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Jacky Blisson

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.

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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.

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Six Soulful, Sustainable Alsace Wines to Seek Out

Alsace Wines

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

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

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

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

Terroir Diversity in Alsace Wines

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

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

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

Alsace Wines Updated AOC Hierarchy

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

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

Alsace Wines: Tradition, Family, and Innovation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to Buy: SAQ ($26.95)

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

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

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

Where to Buy: SAQ ($21.85)

Trimbach Riesling Alsace 2017 – 89pts. PW

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

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

Where to Buy: SAQ ($23.90)

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

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

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

Where to Buy: SAQ ($33.00)

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

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

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

Where to Buy: SAQ ($24.35)

Marcel Deiss Pinot Noir Alsace 2018 – 89pts. PW

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

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

Where to Buy: SAQ ($33.50)

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

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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.

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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

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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.