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Jacky Blisson

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Instead of Dry January, Drink Less but Better!

Drink less but better

December is, typically, a month of excess. We make rich holiday meals. We indulge in sweet treats. We knock back more cocktails. Then January arrives and our hardwired need to repent kicks in. Gyms and dieting companies rub their hands in glee as we rush to erase all evidence of our fling with gluttony.

For a growing number of people world-wide, new year’s resolve now includes a period of alcohol abstinence. First launched in 2012 by Alcohol Change UK, the Dry January initiative has gained global adherence in recent years.

Dry January serves an important role in destigmatising the choice of soft drinks over beer on a night out. For those with problematic drinking tendencies, Dry January can be the first step in identifying, and hopefully breaking, dangerous habits.

After all, it is a well-known fact that heavy drinking is bad for you. Excessive alcohol consumption can cause liver damage, heart disease, and increase the probability of developing certain cancers, to name just a few major health concerns; and these are only the physical risks.

But how much booze is too much?

At-risk drinking is hard to quantify. Age, gender, genetics, general health, and physical condition must all be factored in. The duration of the excessive drinking pattern is also a consideration.

According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction, regularly consuming more than two standard drinks (5 oz / 142mL) per day, or ten drinks per week, is considered high risk for women. For men, over three daily drinks or 15 per week is cause for concern.

Following that logic, amounts under these thresholds fall into the low-risk category. What if, outside of the odd party and the revelries of December, you don’t regularly overindulge. Is a full month off alcohol really necessary?

We cut things out of our diet, and our lives, that are bad for us. Ergo, by abstaining from alcohol, we are labeling it as harmful in our minds. And, for most moderate drinkers, that is an erroneous association.

Numerous studies show that moderate alcohol consumption (by healthy, physically fit individuals) has no significant adverse effects to health. In fact, some researchers indicate that the antioxidants in red wine may be good for the heart and help ward off type 2 diabetes, among numerous other benefits

Turning alcohol into something to be banished from our lives creates powerful negative connotations. Just like overly restrictive diets, this all or nothing approach to alcohol can lead to cravings that weren’t previously there. For others, it can cause feelings of guilt or regret when later imbibing.

In other cases, a month away from alcohol is simply a dietary measure. This can indeed be effective. However, if you are replacing your alcohol units with soft drinks or juice as an alternative “special” drink on a night out, you can kiss all calorie savings goodbye.

I always find January a bit dreary. The sun is long gone by the end of the workday. The weather is frosty. The air of revelry has faded. The last thing I want is to deprive myself the pleasure of a nice glass of wine at the end of the day. I don’t need it, but I do enjoy it.

To reset after the holiday excess, my new year’s resolution is a return to moderation. Sure, #ModerateJanuary isn’t as sexy a hashtag. And yes, it lacks the simplicity and dramatic sense of achievement of Dry January. For me though, it is a more sustainable choice.

I try to stick to one, maximum two glasses of wine on the nights that I crack open a bottle. And I make sure to slot in dry nights each week. The most enjoyable way to drink less, is to drink better. As with most people, when I spend a bit more money on a special bottle of wine, I tend to drink it more slowly and mindfully. When enjoyed over a few days, a $30 bottle of wine is no more expensive than a daily $10 tipple.

With that in mind, here are a few special bottles that have caught my fancy in recent months.

Domaine de Montbourgeau L’Etoile 2018 (Jura, France) – 91pts. PW

This 11-hectare Jura estate is located in L’Étoile. This tiny limestone-rich appellation is prized for its racy, mineral-drive Chardonnays. Now managed by the fourth generation of the Deriaux, the estate practices sustainable viticulture.

This is fantastic example of the traditional, oxidative style of Jura Chardonnay. Aromas of bruised apple and eaux-de-vie mingle with hints of exotic spice and roasted hazelnut on the nose. The palate has a sharp, dry bite that acts as an exciting counterpoint to its ample structure and layered texture. Savoury notes linger on the finish. Definitely a food wine, this L’Etoile Chardonnay is a great match for roast chicken.

Where to Buy: $29.30 at the SAQ (code: 11557541)

Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2019 (Auckland, New Zealand – 94pts. PW

This pioneering estate has built up a solid reputation as one of New Zealand’s premier Chardonnay producers, and for good reason. The Estate cuvée is their house blend sourced from six different vineyards of mainly clay and sandstone soils.

It is a superlative wine, with exquisite reductive balance. Layers of ripe lemon, apricot, lightly buttered toast, and subtle flinty struck match notes seduce on the nose. The palate is initially crisp and taut, giving way to a creamy, concentrated core of bright fruit. Smooth and dry, with perfectly integrated spiced oak hints.

Where to Buy: $41.25 at the SAQ (code: 10281184)

Domaine David Duband Bourgogne Rouge 2019 (Bourgogne, France) – 95pts. PW

David Duband took over his family’s Hautes Côtes de Nuits estate some twenty years ago. Since then he has garnered worldwide acclaim for his very pure, understated, organic wines.

This Bourgogne Rouge might be on the pricier side given the “humble” nature of the appellation, but it is worth every penny. In fact, I enjoyed this red more than many more prestigious red Bourgogne appellations tasted last year.

Duband manages to combine the ripe, fragrant aromatics of this warm vintage, with a fresh, silky, lightweight palate that just oozes finesse. Vivid red berry flavours, laced with subtle spice, and earthy nuances linger on the finish.

Where to Buy: $38 at the SAQ (code: 14814785)

Dalrymple Pinot Noir 2019 (Tasmania, Australia) – 90pts. PW

The Pipers River region of northeast Tasmania is greatly admired for its production of cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Cool winds flow in from the Bass Strait, moderating the sunny climate and providing a long, even growing season.

Dalrymple has been making wines in the area for over thirty years. The estate Pinot Noir is a mix of several sites of mainly volcanic soil origin. A heady fragrance of stewed rhubarb, crushed strawberry, and baking spice graces the nose. The palate is medium bodied and velvety smooth, with vibrant red and dark berry fruit.

Where to Buy: $45 at the SAQ (code: 14727201)

Pierre Gaillard St Joseph “Clos de Cuminaille” 2019(Rhône Valley, France) – 93pts. PW

Pierre Gaillard is a long-established Northern Rhône producer with vineyards stretching from Côte Rôtie to Cornas. Planted in 1981, Gaillard’s “Clos de Cuminaille” vineyard in St. Joseph yields concentrated, flavourful old vine grapes from its sandy, granite slopes.

The 2019 vintage is still in its infancy, but already drinking beautifully with seductive notes of violet, black plum, and hoisin sauce. The palate is weighty yet fresh, with fleshy tannins that are already remarkably approachable. Decant an hour before serving. This wine paired beautifully with a subtly harissa spiced lentil & cauliflower dish I threw together last week.

Where to Buy: $42.27 at the SAQ (code: 11231963)

This Dry January/ Drink Less but Better 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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Brunello di Montalcino 2017 Vintage Report

Brunello di Montalcino 2017

This January, the Brunello di Montalcino 2017 vintage will be released, alongside the 2016 Riserva wines. The date is no arbitrary decision by local winemakers. It is a precise ageing requirement set down in the region’s controlled and guaranteed denomination of origin (DOCG) regulations.

Brunello di Montalcino is made exclusively from the Sangiovese grape. These premium quality Tuscan wines are considered amongst the finest reds Italy has to offer. For an overview of the region, its terroir, wine styles, and so forth, click here.

The Evolution of Brunello di Montalcino

In the thirty years that Montalcino has held the top-tier DOCG status, much has changed in the region. Once home to a few dozen vintners, with most estates operating as polycultures, Montalcino now counts over 200 wineries devoted to the craft of fine winemaking.

During this time, the wine styles have evolved quite significantly. A move to smaller French barriques, and lavish use of new oak has come and gone. Most producers now favour a mix of mainly used barrels and the large, traditional Slavonian casks.

Tannic structure has also shifted dramatically, according to Italian wine expert, Susan Hulme MW. Once powerfully firm and somewhat coarse in certain sectors, there has been a marked shift towards more refined, approachable tannins. Hulme suggests that this is linked to improved vineyard management, optimized harvest dates, and greater restraint in the cellars, in terms of extraction and ageing.

Brunello di Montalcino 2017 Vintage Conditions

The Brunello di Montalcino 2017 vintage was a nail biter for many growers. Following a warm, dry winter and early spring, vines budded two weeks early across Montalcino. A cold snap later April led to frost damage in certain areas.

The months of July and August were hot and very dry, causing hydric stress and shrivelled grape berries in some parcels. Sites with clay-dominant soils faired better, due to their great absorption and holding of the scattered, late spring rains.

Thankfully, cool nighttime temperatures throughout the late summer allowed for good acid retention. This, coupled with some timely rains and more moderate temperatures early September, allowed hopes for a fine vintage to rise again.

An ensuing period of warm, sunny weather extended the growing season well into October in many parts of the appellation. While not up to the loft heights of the 2016 vintage, the Consorzio (grower’s association) gave the Brunello di Montalcino 2017 vintage a very positive, four-star rating.

Tasting the Brunello di Montalcino 2017 Wines

I recently travelled to Montalcino, to participate in Benvenuto Brunello. The region’s annual unveiling of the new vintage gives media, sommeliers, and other wine aficionados an exclusive preview of the wines before they hit store shelves.

The event took place at the beautiful, medieval Sant’Agostini cloisters atop the village square. Lines of impeccably attired sommeliers stood to attention around the tasting tables, ready to fetch requested wines at the raise of a taster’s hand.

The list of samples was extensive, covering the Brunello di Montalcino 2017 wines of Consorzio members, as well as their single vineyard bottlings, 2016 Riserva cuvées, and a smattering of 2018 and 2019 Rosso di Montalcino bottlings.

While I wasn’t able to taste every wine – many bottles of the highly rated wines ran out as the day wore on – I did get through over one hundred samples. For the purposes of this article, I will focus on the Brunello di Montalcino 2017 wines.

On the whole, the vintage yielded vivid wines with complex, well-defined aromatics. My notes regularly mentioned perfumed aromas of red berries and cherries, orange peel, floral nuances, and balsamic hints. Lively acidity was also a common feature.

Beyond fragrance and freshness, the similarities waned. In terms of structure, the Brunello di Montalcino 2017 wines ranged from light and silky to weightier, more voluptuous offerings – often a function of vineyard altitude and orientation.

Tannins were also highly varied across the wines. The best offered chalky to fairly grippy, yet ripe tannins. Many will require a few years to unwind but should prove to be good moderate term cellaring wines offering Brunello lovers a lot of pleasure. There were, however, many cases of green, astringent tannins marring otherwise pleasant Brunellos.

Brunello di Montalcino 2017 Tasting Notes

MY TOP 20 WINES

Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino 2017

A powerful, aromatic wine redolent with a myriad of ripe red fruit, exotic spice, and citrus oil.  The palate is weighty, yet well defined, with diffuse, chalky tannins and a beautifully fresh, hugely persistent finish. 96pts.

Lisini Brunello di Montalcino 2017

The perfumed, Pinot like nose gives way to an ample, firmly structured palate with impressive depth of red fruit, nutmeg, blood orange flavour. Grippy tannins frame the finish. Very complete; needs 3 – 4 years to soften. 95pts.

Sesti Brunello di Montalcino 2017

Highly complex, with pomegranate aromas underscored by dried orange peel, incense, and rose. Very concentrated on the palate, with a layered texture and vibrant freshness to counterbalance the firm, faintly bitter tannin. 95pts.

Talenti Brunello di Montalcino 2017

Earthier in character, with sun-dried tomatoes and dried herbal notes mingled with tangy red fruit flavours. The palate is powerfully structured, with a broad, fleshy mid-palate tapering to fine-grained tannins. 95pts.

Lisini Brunello di Montalcino 2017, Vigna Ugolaia

Fragrant macerated red and dark fruit, with hints of almond essence and dried floral notes emerging upon aeration. The palate is full-bodied, with a suave, chiselled structure. Pleasantly warming, with intriguing peppery nuances. 94pts.

San Polo Brunello di Montalcino 2017

Very intense and enticing nose, with typical 2017 tangy red fruit, blood orange, potpourri notes, with underlying exotic spice. The palate is dense and highly concentrated, with ripe, yet imposing tannins. Needs time to harmonize further. 94pts.

Castello Romitorio Brunello di Montalcino 2017, Vigna: Filo di Seta

While the nose is somewhat muted at present, the palate is powerful and polished with impressive depth. Notes of almond essence, red cherry, sweet tobacco, baking spice, and smoke linger on the firm, layered finish. 93pts.

San Polino Brunello di Montalcino 2017

Aromas of stewed red fruit overlay fresh leafy notes and hints of graphite. The palate is weighty and ample, with well integrated cedar spice nuances and firm, fine-grained tannins. Finishes with a pleasing, lifted freshness. 93pts.

Scopetone Brunello di Montalcino 2017.

Initially muted, with savoury, nutty nuances emerging alongside red fruit, citrus, and floral tones. Very harmonious on the palate, with lovely freshness, a sinewy, medium-bodied structure, and well-defined, chalky tannins. 93pts.

Tenute Silvio Nardi Brunello di Montalcino 2017.

Fragrant notes of sweet dark fruit, crushed raspberry, peony, and exotic spice leap from the glass. The palate is bold and grippy, with well integrated toasty, cedar hints. A big, warming wine that needs 4 – 5 years to harmonize. 92 – 94pts.

Le Chiuse Brunello di Montalcino 2017

Highly perfumed, with intense red cherry and berry aromas, over notes of violet and talc. The palate medium in body and satiny smooth, with an abundance of tangy red fruit flavours. Very elegant though still quite tightly knit. 93pts.

Castello Tricerchi Brunello di Montalcino 2017, Vigna: AD 1441

Pleasing, Pinot-like nose with very pure red berry fruit aromas and flavours. A fresh, silky attack leads into a layered mid-palate offering notes of almond, graphite, and tangy red cherry. Bright fruit tempers the firm tannins on the lengthy finish. 93pts.

Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino 2017, Vigna Nastagio

Intense notes of loose-leaf tea, almond, dried citrus peel, and red cherry impress on the complex nose. The palate is dense and highly concentrated, with muscular tannins. Tightly wound; needs time to unfurl and reveal its full potential. 93pts.

Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino 2017

Attractive aromas of almond essence, red and black cherry, and crushed strawberry on the nose. The palate is firm and weighty, balanced by mouth-watering acidity. Harmonious hints of sandalwood and sweet tobacco mingle with bright berry fruit on the finish. 93pts.

Pian delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino 2017.

Very tempting, with its aromatic blood orange, tangy red fruit, and fresh herbal notes. Initially broad and amply proportioned, with vibrant fruit flavours interlaced with graphite and tobacco. Becomes more tightly wound and grippy on the finish. 92pts.

Altesino Brunello di Montalcino 2017, Vigna Montosoli

Very floral, with underlying notes of pomegranate, citrus peel, and talc. The palate is full-bodied, fresh and well-defined, with its sinewy tannins. Tangy red fruit, earthy, and savoury flavours linger on the finish. 92pts.

Fornacina Brunello di Montalcino 2017

Ripe, rich flavours of red and dark fruit are heightened by nuances of nutmeg, peony, and incense on this complex red. The palate is bold yet retains a certain lightness of bearing, with citrussy hints lifting the fruit. Very elegant, with firm, chalky tannins. 92pts.

Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino 2017

Heady notes of red cherry, baked tomato, provençal herbs, and potpourri play across the nose and palate, with savoury nuances emerging over time. The palate is brisk and moderately firm with a sweet, sappy quality to the fruit. Highly muscular tannins. Needs time. 92pts.

San Polo Brunello di Montalcino 2017, Vigna Podernovi

Very appealing floral nose, with intriguing hints of pumpkin spice, tea leaf, and red fruit. Brisk acidity gives way to a dense, yet layered palate. Mouthcoating tannins frame the finish. Needs 4 – 5 years to soften. 92pts.

Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino 2017, Vigna La Casa

Initially fruity, with ripe red cherry aromas. Overtime aromas and flavours of black truffle, graphite, and sweet tobacco develop. The palate is very fresh with a broad, fleshy mouthfeel that gives way to powerful tannins. Needs time. 92pts.

OTHER HIGHLY RECOMMENDED WINES:

Regular cuvées from: Agostina Pieri, Barbi, Canalicchio di Sopra, Caparzo, Castello Romitorio, Castello Tricerchi, Castiglion del Bosco, Col d’Orcia, La Fornace, Poggio di Sotto, Tenuta di Sesta

Vigna cuvées from: Castiglion del Bosco “Campo del Drago”, La Fornace “Vigna Origini”

This Brunello di Montalcino 2017 article was originally written for Good Food Revolution. Want to learn more about artisanal food, wine, beer and spirits.? Check out their excellent website.

Photo credit for all pictures goes to the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino.

Education Life

Best Sparkling Wine for Parties? Prosecco Superiore DOCG. Here’s Why.

What is the best sparkling wine for parties? This question pops up each holiday season. Though perhaps this year it has special significance. After a slightly less than festive Christmas last year, I think we are all in the mood to celebrate…albeit in smaller groups than we once knew.

So, its time to pop some corks. Prosecco Superiore DOCG corks, to be more specific.

What is Prosecco Superiore DOCG?

Prosecco is a sparkling Italian wine produced in Northeast Italy. While many enjoy Prosecco as cheap and cheerful fizz, there are truly elegant wines to be had. Just look for the word Prosecco Superiore and the appellation mention Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (or DOCG) on the label.

As the name would indicate, Prosecco Superiore DOCG is the premium tier of Prosecco. These superior sparkling wines have finer effervescence, greater freshness, and persistence. Their discreet spring blossom and orchard fruit aromas are often heightened by hints of aniseed, ginger, or hazelnut.

What elicits this transcendent quality? A variety of factors, the most important of which is vineyard site. Basic Prosecco DOC is produced from large swathes of largely flat, high yielding vineyard sites. In contrast, Prosecco Superiore DOCG hails from just two, unique hillside locations: Asolo and Conegliano Valdobbiadene. The latter is the historic heart of Prosecco winemaking.

The hills stretching northwest from the town of Conegliano to that of Valdobbiadene rise sharply in altitude, providing a cool, yet sunny climate. These conditions allow the grapevines to ripen more slowly, developing greater aromatic complexity, while preserving high natural acidity.

Here, larger vineyards give way to small plots of, often, terraced vineyards. The steepest sites are laboured by hand, a practice dubbed Viticoltura Eroica (heroic viticulture). Yields are far lower than on the valley floor, giving grapes with more concentrated flavours.

What Makes Prosecco Superiore DOCG the Best Sparkling Wine for Parties?

Great sparkling wines are being made across the globe in a variety of styles. There are countless options to choose from. However, when it comes to the best sparkling wine for parties, Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG has several key assets.

The quality price ratio is very attractive. Prosecco Superiore generally retails for little more than the DOC tier, and far less than most other premium bubblies. The precise production methods (and lack of significant vintage variation) also results in strong consistency from one bottling to the next.

Prosecco Superiore DOCG possesses a crowd-pleasing taste profile. At four bars of pressure, its bubbles are softer and smoother than traditional method sparkling wines (which can reach five to six bars). It is fresh and light, with subtle, amiable flavours.

Finally, and potentially the clincher as best sparkling wine for parties, Prosecco Superiore DOCG is low in alcohol. The majority weigh in at just 11% to 11.5% by volume. This makes for a lighter alcohol option, with no compromise on flavour or quality.

The Finest of Prosecco Superiore DOCG Wines

If buying the best sparkling wine for parties means seeking out the very top, look for words like Rive or Cartizze on a Prosecco Superiore label. These mentions are linked to the choicest terroirs of the appellation.

Rive essentially means single vineyard. These sites have been identified as having exceptional vine growing conditions. Wines from designated Rives can indicate the term, followed by the name of the vineyard, on their labels.

Cartizze is Prosecco’s one and only Grand Cru. It is the name of one specific vineyard area on a hill at the highest point of the appellation. The grapes here ripen slowly and fully giving very ripe, structured, voluptuous wines with bright, tangy acidity.

Proseccco Superiore wines from Cartizze are traditionally made in the dry style. However, the majority have such vibrant acidity and rich, fruity flavours that the sweetness is well balanced thus barely perceptible.

Finally, for those looking to go off the beaten track, there are the Sui Lieviti (otherwise known as Col Fondo) wines. Today, Prosecco develops its effervescence from a secondary fermentation in closed tanks. However, the earliest Proseccos were bottle fermented. A small cohort of producers is reviving this historic custom.

These cloudy, bone-dry, lees aged Prosecco Superiore DOCG are currently rare, but with the rise in interest for pétillant naturel wine styles we are sure to see more in years to come.

Best Sparkling Wine for Parties, Parting Tips

Prosecco ranges from bone-dry to slightly sweet, an important point to keep in mind. The sweetness level is indicated on the label, but the terms used are slightly confusing.

  • Extra-Brut is the driest, most linear style, at zero to six grams/ litre (g/l) of residual sugar
  • Brut is still very dry, though slightly broader on the palate, at six to 12g/l
  • Extra-Dry actually refers to fruity, subtly off-dry styles, at 12 to 17g/L
  • Dry is another oxymoron, referring to fuller-bodied, semi-sweet styles, at 17 to 32g/l

For the greatest aromatic expression, Prosecco Superiore DOCG wines are best served chilled between six and eight degrees Celsius, in a large, tulip shaped glass.

This “Best Sparkling Wine for Parties” article was sponsored, and photos were provided, by the Consortium Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG. Cover photo credit to Adobe Spark stock images.

Education Life

Jura Wines: A Primer & an Upcoming Travel Film…

Jura Wines Stéphane Tissot

Jura wines are sommelier favourites around the globe. Yet, this tranquil corner of eastern France between Burgundy and the Swiss border is one of the smallest of French wine regions. In fact, it represents less than one percent of French wine, in terms of total vineyard acreage. 

Since my days in Burgundy, I have been a great admirer of fine Jura wines and have watched the region’s rise to (wine bar) fame with growing interest. This past summer, I decided that it was time to investigate and took a camera crew along to document my adventures.

Stay tuned for my Jura wine travel documentary coming out soon. Follow me on Instagram for more.

A Fascinating History

The Jura has some pretty impressive claims to fame. The Jurassic period, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, was named after the Jura mountains. It was here that layers of limestone rock from the period were first identified.

The Jura was also home to renowned French chemist Louis Pasteur, who we can thank for the rabies vaccine, but also for his ground-breaking experiments on microbial fermentation, carried out on Jura wines in Arbois. Pasteur’s work propelled the winemaking world forward.

Alongside its impressive diversity of French wine styles, the Jura also prides itself on its gastronomic delights. Comté and Morbier cheeses, Bresse chicken, and Montbéliard sausages are just a few of its highlights.

Prime Terroir

The vineyards stretch across a narrow 80-kilometre undulating expanse in the foothills of the Jura mountains, in an area called the Revermont. While many lump Jura wines in a high-altitude, “mountain wine” category with Savoie, Jura vineyards rarely surpass 400 metres in altitude.

The Vineyards of Château Chalon

Over the course of the Mesozoic era, loose clay and limestone rock deposits accumulated, forming the major subsoil of the Jura. Today, the range of marl (lime-rich, clay, and silt mudstone soils), clay, and limestone soils, alongside the numerous vineyard orientations, and altitudes allows for multiple grape varieties to thrive here.

The Jura has a largely continental climate with cold, often damp winters and warm, dry summers. Spring frosts, hail, mildew, and rot can all wreak havoc on the vineyards as the 2021 growing season unfortunately displayed. This is a challenging place to grow grapes.

Despite this, the Jura is one of the most organic wine regions of France. Almost a quarter of the region’s vineyards are certified organic or biodynamic, and the number is increasing steadily. Natural winemaking has also taken hold strongly in the Jura, with an abundance of high-quality examples of low intervention Jura wines.

Jura Wines: Diverse & Distinctive Styles

The multiplicity of grapes and winemaking practices is a major part of what makes Jura wines so fascinating.

Dry white Jura wines from Chardonnay and Savagnin grapes are made in ouillé and non ouillé styles. Ouillé refers to the process of topping up wine barrels to avoid oxidative reactions. Ouillé white wines are often referred to as Les Floraux locally for their floral, fruity appeal.

The more traditional white winemaking method for Jura wines is to deliberately abstain from topping up barrels, allowing subtle oxidation to occur and a layer of yeast for form; a technique called sous voile. This process brings savoury, nutty, exotic spice flavours to the wines that increase in potency the longer wines are aged. The most famous of sous voile Jura wines is the region’s iconic Vin Jaune.

Rosé and red Jura wines are produced from native varieties, Poulsard and Trousseau, as well as Pinot Noir. The Jura also makes excellent Crémant du Jura, Vin de Paille (straw wine), grape brandy called Marc du Jura, and a liqueur wine called MacVin du Jura.

Jura Wines: The Appellations of Origin

The Jura has seven appellations, or AOCs, for its wines – four are geographic and three are related to specific Jura wine styles.

Map credit: Comité Interprofessionnel des vins du Jura

Arbois is the most historic, and among the largest, of Jura wine geographic appellations. It was one of the very first French wine regions to achieve AOC status back in 1936. All styles of Jura wines are made here but the area’s red wines are particularly prized. The sheltered slopes of Arbois’ best vineyards produce more than two-thirds of the Jura’s red wines.

The Côtes du Jura is the region’s other large appellation. It is a region-wide, covering the area north of Arbois all the way to the Jura’s southern vineyard limits. Like Arbois, all Jura wines styles can be produced from Côtes du Jura AOC vineyards. Chardonnay – which accounts for over 40% of the Jura’s plantings – covers much of the southern Côtes du Jura slopes. 

Château-Chalon is the smallest area, with approximately 60 hectares of vineyards, but it is hugely significant. It is the birthplace of Vin Jaune. The appellation is named for its picturesque medieval village, which is perched atop the hillside vineyards. Vin Jaune, which is made exclusively from the Savagnin grape, is the only wine produced here.

The Étoile appellation is also diminutive in size but highly prized for its limestone soils and its racy, mineral-driven Chardonnay wines.

Among the style-related appellations for Jura wines, Crémant du Jura is the most prolific. These elegant, traditional method sparkling wines make up a quarter of the region’s wine sales.

Making a Jura Wines Movie!

My tour through Jura wine country included visits to three of its top-quality estates. At Domaine André and Mireille Tissot near Arbois, I caught up with Stéphane Tissot to discuss biodynamics and the rise of single vineyard Jura wines.

In Château-Chalon, I learned the secrets of Vin Jaune production from the master himself, Laurent Macle of Domaine Jean Macle. I also checked in on the younger generation at Domaine Baud in the Côtes du Jura town of Le Vernois, to taste some bubblies.

Drinking crémant with Clémentine & Bastien Baud

Of course, no tasting of Jura wines is complete without the right food pairings. Luckily, the Jura is home to Meilleur Ouvrier de France, sommelier Philippe Troussard. He took me on a tour of the Arbois market to chat classic and modern Jura wine pairings.

The Jura Wine Tasting Report

To get a larger sense of Jura wines, I also dropped in to the Vins du Jura wine trade association for a regional overview blind tasting. While sampling over 90 recent vintage sparkling, dry whites, and red wines, Vins du Jura director Olivier Badoureaux updated me on all things Jura wines.

A detailed Jura wines tasting report with all my top-rated Jura wines is also coming out soon. Jura wine lovers, watch this space, or watch for updates on Instagram.

Final Thoughts on Jura Wines

The ravages of Phylloxera, two world wars, and the Jura’s somewhat remote location took a toll on production. The vineyards that once spanned 20,000 hectares now make up a mere tenth of that area.

The demanding grape growing conditions here are not for the faint of heart. Violent frosts, hail, and extremes of temperature are more commonplace now as the effects of climate change become increasingly apparent.

The 2021 growing season was particularly hard hit. Laurent Macle showed me the gaping hole where an entire, terraced parcel of his Château Chalon vineyards was washed away by heavy July flooding. Producers across the region estimated 50 to 85% crop losses, notably in organically farmed sites.

Despite these hardships, the passion and ambition of the Jura’s best growers is unmistakable. Their unwavering commitment to sustainable grape growing, low interventionist winemaking, and high-quality wine overall has led to a rapid rise in global demand.

While we can expect to see lower export levels given the small harvest, Jura wines are most definitely worth seeking out. For my palate, they are among the most distinctive and exciting wines on the market today

Tasting old vintages with Domaine Macle

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

Reviews Wines

François Lurton Chacayes, Tale of a Vertical Tasting

François Lurton Chacayes

When I first started tasting Argentinian Malbec many moons ago, jammy was a description that oft crossed my lips. Their soft, rounded acidity, plush texture, and velvety tannins more closely resembled Californian Zinfandel than any French iteration of the grape I had ever tried.

But change was already afoot. Ambitious winemakers were leaving the sundrenched flatlands east of Mendoza in favour of cooler, higher altitude climes. And thus, the Uco Valley, once considered too far from the city to warrant major interest, became Mendoza’s fine wine haven.

The Uco Valley twists and turns around the Tunuyan river and its tributaries. It follows a north-south orientation for 115 kilometres. The towering Andes Cordillera (mountain range) form its western border. To the east, lie a series of lower elevation mountains, still rising well above 1,000 metres.

The valley is roughly organized around its three municipalities: Tupungato, Tunuyan, and San Carlos. Highly prized vineyard sites are dotted throughout the area, each with their distinctive attributes. For the Lurton family, it was the gravelly soils in the Andean foothills west of Tunuyan that drew their gaze, establishing their estate here in 1996.

Perched at 1,100 metres altitude, Los Chacayes has an extreme, desert-like climate with warm summers and cold, snowy winters. The hot, dry Zonda wind regularly buffets the area and hail is a common hazard.

Lurton Chacayes vineyard

Photo credit: François Lurton Chacayes Vineyard, Bodega Piedra Negra

The site’s high elevation brings two of its defining features: marked diurnal variation and increased sunlight intensity. Day time highs in the summer regularly surpass 30°C, however at nightfall the temperature plummets, reaching lows of 10 – 12°C on average. This, coupled with high UV levels, allows for optimal day time photosynthesis, with an abrupt slowdown at days’ end, preserving high natural acidity.

The high solar radiation also results in increased polyphenol production. The grapes produce thicker skins to protect themselves against the hot sun. Thus, grapes grown here produce more deeply coloured, tannic wines.

The Lurtons selected two plots of land and set about planting variations of the Malbec grape. They decided to grow both traditional Argentinian Malbec clones, and a clonal selection of French Côt.  According to Lurton, the Côt is “slightly more tense and austere… it brings freshness” and a nervy tension to the more fruit-forward, open-knit Argentinian Malbec.

The vineyards were planted at an impressive density of 20,000 vines/ hectare (double that traditionally used in high density French vineyards like Bordeaux or Burgundy). This, coupled with nutrient-poor soils and a generally dry climate, all combine to stress the vines. Yields are low, at roughly two bunches per vine, allowing for early ripening of intensely concentrated, flavourful grapes.

This week, I had the pleasure of sitting down to a vertical of six François Lurton Chacayes vintages. Produced in certified organic vineyards, the wines are vinified with indigenous yeasts, in a mix of new French oak barrels and concrete eggs, with an emphasis on long, gentle extraction.

One of the hallmarks across each vintage was the wines’ soaring acidities. It comes in stark contrast to their dense, weighty frames, and ripe fruit flavours. While each vintage is marked by its weather patterns, a bookending of lively acidity and refreshing, slightly bitter tannins was common.

Dating back to the 2002 vintage, the tasting amply displayed the range’s powerful, ageworthy nature. These are not wallflowers, but rather commanding, powerhouse wines that demand a decanter and hearty food pairing to show their best.

François Lurton Chacayes, Bodega Piedra Negra, IG Los Chacayes, Uco Valley

François Lurton Chacayes 2002

The 2002 vintage saw a good deal of humidity and marked temperature swings from day to night. The winery team considers this, their first vintage with exclusively estate-grown fruit, to be “one of the greatest vintages of Chacayes”.

Developed notes of prune, truffle, and dried leaves mingle with heady baked plum and allspice on the nose. Full-bodied and still wonderfully fresh, the palate displays a broad, supple structure, with dried dark fruit and savoury flavours. Drying on the finish. Drink now with hearty, earthy fare. 91pts.

François Lurton Chacayes 2003

After the deluge, the drought. The wet 2002 growing season was followed by one of the driest summers on record. Thankfully, optimal conditions throughout the autumn saved the harvest, though yields were low.

Remarkably youthful aromas of stewed red and black fruit overlay notes of milk chocolate, nutmeg, and sandalwood on the nose. The palate is a study in contrasts; fleshy and ample, yet brisk with tart red berry flavours. Firm, structuring tannins frame the dark chocolate, cedar nuanced finish. 90pts.

François Lurton Chacayes 2007

Dramatic shifts in seasonal weather patterns and the regular menace of summer storms made 2007 a nail-biter of a vintage. Despite this, the wines show particular elegance.

A fragrant medley of blueberry jam, violets, cocoa, and licorice plays across the nose and palate. This weighty Malbec, with its vibrant acidity, dense core, and fine-grained tannins, is the definition of an iron fist in a velvet glove. Attractive bitter hints provide lovely freshness on the finish. 95pts.

François Lurton Chacayes 2008

The 2008 harvest took place two weeks later than usual due to cooler-than-average temperatures, heavy cloud cover, and regular rainfall.

A dark fruit scented nose of cassis and plum, with intriguing undertones of hoisin sauce and cigar box. The palate is dense and spice-laden, with juicy fruit flavours, and ripe, chalky tannins. Warming cinnamon spice notes linger on the persistent finish. 93pts.

François Lurton Chacayes 2015

An El Niño vintage, marked by cool, rainy weather giving very pure, aromatic wines with a taut, high acid profile.

A floral, perfumed wine with youthful notes of crushed black cherries and berries, and peppery nuances upon aeration. The palate is brisk and tightly knit with a concentrated core of dark chocolate and ripe dark fruits, lifted by refreshing eucalyptus undertones. Muscular, somewhat astringent tannins, define the toasty, spiced finish. Needs three to five years further cellaring to soften and integrate. 92pts.

François Lurton Chacayes 2017

The 2017 crop was picked early to preserve balanced freshness after an exceptionally warm, dry growing season. This low yielding vintage “brought great concentration” according to the estate.

The nose is a heady array of plum jam, exotic spice, wildflowers, and mocha, lifted by hints of orange peel. This same generous yet lifted character plays across the palate, tapering to ripe, sinewy tannins. Finishes long with layers of spice, sweet dark fruit, dark chocolate, and sweet tobacco. 94pts.

*** This François Lurton Chacayes 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

Organic Wine from New Zealand: Why it’s Worth Seeking Out!

Organic wine from New Zealand

Organic wine from New Zealand is a growing phenomenon, with many of the country’s major wineries leading the way. What sets New Zealand’s organic wines apart and where can you find good examples? Read on to find out more.

Sustainability is the new buzz word for conscientious wineries. This is not to say that sustainable viticulture and winemaking is a recent development, just that messaging to consumers has become far more pervasive.

This upswing in sustainable wine talk, while laudable, has also created a certain amount of confusion amongst wine lovers. Organic, biodynamic, sustainable… where does one practice end and the other begin?

Unfortunately, there are no simple answers. There is also a fair amount of overlap. Many sustainable wineries practice organic viticulture, and numerous organic producers also farm biodynamically or observe certain biodynamic principles.

Thankfully, certain wine regions have taken pains to clarify matters; New Zealand is a fantastic example.

New Zealand is a leading light in wine industry sustainability. The country’s wineries first made sustainable wine headlines when they announced their ambitious plan to be net carbon zero by 2050. New Zealand was also the first to develop a nation-wide sustainability certification programme: Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand™ (SWNZ). Today, a whopping 96% of New Zealand’s vineyard area is SWNZ certified.

New Zealand is a leading light in wine industry sustainability with ambitious plans to reach net carbon zero by 2050.

At the producer level, sustainability means crafting quality wine, in an economically viable and socially responsible manner, while protecting the environment for future generations. Organic and/or biodynamics comes into play when we consider this third, environmental pillar of sustainability.

Organic viticulture starts with the elimination of all synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. The organic conversion process takes three years for producers seeking certified organic status. Organic wine from New Zealand is championed by grower-led organization, Organic Winegrowers New Zealand (OWNZ).  

“Organic producers are careful co-creators with nature,” explains the OWNZ. “We build healthy vines by building healthy soils, and by nurturing a diverse, rich community of plants, soil, insects, and microorganisms”.

Photo credit: Felton Road, cover crops

To date, a little over ten percent of New Zealand’s wine producers hold organic certifications, mainly from the country’s largest organic certifier, BioGro. This may not seem like a significant figure now, but the demand for organic wine from New Zealand is rising steadily, driving more and more producers to convert.

The demand for organic wine from New Zealand is rising steadily, driving more and more producers to convert.

“Since 2018, there has been a big surge in organic wine from New Zealand ” affirms Jared White, Audit Manager and wine industry liaison for BioGro. “Of the 2,418 hectares currently farmed organically, 18% are currently in conversion”. While most organic producers have smaller vineyard holdings than the national average, major producers like Pernod Ricard New Zealand, Yealands, and Villa Maria are making increasing organic inroads.

Villa Maria has converted over 100 hectares of their company-owned vineyards to organic winemaking. They aim to be entirely organic by 2030. “We are motivated to further enhance the health of our soils and environment so we can reap the rewards of beautiful fruit for years to come” explained Villa Maria’s viticulturalist, Hannah Ternent, in the The Drinks Business.

But what does organic wine production look like in practice? In the Central Otago, where an impressive 25% of vineyards are farmed organically, top wineries are keen to share their wisdom. From precise canopy management, to carefully selected cover crops, to organic composts made from winery waste, the team at Felton Road employs a wide variety of techniques to boost vine and soil health. They also limit their water usage by using mulches and monitoring soil moisture levels.

In the Central Otago, an impressive 25% of vineyards are farmed organically.

Organic production does not stop at the winery doors. In organic certifications, winery additives like cultured yeasts and sulphur are carefully controlled, and genetically modified organisms are prohibited. Using only native yeasts and minimal sulphur is a point of pride for many organic producers. Marlborough-based estate, Seresin, feels that their organic vineyard cultivation, and low interventionist winemaking, are integral factors making their wines “uniquely expressive of their origins and their vintages”.

Photo credit: Seresin Estate, compost preparation

Of course, New Zealand is far from the only wine-producing country with a growing commitment to organic wine. When asked what sets them apart, BioGro’s Jared White was quick to reply. “There is a lot of support and information sharing here. OWNZ also offers a mentoring program, and they do in-depth research, providing a wealth of data for growers”.

One such research project was an organic conversion study, following selected vineyards through the process in three growing areas (Marlborough, Central Otago, and Hawkes Bay). OWNZ undertook regular soils analyses and pest and disease monitoring, among many other parameters measured. The findings from these projects are invaluable tools for new producers looking to embark on the process.

Continuous improvement, a central tenet in sustainability circles, is also at the heart of the organic wine movement in New Zealand.

Continuous improvement, a central tenet in sustainability circles, is also at the heart of the organic wine movement in New Zealand. A requirement to demonstrate biodiversity enhancement – currently only enforced in Canadian organic standards – is in the works.

The sector is also moving towards national regulations. This will allow producers to access equivalency arrangements with organic wine programmes abroad. At present, organic wine from New Zealand must meet organic regulations in the country of export.

Here in Canada, if an organic wine from New Zealand, certified by BioGro, doesn’t also satisfy the guidelines set out by the Canada Organic Regime, they cannot market their wines as organic.

Seeking out organic wine from New Zealand is worth the effort though. The environmental benefits are numerous and, according to Villa Maria’s Hannah Ternent, there is another advantage. “Wines made from organically grown grapes have more intense flavours… you can taste the care put into the soil, the careful handling of the fruit, and the respect for our relationship with the land”.

Looking for organic wine from New Zealand, available in Canada? Here is a list of OWNZ accredited members with wines regularly available across the country:

Fully Organic (producing all/most of their wines solely from organic or biodynamic grapes)

Carrick, Churton, Clos Henri, Dog Point Vineyard, Felton Road, Quartz Reef, Rippon, Seresin, Supernatural Wine Co., Two Paddocks, Burn Cottage Vineyard, Neudorf Vineyards, Pyramid Valley, Te Mania

Partly Organic (producing some wines from organic or biodynamic grapes and/or vineyards in conversion)

Amisfield, Babich, Giesen, Loveblock, Pernod Ricard New Zealand, Villa Maria, Wither Hills, Yealands

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

As part of their organic wine week, I was sent a small selection of organic wines from New Zealand to sample (and a tasty treat 😉). Sadly one bottle was out of condition, but reviews for the others are given below.

Pyramid Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2019, Marlborough – 93pts. PW

Sourced from biodynamic vineyards in Marlborough’s Waihopai and Omaka Valleys. Vinified in large neutral oak casks with native yeasts. Aged for six months on its fine lees.

Attractive lime, gooseberry aromas are underscored by white floral and peppery hints on the nose. The palate is electric; a vibrant yet balanced display of racy acidity, lithe, taut structure, and tangy green fruit that linger on the long, peppery finish. Very elegant, harmonious Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Where to Buy: Inquire with winery

Milton “Te Arai Vineyard” Chenin Blanc 2019, Gisbourne – 90pts. PW

Estate Chenin Blanc produced in organic and biodynamic certified vineyards. Fermented and matured in a mix of large neutral oak casks and stainless steel tasks, on its fine lees.

Heady aromas of yellow plum, lemon, and raw honey feature on the nose. The palate is fresh, broad, and rounded, with excellent depth of juicy yellow fruit tapering to honeyed nuances. Slightly off-dry on the finish, well-balanced by lively acidity and intriguing spiced notes.

Where to Buy: Inquire with winery

Te Whare Ra (TWR) “Toru” 2020, Marlborough – 91pts. PW

A field blend of mainly Gewürztraminer, with Riesling, and Pinot Gris grown in certified organic vineyards, many of which are also biodynamically farmed. The grapes are handpicked, with some parcels seeing extended skin contact before co-fermenting at low temperatures in neutral vessels. No fining or filtering.

Highly aromatic, with notes of white grapefruit, jasmine, lychee, and exotic spice fairly leaping from the glass. The palate is medium in body, with bright citrus and off-dry tropical fruit flavours. A rounded, textural mouthfeel gives way to refreshing hints of bitterness on the finish.

Where to Buy: Inquire with winery.

Felton Road Pinot Noir “Calvert” 2019, Central Otago – 94pts. LW

Estate, biodynamic Pinot Noir from the Bannockburn sub-region of Central Otago. Vinified in a gravity flow cellar, with 25% whole clusters, and a long pre-fementary cold soak to preserve and enhance delicate aromas. Aged 16 months in 30% new French oak barrels.

Perfumed nose featuring dark cherry and berry fruit, heightened by floral notes and subtle oak spice. On the palate, brisk acidity lifts the ample, fleshy frame and provides thrilling definition to the dense core of ripe, black and blue fruit. Finishes with velvety tannins, nuances of cigar box and spice.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($84.75), LCBO ($95.00; 2018 vintage)

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. ***

Life

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.