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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. ***

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

 

 

Reviews Wines

TIS THE SEASON FOR CANADIAN SPARKLING WINE

Canadian Sparkling Wine

The Canadian sparkling wines produced today are a far cry from the bad old days of Baby Duck. Quality sparkling wine producers are cropping up from Nova Scotia to British Columbia at an impressive rate. And what really sets Canadian sparkling wine apart, in this wine taster’s humble opinion, is the exceptional quality/price ratio the best of these bubblies has to offer.

I first discovered the breadth of fine Canadian sparkling wine at a Vancouver Wine Festival tasting back in 2016 or 2017. I had been living abroad for over 10 years and hadn’t had much occasion to drink Canadian wine. I went into the tasting eager to champion local efforts but laden with scepticism from a decade spent immersing myself in Old World wines.

I came away pleasantly surprised with the quality and range, but also the competitiveness of prices. Many well crafted, easy-drinking traditional method wines, aged 18 – 24 months on lees, were under $30.00 (Canadian). Top cuvées aged four years or longer on lees, with excellent depth, textural appeal, and complexity of primary, autolytic, and the first nuances of tertiary flavours were almost all under $45.00. When one considers that even the most unremarkable of entry level Champagnes costs at least $50.00, Canadian sparkling wine seems doubly attractive.

As a judge for the National Wine Awards of Canada, I was able to take a more analytical approach – blind tasting Canadian wines of all styles and colours from Nova Scotia, Québec, Ontario, and BC. What emerged was a sentiment first suggested to me by Janet Dorozynski, Trade Commissioner for Canadian Wine, Beer and Spirits and Tourism. While different grape varieties and wine styles excel in different provinces and growing regions, the one common denominator to all of Canada’s wine-producing areas is sparkling wine. Not just the fact that they all make it, but that it is of consistent high quality across the country.

I spent much of 2020 writing a Masters of Wine thesis on how to further define and/or strengthen the regional identity of Ontario wine (available for download here). The initial hypothesis was that a signature grape or type of wine was necessary to build a reputation. Over time, given the marked differences in soil composition, topography, and mesoclimate from one site to another, coupled with individual winery preferences, it became clear that the province couldn’t and wouldn’t rally around one grape. However, they could make their name for a climate-related style of wine from a restrained number of grapes, backed by a shared philosophy and high quality commitment.

All this to say that, while I think Canada makes noteworthy sparkling wine from coast to coast, getting all regions to agree to fly this one banner (as England has done) may not prove possible. It is heartening however, to see so many Canadian wine experts writing about our local fizz.

Another thing that my research showed me was how little Canadian (with the exception of BC’s loyal consumers) support their provincial wine industries. Time after time, wineries’ interviewed mentioned the struggles they faced getting locals to try their wines, and the naked surprise on said consumers’ faces when they discovered they were good!

So, with that in mind dear Canadian readers, I invite you to try a Canadian sparkling wine (or three) this holiday season. Your taste buds and pocket books will thank you.

In preparing this article, I reached out to local agents in Québec to taste a wide range of Canadian sparkling wine samples. The below suggestions represent the best from this tasting. There are so many more excellent sparkling wine names to look for. These selections were made in consultation with several top Canadian wine critics.

NOVA SCOTIA

Lightfoot & Wolfville

Located in the Annapolis Valley along the shores of the Bay of Fundy, Lightfoot & Wolfville is without a doubt one of Nova Scotia’s premiere sparkling wine producers. There is an almost electric vibrancy about their sparkling wines, that somehow manage to be racy, taut and fairly dry without any trace of austerity.

The 2014 Blanc de Blancs Brut is searing and precise, with vivid lemon zest, green apple, and ginger snap flavours. The palate is ultra-sleek with fine, persistent bubbles, and that signature salty tang that lifts the finish. Long, with a very harmonious brut dosage. 100% Chardonnay, aged 4 years + on its fine lees. 93pts. PW ($39.13 at the winery)

Benjamin Bridge

The Gaspereau Valley, a 12km expanse within the larger Annapolis Valley, is a coastal terroir whose breezy, maritime climate is defined by the dramatic, shifting tides of the Bay of Fundy. This moderating factor, coupled with south-facing vineyards allow for long, slow, full ripening, all while retaining racy, natural acidity.

The black label Benjamin Bridge NV Brut offers consistent good value for its $27.95 price. A blend of locally popular hybrid grape l’Acadie Blanc with Chardonnay, the NV Brut is zesty and bright, with clean, citrussy flavours, vigorous bubbles, and a dry, mineral-tinged finish. 89pts. PW ($27.95 at the winery).

Benjamin Bridge Brut Réserve 2012: Aged 5 years on its lees, this blend of 65% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir, 10% Pinot Meunier is pure, hedonistic pleasure on the palate. Expressive notes of baker’s yeast, biscuits, lemon, yellow apple, and white blossoms on the nose. The palate is a shape shifter: racy and taut at the outset, broad, creamy, and textural on the mid-palate, with delicate, persistent bubbles. Finishes long and layered. Spectacular! 94pts. LW ($74.50 at the winery)

Other Nova Scotia sparkling wines worth discovering:

Blomidon Blancs de Blanc, l’Acadie Vineyards Prestige Brut, Avondale Sky Blanc de Noirs

QUEBEC

La Seigneurie de Liret

La Seigneurie de Liret is family-run, organic winery located near Québec City on the picturesque Île d’Orléans. The Demers family, experts in the field of industrial insulation, took a novel approach to protecting their vinifera vines over winter. Concerned about the possible thermal swings under geotextiles, they decided to create insulated coverings to maintain consistent, mild temperatures throughout Québec’s frosty winters. These vine blankets have allowed them to successfully grow Vitis vinifera sparkling wine varieties: Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay.

Aged several years on its fine lees, the Nuage Effervescent cuvée is initially restrained. With aeration attractive white blossoms, red apple, biscuit, and baking spice hints develop. Racy acidity, very fine, soft bubbles, and a taut, elegant structure. Finishes bone dry with a twist of refreshing bitterness. 91pts. PW (enquire with winery for price & sales locations).

Domaine St. Jacques

Domaine St. Jacques is a stalwart of the Québec wine industry.  Located a quick drive from Montréal in the Montérégie region, the estate produces a wide range of still and sparkling white, rosé, and red wines from both winter hardy hybrid grapes and Vitis vinifera varieties.

Domaine St. Jacques Brut Rosé is composed of equal parts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (protected over winter with custom-made geotextile vine coverings). The nose is initially quite shy, revealing delicate cranberry, red apple, savoury herbal notes, and just a hint of brioche after a couple of minutes in the glass. Crisp and taut on the palate, with fine mousse and a nice balance of tangy red fruit and subtly creamy texture. Finishes crisp and dry. 90pts. PW ($34.95 at the winery)

Léon Courville

Former professor and banker Léon Courville took a leap of faith some twenty years ago and planted a vineyard on a hillside facing Lake Brôme in Québec’s Eastern Townships. Léon & his wife Anne-Marie Lemire have since grown the estate to 40 acres. They produce a wide range of still and sparkling wines from both Vitis vinifera and hybrid varieties.

The Muse St. Pépin Brut is made from the early ripening , North American hybrid grape St. Pépin. Aged 15 months on its lees, Muse has an intriguing nose, with ripe yellow fruits giving way to fresh almonds, herbal nuances, and hints of brioche. Vigorous mousse and crisp acidity on the palate, with notable mid-palate depth. Finishes dry and subtly savoury. 88pts. PW ($36.00 at the winery).

Other Québec sparkling wines to seek out:

Domaine Bergeville L’integrale Extra Brut NV, Domaine du Nival “Ces Petits Imprevus”, Pigeon Hill

ONTARIO

Hinterland

Prince Edward County star Hinterland Wine Company specializes in sparkling wine of all methods from ancestral, to charmat, to traditional method. While I have enjoyed many a Hinterland bubbly, the traditional method wines are where they really shine.

Les Etoiles 2016, a blend of 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay, aged 36 months on lees, is precise and elegant, with racy acidity, fine bubbles, and excellent depth of digestive biscuit, sweet spice, vibrant citrus, and orchard fruit flavours. Finishes dry, yet not austere. Recently disgorged, bottled in small batches. 94pts. PW (an absolute steal for $39.75 at the winery).

***Also worth purchasing from Hinterland:

  • Rosé 2016 (85% Pinot Noir/15% Chardonnay, disgorged July 2020)- $39
  • Blanc de Blancs (currently out of stock but watch for it, really vinous, taut & elegant)
  • Sacrament (an even split of Pinot & Chardonnay, aged 60 months on lees, with layer upon layer of brioche, nutty, honeyed flavours ably balanced by vivid freshness – sadly also out of stock)

Flat Rock Cellars

Located at the top of Niagara’s Twenty Mile Bench, Flat Rock Cellars is well known for its affordable, approachable styles of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling. Much to his mother’s initial dismay, owner Ed Madronich chooses to bottle his sparkling wines with crown caps.

Recent laboratory analyses of lots of the same sparkling wine bottled under crown cap and under cork revealed a fresher, more fruit forward expression in aged crown cap sparkling wines. Read more about Flat Rock Cellars’ myriad wine experiments here.

Flat Rock Cellars “Riddled” Sparkling 2017: Pleasantly open on the nose with ripe fruited notes of yellow apple, apricot, and honeyed hints. Crisp and lively on the palate, with firm, persistent bubbles, medium body, and a rounded, delicately creamy texture. Finishes dry, with bright apply flavours and intriguing hints of baker’s yeast. 89pts. PW ($35.15 at the winery).

Flat Rock Cellars “Crowned” Sparkling Brut Rosé 2015 is made from 100% Pinot Noir aged 42 months on lees. Pretty pale pink in colour, with attractive aromas of pomegranate, baking spice, and red grapefruit, with subtle underlying earthiness. Zippy acidity lifts the fine, persistent mousse, and light, delicately fruited palate. Finishes dry, with tangy red fruit notes. 91pts. PW ($45.20 at the winery)

Rosehall Run

The wines of Rosehall Run embrace the piercing acidity so common in Prince Edward County wines, balancing its vigour with a rare purity of fruit and silkiness of texture that sets them apart. They produce some of my favourite County Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay. They also make a particularly elegant Blanc de Blancs traditional method sparkling wine called Ceremony.

Rosehall Run “Ceremony” Blanc de Blancs NV is a 100% Chardonnay. Tempting aromas of shortbread, ripe lemon, yellow orchard fruits, and white floral hints arrive in orderly succession on the nose. The palate is initally taut and racy, with bright, vigorous bubbles. The mid-palate broadens and deepens with zesty fruit and biscuit flavours. Finishes bone dry, yet without austerity. 92pts. PW ($36.00 at the winery)

***Also worth purchasing from Rosehall Run:

  • Pét Nat: I have tasted a lot of lacklustre Pét Nats recently…earthy, sour, lacking depth, and personality…so I have become somewhat wary. This was a very pleasant surprise. Bursting with juicy rhubarb flavours, soft, rounded bubbles, and bright acidity, this is a wonderfully refreshing, light, easy-drinking rosé sparkler.

Cave Spring Cellars

This Niagara winery is one of Ontario’s finest, notably prized for their high quality Riesling wines. Their precise NV Blanc de Blancs is made from VQA Beamsville Bench, estate-grown Chardonnay (95%) and Riesling (5%). Vibrant lemon, orchard fruit, and bread dough notes on the nose. The palate is clean and precise, with sleek bubbles, and tangy apple flavours, that give way to a dry, subtly nutty finish. 91pts. PW ($27.95 at the winery).

Jackson Triggs

Entourage Grande Réserve Brut 2016. Very ripe, almost Californian style of traditional method sparkling, with overt poached pear, crême caramel, and brioche notes on the nose. The palate is broad and smooth, though slightly lean structurally, with rounded bubbles, and toasty, patisserie flavours. 87pts. PW ($29.95 at Wine Rack).

Other Excellent Ontario Sparkling Wines:

13th Street Premier Cuvée, Henry of Pelham “Cuvee Catherine” Carte Blanche, Trius Showcase Blanc de Blancs NV, Two Sisters Blanc de Franc, Hidden Bench Blanc de Blancs

BRITISH COLUMBIA

Fitzpatrick Winery

A family-run winery with a long farming background (dating back to 1913) in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. Fitzpatrick’s vineyards are located mid-way between Peachland and Summerland, on a bend in the lake between the north and central parts of the valley where hot summer days are tempered by Lake Okanagan to the east, giving cool climate crisp acidity and light body, but ample, ripe orchard fruit flavours.

The Fitz Brut 2016 is roughly 2/3 Chardonnay, with Pinot Noir and a dash of Pinot Meunier. It is aged 24 months on its lees. Attractive yellow apple, brioche, and nutmeg aromas on the nose. The palate is light and racy, with a subtle creamy, leesy expression and a very dry, slightly savoury finish. 89pts. PW. ($32.99 at the winery)

The top tier of Fitz sparkling wines are the three Réserve wines: a Blanc de Blancs, a Blanc de Noirs, and a rosé. I have not had the pleasure, but have it on good authority that these wines are excellent.

Sperling Vineyards

Four generations of Sperlings have tended the family’s mineral-rich slopeside vineyards east of Kelowna, in the Okanagan Valley. Best known for their organic and biodynamically farmed aromatic varieties like Riesling and Pinot Gris, the estate also produces a couple of interesting sparkling wines.

The 2019 Speritz pét nat cuvée is delightfully refreshing, with vibrant aromas of apricot, poached pear, and hoppy IPA type nuances. This fizz is subtle and smooth on the palate, with tangy yellow fruit flavours and earthy, savoury undertones. Finishes dry and light, with just 8.4% alcohol…great for a “sensible” weeknight tipple. 88pts. PW ($30.00 at the winery).

***Also worth trying from Sperling vineyards:

  • Guy Lafleur “60” Brut – a 100% Pinot Blanc aged 60 months on lees, scored 92pts. by Treve Ring, GismondiOnWine.com

Other BC sparkling wines to have on your radar: 

Blue Mountain Blanc de Blancs, Bella Brut Reserve Nature Oliver West Side, Tantalus Old Vines Riesling Brut, Sumerhill Pyramid Winery Cipes Brut

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

 

Education Reviews Wines

2019 VINTAGE BURGUNDY: AN EN PRIMEUR TASTING

2019 Vintage Burgundy

Each growing season is a new beginning for wine producers. In marginal climates ripening can be challenging, and hazards like frost, hail, and fungal disease lurk at every turn. With this in mind, stellar years, like the 2019 vintage Burgundy recently experienced, are to be treasured.

After a mild winter, cool weather set in over spring, with April frost episodes – notably in the Mâconnais region- threatening the crop. The unseasonably chilly conditions lasted through June leading to uneven flowering and fruit set in certain sectors. The thermostat shot up in July and August, with spells of extreme heat leading to sunburnt grapes and hydric stress in many vineyards. Harvest came early, with a small crop of ripe, compact grapes. Despite the season’s challenges, 2019 vintage Burgundy is being hailed by many critics as highly promising.

According to the Bureau interprofessionnel des vins de Bourgogne (BIVB), the overall yield of 2019 vintage Burgundy was some 15% below average, at 1.23 million hectoliters. The low volume and reports of universally high quality across all regions and wine styles will likely equate to rising Burgundy prices once again. While this is bad news for Burgundy lovers, these ripe vintages result in excellent quality wines from less prestigious appellations. Read more on this here.

Surprisingly, given the prolonged summer heat waves and drought episodes, the 2019 vintage Burgundy report from the BIVB speaks of vibrant acidity levels from Chablis down to the Mâconnais, ably balancing ripe fruit flavours and rich, textural palates.

Curious to taste such a vaunted vintage, for both white and red wines, across the vast expanse of the Burgundy region, I gladly accepted an offer of en primeur samples from Bourgogne de Vigne en Verre. This group of 35 wine producers from Chablis to Mâcon, have joined forces to jointly promote their wines at home and abroad.

The 36 bottles of 2019 vintage Burgundy arrived cleverly packaged in 20mL single serving formats. After letting them rest for a few days, I sat down with my favourite oenologist (aka my husband) and we got down to tasting.

Bourgogne Vigne Verre 2019

Overall, we found that the 2019 vintage Burgundy wines showed real appellation typicity despite/alongside a ripe, fragrant fruit-forward style. On the whole, the wines were fresh, densely structured, and quite concentrated on the palate. For the most part, the red wines had ripe, approachable tannins with the best showing a tempting, almost chocolatey appeal. Some evidence of warming alcohol, freshness fading on the finish, and chewy tannins was also found in less successful examples.

In true Burgundian fashion, here are my 2019 vintage Burgundy tasting notes – red wines followed by whites:

RED WINES

Côte Chalonnaise

Domaine Meix-Foulot Mercurey 1er Cru “Clos de Château de Montague” : Moderately intense aromas of ripe raspberry, morello cherries, and hints of spice. Brisk and taut on the palate, with rustic savoury flavours underlying bright red berries. Faintly chewy tannins on the short finish. 86pts.

Domaine Meix-Foulot Mercurey 1er Cru “Les Veleys” : Bright red fruit, floral and blackberry hints on the nose. Crisp and somewhat angular on the attack, giving way to a smooth mid-palate, and fine-grained tannins. 87pts.

Domaine Meix-Foulot Merc 1er “Les Saumonts” : More restrained on the nose, with subtle red fruit and barnyard hints emerging with aeration. Similarly styled on the palate – brisk and taut – but with very fine, elongated tannins and a marginally longer finish. 87pts.

Domaine Chofflet Givry 1er Cru “Clos Jus”: High toned red berry, cherry, and marzipan notes on the nose. Lively and light on the palate with a silky texture, moderate depth of ripe dark fruit and kirsch flavours. Finishes smooth and fresh. – 88pts.

Domaine Chofflet Givry 1er Cru “En Choué” : Fragrant floral notes on the nose, with pretty red berry undertones. The palate shows a lovely ripeness of fruit, balanced by bright acidity and firm tannins. 90pts.

Côte de Beaune

Domaine Labry Hautes Côtes De Beaune: Intense aromas of crushed strawberry on the nose. Fresh and rounded, with a soft, short finish. Drink now. 86pts.

Domaine Labry Auxey Duresses: Perfumed notes of prunes, baking spice, and dark berry jam. Initally bright, but with a faintly bitter, hard edge to the baked fruit flavours. Soft tannins. 85pts.

Domaine Edmond Cornu Chorey-Les-Beaune “Les Bons Ores” : Delicate strawberry, cherry, and earthy nuances on the nose. Fresh, precise and firm in structure, with moderate concentration of tangy red berries and nutty flavours. Attractive chalky tannins frame the finish. 89pts.

Domaine Edmond Cornu Aloxe-Corton: Pretty nose featuring ripe black berries, morello cherry, and violets. Brisk and polished on the palate, with juicy black and red fruit flavours well knit with toasty spiced nuances. Silky tannins linger on the finish. 91pts.

Domaine Edmond Cornu Ladoix: Similar to Cornu’s Aloxe on the nose, with a slightly riper, more fruit-forward charm. Medium in body, with a firm texture verging on austere yet balanced by good depth of fruit and ripe tannins with an almost chocolatey sweetness. 90pts.

Domaine Georges Lignier Volnay 1er Cru: Complex, highly perfumed nose of ultra-ripe red fruits, with underlying notes of peony, sweet spice, and dried herbs. Really tangy, vivid acidity on the palate giving way to a silky, medium bodied palate with bright fruit flavours, and a lifted finish. Needs a few years to soften. 92pts.

Domaine Edmond Cornu Ladoix 1er Cru “Le Bois Roussot”: Moderately intense aromas of pomegranate and macerated red cherry, underscored by dark fruit and spice hints.  The palate is fresh, with a concentrated core of sweet red fruit, balanced by lifted, tangy flavours on the finish. Slightly warming, with firm, chewy tannins. 90pts.

Domaine Edmond Cornu Corton-Bressandes Grand Cru: Initally discreet, with complex aromas of morello cherry, orange peel, underbrush, floral nuances, and spice developing with aeration. The palate is fresh and lively, with a weighty core, velvety texture, and ultra-fine, powdery tannins. Elegant, with lingering stony minerality. 95pts.

Côte de Nuits

Domaine Jean Chauvenet Nuits-St-Georges: Intense notes of morello cherry and cassis on the nose, with earthy undertones. Lively on the attack, though somewhat rustic on the mid palate with a certain graininess of texture giving way to dense tannins. Soft fruit and earthy, underbrush nuances on the finish. 86pts.

Domaine Jerôme Chezeaux Vosne-Romanée: Intense, fairly complex aromas of crushed strawberries, morello cherry, marzipan, mixed spice, and violets on the nose. The palate is initially vibrant and suave, with medium body, and concentrated red and black fruit flavours, which become slightly overpowered by cedary oak nuances and somewhat drying tannins on the warming finish.  89pts.

Domaine Philippe Cheron Vosne-Romanée “Les Barreaux”: this high quality climat sits just above Richebourg. Initially restrained, with a multitude of ripe to macerated red fruits unfurling with aeration, underscored by layers of dried fruit, spice, floral, and nutty aromas. Dense and voluptuous on the palate, with suave rounded tannins, and a fresh, persistent flavourful finish. 93pts.

Domaine Philippe Cheron Chambolle Musigny “Clos de L’Orme”: Another well situated plot, lying just beneath Les Charmes and Les Plantes. Perfumed notes of morello cherry, dark plum, citrus oil, dried red fruits, and baking spice on the nose. The palate is wonderfully bright, with medium body, and concentrated fruit flavours that mirror the nose. Velvety tannins finish the medium length, marginally warming finish.  92pts.

Domaine Philippe Cheron Chambolle Musigny “Les Quarante Ouvrées”: Similarly ripe, expressive nose as the “Clos de L’Orme”; slightly more marked by its élévage with toasted, mocha nuances that will likely soften over time. Very silky and textural on the palate, with fine, smooth tannins. Light and elegant. 92pts.

Domaine Philippe Gevrey-Chambertin “Le Meix des Ouches”: out of condition

Domaine Georges Lignier Gevrey-Chambertin: Intense, nuanced nose with layers of marzipan, dark cherry, cassis, violets, and attractive herbal undertones.  Incredibly lively on the palate, with layers of juicy black fruit flavours, quite a firm structure, and ripe, fine-grained tannins. Balanced and long.  92pts.

Domaine Jean Chauvennet Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru “Les Perrières”: Stewed dark cherry and plum notes mingle with undertones of leather, dates, and allspice on the nose. Very firm and brisk on the palate, giving way to a highly concentrated core of dark fruits, savoury notes, and cedar spice. Bold, yet ripe, elongated tannins frame the long, layered finish. Needs a few years’ cellaring to unwind. 91pts.

Domaine Jean Chauvennet Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru “Les Vaucrains”: out of condition

Domaine Jean Chauvennet Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru “Rue de Chaux”: Attractive, highly expressive nose of blackberries, plum, and cassis, with underlying stony minerality and well integrated cedar, spiced nuances.  Firmly structured but generously fruity and polished on the palate, with muscular tannins. Excellent length. 94pts.

Domaine Jean Chauvennet Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru “Les Bousselots”: Quite a different offering than the Rue de Chaux, though equally complex. Macerated red berry and cherry aromas are underscored by kirsch, underbrush, and savoury nuances on the nose. The palate is tightly wound, with mouth watering acidity, and  very firm, yet fine-grained tannins. Needs a good five years + in cellar to soften. 90pts.

Domaine Jerôme Chezeaux Nuits-St-Georges » 1er Cru “Aux Boulots”: Quite restrained on the nose, with ripe black berry and cherry notes, violets, and marzipan notes emerging after a period of aeration. This Nuits really comes in to its own on the vibrant, juicy fruited palate, with its elegant structure, fine-grained tannins, and long, vivid finish. Very harmonious. 94pts.

Domaine Jerôme Chezeaux Vosne Romanée 1er Cru “Les Chaumes”: Highly perfumed, with sweet aromas and flavours of ultra-ripe blackberry, plum, and raspberry, mingled with floral and citrus peel notes. Brisk and firm on attack, deepening on the mid-palate, and finishing taut with densely wound tannins. Needs time to resolve but shows excellent potential. 93pts.

Domaine Georges Lignier Morey St Denis 1er Cru “Clos des Ormes”: Already quite tertiary on the nose, with crushed strawberry notes overshadowed by aromas of prunes, leather, and dried herbs. Fresh on the palate, with both tart and ultra-ripe fruit flavours vying for primacy. Attractive chalky texture and tannins. 89pts.

Domaine Philippe Cheron Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “Champonnet”: Intense mocha, toasted, nutty aromas, slightly overpowering dark fruit notes. The palate is somewhat angular, with mouth watering acidity, a firm structure, and somewhat lean mid-palate. 88pts.

Domaine Philippe Cheron Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “La Romanée”: Ripe red and black berry fruit on the nose, with attractive hints of baking spice, nutty nuances, and subtle florality. Vivid and dense on the palate, with tangy acidity, and a concentrated core of dark fruit. Somewhat rustic, chewy tannins on the medium length finish. 89pts.

Domaine Georges Lignier Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “Les Combottes”: Les Combottes is surrounded by illustrious neighbours including grand crus: Mazis-Chambertin and Latricières-Chambertin. This 1er Cru offers restrained cassis and plum notes on the nose. The palate is firm, with animal nuances, and grippy tannins. 87pts.

Domaine Philippe Cheron Clos Vougeot Grand Cru: Moderately intense notes of marzipan, plum, and dark cherry with animal undertones. Brisk and tightly wound on the palate, with a dense, concentrated structure, and firm, moderately astringent tannins. 87pts.

Domaine Philippe Cheron Charmes-Charmbertin Grand Cru: Discreet on the nose, with mocha, cedar, and spice aromas after aeration. The palate is dense, velvety, and broad, with concentrated, ultra-ripe fruit flavours underlying bold, toasted oak flavours. Firm, somewhat grippy tannins. 88pts.

Domaine Georges Lignier Clos St Denis Grand Cru: Vibrant herbal, blackcurrant bud aromas mingle with red currants and earthy, underbrush nuances on the nose. The palate is quite taut and weighty, with firm, lifted acidity and dense, chewy tannins. 87pts.

Domaine Georges Lignier Clos de la Roche Grand Cru: Fragrant, floral nose with vivid crushed raspberry, morello cherry, and black berry fruit aromas. Over time, mixed spice and citrus oil notes emerge. The palate is lively and firm, with quite a powerful structure, and concentrated flavours. The tannins are grippy and taut on the long finish. Needs time to soften. 90pts.

WHITE WINES

Domaine Labry Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune: Delicate notes of red apple and white blossoms on the nose. The palate is crisp on the attack, giving way to a broad, rounded, supple mid-palate with lingering lactic nuances. Finishes smooth and soft. 86pts.

Domaine Beaufumé Chablis:  Discreet lemony, green apple nose. Light and racy on the palate, with subtle mineral hints. 87pts.

Domaine Chofflet Givry 1er Cru “Les Galaffres”:  Attractive poached pear, red apple, and spiced aromas on the nose. The palate is crisp and very juicy, with a rounded, ultra-smooth appeal. Tangy orchard fruit notes linger on the finish. Harmonious. 90pts.

Domaine de Montarge Montagny 1er Cru “Montorge”: Pretty floral nose, with underlying yellow orchard fruit, and lactic hints. Initially fresh with a supple, creamy mid-palate, and fairly short, somewhat flabby finish. 87pts.

Domaine Labry Auxey Duresses: Vibrant nose featuring ripe lemon, white fleshed orchard fruits, and hints of anis. Searing acidity on the palate leads into a taut, moderately concentrated core, with tangy citrus notes. Finishes fresh with hints of attractive bitterness. 88pts.

Lavantureux Frères Chablis 1er Cru Fourchaume: Classic, highly complex aromas of red apple, flint, ripe lemon, white blossoms, and fresh almonds unfurl on the nose. The palate is racy and firm, yet broadens on the mid palate revealing a creamy, textural core with concentrated fruity, mineral flavours. Very precise, elegant, and long. 94pts.

Lavantureux Frères Chablis Bourgros Grand Cru: Ripe, sweet orchard fruit aromas mingle with white peach, anis, and toasted nutty aromas on the powerfully nuanced nose. Crisp acidity lifts the concentrated, layered mid-palate, and underscores vivid yellow fruit and brioche flavours. Smooth and harmonious on the long finish. 95pts.

 

Reviews Wines

WEEK-END WINE RECOMMENDATIONS

week-end wine recommendations
Photo credit: giselaatje (souce: Pixabay)

December is upon us and, here in Québec, the mood is a little bleak. Covid cases are soaring. The government has reversed their decision to allow a confinement break over Christmas and all the usual seasonal events are cancelled. In light of this, week-end wine recommendations are definitely in order.

Even if the holiday spirit seems to have left the building, the smell of a good meal simmering on the stove and the sound of a cork popping can usually lift even the darkest fog. We may be toasting virtually this year, but let’s at least make sure the wine is good.

Drinking less, but better is definitely my mantra these days. As the grey hairs have started to appear (with alarming frequency), I find that I don’t have the tolerance I once had. And there is nothing worse than being confined to your house with two small children and a raging head-ache.

Though I still cringe a little inwardly at words like “mindfulness”, I do find it a useful ideal for wine tasting. You would be amazed at how much more enjoyment you can get from your glass of wine if you take a minute to concentrate fully on its aromas, its flavours, and how it feels on your palate.

Perhaps the lack of chatter from boisterous guests, or rushing around preparing elaborate meals, will allow us the time to really savour our wine, properly listen to a great piece of music, or immerse ourselves in a great book? Or maybe this is just cold comfort…

Either way, a nice glass of wine can’t hurt! So, with that in mind: week-end wine recommendations a plenty. There seems to be a decidedly Western European theme to the samples I have been receiving lately, so the below list is all France, Italy, and Spain.

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

Best to Sip while Cooking

Alain Jaume Grand Veneur Côtes du Rhône white 2019 (Rhône Valley, France) – 87pts. VW

The 50% Viognier in this white Rhône blend is evident on the fragrant, floral nose, with underlying apricot aromas. The palate is juicy and smooth, with notes of red apple and spice. Finishes soft and marginally warming but overall a pleasant, easy-drinking wine.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($18.85)

Best for Soft Cheeses

Albert Mann Auxerrois Vieilles Vignes 2018 (Alsace, France) – 89 pts. PW

Auxerrois (aka Pinot d’Auxerrois) is grown widely in Alsace yet might not be as familiar to wine lovers, as it is often used in the region’s still and sparkling wine blends.  Initially quite discreet on the nose, with hints of yellow apple, pear, honey developing after a little time in the glass. This shy white wine comes alive on the palate, where its fresh, textural, plump character reveals earthy nuances and tangy yellow fruit flavours. Finishes with a well balanced touch of sweetness.

Its soft, unassuming flavour profile and subtle sweetness should marry well with brie or other similar such neutral, creamy cheeses.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($26.60)

Best for Mild, Savoury Dishes

Chateau Fourcas Hosten “La Grande Demoiselle d’Hosten” Listrac-Médoc 2010 (Bordeaux, France) – 89pts. PW

It is rare to find mature, older vintages – like this 2010 Listrac – at the SAQ, so this definitely caught my attention. I would have expected more concentration from such a powerful vintage. However, what “La Grande Demoiselle d’Hosten” lacks in body, is made up for with its restrained, yet appealing cassis, dried red berries, and earthy flavours, silky texture, and soft, powdery tannins. Serve with mild, earthy flavours so as not to overwhelm this delicate lady.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($30.75)

Château Raz Caman Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux 2016 (Bordeaux, France) – 90pts. PW

This is a great example of how approachable (and affordable) Bordeaux wines can be from a good producer and vintage. Attractive aromas of black plum, raspberry, earth, and hints of cedar on the nose. The palate is medium in body, with a smooth, polished texture, and modest concentration of dark fruit. Finishes bright and fresh, with subtle spiced hints. Drinking well now.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($20.50)

Best for Braised Short Ribs

Bodegas Piqueras “VS” Almansa 2015  (Castilla-la-Mancha, Spain) – 88pts. PW

If you like bold reds with rich, fruity flavours, this one is for you! Deep ruby in colour, with potent blueberry jam, violet, and toasty spiced aromas. The palate is full-bodied and velvety smooth. Intense red and black berry fruit flavours, mingle with hints of tobacco leaf and dark chocolate on the finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($25.95)

Best for Hedonists Looking to Splurge

Arcanum “Valadorna” Toscana 2013 (Tuscany, Italy) – 93pts. LW

Deep garnet in colour, with a complex nose of ultra-ripe dark plum, black cherry, and fig aromas underscored by hints of smoke, dried herbs, and mint. The palate is dense and powerfully structured yet pleasantly fresh, with firm, chalky tannins. Finishes dry, with persistent sweet and savoury flavours. Would benefit from 3 – 4 years’ additional cellaring for the cedar/spice oak flavours to fully integrate and the tannins to soften further. Otherwise, decant a full hour before serving. A wine in keeping with the excellent Tuscan 2013 vintage.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($94.75)

 

Education Reviews Wines

EIGHT APPELLATIONS, EIGHT WINES FROM THE MÉDOC

wines from the medoc
Photo credit: Philippe Caumes

The Médoc region of Bordeaux is famous for its cru classés châteaux and its refined, ageworthy Cabernet-Sauvignon, Merlot blends. However, wines from the Médoc can also be incredibly affordable, offering great value for every day consumption.

Médoc Geography

The Médoc region is located north of Bordeaux, on the left bank of the Gironde estuary. Over 16,000 hectares of vineyards are planted here, spread over eight appellations. Heading north from the city of Bordeaux, these are: Haut-Médoc, Margaux, Moulis-en-Médoc, Listrac-Médoc, Saint-Julien, Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe, and Médoc.

The Médoc region has a warm, maritime climate. Sandwiched between the Atlantic ocean and the Gironde estuary, the Médoc peninsula benefits from the temperature moderating effect and the air circulation provided by these two large bodies of water.  While spring and early summer can be fairly damp, dryer conditions later in the growing season allow for consistent most vintages.

The soils of the Médoc are quite diverse in nature. In the south-east, gravel-rich soils are most prevalent. These gravels, mixed with sand and other alluvial deposits, originate from two sources: the Massif Central and Pyrenees mountains. They were carried along the Dordogne and Garonne rivers respectively, over thousands of years. Gravel is prized for its ability to warm quickly in the spring, reflect heat up into the vines during the day, and radiate it at night, aiding with ripening. It is also free draining, encouraging deep vine rooting. Late ripening grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot are most planted in the gravelly soils of the Médoc.

In lower lying areas, and notably, as you move further north and west, heavier clay-limestone soils, often with quite stony surface layers, dominate. These cooler, water retaining soils are common in large swathes of the Médoc AOC, as well as the appellations of Moulis, Listrac and Saint-Estèphe.  Early to mid ripening grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Franc thrive in these clay-based areas, yielding fruity, fleshy wines that round out the often angular Cabernet Sauvignon.

For an excellent 3D ariel view of the Médoc vineyards, click here.

Photo credit: Conseil interprofessionnel du vin de bordeaux

Quality Classifications

Two quality hierarchies exist for wines from the Médoc. The most famous, the 1855 classification, ranks top châteaux in five tiers from Premier Grand Cru Classé (first growths) to Cinquième Grand Cru Classé (fifth growths). With few exceptions, this ranking has remained unchanged since its inception. To learn more about the history and debate surrounding the 1855 classification, listen to my audio overview here.

A second estate classification system, Cru Bourgeois, was established in 1932 to highlight high-quality wines from the Médoc not included in the original list. This ranking has had quite a tumultuous history, with numerous revisions, an annulment, and much debate. The latest update was finalized as recently as February of this year. The 2020 Cru Bourgeois classification includes 249 châteaux ranked in three categories: Cru Bourgeois, Cru Bourgeois Supérieurs, Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnels. The ranking is set to be revised every five years, and all estates up for consideration must hold the French agricultural sustainability certification: Haute Valeur Environnementale. 

Earlier this month I tuned in to a virtual seminar on wines from the Médoc, which gave an overview of each of the appellation and highlighted one wine from the area.

MÉDOC AOC

The region-wide Médoc AOC can be used for any wine produced within the Médoc production area. For example, producers in Margaux or Saint-Julien may choose to declassify to Médoc AOC, potentially for young vines or areas of the vineyard yielding less ripe or pristine fruit. However, this practice is not frequently seen.

The appellation is generally reserved for the designated Médoc AOC section of vineyards that covers the northern third of the Médoc peninsula. This large area has 5,560 hectares of vines planted on mixed gravel and clay-limestone soils. Wine styles vary widely, depending on site and producer, but tend to be fashioned in a light, early-drinking, approachable style, with minimal oak ageing.

Merlot is the dominant grape here, and tends to make up the lion’s share of blends. Wines from the Médoc AOC are notably good value in warmer vintages, where grapes ripen fully, yielding wines with greater concentration, and more vibrant fruit flavours. Recent such vintages include 2015, 2016, 2018.

Château Tour St. Bonnet Médoc 2015 – 87pts. PW

The 2015 Château Tour St. Bonnet is a blend of 65% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot. It is vinified in concrete tanks and aged for 18 months in the same vessel. The hot, sunny 2015 growing conditions are apparent in the ripe red fruited nose, the smooth, supple structure, and velvety tannins. Fairly linear and short on the finish, but overall a pleasant, every day Bordeaux with attractive savoury undertones.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($23.85)

LISTRAC-MÉDOC

Listrac-Médoc neighbours Moulis-en-Médoc to the north. It boasts a marginally higher elevation than surrounding vineyards, reaching 43 metres at its highest point. Small in Médoc terms, with just 787 hectares of vines, Listrac-Médoc represents 5% of the Médoc vineyard area. The soils composition consists of three Pyrenean gravel terraces to the west, a Garonne gravel outcrop to the east, and a large central, flat land of clay-limestone.

This more marginal vineyard area is buffeted by strong winds and thus tends to ripen quite slowly. In warm vintages, this slow rate of berry maturation is an advantage, allowing for good acid retention and full phenolic development. However, in cooler growing seasons, Listrac-Médoc wines can be quite lean and vegetal.

Château Vieux Moulin Listrac-Médoc 2016 (Cru Bourgeois) – 88pts. PW

A blend of 58% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Petit Verdot, the Château Vieux Moulin 2016 is aged for 12 months in, mainly seasoned, French oak barrels. Restrained aromas of dark fruit, tobacco leaf, and hints of bell pepper on the nose. Brisk acidity on the attack, followed by a moderately firm, somewhat angular palate, with moderate concentration of tangy red and black fruit, with underlying dried herbal notes. Attractive chalky tannins frame the finish.

Moulis-en-Médoc

This narrow strip of vineyard land lies just north of Margaux, touching Listrac-Médoc. It is the smallest appellation of the Médoc, with 610 hectares planted, and 46 wine producers. The western part of the region is a fairly flat expanse with mainly sandy-clay soils. The central area features gravelly top soils with underlying clay-limestone layers. In the easternmost vineyards, closest to Margaux’s northern border, outcrops of Garonne gravels are highly prized vineyard soils.

Quality is variable depending on producer and vineyard site. Neither Moulis-en-Médoc nor Listrac-Médoc contain classed growth châteaux, however both have reputed Cru Bourgeois estates. Some famous names in Moulis-en-Médoc include Château Chasse-Spleen, Château Poujeaux, and Château Garricq.

Château La Garricq Moulis-en-Médoc 2015 (Cru Bourgeois) – 90pts. PW 

This blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 20% Petit Verdot is aged for 12 months in 1/3 new French oak. This is evident from the spicy, cedar notes on the nose, mingled with black fruit, dark chocolate, and hints of graphite. The palate shows more harmonious oak integration, with its concentrated red and black fruit flavours, tangy acidity, broad structure, and plush texture. Firm, ripe tannins frame the finish nicely.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($34.75)

HAUT-MÉDOC

The Haut-Medoc appellation stretches some 60 kilometres in length from just north of the city of Bordeaux, to north west of Saint-Estèphe. Due to its size, and diversity of soil types, orientations, aspects, proximity or distance from the Gironde, and so forth, wine style and quality from the Haut-Médoc is incredibly varied.

For much of its history, the Haut-Médoc, as well as the appellations along its north-south expanse, were salt marshes, unusable for viticulture. In the 17th century, Dutch merchants drained the marshes to expand Bordeaux vineyard acreage.

The majority of the Médoc’s Cru Bourgeois Supérieurs and Exceptionnels estates, as well as five cru classé châteaux are located in the Haut-Médoc.

Château de Gironville Haut-Médoc 2016 (Cru Bourgeois) – 91pts. PW

Château de Gironville is situated in the commune of Macau, just south of Margaux, near the mouth of the Garonne River. The estate boasts deep, fine gravel soils on their Cru Bourgeois ranked property. This blend of equal parts Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is completed with 10% Petit Verdot. According to estate director, Yannick Reyrel, the Petit Verdot gives an intriguing peppery, fruity nuance to the blend and the gravel soils bring a suave texture.

Initally closed. High toned plum, cassis, and dark cherry aromas emerged with aeration, underscored by complexifying notes of black licorice, nutmeg, and earth. Fresh, full-bodied, and stylish on the palate with lively dark fruit flavours, ripe, polished tannins, and a lengthy finish. Drinking well now, with 4 – 5 years ageing potential.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($30.00, $62.00 for magnums)

SAINT-ESTÈPHE

Saint Estèphe is the northermost and largest of the cru appellations within the Haut-Médoc. The region’s 1,229 hectares of vineyards are spread across an undulating landscape, with gentle hillsides reaching 20 metres at their highest point. While gravel-rich soils are prevalent, notably at higher elevations, Saint Estèphe has significant areas of clay-dominant soils, with a limestone bedrock. Greater concentrations of clay in Saint-Estèphe equate to wider plantings of Merlot, giving the bold, full-bodied wines of the area a certain mid-palate roundness.

Saint Estèphe has a mere five cru classé estates. However its best properties, including second growths, Château Cos d’Estournel and Château Montrose, and third growth, Château Calon-Ségur, are highly esteemed.

Château Beau-Site St. Estèphe 2015 (Cru Bourgeois) – 92pts. PW  

Château Beau-Site overlooks the Garonne River, from one of Saint-Estèphe’s higher grounds. The stony soils of the estate are deep and free-draining. The 2015 vintage is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc, aged 18 months in 35% new French oak.  Intense aromas of prune, mocha, and pencil shavings, are lifted by underlying hints of menthol and red currant. The palate is remarkably fresh, given the hot summer, with concentrated flavours of dark chocolate, black fruit, menthol, and cedar, and a dense, weighty structure. Excellent length and balance. Drinking well now.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($43.75)

MARGAUX

Margaux is the southernmost of the Haut-Médoc cru appellations, situated near the confluence of the Garonne and Gironde rivers. Vast quantities of Garonne gravel cover Margaux’s central area. This nutrient-poor soil is has excellent drainage stimulating deep vine rooting. Margaux has a marginally warmer mesoclimate than surrounding areas. The wines of the area are often described as quite velvety in texture, with floral overtones, and exotic spice nuances.

With its 1500 hectares of vines, Margaux accounts for 9% of the Médoc region’s vineyards. Among its 65 producers, Margaux has a whopping 21 classed growth châteaux – more than any other Médoc appellation. The region also boasts a number of highly regarded Cru Bourgeois estates.

Château d’Arsac Margaux 2014 (Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel) – 89pts. PW 

Château d’Arsac is a well-regarded 112-hectare property in the western part of the appellation. This blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon and 47% Merlot is reflective of the cooler 2014 vintage with its restrained bell pepper, dried herbal, and tart red currant aromas. The palate is far more inviting, with brisk acidity nicely balancing a broad, textural mid-palate and moderate concentration of dark fruit, graphite, and herbal flavours. Overall, a pleasant, supple wine – yet lacking the depth and opulence of top Margaux.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($38.50)

SAINT-JULIEN

Bordering the Gironde, just south of Pauillac, lies Saint-Julien. The 910 hectares of the appellation are planted on fairly uniform, gravel-rich soils. This factor is given as an explanation for the impressive concentration of classed growth estates here. Indeed, of a total 19 wine producers in Saint-Julien, 11 were included in the 1855 classification. There are no first growth vineyards in Saint-Julien, but its second growths are often referred to as “super seconds” inferring that they are worthy of first growth status. These include: Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, Chateau Gruaud-Larose, Léoville-Las Cases, Léoville-Barton, and Léoville-Poyferré.

The wines of Saint-Julien are often described as a combination of the silkiness and floral elegance of Margaux, with Pauillac’s power and heft.

Sarget de Gruaud Larose St. Julien 2016 – 94pts. LW

Sarget is the second label from Château Gruaud Larose. The 2016 cuvée is made from 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and  4% Petit Verdot. Fragrant aromas of black plum, raspberry, violets, and exotic spice feature on the highly complex nose. The palate is full-bodied and firm, with a highly concentrated core of tangy red and black fruit, savoury notes, and subtle cedar nuances. Very polished and precise overall, with fine-grained tannins and a lengthy finish. Drinking well now, but should improve over the next eight to ten years.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($54.00)

PAUILLAC

The vineyard region of Pauillac is named for the Gironde port town of the same name. Cabernet Sauvignon dominates on the region’s gravel rich soils. However, marked variations in the depth, origin, and concentration of gravels across higher and lower lying sites leads to significant quality differences. In general terms, the wines of Pauillac are considered the most muscular and long lived of the Médoc, with notable cassis and graphite aromas.

Pauillac is the only Haut-Médoc cru appellation with two first growth estates: Château Lafite Rothschild and Château Mouton Rothschild. In all, Pauillac consists of 1213 hectares of vines, and has 18 classed growth estates.

Lacoste-Borie Pauillac 2016 – 93pts. LW

This is the second wine from fifth growth, Château Grand Puy Lacoste. The 2016 blend features 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, aged in 45% new French oak for 15 months. Classic Pauillac aromas of cassis, dark plum, graphite, cedar, and hints of earthy, black truffle feature on the attractive, highly complex nose. The palate is lively, with a dense, full-bodied structure, and excellent depth of savoury, dark fruited flavours. Well-knit cedar nuances and firm, quite muscular tannins mark the finish. Would show best with six to eight years further cellaring, though has the power to hold nicely for another decade.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($59.00)

*** What do VW, PW and LW mean?  Click on my wine scoring system to find out.

Médoc Wine
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TASTING THE TORRES ANTOLOGIA WINES

Torres Antologia

The Familia Torres Antologia wines are a collection of the Spanish powerhouse winery’s top five bottlings. According to Torres, this range represents the family’s most prized terroirs – they hold cherished historical significance, with a combination of old vines, mesoclimate, soil composition, and topography that set them apart.

Familia Torres’ 150 Year History

In the 150 years since Jaime and Miguel Torres established Torres y Compañia in Penedès, the winery has seen five generations successively take up the reins. And with each changing of the guard came new innovations. Miguel Torres Carbó was the first in the region to bottle wine. Miguel A. Torres is largely credited for modernizing Spanish winemaking practices and bringing international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon to Catalonia.

The current generation has been instrumental in reviving ancient grape varieties in Penedès and neighbouring regions. Ancestral Spanish cultivars like Moneu, Querol, and Garró had all but disappeared post Phylloxera. Miguel and Mireia Torres Maczassek are slowly replanting these forgotten grapes to preserve their region’s viticultural heritage.

Spurred on by Miguel A. Torres’ passion and dynamism, the family is also leading the way globally in terms of winery sustainability. In 2019, the Familia Torres co-founded International Wineries for Climate Action to “galvanize the global wine community towards creating climate change mitigation strategies and decarbonizing the industry”.  From 2008 to 2019, the company reduced their carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per bottle by 30%, and target a 55% reduction by 2030.

Familia Torres Antologia Tasting

In celebration of their 150th anniversary, a series of Torres Antologia tastings were organized. Participants received an elegant wood case of judiciously sized, 187-millilitre samples and an invitation to virtually taste through the range with chief winemaker, Josep Sabarich.

In discussions with wine professionals (and enthusiasts alike) I am regularly faced with a tiresome stereotype: that boutique-scale wineries necessarily produce more complex and interesting wines than their high-volume counterparts. They dismiss the idea that a winery can produce both commercial, mass-market brands and serious, single vineyard wines. Having worked for a producer who ably proved this possible, I am always keen to see what “terroir wines” look like from bigger bottlers.

The Torres Antologia tasting started with the only white wine in the line up, followed by a range of four reds:

Milmanda

Milmanda is a white wine made exclusively from Chardonnay. It is sourced from a Torres’ vineyard planted in the early 1980s in the Conca de Barberà DO. This inland growing region is located in south central Catalonia between two rivers, the Riu Sec and El Francoli. The soils are a red, silty clay formed by alluvial deposits. In a region where summer rainfall is scarce, the high water holding capacity of these clay-rich soils is crucial. The vines are forced to dig down deep for sustenance, resulting in low yields of concentrated fruit.

The 2017 vintage was particularly dry, with 40% less rainfall than an average growing season. It was also a warm year, though cooler conditions prior to harvest allowed for good acid retention. The Milmanda parcel is hand harvested. Fermentation is started in tank at cool, 16°c to preserve freshness. At the mid-way mark, the wines are transferred to barrels to allow for harmonious oak integration. Malolactic fermentation is blocked half way in further efforts to retain vibrancy. The wine is then aged on its fine lees in 50% new French oak for four to six months before racking to stainless steel tanks for a further 10 to 14 months with regular bâtonnage throughout.

Torres “Milmanda” Conca de Barberà DO 2017 has attractive aromas of lemon, yellow pear, acacia, and beeswax on the nose. The palate is fresh, broad, and subtly creamy, with moderately concentrated notes of juicy yellow fruit, grilled notes and hints of crème caramel. Round and faintly warming on the finish –  89pts. LW. Where to Buy: Inquire with Canadian agent Vins Dandurand for Torres Antologia wines (Winesearcher average price for Milmanda 2017: $68.00 CAD).

Mas La Plana

This iconic Torres cuvée hails from 60-year-old organically farmed Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in the Turons de Vilafranca subzone of Penedès. This vineyard is on the site of the Torres winery. The vines are planted on a slope ranging in altitude from 180 to 240 metres above sea level.  The soils are very deep, diverse in nature, and of alluvial origin. They are moderately coarse, with layers of gravel, sand, silt, and clay; giving them good water holding potential. Huge efforts have been made in recent years to protect and improve biodiversity in the vineyard. The creation of wildlife corridors, planting of cover crops, installation of insectariums, use of integrated pest management techniques, and move to electric tractors are just some of the main initiatives in place.  Vineyard planting on this site began at the beginning of the 1960s, with many original vines still in existence.

Mas La Plana is fermented in a combination of vessels. Sabarich prefers large wooden vats for vineyard areas with warmer soils. These sites yield smaller grapes, with greater concentration and firmer tannic structure. He uses stainless steel for the cooler areas where grapes are larger and more acidic. Gentle punch downs helps with extraction, as does an extended maceration of up to two weeks. Ageing occurs in 85% new French oak in 300 to 500 litre casks.

Torres “Mas La Plana” Penedès DO 2016 is remarkably fresh given the hot, dry growing season. Ripe red currant, black cherry, and cassis mingle with notes of cigar box, graphite, and cedar on the complex, harmonious nose. The palate is firm and dense, with excellent depth of black fruit, dark chocolate, and cedar spice flavours. Tannins are muscular, yet ripe and fine-grained. Finishes long, with overt toasty oak and vibrant dark fruit – 92pts. LW. Where to Buy: Inquire with Canadian agent Vins Dandurand for Torres Antologia wines (Winesearcher average price for Mas La Plana 2016: $85.00 CAD)

Reserva Real

This blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, and 12% Merlot comes from the four-hectare vineyard, Les Arnes, in the Costers de l’Anoia subzone of Penedès. This area is due north of Mas La Plana. The site’s rocky Silurian slate soils are dark in colour, absorbing heat throughout the day and aiding with ripening. They are mineral-rich and free draining, yet quite shallow as hard rock blocks the vine from deeper rooting.

Grapes for Reserva Real are hand harvested. The three varieties are vinified separately, with a similarly long maceration and gentle extraction as Mas La Plana. However, instead of ageing in larger foudres (casks), Reserva Real is aged in new 225 litre French barrels for 18 months.

Torres Reserva Real Penedès DO 2016 is incredibly suave, with high-toned aromas of dark plum, cassis, cedar, menthol, and graphite on the nose. Intriguing earthy, black truffle notes emerge with aeration. Multifaceted in structure; initially brisk and quite firm, then broadening and deepening on the dense, flavourful mid-palate, tapering to elegant, polished tannins. Dark fruit, savoury nuances, and cedar-spice linger on the finish. Merits additional cellaring – 94pts LW. Where to Buy: Inquire with Canadian agent Vins Dandurand for Torres Antologia wines (Winesearcher average price for Reserva Real 2016: $167.00 CAD)

Gran Muralles

The Gran Muralles is a Mediterranean blend of mainly Garnacha and Cariñena, with small additions of Monastrell and native varieties Querol and Garró. Sabarich feels that “Garnacha brings the soul, while Cariñena provides the backbone of Gran Muralles”. He likes Monastrell for its bright fruit. Querol and Garró are among the grape varieties that the Familia Torres is endeavouring to bring back from near extinction in Catalonia. According to Sabarich, they add a hint of rusticity which furthers the aromatic complexity of the blend. The six-hectare vineyard site for Gran Muralles neighbours Milmanda, in the Conca de Barberà DO. This hilly plot features deep rocky, slate and granite-based soils with sandy areas.

The 2016 growing season was markedly different in Conca de Barberà as compared to Penedès. The weather was distinctly cool and rainy, producing a fresh and fruity style of wine. Much like Reserva Real, the Gran Muralles varieties are vinified separately, and then aged in new French oak barrels for 18 months before bottling.

Torres Gran Muralles Conca de Barberà DO 2016 has a seductive floral perfume, underscored by ripe blue and black fruit, baking spice, and toasty, nutty hints. Bright acidity and a moderately firm structure counterbalance the plush, richly textured mouthfeel, intensity of ripe black fruit and cocoa flavours. Hints of cedar and spice from extended oak ageing are nicely integrated. Finishes smooth and very long – 94pts. LW. Where to Buy: Inquire with Canadian agent Vins Dandurand for Torres Antologia wines (Winesearcher average price for Gran Muralles 2016: $220.00 CAD)

Mas de la Rosa

Tucked away in a secluded valley of the Priorat near Poboleda, this small 1.86-hectare plot of 80-year old Garnacha and Cariñena was first vinified by the Familia Torres in 2016. The vineyard is perched on a sharply angled slope of nearly 30% grade. All vineyard work is done by hand, or by horse, due to the steepness of the hillside and the bush vine plantings. The parcel faces northeast and is shaded from midday onwards. This, coupled with the moderately high, 420 metre altitude create a cooling effect that preserves freshness in the wines. The soils are a pure, disintegrated slate called llicorella. They are shallow, nutrient-poor soils that encourage the vines to root deeply.

The 2017 growing season in Priorat was very hot and dry in the spring through to mid-summer, with marginally cooler conditions at harvest. Small berries produced dense, richly coloured wines. After an eight to nine day cold soak, fermentation takes place at cooler, 24°c temperatures “to avoid creating a massive wine, and losing the soul of the grapes”, explained Sabarich. The blend is then aged for 16-months in new French oak barrels.

Torres Mas de la Rosa Priorat DOQ 2017 is initially shy, but gains in intensity with aeration. Crushed raspberry and blue fruit aromas gain in complexity with the development of savoury undertones and violet hints. The palate is medium in body, with a very focused quality and a seductive, silky texture giving way to fine, powdery tannins. Lively, concentrated red fruit flavours mingle with stony mineral hints on the finish – 93pts. LW. Where to Buy: Inquire with Canadian agent Vins Dandurand for Torres Antologia wines (Winesearcher average price for Mas de la Rosa 2017: $312.00 CAD)

*** What do VW, PW and LW mean?  Click on my wine scoring system to find out.

 

Reviews Wines

SIX WINES FOR THE WEEK-END

SIX WINES FOR THE WEEK-END!

The week-end is here, and yes, you may be thinking to yourself…meh, week day, week-end, what difference does it make? Wine. Wine is the difference. We can’t go out to restaurants at the moment, so why not splurge on a nicer bottle of wine and make a complicated recipe from that cookbook gathering dust in your kitchen cabinet?

I have been tasting up a storm over the past few weeks, traveling via my wine glass. I visited the Russian River Valley with the wines of Gary Farrell. I toured top tier vineyard sites of the Penedès and Priorat with Familia Torres’ Antologia range. I strolled through the gravelly flat lands of the Médoc, stopping at each of its eight appellations. And I spent a happy morning exploring Chablis, the Côte d’Or, and Côte Chalonnaise, while tasting Burgundy En Primeur 2019 wines. Those latter two articles should be out next week.

In the meanwhile, assorted samples have been gathering dust on my desk, my floor, my wine rack, etc. Their accusing looks from across the room finally wore me down, so this morning I gathered them up and grabbed a glass. Without further ado, here are six wines for the week-end – a selection of my top picks from the tasting.

(What do VW, PW and LW mean?  Click on my wine scoring system to find out):

Best for Brunch

Ponte G Pinot Grigo delle Venezie, Vino Spumante Brut (Veneto, Italy) – 87pts. VW

Pleasant aromas of white pear, apple, and hints of spice on the nose. The palate is medium in body, with smooth, rounded bubbles, fresh, stone fruit flavours, and a subtly fruity, brut finish. Similar to a Prosecco, with a bit more body, and less frothy bubbles.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($16.75)

Best for Spicy Asian Dishes

Albert Mann Gewürztraminer 2018 (Alsace, France) – 90 pts. PW

If not carefully managed, Gewürztraminer can become a little flabby, soft, and overly sweet on the palate. The organically-farmed Albert Mann 2018 is a testament to how fine it can be in skillful hands. Nuanced aromas of white blossoms, lychee, spice, and apricots feature on the nose. The palate is wonderfully silky and layered, with a lifted, fresh finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($34.25)

Best for Roasted Fowl & Mellow Earthy Flavours

La Grange Tiphaine Clef de Sol Montlouis-sur-Loire 2018 (Loire Valley, France) – 94pts. PW

I almost swooned when I tasted this white. It just checks all the boxes for me. This nose has classic Loire Chenin Blanc aromas (red apple, raw honey, nutmeg, and earthy nuances) that gain in intensity and depth with aeration. The palate is full-bodied and boldly flavoured with tangy, yet honeyed orchard fruit overlying savoury hints. Crisp acidity brings lift and vibrancy, while a subtly creamy, layered mid-palate gives huge textural appeal. Decant one hour before serving.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($37.00)

Best for Gourmet Pizza

Head High Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2018 (California, USA) – 90pts. PW

Vivid aromas of red cherry, pomegranate, and mixed spice on the nose. The palate is true to its origin, marrying mouth watering acidity with a plush texture and ripe red fruit flavours. Finishes smooth and fresh, with delicate green herbal nuances. Great value for the price.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($24.95)

Best for Bold Flavoured, Mildly Spiced Meals

Valley of the Moon “Cuvée de la Luna” 2014 (California, USA) – 89pts. PW

An interesting blend of 44% Zinfandel, 21% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Sangiovese. The nose is perfumed with ripe blackberry, candied cherry, and milk chocolate aromas. Full-bodied and velvety smooth on the palate, with fresh acidity giving vibrancy to the blue and black fruit flavours. Finishes with subtle sweet tobacco and spicy oak nuances.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($27.40)

Best for Refined French Cuisine & for the Cellar

Château La Tour de By Médoc 2016 (Bordeaux, France) – 92pts. PW

Another exceptional value that drinks way above its humble appellation and mid $20 price point. The 2016 vintage is excellent throughout Bordeaux, with lots of great finds at affordable prices. The sustainably-farmed Château La Tour de By offers attractive red currant, plum, red pepper, and cedar hints on the nose. The palate is brisk and tightly knit, with vibrant red and black fruit flavours mingling with earthy undertones. The tannins are firm, yet fine-grained and elegant. Will cellar well over the next four to six years. Decant an hour before serving.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($26.50)