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White Wine

Producers Reviews

Producer Profile – Maison Albert Bichot

Albert Bichot Vineyard Chablis

Big and beautiful. Albéric Bichot’s tireless quest for quality.

When I was novice wine student living in Burgundy, my viticulture professors (all local growers) insisted that serious wines could only come from small estates and never from the big, bad négociant firms.  To my teachers, wineries that produced large quantities and largely worked with grapes bought from other growers could never attain the same heights of elegance, aromatic complexity or precision as the small farmer working his own plot of land.  As time went on, I learnt that the lines were rather more blurry than I was led to believe.  First of all, many large Burgundian négociants have significant vineyard holdings, and a growing number of small domaines are starting to buy in additional fruit to grow their sales.  Secondly, quality-oriented négociants are so meticulous in their choice of grower partners and the winemaking techniques employed that exceptional wines are regularly being made by wineries with little or no vineyards.  Lastly, many small growers make poor wines.  Good things, it would seem, do not always come in small packages.

This subject came to mind after a tasting I attended last week with the charming Albéric Bichot. The very definition of this hybrid of grower/ négociant, Maison Albert Bichot owns a whopping 100 hectares of vines. Their estates are spread out across the entire region, from Chablis, to Nuits-St-Georges, to Pommard and Mercurey. They also buy significant quantities from growers to meet the demands of their large clientèle world-wide.  I asked Albéric what he thought about this rivalry between small growers and big négociant firms, and he responded with a wry smile and a typically Gallic shrug.  His philosophy is simple: make the best wines possible, and let the quality speak for itself.

His philosophy is simple: make the best wines possible, and let the quality speak for itself.

Albéric took up the reins of the (then) 165 year-old family firm in 1996. Before settling down to the business of managing such a vast empire, it is said that Albéric was a great adventurer, travelling through the wilds of northern Canada and Patagonia.  He dreamed of being an astronaut so the stories go. But after just 5 minutes of hearing him talk about his vines, it is obvious that he is where he is meant to be.  Over the past 20 years, he has worked tirelessly to raise the image of Maison Bichot.  The vineyards are all sustainably or organically farmed, the yields have been sharply reduced and the majority of sourced fruit is now purchased as grapes rather than finished wine. A spokesman for Burgundy in their successful bid to obtain UNESCO world heritage status for their 1247 climats (vineyard parcels), Albéric is passionate about crafting wines that express their terroir and vintage.

The proof is definitely in the glass.  We tasted through a selection of mainly 2012 Chablis and Côte d’Or wines. “Une grande année” (an excellent vintage) according to Albéric, with fantastic ageing potential. The wines were consistently pleasant throughout, showing vibrant fruit, lifted acidity and smooth textures. Stand outs in terms of value and quality included the following:

Maison Bichot “Secret de famille” Chardonnay 2012 – 90pts. PW

Albéric kindly shared the family secret here, which is that the grapes are sourced from just outside the boundaries of top Côte d’Or villages and vinified with all the care given to the crus.  An intriguing nose of spiced apricot with undertones of licorice and subtle minerality. Lifted acidity gives way to a medium bodied, smooth textured mid-palate with a soft, toasty oak finish.  Great value.

Where to Buy: Coming in 2016 to an SAQ near you… (23.95$)

Maison Bichot Chablis 2012 – 87pts PW

Bright lemony fruit. Lively and refreshing with nice depth of flavour through the mid-palate and a lifted, mineral finish.  Fairly simple on the nose, but still very enjoyable for a week day wine.

Where to Buy: SAQ (22.40$)

Domaine Long-Depaguit Chablis Grand Cru “Les Clos” 2010 – 92pts. LW

This 63 hectare estate covers 10% of the total surface areas of Grand Cru vineyards in Chablis. The 2010 “Les Clos” is redolent with sweet, baked apricots, honey, lemon and subtle floral and mineral notes.  Searing acidity leads into a richly textured, juicy core followed by a lingering, toasted finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ Signature (68.00$)

Maison Bichot “Secret de famille” Pinot Noir 2012 – 90pts. PW

As per the white, the red “Secret de Famille” cuvée is a serious step up from your average AOC Bourgogne.  Seductive aromas of strawberry, cherry and violets are underscored by a pleasing earthiness. The tart acidity is balanced by a plush texture, smooth oak and firm, dusty tannins. Like the white, excellent for the price.

Where to Buy: SAQ (22.00$)

Maison Bichot Vosne-Romanée 2012 – 89pts. LW

Slightly closed on the nose, showing black and red berry fruit, rose petals, earthy notes and subtle spice upon aeration. Bracing acidity, showing power and concentration, with firm, ripe tannins and measured use of oak.  A little austere at present. Good potential, needs time to unwind.

Where to Buy: SAQ (67.25$)

Domaine du Clos Frantin Gevrey Chambertin “Les Murots ” 2012 – 93pts. LW

The star of the tasting! This high quality 13-hectare estate counts 8-hectares of Grand and Premier Cru vineyards. Rustic and earthy on the nose, with mixed red berries, soft floral notes and lots of minerality.  This wine really comes alive on the palate with vibrant acidity, bold fruit flavours, a silky texture and pronounced yet smooth tannins. Drinking well now, but will definitely improve with age.

Where to Buy: SAQ (65.25$)

Life

Uninspiring

SAQ Selection Rhône

I buy a lot of wine. A LOT. At the more affordable end of the spectrum, the LCBO tends to beat the SAQ in pricing so I do some shopping there whenever possible. But as I live in Montréal, the majority of my wine is bought at the SAQ. Also, they have a far superior range of French wines (surprise, surprise). So I was very much looking forward to the launch of the SAQ’s new loyality card “Inspire”. Visions of huge cost savings danced in my head. And then, finally, the big day came! I could sign up for my card. I raced to the SAQ website where a big INSPIRE banner ad informed me that “it would be crazy to miss out”. They didn’t have to tell me twice. I am not crazy! So I clicked on the link to find out that I will get a…wait for it…1$ rebate every time I spend 200$. Wow.

Here is the deal as I have understood it: for every 1$ spent, the SAQ awards you 5 points. Once you have accumulated 1000 points, you get a 1$ credit on your card. Granted, this is just the regular, every day deal and does not account for promotions whereby, for limited periods, you can get double points or more if you purchase certain, specified items. A glass half full, we-have-no-other-choice-but-to-shop-at-the-SAQ-so-just-need-to-take-what-we-can-get, type of person would surely tell me to stop complaining. Until now there wasn’t any sort of reward system for spending lots of dough at the liquor store. Comparatively, this is not bad.

So, while I am a little disappointed, I will acquiesce for now and hope that the “Inspire” program does finally live up to its promise. And, to be fair, the cost savings aspect is only one part of the overall concept. Using your card at purchase will allow the SAQ to catalogue your buying patterns and offer you personalized wine suggestions. They also plan to offer contests, events, workshops and all sorts of other fun stuff. I suppose, if I were a gracious sort of person, I would say that this sounds alright. But my stubborn side still thinks that 200$ for a 1$ discount seems a little uninspiring.

Reviews Wines

A Comparative Tasting of Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc Tasting

Summer is drawing to a close. The kids are back in school, and it is time for me to kick my own studies back in to high gear if I want even a microscopic chance of passing my Master of Wine (MW) exams next June. So while most diligent students are hitting the books, I will be hitting the bottle…hard. It is an interesting sight to see a new mother rocking her baby in his bouncy chair while simultaneously blind tasting a flight of wines (cue the boos and hisses on my awesome parenting!). But that is how I will be spending the next 9 months. Each week a new flight, tasted with a fellow MW candidate, and a new tasting article for you lucky folks.

Our journey begins with a comparative tasting of Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley, Bordeaux, New Zealand, Chile and South Africa. This zesty white is generally high in acidity, dry, light bodied, with moderate alcohol; the definition of thirst quenching. Aromas range from citrus, grassy, gooseberry and mineral to more overt tropical notes, stone fruits and blackcurrant buds (the prettier, French description for the aroma Anglophones describe as “cat pee”). With the exception of sweet wines made from botrytised Sémillon/ Sauvignon Blanc blends, Sauvignon Blanc is generally meant to be drunk young (within 2 – 3 years of harvest), while the bright fruit aromas and bracing acidity are at their height.

I first discovered how seriously good Sauvignon Blanc can be on a visit to the Loire Valley, the presumed origin of the grape, shortly after I moved to France ten years ago. The charming, 11th century village of Sancerre is perched on a hilltop looking down on its vineyards and pastures. The streets are lined with signs boasting wine tastings and little cafés where my friends and I ate sharp, earthy Crottin de Chavignol goat cheese, the perfect partner for the local tart, flinty white wine. After an epic, 4-hour tasting with Alphonse Mellot in his labyrinthine cellars, complete with scantily-clad ladies astride model bi-planes strung from the ceiling, I was hooked on Sancerre. Elegant and light bodied, with searing acidity, and delicate citrus, gooseberry and mineral-rich aromatics…impossible not to love. Neighbouring Pouilly Fumé makes a similarly whites, though generally in a richer and broader style.

A school tasting trip to the Graves area South of Bordeaux revealed a totally different style of Sauvignon Blanc to me. First of all because they tend to blend with the Sémillon grape, and secondly due to the often liberal use of French oak. The acidity is still quite striking, but the wines have more body and a subtly creamy, nutty texture. Aromas include lemon, grassy notes, currant bud, all underpinned by the oak flavours.

While France is its historic home, New Zealand claims to be the new king of Sauvignon Blanc. The majority of plantings come from the cool Marlborough vineyard on the South Island. Intense, “in your face” grassy, asparagus and gooseberry aromas dominate here, with riper examples showing lots passion fruit and peach notes. Most wines are unoaked, with racy acidity, light body and moderate alcohol.

Less well known currently, but growing rapidly in reputation are the cooler coastal areas of Chile (especially the Casablanca and the San Antonio Vallys) and South Africa (Western Cape coastal region and Cape South Coast). Both countries produce a range of styles, from lean and crisp to more lush and tropical. Their Sauvignon Blancs are regularly described as being mid-way between the restrained, elegant style of the old world and the overt, heady new world offers. I had the opportunity to taste some fantastically vibrant examples from the Walker Bay area South East of Cape Town when I worked there. The ocean breezes drifting in from the South Atlantic Ocean give a zesty, saline finish to the wines.

For the purposes of this initial overview tasting, I chose classic examples from the following producers (What do VW, PW & LW mean?  Click on my scoring system for the answer):

Domaine Fouassier Sancerre “Les Grands Groux” 2013 – 92pts. PW

Domaine Fouassier farms his vineyard according to organic, and where possible, biodynamic principles. This wine shows excellent Sancerre typicity with elegant aromas of lemon, green apple and white florals hints on the nose. It has bracing acidity, a light body, integrated alcohol and an intriguing chalky minerality on the medium length finish. Very pleasant and balanced. Lacks the concentration and depth of flavour of top Sancerre.

Where to buy: SAQ (26.10$)

Michel Redde “La Moynerie” Pouilly Fumé 2013 – 91pts. PW

The third generation of Redde sons are currently running this 42 hectare estate in Pouilly Fumé. Grapes planted on flint, limestone and marl soils are blended here to create a mineral-laden nose, underpinned with citrus aromas. Vibrant acidity gives way to a rounded, smooth mid-palate. The finish is lifted and mineral. Highly drinkable and good value for the price, though not especially complex.

Where to buy: SAQ (25.75$)

Château Cruzeau Pessac-Léognan 2010 – 89pts. PW

Château Cruzeau is owned by the highly reputed Bordeaux producer, André Lurton. A deeper yellow gold colour is the first indication of the richer, fuller Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc style. Intense currant bud, lemongrass, apple and oak aromas abound. Fresh, juicy acidity marks the palate, with a medium bodied, subtly creamy mid-palate and reasonable oak integration through-out. Short finish.

Where to buy: LCBO (25.25$), SAQ (24.95$)

Babich Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014 – 93pts. LW

Family owned since 1916, this large, award winning estate offers high quality at incredible value. Pale, white gold. Surprisingly elegant; with less of the pungent grassiness of many comparably priced Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs. The nose is refined, with lemon, passionfruit, floral and subtle mineral notes. Lean, with racy acidity, lots of juicy passionfruit and lemon flavours and a soft, rounded finish. At less than 20$, this is a bargain.

Where to buy: LCBO (15.95$), SAQ (19.65$)

Caliterra “Tributo” Sauvignon Blanc (Leyda, Chile) – 85pts. VW

An entry level brand from the owners of leading Chilean winery Errazuriz. Caliterra “Tributo” is a clean, well-made but fairly simple offering, with pungent vegetal, guava and lemon notes on the nose. Crisp and light-bodied, with moderate alcohol. Easy drinking but unexciting for the price.

Where to buy: SAQ (16.95$)

Bouchard-Finlayson Walker Bay Sauvignon Blanc – 88pts. PW

This 25 year old winery sits on an incredible plot of land in the stunning Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven and earth) Valley in the Walker Bay. Their house Sauvignon Blanc is an intensely aromatic offering though the lime, verbena, and grassy notes have a slightly acrid quality to them. More pleasant on the palate; smooth and light bodied with moderate acidity, lots of juicy peach and lime aromas through the finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (22.95$)

Producers Reviews

Producer Profile – Paul-Henry Pellé

Paul-Henry Pellé

Seriously good, seriously affordable Burgundian-influenced Loire Sauvignon Blanc

I met Paul-Henry in 2005 when he was studying viticulture at the Lycée Viticole de Beaune and I was studying international wine commerce at the Beaune campus of the AgroSup Dijon. Amid the giddiness of his wine loving, party oriented crowd, he stood out from the pack. He knew how to let loose, but was just a shade quieter and wiser than the others; a bit of an old soul. We became fast friends; eating and drinking our way through Burgundy, the Loire and later South Africa.

Though he was too humble to brag about it, Paul-Henry stood to inherit a 40 hectare estate in Menetou-Salon; an AOC region in the extreme east of the Loire Valley, near Sancerre. In 2007, when his friends were heading off for overseas harvests and oenology degrees, Paul-Henry set out for home. He was to take up his responsibilities in the vines and the cellar; just 22 years old and already head of the estate. His father had passed away when Paul-Henry was only 10 years old. Since then, his mother had kept up the domaine’s excellent reputation with the help of a top quality hired oenologist, awaiting the next generation’s coming of age. Paul-Henry took up his charge with quiet dignity, rising to the challenge of managing staff who had known him since he was in diapers.

Over the next couple of years, I visited Paul-Henry a number of times for meals at the legendary C’heu l’Zib in Menetou-Salon (a hearty and animated, family-style Berrichon restaurant), for Paul-Henry’s legendary summer Garden Parties and, most importantly, for tastings at the winery. The Domaine Henry Pellé, named for Paul-Henry’s grandfather, is based in the village of Morogues. It is a pretty spot with stone houses and a lovely, old church, surrounded by green meadows, vineyards and forests. The Pelle’s Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir vineyards are dotted through the communes of Morogues, neighbouring Menetou-Salon and Sancerre.

As modest as ever, Paul-Henry would tell you that the poise and complexity of his wines is all due to terroir; Kimmeridgean clay-limestone marl soils made up of vast multitudes of fossilized oyster shells (locally called Terres Blanches). His first act upon returning home was to cut out all pesticides and herbicides, and start nourishing the soil with homegrown composts. His time in Burgundy had convinced him of the importance of working each parcel individually, to achieve a unique expression from each plot.

The same rigour is employed in the winery. Wherever possible grapes move to fermenting tanks by gravity flow and conveyor belts to avoid harsh pumping. Fermentation is temperature controlled in stainless steel and neutral oak vats. The top white cuvées are aged on their lees for added texture, while the top reds see subtle barrel ageing.  The wines are then bottled unfiltered to preserve their aromatic purity. Paul-Henry will tell you that his goal is to craft fresh, lively, balanced wines. But his best wines go so much further. They are elegant and intensely aromatic; an enticing procession of fresh, vibrant attack, creamy mid-palate and lifted, mineral-rich finish.

Sadly, Ontario readers, none are currently sold at the LCBO so you will just have to drive to Québec to stock up:

Domaine Henry Pellé Menetou-Salon Les Bornés 2014 – 89pts. PW

Les bornés means clay soil in the local Berrichon dialect. This easy-drinking white is aged 6 months in stainless steel on fine lees. The 2014 vintage is crisp and refreshing with intense aromas of citrus and quince. Light bodied with a hint of creaminess on the mid-palate and a lifted finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (20.65$)

Domaine Henry Pellé Morogues 2014 – 91pts. PW

A blend of 7 parcels from among the highest altitude slopes of the appellation, this Menetou-Salon is pure and racy, with a refined citrus fruit and white floral nose. More depth and textured than Les Bornes, this cuvee has a subtly saline notes on the palate and a lively, mineral-rich finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (23.35$ for 750mL / 13.55$ for 375mL)

Domaine Henry Pellé Menetou Salon “Les Blanchais” 2013 – 94pts PW

Les Blanchais is a single parcel cuvée from one of Pellé’s top vineyard sites in Menetou-Salon. The clay-limestone marl is interspersed with silex; a complexity of soils that Pellé feels speaks through the wine. The 50 year-old vines lend power and concentration, with intense citrus, grassy, floral and mineral notes on the nose and palate. There is a pleasing fullness to this wine, and a long, layered finish. Still taut, needs a few years’ cellaring or a couple of hours decanting to fully unwind.

Where to buy: SAQ (29.70$)

No Domaine Henry Pellé reds are currently imported, but you can contact the local agent for more information: www.vinsbalthazard.com

Reviews Wines

Around the World in 6 Summer Whites

Cono Sur Winery Bicycles

So, while living in France, surrounded by stunning vineyards and oceans of incredible wine, is fantastic…. The downside is the lack of diversity. Not only can you not find Italian or Spanish wines, it is hard to get wines from other regions of France. My mission since arriving back in Canada has been to taste widely, at all different prices…because I can! Here is a mishmash of what I’ve been drinking this week (don’t worry, I have friends. I didn’t finish all these wines myself).

We start our tour in Australia. D’Arenberg is an excellent winery in the McLaren Vale region of South Australia. They are probably best known for their deliciously juicy Shiraz and Grenache offerings. I was intrigued by this interesting white blend: Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, both known for their light body, bracing acidity and purity of fruit aromas, blended with Marsanne and Roussanne, Rhône varieties that offer elegance and rich, nutty flavour (Marsanne), body and structure (Roussanne).

Over to New Zealand for some….you guessed it…Sauvignon Blanc! No trip to the liquor store in the summer seems complete without coming face to face with a display of Kim Crawford, so I figured I should give it a swirl and see what all the fuss is about. Marlborough is New Zealand largest and best known wine region. The combination of cool nights, hot days, low rainfall and free-draining, moderately fertile soil makes for racy, intense Sauvignon Blanc with exuberant tropical fruit, citrus and grassy profiles.

On to Chile, to taste Cono Sur Viognier. Renowned for their excellent value wines, Cono Sur is also a leading name in sustainability. The Viognier grape becomes notoriously flabby and oily when grown in overly hot climates where acidity levels aren’t high enough to balance the fruit and alcohol. If handled correctly however, Viognier is the poster child for lush, hedonistic whites. At a mere 10$ a bottle, I was curious to see what this wine would offer.

Next up, the Loire Valley in France, with the classic summer seafood wine: Muscadet. La Cave du Coudray “Réserve du Chiron” is a « Sur Lie » style, meaning that the wine has spent time in contact with the dead yeast cells, a process which imparts a rich, creaminess to the wine. Classic Muscadet is lean and dry, with refreshing acidity, lots of minerality and a creamy mid palate.

Italy has become known for their Pinot Grigio whites in recent years. Unfortunately, the popularity of this grape has led to mass production and some fairly neutral, boring wines. Masi, a highly respected Veneto producer, offers an interesting twist with their “Masianco” white by blending in Verduzzo. This little known grape, native to North-Eastern Italy, is fresh, with herbal and honeyed notes. I wanted to see what the Verduzzo would bring to this Pinot Grigio.

Last stop Spain. While Rioja is well-known for its savoury, full bodied reds, the whites generally go unnoticed. And this, despite the fact that until 1975, more white than red was purportedly planted in the region. The El Meson Rioja Blanco is 100% Viura (aka Macabeu in southern France, or Macabeo in the rest of Spain). This grape is often associated with neutral, mass produced wines. However, when not overcropped, and picked early, it can offer crisp, lively wines with great minerality and a pleasing honeyed note.

The verdicts?

What do VW, PW & LW mean?  Click on my scoring system for the answer.

D’Arenberg “The Stump Jump” White 2014 – 85pts. VW

Medium, yellow gold. Intense nose of green apples and citrus with floral and exotic fruit undertones. Fresh and vibrant; just shy of medium bodied with moderate alcohol, a touch of residual sugar and a zesty finish. Easy drinking, yet fails to highlight the individual character of the grapes in the blend.

Grapes: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne

Where to buy: LCBO (14.95$), SAQ (17.35$)

Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014 – 88pts. PW

Pale, straw yellow. Lively and refreshing, with aromas of lime, gooseberry, passionfruit and underlying herbal notes. Dry, light bodied and crisp, with moderate alcohol and a smooth, citrus dominant finish. Very pleasant, but for the price it lacks individuality and complexity.

Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc

Where to buy: LCBO (19.95$), SAQ (21.00$)

Cono Sur “Bicicleta” Viognier 2014 – 90pts. VW

Pale, white gold. Heady aromas of candied peach, tropical fruits and floral notes. Lush, medium bodied with moderate acidity, and juicy fruitiness throughout. A touch of bitterness and heat on the finish but, at this price, still represents killer value.

Grapes: Viognier

Where to buy: LCBO (9.95$)

La Cave du Coudray “Réserve du Chiron” Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2013 – 88pts. VW

Pale, yellow gold. Delicate aromas of citrus and melon with subtle minerality. Dry and balanced, with fresh acidity, a subtle, creamy lees note on the mid-palate and moderate alcohol. Citrus and mineral notes on the finish. Lacking some depth and richness for a Sur Lie offering, but overall worth picking up at bottle at this price.

Grapes: Melon de Bourgogne

Where to buy: LCBO (13.95$)

Masi “Masianco” 2014 – 87pts. VW

Pale, white gold. Delicate floral aromas with undertones of pear and honeydew melon. Crisp, light to medium bodied with a smooth, rounded texture and hint of juicy sweetness on the finish. A versatile wine; easy to pair with light summer fare. Fair value.

Grapes: Pinot Grigio, Verduzzo

Where to buy: LCBO (15.00$), SAQ (16.95$)

El Meson Rioja Blanco 2014 – 90pts. VW

Pale yellow gold. Restrained nose with hints of honeysuckle, lemongrass, peach and grassy notes. Dry, zesty and lean, with lots of juicy peach and citrus, good balance and a lifted, lightly mineral finish. A perfect, aperitif wine for hot summer days. Highly drinkable.

Grapes: Viura

Where to buy: www.wineonline.ca (12.95$)

 

Education

And Now for Something Completely Different

Italian Vineyard

Italy, as you may know, is the largest wine producer in the world. Wine is literally made in every region of the country….a boast regularly made by our American friends….but who was actually tried one of the famed Tempranillos of Texas? And while we might naturally be inclined to praise the Romans for their industry, it was actually the Etruscans and Greeks that started vineyard cultivation here. It is perhaps due to this long history and proud heritage, that the Italians have maintained a rich diversity of indigenous grape varieties. Roughly 350 different grapes have official, recognized status, and there are said to be another 500 or so in production. So while you may know and love Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, or the grapes in Valpolicella blends…how many of you are familiar with Sagrantino, Falanghina or Negroamaro?

At the Italian Wine Trade Commission tasting in Montréal last week, I was fortunate to taste a variety of the weird and wonderful lesser-known Italian grapes and blends. Most of the wines are sadly not imported into Canada yet, so I won’t cite the winemakers. I will however list some of the more interesting grapes and regions that you should look out for. Next time you head to your local store, ask the staff to dig you up one of these to impress your friends (or make them think that you are an obnoxious wine geek):

Whites

Pallagrello Bianco

An obscure grape grown in the Campania region (the front part of the ankle in the Italian boot). It might be a stretch for your average liquor store to find you one of these, but you’ll feel wine savvy asking! This grape is often found in blends; sometimes as a single varietal. On its own, Pallagrello is often likened to Viognier; though styles can vary depending on ripeness and oak treatment. I tried an unoaked, medium bodied example that was fresh and lively, with bright lemon aromas, subtle floral and peach undertones; showing good balance and a clean finish. This is a fairly simple, every day style of wine; perfect for summer aperitifs when you are sick of the same old Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc!

Falanghina

This might be a little more familiar territory for some. It should be fairly easy to find one or two to try in bigger liquor stores. This is also a Campanian grape, sometimes compared with Pinot Grigio, though the best examples show a little more complexity. I sipped my way through a few of these, and found the best ones were medium bodied, with crisp acidity and moderate alcohol. Aromas of apple, citrus blossom dominated, with lovely spice and mineral touches and the characteristic Italian bitter almond note on the finish. Current SAQ & LCBO prices tend to range from 15 – 20$.

Arneis

This grape is grown in the Piedmont region, home to the celebrated Barolo and Barbaresco reds. It is most commonly found in DOCG Roero and DOCG/ DOC Langhe white wines. Arneis means “little rascal” in the Piemontese dialect and was so named due to its pesky tendency to become over-ripe and lacking in acidity. When well-made, it is a dry, vibrant white with the example I tasted showing moderate acidity, pretty floral, honeyed and nutty aromas, medium body, a smooth texture and a pleasant grassy note. From lighter to more full bodied, complex styles, current LCBO & SAQ prices range from 15 – 30$.

Vernaccia

Most famously cultivated in the DOCG Vernaccia di San Gimignano wines of Tuscany. Many styles exist from simple, unoaked, every day wines made to be drunk soon after harvest, to more complex, layered examples that some consider the best expression of top Italian white wines. When at their pinnacle, they are full-bodied, distinctive wines with intense floral, mineral and earthy aromas. Rounded and suave on the palate; they often show a mineral edge and a touch of that aforementioned bitterness on the finish.

Reds:

Negroamaro

This is a bit of a different beast; not necessarily for you if you like smooth, fruity wines but worth a swig for those that like their reds dry and earthy. The grape hails from hot, sunny Puglia (the heel to Italy’s boot), notably the Salento area. The name literally means black and bitter, which is an apt description. These rustic wines are generally deep garnet in colour, with a perfumed dried floral and blueberry bouquet, and underlying earthiness. They are medium to full bodied, with a firm structure, grippy tannins and a sometimes bitter, herbal edged finish. They range in price from entry level offerings at 10$ to premium, cellar-worthy wines at 80$.

Montepulciano

After Sangiovese, Montepulciano is the most widely planted red grape in Italy; cultivated in 20 of Italy’s 95 provinces. The most well-known examples come from the DOCG and DOC appellations of Abruzzo (calf of the boot). Confusingly, the highly reputed Tuscan DOCG Vino Nobile di Montepulciano does not actually contain this grape, but is made primarily from Sangiovese. Montepulciano offers fantastic value at both ends of the spectrum. The examples tasted were deep, garnet in colour with moderate acidity, smooth texture and firm, rounded tannins. They ranged in style from soft and plummy, with tart cherry notes to more concentrated, dense wines with an aromatic array of black fruits, floral notes, spice and a hint of leather. A huge range of pricing is on offer, from 10$ pizza pairings to 100$ decanter worthy wines.

Sagrantino

This is a fairly uncommon grape, mainly grown around the village of Montefalco in Umbria (just south of Tuscany). The best expressions come from the DOCG Sagrantino di Montefalco. This appellation requires a minimum of 30 months ageing (12 months in oak) before release. These rich, full-bodied reds are dark and brooding, with intense red fruit aromas; underlaid with cherry, dark chocolate and herbal notes. High in alcohol, with a velvetty texture and firm, chewy tannins; these are robust and age worthy wines in need of equally full flavoured food pairings. A sweet, passito version is also made in very small quantities. Here the grapes are left to shrivel in the wine under protective ceilings for a 2-month period to produce rich, sappy wines with kirsch and cedar notes. Pick one up for 20$ – 80$.

Aglianico

According to French oenologist Denis Dubourdieu, Aglianico is potentially the oldest wine grape consumed in history. Its origins are Greek; the root of the name is thought to come from the latin for “Greek Vine”. It is grown in the Basilicata and Campania regions of southern Italy, with each province boasting a DOCG: Aglianico del Vulture and Taurasi respectively. The wines are dry, with moderate to crisp acidity, full body and robust tannins. Intriguing aromas of black berries, plum, smoke, cacao and musk abound on the most lauded examples. More entry level offerings are equally pleasant, though simpler, with a lighter bodied profile, and softer red berry notes. Current SAQ & LCBO offerings range from 15$ – 70$.