Browsing Category

Wines

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With this outdated notion of Chardonnay in mind, I can see how one might not be a fan.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.

Reviews Wines

François Lurton Chacayes, Tale of a Vertical Tasting

François Lurton Chacayes

When I first started tasting Argentinian Malbec many moons ago, jammy was a description that oft crossed my lips. Their soft, rounded acidity, plush texture, and velvety tannins more closely resembled Californian Zinfandel than any French iteration of the grape I had ever tried.

But change was already afoot. Ambitious winemakers were leaving the sundrenched flatlands east of Mendoza in favour of cooler, higher altitude climes. And thus, the Uco Valley, once considered too far from the city to warrant major interest, became Mendoza’s fine wine haven.

The Uco Valley twists and turns around the Tunuyan river and its tributaries. It follows a north-south orientation for 115 kilometres. The towering Andes Cordillera (mountain range) form its western border. To the east, lie a series of lower elevation mountains, still rising well above 1,000 metres.

The valley is roughly organized around its three municipalities: Tupungato, Tunuyan, and San Carlos. Highly prized vineyard sites are dotted throughout the area, each with their distinctive attributes. For the Lurton family, it was the gravelly soils in the Andean foothills west of Tunuyan that drew their gaze, establishing their estate here in 1996.

Perched at 1,100 metres altitude, Los Chacayes has an extreme, desert-like climate with warm summers and cold, snowy winters. The hot, dry Zonda wind regularly buffets the area and hail is a common hazard.

Lurton Chacayes vineyard

Photo credit: François Lurton Chacayes Vineyard, Bodega Piedra Negra

The site’s high elevation brings two of its defining features: marked diurnal variation and increased sunlight intensity. Day time highs in the summer regularly surpass 30°C, however at nightfall the temperature plummets, reaching lows of 10 – 12°C on average. This, coupled with high UV levels, allows for optimal day time photosynthesis, with an abrupt slowdown at days’ end, preserving high natural acidity.

The high solar radiation also results in increased polyphenol production. The grapes produce thicker skins to protect themselves against the hot sun. Thus, grapes grown here produce more deeply coloured, tannic wines.

The Lurtons selected two plots of land and set about planting variations of the Malbec grape. They decided to grow both traditional Argentinian Malbec clones, and a clonal selection of French Côt.  According to Lurton, the Côt is “slightly more tense and austere… it brings freshness” and a nervy tension to the more fruit-forward, open-knit Argentinian Malbec.

The vineyards were planted at an impressive density of 20,000 vines/ hectare (double that traditionally used in high density French vineyards like Bordeaux or Burgundy). This, coupled with nutrient-poor soils and a generally dry climate, all combine to stress the vines. Yields are low, at roughly two bunches per vine, allowing for early ripening of intensely concentrated, flavourful grapes.

This week, I had the pleasure of sitting down to a vertical of six François Lurton Chacayes vintages. Produced in certified organic vineyards, the wines are vinified with indigenous yeasts, in a mix of new French oak barrels and concrete eggs, with an emphasis on long, gentle extraction.

One of the hallmarks across each vintage was the wines’ soaring acidities. It comes in stark contrast to their dense, weighty frames, and ripe fruit flavours. While each vintage is marked by its weather patterns, a bookending of lively acidity and refreshing, slightly bitter tannins was common.

Dating back to the 2002 vintage, the tasting amply displayed the range’s powerful, ageworthy nature. These are not wallflowers, but rather commanding, powerhouse wines that demand a decanter and hearty food pairing to show their best.

François Lurton Chacayes, Bodega Piedra Negra, IG Los Chacayes, Uco Valley

François Lurton Chacayes 2002

The 2002 vintage saw a good deal of humidity and marked temperature swings from day to night. The winery team considers this, their first vintage with exclusively estate-grown fruit, to be “one of the greatest vintages of Chacayes”.

Developed notes of prune, truffle, and dried leaves mingle with heady baked plum and allspice on the nose. Full-bodied and still wonderfully fresh, the palate displays a broad, supple structure, with dried dark fruit and savoury flavours. Drying on the finish. Drink now with hearty, earthy fare. 91pts.

François Lurton Chacayes 2003

After the deluge, the drought. The wet 2002 growing season was followed by one of the driest summers on record. Thankfully, optimal conditions throughout the autumn saved the harvest, though yields were low.

Remarkably youthful aromas of stewed red and black fruit overlay notes of milk chocolate, nutmeg, and sandalwood on the nose. The palate is a study in contrasts; fleshy and ample, yet brisk with tart red berry flavours. Firm, structuring tannins frame the dark chocolate, cedar nuanced finish. 90pts.

François Lurton Chacayes 2007

Dramatic shifts in seasonal weather patterns and the regular menace of summer storms made 2007 a nail-biter of a vintage. Despite this, the wines show particular elegance.

A fragrant medley of blueberry jam, violets, cocoa, and licorice plays across the nose and palate. This weighty Malbec, with its vibrant acidity, dense core, and fine-grained tannins, is the definition of an iron fist in a velvet glove. Attractive bitter hints provide lovely freshness on the finish. 95pts.

François Lurton Chacayes 2008

The 2008 harvest took place two weeks later than usual due to cooler-than-average temperatures, heavy cloud cover, and regular rainfall.

A dark fruit scented nose of cassis and plum, with intriguing undertones of hoisin sauce and cigar box. The palate is dense and spice-laden, with juicy fruit flavours, and ripe, chalky tannins. Warming cinnamon spice notes linger on the persistent finish. 93pts.

François Lurton Chacayes 2015

An El Niño vintage, marked by cool, rainy weather giving very pure, aromatic wines with a taut, high acid profile.

A floral, perfumed wine with youthful notes of crushed black cherries and berries, and peppery nuances upon aeration. The palate is brisk and tightly knit with a concentrated core of dark chocolate and ripe dark fruits, lifted by refreshing eucalyptus undertones. Muscular, somewhat astringent tannins, define the toasty, spiced finish. Needs three to five years further cellaring to soften and integrate. 92pts.

François Lurton Chacayes 2017

The 2017 crop was picked early to preserve balanced freshness after an exceptionally warm, dry growing season. This low yielding vintage “brought great concentration” according to the estate.

The nose is a heady array of plum jam, exotic spice, wildflowers, and mocha, lifted by hints of orange peel. This same generous yet lifted character plays across the palate, tapering to ripe, sinewy tannins. Finishes long with layers of spice, sweet dark fruit, dark chocolate, and sweet tobacco. 94pts.

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

Education Reviews Wines

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

Organic wine from New Zealand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Felton Road, cover crops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Seresin Estate, compost preparation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to Buy: Inquire with winery

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

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

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

Where to Buy: Inquire with winery

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

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

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

Where to Buy: Inquire with winery.

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

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

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

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

Education Reviews Wines

Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Terroirs & How They Differ

Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon AVAs

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

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

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

A Broad Overview of the Napa Valley

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

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

The Unique Geography of the Napa Valley

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

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

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

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

The Climate Contrasts of the Napa Valley

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

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

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

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

Comparing Three Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Terroirs

Silverado Vineyards Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover photo credit: Silverado Vineyards

Reviews Wines

Seven Great Value Rosé Wines to Drink Now

great value rosé wines

Photo credit: Gabriel Meffre Winery, view of the Mount Ventoux

Looking for some great value rosé wines to drink this summer? My office has been overflowing with rosé wine samples so I knuckled down last week and got to tasting. I know, I know… the sacrifices I make for the sake of my readers!

Rosé wine comes in all shades, sweetness levels, and styles. To learn more about finding the best rosé wines for your palate, check out this article.

This latest rosé tasting focused on singling out great value rosé wines; those that overdeliver in terms of complexity, concentration, or just pure drinking pleasure. They are a pretty mixed bunch stylistically so make sure to read my tasting descriptions to find a style you will most enjoy.

If you scroll down to the end, you can check out my latest YouTube video: What Goes Well with Rosé Wine? Here, I break-down different styles of rosé and suggest the best food matches. And, for those that stick around to the end, there is a bonus rosé wine dessert recipe that is surefire hit with dinner guests.

Now on to this season’s great value rosé wines:

Great Value Rosé Wines for $15 or Less

Gerard Bertrand Gris-Blanc, IGP Pays d’Oc 2020 – 87pts. VW

This light, dry rosé is made predominantly of Grenache Gris, a pale pinkish hued mutation of the Grenache Noir grape. While the nose is discreet, the palate more than makes up with its lively red apple and subtle stone fruit flavours. Finishes smooth and fresh. Very pleasant every day rosé.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($15.60), LCBO ($15.75)

Château Grand Escalion Costières de Nîmes 2020 – 90pts. VW

Sustainably farmed vineyard in the heart of the southern Rhône Valley’s Costières de Nîmes region. This Grenache, Syrah cuvée is a regular summer listing here in Québec and offers consistent good value year after year.

The nose offers a mix of fresh raspberry and pomegranate notes, with underlying floral and candied fruit aromas. The palate is fresh and rounded, with a pleasing silky texture, and lively red berry flavours on the dry finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($17.95)

Muga Rosado, Rioja 2020 – 88pts. VW

Another delicious blend of red and white grape varieties. Here, Garnacha Tintorera (aka Alicante Bouschet) is the star. This red-fleshed grape gives deep colour, and a soft, fruity characte. Rioja’s major white wine grape, Viura is blended in for its nervy acidity, and a dollop of Tempranillo completes the

Pale salmon pink in colour, with delicate aromas of apple blossom, red berries, and pomegranate on the nose. The palate is fresh and rounded, with a subtle creaminess to the mid-palate. Finishes dry and marginally warm.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($18.75), LCBO ($15.95)

Château La Lieue “Tradition” Rosé, Coteaux Varois en Provence 2020 – 89pts. VW

An organic Provence rosé made primarily from Cinsaut, blended with Grenache Noir.

Pretty pale pink hue, with vibrant aromas of pink grapefruit and candied red berries, nicely offset by fresh herbal undertones. Wonderfully tangy acidity defines the lightweight palate. Zesty citrus and red berry flavours mingle with earthy/savoury nuances, lingering on the dry finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($18.85)

Domaine du Tix Ventoux Rosé Cuvée des Restanques 2020 – 90pts. VW

Perched in the foothills of the Mont Ventoux at 350-metres altitude, the Domaine du Tix benefits from cooler night time temperatures that slow down ripening and preserve fresh acidity in their wines. The Cuvée des Restanques blend is a Cinsault dominant blend with Grenache and Syrah in supporting roles.

Quite an intriguing nose, with its abundance of citrus fruit, fresh herbs, and peppery nuances. Crisp and nervy on the palate, with a taut, linear structure, and ultra-dry, subtly bitter finish. Perfect for lovers of brisk, dry, savoury white wine, timidly venturing into rosé drinking.

Great Value Rosé Wines Under $25

Domaine de la Grande Séouve “AIX” Côteaux d’Aix-en-Provence 2020 – 91pts.

Due north of Aix-en-Provence, the vineyards of this well-established estate are dotted between lavender plantings and garrigue outcrops. The “Aix” Rosé is a classic blend featuring Grenache, with equal parts Cinsault, and Syrah for seasoning.

Initially discreet, with attractive notes of lavender, pink grapefruit, and red apple developing with aeration. Light and supple on the palate, with a creamy textural core, and dry finish. Not overly fruity as rosé goes, but quite refined.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($20.50)

Château Puech-Haut Argali Languedoc 2020 – 93pts.

Located near the Pic-St-Loup vineyards of the Languedoc, Château Puech-Haut (aka High Hill) is among the most well regarded wineries of the region. The Argali cuvée is a blend of Grenache and Cinsault, gently direct pressed, and then vinified in temperature controlled tanks with extended lees ageing in the same vessels.

Pretty notes of white peach, red berries, and zesty citrus on the nose, layered with dried herbal hints. The palate is fresh, with a pleasing satin-like feel, and concentrated core of tangy summer fruit. Finishes dry, with lifted acidity, and lingering bright fruit. Very polished.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($24.75)

What does VW, PW, LW mean in my Great Value Rosé Wines tasting notes ? Check out my wine scoring system.

Reviews Wines

The Fascinating Story of Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta

Ca' del Bosco Franciacorta

The story of Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta starts like this… In the mid-1960s, Annamaria Clementi Zanella purchased a little house in the heart of a chestnut forest. A decade later, her son Maurizio transformed the Ca’ del Bosco (house in the woods) into a state-of-the-art winery producing some of Italy’s top traditional method sparkling wines.

A Little Preamble on the Franciacorta Wine Region

The winemaking region of Franciacorta is situated in Lombardy, to the south of Lake Iseo, and east of Bergamo. The region’s vineyards span a glacial amphitheatre of rolling hills, forming a warm mesoclimate moderated by cooling breezes from the foothills of the Rhaetian Alps.

Franciacorta produces among the finest of Italian traditional method sparkling wines. Chardonnay is the star grape here, blended with Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc.

“Franciacorta is not a sparkling wine. In Italian legislation it is not classed as a spumante” explained Maurizio Zanella in a recent virtual tasting. “It is a wine that just happens to have bubbles” he added.

He went on to detail the vinous character, rounded structure, and broad mid-palate that sets Franciacorta apart from other traditional method wines. This is why the region generally produces wines with very little liqueur d’expedition. “We don’t need it”.

The Unique Production Methods of Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta

Ca’ del Bosco was one of the pioneering forces behind the creation of the Franciacorta DOCG and establishment of its growers’ consortium. Right from the outset, Zanella pushed the appellation to adopt quality-focused measures like lowering grape yields and increasing minimum ageing time on lees.

Not content to follow traditional practices, Ca’ del Bosco devised a unique method to retain aromatic complexity and structural longevity in their wines. After manual harvest and strict grape sorting, Ca’ del Bosco treats their grapes to a spa day.

Grapes are washed in a series of three whirlpools to eliminate impurities. Once cleaned, the grapes are gently dried with cold air. This process eliminates the need for settling (clarification via sedimentation) after fermentation. It also greatly reduces the winery’s reliance on sulphur additions.

To further reduce sulphur inputs, Ca’ del Bosco has developed a strictly controlled oxygen-free process for vinification, bottling, and disgorging of its sparkling wines.

The Evolving Style of Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta

One of Zanella’s major concerns in recent years has been sugar. Or more precisely, how to integrate it more naturally and reduce its overall use in his wines.

Six years ago, he stopped using cane sugar in his wines. Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta is now dosed exclusively with organic grape concentrate. “I want my wines to be as natural as possible” said Zanella. “It just didn’t make sense to be introducing a foreign sugar source”.

Zanella and his team have also progressively lowered dosage levels. “We only have two sparkling wines left at four grams/litre (g/L). All our other Franciacortas are under two g/L”.

Another innovation dear to Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta is the introduction of recently disgorged wines from their Cuvée Prestige, multi-vintage cuvée. Disgorged some ten years later, these limited edition wines are produced as a testament to the bottle ageing potential of the Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvée Prestige.

Tasting Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvée Prestige Wines

What does VW, PW, LW mean in my Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta Tasting Notes ? Check out my wine scoring system.

Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvée Prestige, 43 Edizione – 92pts. PW

The Cuvée Prestige is a multi-vintage bottling (referred to as non vintage in other regions), made with roughly 20% reserve wine. This is the 43rd edition of the estate’s flagship wine. It is a classic blend of three-quarters Chardonnay, with Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc in supporting roles. The wine is aged for 25 months on lees, and is dosed to just 2 g/L.

Inviting aromas of lemon, shortbread biscuits, hazelnut, and yellow orchard fruit feature on the nose. The palate is fresh and medium in weight, with a rounded structure and fine, supple bubbles. Subtle apricot notes join the aromatic chorus on the palate, giving way to a dry, smooth finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($44.75), LCBO ($44.95)

Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvée Prestige, 33 Edizione – 93pts. PW

Produced ten years ago, a small batch of the 33 Edizione Cuvée Prestige was held back and only disgorged in late 2020. Blend components and dosage levels were similar to the 43 edition cuvée.

Intense aromas of buttered toast, dried lemon peel, and roasted hazelnut leap from the glass. The palate is lively and fresh, with ultra-fine bubbles, and a broad, creamy mid-palate. Deep nutty, savoury flavours linger on the long, dry finish.

Where to Buy: Enquire with agent, Montalvin (Québec) or Galleon Wines (Ontario)

Comparative Notes: 43 Edizione vs. Recently Disgorged 33 Edizione

Both wines are well-crafted examples of how good traditional method sparkling wines from Franciacorta can be. The more youthful 43rd edition will appeal more to those that like a fresh, fruit-focused, lively style of sparkling wine. Whereas, the 33rd edition is deeper and more savoury, with quite subtle mousse, and a seemingly drier finish.

As an aperitif wine, the 43rd edition would be my pick. The dry, savoury, quite vinous nature of the 33rd calls out for a similarly hearty food pairing. Dishes featuring earthy root vegetables of mushrooms should work well.

Education Reviews Wines

Six Soulful, Sustainable Alsace Wines to Seek Out

Alsace Wines

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

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

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

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

Terroir Diversity in Alsace Wines

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

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

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

Alsace Wines Updated AOC Hierarchy

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

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

Alsace Wines: Tradition, Family, and Innovation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to Buy: SAQ ($26.95)

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

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

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

Where to Buy: SAQ ($21.85)

Trimbach Riesling Alsace 2017 – 89pts. PW

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

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

Where to Buy: SAQ ($23.90)

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

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

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

Where to Buy: SAQ ($33.00)

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

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

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

Where to Buy: SAQ ($24.35)

Marcel Deiss Pinot Noir Alsace 2018 – 89pts. PW

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

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

Where to Buy: SAQ ($33.50)

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