Argentina’s Wine Regions

Argentina is one of the most important wine-producing countries in the New World, and though the second largest country in South America, it is the largest wine producer. The high-altitude deserts of the eastern Andes have given rise to a high-quality wine industry and the terroir here is well suited to Argentina’s adopted grape variety, the ubiquitous Malbec. Originally from Bordeaux, this is now responsible for some of Argentina’s most famous wines, which are characteristically bright and intense, with floral notes and flavors of dark fruit.

Wine has been produced in Argentina since the 1500s, initially by Spanish missionaries and later Italian settlers. Argentina only began exporting wines in the 1990’s.  Until then their wines were strictly domestic and based mostly on the high-yielding Criolla Grande and Cereza grape varieties. Over the past 25 years the country’s wine producers have raised quality levels and successfully consolidated an international export market. Argentina has risen to become the fifth-most-prominent wine-producing country in the world, following France, Italy, Spain and the USA.

Most viticulture in Argentina occurs in the foothills of the Andes and most famously in Mendoza, where desert landscapes and high altitudes combine to make a terroir that gives rise to aromatic, intensely flavored red wines. Vineyards in Mendoza reach as high as 5000 ft (1500m) above sea level. Here, increased levels of solar radiation and a high diurnal temperature variation make for a long, slow ripening period, leading to balanced sugars and acidity in the grapes.

Nearly three-quarters of Argentinian wine production takes place in Mendoza, and in addition to Malbec, there are significant amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Bonarda.

Further north, the regions of Salta and Catamarca are at higher elevations. There Argentina’s signature white grape, Torrontes, is grown, making an aromatic, floral white wine.

There is a wine region closer to the Atlantic coast, Rio Negro.  The cooler conditions there suited to creating wines made from Pinot Noir.


Catamarca is a wine-producing region in the north-west of Argentina in the midst of the Andes mountain range. Quality and commercial focus are rapidly increasing here as they are elsewhere in Argentina.  Torrontes, Syrah and Malbec  vines are increasing throughout the region.


Jujuy is the northernmost viticultural area of Argentina. It is a relatively small wine region and is less commercially established than some of the other regions.  Very little of Jujuy’s wine is marketed internationally.  Torrontes is the most successful and best known of Jujuy’s grape varieties.

La Rioja

The La Rioja wine region is located in the foothills of the Andes Mountains in western Argentina, north of Mendoza and San Juan. The mountainous terroir of the region is particularly suited to the white-grape variety Torrontes, which produces crisp, aromatic white wines.

La Rioja was named for the northern Spanish region of the same name by Juan Ramirez de Velasco, a Spaniard from Rioja itself. This has caused some animosity between Argentina and Spain.  The matter was settled, at least in legal terms, in 2011 when the Argentinian province won a court case allowing it to continue to label its wines as ‘La Rioja Argentina’.

La Rioja is best known for its white wines but Bonarda, Syrah and Malbec can also be found growing throughout the region.


Mendoza is by far the largest wine region in Argentina, producing about 70% of the country’s annual wine production. The French grape variety Malbec has its New World home in the vineyards of Mendoza, producing red wines of great concentration and intensity.

While Malbec is undoubtedly the main varietal produced in the region, there are also extensive plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah, Torrontes and Sauvignon Blanc. Mendoza is also becoming a producer of sparkling wine.

Rio Negro

Rio Negro is South America’s southernmost wine-producing region. Despite being one of the world’s least-obvious places for quality viticulture, this desert region produces elegant Pinot Noir and Malbec wines.

While Malbec is a mainstay in Rio Negro wines, Pinot Noir has become the region’s iconic grape variety. However, there are also great Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling wines produced here.


Salta, in the far north of Argentina, is home to some of the world’s most extreme vineyard sites. Many sit at both lower latitudes and higher altitudes than anywhere else in the world. Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Tannat are the most prominent red-wine varieties in Salta, while Chardonnay and Torrontes are the region’s most respected white wines.

San Juan

San Juan is an important Argentinean wine-producing area, creating wines of increasing quality using traditional European grape varieties. Syrah and the ever-present Malbec are the most important of these.

Bonarda, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Syrah varietals are produced for red wines, and Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Torrontes and Viognier grapes are grown for white wines.  Large quantity of Criolla and Cereza grapes are also produced and used to make cheaper, slightly sweet wines. The region also produces sherry-style wines and provides most of the base for Argentina’s brandy and vermouth.

In Closing

Grape varietals grown in Argentina will often be warmer and spicier than their European counterparts, and very similar in flavour to the wines of neighbouring Chile.   However, I have often found that the price of comparable Argentinian and Chilean wines will be slightly more favourable to Argentina. 

If you have never tried Argentinian wine it is well worth the endeavour.  A good assortment of reds and whites at varying price points should be readily available at your local merchant.

Sláinte mhaith

The Ins and Outs of Wine Auctions

There are numerous reasons why individuals wish to buy or sell wine on the secondary market.  There are those who purchase certain wines or vintages purely as an educated, but speculative investment, looking to resell once the particular wine has appreciated in value, assuming it actually does increase.

The reverse can also be true where a purchaser can seek out good wines that, for whatever reason, failed to maintain their initial value, and thus can later be purchased at a more reasonable cost.

It’s also where you can find back-vintages of excellent wines that aren’t known to draw big collectors at live auctions.

Auctions also provide buyers the opportunity to purchase iconic wines that were either not readily available to the general public at the time of the initial release or may not have been affordable to the buyer in the past.

While many collectors have embraced online auctions for the convenience, it’s become a place for wine consumers wanting to dabble in the auction world to do so at a much lower cost of entry. While the financial point of entry for online auctions may be lower, the quality of the wines is good.

Wine Auctions in Ontario

In Ontario, Waddington’s is the sole company permitted to sell fine wines and spirits by auction, under the authority of the LCBO.  Auctions arranged through Waddington’s can either be live or online.

Registration for a live auction is free and can be completed at their office during the preview for an auction or on the day of the auction.  The process for registering and bidding is pretty much the same as for any other type of live auction.

Registration for an online auction is completed using Waddington’s web site.  The good news is you only need to register once to participate in all of their online auctions.

Once registered, you can place online bids anytime up to the noted end time for the desired lot.

If a bid is received in the final five minutes of the auction, the countdown clock is reset an additional five minutes until no further bids are received.

You can also leave ‘absentee’ bids by entering the maximum amount you would like to bid up to; the software will bid on your behalf up to that amount.

Following payment you can either pick up your purchased auction items or arrange for shipping. Items purchased and not picked up after 10 days following the auction may be subject to storage fees on a per lot basis at $15/week, unless Waddington’s is otherwise notified at time of payment.

Waddington’s does not undertake packing or shipping. The purchaser must arrange for the services of an independent shipper and is responsible for all shipping and insurance expenses and any necessary export permits that may apply.

Be Prepared

Explore the online catalogue of any auction you are interested in. Items are researched by Waddington’s specialists and catalogued with an image, description and value estimation to help understand each item.

Don’t hesitate to email auctioneers with questions about lots before bidding.  Every auction house has wine specialists on staff that should be able to answer any questions about lots that you are interested in.   Things that would be helpful to know include:

  • The ownership history (the provenance) of the wine. The provenance includes information about how the wine was acquired by the current owner and under what circumstances. Provenance is particularly important for establishing the estimated value of very old, rare or valuable wines.
  • The manner in which the wine has been stored, such as
    • Temperature controlled unit
    • Passive cellar, which is a room in a residence with no means of maintaining a permanent temperature.
    • Underground/subterranean cellar, which is an underground cellar that can also be passive or temperature controlled. A passive underground storage area is always preferable to an above ground passive residential cellar. Underground storage is almost always a cooler environment, less susceptible to damaging light, and generally very still.
    • Professional storage facility which provides lockers in temperature-controlled buildings that can be rented by wine collectors.

Auctions provide the opportunity to look for vintages that may not have initially been well received.  Some wines receive less than favourable reviews at the time they are released but time and experience prove those reviews to be wrong with those wines drinking well now.

Bidding on mixed lots is not recommended as you can’t be certain of what you are getting.  Selecting single bottles or even small verticals (several consecutive vintages of the same wine) is the recommended way to go. Mixed lots are a great way for auction houses to move along their cellar’s random one-offs.

Waddington’s charges a buyer’s premium of 20% on the hammer price. Buyer’s premium and applicable Canadian taxes are added to the final bid amount.

Conditions of Sale

In order to purchase alcoholic beverages through an online or live auction you must of course be able to prove you are nineteen years of age or older.

All lots are sold “as is”. Any description issued by the auctioneer of an article to be sold is subject to variation to be posted or announced verbally in the auction room prior to the time of sale.  Descriptions provided by the auction house are only statements of opinion.  No opportunity of inspection is offered prior to the time of sale. No sale will be set aside on account of lack of correspondence of the article with its description or its photo, if any. Some lots are of an age and/or nature which preclude their being in pristine condition and some catalogue descriptions make reference to damage and/or restoration. The lack of such a reference does not imply that a lot is free from defects nor does any reference to certain defects imply the absence of others.  In other words, the auction house cannot speak for how well the wine has been maintained while in the possession of the current owner or possible previous owner(s).  

The potential saving grace is that the buyer, prior to removal of a lot, may make arrangements satisfactory to the auctioneer, for the inspection of the purchase by a fully qualified person acceptable to the auctioneer in order to determine the genuineness or authenticity of the lot. This inspection must be completed within a period of 14 days following the sale. The results must be presented to the auctioneer to the effect that the lot is not genuine or authentic, accompanied by a written request from the buyer to rescind the sale.  The sale price will then be refunded to the buyer.

Unless exempted by law, the buyer is required to pay HST on the total purchase price including the buyer’s premium. This is important to keep in mind as it can significantly increase the total cost of your purchase.

Each lot may be subject to an unpublished reserve which may be changed at any time by agreement between the auctioneer and the consignor.

In Closing

Auctions can be exciting, challenging, frustrating and rewarding.  Your own experience will in part be a factor of your preparedness for the event. Do your homework; predetermine the maximum you are willing to pay for the item you are interested in, and be prepared to stand down if the bidding surpasses that amount. It is not a competition. “Winners” have been known to have buyer’s remorse if they have gotten carried away in the heat of the moment.

Sláinte mhaith

New Zealand’s Wine Regions

New Zealand’s wine regions extend 1,600 km. from sub-tropical Northland down to Central Otago, where you will find the world’s most southerly vineyards. The vines benefit from the moderating effect of the maritime climate, long hours of sunshine and nights cooled by sea breezes.

If you like cool-climate wines, such as those from Canada, France, Germany or Austria and like Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah, then you should give New Zealand wines a try.

Sauvignon Blanc was the first wine to put New Zealand on the map, and it developed a following with millions of people around the world.

The world’s love affair with New Zealand wine grows as wine lovers continue to explore their diverse range of wine varieties and styles.

Most of New Zealand’s wine regions are situated on the eastern coastlines of the North and South Islands, in the rain shadow of the mountains, each with its own unique soils and climatic conditions. Within the eleven regions, sub-regional characteristics distinguish wines as being not just from a wine region, but from a sub-region and a place.


Marlborough provides a combination of a cool but sunny climate, a low amount of rainfall and free-draining, moderately fertile soil.  The result is unique wines.  Marlborough put New Zealand on the international wine stage during the 1980s with its exquisite Sauvignon Blanc.

This is the country’s largest wine region with in excess of 20,000 hectares of vines under the control of local wine producers.  This is about 2/3 of the national total.

Marlborough wineries offer a wide range of varieties, from exquisite Pinot Noir to intense Chardonnay, and vivacious aromatics. 

Hawke’s Bay

Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s second largest wine region.  Wine has been produced there since 1851.

Hawke’s Bay has developed an international reputation for producing high quality Cabernet & Merlot blends, Syrah, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and an impressive array of aromatic white wines.

The warm climate and long growing season also allow for the successful production of dessert wine styles.

Central Otago

Central Otago

Central Otago is home to some of the world’s best Pinot Noir and impressive white wines, including aromatics such as Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Viognier, Muscat and Pinot Gris, as well as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

By the 1970s there was a significant commitment by winegrowing pioneers that endure today in names such as Chard Farm, Rippon, Black Ridge and Gibbston Valley.


This is a relatively remote area that grows a diverse range of wines, from full-flavoured and fruit-driven, to critically acclaimed classics.  Gisborne is home to a mix of large producers, boutique wineries, and entrepreneurial growers, who are continuously exploring new varieties and vineyard sites.

Chardonnay is the dominant variety and enjoys great success.  Delightfully bright Pinot Gris is the region’s second-largest wine variety, with emerging varieties being trialled with great success.

Canterbury & North Canterbury

The Canterbury wine region spans nearly 200 km. of the South Island’s eastern coastline, with the Alps to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east.  The region has an excellent reputation for elegant and expressive Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and aromatics, with other varieties achieving outstanding results.

Vineyards were first established on the Canterbury Plains in 1978, with plantings to the south-west of Christchurch and North Canterbury following close behind.


Wairarapa (meaning glistening waters in Maori) is a boutique region having just 3% of New Zealand’s land under vine, and contributes to 1% of its total production.

A range of styles and varieties are grown, such as standout Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and aromatics, as well as stylish Chardonnay, Syrah and dessert wines.

The three main sub-regions in the area are Martinborough, Gladstone and Masterton. These sub-regions share a similar climate and soil structures, but provide subtle differences in character.

Wairarapa’s modern wine history dates from the late 1970’s plantings of Martinborough, which included producers such as Dry River, Martinborough Vineyard, Ata Rangi and Margrain.


This picturesque region is situated on the northern tip of the South Island. Nelson is a boutique wine region producing outstanding Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and aromatics, as well as an impressive mix of emerging varieties.

Growers in the 1970s developed the modern wine industry with iconic names such as Seifried and Neudorf still going strong.


This large and very diverse region is home to some of New Zealand’s biggest wine companies, as well as numerous high-quality boutique vineyards, offering something for every palate.  It is one of New Zealand’s oldest wine regions, established in the early 1900’s.  

Waiheke Island is home to great Syrah, world-class Chardonnay, intense Cabernet blends and fine aromatics.  West Auckland is known for its internationally recognised Chardonnay and Merlot.  In North Auckland there are excellent Cabernet blends, Pinot Gris and Syrah, along with numerous emerging red varieties. 


Its northern location close to the sea gives the Northland region an almost subtropical climate, having high humidity, warm temperatures and lots of sunshine.

The first vines in New Zealand were planted in the Bay of Islands in 1819.  The in the late 1800s, the Croatians brought the European tradition of winemaking to the region.

Tropical Chardonnays, popular Pinot Gris and vibrant Viogniers are leading the white wine growth in Northland. Red wines produced include spicy Syrahs, stylish Cabernet and Merlot blends, peppery Pinotages and complex Chambourcin.

Waitaki Valley, North Otago

Flanked by the cool south Pacific Ocean to the east and the high peaks of the Southern Alps to the west, the Waitaki River is one of New Zealand’s largest wine regions.

The Waitaki Valley vineyards stretch along a 75 km. strip taking advantage of hot, dry summers, cold winters and long dry autumns.

Signature varieties from the area include Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer.

Waikato & Bay of Plenty

The Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions south of Auckland have small pockets of vineyard plantings scattered amidst rolling farmland.  Wine styles are focused mainly on Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Sauvignon Blanc.

In Closing

Although New Zealand produces less than 1% of the world’s wine, it offers an impressive range of high-quality varieties and styles. Whatever your preferences, there’s sure to be a wine to suit your palate.

Sláinte mhaith

Corona and Wine

No matter what you call it, Coronavirus, COVID-19, or the pandemic, it is having an effect on everything and everyone.  Although the environment has been helped in a positive fashion, and more attention is being paid to health care and other essential workers, and seniors in retirement homes, the vast majority of effects have been nasty.

With the production of this last year’s wine supply in progress, the situation heavily impacts the existing product stocks of the winemakers looking to sell the wine reserves of 2018. However, due to the recently applied measures imposed by most countries, the biggest wine producing countries – Italy, France, Spain and the US – have seen sales decline steadily.

Mid-spring to early autumn is when wineries here in Canada do most of their business.  However, with wine tours, tastings and exploration being limited or completely on hold for the foreseeable future, the number of visitors to wineries will be drastically reduced along with associated wine sales.  The sale of other merchandise, such as food and clothing, will also be negatively impacted.

The larger wineries that produce enough volume to distribute their products through the distribution channel for sale to consumers in wine and liquor stores will be less impacted than the smaller wineries that rely totally on customers coming through their door.  To compensate for the reduced walk-in traffic, wineries are turning to online sales.  Wineries that already had online purchase capability are enticing customers by offering free delivery, while wineries that did not previously have the capability are scrambling to make it available.  The smaller, lesser known wineries are still at a disadvantage because if consumers are not already familiar with them and their products, they are less likely to be searching out their web site.

For consumers who do know what they want, they can have a wide selection of wines available to them without having to travel to the winery to get them.  The only caveat is that the post office will currently not provide home delivery so purchasers will need to pick up their wine at their local post office.

Some of the more sophisticated winery web sites are adding virtual tours of their cellars to further entice their customers.

In Europe in particular, increases in direct sales will reduce the middleman.  For example, in France the wines are first distributed through courtiers (brokers) who take a small percentage of the cost.  Next the right to sell the futures is passed on to the négociants (shippers) who set a new price for the wine, referred to as the ex-négoce price. With very few exceptions, no one deals directly with Bordeaux’s châteaux; they deal with the négociants.  However, if the châteaux offer their wines online direct to consumers, the traditional distribution system is circumvented, potentially providing more profit to the wineries while enabling consumers to purchase at less cost.

With the tightened measures imposed by the government banning all public and private events, including restaurants, bars, sports facilities and cultural spaces, wine sales were obviously negatively impacted.  Even when these establishments begin to allow patrons once again, the reduction in the numbers permitted within an establishment at any one time will impact sales.  However, if  take out and home delivery options, which were introduced to help counter the negative impact of COVID-19, are allowed to continue, it will help soften the effects of the reduction in patrons.

Canadian wine competitions, both provincial and national, are postponed indefinitely.  Many wineries, especially the newer or lesser known ones, rely on these competitions to better establish themselves and gain credibility.  The cancellation of these competitions, even for just one year, could have a catastrophic effect on some of the smaller, lesser known wineries as there are buyers who are heavily influenced by award recognition.

In France, COVID-19 is having a devastating impact on Champagne’s economy.  With weddings and other celebratory events being cancelled or postponed all around the world, there has been a massive reduction in demand for the famous bubbly.

The impact of the virus has allowed for a strong feeling of solidarity to emerge in the wine industry as it has in other areas. A number of wineries have donated part of their profits to the hospitals and other related health care providers. In Italy, Inserrata, a family-run organic farm in Tuscany, is donating all its profits generated by the sale of their Sangiovese rosato “Inebriante” to the Italian Red Cross. Instagram channel Cantina Social has started the iorestoincantina and project to put in touch wineries and customers, while donating 10% of the revenue to the winemaker’s local hospital or to Italy’s Civil Protection Department.

Due to the uncertainty in the evolution of the spread of the virus, it is yet too early to predict the future of the wine industry.  However, one thing for certain is that life as we knew it won’t be returning anytime soon.

Sláinte mhaith

The Wine Regions of Chile

Chile is one of South America’s most important wine-producing countries. It is home to a wide range of terroirs, and an equally wide range of wine styles. 

The Chilean viticultural industry is often associated in export markets with consistent, good-value wines, but some world-class reds are also made, commanding high prices. For red wines the initial export mainstays have been Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Like many New World countries Chile has adopted a signature grape variety.  In this case it is Carmenère, which was once widely grown in Bordeaux, France.   The French variety was virtually wiped out following the European phylloxera outbreaks of the 19th Century.  However, it was rediscovered in Chile in the 1990s.

Pinot Noir from the cooler parts of Chile is beginning to make an impression and Syrah is increasing in popularity in many regions offering a wide variety of styles. Other varietals grown in Chile include Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec.

White wine varietals include Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.  Viognier, Riesling and Semillon are among those varieties grown on a smaller scale.

Chile has been producing wine since the first European settlers arrived in the mid-16th Century. However, it wasn’t until the 19th Century that viticulture began to expand in Chile, mainly due to the spread of wealth associated with mining. European trends started to infiltrate.

Throughout the 20th Century, Chilean wine was limited to a domestic market, but a push toward quality in the latter half of the century saw an uptake in the international market. Whereas Chilean winemakers had traditionally used tanks and barrels made of beech wood, in the 1980s stainless-steel tanks and oak barrels were introduced, marking the start of a technology-driven era.

Aconcagua Valley

Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot are grown in this region.  ‘Sena’, a wine produced as a joint venture between Vina Errazuriz and Robert Mondavi, came to the region in 2004.


The Atacama wine region in Chile’s far north produces large quantities of table grapes and other fruit. However wine production is on a smaller scale. Red wine grapes cultivated here include Pinot Noir and Syrah. White wine is made mainly from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Corporate giant, Viña Ventisquero, is the major player here.

The region also produces Pisco, the Chilean eau-de-vie. This is a brandy-like spirit which has been distilled in Chile since the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th Century.

Bío Bío Valley

This region has enjoyed a dramatic rise to fame since the year 2000. There is an international appetite for its crisp, aromatic wine styles. Bío Bío has provided an excellent place for Chilean winegrowers to work with varieties such as Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Viognier.

Cachapoal Valley

Cachapoal Valley is a central wine zone in Chile that forms the northern half of the Rapel Valley region. The most noteworthy wines from the region are made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère. However, Merlot, Syrah and Chardonnay are also grown there.

One of Chile’s up-and-coming wine districts, Peumo, is located in Cachapoal Valley. Peumo wines now include some of the country’s finest Carmenère wines.

Casablanca Valley

This wine-growing region of Chile is best known for its crisp white wines, most notably Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. It has attracted considerable investment from wine companies based in other regions and from other countries.

The region is relatively new by Chilean standards as the Casablanca Valley’s first vineyards were planted in the 1980s during the revitalization of the Chilean wine industry.

It is the region’s cooler climate that makes Casablanca’s white wines stand out from their local rivals. With a longer ripening period, the white grapes have more time to develop greater flavor complexity, while maintaining sugars and acids in balance.

The difference between Casablanca’s climate and that of Chile’s more southerly regions led the prestigious Casa Lapostolle to choose the valley as the exclusive source of grapes for its Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay. The region is now growing a wide range of white grapes, notably aromatics such as Viognier, Gewurztraminer and Riesling, and is at the heart of Chile’s efforts to prove that it is able to excel at more than just red wines.

Central Valley

The Central Valley (El Valle Central) of Chile is one of the most important wine-producing areas in South America in terms of volume. It is also one of the largest wine regions, stretching from the Maipo Valley, just south of the capital of Santiago, to the southern end of the Maule Valley.

The Central Valley is home to a variety of grapes, but is dominated by the internationally popular Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Chile’s ‘icon’ grape, Carmenère, is also of importance here. The cooler corners of the Central Valley are being increasingly developed, as winemakers experiment with varieties such as Viognier, Riesling and Gewürztraminer.

A wide variety of wine styles and quality can be found in this large area, including the fashionable, and relatively expensive Bordeaux-style wines.

Because the area covered is so large and the terrain so varied, the name ‘Central Valley’ on a label is unlikely to communicate anything specific about the style of wine in the bottle. Also, with a number of independently recognized sub-regions now in place, such as Colchagua and Cachapoal, most wines of any quality are able to specify their sub-region of origin rather than the generic Central Valley. As a result, the Central Valley title is mostly used for mass-produced wines made from a range of sources.

Choapa Valley

Choapa Valley is one of Chile’s newest wine regions, located north of Santiago in the narrowest part of the country. Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon have proved well suited to the terroir here, producing smoky, elegant wines with characters of dark fruit.

One of Chile’s largest commercial producers, De Martino, has helped put the region on the map by producing a Choapa Valley Syrah that has already garnered international attention.

Colchagua Valley

This region in central Chile is one of South America’s most promising wine regions. Some of Chile’s finest red wines are made in the valley, mostly from Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère and Syrah grapes.

The dominance of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Malbec and Merlot in the warmer east is mirrored by that of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc in the ocean-cooled west.

Curico Valley

Curico Valley is a wine-producing region in central Chile, located roughly 185 km south of the capital, Santiago. It is divided into two sub-regions: Teno in the north and Lontue in the south. The valley is known for its reliable, good-value everyday wines, particularly the reds made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.

Curico’s vineyards are planted with more varieties than anywhere else in Chile.  However, the dominant grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Curico may have yet to produce a Cabernet Sauvignon to rival Maipo’s red wines and its Sauvignon Blanc still does not match the fresh, complex style found in Casablanca, but the valley is one of Chile’s workhorse regions and its output is consistent and reliable.

Elqui Valley

The Elqui Valley wine region is located 400 km north of Santiago, at the very southern edge of the Atacama Desert. It is Chile’s northernmost wine region. Traditionally the region focused exclusively on producing Chile’s trademark brandy, Pisco, but today Elqui Valley vineyards are producing bright, intensely aromatic wines, most notably from Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah grapes.

Alongside Sauvignon and Syrah, the Elqui Valley is also home to plantings of Chardonnay, Carmenere and Pedro Ximenez. It is one of Chile’s up-and-coming regions, and its wines are attracting attention from international critics and consumers alike.

Itata Valley

Itata Valley is a wine region in the southern end of Chile’s long, thin wine producing zone. This historical, cool-climate region is dominated by plantings of Carignan, Muscat of Alexandria and Pais (aka Mission, aimed more at domestic consumption), although producers are beginning to plant more modern grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

The first vines are said to have arrived in the Itata Valley the 1550s, potentially making the region one of the first to be planted with vines in Chile. By the 20th Century, the region was associated with the production of bulk wine, which is evidenced by the large amounts of Pais and Muscat of Alexandria vines still planted here. The region became unfashionable in the 1980s as Chilean producers started to put quality before quantity. It is now beginning to make a comeback with plantings of more internationally accepted varietals.

Leyda Valley

Leyda Valley is a small sub-region of the San Antonio Valley wine region in Chile, located just 90 km west Santiago. This cool-climate region produces bright, vibrant wines made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The region is also provides some excellent Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah.

Limari Valley

Limarí Valley is one of the northernmost winegrowing regions in Chile, located 320 km north of  Santiago.

Chardonnay is the mainstay in Limari Valley wines, producing wines with a certain minerality thanks to the relatively cool climate and the limestone content in the soil. Syrah is also successful here, producing savory styles in the cooler, coastal vineyards and fuller, fruit-driven styles in warmer, inland sites. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – Chile’s most successful varieties, also feature alongside the Chilean signature grape, Carmenère.

Historically, the grapes grown in Limarí’s vineyards were either eaten as table grapes or were distilled into Chile’s trademark brandy, Pisco. Even today, as winemakers continue to seek out new spots within the valley, less than 20 percent of the region’s grape output is used for quality wine production.

Maipo Valley

Maipo Valley is one of Chile’s most important wine-producing regions. Located just south of Santiago, Maipo Valley is home to some of the country’s most prestigious wines. It is often described as the ‘Bordeaux of South America’, and rich, fruit-driven Cabernet Sauvignon is the most celebrated wine style.

The region can be roughly separated into three broad areas: Alto Maipo, Central Maipo and Maipo Bajo.

Alto Maipo

The vineyards of Alto Maipo run along the eastern edge of the Andes Mountains which encompasses the sub-regions of Puente Alto and Pirque,  and is the most prestigious of Maipo’s viticultural areas. It is here that the vineyards of Don Melchor, Almaviva and Vinedo Chadwick can be found.

Central Maipo

Central Maipo is the lower-lying ground just to the west of Alto Maipo, surrounding the towns of Buin and Paine. Cabernet Sauvignon is still the most-grown grape variety, but there are also substantial plantings of Carmenère vines, as the warmer climate is well suited to this iconic Chilean grape variety.

Maipo Bajo

Maipo Bajo centres on the towns of Isla de Maipo and Talagante. The wine industry here is more concerned with winemaking than viticulture, and while there are a few vineyards, there are many wineries. Undurraga and De Martino are just two of the names that can be found in this part of Chile, making wines with grapes from all over the country.

Along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère, a wide range of grape varieties are planted in the Maipo Valley including Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Malleco Valley

Malleco Valley is a southern wine-growing region in Chile, some 540 km south of Santiago. Crisp, fresh wines are produced here including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

The wine industry in Malleco Valley is still in its infancy with less than 100 acres being grown here.

Maule Valley

Maule Valley is the largest wine-producing region in Chile other than the Central Valley, of which it is a part. It has 75,000 acres of vineyards, and has traditionally been associated with quantity rather than quality. But this is rapidly changing – the bulk-producing Pais vine is gradually being replaced with more international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère, and careful winemaking practices are being employed to make some world-class red wines from old-vine Carignan.

It has only been in the past 20 years that Maule has made a move toward quality, pioneered by the Kendall-Jackson empire of California, which set up a winery here in the mid-1990s.

Rapel Valley

Rapel Valley is a large wine-producing region in Chile’s Central Valley. The area produces roughly a quarter of all Chilean wine. The warm, dry region makes a wide range of wine styles, ranging from everyday wines to some of Chile’s most expensive and prestigious offerings.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Carmenère are the most important grape varieties planted here. In general terms, Rapel Valley wines are produced primarily from red varieties, but there are some Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Malbec production is also on the rise.

San Antonio Valley

This is a small wine region in Chile, located to the west of Santiago. A new addition to the Chilean national vineyard, the region stands out as being able to produce quality Pinot Noir along with internationally respected white wines including Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

The San Antonio Valley also produces quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay balanced in sugar and acids, as well as aromatic white varieties.

San Antonio valley is small when compared to the sprawling regions at the center of Chilean wine growing.  It is home to a limited number of producers.

Final Thoughts

Not taking anything away from the other varietals, but my personal preference is for the Malbec wines, which are found in Colchagua Valley and to a lesser extent in Rapel Valley.  I find them flavourful, but not overpowering.  Malbec , like many of the Chilean reds, is warm and comforting, particularly during the winter months when it is cold and blustery outside. 

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French Versus Italian Wine

Italy and France are two of the world’s finest wine producing countries, for both quality and quantity.  Italy has made wines longer and is a larger producer of wine, but France is more renowned for its creation of premium wines.  So does one rein superior to the other?  I really don’t believe so but here are some of the facts to help you to decide for yourself.

Traditional Sparkling Wine

To begin the France Italy showdown are sparkling wines that are produced using the traditional method – Champagne versus Franciacorta.  Both wines utilize a second fermentation that occurs in the bottle.  It is the most labour intensive process that creates the most complex textured wines.

Champagne is considered the home of traditionally prepared sparkling wine and has the most stringent regulations for production.  These rules dictate both blending practices and aging requirements.

Franciacorta, though less famous than Champagne, uses the same type of grapes and may even have a longer aging process.  Given the warmer climate, the grapes are riper but do not have the same vibrancy as the French wine.  However, it is worth considering that a Franciacorta sparkler will have a more favourable price point than a similar one from Champagne.

Great-Value Sparkling Wine

Both France’s Crémant and Italy’s Prosecco share the versatility provided by the more expensive traditional sparkling wines but at a much gentler price. 

Crémant wines are produced using the traditional method but with less restrictions than Champagne.

Prosecco is produced using the Charmat method which conducts the second fermentation in a tank rather than in the bottle.  Some of the finer Proseccos are aged several years to create a more complex flavorful wine.

The price of both the French and Italian versions is comparable.

Notable Styles

France’s Châteauneuf-Du-Pape and Italy’s Amarone are premium wines from their respective regions and are considered to be among the finest wines in the world.  They are both full-bodied and smooth.

The wines from Châteauneuf-Du-Pape are a blend which has the Grenache grape as the principal grape.  The balance of the wine often consists of a combination of Mourvèdre, Counoise, Vaccarèse, and Muscardine. 

The region produces intense, powerful wines with great body.  Many of these offerings may be drunk when released or retained for quite a few years.

Italy’s Amarone wines are made from grapes from the most mature vines which are harvested late to ensure ripeness.  The grapes are then dried on racks or hooks for about 120 days in order to obtain a higher concentration of sugar and flavour.  During this process 30% to 40% of the grapes’ weight is lost which is part of the reason for this wine selling at a higher price.

Though the cost of both of these wines can run over $100, the average price is in the $50 range.  Whether one wine is preferred over the other will depend on your personal taste.

Challenging Grapes

France’s gentle flavoured Pinot Noir and Italy’s bold Nebbiolo grape share two things in common; they are both very difficult grapes to grow; and they are among the most sought after grapes in the world.

The majority of France’s Pinot Noir grapes are grown in Burgundy.

The Italian Nebbiolo grape is grown exclusively in Piedmont and is used in the creation of Barolo wine.

The two types of wine, apart from both being red, are vastly different in intensity, richness, and flavour.  It would not be fair to try and compare or rate one against the other.  They each stand on their own merits.

Notable Regions

The most recognized wine region within each country is France’s Bordeaux and Italy’s Tuscany.  These regions are home to some of the world’s most expensive sought after wines.  However, they also offer an enticing array of wines at a wide range of price points.

The wines of Bordeaux consist of a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The region is divided into 2 sectors – the left bank and the right bank – by the Dordogne, Garonne and Gironde rivers.  The left bank wines will contain a higher concentration of Cabernet Sauvignon while the right bank wines contain a greater proportion of Merlot.

The wines of Bordeaux have extraordinary consistency of balance and structure, irrelevant of the price point.

The signature grape of Tuscany is the Sangiovese, which is the basis of 3 of Italy’s most famous wines, Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello.  There are also other wines consisting of a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

There are a great variety of styles , flavours, techniques and price points, all containing the definitive Tuscan identity.

There is no winner or loser in this comparison.  It comes down to a matter of personal taste.

The White Pinot

France’s Pinot Gris and Italy’s Pinot Grigio are the same grape but are produced in different styles.  The Pinot Gris is produced in the Alsace region of France whereas Pinot Grigio is associated with northern Italy.

Pinot Gris is produced in a range of styles ranging from dry to sweet.  They contain a distinct richness, weight, spiciness, and complexity that is said not to exist in the Italian version.  The French version of the grape has more potential for aging as well.

The Italian Pinot Grigio is light and zesty and makes a great sipping wine.  It is said to have subtle floral and fruit aromas and flavours.

Aromatic Whites

Aromatic whites are typically those wines producing the aroma of flowers and herbs.  Such wines are normally not aged in oak barrels.

France’s Sauvignon Blanc is the noted white wine grape of Bordeaux and the Loire.  It is renowned for the hint of lime, green apple, peach and tropical fruit, as well as its herb and grassy notes.

Italy’s Vermentino wine is light and refreshing.  It is also complex and layered displaying fruit tones, mineral and herbal notes.

As I stated earlier, I don’t believe there is a winner or a loser.  Both countries provide their own uniqueness and distinct flavours through their wine offerings.  There are no comparisons for a French Bordeaux or Châteauneuf-Du-Pape but the same can be said for an Italian Borolo or Chianti.  Whether a French wine is preferred over an Italian wine or vice versa is a matter of personal taste.

To simply say that one country is superior to the other and ignore the offerings of the other would be a travesty.  Such a person would be denying her/himself the opportunity to indulge in some great tasting wines.

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A Private Wine Cellar

There seems to be a certain romantic flair to owning your own wine cellar.  However, there is a very practical side to this as well.  The price of wine has been increasing exponentially since before the year 2000.  As a result, many wines have become prohibitively expensive and even more so in the past couple of years with the U.S. imposing trade restrictions on wine imports.  This has resulted in reduced sales of, and decreased profit margins for international wine producers which have led to further increases in wine prices.

Many wines are now prohibitively expensive, even those that have been aged just a few years in the bottle.  The solution requires individuals to purchase cellarable wines at a young age and store them until they attain the desirable age for consumption.

The simplest storage option would be to purchase a wine fridge.  This provides a relatively inexpensive solution but is really only practical for short term storage for a minimal number of bottles of wine.

If you are looking to cellar more than just a few bottles for a significant period of time, I recommend doing what I have done, convert or construct a room for the purpose of storing wine.  Such a room needs to meet certain criteria necessary for the preservation of wine.  Things that need to be taken into account are temperature, light, humidity, odours, storage, and record-keeping.


Wine that is being stored for a long period of time should be stored at a temperature between 45 oF to 68oF or 7oC to 20oC.  Ideally the temperature should be maintained between 55oF and 57oF or 13oC to 14oC.

Temperature fluctuation between hot and cold can have more of an impact on wine than the actual temperature.  If the temperature rises and falls quickly with the change of season, negative or positive pressure can occur within the bottle.  This would place pressure and strain on the cork which can result in air seepage that would compromises the quality of the wine.


Colour, taste and smell are all impacted by light filtering into the wine bottle.  Therefore the storage area should not be infiltrated by outside light.  Artificial lighting should only be switched on when necessary and fluorescent lighting should never be used.


According to the experts the level of humidity of the cellar should be between 75% and 85%.  The higher than normal humidity level is required in order to prevent the corks from drying out and shrinking which could result in spoilage of the wine.

Such high levels can result in mold and other moisture related issues so I have opted to maintain humidity at a slightly lower level; between 62% and 65%.  I have maintained these levels for the past 10 years and have had no issues with either the wine or the building structure.  


Although wine corks prevent the wine from escaping from the bottle they don’t prevent gases from penetrating through.  Therefore things such as paint, sealant, cleaning agents or air fresheners should not be used or stored within the wine storage area.

Storage Position

Wine bottles should be stored on their side for a couple of reasons.  The most obvious of which is to ensure that the cork remains moist and doesn’t dry out and as a result shrink.  If the cork shrinks and allows oxygen into the bottle, the wine quickly spoils. 

Even though not all wine has a cork any more, another reason for laying a bottle on its side is to allow for the equal distribution of the sediment that is often found in a wine with high tannin content.  During the aging process the tannins can solidify and drop to the bottom.  With the bottle lying on its side, the solids are distributed more evenly, keeping the flavour of the wine consistent.

Once you have placed your bottle in its resting place, it should not be disturbed until you retrieve it to drink.  You don’t want to shake up the tannins that have been slowly settling in the bottle.


The wine cellar is pretty much rendered useless unless you have a way of knowing which wines should be held, which ones are drinkable, and the final date the wine should be consumed by.  This can be done in a couple of different ways. 

If you have a small collection, each bottle or shelf can be labelled with the “drink from” date and the “drink by” date.  For a larger collection the wine should be catalogued in either a cellar book or an electronic spreadsheet.  Cellar inventory books can often be purchased at stationery stores, kitchen supply shops or specialty book stores. 

Personally, I have used a spreadsheet for this purpose for the last dozen or more years.  In addition to tracking the consumption dates, I also track the label name, vintner name, varietal, country of origin, year produced, reviewer notes, and a few other facts.

The big advantage to having your own personal wine cellar is that you can drink wines of a vintage you would otherwise consider an extravagance.  It is very satisfying to open an aged bottle of wine that would have a current purchase price (if you could even locate one) in the hundred to two hundred dollar range knowing that you purchased it for much less.

Generally speaking, I am able to locate cellarable wines at my local liquor store at a cost ranging from $17 to $50.  When selecting wines to cellar you can spend as little or as much as you like.

However, when laying down a wine it is important to understand the difference between the length of time a wine can be cellared before it begins to deteriorate and the time it needs to reach its peak.  That is a discussion for another day.

Also a discussion for another day would be identifying and understanding the requirements for creating a proper storage facility.

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Enjoying the Wines You Love

This week I am going to examine how best to showcase your favourite wines.  To do this I will look at the various types of wine and identify when they are best served and which foods are best paired with them.

Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wine can be dry or sweet, light or full-bodied.  Any high quality dry sparkling wine makes an excellent aperitif.  However, if appetizers are not being served along with the wine then it is best to serve one containing a lower level of acidity in order to prevent guests from having stomach irritation.

The most renowned sparkling wine is Champagne.  The amount of sweetness and acidity determine whether Champagne is well suited to be served with food.  Dry (Brut) Champagne can contain a significant amount of sugar which does not bode well with an appetizer such as caviar.  When accompanying foods such as this, extra dry (extra brut) Champagne is recommended.

Sparkling wines are seen as a good fit for festivities and celebrations though their use need not be limited to such occasions.  The only word of caution is that when opting to serve a sparkling wine as part of an event, ensure any appetizers and subsequent menu are appropriately matched.

Acidic sparkling wines can be a good choice to serve along with the main course when serving fish or seafood.  Moderately spiced Asian cuisine can also be paired well with an acidic sparkling wine.

A medium dry sparkling wine can be a good choice to serve with a dessert such as a fruit tart. 

Light Acidic White Wines

Light acidic white wines include Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis, Alsace, Mosel, Muscadet and Grüner Veltliner.

Wines in this category have a sharpness that is fresh and fruity but a light taste and aroma.  The alcohol level is generally 12% or less.

Since these wines have a relatively high level of acidity, they go very well with fish, both heavy and oily fish, such as salmon, as well as light delicate fish such as sole.  Any white meat and poultry, and creamy soups and most salads pair well with these wines.

Sauvignon Blanc goes well with sushi and fresh herbs such as mint, basil, tarragon, and cilantro.  Riesling, on the other hand is best suited with fruity side dishes. 

Full-Bodied, Wood-Aged Whites

Typical full-bodied, wood-aged whites include Chardonnay, Semillon, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Grenache Blanc.

These white wines that have been aged in oak barrels will generally have an alcohol content of 13% or more, and a complex flavour.  These wines will have a high tannin content generated from being aged in the oak.

The acidity levels in these wines will be at a moderate level.  The wine will be full-bodied, even at a young age and many will have good potential for bottle aging.

Because of the high level of alcohol these wines don’t pair well with fish.  They tend to make fish taste oily.  Salty and spicy foods should be avoided as well.   Shellfish on the other hand can be complimented by these wines.

Dishes containing cream and butter are good choices to serve with a full-bodied, wood-aged white.

Highly Aromatic Whites

Highly aromatic white wines including Gewürztraminer, Muscat and Viognier  have luxurious, exotic and fragrant aromas.  These wines generally have high alcohol content and low acidity.

The aromatic characteristics of these wines limit the type of food they should accompany.  The delicate flavours of oysters, white fish, veal and subtle sauces should be avoided.  Distinctively sour foods should also be avoided.

To be paired with one of these wines, food needs to have richness and either be a little sweet or have a fairly high fat content.   Foods that are mildly spicy, a little salty, or have a smoky taste, would also pair well.  Ethnic, fusion, Thai, or even Tex-Mex cooking will go well with these wines.  Also strong flavoured cheeses are a good match.  Exotic fruits such as mango, papaya or guava will go particularly well with a Gewürztraminer. 

Young, Light, Fruity Reds

Examples of young, light, fruity reds are Gamay, Beaujolais, Dolcetto, Bardolino, and Valpolicella.  Such wines are ideal to serve alongside simple dishes.  Particularly well suited are foods with a relatively high fat content, such as braised meats, sausages, ragouts, stews, and dishes accompanied by butter or cream sauces.  They also pair well with pizza or spaghetti Bolognese.  Fried or grilled seafood is also well complimented with one of these wines.

Rosé wine can be substituted in place of any of the reds in this group.

Spicy, Silky Reds

Wines that are considered as spicy, silky reds include Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Grenache, Pinotage, and Chianti.  The tannin content in these wines will be lower than those found in varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah.

Foods that include sauces made with cream, butter or egg yolks should be avoided.  Foods to be paired with these wines include young fresh vegetables and fresh herbs, as well as lean meats.  Pizza can also pair well, especially with Chianti.

A fruity Pinot Noir is well suited to serve with Asian inspired foods.

Luxurious Velvety Reds

Merlot, Zinfandel and St. Laurent wines are included in this category.  These wines are fairly universal and are appropriate for most occasions and time of the year.  The acidity level of these wines tends to be low.  The sweet fruitiness of these wines goes well with similarly structured dishes that are not overly heavy.

Zinfandel wines are often reminiscent of jam and match well to seasoned foods.

Tannic Rich Reds

Tannic rich red wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tannat, Mourvèdre, Tempranillo, many Bordeauxs, Northern Rhône wines, Rioja, Australian Shiraz, Barolo, and Barbaresco.  These wines have a high tannin and alcohol content (generally 13% or more).  When pairing with food it is important to avoid those containing milk fats such as butter or cream.  These foods will make the alcohol taste particularly strong.

Salty foods should also be avoided as the high alcohol level will create a bitter taste in the wine.

Tannic rich reds are well suited with burgers, beef burritos, ribs and other red meat dishes.

Mature Wines

Mature wines are generally those wines that have aged beyond what is considered to be the typical age for consumption.  Mature wines will be those that have both a high tannin content and a high alcohol level.

Wines well suited for aging include whites such as oaked Chardonnay and some German Rieslings, as well as reds such as Barolo, Barbaresco, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux and Syrah.

Generally speaking, aged wines, red or white, are best served on their own without food accompaniment.  Both the bouquet and flavour are too subtle to be lost serving them with food.  The texture, taste, and aroma of the wine become more delicate with each year it is aged.  If you do serve these wines with food be sure to avoid fatty, strong smelling, acidic, sweet, or spicy dishes.

Order is Important

Whenever serving wine there are some general principles that will help ensure you have an enjoyable experience. 

Be sure to serve light, fresh ones ahead of luxurious alcohol-rich ones.  Wines aged in wood barrels are best served after those that have matured in a stainless steel container.  The sweeter the wine the closer it should be served toward the end of the meal.  Finally, bottle-matured wine should be served before an equally good younger wine.

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Wine Competitions and Awards

The 2020 wine award competition season is now underway.  The number of wine competitions each year has been on the rise.  While no one really knows how many there are, the number has grown rapidly in the past several years. In many cases, over half of entrants are getting medals.

At the same time, the 10 most respected international wine competitions have similarly seen an increase in the number of wines entered each year.

The arguably top award events, where competitors appear by invitation only are:

  • Sommeliers Choice Awards
  • London Wine Competition
  • Decanter World Wine Awards
  • International Wine Challenge
  • International Wine & Spirit Competition
  • San Francisco International Wine Competition
  • Cyprus Wine Competition
  • The Balkans International Wine Competition
  • The Berlin Wine Trophy
  • The International Wine Contest Bucharest
  • USA Wine Ratings
  • Brazilian Sparkling Contest
  • Thessaloniki International Wine & Spirits Competition

And for those that don’t get to go to the big leagues there are national and regional competitions.  In many of these competitions wineries only need to register and pay the entry fee in order to partake. In Canada there are:

  • National Wine Awards of Canada
  • All Canadian Wine Championships
  • Ontario Wine Awards
  • British Columbia Lieutenant Governor’s Wine Awards

Entry to national or regional competitions is often limited to those wineries produced in the named region.

There are also a few competitions which are limited to one type of wine, like the Canberra Riesling Challenge in Australia or Chardonnays du Monde in France.

Are the results from wine competitions something you should pay attention to when searching for wines to enjoy?   Here is some information to help you decide.

How They Work

Wine competitions are blind tastings in that the judges don’t know whose wine they are tasting. All of the wine samples are poured by staff members in a separate room.  The glasses are identical and coded by number or letter, and then brought to the judges’ tables – normally about 10 glasses at a time.

Within the parameters of each competition, it is really the wineries themselves that determine the wines that are tasted.  Some wineries submit many wines in many competitions; others just a few wines in a few competitions; and still others don’t take part at all.  The decision may depend on the winery’s size, marketing strategy, or opinion about the value of wine competitions in its overall business plan or philosophy. It comes down to a question as to whether the associated costs return appropriate business value.

The judges are a diverse group of “wine experts” from many different professional areas, whether they be wine makers, wine educators, wine writers, sommeliers, or wine retailers.  They all have two things in common: a passion for wine, and daily exposure to it.  In most competitions the judges also represent many regions and countries, which provides a broader perspective and protects against viticultural prejudice. Some judges have specific academic credentials like Master of Wine or Master Sommelier, but the majority are simply individuals whose profession involves regular wine tastings.  Ideally, the panels have judges from different aspects of wine’s professional life because they bring different perspectives to the event.

Judging occurs in two phases, the medal round, and the “sweepstakes”.  For the medal round, the judges are split into panels of 2 to 6 people.  Some competitions prefer the odd numbers because it’s easier to get a decision by a simple majority.  Others prefer panels of 4 because when there is a split, it must resolved by discussion and consensus.

Each wine is judged on its own merits, colour, clarity, aroma, bouquet, taste, finish (aftertaste), and overall quality.  In a particular flight, there might be 1 Gold, 3 Silver, and 2 Bronze medals, for example, and 4 receiving no award; but there are no predetermined numbers or percentages of medals. 

Normally, sparkling wines and white wines are tasted first, followed by Rosé and red, and finally dessert wines.  When there are different levels of sweetness, with Riesling for example, the wines are tasted from dry to sweet, because tasting the sweeter wines first would make the dry wines taste bitter.

The judges are presented with flights (groupings) of about 10 wines of the same type (e.g. Chardonnay) in coded glasses which each judge separately tastes in silence, making notes and deciding on the appropriate medal for each wine on its own merits, Gold, Silver, Bronze, or No Award. Some competitions have a Double Gold category, which requires unanimity among panelists that the wine deserves a Gold medal, whereas a Gold medal just requires a majority.  Simplistically, you might consider Double Gold as “exceptional”, Gold as “excellent”, Silver as “very good”, and Bronze as “good”.

When all judges have finished tasting, they compare notes to decide on a final, group medal for each wine.  When there is agreement on their individual scores (80-90% of the time in most cases), no discussion is needed and the medal is assigned.  When there is significant disagreement, the judges discuss and often retaste the wine to arrive at a consensus

In addition to the medals given to each wine, the panels normally determine which Gold medal wines advance to the “sweepstakes” round to determine the Best of Class, Best of Category, and at some competitions Best of Show.  The “sweepstakes” round is the grand finale of the competition, with all judges tasting all the wines that have been advanced.

In the “sweepstakes” round all of the wines to be tasted are the best wines of the competition.  One way to determine the best wines in large categories is by “acclamation voting”.  Each judge may vote as many times as he or she likes, since the wines are of different types (Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon etc.).   

Many competitions end with a Best of Category (e.g., Red, White, Rosé), and some also select a “Best of Show” among them as well.

Interpreting the Results

A wine competition is one moment in time.  The results reflect the collective opinions of expert judges about a specific group of wines on a particular day.  But there is a lot of consistency among different competitions held in different places at different times, so wine competitions do provide good guidance for purchasing wines.

Wine competitions provide a unique blend of objective and subjective opinions.  The objectivity involves several people in a blind tasting process which eliminates personal bias for a region or winery.  The subjectivity involves the personal taste sensitivities and preferences of different people.

The judging panel may be as few as two or up to six tasters or even more; the larger the panel, the less discussion.  Differences in judges’ tastes can relate to where they live; Europe, Australia, North America, or South America.  Taste can even differ based on a region within a country.

There are also differences between people who are wine makers or vineyard owners and those who are sommeliers, retailers, or writers. The winery related judges tend to focus on the technical qualities of the wine, whereas the consumer-focused ones are looking for a good wine for their customers to enjoy.

Over the years due to changes in the industry the wines from around the world have become so much better.  There used to be much more variation in quality, but research into grape growing and winemaking, plus the commitment to quality by producers worldwide has raised the bar, making it harder to distinguish and identify what separates a Gold from a Silver, or a Silver from a Bronze.  This is good for consumers, and it’s good for producers because consumers are more likely to see wine as a positive experience.

A medal can be of great value to a winery, otherwise they wouldn’t be paying the registration fee per wine to enter. Getting a medal can translate into higher wine sales, since the medal is usually mentioned in press releases and shown on the winery website.

However the all-important question is whether a wine is or isn’t an award winner, impacts your decision to purchase a particular bottle of wine.  The decision is yours.

It remains to be seen how COVID-19 will impact this year’s competitions.  While some of the European events have already taken place others, such as the Ontario Wine Awards, are being postponed until further notice.

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Hungarian Wines

Twelve months ago if someone had asked me my opinion on Hungarian wines, I would have responded with a blank stare.  However, having since visited Hungary on vacation last summer, I have become smitten, not just with the wines, but with the country itself.

A century ago Hungary was one of the most important wine producers in Europe.  However since then, Hungary grape vines were attacked by the phylloxera aphid which resulted in devastating losses. After that, Hungary itself was attacked during the two world wars, followed by a Communist occupation that lasted until 1991.

The g0od news is Hungary is making a comeback.  There are now a multitude of small estates producing tasty wines, using a combination of traditional practices and modern sensibility.

With Hungary being situated between the 46th and 49th parallel, it is in the same latitude range as many of France’s top wine regions from Northern Rhône to Champagne. Hungary’s rolling hills are rich in volcanic soils and limestone–idyllic soil types for fine winemaking.

There are 22 wine regions in Hungary which has been highly criticised given the size of the country.  However, this has not deterred the Hungarians as they feel the regions are well known and understood by their people.  Each region is unique based on the climate, soil composition, and the grape varietals grown.

The climate ranges from having a small amount of rain, dry, extreme summer, cold winter to moderate, sub Mediterranean to  cool, small amount of rain, long winter;  to cool, rainy, windy and warm winter, dry summer, extreme amount of sunshine.  As a result there is a large range in grape varietals grown from one region to the next.

Grape varietals being grown in Hungary include,

White Grapes

  • Arany Sárfehér
  • Budai Zöld
  • Chardonnay
  • Cserszegi Fűszeres
  • Ezerjó
  • Furmint
  • Hárslevelű
  • Irsai Olivér
  • Juhfark
  • Kabar
  • Kéknyelű
  • Királyleányka
  • Kövidinka
  • Leányka
  • Muscat Ottonel
  • Olaszrizling
  • Rhine Riesling
  • Rizlingszilváni,
  • Sárfehér
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Szürkebarát
  • Tramini (Gewürztraminer)
  • Vulcanus
  • Zeusz
  • Zöld Veltelini (Grüner Veltliner)

Red Grapes

  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Kadarka
  • Kékfrankos
  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir
  • Portugieser
  • Rózsakő
  • Syrah
  • Turán
  • Zweigelt

Hungary produces not only red and white wine, but Rosé, Sparkling, and Sweet wine as well.

Here is an interesting fact.  Hungarian wine producers use Hungarian oak to temper their intense wines. Hungarian oak barrels can also be found in many wineries in Europe and North America. Expect more delicate effects from Hungarian oak than from its French and American counterparts, and soft, creamy, toasted flavors and aromas.

Hungarian wine regions and local styles are as alluring as they are diverse. If a wine shop were organized by flavor profile, Hungarian wines would all belong in different corners of the store. Yet all the wines reflect something of their shared history.

There is one wine that is unique to Hungary – Tokaji, which is pronounced as “Toe-Kye”.  To receive the Tokaji denotation, dry or sweet, a wine can only contain the 6 native varieties of Furmint (“foor-meent”), Hárslevelü (“harsh-level-ooo”), Kabar (“kah-bar”), Kövérszölö (“kuh-vaer-sue-lou”), Zéta (“zay-tuh”), and Sárgamuskotály (“shar-guh-moose-koh-tie”). The wine is made from individually picked botrytized grapes that are then mashed and soaked in dry wine or must. The resulting wine, after aging, is golden, extremely sweet (120-180 grams per liter) and has the potential to age indefinitely when properly stored.

This treasured wine often has the flavour of candied tangerines and apricots, cinnamon and cloves, with sweetness somewhere between honey and nectar. Its bright acidity balances out the extreme sugar content. In Hungary, the classic pairing is foie gras, but you can drink it with creamy cheeses, lemon tarts, or simply on its own. A bottle could easily set you back in excess of $60.

In spite of all of the wonderful Hungarian offerings, there is one to avoid, that being Bikavér. These are mass-produced wines dating back to the communist regime.  Your local wine retailer should be able to assist you in avoiding these wines.

Hungarian wines are one of the wine world’s under publicised and best kept secrets. Unfortunately they are not as prominent in this country as many of their other European cousins. If you come across Hungarian wines in your local wine store, I recommend trying one. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Sláinte mhaith