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Six Soulful, Sustainable Alsace Wines to Seek Out

Alsace Wines

Photo: Céline & Isabelle Meyer of Domaine Josmeyer, credit to www.vivant.eco

Alsace wines have always stood out among French AOC regions, in both a literal and figurative sense. The Vosges Mountains act as a physical barrier separating the region’s vineyards from surrounding areas. Furthermore, Alsace maintains strong Germanic influences. This is evident in many of the region’s tongue-twisting place names.

The style of Alsace wines is distinctive. Driven by grape variety long before other French regions adopted the policy, Alsace was long characterized by its broad, aromatic, off-dry to sweet white wines. While these traits still hold true for many wineries, a move to drier, more terroir-focused wines has gained global attention over the past few decades.

The region has also drawn praise for its early and widescale adoption of sustainable viticultural practices. Alsace is a leading European wine region when it comes to organic and biodynamic viticulture. In fact, it was here that the first biodynamic winery in France gained Demeter accreditation, back in 1980.

Terroir Diversity in Alsace Wines

Alsace enjoys a warm, semi-continental climate. The Vosges Mountains block wet weather, making the region one of the sunniest and driest vineyard areas of France.

While grape variety is an important part of Alsace’s regional identity, the expression of each grape differs greatly from one site to another. The vineyards of Alsace line the lower slopes of the Vosges Mountaines at 200 to 400 metres above sea level.

The geology of the region is incredibly diverse, with rock formations spanning the primary to quaternary era. Soil composition also varies widely. According to local experts, areas just 100 metres apart often reveal significant differences in soil makeup. Granite, chalk, marlstone, sandstone, loam, alluvial and even volcanic soils are found here.

Alsace Wines Updated AOC Hierarchy

Until recently, Alsace wines had a simple AOC hierarchy, similar to that of Chablis. It consisted of three appellations: Alsace, Crémant d’Alsace, and Alsace Grand Cru. Within the Grand Cru level, certain individual sites could append their name to labels. However, in 2011 these 51 vineyard lieux-dits (plots) were granted individual AOC status.

Changes were also made to the region-wide Alsace AOC. Since 2011, wines meeting reglemented quality, origin, varietal, and style criteria can also label themselves with 14 defined commune names, or a list of specific lieu-dits. In the latter case, production rules are far stricter. These include limits on pruning crop loads, yield levels, obligatory hand harvesting for Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, and higher minimum sugar levels at harvest.

Alsace Wines: Tradition, Family, and Innovation

I recently received a trio of Alsace wines, whose common theme (according to Vins d’Alsace) is “un vignoble à taille humaine”. The idea was to highlight the region’s long production history and predominance of family-run establishments passed down through the generations.

The end goal was to show dualism that exists in Alsace wines. Traditional family values sit alongside a dynamic, forward-thinking mindset where sustainability is a primary viticultural concern, and efforts to highlight prime terroirs are ever present.

The Alsace wines tasted, plus a few more received from various local agents, were all well-made, expressive examples of the Alsace AOC category. They are a testament to the value on offer in Alsace and serve as an accessible starting point, whetting the appetite for the best of the region’s Grand Cru lieux-dits.

Domaine Loew Sylvaner “Verité” Alsace 2019 – 92pts. PW

This biodynamic estate holds an impressive double certification, from both Demeter and Biodyvin. Etienne Loew and his team focus on site specific, small batches of wine produced with natural yeasts, following a low intervention approach.

The Sylvaner grape is notorious for its insipid wines, notably when overcropped. Not so here! Incisive aromas of lemon zest and citronella flood the senses, underscored by hints of flint and white pepper. Initially light on the palate, with laser-like acidity. The mid-palate broadens to reveal a concentrated, off-dry core of lemon, orchard fruit, and wet stone, carried to the finish on a smooth, textural base. Great balance between subtle fruity sweetness and zippy freshness.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($26.95)

Domaine Barmès-Buecher “Trilogie” Alsace 2019 – 88pts. PW

Geneviève Barmès (née Buecher) and husband François Barmès united their families’ historic vineyard holdings to establish Domaine Barmès-Buecher. The estate is located in Wettolsheim, a stone’s throw from Colmar. Certified biodynamic since 2001, the domaine has holdings in a handful of prime Grand Cru sites, where old vines reign.

The “Trilogie” cuvée is a blend of predominantly Riesling, Pinot Blanc, and Gewürztraminer. Highly aromatic, with aromas of lychee, pineapple, and honeysuckle on the nose. The palate is fresh, ample, and rounded with hints of yellow apple on the dry finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($21.85)

Trimbach Riesling Alsace 2017 – 89pts. PW

The Trimbach family has been a driving force in Alsatian wine since 1626. The estate spans 50 vineyard parcels in six villages, including Bergheim, Ribeauvillé and Hunawihr. Chemical pesticides and herbicides were banned at the domaine back in 1972. Trimbach was also one of the first in the region to adopt integrated pest management schemes.

Classic notes of kerosene come to the fore on this 2017 Riesling. With aeration, the nose reveals undertones of white blossoms, apple, and musky nuances. Steely in acidity and structure, with a linear palate profile, and dry, zesty finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($23.90)

Josmeyer Alsace Riesling “Le Kottabe” 2018 – 94pts. PW

Céline and Isabelle Meyer are the fifth generation at the helm of this highly regarded 24-hectare estate. Josmeyer’s production has been certified organic and biodynamic since 2004. Proprietors of several excellent regional lieux-dits and Grand Cru sites, the Meyer’s vinify their wines with wild yeasts and age them in centuries-old oak casks.

Year after year, the “Le Kottabe” Riesling is always compelling. Initially discreet, the nose opens to reveal a heady aromatic array of flint, raw honey, apricot, and quince, underscored by hints of petrol and undergrowth. The palate has a wonderful sense of focused energy, with its crisp acidity, vibrant fruity flavours, light body, and refreshing bitterness. Finishes dry, with lingering tangy fruit.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($33.00)

Vignoble du Reveur “Vibrations” Alsace 2019 – 91pts. PW

Le Vignoble du Reveur is the passion project of Mathieu Deiss, great grandson of Marcel Deiss. This small seven-hectare estate located in Bennwihr, Alsace is famed biodynamically. Wines are made with mininal intervention (natural yeast and a drop of sulphur at bottling).

The “Vibrations” cuvée is a dry (5g/L RS) Riesling, aged for one year on its fine lees. Electric notes of lime zest, lemongrass, and wet stone grace the nose. Initially racy and taut, the palate quickly develops more generous proportions. The lively core of ripe lemon, peach, and hints of mango tapers to a pleasantly rounded, juicy finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($24.35)

Marcel Deiss Pinot Noir Alsace 2018 – 89pts. PW

Regularly hailed among the top estates of Alsace, Domaine Marcel Deiss is a 32-hectare biodynamic estate situated in Bergheim. Passionate about protecting the rich biodiversity of his vineyards, Jean-Michel Deiss is an ardent proponent of co-plantation. This traditional method of Alsatian viticulture consists of planting multiple grape varieties on single vineyard sites, a practice currently not authorized in Grand Cru plots.

Marcel Deiss’ Alsace Pinot Noir is a testament to the hot 2018 vintage. Fragrant aromas of macerated red cherry dominate the nose, underscored by incense, nutmeg, and dried rose petals. The medium weight palate is broad in structure, with velvety tannins, and a dry, faintly warming finish. Best served chilled to 16c.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($33.50)

*** This Alsace wines article is modified from a piece originally written for SOMM360  Want to learn more about wine & spirits? Check out their excellent learning platform for articles, audio capsules, and loads of fun quizzes to test your knowledge. ***

Reviews

THE ENCHANTING WINES OF ALSACE

NIEDERMORSCHWIHR - ALSACE
Photo credit: www.vinsalsace.com

Have you ever seen one of those magical store window displays before Christmas, where all the brightly coloured houses look straight out of a fairytale? Cobblestone streets wind this way and that, and rolling hills surround the quaint little village. A gentle dusting of snow clings to the rooftops. Pressing your nose up against the glass, you wish you could step into the enchanting tableau.

Well you can.

Just head to Alsace and wander down the streets of any number of the charming towns, like Eguisheim or Riquewihr. You may find yourself half expecting to see Hansel and Gretel pop out of a doorway, fleeing from the witch’s oven.

While pretty gingerbread houses might be all the incentive you need to make the trip, there are a number of other attractive features to this historic region of northeast France. The one that interests me most, of course, is the wine.

While pretty gingerbread houses might be all the incentive you need to make the trip, there are a number of other attractive features to this historic region of northeast France.

Winemaking has a long and storied past in Alsace. Wild grapes have grown in the area since long before man appeared on the scene. Evidence of cultivated vineyards and wine production date back to Roman times.

While it may seem surprising that viticulture was established so early in such a northerly location, the region is in fact ideally suited for grape growing. The Vosges mountains to the west act as a protective barrier, sheltering the area from prevailing rain-bearing winds. As a result, Alsace is actually one of the driest, sunniest parts of France. It is the smallest wine region of France, sandwiched between the Vosges and the Rhîne river to the east. The automn season is long and warm. This is perfect for the late ripening grape varieties that are so prized here.

The vineyards line the foothills of the Vosges at altitudes of 200 to 400 metres. The best sites are oriented south or southeast maximizing sun exposure.  The geology of the region is incredibly diverse, with rock formations spanning all periods from the primary to quaternary era. Soil composition also varies widely. According to experts, areas just 100 metres apart often have significant differences in soil makeup. Granite, chalk, marlstone, sandstone, loam, alluvial and even volcanic soils can be found here.

The geology of the region is incredibly diverse, with rock formations spanning all periods from the primary to quaternary era. Soil composition also varies widely.

This explains the wealth of grape varieties that grow so well here. While most other northern vineyards focus on just a handful of cool climate grapes, Alsace boasts a great number of single varieties and blended wines. The four most important of which, dubbed the “noble grapes” are: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Muscat. While white wines dominate, some very pleasant Pinot Noir is also made here, in an earthy, spiced, light-bodied style.

The appellation system of Alsace is quite straightforward. Still and sweet wines are either labelled Alsace AOC or Alsace Grand Cru AOC. There are currently 51 vineyards deemed to have superior terroir, meriting Grand Cru status. Only the noble grapes can be planted in these vineyards.

Alsace is also a well regarded producer of sparkling white wine, under the AOC Crémant d’Alsace. These bubblies are generally blends of several different white grape varieties, produced in much the same way as Champagne, though generally with a shorter ageing period. The wines are often quite fruity, medium bodied and rounded.

The wines showed incredible complexity, pure fruit flavours, attractive minerality and beautiful depth.

While exquisite Vendanges Tardives (late harvest) and Séléction de Grains Nobles (botrytised) dessert wines can be found here, the preconcieved notion that Alsatian wines are all sweet, is in fact wrong! The decision to ferment dry or leave some residual sugar tends to be based on grape, and on the producers individual style. Many winemakers have come up with sweetness scales on their back labels or started stating sec (dry) to indicate drier styles. The majority of the region’s most celebrated grape, Riesling, is made bone dry.

I had the great pleasure of attending a Vins d’Alsace tasting a couple of weeks back. The impression that remained after tasting through a wide range of wines, was one of outstanding value. When one ventures above the entry level offerings, into the 20$ to 50$ range, the wines showed incredible complexity, pure fruit flavours, attractive minerality and beautiful depth. The racy acidity of the Rieslings and firm structure guarantees long term ageing potential.

While 20$ plus might seem a little pricey for white wine, just consider that for comparable quality you would easily be paying double to triple for Burgundy, Bordeaux or premium New World whites.

Here are a few recommendations; wines that impressed me during the tasting.

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Photo credit: www.saq.com

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

Domaine Barmès Buecher Crémant d’Alsace 2013 – 87pts. PW

Lively, attractive nose featuring hints of lemon verbena, citrus, green apple and a subtle leesy note. Crisp acidity gives way to sweet honeyed, floral notes on the broad palate. Firm, persistent bubbles abound. Brut dosage.

Where to buy: SAQ (26.35$)

Trimbach Riesling 2013 – 89pts. PW

Pale straw in colour. Somewhat restrained, with savoury, earthy notes lending complexity to green apple and lemon scented nose. Racy acidity thrills on the dry, light bodied palate, with bright juicy fruit bringing depth to the mid-palate. The moderately long finish offers stony minerality and bright, lemon flavours.

Where to buy: SAQ (23.75), LCBO (23.95$)

Josmeyer Riesling “Le Kottabe” 2013 – 92pts. PW

Pale straw in colour. Elegant aromas of red apple, grapefruit and white flowers, with underlying earthiness and stony minerality. Very clean and precise on the bone dry palate, with a rounded structure and high concentration of citrus and orchard fruits that lingers nicely. A touch of grapefruit zest brings an intriguing hint of bitterness to the finish, adding to its appeal for food pairings.

Where to buy: SAQ (31.75)

Domaine Ostertag Riesling “Heissenberg” 2014 – 92pts. PW

Pale gold in colour. Heady aromas of spice, yellow apples and pronounced minerality on the nose. The palate is rich, broad and rounded, with exceptional depth of vibrant stone fruit flavours. Just a touch of residual sugar brings balance to the fresh, lemony acidity. The finish is long and layered, with ever so slightly warming, 13.5% alcohol.

Where to buy: SAQ (44.25$)

Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru “Saering” 2012 – 94pts. PW

This Grand Cru represents fantastic value! Intense, highly complex aromas of petrol, red apple, stony minerality and ripe apricots. Subtle spiced and floral notes develop upon aeration. Racy acidity is beautifully balanced by the rich, broad texture and bright, juicy fruit. The long finish is dry, with lingering stone fruits and mineral notes.

Where to buy: SAQ (33.00$)

Josmeyer “Mise de Printemps” Pinot Blanc 2015 – 90pts. PW

Pale lemon in colour. Fragrant aromas of white pear, melon, lemon curd and subtle floral notes feature on the nose. The medium weight palate is very fresh, rounded and easy drinking with bright, orchard fruit flavours. Quite dry, with a moderately long, fruity finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (22.90$)

Domaine Ostertag Pinot Gris “Barriques” 2013 – 89pts. PW

Pale gold, flecked with green. Somewhat restrained, yet complex smoky, mineral, earthy nose, with underlying green apple and grapefruit notes. The palate is clean, precise and light bodied with fresh acidity and moderate concentration of citrus and apples. Smoky notes linger on the moderately long finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (33.00$)

Preiss-Zimmer “Réserve Personnelle” Pinot Gris 2015 – 88pts. PW

Lively ripe pear, yellow apple and baking spice, with subtle smoky minerality. Medium bodied, with zesty acidity and juicy peach flavours. The mouthfeel is rich and smooth, with moderate viscosity. The balance between freshness and sweet finish is perfectly pitched.

Where to buy: SAQ (24.25$)

 

 

Education

Snapshots from the 2021 French Wine Harvest: Frost, Hail, & Relentless Rain

2021 French Wine Harvest

It was supposed to be a hot, dry summer in France. The sort of growing season that makes the arduous task of grape growing worthwhile. A boon after a hard winter of Covid-related lost revenues and confinement. A promising 2021 French wine harvest.

But the long-range weather forecasts were wrong.

The season started off on a terrible note the week of April 5th. Brutal frosts ravaged vineyards across the country, from the Southern Rhône to Chablis. Since then, conditions have gone from bad to much, much worse.

Hail. Tornadoes. Flooding. Cold, wet weather. Rampant attacks of downy and powdery mildew. The reality of the 2021 French wine harvest is being described by the local wine trade as nothing short of un cauchemar. A nightmare.

The latest reports from the French Agricultural Ministry’s statistics department suggest that the 2021 French wine harvest will be down 24 – 30% (vs. 2020). The situation is being called a national disaster, with 2021 drawing comparisons to the notoriously poor 1977 season.

In Vouvray, hailstones the size of eggs fell in a devastating, 3-minute storm on June 3rdAt Domaine des Cormiers Roux, losses were estimated at 95%. And the terrible irony is that the vineyards that incurred the worst hail damage were those spared by the April frosts.

Throughout the month of June, brief yet violent hailstorms caused damage in vineyards as far flung as the Minervois, Ardèche, the Côte d’Or, and the list goes on.

And while July brought drought, hydric stress and withered, yellowing leaves in Provençal vineyards, the rest of France was plunged into a dreaded Goutte Froide. This meteorological phenomenon occurs when high-altitude cold air masses collide with warmer temperatures on the ground. The result is unseasonably cool weather and heavy rains.

Much of Western Europe was impacted, with devastating floods in the Ahr wine region of Germany. While the floods weren’t quite so dramatic or deadly in France, the vineyard impacts were acute in certain areas. In the Château-Chalon appellation of the Jura, the force of the downpours caused massive soil erosion ripping out huge swathes of terraced vineyards.

What’s more, the sheer relentlessness of the July rains has led to a far larger problem for French grape growers. Virulent attacks of downy mildew have stripped vineyards bare, with the threat of powdery mildew and grey rot on the horizon.

The Vallée de la Marne and parts of L’Aube in Champagne are hard hit, with growers ready to forgo the 2021 harvest all together. Between the frost and the fungal pressure, “we’ve lost more than half of the harvest,” said Maxime Toubart, Deputy Chairman of the Champagne industry lobby CIVC, in a recent Reuters interview.

In southern Alsace, mildew, grey, and brown rot are running rampant. Biodynamic producer Domaine François Schmitt detailed the results of the exceptionally heavy rainfalls in July. He described the heartbreak of “withered foliage, covered in large brown spots and dried out bunches with just a few grapes”. He compared it to conditions not seen since the 1920s.

Organic viticulture is rising steadily in France. According to France’s major organic wine trade fair, Millésime Bio, the number of certified organic wineries grew by 20% from 2018 to 2019, and the surface area of organically farmed vineyards expanded by 23%. And this is not counting the large contingent of non-certified organic practioners, and holders of exacting sustainability certifications like Terra Vitis and Haute Valeur Environmentale (HVE).

But while the will to eradicate chemical vineyard treatments is increasingly strong in France, one has to wonder how the 2021 French grape harvest will impact this organic trajectory? I have heard more than one tale of growers, either pondering or, undergoing organic conversion, who shelved their plans in a desperate attempt to save their harvests.

Faced with water-logged soils rendering vineyards impenetrable, with incessant rains, and the worst mildew ravages in decades, farming without chemical fungicides is a heroic commitment. One to be applauded, but also a decision not to be taken lightly.

As I write, from my home away from home in the Auvergne, August is off to a timid start. Each day brings rainy spells, with the sun making rare guest appearances among the heavy clouds. I would check the long-term forecast, but that hasn’t proved to be much use. It is time to pray to the weather gods for dry days to come, abundant sunshine, and a more hopeful end to this downtrodden vintage.

*** This 2021 French Wine Harvest article was originally written for Good Food Revolution. Want to learn more about artisanal food, wine, beer and spirits.? Check out their excellent website. ***

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WEEK-END WINE RECOMMENDATIONS

week-end wine recommendations
Photo credit: giselaatje (souce: Pixabay)

December is upon us and, here in Québec, the mood is a little bleak. Covid cases are soaring. The government has reversed their decision to allow a confinement break over Christmas and all the usual seasonal events are cancelled. In light of this, week-end wine recommendations are definitely in order.

Even if the holiday spirit seems to have left the building, the smell of a good meal simmering on the stove and the sound of a cork popping can usually lift even the darkest fog. We may be toasting virtually this year, but let’s at least make sure the wine is good.

Drinking less, but better is definitely my mantra these days. As the grey hairs have started to appear (with alarming frequency), I find that I don’t have the tolerance I once had. And there is nothing worse than being confined to your house with two small children and a raging head-ache.

Though I still cringe a little inwardly at words like “mindfulness”, I do find it a useful ideal for wine tasting. You would be amazed at how much more enjoyment you can get from your glass of wine if you take a minute to concentrate fully on its aromas, its flavours, and how it feels on your palate.

Perhaps the lack of chatter from boisterous guests, or rushing around preparing elaborate meals, will allow us the time to really savour our wine, properly listen to a great piece of music, or immerse ourselves in a great book? Or maybe this is just cold comfort…

Either way, a nice glass of wine can’t hurt! So, with that in mind: week-end wine recommendations a plenty. There seems to be a decidedly Western European theme to the samples I have been receiving lately, so the below list is all France, Italy, and Spain.

(What do VW, PW and LW mean?  Click on my wine scoring system to decode the scores for these week-end wine recommendations):

Best to Sip while Cooking

Alain Jaume Grand Veneur Côtes du Rhône white 2019 (Rhône Valley, France) – 87pts. VW

The 50% Viognier in this white Rhône blend is evident on the fragrant, floral nose, with underlying apricot aromas. The palate is juicy and smooth, with notes of red apple and spice. Finishes soft and marginally warming but overall a pleasant, easy-drinking wine.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($18.85)

Best for Soft Cheeses

Albert Mann Auxerrois Vieilles Vignes 2018 (Alsace, France) – 89 pts. PW

Auxerrois (aka Pinot d’Auxerrois) is grown widely in Alsace yet might not be as familiar to wine lovers, as it is often used in the region’s still and sparkling wine blends.  Initially quite discreet on the nose, with hints of yellow apple, pear, honey developing after a little time in the glass. This shy white wine comes alive on the palate, where its fresh, textural, plump character reveals earthy nuances and tangy yellow fruit flavours. Finishes with a well balanced touch of sweetness.

Its soft, unassuming flavour profile and subtle sweetness should marry well with brie or other similar such neutral, creamy cheeses.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($26.60)

Best for Mild, Savoury Dishes

Chateau Fourcas Hosten “La Grande Demoiselle d’Hosten” Listrac-Médoc 2010 (Bordeaux, France) – 89pts. PW

It is rare to find mature, older vintages – like this 2010 Listrac – at the SAQ, so this definitely caught my attention. I would have expected more concentration from such a powerful vintage. However, what “La Grande Demoiselle d’Hosten” lacks in body, is made up for with its restrained, yet appealing cassis, dried red berries, and earthy flavours, silky texture, and soft, powdery tannins. Serve with mild, earthy flavours so as not to overwhelm this delicate lady.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($30.75)

Château Raz Caman Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux 2016 (Bordeaux, France) – 90pts. PW

This is a great example of how approachable (and affordable) Bordeaux wines can be from a good producer and vintage. Attractive aromas of black plum, raspberry, earth, and hints of cedar on the nose. The palate is medium in body, with a smooth, polished texture, and modest concentration of dark fruit. Finishes bright and fresh, with subtle spiced hints. Drinking well now.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($20.50)

Best for Braised Short Ribs

Bodegas Piqueras “VS” Almansa 2015  (Castilla-la-Mancha, Spain) – 88pts. PW

If you like bold reds with rich, fruity flavours, this one is for you! Deep ruby in colour, with potent blueberry jam, violet, and toasty spiced aromas. The palate is full-bodied and velvety smooth. Intense red and black berry fruit flavours, mingle with hints of tobacco leaf and dark chocolate on the finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($25.95)

Best for Hedonists Looking to Splurge

Arcanum “Valadorna” Toscana 2013 (Tuscany, Italy) – 93pts. LW

Deep garnet in colour, with a complex nose of ultra-ripe dark plum, black cherry, and fig aromas underscored by hints of smoke, dried herbs, and mint. The palate is dense and powerfully structured yet pleasantly fresh, with firm, chalky tannins. Finishes dry, with persistent sweet and savoury flavours. Would benefit from 3 – 4 years’ additional cellaring for the cedar/spice oak flavours to fully integrate and the tannins to soften further. Otherwise, decant a full hour before serving. A wine in keeping with the excellent Tuscan 2013 vintage.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($94.75)

 

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SIX WINES FOR THE WEEK-END

SIX WINES FOR THE WEEK-END!

The week-end is here, and yes, you may be thinking to yourself…meh, week day, week-end, what difference does it make? Wine. Wine is the difference. We can’t go out to restaurants at the moment, so why not splurge on a nicer bottle of wine and make a complicated recipe from that cookbook gathering dust in your kitchen cabinet?

I have been tasting up a storm over the past few weeks, traveling via my wine glass. I visited the Russian River Valley with the wines of Gary Farrell. I toured top tier vineyard sites of the Penedès and Priorat with Familia Torres’ Antologia range. I strolled through the gravelly flat lands of the Médoc, stopping at each of its eight appellations. And I spent a happy morning exploring Chablis, the Côte d’Or, and Côte Chalonnaise, while tasting Burgundy En Primeur 2019 wines. Those latter two articles should be out next week.

In the meanwhile, assorted samples have been gathering dust on my desk, my floor, my wine rack, etc. Their accusing looks from across the room finally wore me down, so this morning I gathered them up and grabbed a glass. Without further ado, here are six wines for the week-end – a selection of my top picks from the tasting.

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

Best for Brunch

Ponte G Pinot Grigo delle Venezie, Vino Spumante Brut (Veneto, Italy) – 87pts. VW

Pleasant aromas of white pear, apple, and hints of spice on the nose. The palate is medium in body, with smooth, rounded bubbles, fresh, stone fruit flavours, and a subtly fruity, brut finish. Similar to a Prosecco, with a bit more body, and less frothy bubbles.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($16.75)

Best for Spicy Asian Dishes

Albert Mann Gewürztraminer 2018 (Alsace, France) – 90 pts. PW

If not carefully managed, Gewürztraminer can become a little flabby, soft, and overly sweet on the palate. The organically-farmed Albert Mann 2018 is a testament to how fine it can be in skillful hands. Nuanced aromas of white blossoms, lychee, spice, and apricots feature on the nose. The palate is wonderfully silky and layered, with a lifted, fresh finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($34.25)

Best for Roasted Fowl & Mellow Earthy Flavours

La Grange Tiphaine Clef de Sol Montlouis-sur-Loire 2018 (Loire Valley, France) – 94pts. PW

I almost swooned when I tasted this white. It just checks all the boxes for me. This nose has classic Loire Chenin Blanc aromas (red apple, raw honey, nutmeg, and earthy nuances) that gain in intensity and depth with aeration. The palate is full-bodied and boldly flavoured with tangy, yet honeyed orchard fruit overlying savoury hints. Crisp acidity brings lift and vibrancy, while a subtly creamy, layered mid-palate gives huge textural appeal. Decant one hour before serving.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($37.00)

Best for Gourmet Pizza

Head High Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2018 (California, USA) – 90pts. PW

Vivid aromas of red cherry, pomegranate, and mixed spice on the nose. The palate is true to its origin, marrying mouth watering acidity with a plush texture and ripe red fruit flavours. Finishes smooth and fresh, with delicate green herbal nuances. Great value for the price.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($24.95)

Best for Bold Flavoured, Mildly Spiced Meals

Valley of the Moon “Cuvée de la Luna” 2014 (California, USA) – 89pts. PW

An interesting blend of 44% Zinfandel, 21% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Sangiovese. The nose is perfumed with ripe blackberry, candied cherry, and milk chocolate aromas. Full-bodied and velvety smooth on the palate, with fresh acidity giving vibrancy to the blue and black fruit flavours. Finishes with subtle sweet tobacco and spicy oak nuances.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($27.40)

Best for Refined French Cuisine & for the Cellar

Château La Tour de By Médoc 2016 (Bordeaux, France) – 92pts. PW

Another exceptional value that drinks way above its humble appellation and mid $20 price point. The 2016 vintage is excellent throughout Bordeaux, with lots of great finds at affordable prices. The sustainably-farmed Château La Tour de By offers attractive red currant, plum, red pepper, and cedar hints on the nose. The palate is brisk and tightly knit, with vibrant red and black fruit flavours mingling with earthy undertones. The tannins are firm, yet fine-grained and elegant. Will cellar well over the next four to six years. Decant an hour before serving.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($26.50)

Education Reviews Wines

A WINE TASTER’S SENSE OF SMELL

wine tasters sense of smell

A wine taster’s sense of smell is their most vital faculty. I remember reading once that Robert Parker’s nose was insured to the tune of one million dollars. Fan or not, it is hard to deny the global influence Parker wielded as a wine critic from the late 1990s to early 2010s. His livelihood was contingent on an acute sense of smell; any lasting impairment of which would have very likely ended his career.

As one of the main symptoms of COVID-19, anosmia, the loss of smell, has been on my mind a lot these past months. Research conducted by Harvard Medical School suggests that permanent olfactory damage due to COVID-19 is unlikely, and that most sufferers fully regain their sense of smell within weeks of being struck ‘smell blind’.

Be this as it may, I can’t help but shudder every time I hear a story about ‘so and so’s cousin’ or ‘a friend of a friend’ that still hasn’t recovered their sense of smell months after recovering from the virus. I think about all of my colleagues in the world of wine, food, perfume, and so on who rely so wholly on their nose to perform their job. I also worry, from a purely selfish standpoint, about losing the pure pleasure of eating and drinking; two of my most beloved activities.

The Link Between Smell & Flavour

“All of what you consider flavor is smell. When you are eating, all the beautiful, complicated flavors … they are all smell.” – Venkatesh Murthy, Department Chair, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University (article link)

Our ability to taste is directly linked to our sense of smell. If our olfactory abilities are impaired, we can’t taste flavour correctly. Strictly speaking, taste refers to the primary sensations which our taste buds can identify; namely sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami.

In order for flavour to develop on the palate, molecules of our food or beverage travel to the nasal cavity (via a passage that connects the nose to the back of the throat). Signals are then sent to the brain that transform these basic tastes into flavours.

How Smell Triggers Memory

The processing of smell is related to the area of the brain called the limbic system, which deals with emotion and with memory. When a scent is perceived, connections are made by the brain relating the odour to the feelings or events the person is experiencing. According to olfactory branding expert, Dawn Goldworm, smell is the only sense that is fully developed in-vitro and is the most powerful of the five senses in children (article link).

This facet of my work, plunging my nose into a glass of wine and being suddenly overtaken by a rush of nostalgia or an inexplicable feeling of quiet contentment, this is why I find wine so endlessly fascinating. The sense of joy that a great bottle of wine provides me is what spurred me on for five long years of Masters of Wine (MW) study. To have it suddenly vanish is an unimaginable.

Retraining the Nose

When I was preparing for the MW tasting exams, I found myself unconsciously training my nose throughout the day. I literally did stop and smell the roses each time I walked the dog. I nosed the coffee grounds as I filled the bodum. I sniffed the cumin and pepper jars while preparing dinner.

A common after-effect of anosmia, in those that recover any sensation, is a range of smell distortions – from finding once enjoyed smells abhorrent to perceiving certain smells differently. Various therapies exist to help the ‘smell challenged’ regain their olfactory abilities. The most popular method is simply to re-train the nose through repetitive smelling.

A sense of relief overcomes me each time the aromas waft out of my evening glass of wine. The thought of losing, and labouring to regain, these precious scents fills me with dread. Put more positively, it makes me appreciate my nose more than ever.

While I doubt my sense of smell will ever merit a one million dollar insurance policy, it is worth immeasurable riches to me.

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Here are a trio of recently tasted, aromatic wines. If you can’t smell these fragrant beauties, a Covid-19 test might be in order!

Granbazan Etiqueta Verde Rias Baixas 2018

One of my favourite Albariño  currently on offer in Québec. Really juicy white peach, lemon zest, and grapefruit flavours on the palate, heightened by mouthwatering acidity, a rounded, textural palate and a hint of refreshing, pithy bitterness on the finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (19.60$)

Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc 2019, Marlbough, New Zealand

Textbook Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with exuberant notes of gooseberry, passion fruit, guava and fresh cut grass on the nose. Mouthwatering acidity cuts across the lightweight palate providing definition to the clean, citrussy flavours and lifting the medium length finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (21.40$)

Domaine Marcel Deiss Complantation 2018, Alsace, France

The cuvée name ‘Complantation’ refers to a traditional viticultural practice of growing a variety of different grapes within the same vineyard plot. This blend of thirteen different Alsatian grapes is so vibrant it hums. Notes of lemon, wet stone, marzipan and macerated yellow fruits leap from the glass. The palate’s crisp acidity ably balances its rounded texture and dry, fruity finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (24.80$)

 

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.

 

 

 

Education

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.

Education Reviews Wines

Perplexed about Pinot Gris(gio)?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Among the winning wines, here is my top 5:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to buy: inquire with agent: Robert Peides

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Education Reviews Wines

What is Acidity in Wine & Why Does it Matter?

acidity in wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What constitutes balance, when it comes to acidity in wine,  is entirely personal however. High acid white wines like Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc can appear pleasant to some, and aggressive to others. The combination of high acidity and a very dry palate (˂2 grams/litre of residual sugar) can appear particularly austere to many tasters.

Residual sugar (occurring when fermentation is stopped before transforming all grape sugars into alcohol) can be a good thing for highly acidic wines, softening their sharp edges. It may surprise you how many notoriously high acid, seemingly dry wines are actually slightly sweet. Champagne, Riesling from multiple origins, and many New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc are just a few examples.

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

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

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

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

Medium acidity: moderate, round

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to buy: SAQ (17.05$)

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

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

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

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

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

Where to buy: SAQ (26.40$)

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

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

Where to buy: SAQ (27.10$)

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

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

Where to buy: SAQ (30.25$)

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

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

Where to buy: SAQ (35.50$)

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

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

Where to buy: SAQ (24.55$)

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

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

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

Acidity in Wine & Why it Matters Video!