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Jacky Blisson

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Is Wine Becoming Uncool? Tips to Reverse the Decline in Wine.

decline in wine

The decline in wine consumption is a worrying trend. Wine is going out of style. Millennials and Generation Z don’t drink wine. The headlines are increasingly alarming.

According to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV), annual global wine consumption has slumped for a third year running, to an estimated 23.4 billion litres; levels not seen since 2002. 

In the USA, after a decade and a half of wine outpacing all other alcoholic beverages, Jon Moramarco of Gomberg Fredrikson & Associates reports a five-year trend of decline in wine sales while craft beer, artisan spirits, and hard seltzer surge.

And our neighbours to the south are not alone in trading in their wine glasses for canned cocktails. Wine Intelligence affirms that, “the UK has lost nearly 4 million monthly drinkers since 2015”.

No and low alcohol beverages are also rising rapidly. Global Data information from the UK states that one-fifth of British adults under 25 are teetotal. A LaTrobe University study from Australia shows that 18–24-year-olds are drinking 20% less on average than they did ten years ago. 

While it pains me to admit it, the decline in wine brings the category into dangerous territory; that of an older person’s beverage, the provenance of Prius-driving soccer dads and boomer grannies.

Yes, the figures would have us believe that wine is teetering on the edge of becoming, dare I say it…

Uncool?

How can wine fight back against the aggressive influx of trendier alcohol alternatives? Can the category find ways to appeal to the wellness generation? In other words, how can wine regain its cool?

A quick WikiHow search on “how to be cool” reveals these simple steps that, I think, apply as aptly to the wine trade as they do to angst-ridden teens.

Photo credit: Nastya_Gepp

1) Don’t be Needy

The golden rule here is to avoid imitation. There is no shame in being inspired by others, but don’t ape their methods. Rather, seek to lead with creativity and innovation.

The growing contingent of ready-to-drink canned beverages responds to a clear-cut desire for convenience and, for certain consumers, lower alcohol options. It also feeds the age-old need of every generation to differentiate themselves from their parents.

Wine in a can, and a multitude of other new packaging formats, is therefore a necessary move. And, for savvy wineries, a golden opportunity. The can, pouch, box, etc. provides more real estate to convey important visual cues and product information to set wine apart.

The departure from traditional back labels is an opportunity to evolve away from the classic, bottled wine formula of generic tasting note + terroir message, and bring more personality into wine messaging.

Canned wine can serve as a new category, but also as a great stepping stone, encouraging trial to help reverse the decline in wine, and engage newcomers. Alternative packaging is also a powerful way to showcase innovation and sustainability. The sleek, flat PET bottles from Garçon Wines are an excellent case in point.

2) Be Yourself

In Vino Veritas. Since time immemorial, wine has captivated humankind. It was the beverage of choice for the finest minds in Ancient Greece, a defining feature of Roman colonization, and the life’s work of countless monastic orders.

In the (paraphrased) words of the great Ernest Hemingway, “Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world…it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”

Indeed, wine has an intangible magic about it, its aromas, structures, and flavours evolving over time in a way that few other beverages can claim. Wine’s story is unique; the limitless combinations of grape, place, vintage, and winemaker mean that no two wines are ever exact replicas.

3) Be Friendly

But while this complexity is an essential part of wine’s singular personality, it also makes for an intimidating drink. Once can hardly blame the casual imbiber for not wanting to memorize producer names, vintage charts, and vineyard maps.

Herein lies the wine marketer’s greatest dilemma. How to make the glorious intricacies of wine more relatable? 

In a recent Washington Post article, wine writer Julia Coney, observes that wine is “marketed around tasting notes and points, instead of any sense of fun”. She compares this with the casual lifestyle-oriented approach of beer and hard seltzers.

The wine trade has always positioned wine as a social lubricant, the ultimate accompaniment for shared meals and celebrations. But are we conveying this image effectively to younger generations? “We should meet the new wine drinkers, millennials and Generation Z, where they are: on platforms like TikTok and Snapchat, and apps such as Vivino”, says Coney.

For much of its history, says winebusiness.com’s Andrew Adams, wine has had a “Euro-centric focus on food and wine pairing”. Adams explains that today’s consumers have “far more diverse backgrounds and tastes”. Wine pairing suggestions need to reflect this diversity.

In fact, the entire lexicon of wine descriptors and technical terms needs to expanding and demystifying. While I love the beauty of wine’s unique language, if new generations aren’t being taught, or simply don’t want to learn it, what is its future worth?

There will always be wine buffs that appreciate the racy, mineral, fine-grained nuances of wine descriptions. However, to capture the palates of more casual drinkers, or international audiences, language needs to be adapted to resonate with their experience and backgrounds. 

A South African winemaker once told me, “When I was studying, we were told that fine French and Italian wines smelled like truffles. I had no idea what a truffle was but didn’t dare say so”. This was a wake up call to me, schooled as I was in the classic art of wine geekery.

4) Be a Good Conversationalist

A good conversationalist knows how to hold attention. They listen as much as they speak, and thus know what their audience wants to hear.

According to fine wine communications expert Juliana Colangelo, the decline in wine consumption stems in part from the industry’s failure to listen to consumer desires. In a recent Fortune.com, Colangelo explains that wine messaging is still overly focused on aspirational cues. Younger drinkers “want messages of health and wellness, social good, sustainability, transparency, and experiences” she says.

Here, wine has a winning hand to play. Compared with drinks like ready-to-serve alcohols and de-alcoholised beverages, the production methods of wine are inherently natural. Sulphur levels are plummeting in even the most conventional of wines, and vegan-friendly clarifying agents are becoming the norm.

Wine was an artisanal, craft refreshment long before these terms were popularized by the beer and spirits industries. Its healthful properties, when consumed in moderation, continue to grace medical journals around the globe.

Colangelo also suggests social and mental health benefits, in terms of bringing people together. Canned beverages are an individual pleasure, whereas a bottle of wine is made for sharing. In the wake of our long winter of social distancing, this argument may be the one that resonates loudest.

Finally, across the globe, the wine sector is making impressive strides in terms of sustainability. Yet, when asked how to share this message with wine lovers, most wineries I have queried are at a loss. Certification stickers on wine bottles are helpful, but are they enough?

5) Be confident

Wine is inextricably linked to the land, to a point in time, to a cultural heritage, to families and communities, and to moments of pleasure. It is complex and should unabashedly remain so.

But, most consumers don’t need (or want) a month-by-month accounting of growing season weather patterns. They don’t care to know the exact percentage of new French oak used for ageing. They want the stories and the experiences. 

Much like real estate agents stage houses to reflect the desired lifestyle of their target buyer, wine marketers need to re-think their positioning of wine. 

Wine as the ultimate natural, artisanal, authentic, healthful, and sustainable of beverages is a compelling message. It simply needs to be delivered in a fun, relatable way, on the platforms where new generations gather. And it needs to be intrinsically linked to the foodie trends that sweep each generation, to regain its central place at the table.

This isn’t to say that traditional wine lovers should be forgotten, or that time-honoured wine messaging should be abandoned. Happily, there is more than enough wine being produced around the globe, in an ever expanding range of styles, to satisfy both camps. 

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

Education Reviews Wines

Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Terroirs & How They Differ

Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon AVAs

Tasting a broad cross section of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon terroirs is a fascinating experience. The region boasts a remarkable diversity of meso-climates, altitudes, vineyard orientations, and soil types. This equates to markedly different expressions of the grape from one AVA to another.

A few months back, I moderated a Napa Valley Vintners seminar exploring this subject. As a follow up, Silverado Vineyards kindly sent me wines from three separate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon terroirs. They all hail from the same vintage and were vinified in a similar fashion.

Before we dive into the tasting, let me give you a bit of context on the Napa Valley.

A Broad Overview of the Napa Valley

The Napa Valley is situated 80 kilometres (km) north of San Francisco and 55 km inland from the Pacific Ocean, in northern California. While global regard for its wines is high, the region is actually very small. Napa accounts for just four percent of California’s annual output.

According to Napa Valley Vintners, there are 475 wineries in Napa, of which 95% are family owned. Over 30 different grape varieties are grown here in vineyards spanning some 18,600 hectares. Cabernet Sauvignon is the undisputed star, with over half the Valley’s plantings dedicated to this late ripening variety.

The Unique Geography of the Napa Valley

The Napa Valley is nestled between the Mayacamas Mountains to the west and the Vaca Range to the east. Vineyards range in elevation from sea level to over 800 metres in altitude. The valley floor is almost 50 km long, but only eight km wide at its maximum width.

Due to its varied topography, among a myriad of other differentiating factors, the Napa Valley has been separated into 16 sub AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). These are sometimes referred to as “nested AVAs” as they fall within the broad Napa Valley AVA designation. In order to use a specific sub AVA on a wine label, a minimum of 85% of the grapes must come from the area in question.

The soils of the Napa Valley have both marine and volcanic origins. The valley was formed by tectonic plate movement dating back over 150 million years, culminating in the San Andreas Fault. This system provoked volcanic activity, with its resultant magma forming a new type of bedrock in the region.

Subsequent erosion and intermingling has led to three major soil categories: fluvial, alluvial, and mountain. The valley floor is made of deep, fertile silt and clay deposits from the river banks (hence fluvial). The benchlands are alluvial fans of gravel, sand, and silt washed down from the mountains to the valley. Finally, the shallow, rocky, nutrient-poor mountain soils are derived from decomposed primary bedrock.

The Climate Contrasts of the Napa Valley

The Napa Valley has a dry, sunny Mediterranean climate. Average summer daytime highs range from 27º Celsius (C) in southern Napa Valley to 35º C in the north. Night time temperatures are substantially cooler, notably in the southern parts of the valley. Thermostat readings can plunge to just 12º C here on especially cool nights. This is due to the proximity of San Pablo Bay to the southern vineyards, bringing cooling breezes and overnight fog.

This regular, dense fog is caused by hot air in California’s interior valley rising and drawing in cooler, moist air from the Pacific Ocean. The Chalk Hill Gap also brings patches of fog, and thus a cooler meso-climate to parts of Calistoga in northern Napa Valley. However, in general terms, the southern valley floor is cooler than the low-lying northern vineyards.

Altitude and vineyard orientation also play major roles in shaping a Napa Valley vineyard meso-climate. Temperatures in many mountain AVAs can be 5º C cooler than valley floor sites. That being said, higher altitude sites above the fog line do not experience the same diurnal variations so tend to have cooler days but warmer nights, making for more even conditions.

Finally, east vs. west facing vineyards can also show significant differences in climate. The eastern benches and slopes receive the slightly more timid morning sunshine, and are shaded from the afternoon heat. In comparison, western facing areas are exposed to abundant afternoon sun, giving riper, more opulent wines.

Comparing Three Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Terroirs

Silverado Vineyards Wines

Silverado Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville Station, 2016 – 90pts. LW

The vineyard for this cuvée lies on the western edge of the Oakville sub AVA, within the revered, gentle slopes of the To Kalon site. Oakville is a moderately warm growing area. Situated mid-way up the valley floor, the cooling effects of the coastal fogs are less dramatic here.

The 2016 Oakville Station has intense, ultra-ripe aromas of cassis and dark plum mingled with nuances of cedar, pencil shavings, and potpourri. The palate is full-bodied, with a mouth coating density, and a concentrated core of sweet dark fruits, mocha, cedar, and spice, ably balanced by fresh acidity. Ripe, rounded tannins provide a good framework. Finishes on a warming, sweet fruited note, with marked oaked flavours of cedar and spice.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent Vinéo. Winery price: $90 USD.

Silverado Vineyards “Solo” Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, 2016 – 94pts. LW

The Solo cuvée is named for the heritage clone of Cabernet Sauvignon used here. The Stags Leap terroir is separated from the rest of the valley floor vineyards by the Stags Leap Palisades, which form its eastern boundary. Brisk marine breezes flow through the area in the afternoon, tempering the heat generated by the sunny west-facing slopes and reflective shale soils.

The 2016 Solo cuvée has an alluring nose of ripe dark fruits and dark chocolate, with well integrated cedar spice and refreshing eucalyptus notes. The weighty, powerfully structured palate is lifted and lengthened by its vibrant acidity. Persistent flavours of dark chocolate, tangy dark fruit, and sweet tobacco adorn the finish. Drinking well now, though the freshness, depth, and fine-grained tannins suggest fine moderate term cellaring potential.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent Vinéo. Winery price: $125 USD

Silverado Vineyards “Geo” Cabernet Sauvignon, Coombsville, 2016 – 92pts. LW

Among the more recently named sub-AVAs of the southern Napa Valley, Coombsville has significant overnight cooling from the San Pablo fogs. The “Geo” Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from Silverado’s Mt. George plot, one of the oldest vineyard sites in the area. The area lies in an alluvial fan of the Vaca Mountains, giving deep, gravelly soils of volcanic origin.

Heady aromas of macerated red berries and black plum on the nose, with underlying tobacco, baking spice, and cedar notes. On the palate, the 2016 Geo has a similarly potent, yet lively character reminiscent of the Solo cuvée. However, here the dark fruit flavours are a shade sweeter and the oaked overtones more present. Ripe, muscular tannins structure the finish nicely. Needs a few years cellaring to knit together further and soften.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent Vinéo. Winery price: $75 USD.

Cover photo credit: Silverado Vineyards

Reviews Wines

Seven Great Value Rosé Wines to Drink Now

great value rosé wines

Photo credit: Gabriel Meffre Winery, view of the Mount Ventoux

Looking for some great value rosé wines to drink this summer? My office has been overflowing with rosé wine samples so I knuckled down last week and got to tasting. I know, I know… the sacrifices I make for the sake of my readers!

Rosé wine comes in all shades, sweetness levels, and styles. To learn more about finding the best rosé wines for your palate, check out this article.

This latest rosé tasting focused on singling out great value rosé wines; those that overdeliver in terms of complexity, concentration, or just pure drinking pleasure. They are a pretty mixed bunch stylistically so make sure to read my tasting descriptions to find a style you will most enjoy.

If you scroll down to the end, you can check out my latest YouTube video: What Goes Well with Rosé Wine? Here, I break-down different styles of rosé and suggest the best food matches. And, for those that stick around to the end, there is a bonus rosé wine dessert recipe that is surefire hit with dinner guests.

Now on to this season’s great value rosé wines:

Great Value Rosé Wines for $15 or Less

Gerard Bertrand Gris-Blanc, IGP Pays d’Oc 2020 – 87pts. VW

This light, dry rosé is made predominantly of Grenache Gris, a pale pinkish hued mutation of the Grenache Noir grape. While the nose is discreet, the palate more than makes up with its lively red apple and subtle stone fruit flavours. Finishes smooth and fresh. Very pleasant every day rosé.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($15.60), LCBO ($15.75)

Château Grand Escalion Costières de Nîmes 2020 – 90pts. VW

Sustainably farmed vineyard in the heart of the southern Rhône Valley’s Costières de Nîmes region. This Grenache, Syrah cuvée is a regular summer listing here in Québec and offers consistent good value year after year.

The nose offers a mix of fresh raspberry and pomegranate notes, with underlying floral and candied fruit aromas. The palate is fresh and rounded, with a pleasing silky texture, and lively red berry flavours on the dry finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($17.95)

Muga Rosado, Rioja 2020 – 88pts. VW

Another delicious blend of red and white grape varieties. Here, Garnacha Tintorera (aka Alicante Bouschet) is the star. This red-fleshed grape gives deep colour, and a soft, fruity characte. Rioja’s major white wine grape, Viura is blended in for its nervy acidity, and a dollop of Tempranillo completes the

Pale salmon pink in colour, with delicate aromas of apple blossom, red berries, and pomegranate on the nose. The palate is fresh and rounded, with a subtle creaminess to the mid-palate. Finishes dry and marginally warm.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($18.75), LCBO ($15.95)

Château La Lieue “Tradition” Rosé, Coteaux Varois en Provence 2020 – 89pts. VW

An organic Provence rosé made primarily from Cinsaut, blended with Grenache Noir.

Pretty pale pink hue, with vibrant aromas of pink grapefruit and candied red berries, nicely offset by fresh herbal undertones. Wonderfully tangy acidity defines the lightweight palate. Zesty citrus and red berry flavours mingle with earthy/savoury nuances, lingering on the dry finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($18.85)

Domaine du Tix Ventoux Rosé Cuvée des Restanques 2020 – 90pts. VW

Perched in the foothills of the Mont Ventoux at 350-metres altitude, the Domaine du Tix benefits from cooler night time temperatures that slow down ripening and preserve fresh acidity in their wines. The Cuvée des Restanques blend is a Cinsault dominant blend with Grenache and Syrah in supporting roles.

Quite an intriguing nose, with its abundance of citrus fruit, fresh herbs, and peppery nuances. Crisp and nervy on the palate, with a taut, linear structure, and ultra-dry, subtly bitter finish. Perfect for lovers of brisk, dry, savoury white wine, timidly venturing into rosé drinking.

Great Value Rosé Wines Under $25

Domaine de la Grande Séouve “AIX” Côteaux d’Aix-en-Provence 2020 – 91pts.

Due north of Aix-en-Provence, the vineyards of this well-established estate are dotted between lavender plantings and garrigue outcrops. The “Aix” Rosé is a classic blend featuring Grenache, with equal parts Cinsault, and Syrah for seasoning.

Initially discreet, with attractive notes of lavender, pink grapefruit, and red apple developing with aeration. Light and supple on the palate, with a creamy textural core, and dry finish. Not overly fruity as rosé goes, but quite refined.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($20.50)

Château Puech-Haut Argali Languedoc 2020 – 93pts.

Located near the Pic-St-Loup vineyards of the Languedoc, Château Puech-Haut (aka High Hill) is among the most well regarded wineries of the region. The Argali cuvée is a blend of Grenache and Cinsault, gently direct pressed, and then vinified in temperature controlled tanks with extended lees ageing in the same vessels.

Pretty notes of white peach, red berries, and zesty citrus on the nose, layered with dried herbal hints. The palate is fresh, with a pleasing satin-like feel, and concentrated core of tangy summer fruit. Finishes dry, with lifted acidity, and lingering bright fruit. Very polished.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($24.75)

What does VW, PW, LW mean in my Great Value Rosé Wines tasting notes ? Check out my wine scoring system.

Reviews Wines

The Fascinating Story of Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta

Ca' del Bosco Franciacorta

The story of Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta starts like this… In the mid-1960s, Annamaria Clementi Zanella purchased a little house in the heart of a chestnut forest. A decade later, her son Maurizio transformed the Ca’ del Bosco (house in the woods) into a state-of-the-art winery producing some of Italy’s top traditional method sparkling wines.

A Little Preamble on the Franciacorta Wine Region

The winemaking region of Franciacorta is situated in Lombardy, to the south of Lake Iseo, and east of Bergamo. The region’s vineyards span a glacial amphitheatre of rolling hills, forming a warm mesoclimate moderated by cooling breezes from the foothills of the Rhaetian Alps.

Franciacorta produces among the finest of Italian traditional method sparkling wines. Chardonnay is the star grape here, blended with Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc.

“Franciacorta is not a sparkling wine. In Italian legislation it is not classed as a spumante” explained Maurizio Zanella in a recent virtual tasting. “It is a wine that just happens to have bubbles” he added.

He went on to detail the vinous character, rounded structure, and broad mid-palate that sets Franciacorta apart from other traditional method wines. This is why the region generally produces wines with very little liqueur d’expedition. “We don’t need it”.

The Unique Production Methods of Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta

Ca’ del Bosco was one of the pioneering forces behind the creation of the Franciacorta DOCG and establishment of its growers’ consortium. Right from the outset, Zanella pushed the appellation to adopt quality-focused measures like lowering grape yields and increasing minimum ageing time on lees.

Not content to follow traditional practices, Ca’ del Bosco devised a unique method to retain aromatic complexity and structural longevity in their wines. After manual harvest and strict grape sorting, Ca’ del Bosco treats their grapes to a spa day.

Grapes are washed in a series of three whirlpools to eliminate impurities. Once cleaned, the grapes are gently dried with cold air. This process eliminates the need for settling (clarification via sedimentation) after fermentation. It also greatly reduces the winery’s reliance on sulphur additions.

To further reduce sulphur inputs, Ca’ del Bosco has developed a strictly controlled oxygen-free process for vinification, bottling, and disgorging of its sparkling wines.

The Evolving Style of Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta

One of Zanella’s major concerns in recent years has been sugar. Or more precisely, how to integrate it more naturally and reduce its overall use in his wines.

Six years ago, he stopped using cane sugar in his wines. Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta is now dosed exclusively with organic grape concentrate. “I want my wines to be as natural as possible” said Zanella. “It just didn’t make sense to be introducing a foreign sugar source”.

Zanella and his team have also progressively lowered dosage levels. “We only have two sparkling wines left at four grams/litre (g/L). All our other Franciacortas are under two g/L”.

Another innovation dear to Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta is the introduction of recently disgorged wines from their Cuvée Prestige, multi-vintage cuvée. Disgorged some ten years later, these limited edition wines are produced as a testament to the bottle ageing potential of the Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvée Prestige.

Tasting Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvée Prestige Wines

What does VW, PW, LW mean in my Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta Tasting Notes ? Check out my wine scoring system.

Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvée Prestige, 43 Edizione – 92pts. PW

The Cuvée Prestige is a multi-vintage bottling (referred to as non vintage in other regions), made with roughly 20% reserve wine. This is the 43rd edition of the estate’s flagship wine. It is a classic blend of three-quarters Chardonnay, with Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc in supporting roles. The wine is aged for 25 months on lees, and is dosed to just 2 g/L.

Inviting aromas of lemon, shortbread biscuits, hazelnut, and yellow orchard fruit feature on the nose. The palate is fresh and medium in weight, with a rounded structure and fine, supple bubbles. Subtle apricot notes join the aromatic chorus on the palate, giving way to a dry, smooth finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($44.75), LCBO ($44.95)

Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvée Prestige, 33 Edizione – 93pts. PW

Produced ten years ago, a small batch of the 33 Edizione Cuvée Prestige was held back and only disgorged in late 2020. Blend components and dosage levels were similar to the 43 edition cuvée.

Intense aromas of buttered toast, dried lemon peel, and roasted hazelnut leap from the glass. The palate is lively and fresh, with ultra-fine bubbles, and a broad, creamy mid-palate. Deep nutty, savoury flavours linger on the long, dry finish.

Where to Buy: Enquire with agent, Montalvin (Québec) or Galleon Wines (Ontario)

Comparative Notes: 43 Edizione vs. Recently Disgorged 33 Edizione

Both wines are well-crafted examples of how good traditional method sparkling wines from Franciacorta can be. The more youthful 43rd edition will appeal more to those that like a fresh, fruit-focused, lively style of sparkling wine. Whereas, the 33rd edition is deeper and more savoury, with quite subtle mousse, and a seemingly drier finish.

As an aperitif wine, the 43rd edition would be my pick. The dry, savoury, quite vinous nature of the 33rd calls out for a similarly hearty food pairing. Dishes featuring earthy root vegetables of mushrooms should work well.

Education Reviews Wines

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 Wines

Tasting Viñedo Chadwick 2018 Vintage

Viñedo Chadwick 2018

Last week, I spent some time tasting the Viñedo Chadwick 2018 vintage release.

I opened it in the morning and poured out a good measure. Then I let it breathe and came back to the glass several times during the day to see how it evolved.

Wine tasting is often a rapid fire experience for professionals. Pre-covid, the majority of my tastings took place at events, trade fairs, wineries, or scholarly settings. The nature of these environments precludes a leisurely pace. Wines are evaluated in a one to two-minute time span before moving on to the next bottle.

Nowadays, we taste in the silo of our separate spaces. I miss the buzz of a busy wine show and the intimate pleasure of tasting in the company of the winemaker, but there are undeniable advantages to solo tasting. Conditions like temperature, glassware, outside noise, and tasting tempo can all be controlled.

Of course, not every wine merits a day’s worth of analysis, nor do I have the time to regularly indulge in such repeat tastings. However, when a wine like Viñedo Chadwick 2018 crosses my desk, with its lofty reputation and luxury price tag, I like to take a beat.

The Story of Viñedo Chadwick

Viñedo Chadwick is the crowning jewel of the Chadwick-Errázuriz family wine range. The 2014 vintage was the first Chilean wine to receive a 100-point score from a globally respected wine writer. This achievement was vaunted by the critic in question, James Suckling, as a qualitiative “coming of age” for Chile.

The Viñedo Chadwick 2018 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, produced in the Puente Alto DO of Chile’s Maipo Valley. The vines are perched at 650 metres above sea level on an alluvial terrace of the Maipo River, over a stony, well draining bedrock. Moderate day time temperatures and cool evenings allow for slow, even ripening and excellent acid retention.

In a conversation with The Drinks Business, Magui Chadwick, 6th generation Chadwick descendant, described the Viñedo Chadwick 2018 as “our best ever”, describing the growing season conditions as “perfect”.

Receiving the storied bottle got me to thinking about wine scores and the notion of worth in wine. I am regularly asked whether expensive wines merit their high prices. So much so that the topic prompted me to write this article back in 2017.

A Three-Part Viñedo Chadwick 2018 Tasting

Evaluating price is difficult when it comes to luxury goods. Worth is an entirely personal valuation that I won’t venture to make for others. I am, however, far more critical in my tastings of ultra premium wines. One criteria I particularly focus on in top wines, especially younger vintages, is how they evolve in the glass.

This is what prompted my three-part tasting of the Viñedo Chadwick 2018.

Viñedo Chadwick 2018, Maipo Valley, Chile – 96pts. LW

1.5 hours after pouring… Attractive wild blueberries, black plum, and cassis aromas on the nose, underscored by eucalyptus, tobacco leaf, and floral nuances. The palate is full-bodied yet remarkably graceful, with refreshing acidity and a finely chiseled structure. Tannins are suave, with hints of cedar and spice seamlessly integrated. Rises to a glorious crescendo of tangy dark fruit, dark chocolate, and cooling minty nuances that linger on and on.

3 hours later… the nose has gained in intensity, with increased florality and the emergence of pretty red cherry notes. The palate remains polished with lovely freshness.

6 hours later…the mid-palate seems far more expansive (both broader and deeper), while the finish continues to impress with its vibrancy and complex succession of vibrant fruit, tobacco, dark chocolate, eucalyptus, and subtle cedar flavours.

Already drinking beautifully, this remarkable wine should continue to evolve nicely for 20 years +

Where to Buy: Coming soon to the SAQ ($449.75), code: 14703567

What does LW mean in my scoring of Viñedo Chadwick 2018? Check out my wine scoring system.

Reviews Wines

Casa Ferreirinha: Quality Wines for Every Budget

wines of Casa Ferreirinha

The wines of Casa Ferreirinha are versatile, to say the least. From their every day Planalto and Esteva wines to the storied Barca-Velha cuvée, Casa Ferreirinha has cemented a solid reputation as a leading still wine producer in Portugal’s Douro Valley.

Casa Ferreirinha was borne from the fruits of the labour of the Ferreira Port family. In the 1950s, wine production in the Douro Valley was dedicated to the sweet, fortified Port wine. Meanwhile, at Ferreira, technical director Fernando Nicolau de Almeida was hard at work crafting a high-quality still red wine. His creation, Barca-Velha, remains a reference among Portuguese red wines to this day.

Casa Ferreirinha is the proprietor of five wineries (or Quintas) throughout the Douro, and is part of the powerful Sogrape Vinhos group. The wines of Casa Ferreirinha run the gamut, from dry white, rosé, and red table wines to heady Port wines.

In early May, I had the pleasure of tuning in to a virtual tasting with current head winemaker, Luis Sottomayor. He lead us through a fascinating tasting of eight emblematic dry wines of Casa Ferreirinha.

Casa FerreirinhaPlanalto” Reserva, Douro, Vinho Branco 2019 – 87pts. VW

The Planalto cuvée is named for the high altitude plateaux vineyards from which the grapes are sourced. These sites are selected for the refreshing acidity of their grapes. Produced at Casa Ferreirinha’s Villa Real winery in the Baixo Corgo this light, dry white wine is a blend of local grapes Viosinho, Codega , Gouveio , Rabigato, and Malvasia fina.

This is light, easy drinking white wine made to be drunk rapidly after bottling. Its cool temperature fermentation and brief maturation in stainless steel highlights this style. On the nose, discreet notes of lemon and hints of yellow pear feature. The palate is crisp and smooth, with a lively, dry finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($12.10)

Casa FerreirinhaPapa Figos”, Douro, Vinho Branco 2019 – 86pts. VW

Grapes for the Papa Figos wines are sourced from vineyards in the Douro Superior. Here the nutrient-poor soils yield far lower volumes than the Baixo Corgo, giving more complex, concentrated wines according to Sottomayor. Rabigato is the major grape in this blend. Considered one of the Douro’s finest white varieties, Rabigato brings lively acidity, firm structure, and floral notes to white wines.

Delicate hints of chamomile, orchard fruit, and lemon play across the nose. The palate is fresh, medium in body, and rounded, with hints of stone fruit on the soft, slightly warming finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($16.95)

Casa FerreirinhaEsteva”, Douro, Vinho Tinto 2018 – 89pts. VW

Sourced from estate vineyards in the Cima and Baixo Corgo, this easy drinking red is fermented and briefly aged in stainless steel to maintain its bright, fruity personality. It is a classic blend of mainly Tinta Roriz and Tinta Barroca, with Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional in supporting roles. 

Intense dark cherry and wafts of milk chocolate on the nose. The palate is fresh, medium weight, and smooth, giving way to pleasantly chalky tannins. Finishes dry. Remarkable value for an every-day red. Chill for 20 minutes before serving.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($12.20)

Casa FerreirinhaPapa Figos”, Douro, Vinho Tinto 2019 – 87pts. VW

Papa Figos is the Portuguese name for the rare golden oriole, pictured on the wine label. This red has similar blend proportions to the Esteva, but is sourced from lower yielding vineyards of the Douro Superior, like its white counterpart. As with the above described wines, fermentation and ageing takes place in temperature controlled stainless steel vats, with a fairly brief maturation before bottling to preserve its bright fruit and fresh acidity.

Very pretty, floral nose mingled with ripe black and blue fruit aromas. The palate is quite lively and firm, with subtle dark fruit flavours. Finishes dry and somewhat astringent, with lingering bitter cocoa notes. Enhanced by a good food pairing (grilled eggplant, mild sausages on the barbecue, subtly spiced stews would all work well).

Where to Buy: SAQ ($16.95)

Casa Ferreirinha “Vinha Grande”, Douro, Vinho Tinto 2018 – 89pts. VW

The Vinha Grande cuvée is a blend of Cima Corgo vineyards, prized by Sottomayor for their attractive “spice and balsamic notes”, and Douro Superior sites bringing, “riper fruit and chocolate” overtones. Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional are the star players here. The blend is aged for 12 to 18-months in seasoned oak barrels.

Fragrant nose of macerated black berries, dark cherry, violets, and baking spice. Juicy acidity gives way to a firm, yet ripe-fruited mid-palate and fine-grained tannins. Hints of well-integrated spicy oak linger on the dry finish. Very harmonious, complete wine for the price.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($18.10)

Casa FerreirinhaCallabriga”, Douro, Vinho Tinto 2016 – 91pts. PW

The Callabriga cuvée is made the lowest altitude vineyards of the Quinta da Leda estate, near the Spanish border. The reflective, low yielding schist soils and abundant sunshine here give ripe, concentrated wines. After a long, gentle maceration, the wine is matured for 12-months in 75% French/ 25% American seasoned oak barrels.

Touriga Franca is again the dominant variety. Whereas many Douro producers vaunt the superiority of Touriga Nacional as the region’s prime red grape, Sottomayor is an unabashed fan of Touriga Franca. When asked why, he cited the grape’s “structure, ageability, and powerful expression”. For Sottomayor, Touriga Nacional is better in a supporting role, for its floral fragrace.

Crushed dark fruit and floral aromas mingle with nutmeg and milk chocolate on the heady nose. The palate offers a nice balance of fresh acidity and vibrant dark fruit flavours to lift the rich, medium-bodied frame. Ripe yet muscular tannins define the finish. Chill slightly and decant up to an hour before serving.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($28.95)

Casa Ferreirinha, Tinta Francisca, Douro, Vinho Tinto 2015 – 87pts.

Sottomayor and his team regularly carry out experiments in the vineyards and cellars in the aim of improving overall quality. In 2015, they decided to isolate a plot of Tinta Francisca from their Quinta do Seixo vineyards in the Cima Corgo. Tinta Francisca is one of the Douro’s oldest red grape varieties, but is now lesser known; often a minor blending component.

After several months’ ageing, Sottomayor was agreeably “surprised by the harmony of the wine”. He decided to age the wine for 24-months in French oak barrels, and then bottle a limited edition volume of 3,600 bottles.

Ripe raspberry and dark plum notes feature on the nose, with undertones of toasted oak, black pepper, and refreshing eucalyptus hints. The palate is tightly wound, with mouthwatering acidity, and grippy tannins. Spice and mocha notes on the finish. Needs time to soften.

Where to Buy: Not available in Québec. Enquire with agent: Authentic Vins & Spiritueux.

Casa Ferreirinha, Quinta da Leda, Douro, Vinho Tinto 2017 – 94pts. LW

Quinta da Leda is seen as something of a second wine to the iconic Barca-Velha; though it is a remarkable wine in its own right. The Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, and Tinta Cão grapes that make up the blend come from the middle altitude vineyard plots, with the highest sites reserved for Barca-Velha.

The four grape varieties are vinified separately, with gentle treading and an initial maceration in lagares followed by fermentation in stainless steel. Ageing takes place in a mix of 50% new and 50% seasoned French oak barrels for 18 months. After the final blending, the wine is bottled and laid down for further bottle maturation before release.

Initially oak-driven on the nose, with an impressive array of ripe black plum, dark cherry, graphite, cocoa, and nutmeg aromas emerging within minutes of pouring. The palate is full-bodied and firm, with lively acidity, and a highly concentrated core of dark fruit, tobacco, and cedar. Ripe, pleasantly chalky tannins boulster the frame and lengthen the finish. A well crafted, ageworthy wine that will start to peak in another four to five years and then hold for at least another decade.

Where to Buy: Coming soon the SAQ, enquire with agent: Authentic Vins & Spiritueux

What does VW, PW, LW mean ? Check out my wine scoring system.

Photo credit: Casa Ferreirinha

Reviews Wines

TASTING THE WINES OF DOMAINE LA SOUFRANDIÈRE

wines of domaine la Soufrandière

The wines of Domaine la Soufrandière are among the most arresting Chardonnays Burgundy has to offer. The six hectare estate is located in Vinzelles, in the oft under-rated Mâconnais wine-producing region. It is the property of the uber-talented Bret Brothers, Jean-Philippe and Jean-Guillaume.

The Vineyards of Domaine la Soufrandière

Originally purchased by their grandfather back in 1947, Jean-Philippe and Jean-Guillaume took up the reins in the year 2000. Having followed the trajectory of their mentor, Jean-Marie Guffens, the brothers were determined to prove that high-quality, ageworthy wines could be made in their Vinzelles vineyards.

To achieve this aim, they immediately set about dissecting their vineyards into terroir-specific plots and began the conversion process to organic and biodynamic farming. At the time, these methods were little practiced in the region. The brothers therefore headed north, to study under Dominique Lafon. By 2006, the wines of Domaine de la Soufrandière were certified both AB (organic) and Demeter (biodynamics).

Today, the estate consists of four hectares (ha) of Pouilly-Vinzelles climat “Les Quarts”, just over one-half a ha of Pouilly-Vinzelles climat “Les Longeays”, and one ha of Mâcon-Vinzelles “Le Clos de Grand-Père”. In 2016, the Bret brothers also took over the management of an additional five ha of Saint-Véran and Pouilly-Fuissé vineyards.

Vineyards range from thirty-three to eighty years in age and are predominantly planted on east and south-east facing slopes.

The Wines of Domaine la Soufrandière

In recent years, the brothers have been progressively lowering sulphur levels in their wines. “We are not extremists” explained Jean-Philippe Bret, at a recent virtual tasting. “If we feel the wine requires a sulphur addition, we will do it”. It is a question of terroir and timing for the brothers.

“Certain terroirs – cooler sites, with healthy, biodiverse soils – handle low sulphur levels better than other areas” according to Jean-Philippe. The brothers wait as late as possible in the winemaking process to ensure the added sulphur remains in its free, active state. Their “Zen” cuvées see no more than 20 milligram/ litre (mg/l) of sulphur additions at bottling, while others tend to sit at a 40 – 60mg/l.

The Bret brothers use gentle, low intervention winemaking methods. The grapes are delicately pressed and allowed to clarify naturally. Wild yeasts are used for fermentation and ageing occurs in seasoned oak barrels. The wines of Domaine la Soufrandière are often categorized as natural wine; a concept the brothers quietly espouse, with reasoned adherence.

What’s next for the wines of Domaine la Soufrandière and Bret Brothers? This question made Jean-Philippe smile. The brothers have a wealth of exciting projects on the go. In the vineyards they are experimenting with different green manures. They are also exploring the use of milk and whey to replace sulphur sprays.

In the cellars, new wine styles are in development. Watch out for an extra-brut, delicately sparkling “Bret Nat” coming soon. Another potential newcomer is a skin contact white, macerated six to eight days before pressing.

The 2018 Vintage of Domaine La Soufrandière

While our discussion was a fascinating one, the goal of the meeting was to taste a trio of top 2018 wines of Domaine la Soufrandière. The vintage was “very hot and dry” explained Jean-Philippe. This led to worries of heavy, overly rich wines reminiscent of 2009. Thankfully this is not the case. The 2018s, while ripe and generously proportioned, retain a fresh, wonderfully vibrant character.

La Soufrandière Saint Véran “Cuvée La Combe Desroches” 2018 – 93pts. PW

The La Combe Desroches plot is located near Vergisson, exposed north, giving a very fresh, mineral-driven style of Chardonnay. Two-thirds of the blend are fermented and aged in tank, while the remaining one-third is matured in seasoned barrels.

Initially discreet. Reveals aromas of ripe lemon, pear, and white blossoms, with underlying hints of wet stone and honeycomb, upon aeration. The palate is zesty and taut, deepening on the mid-palate with  juicy citrus and orchard fruit flavours. The finish is electric, with an attractive hint of grapefruit pith bitterness.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($47.50)

La Soufrandière Pouilly-Fuissé Climat « En Chatenay » 2018 – 96pts. LW

This east-facing vineyard at the foot of the Roche de Vergisson planted on red soils of Jurassic limestone that  bring “tension and texture” to the wines, according to Jean-Philippe.

Intense, highly complex aromas of yellow apple, brioche, and white blossoms, laced with flinty nuances, leap from the glass. The palate is intially nervy, with mouthwatering acidity bringing lovely balance to the full-bodied, textural palate. Flavours of tart citrus, buttered brioche, and savoury undertones linger on the vibrant, ultra-long finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($70.25; also available in magnums)

La Soufrandière Pouilly-Vinzelles Climat « Les Quarts » 2018 – 94pts. LW

This is one of the historic sites for the wines of Domaine la Soufrandière. The Les Quarts vineyard is located at the top of a south-east facing slope of active limestone and clay soils. The vines are among the oldest of the estate, at forty-five to eighty years in age.

Initally restrained, with a mounting symphony of yellow fruits, raw honey, buttered popcorn, and earthy, white mushroom notes developing within minutes of pouring. Racy acidity gives way to an expansive, concentrated mid-palate bursting with bright fruit and savoury flavours. Finishes on a slightly oxidative note, with subtle nutty, crab apple nuances underlying flinty nuances.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($77.25)

What does VW, PW, LW mean in my scores for the wines of Domaine la Soufrandière? Check out my wine scoring system.

Education

Rías Baixas Vineyards: Exploring the Sub-Regions

Rías Baixas vineyards

Rías Baixas vineyards are located on the northwestern coast of Spain, in the region of Galicia. In the Galician dialect, the name Rías Baixas means “Lower Rias”, and this refers to the four estuaries that dissect the area.

Side note: This Rías Baixas vineyards article is also available in video format (produced in partnership with Rías Baixas wines). To watch, just scroll to the bottom. If you enjoy the video, consider subscribing to my YouTube wine education channel (click here) so you never miss an episode!

The estuaries of Rías Baixas are home to a rich diversity of marine life. They shape the landscape and are a major part of what make Albariño from Rías Baixas vineyards so unique.

Rías Baixas Vineyards: Five Unique Sub-Regions

Five distinct vineyard sub-regions were identified in Rías Baixas based on proximity to or distance from the coast, altitude, orientation, soil variations and so forth.

They are: Val do Salnés, O Rosal, Condado do Tea (con-dah-doh d-oh tay-ah), Soutomaior (S-oh-toh-my-or), and Ribeira do Ulla (Ree-bay-ra do Oo-ya).

Rías Baixas Vineyards Map

 Rías Baixas Vineyards: Val do Salnés

Val do Salnés, on the Atlantic coast, is the region’s oldest sub-region. Over half of Rías Baixas vineyards, and two-thirds of its wineries, are based here. It is also considered to be the birthplace of the Albariño grape variety.

Both 100% Albariño and blended white wines are made in Val do Salnés. According to Rías Baixas DO regulations, blends must be made from a minimum of 70% Albariño, with local varieties: Loureiro, Treixadura, or Caiño Blanco.

Val do Salnés has the coolest and wettest weather patterns of all Rías Baixas vineyards, with average yearly temperatures of just 13 degrees Celsius. The soils here are granite-based and quite rocky. These factors give the wines of  Val do Salnés high, nervy acidity and marked salinity.

Cooler vineyard sites within the sub-region have tart fruit flavours on the citrus and green fruit spectrum, whereas sunnier spots tend to have riper, tropical fruit nuances.

Rías Baixas vineyards Val do Salnés

 Rías Baixas Vineyards: O Rosal

O Rosal is a small, coastal sub-region south of Val do Salnés. It follows the northern bank of the Miño River, looking out to Portugal on its southern bank. The vineyards directly along the river are planted on terraces, with excellent sun exposure.

This area is slightly warmer with alluvial topsoil over granite and outcrops of slate. Albariño is often bottled varietally, but when it is blended, Loureiro is the secondary grape variety authorized in O Rosal. This delicate white variety gives a subtle floral note to wines.

In general, the white wines of O Rosal have intense stone fruit flavours and a rounded mouthfeel.

Rías Baixas vineyards O Rosal

Rías Baixas Vineyards: Condado do Tea

The terroir of Condado do Tea extends inland from O Rosal following the Miño River into a rugged, mountainous territory. The vineyards are dissected by a tributary of the Miño, called the Tea River and Condado do Tea (the “Country of Tea”) is named for this.

As Condado do Tea is further from the coast, it is less affected by cooling marine breezes, so it is a warmer territory. The soils are quite shallow here, with granite and slate sub-layers quite near the surface. Slate is an excellent conduit for radiating heat, which helps boost ripening.

Albariño is, again, the major grape. When it is blended, the permitted secondary variety is Treixadura (aka Trajadura) which has quite a firm, steely structure.

Condado do Tea wines are earthier than other sub-regions, with less overt fruit flavours.

Rías Baixas vineyards Condado do Tea

Rías Baixas Vineyards: Soutomaior

 If we head due north of Condado do Tea, we arrive at the smallest Rías Baixas sub-region: Soutomaior (S-oh-toh-my-or). A mere 12 hectares of vines and three wineries are based here.

Soutomaior starts at the head of the Rías de Vigo. It is a hilly area with light, sandy soils over a granite bedrock. The wines are taut and mineral-driven.

Rías Baixas vineyards Soutomaior

Rías Baixas Vineyards: Ribeira do Ulla

 Ribeira do Ulla (Ree-bay-ra do Oo-ya) is the newest Rías Baixas vineyards’ sub-region, located north east of Val do Salnés and directly south east of Santiago de Compostela. The vineyards are planted on the hillsides and plains along both banks of the Ulla River.

The soils here are rich and alluvial, giving very fruity, rounded, easy drinking white wines.

Rías Baixas vineyards Ribeira do Ulla

Rías Baixas Vineyards’ Wines Tasted in the Video!

Rectoral do Umia Abellio Albariño, Val do Salnés

Bodegas Altos de Torona, Pazo de Villarei, O Rosal

Fillaboa Winery Albariño, Condado do Tea

Photo credit: https://www.riasbaixaswines.com/

Producers Reviews Wines

Gérard Bertrand Wines & Sizest Stereotypes in Sustainable Wine

Gerard Bertrand Wines
Photo credit: Gérard Bertrand Wines

A couple of months back, I had the pleasure of (virtually) attending a tasting of Gérard Bertrand wines. This flourishing southern French winery possesses a multitude of certifications.  These cover everything from organic conversion, to organics, biodynamics, suitable for vegans, bee-friendly, and no added sulfites.

Listening to Bertrand and his team detail their organic and biodynamic winemaking commitments, I got to thinking. A wealth of misinformation and misunderstanding exists around the concept of sustainable wine.

The Myths & Misrepresentation around Eco-Conscience Wine

Many wine drinkers simply assume that wine, as an agricultural product, is made in an “earth friendly” manner. The notion of chemical herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides sprayed repeatedly on vines during the growing season just doesn’t register. The carbon footprint of winery processes, bottling, packaging, and shipping isn’t considered.

Still other wine enthusiasts draw a black and white line between what they perceive as  “conventional” and “natural” in wine production. For these dogmatists, small is beautiful, big is bad. All medium to large scale wineries producing high volume brands, are lumped into the conventional category. And there is a tacit implication that these mass-producing wineries are all rampant polluters.

Mom & pop wineries, tending their vines by hand, may seem the most worthy model for eco-conscience wine consumers. However, they aren’t always a feasible route to sustainable wine consumption. Firstly, because they don’t produce enough wine for widespread distribution. This means that most wine lovers can’t access them. Secondly, as they lack the economies of scale to produce affordable wines for low to middle income consumers, while themselves remaining profitable.

Big Wineries Making Big Strides for Sustainable Wine

So long as the demand for wine remains high globally, larger wineries are necessary. With that in mind, those making significant efforts to farm in a sustainable manner, and to offset carbon emissions, should be encouraged, not dismissed for their size.

As these larger players embrace change, they force more sluggish competitors to keep up. Just look at the actions of two powerhouse wineries, Familia Torres and Jackson Family Wines. Their efforts to address and redress the impacts of climate change in wine production are laudable. Eco-conscience, high volume companies such as these also do valuable work educating consumers on sustainable wine.

At just over two million bottles produced annually, Gérard Bertrand is hardly a wine-producing giant. And yet, with their numerous branded labels, they would surely be pegged as conventional by many a purist. To me, this is an unfortunate oversimplification.

The Organic Engagement Behind Gérard Bertrand Wines

The engagement shown by Gérard Bertrand wines, in terms of organic, biodynamic, and sustainable practices, can hardly be dismissed as a marketing ploy. The winery has employed organic farming methods for over twenty years. This is well before organic food production captured mainstream attention. What’s more, they have gone the additional step of certifying their practices.

Organic and biodynamic certifications like Agriculture Biologique (AB) and Demeter necessitate a long conversion process, regular audits, and mountains of fastidious paperwork. They oblige adherents to apply their strict rules of adhesion to the letter.

At present, Gérard Bertrand has an impressive 880 hectares of vineyards certified biodynamic or organic, undergoing biodynamic conversion. Bértrand is thus one of the largest organic and biodynamic vineyard owners world-wide. The winery also actively supports their grower partners in the organic transition process.

A Presentation & Tasting of Gérard Bertrand Wines 

Over the course of a morning, Bertrand presented no less than eight different ranges of Gérard Bertrand wines. Each brand/estate espouses one or several facets of sustainable wine production.

Change Sauvignon Blanc, IGP Pays d’Oc 2020 – 87pts. VW

Gérard Bertrand’s Change brand is dedicated to supporting its grower partners in the conversion to organic viticulture. The transition period lasts three years, in which producers must adhere to organic viticultural regulations in readiness for certification. The Change wines are certified Conversion Agriculture Biologique (CAB).

The Change Sauvignon Blanc is a pleasant, every day aromatic white wine with notes of white grapefruit, and chamomile on the nose. The palate is crisp and light bodied, with a dry, citrussy finish.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent (Southern Glazer’s)

Naturae Chardonnay, IGP Pays d’Oc 2020 – 88pts. VW

The Naturae range has no added sulphites. In order to produce clean, consistent quality, the grapes are carefully sorted and winery hygiene protocols are meticulously followed. Naturae wines are certified organic and suitable for vegans.

Intense notes of poached pear and apricot feature on the nose. The palate is fresh, medium bodied, and easy drinking, with its smooth texture and lively yellow fruit flavours. Hints of refreshing bitterness frame the finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($18.70)

Cigalus Blanc, IGP Aude Hauterive 2019 – 90pts. PW

The IGP Aude Hauterive is nestled between the southern Massif Central and the Pyrenees. These valley vineyards follow the Aude river and neighbour the Corbières AOC.  Gérard Bertrand wines started their ambitious biodynamic vineyard project here, back in 2002.

The Cigalus white is a Demeter-certified biodynamic white wine blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, and Sauvignon Blanc. Fermented and aged mainly in French oak, this is a bold, perfumed white with acacia, honey, yellow peach, and toasty oak nuances on the nose. The palate is creamy and textural, with a concentrated core of yellow fruit and vanilla spice. Needs time for the oak flavours to integrate further.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent (Southern Glazer’s)

Source of Joy Rosé, Languedoc AOP 2020 – 89pts. PW

Source of Joy is a new entrant in the line up of Gérard Bertrand wines. It is named for a network of natural water sources coursing under the hilly, schist and limestone vineyards that produce this organic Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault blend. This “gastronomic rosé” is made with the saignée method, with no malolactic fermentation (to retain freshness), and partial oak ageing.

Pretty pale pink in colour with a mix of ripe and candied red berry aromas, underscored by hints of vanilla. The palate has a tangy, red fruit driven appeal and an ample, rounded structure. The finish is dry and moderately persistent, with a touch of refreshing bitterness.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent (Southern Glazer’s)

Clos du Temple Rosé, Languedoc Cabrières AOP 2019 – 91pts. LW

Clos du Temple is sourced from eight hectares of old vine Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Viognier vineyards in the schist-based Languedoc Cabrières terroir. This is Gérard Bertrand wines’ ultra-premium, Demeter-certified biodynamic rosé, retailing for well over $200 (CAD).

Pale cream rose in colour, with delicate aromas of star anise, fresh herbs, red apple, and stone fruits. The palate is full-bodied and voluptuous, with marked toasty oak and exotic spice flavours overlaying hints of peaches and cream. Moderately firm, almost peppery tannins frame the long finish. Highly complex, but overshadowed by the oak at present. Needs 12 – 18 months’ cellaring to harmonize.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent (Southern Glazer’s)

Orange Gold, Vin de France 2020 – 92pts. VW

This organic, orange wine is another new addition for Gérard Bertrand wines. It is made from whole bunch vinification of Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Marsanne, Mauzac, and Muscat grapes. According to Bertrand, the goal is to create a “structured, rather than tannic white wine, with balanced bitterness”.  For me, this objective was achieved.

Pale amber in colour, with attractive baked apple, clementine peel, and dried floral notes. The palate is fresh, broad, and easy drinking with moderate concentration of earthy, savoury nuances, and an appealing hint of bitter citrus peel on the finish. This is a fantastic introductory wine for orange wine novices.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent (Southern Glazer’s)

Change Merlot IGP Pays d’Oc, 2019 – 86pts. VW

This red wine offering from the organic conversion range, Change, has marked herbal flavours underscored by hints of red and black fruits. The palate is medium in body, with a firm, somewhat rustic character and peppery finish.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent (Southern Glazer’s)

Pollinat’ Syrah, IGP Cévennes 2019 – 88pts. VW

The Pollinat’ label reflects Gérard Bertrand wines’ commitment to protect bees and other pollinators in the Cévennes region of Southern France. The wine is certified organic and “Bee Friendly”.

Deep purple in colour, with ripe black berry, violet, and green peppercorn aromas on the nose. The palate is fresh, medium in body, and moderately firm with fairly chewy tannins.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent (Southern Glazer’s)

Naturae Cabernet Sauvignon, IGP Pays d’Oc 2019 – 87pts. VW

The Naturae Cabernet Sauvignon has no added sulphites, is certified organic, and suitable for vegans. This medium bodied red has smoky, meaty nuances on the nose, mingled with sweet black fruit. The palate is fresh and very firm, with tightly wound tannins. Decant an hour before serving.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent (Southern Glazer’s)

Cigalus Rouge, IGP Aude Hauterive 2019 – 92pts. PW

The biodynamic Cigalus red wine is a blend of Syrah, Merlot, Caladoc, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre, and Carignan. Its bold character is an able reflection of the region’s sundrenched Mediterranean climate. The Syrah and Carignan are whole-bunch vinified, while all other varieties are destemmed. Ageing takes place in 100% new French barrels for just over one year.

Dark and brooding, with intense aromas and flavours of sweet blue and black fruit, cigar box, cloves, black pepper, dark chocolate, and violets . The palate is firm and highly concentrated with notable, yet well-integrated, cedar oak nuances. Finishes long and pleasantly warming. Excellent ageing potential; 10 years+.

Clos d’Ora, Minervois la Livinière AOP 2017 – 94pts. LW

Clos d’Ora is perhaps the crowning jewel of Gérard Bertrand wines. This walled, nine hectare biodynamic vineyard sits at an altitude of 220 metres, on a mix of chalk, sandstone, and marl soils. Vineyard work is entirely manual, using horse-drawn ploughs. The vineyards are certified biodynamic.

The Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, and Mourvèdre grapes destined for Clos d’Ora are vinified separately in concrete, and then aged one year in new French barrels and an additional year in bottle.

This is an incredibly dense, powerful red wine with fragrant aromas of cassis, black cherry, and plum, underscored by black olive, dark licorice, and dried provençal herbs. The palate is tightly woven, with spicy oak and ripe dark fruit flavours on the concentrated core. The tannins are bold, yet velvety; lingering on the persistent finish. Decant at least one to two hours before serving, chill slightly, and serve with a great big steak.

 (What do VW, PW and LW mean?  Click on my wine scoring system to decode the scores for Gérard Bertrand wines).