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Jacky Blisson

Education

Rías Baixas Vineyards: Exploring the Sub-Regions

Rías Baixas vineyards

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

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

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

Rías Baixas Vineyards: Five Unique Sub-Regions

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

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

Rías Baixas Vineyards Map

 Rías Baixas Vineyards: Val do Salnés

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

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

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

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

Rías Baixas vineyards Val do Salnés

 Rías Baixas Vineyards: O Rosal

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

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

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

Rías Baixas vineyards O Rosal

Rías Baixas Vineyards: Condado do Tea

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

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

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

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

Rías Baixas vineyards Condado do Tea

Rías Baixas Vineyards: Soutomaior

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

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

Rías Baixas vineyards Soutomaior

Rías Baixas Vineyards: Ribeira do Ulla

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

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

Rías Baixas vineyards Ribeira do Ulla

Rías Baixas Vineyards’ Wines Tasted in the Video!

Rectoral do Umia Abellio Albariño, Val do Salnés

Bodegas Altos de Torona, Pazo de Villarei, O Rosal

Fillaboa Winery Albariño, Condado do Tea

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

Producers Reviews Wines

Gérard Bertrand Wines & Sizest Stereotypes in Sustainable Wine

Gerard Bertrand Wines
Photo credit: Gérard Bertrand Wines

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

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

The Myths & Misrepresentation around Eco-Conscience Wine

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

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

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

Big Wineries Making Big Strides for Sustainable Wine

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

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

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

The Organic Engagement Behind Gérard Bertrand Wines

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

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

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

A Presentation & Tasting of Gérard Bertrand Wines 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to Buy: SAQ ($18.70)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education

The Sensational Spanish White Wines of Rías Baixas

Photo credit: Rías Baixas Wines (Spanish White Wines of Rías Baixas)

When most people think of Spanish wine, they imagine sun-drenched vineyards and bold, spicy red wines. Few consider the exciting Spanish white wines being made throughout the country today. One of the most exciting of which to emerge in recent years, is the crisp, aromatic Albariño.

Side note: This Spanish White Wines of  Rías Baixas article was also produced as a sponsored video (in partnership with Rías Baixas wines). To watch, just scroll down to the bottom and click play. If you enjoy the video, consider subscribing (click here) to my YouTube wine education channel so you never miss an episode. 

Experts agree that the finest vineyard region for Albariño is Rías Baixas. But what is it that makes Rías Baixas so uniquely suited to produce top-quality Spanish white wines?

Locating Rías Baixas

 Rías Baixas has a winemaking tradition dating back to Roman times. The region is located on the northwestern coast of Spain, in Galicia. This part of the country is often referred to as Green Spain. With its cool, rainy weather and lush, emerald-green hillsides it is easy to understand why.

Visitors frequently compare Galicia to parts of Ireland or Scotland, not only for these landscapes but also the lingering architectural, cultural, and musical traces of its Celtic origins.

The wine growing area of Rías Baixas stretches along the Atlantic coast for roughly 100 kilometres, from due south of the famous Christian pilgrimage site, Santiago de Compostela, to the Portuguese border.

Spanish White Wines - Rias Baixas

Spanish White Wines – Rias Baixas region map

The Climate & Soils of Rías Baixas

Rías Baixas has moderate year-round temperatures. The combination of abundant sunshine, cooling Atlantic breezes, and regular rainfall leads to slow, even ripening and excellent acid retention in the grapes. This gives wines with racy acidity and pure, vibrant aromas.

The topography of the region is highly varied, with jagged inlets, shallow fjords, flat lands, and gentle slopes. Vineyard plots tend to be quite small. Indeed, the region has well over 5000 growers – often small family holdings passed down from generation to generation.

The growing areas of Rías Baixas are divided into five sub-regions which we will explore in more detail in an upcoming, part two of this series.

Granite and schist-based soils are common Rías Baixas with mineral-rich alluvial top-soil. The minerality from the soil and salinity from the Atlantic climate are hallmarks of Rías Baixas wines.

Albariño, A Noble Grape Among Spanish White Wines

A whopping 99% of Rías Baixas’ production is of dry, white wine. The vast majority of these wines are made from Albariño, which makes up 96% of the region’s plantings. Small volumes of other white varieties like Treixadura, Loureiro, Caiño Blanco are also grown here.

These secondary grapes serve as minor blending elements to add nuance to the wines. Minute quantities of top-quality traditional method sparkling wine and red wine is also made in Rías Baixas.

Albariño  is a late ripening grape that thrives in Rías Baixas’ cool, sunny climate. To counter the region’s high humidity levels, the majority of vines are trained on pergola style wire trellises, affixed to granite posts, called “parras”. This vine training system allows breezes to circulate in and around the vines fruiting area.

Spanish white wines - Parras trellis

Spanish white wines – harvesting in Rias Baixas

Vinifying the Spanish White Wines of Rías Baixas

Most grapes are hand-harvested in Rías Baixas. A short cold soak on the skins is common before fermentation to enhance aromatic potential. Wines are then generally fermented in stainless steel, then aged on their fine lees for anywhere from four to nine months to preserve freshness and give a layered, textural mouthfeel.

As temperatures rise, many of Rías Baixas winemakers are moving away from full malolactic fermentation.  This process converts harsh malic acid to softer lactic acid. Blocking this transformation keeps acidity levels high. This is vital in Rías Baixas. The bright acidity of the region’s Albariño is one its signature traits, making these Spanish white wines so popular.

When it is practiced, oak ageing (and in rare cases, fermentation in oak) tends to be reserved for premium cuvées. In these cases, large, neutral oak casks or smaller, seasoned barrels are used so that oak flavours don’t overpower the wine’s bright, fruity character.

A Dynamic, Empowered Wine Region for Spanish White Wines

Rías Baixas is an incredibly dynamic wine region. When the DO origin status was granted in 1988 there were just 14 commercial wineries. Now, there are almost 200 producers. And the Spanish white wines of Rías Baixas are served in wine-focused restaurants around the globe.

What’s more, women are leading the charge in Rías Baixas. More than half of the region’s winemakers and winery executives are women. Marisol Bueno, co-owner of Val do Salnés winery Pazo Señorans was instrumental in Rías Baixas achieving DO status and international recognition.

Tasting the Spanish White Wines of Rías Baixas

In general, Rías Baixas white wines are bone dry, with mouth watering acidity, medium body, refreshing salinity, and intense stone, citrus, and tropical fruit flavours.

Curious to try the three Spanish white wines of Rías Baixas presented in the video? Here are the producer’s and cuvée names:

Education Reviews

A Vinophile’s Guide to Brunello di Montalcino Wines

In the 1970s, the Tuscan municipality of Montalcino was home to some 30 wineries producing DOC-level red wines sold primarily within Italy. Now, the region boasts well over 200 producers and bottlers. Elevated to the coveted DOCG status in 1980, Brunello di Montalcino wines are among the most sought after Italian wines today.

Side note: This Brunello di Montalcino wines article was also produced as a sponsored video (in partnership with the Consorzio del Brunello di Montalcino).  To watch, just scroll down to the bottom and click play. If you enjoy the video, consider subscribing (click here) to my YouTube wine education channel so you never miss an episode. 

Montalcino lies forty kilometres south of Siena and roughly 50 kilometres inland from the Tyrrhenian Sea. This fortified, medieval town is perched atop a lone hill that rises from the gentle pasture lands of the Unesco World Heritage Val d’Orcia region. It is from the vineyards that surround Montalcino that the fabled Brunello di Montalcino wines are produced.

Among the rolling pasture lands of the Val d’Orcia, rises a lone hill. Perched near the top is the medieval village of Montalcino. 

Montalcino enjoys a warm, dry Mediterranean climate. The region is sheltered from rain and hail by Mount Amiata to its south east. Conditions are cooler at higher elevations. From mid-slope to the higher reaches, a significant difference in day to nighttime temperatures slows down vine ripening. This results in ripe, concentrated, tannic wines ably balanced by fresh acidity.

Many millions of years ago most of Italy was underwater. Tuscany lay under a shallow sea with the top of Montalcino emerging like a small island in its midst. Over the span of numerous geological eras, the oceans receded and returned in the area around Montalcino, causing massive landslides pulling soils from the summit toward the middle of the hill.

These influences, coupled with volcanic activity from the now extinct Mount Amiata, created an incredible diversity of soils in the region. Lower lying vineyards have lighter, more fertile, alluvial soils for the most part, whereas higher vineyard sites tend to be rockier, with limestone and marl-rich soils.

Many millions of years ago Tuscany lay under a shallow sea, with the top of Montalcino emerging like a small island in its midst.

The commune of Montalcino spans over 31 000 hectares, with a mere 15% devoted to grape vines. Forests, olive groves, and seeded crop lands cover much of the territory. While international demand is high, the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino (the grower and winery consortium for Brunello di Montalcino wines) only permits a 3% annual increase in total vineyard acreage so as to protect the region’s rich biodiversity.

Whereas many Tuscan Sangiovese strongholds allow blending in of secondary grape varieties, Brunello di Montalcino wines are made exclusively from Sangiovese. Historically, one specific group of Sangiovese clones (referred to locally as ‘Brunello’, or more specifically ‘Sangiovese Grosso’) was planted. This is no longer the case.

Sangiovese Grosso grapes have a high pulp-to-skin ratio. Given that the highest concentration of phenolic (colour, tannins) and flavour compounds are found in the skin, a higher skin-to-pulp ratio is favourable for truly concentrated, complex wines. Nowadays, a large variety of clonal selections exist in Montalcino; a boon to both quality and stylistic diversity.

Whereas many Tuscan Sangiovese strongholds allow blending, Brunello di Montalcino wines are made exclusively from Sangiovese.

Brunello di Montalcino wines are aged for 5 years before release (with a minimum of 2 years in oak casks). Even more premium, are the Brunello ‘Riserva’ wines which see a full 6 years’ maturation. Traditionally, large Slavonian oak botti (one to ten thousand litre casks) were used for ageing. Nowadays, Brunello producers use both Slavonian botti and French oak barrels of varying sizes.

Brunello di Montalcino wines offer red and dark fruit aromas, underscored by dried herbs, and balsamic notes. They are fresh and full-bodied on the palate, with concentrated, ripe fruit flavours, and muscular tannins. Due to their complexity and structure, Brunellos have excellent ageing potential, softening and developing attractive dried floral, fig and leather flavours over time.

Due to their complexity and structure, Brunello di Montalcino wines have excellent ageing potential, softening and developing attractive tertiary flavours over time.

While waiting for Brunello di Montalcino wines to mature, enthusiasts can sip on the region’s “second wines”; namely Rosso di Montalcino DOC. Made from younger plantings of Sangiovese, or from less favourable vineyard sites, Rosso di Montalcino wines are aged for just one year before release.

Dubbed “baby Brunello” by many producers, these early-drinking reds are a great foreshadowing of the potential of a Brunello vintage. They have similar aromas and flavours, but are lighter in body and structure, with softer tannins.

Rosso di Montalcino wines

In preparation for a series of masterclasses on the region, I had the great pleasure of chatting with a number of Montalcino winemakers and winery owners. The impression I got was of a dynamic region, with a firm focus on sustainable viticulture and winemaking practices, and a growing contingent of women in leadership positions.

Donatella Cinelli Colombini shared her story of hiring an oenologist back in the days where male winemakers were in high demand while their female counterparts were decidedly not! That realization led her to create an all women winery team; an initiative that has inspired women throughout the region.

Il Paradiso di Frassina winemaker, Federico Ricci, spoke of their Mozart in the vineyards project (see more here). Castello di Banfi general manager, Enrico Viglierchio, detailed the important clonal research the winery has undertaken to isolate top quality Sangiovese clones. 

Many more fascinating tales were told, and at the heart of each discussion, were the themes of increasingly organic vineyard practices and measures undertaken to reduce vineyard and winery carbon footprint.

Brunello di Montalcino wines line up

The best way to experience Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino wines is glass in hand, wandering through the vineyards on a sunny day in Tuscany. Unfortunately, for now we must use our imagination and travel through our tastings.

The Montalcino region has been blessed with a number of excellent to outstanding vintages in recent years. Our masterclass wines included the highly varied 2012, 2014, and 2015 vintages of Brunello di Montalcino wines, as well as the 2018 and 2019 Rosso di Montalcino vintages.

2012: 5-star vintage. Rich, concentrated wines that show a fine balance between ripe fruit flavours and vibrant acidity. Exceptional cellaring potential. Hold.

2014: 3-star vintage. Cool, rainy growing season that produced a smaller than average crop. Light, finely chiselled wines with bright fruit and tangy acidity. Drink now.

2015: 5-star vintage. Warm summer with cool overnight temperatures resulting in ripe, rich wines with balanced freshness, and powerful tannic structure. Hold.

2018: 4-star vintage. Summer heatwaves followed by cooler, rainier weather near harvest. The wines are shaping up to be elegant and silky, with a charming, upfront fruit profile. Rosso: drink now. Brunello: not yet released.

2019: 5-star vintage. A warm season with slow, even ripening. The wines look to be very fruit-forward, with ripe tannins, and lots of finesse. Rosso: drink now/hold 1 year. Brunello: not yet released.

Check out these excellent Brunello producers: Altesino, Caparzo, Il Paradiso di Frassina, Carpineto, La Poderina, Castello Romitorio, Campogiovanni (San Felice), Col d’Orcia, Castello BanfiDonatella Cinelli ColombiniFornacina, Fattoria dei Barbi

Photo credit: Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino

Reviews

It’s Time to (Re)Discover German Pinot Noir

German Pinot Noir
Photo credit: German Pinot Noir vineyard, Ahr Valley Tourism

Germany is the third largest producer of Pinot Noir world-wide. This fact surprises many wine lovers, more familiar with its racy, aromatic white wines. Pinot Noir, referred to as Spätburgunder in Germany, was brought to the region from Burgundy in the 4th century. Despite this long history, international acclaim for German Pinot Noir is a recent phenomenon.

Why was this Recognition so Long in Coming?

Until the late 1980s, less than 5000 hectares of Spätburgunder was planted in Germany and domestic demand was high. What little volume left the country was resoundingly panned by international critics.

This negative quality perception arose for a variety of reasons. The most obvious of which was Germany’s cool climate, where the late ripening Pinot Noir often struggled to achieve balanced sugar and phenolic maturity.

After the second world war, German Pinot Noir clonal selections focused on high yields and high must weights. These vigorous clones, prone to fungal infection, produced large grape berries whose thin skins and abundant pulp resulted in wines lacking in structure and concentration.

The largest producers of German Pinot Noir in the 1970s and 1980s were the regional cooperatives. These wineries prioritized quantity over quality, using techniques like thermovinification to produce easy drinking, commercial wine styles that were often slightly sweet.

What Changed?

According to research carried out at Berlin’s Humboldt University, over the past 40 years Germany has experienced an average increase in air temperature of 1.4°C. These warmer conditions facilitate Pinot Noir ripening.

That being said, the real upswing in German Pinot Noir quality is generally attributed to a small band of determined, quality-minded producers. Winemakers like Baden’s Bernhard Huber, the Knipser brothers from the Pfalz, and Rudolf Fürst of Franken, began traveling to Burgundy and implementing techniques learned there.

Around this time, more qualitative German clones started to emerge, and many producers/regions began planting Burgundy’s famous Dijon clones. Certain producers took a different approach, using massal selections of old, low-yielding German Pinot Noir clones.

This quality revolution started attracting global attention in the late 1990s. By 2010, Spätburgunder acreage had doubled. Producers were harvesting earlier and focusing more on freshness and aromatic purity, rather than body and alcohol. The use of new oak also declined significantly during this period. Mainly seasoned French oak barriques became more common place, as did a return to large, traditional German fuders.

What is the Status of Spätburgunder Today?

The quality of German Pinot Noir is a source of unabashed national pride. Wines of Germany writes: “the Spätburgunder is to red wine what the Riesling is to white wine: the cream of the crop.”

There are now 11,800 hectares of Pinot Noir vines planted in Germany, making up 11% of the country’s total wine grape plantings. The first German Pinot Noir revolutionaries have been joined (or replaced) by a second generation. These newcomers have access to far superior red winemaking educational resources in Germany, and many have also completed harvests abroad.

Critics praise the vibrant acidity, aromatic purity, balance, and sense of terroir imparted by top German Pinot Noirs. However, both producers and international observers are quick to point out that there is no one catchall German style when it comes to Spätburgunder.

Significant variation in soil type, climate conditions, orientation, and so forth from one region to another, and across vineyard sites results in wide stylistic diversity. The use of German vs. French clones also has a major impact on wine style. German Pinot Noir clones are said to give more intense red fruit flavours and herbal undertones, whereas the Dijon clones often impart darker fruit notes and a deeper, more savoury nuance.

Where is Spätburgunder Grown in Germany?

Most Spätburgunder is planted in Germany’s southernmost vineyards of Baden and Württemberg. The Baden region alone has more Pinot Noir planted than New Zealand or Australia. The sub-region of Breisgau is particularly prized for its cool mesoclimate and limestone soils, yielding pure, elegant wines.

Despite its northerly location, the Ahr is also a key production region for German Pinot Noir with 65% of its vineyard area dedicated to the grape. This sheltered valley with its heat absorbing slate and graywacke soils, produces distinctive cassis-scented, smoky, flinty Pinot with lively acidity, and silky tannins.

Ripe, full-bodied Spätburgunder is produced in the Pfalz, ranging from fruit-forward and rounded to firmer, and more tannic, depending on the site. Small volumes of top-quality Pinot Noir is also produced in the Rheingau and the Mosel Valley.

German Pinot Noir Producers to Seek Out:

Baden: Bernhard Huber, Ziereisen, Schwarzer Adler, Bercher, Dr. Heger, Holger Koch, Salwey

Pfalz: Friedrich Becker, Knipser, Christmann, Rebholz, Rainer Lingenfelder

Württemberg: Graf Neipperg, Dautel, Graf Adelmann, Haidle, Schnaitmann

Ahr: Meyer-Näkel, Adeneuer, Deutzerhof, Kreuzberg, Jean Stodden

Franken: Rudolf Fürst, Am Stein, Castell, Knapp

Rheingau: Franz Künstler, JB Becker, August Kesseler, PJ Kühn

Mosel: Markus Molitor

 

*** This German Pinot Noir article was written for SOMM360  Want to learn more about wine & spirits? Check out their excellent learning platform for articles, audio capsules, and loads of fun quizzes to test your knowledge. ***

Reviews

FLOR POWER: The Effects of Biological Ageing in Wine

biological ageing in wine
Photo credit: Biological ageing in wine, Vinos de Jerez

Flor is the Spanish or Portuguese word for flower. In wine terms, flor refers to a layer or film of yeast that forms on the surface of wines after alcoholic fermentation, under certain winemaking conditions.

When these yeast cells coalesce to form a continuous layer on the top of the wine, they create a protective barrier that inhibits oxygen exposure. This phenomenon is referred to as biological ageing.

Fino style Sherries are famous for their maturation under flor. Vin Jaune from the Jura region in France is another well-known example of wine aged sous voile (a French term which means, under a veil) – although here, the yeast layer is often thinner and not totally hermetic.

How does Flor form?

The yeast responsible for alcoholic fermentation in wine, mainly strains of the species Saccharomyces cerevisiae, generally die off once all fermentable sugars have been consumed. However, some strains can spontaneously transition to an oxidative mode, metabolizing glycerol, alcohol, and volatile acids in wine. These yeast cells float on the surface of the wine and develop a waxy coating. As they multiply, the cells spread out across the surface, forming a continuous layer.

For this to happen, certain conditions must be met:

  • Firstly, a specific alcohol range must be reached and/or maintained for the yeast to thrive (and for undesirable microbes to die off). For flor yeast in Sherry, this range is generally between 14.5% to 16% abv and is achieved by fortification. In the Jura, the voile yeasts tolerate slightly lower alcohol levels and are thus, not fortified.
  • Secondly, a sufficiently oxygen rich environment is needed. In Sherry, maturation occurs in oak barrels – which are only filled to 5/6ths capacity to encourage flor formation.
  • Flor yeast also prefers cooler, wetter conditions. In these environments, the flor layer will generally be thicker and give more pronounced freshness and yeast-driven aromatics.

 Each vessel will have a different composition of flor yeast strains. When sampled individually, these barrels have quite distinctive aroma and flavour profiles, each bringing complexity to the final blend.

What does the Biological Ageing Process Bring to Wine?

Biological ageing protects wine from oxidation. Wines aged under an unbroken layer of flor will be very pale in colour with fresh acidity and youthful vibrancy. Where the flor layer is not continuous, as is often the case with the voile in Vin Jaune, this effect is negated.

As it consumes the alcohol in wine, the flor yeast produces acetaldehyde. This compound gives off distinctive bruised apple and nutty aromas.

The flor yeasts also feed off the wine’s glycerol. As glycerol diminishes, the round, smooth mouthfeel of a wine diminishes making it far lighter and somewhat sharper on the palate.

Flor yeast activity also leads to the increase of an aromatic compound called sotolon. At low levels, sotolon gives notes of maple syrup or caramel. At high concentrations, it gives off exotic spice aromas like curry or fenugreek.

Flor Wines to Try

Winemaking experiments with flor are happening all over the world now. From California, to Australia, to Argentina wines labeled sous voile are cropping up – using a range of techniques from strict, reductive biological ageing to a more oxidative approach.

South Africa has a long history of making biologically aged fortified wines, however many producers are now producing flor aged table wines.

*** This Biological Ageing in Wine article was 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. ***

Education Producers

Central Otago Pinot Noir: Discover the Sub-Regions

Central Otago Pinot Noir
Photo credit: Misha’s Vineyard/ NZ Winegrowers

 The Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island is famous for Pinot Noir. Wine has been produced in this rugged, mountainous region since the heady days of the 1860s Gold Rush. Today, as critical acclaim continues to grow for Central Otago Pinot Noir, the diverse styles of each vineyard sub-region are gaining in recognition.

Regional Overview

The Central Otago is a land formed by glacier activity and the many lakes and rivers that traverse the region. At its most northerly point, the Central Otago crosses the 45th parallel south. According to the New Zealand Winegrowers organization, Central Otago is the world’s most southerly commercial wine region.

Ancient mountains, many rising well over 2000 metres, shelter the Central Otago region from the maritime influences that define all other New Zealand wine growing areas. While meso-climates vary significantly, in general Central Otago has a dry, semi-continental climate with strong diurnal variation.

The region’s exceptionally high UV light levels give deep colour to many of its Pinot Noir. Soil composition is also varied, but stony, free-draining subsoils are common, with schist or greywacke bedrocks.

A mere 1,930 hectares of vineyards spread across the slope sides and valleys of Central Otago. Pinot Noir accounts for 80% of these plantings. The reputation the region has carved out internationally for Central Otago Pinot Noir stems in part from this monovarietal dedication.

Central Otago Pinot Noir Styles by Sub-Region

Due to the region’s diverse terrain and multitude of mesoclimates, the growing areas are divided into multiple sub-regions, all offering a different expression of Central Otago Pinot Noir. From north to south, Central Otago’s sub-regions include:

Wanaka

Wanaka, the smallest sub-region, is situated 80km northeast of Queenstown. The vineyards surround Lake Wanaka, on gravel and silt-based soils overlying a schist bedrock. These soils provide excellent drainage, encouraging the vine to root deeply.

This is among the cooler sub-regions, marked by cold winters, rainy spring weather, warm, dry summers, and long, temperate autumn conditions that allow for excellent ripening while preserving lively acidity.

Central Otago Pinot Noir from Wanaka is often described light, delicate, and very elegant in style, with intense, bright red fruit flavours. Producers of note include: Rippon, Maude Wines, and Akitu.

Bendigo

Moving southeast across the mountains, east of the Clutha River, bordering Lake Dunstan lie the stony, hillside vineyards of Bendigo. This is the largest and warmest sub-region in Central Otago.

The vineyards are planted on moderate slopes of 200 to 350 metres in altitude in the foothills of the Dunstan Mountains. They are oriented north to abundant sunshine. Conditions are hot and dry here, and there is significant diurnal variation preserving fresh acidity.

The Central Otago Pinot Noir from Bendigo is among the ripest, most full-bodied, and tannic styles of the region, balanced by fresh acidity. Wineries to watch include: Prophet’s Rock, Quartz Reef, and Balgownie Estate.

Cromwell/Lowburn/Pisa

The trio of Cromwell/Lowburn/Pisa includes low terraces and valley floor vineyard sites stretching 25 kilometres northward from the township of Cromwell. They sit along the western shore of Lake Dunstan, parallel to the Pisa Mountain range.

The climate is dry and warm, with temperature extremes moderated by the lake. Soils are quite diverse, with large areas of sandy-loam, and of gravelly, schist- based zones at higher elevations in Lowburn.

This early ripening area produces supple, approachable, generously fruited styles of Central Otago Pinot Noir, with silky tannins. Great producers from this region include: Burn Cottage, Wild Earth, Rockburn.

Gibbston

Gibbston is the highest altitude and coolest of all Central Otago sub-regions. It is located along the Kawarau Gorge, directly east of Queenstown. Vineyards are planted from 320 to 420 metres above sea level on northern exposures.

The areas’ soils are composed of loess with underlying layers of schist rocks and alluvial gravel. This is a late ripening area that can be quite rainy, experiencing more vintage variation than more easterly sites.

Central Otago Pinot Noir from Gibbston is described as light and ethereal, with fragrant red berries, fresh herbs, and mixed spices on the nose. It is generally soft on the palate. Top wineries include: Valli, Peregrine, Mount Edward, and Gibbston Valley.

Bannockburn

Southwest of Cromwell lies Bannockburn, a very warm, dry, early ripening sub-region. It is located on the southern shore of the Kawarau River, by the Cairnmuir Mountains.

The soils of Bannockburn are remarkably diverse. A long history of mining in the area, has left heavy deposits of gravel in certain vineyard sites. Other gravel-rich sites, of schist and greywacke, are naturally occurring. Elsewhere, pockets of heavy clay loam and sandy loam exist.

Central Otago Pinot Noir from Bannockburn is renowned for its dense, concentrated dark fruit flavours and bold tannic structure. Notable wineries in the area include: Felton Road, Mt. Difficulty, Doctor’s Flat, Ceres, Akarua

Alexandra

Alexandra is the most southerly of Central Otago’s sub-regions. It is situated in a mountain basin, bordering the Clutha River. Marked continentality, in the way of very hot, dry summers and exceptionally cold winters, define the climate.

Compared to Queenstown, Alexandra sees over 100 additional sunshine hours each year, and 600 millimetres less rainfall. The region’s wide temperature swings give highly aromatic, lively wines. Free draining alluvial gravel and loess soils dominate here.

Central Otago Pinot Noir from Alexandra is known for its fragrant aromatics, fine structure, and signature dried thyme notes. Excellent producers from this region include: Grasshopper Rock, Black Ridge, Three Miners.

 

*** This Central Otago Pinot Noir article was 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. ***

Education

Georgian Wine through the Ages…from Antiquity to Today

Georgian wine
Georgian wine qvevri photo credit: Wines of Georgia

The history of Georgian wine is a fascinating tale…

Archeological evidence to date suggests that Georgia has the most ancient winemaking traditions in the world. Researchers uncovered 8000-year-old clay vessels at a site in the country’s southeast. Grape and grape seed residues found within were carbon dated to 6000 BCE.

Georgian Wine in Antiquity

According to the Wines of Georgia marketing body, this ancient Georgian wine was appreciated in the first cities of the Fertile crescent, including Babylon and Ur. The writings of ancient Greek poets Homer and Apollonius of Rhodes made reference to Georgian vineyards and winemaking.

The word wine is said to derive from the Georgian gvino – which became vino in Italian, vin in French, and wine in English.

20th Century Decline in Georgian Wine Quality

The proud traditions of Georgian winemaking were compromised during the soviet occupation, which lasted from 1922 to 1991. The soviets split up countless family estates, reconstituting them into large, collective blocks.

Georgian wine was so popular in Russia that low yielding white and red varieties were massively uprooted in favour of more productive grapes. The impetus to produce higher yields and meet consumer demand led to a marked decline in wine quality.

Russia continued to be the major export market for Georgian wine after independence – consuming over 90% of the country’s exports. This continued until a 2006 politically fueled embargo on Georgian wine, followed by the 208 Russo-Georgian war forced Georgian producers to look further afield for export opportunities.

 The Modern Age of Georgian Wine

The opening up of the Georgian wine industry, coupled with the slow regeneration of smaller size, family-run estates generated interest around the globe. Today, Georgian wine can be found on trendy restaurant wine lists from Paris to New York.

Georgian wine is often categorized as traditional or modern. Traditional producers make wine much as they did in antiquity – crushing grapes and placing them – sometimes with, sometimes without stems – in egg shaped earthenware vessels called qvevri (kway-vree), then burying them under ground.

Many variations on this traditional process exist and experimentation is rife. Certain practices fit the current mold for the orange wine and/ or natural wine categories, giving them even greater appeal in specialist realms.

Modern Georgian producers make wines in the conventional manner seen across the globe – using stainless steel, concrete, or oak barrels, in winery settings, with temperature controls, etc.

 Quick Facts on Georgian Wine 

The country of Georgia sits at the juncture where Western Asia and Eastern Europe meet. It is bordered by Russia and the Greater Caucasus Mountain range to the north, Azerbaijan to the east, Armenia and Turkey to the south, and the Black Sea to the West.Georgian Wine Map

There are currently 55 000 hectares of vines planted in Georgia – this is half the size of Bordeaux’s vineyard area – so it is quite a small winegrowing country. Almost three-quarters of vines are planted in the eastern, Kakheti region.

Kakheti has a diverse range of vineyard mesoclimates and soil types – though many prime vineyard sites feature semi arid, temperate continental climates and iron-rich sandy and calcareous clay soils. This iron content is thought to bring a certain earthy, rusticity to the local wines, as well as concentrated flavours. This could also be due to the otherwise poor nutrient levels of the soils, and dry climate, which oblige the vines to dig deep for sustenance.

Over 500 indigenous grape varieties are planted in Georgia, this includes a number of endangered varieties that are only cultivated in Georgia. 75% of Georgian wine is white and 25% is red wine. The two-best known, most widely produced grape varieties in Georgia are: Rkatsiteli (kha-se-telli) and Saperavi.

Rkatsiteli is grown throughout Georgia and produces a white wine with bracing acidity, medium body, and green apple, quince, and peach notes. It takes on more textural appeal and interest when fermented and aged in qvevris.

Saperavi is a teinturier grape variety – meaning that its flesh as well as its skin is deeply coloured. It produces dark, inky reds with dark fruit, spicy and savoury flavours, full body, and brisk acidity. When produced skillfully from lower yielding sites it is a complex, concentrated, ageworthy red.

Rising Trend for Georgian Wine

Master of Wine Lisa Granik attributes the rise in popularity for Georgian wine to its “indigenous grape varieties, incredible bargains, and off-the-beaten-path wine styles”. She explains that the Georgian wine industry has grown from 80 registered wineries in 2006 to 961 in 2018.

And while qvevri wines only account for about 1% of production in Georgia – global interest is high. They are diverse in style – as both red and white wines are produced in this fashion. According to Granik, the white wines, fermented on their skins to an amber hue are “Georgia’s calling card” to sommeliers and wine merchants around the world.

*** This Georgian Wine article was 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. ***

Education

Vegan Wines…What they are & how to find them!

vegan wines

Vegan wines… You would be forgiven for finding this idea puzzling. After all, wine is just fermented grape juice. How could it not be vegan friendly? Well, it’s a little bit more complicated than that.

Side note: I have also made this vegan wines blog post into a short YouTube video. To watch, just scroll down to the bottom & click play. If you enjoy the video, consider subscribing (click here) so you never miss an episode of my wine education series. 

After fermentation, a newly finished wine is pretty cloudy to look at. It contains lots of tiny particles including pieces of grape skin, pulp, or stems, dead yeast cells, bacteria, tartrates, proteins, pectins, tannins, and so forth.

If left for sufficient time in a tank or barrel, those particles get dragged down by the force of gravity and form a sediment. The clear wine can then be drawn off the top in a process called racking.

However, this takes quite a long time and is not always guaranteed to yield a perfectly limpid wine. Many winemakers prefer to bottle their wines fairly quickly after harvest. There are many reasons for this, the main one being to preserve the fresh, fruity style of the wine.

The most rapid and effective method for getting wines of perfect clarity, is to employ a winemaking technique called fining.

What is Fining?

Essentially, fining consists of adding a substance to the tank or vat containing the soon-to-be-bottled wine. This substance forms an absorbent, enzymatic or ionic bond with the suspended particles, producing larger particles that will precipitate out of wine more readily and rapidly.

Certain fining agents have the added benefit of removing polymerized tannins, making the wines less astringent on the palate.

What does this have to do with Vegans?

The problem for vegetarians and vegans is that many of these fining substances contain animal products or by-products like gelatin, egg whites, or a milk protein called casein.

Also, certain types of synthetic corks are made using mik-based glues.

There are two ways to produce vegan wines. A more common practice for early-released, high volume vegan wines is to use a vegan friendly fining agent like bentonite (a natural clay). For more premium vegan wines, many producers choose not to fine or filter their wines, allowing natural settling to occur. These wines may still contain a slight sediment, but it is harmless and tasteless.

How do I find Vegan Wines?

Wineries in North America and the EU are not obliged to list their ingredients on labels, so it is not always easy to know what fining agent, if any, was used. That being said, vegan wines are an increasingly common prerequisite for many major retailers, especially super-markets. As such, many wine producers have made the switch in recent years.

If you want to be 100% sure, look for wines that carry a vegan friendly logo, or clearly state “suitable for vegetarians and vegans” on their back label. Alternatively, you can seek out wines that were bottled without fining.

Finally, don’t hesitate to ask your local wine merchant to help you out. Some stores will house vegan wines in a special section. If not, they generally have the technical details of the wines they carry on file, so if you are wondering about a specific wine, they can check for you.

Reviews Wines

Why You Need to Taste Hawkes Bay Chardonnay

Hawkes Bay Chardonnay
Photo credit: Sacred Hill Wine

Picture a crisp, steely, cool climate style of Chardonnay. Now, dial up the fruit ripeness several notches. Add a little more mid-palate weight and richness. Et voila, you have the basic outline of Hawkes Bay Chardonnay.

Hawkes Bay is the oldest wine producing area in New Zealand. Located on the eastern coast of the North Island, the region extends inwards from the South Pacific coast. With its abundant sunshine and temperate climate moderated by cooling maritime breezes, Hawkes Bay produces voluptuous wines with bright acidity.

With just over 5000 hectares planted, the region accounts for 13% of the country’s total acreage (second only in size to the mighty Marlborough). Best known for its Merlot-led red blends and Chardonnay, Hawkes Bay is also gaining critical acclaim for its Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris.

The vineyards of Hawkes Bay cover a large and highly varied terrain arching 350 km along the South Pacific coast and sprawling inwards across a land contoured over thousands of years by four major rivers.

  • The Coastal Areas, prized for their chiselled Chardonnay and aromatic Pinot Noir, have a distinctly maritime climate and long growing season.
  • The Hillsides offer a range of altitudes and orientations. They are mainly planted to red varieties, with some particularly favourable limestone-rich sites.
  • The Alluvial Plains are diverse in soil type and plantings. The Gimblett Gravels sub-zone, particularly revered for its Merlot blends, boast gravelly soils with excellent drainage.
  • The River Valleys provide diverse, yet generally warm, sheltered growing conditions.
  • Central Hawkes Bay is a cooler, inland sub-region with altitudes reaching 300 metres. Aromatic white grapes like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris, as well as Pinot Noir, are popular here.

Hawkes Bay may seem an insignificant wine region in global terms. However, the quality of its Chardonnay is ample proof that New Zealand is far more than a one trick (aka Sauvignon Blanc) pony. It was this thinking that led the Hawkes Bay Winegrowers Association to create a Hawkes Bay Chardonnay Collection to send out to wine critics around the world.

In order to select the 12 Hawkes Bay Chardonnays to include in the pack, Master Sommelier Cameron Douglas was called into action. He blind tasted over 50 of the region’s best Chardonnays with the view to selecting the best possible cross-section of styles, prices, and terroir.

The 2019 growing season was deemed “extraordinary” by local growers. Hot, sunny days and cool evenings blessed the period leading up to harvest. This allowed estates to pick according to their optimal timelines, resulting in wines praised for their pristine fruit quality and vibrant acidity.

This was indeed the impression I had after tasting the range. The majority offered vivid, ripe fruit flavours and weighty structures balanced by lively acidity. The best of the bunch are already quite approachable, with harmoniously integrated oak. They also possess the freshness and concentration to age well over the moderate term.

Curious to try a Hawkes Bay Chardonnay? Here are my notes on the 12 wines sampled.

Hawkes Bay Chardonnay Pack

Photo credit: Hawkes Bay Winegrowers Association

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

Cooper’s Creek ‘The Limeworks’ Select Vineyards Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 – 89pts. PW

Intense notes of pineapple, ripe lemon, and red apple on the nose. The palate is tangy and bright, with medium body, a smooth texture, and attractive flavours of lemon curd and vanilla spice. Great value!

Price: NZ $25.00 at the winery

Monowai ‘Upper Reaches’ Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 – 88pts. PW

A fragrant white, with heady notes of honeydew melon and underlying floral, spice hints. Fresh and rounded on the soft palate with candied fruit flavours and subtle vanilla spice on the finish.

Price: NZ $35.00 at the winery

Collaboration Wines ‘Aurulent’ Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 – 91pts. PW

An attractive nose, with complex aromas of orange blossoms, lemon curd, tropical fruit, and underlying spicy oak nuances. Mouthwatering acidity on the palate gives nice vibrancy and lift to this full-bodied, moderately concentrated white. Toasty, crême caramel notes linger on the finish.

Price: NZ $35.00 at the winery

Tony Bish ‘Heartwood’ Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 – 88pts. PW

Tempting aromas of orchard fruit and anis, mingle with hints of marzipan and butterscotch on the nose. Fairly tightly wound on the palate, with brisk acidity, a firm, full-bodied structure, and subtle phenolic edge. Cellar for two to three years, or decant before serving.

Price: NZ $35.00 at the winery

Pask Winery ‘Declaration’ Chardonnay Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 – 89pts. PW

Initially restrained, with white floral notes, red apple, and herbal nuances developing with aeration. A taut, racy attack gives way to a creamy, medium weight mid-palate with overt toasty, vanilla oak flavours and orchard fruit on the finish.

Price: NZ $45.00 at the winery

Clearview Estate Winery ‘Reserve’ Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 – 91pts. PW

Enticing aromas of white blossoms, anise, apricot and stony mineral hints feature on the complex nose. The palate is initially crisp and taut, then deepens to reveal a subtle creaminess on the medium weight core. A touch of salinity and lively acidity lift and balance the spiced oak finish.

Price: NZ $45.00 at the winery

Askerne Wines ‘The Archer’ Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 – 90pts. PW

A temptingly ripe nose offering aromas of yellow pear, red apple, and raw honey. A Mâcon lookalike in terms of its fresh acidity, rounded structure, and sun-kissed, fruity flavours mingled with subtle toasted oak nuances. Finishes warm yet smooth.

Price: NZ $50.00 at the winery

Sacred Hill ‘Rifleman’s’ Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 – 94pts. LW

Flinty mineral notes add wonderful nuance to the pretty chamomile, lemon, and yellow apple aromas on the nose. The palate is elegantly constructed; crisp, full-bodied, and subtly creamy with flavours of brioche, orchard fruit, and subtle vanilla spice. Long and layered.

Price: NZ $70.00 at the winery

Elephant Hill ‘Salomé’ Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 – 94pts. LW

Heady notes of ripe lemon, red apple, quince, brioche, and spice fairly leap from the glass. The palate offers fine balance between its tangy acidity, full body, and concentrated core of juicy orchard and stone fruit flavours. Enticing gooseberry notes mingle with saline hints and well-integrated toasty oak nuances on the finish.

Price: NZ $75.00 at the winery

Villa Maria ‘Keltern’ Single Vineyard Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 – 90pts. LW

Overt lime cordial aromas overlay white blossoms and stony mineral hints on the fragrant nose. The palate is full-bodied, with striking acidity and a concentrated, textural core. Finishes on zesty notes of citrus mingled with spicy oak.

Price: NZ $80.00 at the winery

Bilancia ‘Tiratore’, La Collina Vineyard Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 – 88pts. LW

Discreet lemon, lime aromas mingle with yellow apple and floral hints on the nose. The palate is crisp and medium weight, with bright, fruity flavours, and a warming, toasty finish.

Price: NZ $90.00 at the winery

Church Road ‘Tom McDonald’ Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 – 92pts. LW

A flinty nose, with delicate notes of white fleshed fruit, chamomile, and fresh almond developing over time. The palate is racy and firm, with notable weight and depth of flavour, ably balancing the vibrant acidity and lingering spicy, butterscotch flavours.

Price: NZ $150.00 at the winery