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Jacky Blisson

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Best Beaujolais Wines to Ring in Beaujolais Nouveau Night

best beaujolais wines

From excellent villages cuvées to top crus, the best Beaujolais wines are worth every penny. The Beaujolais Nouveau era may be over but the region has risen from its ashes in spectacular fashion. Scroll down for some fantastic Beaujolais wines to ring in Nouveau night.

There will be no whimsical displays of Beaujolais Nouveau this year. Freight and fuel costs continue to skyrocket. Global wine bottle shortages persist. As a result, this once cheap and oh-so-cheerful red has become an expensive proposition.

And let’s face it, consumer interest has been waning for years. Sommeliers turned their backs long ago. Even in Japan, Beaujolais Nouveau’s most ardent overseas imbibers, support has been steadily falling away for a decade. An estimated doubling of prices in the market may be the final nail in its coffin.

Though Beaujolais Nouveau may be gone from our store shelves in 2022, that doesn’t mean we can’t raise our glasses on Thursday to salute how far the region has come.

New Wines, Ancient Traditions

The idea of imbibing a freshly fermented wine is neither a new concept, nor specific to Beaujolais wines. In ancient Greece, the Athenian festival Anthesteria, in honour of Dionysus, was celebrated with the wine of the recently completed harvest.

This idea of harvest celebrations lingers in France, with nouveau wine releases throughout the country, from Gaillac, to Touraine, to the southern Rhône Valley – though Beaujolais remains the most well-known and widely exported example.

In the 1800s, wine merchants were already buying just fermented Beaujolais to showcase the new vintage to their brasserie and restaurant clients in major surrounding cities. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that official legislation was past that mandated the third Thursday of November as the official release date for the wines of the vintage.

How Beaujolais Nouveau Took the World by Storm

Beaujolais’ most recognized household name, Georges DuBoeuf, is credited with creating the global craze for Beaujolais Nouveau. By the 1960s, the cafés of Lyon and Paris had already joined in the fun of racing to see who would receive the first shipment of Beaujolais’ new vintage. “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive” became a call to revelers to join in the simple pleasure of sharing the light, fruity wine.

Photo credit: Inter Beaujolais

DuBoeuf worked tirelessly with chefs, sommeliers, and other wine gatekeepers in major markets around the world to extend this tradition. By the 1980s, industrial quantities were being produced. Television ads heralded the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau in the US, great towers of the stuff appeared in liquor stores across Canada, throughout Europe and beyond.

Perhaps no other export market took to Beaujolais Nouveau, or hung on so long, as Japan. Photos of Japanese merry-makers, bathing in spas overflowing with the wine are popular media images every November.

From Beaujolais Nouveau to Nouvelle… Génération

For a time, as appreciation for the soft, banana-scented Beaujolais fell away, it seemed that region was headed for disaster. Who could take a wine region seriously, who’s major claim to fame was a cheap, quaffing red with zero shelf life? But change was afoot.

The work of Beaujolais’ natural wine pioneers had already begun in the 1980s, under the mentorship of local scientist and winemaker, Jules Chauvet. It would take a further decade for these radical new wines – made without carefully selected yeast strains or protective doses of sulphur – to gain the first timid signs of international interest.

The natural wine movement allowed Beaujolais to re-focus attention on its terroirs and traditional winemaking practices. The merits and distinctions of its ten cru villages were increasingly highlighted with areas like Morgon, Fleurie, and Moulin-à-Vent gaining recognition around the world.

Photo credit: Inter Beaujolais

In 2008, the region began an ambitious soil mapping project that would span nine years. Over 15 000 soil surveys, 1000 soil pits, and 50 field visits were completed. The study led to detailed maps of each Beaujolais appellation, detailing 300 different soil types across the area.

The in-depth knowledge gained from this work has given Beaujolais’ grape growers an incredible tool – informing their decisions on planting, pruning, inter-row, and canopy management in each sector of their vineyards. It is also a great way to communicate terroir – to highlight how different Gamay can taste from one lieu-dit to another.

One Grape, Multiple Expressions

Between its impressive image makeover and the dual trends for natural wines and – more generally – for fresher, lighter, less oak-driven reds, Beaujolais is back in business. The volumes are a far cry from the dizzying heights of the Nouveau days, but a more sustainable quality reputation has been established.

It is a region that is simple for newcomers to get behind. Red wines made exclusively from the Gamay grape makes up 95% of production. Beaujolais can be simplistically summed up as Gamay + granite + temperate climate = light, fresh, low tannin reds with vibrant red fruit and violet notes.

May be an image of tree and nature
Photo credit: Inter Beaujolais

However, for those looking to explore more deeply, the varied topography of gentle hills to vertiginous slopes, myriad soil compositions, numerous meso-climates, and wide variety of winemaking practices yield huge stylistic diversity from one Beaujolais to another.

Here is a mere handful of the best Beaujolais wine producers (in this author’s opinion) for your Beaujolais Nouveau night celebrations: Mee Godard, Famille Dutraive, Antoine Sunier, Julien Sunier, Richard Rottiers, Château Thivin, Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard, Domaine des Marrans, Domaine des Chers, Christophe Pacalet.

Favourites from a recent tasting include:

Famille Dutraive Fleurie Les Déduits 2019 – 95pts. PW

Pitch perfect, ready-to-drink Fleurie in a bold yet satiny smooth style ably matched by lively acidity and vivid red berry, cherry, violet, spice aromas. A truly joyous wine with impressive breadth and length. Dangerously easy to drink. Easily one of my coup de coeur Beaujolais for 2022.

Where to buy: SAQ ($42.75)

Antoine Sunier Morgon 2020 – 93pts. PW

Reminiscent of Northern Rhône Syrah with its peppery spice and subtly smoky, meaty undertones, this Morgon is medium in body with complex red and dark fruit flavours. Bright, balanced acidity, sinewy tannins, and lots of finesse. Carafe 30 minutes before serving.

Where to buy: SAQ ($35.50)

Julien Sunier Régnié 2020 – 92pts. PW

A very pretty, fragrant wine (in typical Régnié fashion) with wafts of ripe strawberry, peonies, baked red cherry, and subtly earthy undertones. The palate is light, silky and lifted, with a crisp freshness that lingers through the finish. A very approachable, easy-drinking Beaujolais.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($32.75)

Domaine Mee Godard Beaujolais Villages 2020 – 91pts. PW

Mee Godard is a Morgon producer that I have greatly admired since visiting her domaine in 2018. Her wines are often taut and firmly structured in their youth ageing gracefully over time. This Villages cuvée is not exception; definitely drinking above its origin. Medium in body with attractive blackberry, red cherry, savoury notes, and a velvety mouthfeel tapering to taut yet fine-grained tannins.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($28.55)

Marcel Lapierre Le Beaujolais 2021 – 90 pts. PW

From the challenging 2021 vintage, this “humble” Beaujolais is easy to dismiss as overly lean, tart, or vegetal…which was my first impression. However, over a span of four days I re-tasted regularly and the wine transformed. Still light and crisp, this red revealed layered aromas of cranberry, rhubarb, forest floor, beets, and green peppercorn over time. The palate is taut with finely chiselled tannins. Decant up to an hour before serving.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($29.30)

 Domaine des Marrans Chiroubles Aux Côtes 2020 – 90pts. PW

The Beaujolais cru of Chiroubles boasts the highest elevation and steepest slopes of the region. This south-west facing vineyard is perched at 400 metres altitude, giving a very ripe yet refreshing style of Beaujolais. The 2020 vintage features aromas of baked red berries, hints of pomegranate, and tar. The palate is medium weight, with a rounded structure, and slightly grippy tannins. Great value for the price.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($25.10)

Christophe Pacalet Haru-Ichi Beaujolais Villages Rosé 2021 – 90pts. PW

Rosé is a rarity in Beaujolais, making up just 3% of production so it is fun to see this on our shelves. This ample, deeper hued rosé is hugely enticing, with lovely florality on the nose and pure, tangy rhubarb flavours, underscored by earthy and subtly savoury notes. Lipsmackingly good and very food friendly.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($25.35)

This “Best Beaujolais Wines…” piece is re-printed (with permission) from my article written for Good Food Revolution. If you want to learn more about artisanal food, wine, beer and spirits, check out their excellent website.

Education Reviews Wines

The Wines of Menetou-Salon: Stepping out from Sancerre’s Shadow

The wines of Menetou-Salon

The vineyards of Menetou-Salon lie a mere 20-minute drive southwest of Sancerre. The same highly prized terroir of chalky Kimmeridgian marl runs through both appellations. The same grapes are planted in their sloped vineyards. And yet, Sancerre is revered the world over for its superlative Sauvignon Blanc, while Menetou-Salon is…well…not.

Size is one obvious differentiating factor. The acreage of Sancerre is almost five times that of Menetou-Salon’s modest 647 hectares. Sancerre exports over two-thirds of its wines, whereas the vast majority of Menetou-Salon’s wines are consumed in France.

Star producers from Sancerre have successfully promoted the region’s top terroirs such as Bué or Chavignol; even going so far as to elevate individual vineyard plots, like Monts Damnés and Cul de Beaujeau, to (unofficial) cru status.

The terroir specificities of Menetou-Salon’s ten communes remain little known. However, this may not be the case for long. A growing contingent of innovative, well-regarded winemakers is emerging in Menetou-Salon focused on single commune and vineyard bottlings.

vignoble-ap
Map credit: Menetou-Salon AOC

Near the eastern boundary of Mentou-Salon, lies the village of Morogues. This pretty hamlet is home to Domaine Henry Pellé. Third generation winemaker Paul-Henry Pellé produces a range of incisive, racy Sauvignon Blancs here that easily rival his excellent La Croix au Garde Sancerre.

Morogues marks the highest point of Menetou-Salon. Its hillside vineyards grown almost exclusively on Kimmeridgian marl – sediment formed during the Upper Jurassic period made up of alternating layers of chalky limestone from ancient, fossilized marine creatures, and clay. These soils are prized for their powerfully structured, long-lived expression of Sauvignon Blanc.

The best way to understand the nuances of Morogues is to taste Domaine Pellé’s Morogues cuvée – a blend of seven different hillside vineyards, against his three single vineyard (aka lieux-dits) wines from the same village: Les Blanchais, Le Carroir, and Vignes du Ratier.

Anne & Paul-Henry Pellé. Photo credit: Polaner Selections.

Variations in elevation, orientation, soil depth and composition yield markedly different wines. The sunny, southwest facing Vignes du Ratier plot gives fleshier, more supple wines; whereas the north-eastern exposure and mixed Kimmeridgian marl and flint soils of Les Blanchais give more austere, chiselled Sauvignon Blanc.

Heading west from Morogues, the vineyards of Menetou-Salon form a southward arc sloping more gently as they approach the towns of Parassy and Menetou-Salon. Here, the soils are more heterogenous with pockets of clay, varying compositions of clay-limestone, and veins of flint interspersed with the Kimmeridgian marl.

Domaine Chavet is based in Menetou-Salon. In 2018, this historic 23-hectare estate was acquired by Antoine de la Farge. Trained oenologist and former wine buyer for French wine store chain Nicholas, de la Farge is also a Menetou-Salon native from a family of vignerons at Domaine de l’Ermitage.

De la Farge is both estate owner and négociant, making wine in Menetou-Salon, Pouilly-Fumé, and Sancerre. His goal with Domaine Chavet mirrors that of Pellé – to showcase the distinctive quality and diversity of Menetou-Salon terroir.

Domaine Chavet’s vines are located between Menetou-Salon and Parassy. According to de la Farge, the wines here are generally richer and rounder than Morogues. The estate produces a broad Menetou-Salon blend called La Côte, as well as two lieux-dit whites, Clos de Coquin and Clos des Jentonnes.

The deeper clay, and more southerly exposure of Clos de Coquin gives a riper, more opulent Sauvignon Blanc, while just one kilometre over, the pure Kimmeridgian soil of the western facing Clos des Jentonnes plot yields a nervy, electric white with lingering salinity.

For a long time, Menetou-Salon was merely considered an affordable alternative to Sancerre. Now, the rise in ambition and excellence is palpable. At a recent Domaine Chavet tasting, Antoine de la Farge outlined his plans for a new, top-quality gravity flow winery – with temperature-controlled stainless steel vinifications followed by extended lees ageing in unlined sandstone amphorae and seasoned oak casks.

De la Farge also spoke highly of his neighbouring winemakers, especially Pellé. He praised his fellow vignerons commitment to sustainable growing practices, and their exacting standards of wine making – many focusing on natural yeasts and low intervention.

Since the turn of the century, the acreage of Menetou-Salon has increased three-fold. As curious oenophiles continue to step off-the-beaten track and local winemakers keep pushing quality ever upward, it will be exciting to see where the appellation goes.

Domaine Chavet Tasting Notes (Montréal Tasting, October 2022)

Chavet “La Côte” Menetou-Salon AOC 2021 – 90pts. PW

La Côte refers to the seven slopeside vineyards that make up this Menetou-Salon blend. The 2021 bottling has attractive currant bud, lemon, grape fruit aromas, underscored by riper hints of guava. The palate is laser-like in its light, linear structure, piercing acidity, and overall poise. Great value for the price. Drink now.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($24.25), LCBO ($22.95)

Domaine Chavet “Clos de Coquin” Menetou-Salon AOC 2020 – 92pts. PW

Pretty white floral notes mingle with lemon, aromatic green herbs, and subtle apricot notes on the 2020 Clos de Coquin cuvée. The palate is crisp and light-bodied, with a silky texture and layers of tangy green and white fruit over hints of green almond. Long, lively finish. Drink now or cellar up to 8 years.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent AOC & Cie (SAQ specialty order expected in spring 2023; $31.25)

Domaine Chavet “Clos des Jentonnes” Menetou-Salon AOC 2020 – 94pts.

Initially discreet, with vivid aromas of lime, greengage plum, tarragon, and wet stone developing over time. Racy and precise on the palate, with a textural, almost electric hum. Notes of guava, green apple, lemon, and lime unfurl in vibrant succession on the long, mineral finish. Drink now or cellar for up to 10 – 12 years.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent AOC & Cie

This Wines of Menetou-Salon 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

Champagne Bollinger Tasting: 2014 Vintage Release

Champagne Bollinger tasting

In 2029, Champagne Bollinger will celebrate its 200th anniversary. This renowned Maison is one of just three Champagne estates to be owned by the same family since its inception. Throughout its history, Champagne Bollinger has built up impressive global recognition, from its British royal warrant, held continuously for over 130 years, to its role as James Bond’s favourite bubby, and beyond.

Champagne Bollinger is located in the grand cru village of Aÿ, in the Vallée de la Marne. This is prime Pinot Noir country and indeed Bollinger is a decidedly Pinot Noir-centric Champagne producer.  Pinot Noir makes up anywhere from 60 to 100% of all Champagne Bollinger wines.

At a recent Champagne Bollinger tasting in Montréal, 6th generation family member Cyril Delarue related that this Pinot Noir signature is one of the core points of differentiation for Bollinger, giving the wines notable “structure, body, and longevity”.

Champagne Bollinger is both a substantial vineyard owner and a négociant, purchasing up to 50% of its grapes – with near exclusive sourcing of premier and grand cru grapes. Of Bollinger’s 180 hectares of owned vineyards, 151 hectares are located in premier and grand cru villages; notably Aÿ, Avenay, Tauxières, Louvois and Verzenay for Pinot Noir, and Cuis for Chardonnay.

As per many top-quality Champagne producers, Champagne Bollinger only uses the first pressing juice – la cuvée – in its wines. According to the Comité Champagne, “the cuvée is the purest juice of the pulp, rich in sugar and acid. This produces wines with great finesse, subtle aromas, a refreshing palate, and good ageing potential.”

While many Champagne houses prefer to vinify and age their base wines in stainless steel, Bollinger is among the rare houses that retained a focus on oak maturation. The Bollinger cellars house over 4000 oak barrels, managed by their in-house cooper. Oaked blending components go into all of Bollinger’s wines giving them “a rich, broad, textural quality…that is inimitable” said Cyril.

Another major influence on Bollinger’s distinctive style is the very high levels of reserve wines used in their non vintage wines. Reserve wines are still wines, that haven’t undergone secondary fermentation. These aged wines bring significant aromatic complexity and depth of flavour to non vintage Champagnes.

At Bollinger, reserve wines account for more than half of wines like the Bollinger Special Cuvée and Bollinger Rosé. These reserve wines range from five to 15 years of age and are stored in a mix of tanks and cork-sealed magnums. The magnums are bottled with a small amount of liqueur de tirage (sugar and yeast) to provoke a partial refermentation creating small bubbles which keep the wines fresh and pure in flavour.

The selection and blending of reserve wines is a true art. Cyril explained that Bollinger cellar master Gilles Descôtes seeks to express all forms of fruit – from tart, just ripe nuances to heady, dried fruit notes – in his wines. This is a hallmark of Champagne Bollinger, he adds.

To celebrate the Canadian launch of Bollinger La Grande Année 2014, Cyril poured these four lovely wines from Champagne Bollinger.

 Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvée – 94pts. LW

Special Cuvée is a non-vintage blend of over 400 different wines from predominantly premier and grand cru vineyards, made from 60% reserve wine. One fifth of the blend was fermented in oak. The varietal split is 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay, 15% Meunier. The bottle tasted was disgorged in December 2021.

Aged over 30 months on lees, the Special Cuvée has an inviting nose, redolent with dried apricot, nougat, ripe lemon, and apple. The palate is crisp and refreshing, with creamy, well-defined bubbles, and an expansive mid-palate. Tangy notes of granny smith apple and lemon mingle with deeper, more savoury, leesy flavours on the finish. Long and relatively dry.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($89.50), LCBO ($91.95)

Champagne Bollinger Rosé – 92pts. LW

Bollinger recently increased the percentage of Chardonnay in the non vintage rosé to soften the blend and make it less “vinous” according to Cyril Delarue. The current blend is very similar to the Special Cuvée in terms of its varietal split, reserve wines, vineyard ranking, and oak. The pale salmon colour is derived from a 5% addition of red wine into the blend.

Fragrant red and dark berries feature on the nose, with underlying hints of anise, spring flowers, and candied stone fruits. Really lively on the palate, from its sleek, vigorous mousse to its tangy red fruit flavours, and moderately firm, medium-bodied structure. Finishes dry, with lingering red berry nuances. Very refined in style.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($119.25), LCBO ($123.00)

Champagne Bollinger La Grande Année 2014 – 97pts. LW

La Grande Année is Bollinger’s ultra-premium, vintage release only produced in excellent quality growing seasons – a phenomenon which is becoming increasingly common in Champagne. The blend is composed of 19 different crus, of which 79% are ranked grand cru and 21% are premier crus.

The base wines are vinified and aged in seasoned oak casks (20 years of age, on average) before transfer to bottle and ageing on lees for over seven years. All winemaking tasks, from riddling to disgorging, are carried out by hand.

Despite the mixed review received by the somewhat cool, rainy 2014 vintage, this is a masterful wine. Layers of quince, roasted hazelnut, dried lemon peel, salted caramel, and delicate floral hints unfurl on the nose in rapid succession. The palate has a taut, chiselled quality with savoury, lemony flavours, and ultra-fine, highly persistent bubbles. Hugely concentrated and multi-faceted with pleasing salinity on the long finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($282.00), LCBO ($228.00)

Champagne Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé 2014 – 96pts. LW

La Grande Année Rosé is vinified in the same way as the white, using essentially the same vineyard sourcing. An addition of 5% red wine from a steep, chalky hillside vineyard plot in Aÿ called La Côte des Enfants. This four-hectare Pinot Noir planting is among Bollinger’s most prized vineyard sites.

The 2014 La Grande Année Rosé has a very appealing nose of brioche, mixed spice, and wild berries, reminiscent of a summer pudding. Over time, hints of dried flowers and underbrush emerge. The palate is racy and full-bodied, with juicy red berry flavours deepened by nutty, savoury undertones. Finishes with a dry, subtly chalky texture and lingering fine mousse.

Where to buy: SAQ ($282.00)

Education

Jura Wine Film: A Wine Travels Short Doc!

jura wine film

The Jura is fascinating wine country. Despite its small size, this historic French vineyard is beloved by sommeliers the world over. Curious to learn more, I set out to make a Jura wine film; journeying to the region with a rockstar camera crew to discover the Jura’s distinctive grapes, wine styles, terroirs, and more.

Join me as I dig in the vineyard soils with Stéphane Tissot, learn the secrets of Vin Jaune winemaking with Domaine Macle, and taste some Crémant du Jura bubblies with Domaine Baud. Tour the market of Arbois with me, alongside Meilleur Ouvrier de France, sommelier Philippe Troussard to find out what foods pair best with Jura wines.

To read up on the Jura, its famous Savagnin, Poulsard, Trousseau, and more. Read my article here. Otherwise, hope you enjoy the video. If you do, please feel free to give me a like, share, or comment!

Reviews Wines

Wine from Argentina: Consistent Good Value Across the Decades

wine from argentina

When tasting wine from Argentina I am regularly struck by their consistent, good value. The country’s major wine regions have been on a quest of continuous improvement since the first wave of foreign investors and flying winemakers hit Mendoza in the 1990s.

When the trend for bold, sun-baked wine from Argentina started to fade some fifteen years back, change was already afoot in the vineyards. Wineries had begun planting at higher altitudes and at the cooler southern reaches of the country.

Vineyard management techniques were altered to better shade the fruit and retain acidity. Winemaking practices have become more restrained but also expanded to allow for greater experimentation. Lesser-known wines from Argentina, from local grapes like Bonarda, Criolla, and Torrontés are cropping up on store shelves around the globe.

It is indeed an exciting time, with even the richest, ripest wine from Argentina showing far more freshness and balance. And with all this, the prices have remained surprisingly affordable.

Here are a handful of stand outs from a recent tasting of wine from Argentina:

Schroeder, Alpataco Pinot Noir 2019, Patagonia

Easy drinking red, with baked plum and red currant aromas on the nose, underscored by an attractive mix of savoury and minty hints. The palate is medium-bodied, with fresh fruity flavours, and a fleshy texture.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($16.80, Code SAQ 14714493)

Catena Zapata Chardonnay “High Mountain Vines” 2020, Mendoza

Ripe, tropical expression of Chardonnay with crisp acidity that ably balances the full-bodied, rounded palate. Inviting notes of mango, buttered toast, and yellow pear linger on the smooth finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($20.20, Code SAQ 865279), LCBO ($19.95, Vintages Code: 918805)

Bodega Santa Julia, El Burro Malbec Natural 2021, Mendoza

Very youthful, primary red that makes up what it lacks in complexity by its bright, tangy dark fruit, lively acidity, and supple frame. Serve chilled.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($21.40, SAQ Code 14764925), LCBO ($22.95, Vintages Code: 24214)

La Mascota Cabernet Sauvignon 2020, Mendoza

Great value for the price, with its appealing floral, dark cherry perfume. The palate is juicy and fresh, with a soft, medium weight frame and ripe tannins.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($16.95, SAQ Code 10895565), LCBO ($16.95, Vintages Code: 292110)

El Esteco Don David Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2020, Calchaqui Valley

Quite a complex nose for such an affordable wine, with intense baked red cherry, cassis, licorice, pencil shavings, and hints of cedar. The palate is full-bodied yet fresh with lively red and dark fruit flavours and lingering eucalyptus notes.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($17.95, SAQ Code 13545886)

Reviews Wines

Gulfi Wines: Fresh Nero d’Avola from Sicily’s Torrid South East

Gulfi Wines

Gulfi Wines are proof positive that fresh, balanced Sicilian reds are emerging from even the hottest sectors of the island. Last month, I tuned in to a discussion and tasting with Gulfi owner Matteo Catania to find out what makes his Nero d’Avola wines so compelling. Scroll down for 2019 vintage tasting notes.

In August 2021, the Sicilian city of Syracuse experienced a Europe-wide, record-breaking temperature of 48.8 degrees Celsius. The island is indeed famous for its hot, dry summers. And as global temperatures warm, its heat waves continue to intensify.

Given the scorching climate, it is only natural to assume that the wines must be bold, ripe, heady affairs. Historically, most were, and in some regions, they still are.

However, lighter, fresher wine styles have been cropping up with increased frequency over the past two decades. The high altitude, volcanic terroir of Mount Etna was the first to reveal this potential to a global audience.

Of course, the headlining grape in Etna Rosso wines, Nerello Mascalese, is naturally light in body and high acid. Elsewhere on the island, Nero d’Avola is the reigning red wine variety. It stereotypically produces ultra-ripe, generously proportioned wines with muscular tannins.

Plantings were once concentrated to hot, arid sites in the southeast. Now, they stretch across the island. And, the best Nero d’Avola winemakers are proving that, with the right terroir and techniques, even this most robust of red grapes can produce vibrant, balanced wine styles. Gulfi Cantina is a prime example.

After the death of his father in the late 1990s, Vito Catania returned to the family vineyards around the small hilltop village of Chiaramonte Gulfi in Ragusa. A great lover of Bourgogne wines, Catania came home with the vision of crafting elegant, terroir-expressive wines from select native grapes, on the area’s best vineyard sites.

To bring his dream to fruition, Catania enlisted the help of renowned viticulture and oenology consultant, Salvo Foti. The pair conducted detailed soil and climate analyses throughout the region, leading Catania to acquire over 100 hectares of vineyards.

Today, the Gulfi estate is run by Vito’s son; third generation vigneron, Matteo Catania. The vineyards are concentrated in three main areas: the hilly, calcareous marl vineyards of Chiaramonte Gulfi, the chalky, southeastern area of Pachino Val di Noto, prime terroir for Nero d’Avola, and finally, Mount Etna.

In all three of these areas, cooling influences – whether it be Mount Etna’s high altitude, or lower lying Pachino’s cooling sea breezes – cause temperatures to drop overnight tempering the hot summer days and allowing the grapes to ripen slowly, while retaining refreshing acidity.

Gulfi’s vineyards are dry farmed (aka not irrigated) and planted at densities of over 8,000 vines per hectare, in the island’s traditional “Alberello” bush vine style. According to Matteo, these practices are the key to producing wines expressive of each site

Without irrigation, the vines are obliged to dig deep into their marl or limestone bedrocks for sustenance. This struggle for nourishment, combined with high-density planting, means that the vines produce less, yet more qualitative fruit with greater flavour concentration and complexity.

Chemical pesticides and herbicides were prohibited on the estate long before the winery committed to certified organic viticulture. Today, the vineyards are farmed biodynamically, under the continued guidance of consultant Salvo Foti.

Last month, I had the pleasure of listening to Matteo Catania wax lyrical about his family’s vision, while tasting the (fermented) fruits of their labour.

Gulfi Cantina Wines

Gulfi “Valcanzjria” IGT Sicilia Bianco 2020 (Sicily, Italy) – 90pts. PW

More commonly found on the slopes of Mount Etna, Gulfi is one of the rare estates to cultivate Carricante in southeastern Sicily.  Here, the grape is blended with Chardonnay and a touch of lesser-known native grape, Albanello. The blend is vinified with native yeast in stainless steel tanks, then aged on its fine lees for eight months before bottling.

Enticing notes of preserved lemon, wild thyme, chamomile tea, and wet stone gain in nuance and intensity over time in the glass. The palate is nervy and tensile, with lively acidity echoed by citrussy, herbal flavours. Hints of eucalyptus linger on the dry, fresh finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($26.35, Code SAQ 14947271). 

Gulfi “Rossojbleo” IGT Sicilia Rosso 2019 (Sicily, Italy) – N/A

The Nero d’Avola vineyards for the Rossojbleo cuvée are planted on the lower slopes of southeastern Sicily’s Hyblaean Mountains at 450 metres altitude. Nearby forests and gentle marine breezes temper the hot local climate, allowing the grapes to ripen more slowly. The clay-rich soils are laced with limestone sediments and sand.

This is the estate’s more affordable Nero d’Avola red wine. To accentuate its fresh, easy-drinking character, the grapes are fermented at moderate temperatures in stainless steel tanks and aged for seven to eight months in the same vessels.

While my sample was unfortunately corked, I have enjoyed many vintages of this medium bodied, juicy, dark fruited red with its earthy undertones, ripe tannins, and subtle hint of bitter cherries.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($22.90 $, Code SAQ: 14923990).

Gulfi Cerasuolo Di Vittoria Rouge 2019 (Sicily, Italy) – 93pts. PW

Cerasuolo Di Vittoria is Sicily’s only vineyard area ranked DOCG; the highest appellation status in Italy. The wines here are made from a blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato grown in prime, south-facing, low yielding vineyards of clay-limestone at 420 metres altitude.

In this cuvée, Matteo uses equal parts Nero d’Avola and Frappato to produce a lighter, fresher, pure fruited wine style. The blend undergoes a long, slow maceration, followed by eight months’ ageing in tank. After bottling, the wine is held back for a further eight months to integrate.

Alluring notes of fresh dark cherry, plum, and black currant mingle with aromas of dried herbs and almond essence on the nose. The palate is lively throughout, lifting the robust palate, and underscoring the cranberry and dark fruit flavours. Ripe, ever-so-slightly grippy tannins frame the long finish. Decant for an hour and serve chilled down to 16 – 18c.

Where to Buy: SAQ (34.50, Code SAQ: 14044848)

Gulfi “Nerojbleo” Nero d’Avola IGT Sicilia Rosso 2019 (Sicily, Italy) – 91pts. PW

This was the very first wine produced by the Gulfi estate and remains their flagship wine. The cuvée is named for the grape, Nero d’Avola, and the mountains (Jbleo in Italian) where the vineyards are located. It is the premium iteration of the Rossojbleo wine, made from the area’s best, south-west facing red clay plots.

The Nero d’Avola grapes undergo a long, slow maceration in tank and are then aged for one year in a mix of small French oak barrels and larger casks. After bottling, the wine is held back for a further eight months to integrate.

Very open and fragrant, with blueberry, floral, and balsamic aromas over peppery, savoury nuances. Brisk acidity matches the firm structure and tart red and black fruit flavours on the palate. Finishes with ripe, muscular tannins and pleasantly warming eaux-de-vie hints, well integrated with lingering fruity, savoury notes.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($28.00, Code SAQ 13437391)

Gulfi wines can be found in Ontario through the Charlie’s Burgers Wine Program.

This article is a re-print of my recent Gulfi Wines article for Good Food Revolution. Want to learn more about artisanal food, wine, beer and spirits.? Check out their excellent website.

Reviews Wines

La Grange Tiphaine Wines: Biodynamic Loire Valley at its Best

Damien Delecheneau La Grange Tiphaine

On a recent visit to the Loire Valley, I caught up with Damien Delecheneau for a terroir ramble through his Touraine vineyards and a 2020 vintage tasting of La Grange Tiphaine wines.

We woke up to glorious sunshine on Saturday. The sky was blue and cloudless. The weather was balmy. It was the perfect day for a wedding. This was the main reason for our quick transatlantic jaunt to Pontlevoy in the Loire Valley. But… I couldn’t spend a weekend in Touraine without sneaking in at least one winery visit.

As luck would have it, the domaine I had in mind was tantalizingly nearby: La Grange Tiphaine. I first tasted La Grange Tiphaine wines a few years back. From the first sip of their Clef du Sol Chenin Blanc, I was hooked. To me, it struck the perfect balance of bright fruit, subtly oxidative flavours, rich textural palate, and vibrant acidity.

We made the hairpin turn into the winery’s unassuming entrance path and pulled to a stop in front of a pretty wooden barn, with raised flower and vegetable patches in front. We had given little notice for our visit and had arrived late. I braced myself for a (deservedly) cool welcome and breathed a sigh of relief when Damien came out of the house, all smiles.

La Grange Tiphaine wines. It all Starts in the Vineyards…

Damien Delecheneau grew up on this family vineyard, on the outskirts of Amboise. He is the fifth generation to tend to its vines. As we walk out into the Sauvignon Blanc and Côt vineyards, dotted with fabulous metal sculptures from a local artist, Damien told us his tale.

While he once dreamed of becoming an airline pilot, the call of the vines eventually won out. Or perhaps it was fate intervening. In any event, the decision to pursue a winemaking degree proved a good one, as it was during his studies in Bordeaux that he met Coralie, his future wife and partner at the estate.

The pair travelled to California and South Africa for winemaking vintages before settling in the Loire. Damien took up the reigns of La Grange Tiphaine in 2002 and Coralie joined him several years later. From the outset, the couple decided to make some significant changes.

In the late 2000s, the estate was converted to organic and then biodynamic viticulture. Each of their over 50 vineyard plots in the Touraine, Touraine-Amboise, and Montlouis-Sur-Loire appellations are tended according to their individual needs. Damien detailed years of trial and error, while the team worked to regenerate their soils and hone their biodynamic methods.

“We used to buy compost” said Damien. “We would apply it year after year, at great expense, and see little result. When we started making our own, everything changed”. The estate, now over 16 hectares of estate vineyards, is constantly fine tuning its practices. A few years’ back they stopped ploughing the vines, in favour of simply hoeing under the vines and allowing natural cover crops to grow up between rows, and serve as beneficial mulch once cut back.

After years of combatting punishing spring frosts, Coralie and Damien invested in fixed and mobile wind turbines. According to Damien, within a few short vintages, they had already paid for themselves. “The spring frosts were particularly bad in 2021” he explained. “Many neighbours lost up to 70% of their yields. My losses were less than 30%”.

It is these exacting vineyard practices and investments, that allows La Grange Tiphaine to harness the full potential of their terroir. Bending down in row of newly planted Sauvignon Blanc, Damien shows me the flinty, clay-rich soils. The pale stones absorb heat and reflect it back to the vines, while the clay provides ample sustenance.

These soils and the temperate continental climate permit a range of grapes to thrive, but it is the Côt (aka Malbec) from these Touraine-Amboise vineyards that really interests Damien. “For me, Côt is the finest red grape in our region”. And indeed, his Côt Vieilles Vignes, with its century-old plantings, reveals impressive depth and concentration.

La Grange Tiphaine Wines from Montlouis-sur-Loire. Prime Terroir for Chenin Blanc.

Our conversation led on to the vineyards of Mountlouis-Sur-Loire, home to La Grange Tiphaine’s illustrious Chenin Blanc wines. Long in the shadow of the larger Vouvray appellation on the Loire’s north bank, Montlouis has quietly risen prominence over the past 25 years.

“It is prime Chenin Blanc terroir with a fascinating mosiac of flint, sand, silt, clay, and limestone soils” explains Damien. This diversity, coupled with varying vine orientations and mesoclimates allows Montlouis to produce six different styles of wine from the Chenin Blanc grape: dry (sec), off-dry (demi-sec), medium sweet (moelleux), sweet – botrytised or not (liquoreux), traditional method sparkling wines, and pétillant naturel.

This final wine style, officially termed Pétillant Originel, is a recent addition to the Montlouis-sur-Loire appellation charter, in no small part thanks to Damien. When Montlouis trailblazer François Chidaine relinquished his position as president of the appellation, Damien took up the role.

Considered one of the most dynamic appellations in the Loire, Montlouis is highly regarded for its commitment to sustainable vineyard practices. It is also the site of a recently launched annual event “Montlouis On the Rock”; an international Chenin Blanc celebration in the same vein as South Africa’s former Swartland Revolution.

Tasting the 2020 vintage of La Grange Tiphaine Wines

I could happily have tasted every wine in Damien’s wide range of estate and négociant wines but alas the church bells were soon to ring, calling us away. Instead, we focused on a handful of the 2020 vintage wines, starting with the parcels we had walked, and ending with a study of Montlouis Chenin Blanc from sparkling to late harvest.

The majority of cuvées have names with musical connotations. While wine is one of the couple’s great passions, music is certainly another equally important love. Damien plays clarinet and Coralie is an accomplished singer. In fact, she was in the process of recording an album during our visit.

La Grange Tiphaine “Quatre Main” Touraine AOC 2020 – 91pts. PW

Estate Sauvignon Blanc with intriguing smoky notes mingling with lemon, yellow plum, and elderflower hints on the nose. The palate is crisp, juicy, and amply proportioned with concentrated flavours of apricot, exotic spice, and fresh cut herbs. Finishes fresh and dry.

La Grange Tiphaine “Bécarre” Touraine 2020 – 92pts. PW

The Cabernet Franc vines for this cuvée are grown on a southwest facing plot of red clay and flint soils. Initially restrained, with aromas and flavours of violet, dark cherry, and smoked meat developing with aeration. The palate is brisk and moderately firm, with fresh, chalky tannins on the long, minty finish.

La Grange Tiphaine “Clef du Sol” Rouge Touraine 2020 – 94pts PW

This is the red counterpart to the estate’s flagship white; a blend of 65% Côt and 35% Cabernet Franc. The vines are situated in a cooler area to the Bécarre, with more clay-rich soils. The nose is seductive with its complex array of earthy, dark plum, cassis, and peony aromas. Firm and full-bodied, with prominent tannins – ripe, and ever so slightly grippy. Already harmonious, but still youthful. Will benefit from a few years’ cellaring.

La Grange Tiphaine Côt Vieilles Vignes Touraine-Amboise 2020 – 94pts PW

This Vieilles Vignes cuvée richly merits its name, with vines up to 140 years of age gracing the blend. This is a pure Côt, inky purple in colour and equally dense and brooding on the palate. Heady prune and cassis aromas overlay hints of eaux-de-vie, truffle, and balsamic notes. A ripe, muscular wine balanced by lively acidity that lengthens the finish nicely. Another red for the cellar, with a very long life ahead (10 years +).

La Grange Tiphaine “Nouveau Nez” Pétillant Originel Montlouis-sur-Loire NV – 92pts PW

I have enjoyed many a pét-nat for their light, lively, easy-drinking charm but have rarely found much complexity in this category. This Chenin Blanc was a revelation, with its fragrant baking spice, stone fruit, and floral aromas. The palate is similarly styled, with a rounded, creamy mid-palate, vibrant mousse, and fresh finish. Lip-smackingly good!

La Grange Tiphaine “Clef du Sol” Blanc Montlouis-sur-Loire 2020 – 95pts. PW

The 2020 vintage didn’t disappoint. Notes of chamomile, ripe lemon, and yellow apple are lifted by an underlying core of savoury, subtly nutty nuances. The palate is initially nervy and taut, but swiftly broadens, giving way to a textural, layered mid-palate. Finishes dry, with lingering lemon, yellow fruit, and earthy notes.

La Grange Tiphaine “Les Grenouillères” Blanc Montlouis-sur-Loire 2020 – 93pts. PW

A medium sweet iteration of late harvest Chenin Blanc with intense aromas of raw honey, white flowers, and spice. The palate is suave and rounded, with juicy apricot and yellow peach flavours, that lingers on the finish well balanced by lively acidity.

La Grange Tiphaine “Buisson Viau” Blanc Montlouis-sur-Loire 2020 – 94pts. PW

Opens to the same perfumed notes as Les Grenouillères, but this later harvested cuvée raisins on the vine, giving a fullness and opulent sweetness that sings against the vibrant citrussy acidity. Stone and tropical fruit flavours linger, underscored by earthy bass notes.

What does VW, PW, LW mean in my scores for La Grange Tiphaine wines? Check out my wine scoring system.

To purchase La Grange Tiphaine wines in North America, inquire with agents/importers: Vins Balthazard (Québec), Context Wines (Ontario), VineArts (Alberta), Jenny & François (USA).

Education

Portuguese Wine Sales are Booming. Here is Why…

Frederico Falcao

Frederico Falcão is a man on a mission : to spread the gospel of Portugal’s diversity of high quality wines from the Douro to Alentejo and beyond.

After studying agronomy and oenology, Falcão worked a winemaker for 18 years before becoming the youngest ever president of Portugal’s Instituto da Vinha e do Vinho (Institute of Vine and Wine). In his current role heading up Wines of Portugal, Falcão has ambitious plans.

He shared his vision with me yesterday over a cool glass of Vinho Verde at the bustling Wines of Portugal trade fair in Montréal.

Frederico, with so many terroirs and grapes, how do you explain Portuguese wines to newcomers?

We call ourselves “a world of diversity” because it is the only way to sum up our rich mosaic of wines. You go to Vinho Verde, you have granite soils, cool temperatures, a rainy climate. Then you drive just one and a half hours, and you are in Douro, with its schist slopes. It is hot and very dry. The grapes are different, everything changes. You go to Dão, Bairrada, Alentejo, they are all completely different.

Its very complex because it is not one single grape, one single style of wine, but that is what makes Portuguese wine so fascinating.

Wine lovers must agree because your international sales are booming! I recently read that Portuguese wine exports grew by 8% (to over 925 million euros) in 2021; doubling the growth seen in 2020. What is driving this trend?

Twenty years ago, people didn’t know that Portuguese wine existed. It was only Port. And in many cases, they didn’t even realize that Port wine came from Portugal. It was like a brand, a style of wine, and not a Portuguese appellation (PDO). We have been working hard to promote Portugal in the past twenty years and I think we have done it well.

Portugal is becoming very trendy when it comes to tourism. A lot of people are visiting. When they travel to Portugal, not knowing much about the country, they are always surprised – with the food, the wines, the landscape, the people, with everything.

Wines in Portugal are not expensive. In Canada, an everyday wine costs 10 dollars minimum, closer to the 15 – 20 dollar mark for a good wine. In Portugal, you can buy well-made wines for 4 euros. The quality available for such inexpensive prices is a surprise for a lot of tourists. So when they go back home, they start buying more Portuguese wine.

Portugal is the leader in wine consumption per capita in the world. We drink a lot of wine! But it is not only the Portuguese, its also the visitors. People are getting fed up with just drinking Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays. Portugal has grapes you won’t find anywhere else, that are reasonably priced, and great quality.

As you say, international audiences have only discovered Portugal’s table wines relatively recently. Have you seen a big improvement in the quality of these wines over the course of your career?

Absolutely. I have seen a dramatic improvement in the style of wine and in winemaking.

There is a younger generation of winemakers now who travel outside of Portugal, who taste wines from around the world, and compare their wines with their peers. My generation were the first to do this. Beforehand, winemakers never left their regions.

Twenty years ago, most wineries were making wines for the domestic market. Now they are making wines that are easier to appreciate for international consumers less familiar with Portugal.

We have a huge range of grape varieties and an equally large diversity of grape growing terroirs. It gives us so much scope to experiment, to innovate, and to improve the quality of our wines.

How is the Portuguese wine industry working towards greater sustainability?

The Porto Protocol was an important kick-off to get the wine trade talking more seriously about climate change and sustainability. Many of our wineries have strong sustainability practices in place, not only environmental, but also social, and economic, but there wasn’t a structure in place.

Alentejo has established their own certification system, but before we ended up with 14 regional programs, we decided to create one national certification through ViniPortugal (Wines of Portugal). We are very near the end of the process, so it is an exciting time.

Our goal is to have all of Portugal’s wineries certified in our program and really be leaders in this domain.

If you could send one message about Portugal to international wine lovers, what would it be?

With Portuguese wine, you get more than you pay for. You can taste this in our 15 dollar wine, but it is equally true of our 50 dollar wines. The value is there at every quality level. It really is worth exploring our diversity of grapes, wine regions, and styles.

After our chat, I spent some time tasting through a wide range of wines and Frederico Falcão’s words rang true. At every price point and in every wine style, I found fresh, balanced wines that are definitely in tune with an international palate.

The wines photographed above are just a small sampling of favourites from the tasting.

Portuguese Wine Fast Facts (source: Wines of Portugal):

  • Portugal boasts over 250 native wines grapes
  • The top five red grapes are: Aragonez, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional,  Castelão, and Trincadeira
  • The top five white grapes are:  Fernão Pires, Loureiro, Arinto, Síria (aka Codega), and Alvarinho
  • Wine styles range from still whites, rosé, and red, to sparkling wine (vinho espumante), to fortified wines: Port, Madeira, Moscatel
  • Total vineyard area is: 192 028 hectares (2.7% of world’s acreage)
  • There are 31 DOC appellations and 14 Vinho Regional areas in Portugal
  • DOC wine production is: 59% red wine, 24% white wine, 7% rosé
  • Major wine production regions include: Douro, Lisboa, Alentejo, and Minho (Vinho Verde territory)
Education Reviews

How to Buy More Sustainable Wine? Consider the Packaging.

HOW TO BUY MORE SUSTAINABLE WINE

Making eco-responsible purchasing decisions is a daunting task. I can’t count how many times I have found myself frozen, deer-in-the-headlights style, mid-aisle of a grocery store or wine shop pondering competing green claims.

Where wine is concerned, buying certified organic might seem like the obvious solution. However, there is quite a lot more to consider when looking for the product with the lowest possible carbon footprint. Scroll down to the end for a short form video version of this article. 

According to International Wineries for Climate Action, wine packaging and transport to market account for over 40% of their member wineries’ climate emissions. Environmental impact studies from retailers, wine regions, and researchers across the globe agree that these two areas are by far the biggest contributors to a wine’s carbon footprint.

Most wine is packaged and shipped in glass bottles. Glass wine bottles have been used for thousands of years. They are sturdy, transparent, inert, and neutral. These latter two qualities make glass the preferred vessel for fine wines, as it best preserves wine aromas and flavours over time. Glass bottles are also reusable and infinitely recyclable.

Photo credit: iStockphoto.com

But glass has a few major problems. New glass bottles are incredibly energy intensive to manufacture. Sand melts to form glass at a whopping 17 hundred degrees Celsius (the same temperature a space shuttle reaches as it re-enters earth’s atmosphere). The energy source for most of these furnaces is natural gas combustion.

Starting with recycled glass obviously lowers carbon footprint substantially, but glass recycling temperatures are also very high. And, while glass recycling rates are impressive across much of northern Europe, many of the world’s most populous nations, like the US, have disappointing track records.

According to a 2018 US Environmental Protection Agency study, only a quarter of glass containers used for consumer goods in America are recycled. The majority end up buried in landfills. This shortcoming is attributed to poorly designed, single stream collection systems in many states, resulting in improper sorting, mixing of glass formats, and glass shatter.

Glass wine bottles are also very heavy. Over the past decade there has been a growing move to lighter weight bottles, with major retailers like the LCBO, championing the cause. However,  many producers still feel compelled to package their best wines in bottles weighing up to a kilo or more.

Graphic source: LCBO (Lightweight Glass Bottle Program: mandatory  for wines under $16 retail)

The weight of glass bottles, and their shape (tapered at the neck, meaning lots of wasted space in packing), equate to high carbon emissions during marine and overland transport.

At the 2020 Porto Protocol Climate Change Conference, climate change expert Dr. Richard Smart cited Australian studies on wine carbon emissions from the vineyard to the end consumer. The research indicated that, “export of wine in glass bottles, their transport and limited recycling had the largest carbon footprint (68%)”.

So, what is an eco-conscience wine lover to do? Well, if you live in Sweden, you drink your wine from a box.

In a recent Master of Wine packaging sustainability seminar, Ulf Sjödin MW, head of category management at the nation’s wine retailer Systembolaget, indicated that 59% of their wines are now sold in bag-in-box.

The format has long been popular in Scandinavia, notably for its convenient size and shape but also for its eco values. A joint lifecycle assessment analysis commissioned in 2010, and updated in 2018, by Sweden, Norway, and Finland’s liquor monopolies, revealed that wines in boxes, pouches, and tetrapak cartons have the lowest carbon footprint and least climate impacts per litre.

Graphic source: Alko (boxed wine not featured but calculated at 70 g CO2 e/L)

Wine boxes, pouches, and PET bottles require far less energy to manufacture than glass. They are also significantly lighter formats. An empty PET bottle weighs up to ten times less  than the same volume glass bottle (of 560 grams). Formats like wine boxes, cartons, and pouches are very compact, another integral aspect in lowering their carbon footprint during transport. Finally, these formats are far less breakable than glass, limited product waste.

I realize that the idea of buying wine in a box, a plastic bottle, or a can may seem like sacrilege to many. Environmental benefits aside, wine quality in these formats hasn’t been that great historically. The wines were generally mass-produced, uninteresting wines with very limited shelf lives.

Improper filling of bag-in-box wines often led to premature oxidation issues. Previous generation PET bottles suffered high oxygen ingress levels and were thus dosed with far higher sulphur levels (than glass bottle wines) to ward off spoilage.

Happily, both the quality of wines packed in alternative formats, and the technology of these containers, have come a long way. PET bottles are now multi-layered with oxygen barriers and scavengers. Sulphur additions have come down dramatically and shelf life is much higher (up to 18 months, depending on the initial wine quality).

Aluminium cans are energy intensive to produce, like glass, but they are highly recyclable. More importantly, of beverage containers, they are reported to have the highest recycling rates world-wide. Most aluminum cans in circulation today are made from significant levels of recycled content. In the US, the average can has 73% recycled content.

The topic of sustainability in wine packaging and transport is a tricky one, with countless variables to consider, and no perfect answers. Today’s bag-in-boxes, pouches, and PET bottles are recyclable, but only to a limited degree, with loss of quality over time. End of life disposal and ensuing micro plastic pollution continues to be a significant concern, though advances in bio-PET and other sustainable materials is on-going.

Glass bottles remain the best way to preserve wine flavour and freshness over time. However, for everyday wines you plan to consume shortly after purchasing, it might be worth considering other wine packaging options.

PET, pouches, and cans make great outdoor wine serving options and many boxed wines will stay fresh for four to six weeks after opening so are great for sipping overtime.

As a parting thought, if you can’t find the wines you love in these alternate formats, try to at least buy lightweight glass bottles. Heavier bottles do not equate to better wines. They are unnecessary and unethical.

If you live in Québec, try this:

C’est dans le Sac, Vin Rouge Bio du Rhône, Pont du Gard IGP (Cave des Vignerons d’Estézargues)

Packaged in a 1.5 litre wine pouch, this red blend from the Rhône Valley has enticing ripe dark plum and cherry aromas interlaced with subtle baking spice notes. The palate is smooth and generously warming, with velvety tannins. Serve slightly chilled. Stays fresh after opening for six weeks.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($29.95)

Life

The Long Awaited Master of Wine Ceremony

Master of Wine Ceremony

The phone call came on a balmy day in late August of 2020. I had been waiting for weeks. In truth, I had been waiting for years. My dream of becoming a Master of Wine began over a bottle of 1982 Château Léoville-Las Cases. This prized bottle from my father’s cellar was opened to celebrate my imminent departure for Burgundy to pursue my first wine degree.

It was 2004. My father, a great wine lover, beamed at me across the table and declared that this was just the start; that one day I would achieve the title held by the authors of his favourite wine books. I scoffed at the notion, but as the years past the idea kept rattling around in the back of my mind like some pesky pebble in my shoe.

Work, life, travel, love, the prospect of motherhood. I kept finding reasons to postpone my studies. Until, in 2014, after a four-year struggle with infertility, it was time to make some radical changes.

I finally applied to the Institute of Masters of Wine, started planning a move back to Canada, and of course, promptly found out that I was pregnant. And so, the course for the next six years of my life was set.

No photo description available.
Me attempting to study for the MW with young children at home…!

To say that I was incredibly nervous and intimidated upon arrival at my first Master of Wine student seminar is a colossal understatement. Showing up five months pregnant did little to help matters. The week took place in Rust, Austria. Every morning, my fellow 50 students and I did practice tasting exams and every afternoon we learned more about the growing, making, packaging, bottling, shipping, and selling of wine around the world.

I came away buzzing with new ideas, new friends, and acquaintances, but also awestruck at how much there is to learn about wine. Books like Stephen Skelton’s Viticulture and David Bird’s Understanding Wine Technology became my bedtime reading.

Over the next few years, I studied like a have never studied before. I rocked my baby in his little chair with one foot while blind tasting. I spent weekends learning about rootstocks and soil pH. I made dozens of recordings so that I could listen to theory notes while walking the dog or chopping onions for dinner. I bought a coravin so I could taste wines again and again.

My studies took me to wine regions across the world, and to study centres in California and England. All the while, my network of Masters of Wine and MW student relationships grew. And so did my family. A second pregnancy with a due date uncomfortably close to the second stage exams meant that I had to defer for a year. I spent 2017 fretting that I would forget all the knowledge I had worked so hard to cram into my recalcitrant brain.

I failed the tasting portion of the exam not once, but twice. My ego was badly bruised, and I started entertaining the fear that maybe I lacked some innate talent or skill and would never make it across the finish line. Perhaps all the time, the money, the stress had been for nothing?

Recovering from a blind sparkling wine tasting.

They say that pride comes before a fall, but I think it depends on its form. When I thought back to my father’s pride at that dinner table so many years before, and that of my mother and husband, who championed me every step of the way, I knew I had to keep going.

I finally passed all parts of the second stage Master of Wine exams in 2019. My sense of relief and joy was immense, as was my trepidation for the next requirement of the study program: a lengthy academic research paper.

Finding a worthy topic that can contribute to the body of knowledge on the subject, that that there is enough material to study but hasn’t already been studied to death, that meets the approval of the Institute, that you feel you can do justice to, and that actually interests you is no easy feat. At least it wasn’t in my case.

When I had found the topic, done the research, and started analyzing it, another challenge presented itself… a global pandemic! So, there I was, with three and five-year-old boys at home all day and a 10,000-word paper to write. The weight of those lonely late night writing sessions was enough to make me want to give up all over again.

Fast forward five months, and the long-awaited phone call. On the other end of the line was Adrian Garforth, Executive Director of the Institute of Masters of Wine.  After some polite chit chat, nearly drowned out by the shouts of my rowdy boys, Adrian laughed and said, “your children seem excited, which is good since there is so much to celebrate”.

Covid restrictions meant that we had to limit the festivities to our small family circle but that didn’t stop us from popping Champagne corks and dancing around the kitchen in wild abandon. It was a magical evening, with the even more exciting prospect of traveling to London for the graduation ceremony.

After 19 long months of covid variant upon loathsome variant, we were finally able to travel to London last week. The event takes place at Vintner’s Hall, the birthplace of the Masters of Wine study program nearly 70 years ago. It is a beautiful old building on the banks of the Thames, all dark wood panelling, plush carpets, and regal portraits.

Liveried trumpeters played as we made our way into the hall, to the applause of our families, friends, and fellow MWs. Though I had had many months for the news to sink in, I still found myself overcome with emotion as I made my way to the stage to receive my diploma. Knowing that my husband, mother, brother, and sister were all there to share the moment filled me with gratitude.

The Bollinger flowed freely as everyone mingled and caught up after the ceremony. Looking across the sea of happy faces it was hard to imagine the distanced, masked, isolated existence we had so recently traversed, and perhaps will again.

The memories of that night will surely stay with me for many years to come. As will every exhausting, exhilarating, overwhelming, terrifying, and jubilant step along the way.

To learn more about the Masters of Wine program, check out the video below.