubbles, with none of the cloying sweetness on the finish. Prosecco DOCG “should taste like spring time” proclaimed Canavel’s Carlo Caramel (yes that is his real name). This neatly sums it up for me. Prosecco is meant to be drunk young, in the year following production. Though we did try a few intriguing 2014s with nutty, honeyed profiles, by and large the wine is not meant to age. Although made up to high quality standards, Prosecco DOCG does not take itself too seriously. It is bottled young and fresh, and should be drunk upon purchase…preferably on a terrace, with good tunes and great company.

A couple of parting words of advice: It is worth spending 10$ more and trying one of the best on offer in your local liquor store. After all, it is still far cheaper than many other bubblies. Look out for quality cues on the label like DOCG (the higher quality appellation level), and within this category: “Rive” (single vineyard – the word is always followed by the name of the hamlet), and the finest terroir “Cartizze”.

Some Great Producers to Look For

Adami, Biancavigna, Bisol, Canevel, Malibran, Marchiori, Marsuret, Merotto, Ruggeri, Villa Sandi

Visiting Conegliano Valdobbiadene Do’s & Don’ts

Never admit having mixed DOCG Prosecco with orange juice to a local. The long silence that follows can get a little uncomfortable.

Don’t suggest that the catchy little appellation name “Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG” could somehow be shortened to give it more international appeal. It is just fine as it is.

If you see just Valdobbiadene DOCG on the label, with no mention of Conegliano (or vice versa), don’t ask why. The feud is centuries old.

Drive the Prosecco wine route. You will not regret it. It is stunningly beautiful. Take some gravol first though!

Don’t eat risotto for at least a month or two before your trip. You will eat A LOT of it. Beautifully creamy, with wild herbs or asparagus; utterly delicious but omnipresent.

Life

VENETO TRAVEL DIARY PART 2 – “THE HEROS OF PROSECCO”

Cartizze

A grey, overcast sky greeting us this morning as we hopped on the minibus for the days’ adventure. First stop, the Enology school for a proper classroom session to learn the wonders of DOCG Prosecco.

The main difference always cited when people compare Champagne with Prosecco, is the vinification method. Champagne (along with Cava and many other bubblies) ferments to completion in tank or barrel like any dry white, and is then transferred to bottle, dosed with sugar and yeast and sealed to undergo a secondary fermentation process whereby carbon dioxide bubbles get trapped in the bottle making the fine mousse we know and love. For Prosecco, the Italian (or Martinotti) method is employed. The initial vinification is much the same. However, the carbonation process takes place in sealed, pressurized tanks. Whereas Champagne is deliberately left to mature on its lees (spent yeast cells) to develop weight and complexity, Prosecco is bottled rapidly after the second fermentation.  The resultant fizz is softer and frothier with exuberant fruity appeal.

Yesterday I explained the basic hierarchy of the Prosecco appellations (click here for the lowdown). Today, we delved a little further into the subdivisions within the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore Prosecco DOCG. With over 7000 hectares, there is a wealth of diversity – from soil composition, to aspect, to microclimate – leading to important stylistic differences. To see for ourselves, we hopped back on the bus and made our way from the relatively flat plains of Conegliano to the steep slopes surrounding Valdobbiadene. The stunning Prosecco wine route weaves through sleepy hamlets, up and down increasingly steep hillsides, to reveal a hidden paradise of lush, green vines. Redder, more clay-rich soils surround Conegliano, giving structured, fruity wines. Nearer to Valdobbiadene, the vines are planted on more ancient morainic, sandstone and clay, yielding more elegant, floral aromatics.

The stunning Prosecco wine route weaves through sleepy hamlets, up and down increasingly steep hillsides, to reveal a hidden paradise of lush, green vines.

Like the 1er Crus of Burgundy, certain vineyard sites have been singled out as superior. They are called “Rive”, followed by the name of the vineyard or hamlet. If you are curious to try a more complex style of Prosecco, look out for this. At the highest point of the appellation, over 400m above sea level, we come across the single Grand Cru hillside: Cartizze. Just 107 hectares of vines are planted here. With more than 100 different growers, production volumes are tiny. Cartizze is blessed with a special microclimate. The southern exposure and steep angles offer maximum sunshine during the day. The high altitude guarantees cool nights, allowing a long, slow ripening period. The vast majority of Prosecco produced here is crafted in the “Dry” style (17 – 32g/L residual sugar), though the zesty acidity and rich, fruit laden flavours make the sweetness almost imperceptible.

In Cartizze and the surrounding steep hillsides, wine producers can use the special “Viticoltura Eroica” logo on their label. Literally translated as “heroic viticulture”, this lovely term refers to the impressive lengths to which growers have to go in order to work these precipitous vineyards. Everything is done by hand here, making pruning, harvest and other vineyard chores a backbreaking labour of love.

Our visit culminated in a culinary feast at the Trattoria alla Cima in Valdobbiadene. The wine was served in the traditional order, from Brut Prosecco with antipastis, to Extra Dry with the primi and secondi piatti and Cartizze for the dulce. After 5 courses, we were finally satiated, so headed back into Susegana for the evenings’ tastings at the spectacular Castello San Salvatore. More on this in the next edition.

 

Life

VENETO TRAVEL DIARY PART 1 – ITALY’S FAMOUS FIZZ

Prosecco Superiore wine

It is becoming increasingly rare (at least in my experience) to have a perfect journey. I mean one where all your flights leave on time, the security lines are short and painless, the immigration people are friendly and your bags make a speedy appearance upon arrival. I feel like this is a good omen for my trip.

I arrived in Venice this morning to ominous clouds, but mild spring weather and lush greenery. My colleagues and I were met by a smiling driver who whisked us away and shortly thereafter deposited us at the grandiose, if somewhat dated, Hotel Astoria just outside of Conegliano (pronounced Conelyano). Tonight, the Vino in Villa festival kicks off. The annual event aims to showcase the superior quality of the DOCG Prosecco from the region of Conegliano Valdobbiadene. A smattering of wine journalists from around the globe have been gathered to learn more about the region and its famed bubbly. The goal? To pass on the good word that Prosecco is more than a cheap and cheerful Champagne alternative.

Let’s start with the basics…  Prosecco is an Italian sparkling wine made throughout the Veneto and neighbouring Friuli Venezia Giulia regions in North Eastern Italy. The principle grape is called Glera. Not a particularly memorable variety for still wines due to a fairly neutral character, Glera is an excellent sparkling base. It boasts lively acidity, and peachy, floral notes. As with many European vineyards, there is a quality hierarchy. The lowest tier is Prosecco DOC, which includes grapes grown anywhere in the two above mentioned regions. This level of Prosecco can be made dry (brut), slightly off-dry (extra dry), or semi sweet (dry)…yes, the nomenclature is confusing! It can also be still, lightly sparkling (frizzante) or fully sparkling (spumante). The spumante style is most common. Above this tier, we get into the Superiore level, to which this week-end pays homage. The official name for this higher quality appellation is: Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG (I know, the name just rolls off your tongue, right?). It can only be made in the Treviso province of Veneto on the rolling hills between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. It is here that the Glera grape goes beyond simple, peachy fizz to take on real elegance and charm.

The next 3 days will consist of a total immersion in all things DOCG Prosecco…tutored tastings, vineyard and winery visits, food and wine pairings and so forth. I will endeavour to share my insights with you in a series of daily ramblings. I warn you in advance that I may dally into some raptures about the food. It is Just. So. Good. Here.  For example, today at lunch, we paired the brisk, refreshing, citrusy and faintly saline Le Manzane “Springo Blue” Conegliano DOCG Prosecco brut with herb sprinkled swordfish tartare & strawberry mayo. The main course was grilled sturgeon cooked to perfection with a pretty, floral extra dry Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco from Agostinetto “Vigna del Baffo”. The smooth, subtly creamy, poached pear finish underscored the rich, textured fish perfectly. All in all, a great start, topped off by a saunter around the lovely Conegliano castello and doumo. Birds are chirping, and the sun is lazily sinking down below the hill of vines outside my window. Time to dress for the welcome dinner. More tomorrow…

Life

ITALY AWAITS…!

Distretto

I have been a little remiss in posting recently. This is simply because the big count down has begun…  I am T-26 days from the Masters of Wine exams. So, as you can imagine, I have had my head permanently in the books (and my nose in the glass) for the past couple of months.

The dread and anticipation is bringing me close to fever pitch. So the world’s greatest husband (mine), is sending me away for a week to cool my heels. I am making the potentially risky move of taking a week off. I have been tempted into accepting the gracious invitation of the Italian Chamber of Commerce to attend the annual Vino in Villa (http://vinoinvilla.it/en/) festival. This annual event honours the top quality Prosecco from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG.

Watch this space for a week long travel diary on my musings, tastings and so forth. I will also treat you to a cheeky little jaunt to Valpolicella before I head home. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it….!