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Best Beaujolais Wines to Ring in Beaujolais Nouveau Night

best beaujolais wines

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

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

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

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

New Wines, Ancient Traditions

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

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

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

How Beaujolais Nouveau Took the World by Storm

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

Photo credit: Inter Beaujolais

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

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

From Beaujolais Nouveau to Nouvelle… Génération

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

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

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

Photo credit: Inter Beaujolais

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

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

One Grape, Multiple Expressions

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

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

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

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

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

Favourites from a recent tasting include:

Famille Dutraive Fleurie Les Déduits 2019 – 95pts. PW

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

Where to buy: SAQ ($42.75)

Antoine Sunier Morgon 2020 – 93pts. PW

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

Where to buy: SAQ ($35.50)

Julien Sunier Régnié 2020 – 92pts. PW

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

Where to Buy: SAQ ($32.75)

Domaine Mee Godard Beaujolais Villages 2020 – 91pts. PW

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

Where to Buy: SAQ ($28.55)

Marcel Lapierre Le Beaujolais 2021 – 90 pts. PW

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

Where to Buy: SAQ ($29.30)

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

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

Where to Buy: SAQ ($25.10)

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

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

Where to Buy: SAQ ($25.35)

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

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

The wines of Menetou-Salon

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

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

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

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

vignoble-ap
Map credit: Menetou-Salon AOC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Domaine Chavet Tasting Notes (Montréal Tasting, October 2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent AOC & Cie

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

Reviews Wines

Champagne Bollinger Tasting: 2014 Vintage Release

Champagne Bollinger tasting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvée – 94pts. LW

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

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

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

Champagne Bollinger Rosé – 92pts. LW

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

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

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

Champagne Bollinger La Grande Année 2014 – 97pts. LW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to buy: SAQ ($282.00)

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Wine from Argentina: Consistent Good Value Across the Decades

wine from argentina

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

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

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

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

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

Schroeder, Alpataco Pinot Noir 2019, Patagonia

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

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

Catena Zapata Chardonnay “High Mountain Vines” 2020, Mendoza

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

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

Bodega Santa Julia, El Burro Malbec Natural 2021, Mendoza

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

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

La Mascota Cabernet Sauvignon 2020, Mendoza

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

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

El Esteco Don David Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2020, Calchaqui Valley

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

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

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

Gulfi Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gulfi Cantina Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviews Wines

La Grange Tiphaine Wines: Biodynamic Loire Valley at its Best

Damien Delecheneau La Grange Tiphaine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tasting the 2020 vintage of La Grange Tiphaine Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education Reviews Wines

3 Chardonnay Wines That Blew Me Away in 2021

Chardonnay Wines - Kumeu River Maté's Vineyard

My mother hates Chardonnay wines. Won’t drink them… unless I trick her (which I love to do). Because who could just sweepingly reject a grape with so many fascinating permutations of style?

My years in Burgundy, in the mid 2000s, entrenched my love for Chardonnay. Trained as I was, on this racy, tart fruited, mineral-driven form, I will admit to turning my nose up at the lush, vanilla-heavy iterations coming out of the Languedoc, Australia, and California at the time.

With this outdated notion of Chardonnay in mind, I can see how one might not be a fan. But much has changed in the past 15 years. Thrilling, crisp, and complex Chardonnays are now being made around the world.

Chardonnay is often referred to as the winemaker’s grape. Climate and terroir are indeed major factors in determining aromatics, acidity levels, and body, but the choices made in the winery often define its final character.

Chardonnay is often referred to as the winemaker’s grape…the choices made in the winery often define its final character.

Picked at marginal ripeness, Chardonnay has a subtlety of aroma and flavour, coupled with overall vibrancy and finesse that make it an ideal candidate for traditional method sparkling wines. Just look at premium sparkling wine regions across the globe, and you will always find Chardonnay in a starring role.

Vinified in stainless steel, still Chardonnay wines can range from the bracing, taut, earthy Chablis style that screams out for briny food pairings, to soft, rounded, stone, or tropical fruit-laden charmers.

Fermented with wild yeasts, in neutral oak, with minimal intervention, Chardonnay wines often take on a savoury character, and an almost mealy texture (which may not sound attractive, but trust me, it can be). If you have ever had the Cuvée Dix-Neuvième Chardonnay from Pearl Morissette, you will know what I mean.

In the Jura region of France, the traditional oxidative, flor-influenced expression of Chardonnay is inciting renewed interest from sommeliers world-wide. Vivid lemon, apple aromas mingle with nutty, exotic spice, baker’s yeast tones on these intricate saline wines.

In fact, the Jura pretty much sums up the diversity of Chardonnay wines in one tiny vineyard area. Elegant Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs Crémants are made here, alongside the aforementioned oxidative styles, and classic (ie. non-oxidative) Chardonnay produced in inert vessels or regularly topped up barrels.

When it comes to barrel maturation, Chardonnay is – arguably – the variety with the greatest affinity for oak. Chardonnay wines with sufficient body, depth, and natural acidity can stand up to even lavish amounts of new French oak – though most of today’s top Chardonnay producers tend to use more second and third fill barrels, than new.

Chardonnay wines with sufficient body, depth, and natural acidity can stand up to even lavish new French oak use.

In short, the winemaker has a vast array of tools in their belt when it comes to Chardonnay. Depending on climate and desired style, they can block malolactic fermentation for brisker acidity, or encourage it to soften a wine and add tempting buttery nuances. For a creamier, more satiny texture, they can stir the fine lees more frequently, they can play around with ageing duration, and so forth.

I have been fortunate enough to drink a number of spellbinding Burgundian Chardonnays and Champagnes over the years. While they remain a cherished benchmark, many other Chardonnay producing regions are turning my head these days.

Here are three Chardonnay producers that really stood out for me in 2021:

Kumeu River Wines (Auckland, New Zealand)

Kumeu River 2018 vintage

I first discovered Kumeu River wines at a Master of Wine tasting seminar. The estate’s owner and winemaker, Michael Brajkovich, is a Master of Wine. His wines rank among the highest echelons of Chardonnay coming out of New Zealand today.

In 2014, British importer Farr Vintners pitted top Kumeu River bottlings against revered 1er and Grand Cru Bourgogne wines in a comparative blind tasting for the local wine cognoscenti. The results were conclusive. The Kumeu River wines scored equally well, and in some cases outshone, their Burgundian rivals.

The sustainably farmed 30-hectare estate is located just 25-km northwest of Auckland, on New Zealand’s North Island. The proximity of both the Tasmanian Sea and Pacific Ocean result in a temperate maritime climate, with abundant sunshine and cooling sea breezes. The soils are mainly clay, with underlying sandstone.

My most recent Kumeu River tasting was of the 2019 vintage – from the Estate to the top-tier cuvées: Maté’s Vineyard and Hunting Hill. The 2019 vintage was described as, “an exceptional vintage of unsurpassed quality” due to its warm, dry, sunny conditions. And indeed, all of the wines displayed impressive harmony and purity of fruit.

At each quality level, these wines over-deliver for their price. The 2019 Estate Chardonnay is vibrant and glossy, with just a whisper of toasty oak, and pretty ripe lemon, yellow orchard fruit, wet stone aromas. The Hunting Hill and Maté’s vineyard are hugely concentrated, textural wines with hauntingly vivid aromatics and stylishly integrated oak.

At the time of tasting, the 2019 Maté’s Vineyard was slightly more restrained and tensile, with tangy citrus and flinty nuances, giving way to richer, riper tones with aeration. The Hunting Hill was comparatively opulent and generously proportioned, with honeyed stone to tropical fruit nuances, though still with that thrilling acidity and flinty expression that make all of Kumeu River’s wines so balanced and breathtaking.

Domaine André et Mireille Tissot (Jura, France)

Stéphane Tissot Chardonnay Tasting

Long-time readers will know that I spent some time in the Jura last summer filming a wine travel documentary (which really is coming soon, despite the long wait!). Over the course of a delightful afternoon, Stéphane Tissot showed me around several of his prime vineyards and poured a wide selection of his wines. The highlight was a comparison of his best Chardonnay wines, to understand the difference between the limestone vs. marl soils.

Stéphane Tissot is the son of André and Mireille Tissot, founders of their eponymous Montigny-les-Arsures winery. Stéphane and his wife Bénédicte took up the reins in the 1990s, growing the property to its current 50 hectares and converting its vineyards to organic and biodynamic viticulture.

Under Stéphane and Bénédicte’s stewardship, the estate became known for its diversity of terroir-focused wines. Previously, the Jura was best known for its appellation-wide, blended approach. Tissot was one of the pioneering figures of this new movement, which aims at demonstrating the region’s soil, climate, and topographical diversity in the bottle.

To illustrate his theory, Tissot poured me three Chardonnay wines: Les Graviers 2018, La Mailloche 2018, and a decanted Tour du Curon 2006. While they all shared a lively, initially taut character, giving way to impressive depth on the mid-palate, each wine was distinctive in its flavour profile and texture.

Gravier is the French word for gravel.  This cuvée is so named as it hails from a selection of sites with limestone scree soils over clay sub-soils. Flinty, smoky notes abound on the nose, and the palate has a beguiling silky freshness.

La Mailloche is sourced from vineyards with heavy, clay-based soils. It is fuller in body, with an attractive savoury rusticity that Stéphane explains is typical of the region and terroir. Refreshing bitter hints linger on the finish.

The Tour de Curon is a walled parcel of just 15-ares, sitting high atop a limestone-veined outcrop looking down over Arbois. Intense aromas of grilled hazelnut, flint, ripe lemon, and earthy nuances unfurl in successive waves. The palate is powerful yet immensely elegant. A true “tour” de force.

On Seven Estate Winery (Niagara, Canada)Kumeu River 2018 vintage

Photo credit: On Seven Estate Winery

In 2019, I interviewed celebrated Canadian wine writer, Tony Aspler, about Ontario’s potential to develop a global fine wine identity. He enthused about Chardonnay and insisted I try the wines of a new Niagara-on-the-Lake producer called On Seven. I purchased a bottle of the 2017 The Pursuit and have been an admirer of the winery ever since.

The name On Seven refers to seven acres of land acquired by Vittorio and Sula de Stefano in 2009. After extensive uprooting, site analysis, and planning, five acres were planted in well-draining, calcareous soils. No expense was spared. After a lengthy wait, de Stefano was able to procure top rootstocks and clones directly from Burgundy’s highly respected Mercier nursery.

Under the guidance of veteran viticultural consultant, Peter Gamble, On Seven proceeded to produce very low yields (1 – 2 tonnes per acre) of certified organic wines of impressive complexity and finesse. My recent tasting of the 2018 vintage The Pursuit and The Devotion cuvées definitely reinforced this impression.

The quality here is all the more noteworthy given the location of vineyards. Niagara-on-the-Lake is home to many of the warmest vineyard sites of the peninsula. Most vintners head for the benchlands, in the Niagara Escarpment area, to make cool climate Chardonnay.

On Seven’s Chardonnay wines offer an intriguing balance. They are generously proportioned, with ripe, yellow fruit flavours, backed by a chiselled structure, hints of salinity, and lip-smacking acidity. The Pursuit is slightly leaner, racier, with more delicate oak spice, whereas the top wine, The Devotion, is glossier with a wonderfully creamy texture and lingering, toasty nuances.

Given the boutique size of the winery and lengthy ageing (three years from harvest to bottling), it is not always easy to get your hands on a bottle. If you live in Ontario, I highly recommend getting on their mailing list for future releases. In Québec, we should be seeing some small allocations coming into fine dining restaurants within the year.

This Chardonnay 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

What makes High Altitude Wines So Intriguing?

High altitude wines

It might seem obvious that high-altitude wines have livelier acidity. After all, if you have ever climbed a mountain, you will know how important it is to pack a jacket for the upper slopes. And, if you have ever tasted fruit grow in cooler areas, you will be familiar with their tangier flavours.

In the early 1990s, Nicolás Catena Zapata was on a mission to craft Argentinean wines with greater freshness and finesse. Fearing the frost risks associated with the cooler reaches of southern Mendoza, Catena Zapata decided to set his sights higher.

While most of the region’s vineyards were, and still are, situated between 500 and 1000 metres above sea level, Catena Zapata selected a high-altitude site in Gualtallary, within the Tupungato sub-zone of Mendoza’s Uco Valley. Perched at a lofty 1500 metres, the bodega’s new site was christened the Adrianna vineyard.

After several years, the winemaking team were able to compare the high-altitude wines from the Adrianna vineyard with those from lower lying plots. The differences were striking. The high-altitude wines were not only lighter and brighter, but they were also more deeply hued, with greater aromatic intensity, complexity, and more defined tannins.

The same phenomenon has been observed in other mountainous wine regions. Central Otago Pinot Noir is significantly darker in colour and more fragrant than its counterparts from other regions of New Zealand.

So, what does high altitude mean and how does it affect so many different aspects of a wine’s character?

According to the European Centre for Research, Environmental Sustainability and Advancement of Mountain Viticulture, vineyards over 500 metres are considered high altitude. Of course, it is important to factor in latitude (ie. proximity or distance from the equator) when determining the cooling effects of altitude.

As observed in Club Oenologique, 500 metres is high in Europe. Few of the continent’s vineyards are planted above 1000 metres due to year-round snow. Whereas, in Argentina’s Mendoza region, the lowest lying vineyards start at 500 metres.

Photo credit: Bodegas Catena Zapata

The Catena Wine Institute is a research centre for high altitude viticulture in Argentina. It was established by Catena Zapata’s daughter, Dr. Laura Catena, in 1995. The institute defines high altitude vineyards in Mendoza, as over 1000 metres. Regions like Altamira, Eugenio Bustos, El Cepillo and Gualtallary are cited as reference points.

The growing conditions in these cool, mountain sites can be explained thusly. As we climb, the atmosphere gets thinner, air molecules expand, and temperatures plummet. For each 100-metre rise there is an estimated 1°C decrease. However, this thinner atmosphere also equates to greater intensity of sunlight. 

Bright, plentiful sunshine allows for optimal photosynthesis meaning that grapes ripen easily and fully. Though still warm during the growing season, daytime temperatures are comparatively cooler than sunny, lower lying sites. These more moderate conditions slow down the rate of sugar accumulation, allowing more complex flavours to develop.

It is at night that the real temperature difference of high-altitude vineyards can be felt. Once the sun sets, the thermostat readings plunge, in some areas by 15°C or more. This effectively shuts down vine ripening overnight, allowing acidity levels to remain elevated.

This balanced, ripe fruit character and increased freshness was readily understood by the bodega and the Catena Wine Institute. However, they also observed that the grapes in their high-altitude vineyards had markedly thicker skins.

With more intense sunlight from the thinner atmosphere comes greater exposure to Ultraviolet-B (UVB) rays, the main cause of sunburn. In a collaboration with PhD students from the Mendoza University, the Catena Wine Institute carried out research into the effect this UV-B sunlight on high altitude grapes. Their work exposed a correlation between higher sunlight intensity and increased concentrations of grape skin tannins.

According to Dr. Catena, “this natural adaptation occurs because the grapes develop thicker skins at high altitude to protect the seeds from the sun—a sort of natural sunscreen”. These thicker skins – a barrier against increased UV-B light – contain higher levels of aromatic and polyphenolic compounds.

The best way to comprehend the uniquely ripe, yet refreshing, bold yet elegant style possessed by the best high-altitude wines is, of course, to taste them. A few months back, I sat down to a tasting of three top tier high altitude Malbecs from Bodega Catena Zapata.

Catena Zapata high altitude wines tasting

Catena Alta Malbec “Historic Rows” 2017

This cuvée is a blend of Malbec grapes from four of the estate’s prime terroirs, extending upwards from the 920 metre Angélica vineyard in the Maipú region, to the Adrianna vineyard. The 2017 vintage was very cool overall, with heavy frost in the spring resulting in lower-than-average yields.

Each vineyard plot was harvested individually and fermented separately to allow the unique characteristics of each site to develop. Ageing lasted 18 months in 50% new French oak barrels.  

Attractive notes of stewed dark plum, cassis, and dark chocolate on the nose, with roasted nutty undertones developing over time. The palate is brisk and juicy, lifting the weighty, plush textured mid-palate nicely. Layers of cedar, spice, mingle with tangy dark fruit on the long, fresh finish. 93pts.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($51.25), see North American vendor list below

Catena Adrianna Vineyard, Fortuna Terrae 2017

Fortuna Terrae is a five-hectare plot within the 120-hectare Adrianna vineyard. The name, meaning luck of the land in latin, refers to the deep loamy alluvial soils here, which give lush vegetation and incredible biodiversity.

This certified organic Malbec is fermented 50% whole cluster and spends 18 months ageing in mainly second and third use French oak barrels. The cuvée spends two years in bottle before release.

Initially discreet, with aromas unfurling in successive waves. First cocoa, black pepper, and hints of nutmeg, then ripe dark fruit begins to emerge, and finally, a crescendo of fragrant fresh-cut violets. The palate is at once mouth-wateringly crisp, satiny smooth, and ample in depth and proportion. Finishes dry, with lingering tart black fruit, cocoa, and spice. 10 years+ ageing potential. 95pts.

Where to Buy: see North American vendor list below

Catena Malbec, Argentino 2018

The Argentino cuvée is a more powerfully structured Malbec. It is a blend of old vine plots with sandy soils, from the Angélica vineyard, and a 1095 metre vineyard called Nicasia, in the Parae Altamira area of the Uco Valley. The former site is said to give black fruit flavours, while the latter offers marked florality.

The 2018 vintage was classic for Mendoza, with warm dry conditions, and no frost. Like the Alta cuvée, the gapes were individually harvested and fermented before 18 months ageing in French oak, followed by one year bottle ageing before release.

An array of baked red and dark fruit aromas feature on the nose, underscored by hints of mocha and spice. The palate offers quite firm acidity and a dense, muscular structure rounded out by bright mixed fruit and mocha flavours. Very tightly knit and crisp on the finish, needs three to four years further cellaring to soften. 92pts.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($117.25)

Other vendors in North America:

CANADA: Québec: Noble Sélection, Ontario: Noble Estates, Western Canada: Trialto Wine Group, Atlantic Canada: Innovative Beverages

USA: The Winebow Group

Life Reviews Wines

Instead of Dry January, Drink Less but Better!

Drink less but better

December is, typically, a month of excess. We make rich holiday meals. We indulge in sweet treats. We knock back more cocktails. Then January arrives and our hardwired need to repent kicks in. Gyms and dieting companies rub their hands in glee as we rush to erase all evidence of our fling with gluttony.

For a growing number of people world-wide, new year’s resolve now includes a period of alcohol abstinence. First launched in 2012 by Alcohol Change UK, the Dry January initiative has gained global adherence in recent years.

Dry January serves an important role in destigmatising the choice of soft drinks over beer on a night out. For those with problematic drinking tendencies, Dry January can be the first step in identifying, and hopefully breaking, dangerous habits.

After all, it is a well-known fact that heavy drinking is bad for you. Excessive alcohol consumption can cause liver damage, heart disease, and increase the probability of developing certain cancers, to name just a few major health concerns; and these are only the physical risks.

But how much booze is too much?

At-risk drinking is hard to quantify. Age, gender, genetics, general health, and physical condition must all be factored in. The duration of the excessive drinking pattern is also a consideration.

According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction, regularly consuming more than two standard drinks (5 oz / 142mL) per day, or ten drinks per week, is considered high risk for women. For men, over three daily drinks or 15 per week is cause for concern.

Following that logic, amounts under these thresholds fall into the low-risk category. What if, outside of the odd party and the revelries of December, you don’t regularly overindulge. Is a full month off alcohol really necessary?

We cut things out of our diet, and our lives, that are bad for us. Ergo, by abstaining from alcohol, we are labeling it as harmful in our minds. And, for most moderate drinkers, that is an erroneous association.

Numerous studies show that moderate alcohol consumption (by healthy, physically fit individuals) has no significant adverse effects to health. In fact, some researchers indicate that the antioxidants in red wine may be good for the heart and help ward off type 2 diabetes, among numerous other benefits

Turning alcohol into something to be banished from our lives creates powerful negative connotations. Just like overly restrictive diets, this all or nothing approach to alcohol can lead to cravings that weren’t previously there. For others, it can cause feelings of guilt or regret when later imbibing.

In other cases, a month away from alcohol is simply a dietary measure. This can indeed be effective. However, if you are replacing your alcohol units with soft drinks or juice as an alternative “special” drink on a night out, you can kiss all calorie savings goodbye.

I always find January a bit dreary. The sun is long gone by the end of the workday. The weather is frosty. The air of revelry has faded. The last thing I want is to deprive myself the pleasure of a nice glass of wine at the end of the day. I don’t need it, but I do enjoy it.

To reset after the holiday excess, my new year’s resolution is a return to moderation. Sure, #ModerateJanuary isn’t as sexy a hashtag. And yes, it lacks the simplicity and dramatic sense of achievement of Dry January. For me though, it is a more sustainable choice.

I try to stick to one, maximum two glasses of wine on the nights that I crack open a bottle. And I make sure to slot in dry nights each week. The most enjoyable way to drink less, is to drink better. As with most people, when I spend a bit more money on a special bottle of wine, I tend to drink it more slowly and mindfully. When enjoyed over a few days, a $30 bottle of wine is no more expensive than a daily $10 tipple.

With that in mind, here are a few special bottles that have caught my fancy in recent months.

Domaine de Montbourgeau L’Etoile 2018 (Jura, France) – 91pts. PW

This 11-hectare Jura estate is located in L’Étoile. This tiny limestone-rich appellation is prized for its racy, mineral-drive Chardonnays. Now managed by the fourth generation of the Deriaux, the estate practices sustainable viticulture.

This is fantastic example of the traditional, oxidative style of Jura Chardonnay. Aromas of bruised apple and eaux-de-vie mingle with hints of exotic spice and roasted hazelnut on the nose. The palate has a sharp, dry bite that acts as an exciting counterpoint to its ample structure and layered texture. Savoury notes linger on the finish. Definitely a food wine, this L’Etoile Chardonnay is a great match for roast chicken.

Where to Buy: $29.30 at the SAQ (code: 11557541)

Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2019 (Auckland, New Zealand – 94pts. PW

This pioneering estate has built up a solid reputation as one of New Zealand’s premier Chardonnay producers, and for good reason. The Estate cuvée is their house blend sourced from six different vineyards of mainly clay and sandstone soils.

It is a superlative wine, with exquisite reductive balance. Layers of ripe lemon, apricot, lightly buttered toast, and subtle flinty struck match notes seduce on the nose. The palate is initially crisp and taut, giving way to a creamy, concentrated core of bright fruit. Smooth and dry, with perfectly integrated spiced oak hints.

Where to Buy: $41.25 at the SAQ (code: 10281184)

Domaine David Duband Bourgogne Rouge 2019 (Bourgogne, France) – 95pts. PW

David Duband took over his family’s Hautes Côtes de Nuits estate some twenty years ago. Since then he has garnered worldwide acclaim for his very pure, understated, organic wines.

This Bourgogne Rouge might be on the pricier side given the “humble” nature of the appellation, but it is worth every penny. In fact, I enjoyed this red more than many more prestigious red Bourgogne appellations tasted last year.

Duband manages to combine the ripe, fragrant aromatics of this warm vintage, with a fresh, silky, lightweight palate that just oozes finesse. Vivid red berry flavours, laced with subtle spice, and earthy nuances linger on the finish.

Where to Buy: $38 at the SAQ (code: 14814785)

Dalrymple Pinot Noir 2019 (Tasmania, Australia) – 90pts. PW

The Pipers River region of northeast Tasmania is greatly admired for its production of cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Cool winds flow in from the Bass Strait, moderating the sunny climate and providing a long, even growing season.

Dalrymple has been making wines in the area for over thirty years. The estate Pinot Noir is a mix of several sites of mainly volcanic soil origin. A heady fragrance of stewed rhubarb, crushed strawberry, and baking spice graces the nose. The palate is medium bodied and velvety smooth, with vibrant red and dark berry fruit.

Where to Buy: $45 at the SAQ (code: 14727201)

Pierre Gaillard St Joseph “Clos de Cuminaille” 2019(Rhône Valley, France) – 93pts. PW

Pierre Gaillard is a long-established Northern Rhône producer with vineyards stretching from Côte Rôtie to Cornas. Planted in 1981, Gaillard’s “Clos de Cuminaille” vineyard in St. Joseph yields concentrated, flavourful old vine grapes from its sandy, granite slopes.

The 2019 vintage is still in its infancy, but already drinking beautifully with seductive notes of violet, black plum, and hoisin sauce. The palate is weighty yet fresh, with fleshy tannins that are already remarkably approachable. Decant an hour before serving. This wine paired beautifully with a subtly harissa spiced lentil & cauliflower dish I threw together last week.

Where to Buy: $42.27 at the SAQ (code: 11231963)

This Dry January/ Drink Less but Better article was originally written for Good Food Revolution. Want to learn more about artisanal food, wine, beer and spirits.? Check out their excellent website.

Reviews Wines

Brunello di Montalcino 2017 Vintage Report

Brunello di Montalcino 2017

This January, the Brunello di Montalcino 2017 vintage will be released, alongside the 2016 Riserva wines. The date is no arbitrary decision by local winemakers. It is a precise ageing requirement set down in the region’s controlled and guaranteed denomination of origin (DOCG) regulations.

Brunello di Montalcino is made exclusively from the Sangiovese grape. These premium quality Tuscan wines are considered amongst the finest reds Italy has to offer. For an overview of the region, its terroir, wine styles, and so forth, click here.

The Evolution of Brunello di Montalcino

In the thirty years that Montalcino has held the top-tier DOCG status, much has changed in the region. Once home to a few dozen vintners, with most estates operating as polycultures, Montalcino now counts over 200 wineries devoted to the craft of fine winemaking.

During this time, the wine styles have evolved quite significantly. A move to smaller French barriques, and lavish use of new oak has come and gone. Most producers now favour a mix of mainly used barrels and the large, traditional Slavonian casks.

Tannic structure has also shifted dramatically, according to Italian wine expert, Susan Hulme MW. Once powerfully firm and somewhat coarse in certain sectors, there has been a marked shift towards more refined, approachable tannins. Hulme suggests that this is linked to improved vineyard management, optimized harvest dates, and greater restraint in the cellars, in terms of extraction and ageing.

Brunello di Montalcino 2017 Vintage Conditions

The Brunello di Montalcino 2017 vintage was a nail biter for many growers. Following a warm, dry winter and early spring, vines budded two weeks early across Montalcino. A cold snap later April led to frost damage in certain areas.

The months of July and August were hot and very dry, causing hydric stress and shrivelled grape berries in some parcels. Sites with clay-dominant soils faired better, due to their great absorption and holding of the scattered, late spring rains.

Thankfully, cool nighttime temperatures throughout the late summer allowed for good acid retention. This, coupled with some timely rains and more moderate temperatures early September, allowed hopes for a fine vintage to rise again.

An ensuing period of warm, sunny weather extended the growing season well into October in many parts of the appellation. While not up to the loft heights of the 2016 vintage, the Consorzio (grower’s association) gave the Brunello di Montalcino 2017 vintage a very positive, four-star rating.

Tasting the Brunello di Montalcino 2017 Wines

I recently travelled to Montalcino, to participate in Benvenuto Brunello. The region’s annual unveiling of the new vintage gives media, sommeliers, and other wine aficionados an exclusive preview of the wines before they hit store shelves.

The event took place at the beautiful, medieval Sant’Agostini cloisters atop the village square. Lines of impeccably attired sommeliers stood to attention around the tasting tables, ready to fetch requested wines at the raise of a taster’s hand.

The list of samples was extensive, covering the Brunello di Montalcino 2017 wines of Consorzio members, as well as their single vineyard bottlings, 2016 Riserva cuvées, and a smattering of 2018 and 2019 Rosso di Montalcino bottlings.

While I wasn’t able to taste every wine – many bottles of the highly rated wines ran out as the day wore on – I did get through over one hundred samples. For the purposes of this article, I will focus on the Brunello di Montalcino 2017 wines.

On the whole, the vintage yielded vivid wines with complex, well-defined aromatics. My notes regularly mentioned perfumed aromas of red berries and cherries, orange peel, floral nuances, and balsamic hints. Lively acidity was also a common feature.

Beyond fragrance and freshness, the similarities waned. In terms of structure, the Brunello di Montalcino 2017 wines ranged from light and silky to weightier, more voluptuous offerings – often a function of vineyard altitude and orientation.

Tannins were also highly varied across the wines. The best offered chalky to fairly grippy, yet ripe tannins. Many will require a few years to unwind but should prove to be good moderate term cellaring wines offering Brunello lovers a lot of pleasure. There were, however, many cases of green, astringent tannins marring otherwise pleasant Brunellos.

Brunello di Montalcino 2017 Tasting Notes

MY TOP 20 WINES

Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino 2017

A powerful, aromatic wine redolent with a myriad of ripe red fruit, exotic spice, and citrus oil.  The palate is weighty, yet well defined, with diffuse, chalky tannins and a beautifully fresh, hugely persistent finish. 96pts.

Lisini Brunello di Montalcino 2017

The perfumed, Pinot like nose gives way to an ample, firmly structured palate with impressive depth of red fruit, nutmeg, blood orange flavour. Grippy tannins frame the finish. Very complete; needs 3 – 4 years to soften. 95pts.

Sesti Brunello di Montalcino 2017

Highly complex, with pomegranate aromas underscored by dried orange peel, incense, and rose. Very concentrated on the palate, with a layered texture and vibrant freshness to counterbalance the firm, faintly bitter tannin. 95pts.

Talenti Brunello di Montalcino 2017

Earthier in character, with sun-dried tomatoes and dried herbal notes mingled with tangy red fruit flavours. The palate is powerfully structured, with a broad, fleshy mid-palate tapering to fine-grained tannins. 95pts.

Lisini Brunello di Montalcino 2017, Vigna Ugolaia

Fragrant macerated red and dark fruit, with hints of almond essence and dried floral notes emerging upon aeration. The palate is full-bodied, with a suave, chiselled structure. Pleasantly warming, with intriguing peppery nuances. 94pts.

San Polo Brunello di Montalcino 2017

Very intense and enticing nose, with typical 2017 tangy red fruit, blood orange, potpourri notes, with underlying exotic spice. The palate is dense and highly concentrated, with ripe, yet imposing tannins. Needs time to harmonize further. 94pts.

Castello Romitorio Brunello di Montalcino 2017, Vigna: Filo di Seta

While the nose is somewhat muted at present, the palate is powerful and polished with impressive depth. Notes of almond essence, red cherry, sweet tobacco, baking spice, and smoke linger on the firm, layered finish. 93pts.

San Polino Brunello di Montalcino 2017

Aromas of stewed red fruit overlay fresh leafy notes and hints of graphite. The palate is weighty and ample, with well integrated cedar spice nuances and firm, fine-grained tannins. Finishes with a pleasing, lifted freshness. 93pts.

Scopetone Brunello di Montalcino 2017.

Initially muted, with savoury, nutty nuances emerging alongside red fruit, citrus, and floral tones. Very harmonious on the palate, with lovely freshness, a sinewy, medium-bodied structure, and well-defined, chalky tannins. 93pts.

Tenute Silvio Nardi Brunello di Montalcino 2017.

Fragrant notes of sweet dark fruit, crushed raspberry, peony, and exotic spice leap from the glass. The palate is bold and grippy, with well integrated toasty, cedar hints. A big, warming wine that needs 4 – 5 years to harmonize. 92 – 94pts.

Le Chiuse Brunello di Montalcino 2017

Highly perfumed, with intense red cherry and berry aromas, over notes of violet and talc. The palate medium in body and satiny smooth, with an abundance of tangy red fruit flavours. Very elegant though still quite tightly knit. 93pts.

Castello Tricerchi Brunello di Montalcino 2017, Vigna: AD 1441

Pleasing, Pinot-like nose with very pure red berry fruit aromas and flavours. A fresh, silky attack leads into a layered mid-palate offering notes of almond, graphite, and tangy red cherry. Bright fruit tempers the firm tannins on the lengthy finish. 93pts.

Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino 2017, Vigna Nastagio

Intense notes of loose-leaf tea, almond, dried citrus peel, and red cherry impress on the complex nose. The palate is dense and highly concentrated, with muscular tannins. Tightly wound; needs time to unfurl and reveal its full potential. 93pts.

Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino 2017

Attractive aromas of almond essence, red and black cherry, and crushed strawberry on the nose. The palate is firm and weighty, balanced by mouth-watering acidity. Harmonious hints of sandalwood and sweet tobacco mingle with bright berry fruit on the finish. 93pts.

Pian delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino 2017.

Very tempting, with its aromatic blood orange, tangy red fruit, and fresh herbal notes. Initially broad and amply proportioned, with vibrant fruit flavours interlaced with graphite and tobacco. Becomes more tightly wound and grippy on the finish. 92pts.

Altesino Brunello di Montalcino 2017, Vigna Montosoli

Very floral, with underlying notes of pomegranate, citrus peel, and talc. The palate is full-bodied, fresh and well-defined, with its sinewy tannins. Tangy red fruit, earthy, and savoury flavours linger on the finish. 92pts.

Fornacina Brunello di Montalcino 2017

Ripe, rich flavours of red and dark fruit are heightened by nuances of nutmeg, peony, and incense on this complex red. The palate is bold yet retains a certain lightness of bearing, with citrussy hints lifting the fruit. Very elegant, with firm, chalky tannins. 92pts.

Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino 2017

Heady notes of red cherry, baked tomato, provençal herbs, and potpourri play across the nose and palate, with savoury nuances emerging over time. The palate is brisk and moderately firm with a sweet, sappy quality to the fruit. Highly muscular tannins. Needs time. 92pts.

San Polo Brunello di Montalcino 2017, Vigna Podernovi

Very appealing floral nose, with intriguing hints of pumpkin spice, tea leaf, and red fruit. Brisk acidity gives way to a dense, yet layered palate. Mouthcoating tannins frame the finish. Needs 4 – 5 years to soften. 92pts.

Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino 2017, Vigna La Casa

Initially fruity, with ripe red cherry aromas. Overtime aromas and flavours of black truffle, graphite, and sweet tobacco develop. The palate is very fresh with a broad, fleshy mouthfeel that gives way to powerful tannins. Needs time. 92pts.

OTHER HIGHLY RECOMMENDED WINES:

Regular cuvées from: Agostina Pieri, Barbi, Canalicchio di Sopra, Caparzo, Castello Romitorio, Castello Tricerchi, Castiglion del Bosco, Col d’Orcia, La Fornace, Poggio di Sotto, Tenuta di Sesta

Vigna cuvées from: Castiglion del Bosco “Campo del Drago”, La Fornace “Vigna Origini”

This Brunello di Montalcino 2017 article was originally written for Good Food Revolution. Want to learn more about artisanal food, wine, beer and spirits.? Check out their excellent website.

Photo credit for all pictures goes to the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino.