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Jura Wines: A Primer & an Upcoming Travel Film…

Jura Wines Stéphane Tissot

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

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

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

A Fascinating History

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

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

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

Prime Terroir

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

The Vineyards of Château Chalon

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

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

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

Jura Wines: Diverse & Distinctive Styles

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

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

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

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

Jura Wines: The Appellations of Origin

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

Map credit: Comité Interprofessionnel des vins du Jura

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

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

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

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

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

Making a Jura Wines Movie!

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

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

Drinking crémant with Clémentine & Bastien Baud

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

The Jura Wine Tasting Report

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

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

Final Thoughts on Jura Wines

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

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

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

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

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

Tasting old vintages with Domaine Macle

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

Education Reviews Wines

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

Organic wine from New Zealand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Felton Road, cover crops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Seresin Estate, compost preparation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to Buy: Inquire with winery

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

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

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

Where to Buy: Inquire with winery

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

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

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

Where to Buy: Inquire with winery.

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

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

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

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

Education

Snapshots from the 2021 French Wine Harvest: Frost, Hail, & Relentless Rain

2021 French Wine Harvest

It was supposed to be a hot, dry summer in France. The sort of growing season that makes the arduous task of grape growing worthwhile. A boon after a hard winter of Covid-related lost revenues and confinement. A promising 2021 French wine harvest.

But the long-range weather forecasts were wrong.

The season started off on a terrible note the week of April 5th. Brutal frosts ravaged vineyards across the country, from the Southern Rhône to Chablis. Since then, conditions have gone from bad to much, much worse.

Hail. Tornadoes. Flooding. Cold, wet weather. Rampant attacks of downy and powdery mildew. The reality of the 2021 French wine harvest is being described by the local wine trade as nothing short of un cauchemar. A nightmare.

The latest reports from the French Agricultural Ministry’s statistics department suggest that the 2021 French wine harvest will be down 24 – 30% (vs. 2020). The situation is being called a national disaster, with 2021 drawing comparisons to the notoriously poor 1977 season.

In Vouvray, hailstones the size of eggs fell in a devastating, 3-minute storm on June 3rdAt Domaine des Cormiers Roux, losses were estimated at 95%. And the terrible irony is that the vineyards that incurred the worst hail damage were those spared by the April frosts.

Throughout the month of June, brief yet violent hailstorms caused damage in vineyards as far flung as the Minervois, Ardèche, the Côte d’Or, and the list goes on.

And while July brought drought, hydric stress and withered, yellowing leaves in Provençal vineyards, the rest of France was plunged into a dreaded Goutte Froide. This meteorological phenomenon occurs when high-altitude cold air masses collide with warmer temperatures on the ground. The result is unseasonably cool weather and heavy rains.

Much of Western Europe was impacted, with devastating floods in the Ahr wine region of Germany. While the floods weren’t quite so dramatic or deadly in France, the vineyard impacts were acute in certain areas. In the Château-Chalon appellation of the Jura, the force of the downpours caused massive soil erosion ripping out huge swathes of terraced vineyards.

What’s more, the sheer relentlessness of the July rains has led to a far larger problem for French grape growers. Virulent attacks of downy mildew have stripped vineyards bare, with the threat of powdery mildew and grey rot on the horizon.

The Vallée de la Marne and parts of L’Aube in Champagne are hard hit, with growers ready to forgo the 2021 harvest all together. Between the frost and the fungal pressure, “we’ve lost more than half of the harvest,” said Maxime Toubart, Deputy Chairman of the Champagne industry lobby CIVC, in a recent Reuters interview.

In southern Alsace, mildew, grey, and brown rot are running rampant. Biodynamic producer Domaine François Schmitt detailed the results of the exceptionally heavy rainfalls in July. He described the heartbreak of “withered foliage, covered in large brown spots and dried out bunches with just a few grapes”. He compared it to conditions not seen since the 1920s.

Organic viticulture is rising steadily in France. According to France’s major organic wine trade fair, Millésime Bio, the number of certified organic wineries grew by 20% from 2018 to 2019, and the surface area of organically farmed vineyards expanded by 23%. And this is not counting the large contingent of non-certified organic practioners, and holders of exacting sustainability certifications like Terra Vitis and Haute Valeur Environmentale (HVE).

But while the will to eradicate chemical vineyard treatments is increasingly strong in France, one has to wonder how the 2021 French grape harvest will impact this organic trajectory? I have heard more than one tale of growers, either pondering or, undergoing organic conversion, who shelved their plans in a desperate attempt to save their harvests.

Faced with water-logged soils rendering vineyards impenetrable, with incessant rains, and the worst mildew ravages in decades, farming without chemical fungicides is a heroic commitment. One to be applauded, but also a decision not to be taken lightly.

As I write, from my home away from home in the Auvergne, August is off to a timid start. Each day brings rainy spells, with the sun making rare guest appearances among the heavy clouds. I would check the long-term forecast, but that hasn’t proved to be much use. It is time to pray to the weather gods for dry days to come, abundant sunshine, and a more hopeful end to this downtrodden vintage.

*** This 2021 French Wine Harvest article was originally written for Good Food Revolution. Want to learn more about artisanal food, wine, beer and spirits.? Check out their excellent website. ***

Education Reviews Wines

Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Terroirs & How They Differ

Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon AVAs

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

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

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

A Broad Overview of the Napa Valley

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

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

The Unique Geography of the Napa Valley

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

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

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

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

The Climate Contrasts of the Napa Valley

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

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

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

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

Comparing Three Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Terroirs

Silverado Vineyards Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover photo credit: Silverado Vineyards

Education Reviews Wines

Six Soulful, Sustainable Alsace Wines to Seek Out

Alsace Wines

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

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

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

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

Terroir Diversity in Alsace Wines

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

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

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

Alsace Wines Updated AOC Hierarchy

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

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

Alsace Wines: Tradition, Family, and Innovation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to Buy: SAQ ($26.95)

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

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

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

Where to Buy: SAQ ($21.85)

Trimbach Riesling Alsace 2017 – 89pts. PW

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

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

Where to Buy: SAQ ($23.90)

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

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

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

Where to Buy: SAQ ($33.00)

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

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

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

Where to Buy: SAQ ($24.35)

Marcel Deiss Pinot Noir Alsace 2018 – 89pts. PW

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

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

Where to Buy: SAQ ($33.50)

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

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/

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

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. ***