How Sweet Wine Is

The sweetness of a wine is determined by how our taste buds interpret the interaction of a wine’s sugar content, the relative level of alcohol, acid and tannins. Sugars and alcohol enhance a wine’s sweetness; acids (sourness) and bitter tannins counteract it.

Among the components influencing how sweet a wine will taste is residual sugar. It is usually measured in grams of sugar per litre of wine (g/l). Residual sugar typically refers to the sugar remaining after fermentation stops, but it can also result from the addition of unfermented must (a German practice known as Süssreserve) or ordinary table sugar.

Even among the driest wines, it is rare to find wines with a level of less than 1 g/l. By contrast, any wine with over 45 g/l would be considered sweet, though many of the great sweet wines have levels much higher than this. The sweetest form of the Tokaji or Eszencia, contains over 450 g/l, with some vintages reaching 900 g/l. Such wines are balanced by the use of acidity. This means that the finest sweet wines are made with grape varieties that keep their acidity even at very high ripeness levels, such as Riesling and Chenin Blanc.

The sweetness of a wine is also controlled by factors such as the acidity and alcohol levels, the amount of tannin present, and whether the wine is sparkling or not. A sweet wine such as a Vouvray can actually taste dry due to the high level of acidity.  A dry wine can taste sweet if the alcohol level is increased.  

Medium and sweet wines are perceived by many consumers as being of lower quality than dry wines. However, many of the world’s great wines, such as those from Sauternes  or Tokaji, have a high level of residual sugar, which is carefully balanced with additional acidity.

People with more proteins in their saliva do not feel the drying effect of tannin as much as people with less. Another interesting fact is that the taste of tannin is reduced when paired with salty and fatty foods.

Our sense of smell also greatly affects our perception of sweetness. A wine that smells sweeter will also taste sweeter. Wine varieties are often referred to as ‘Aromatic’ because of their sweet floral aromas.  A few examples of this are Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Torrontés, and Moscato.

The sweetness scale for wine ranges from bone dry to dry, off-dry, semi-sweet, sweet and very sweet.

THE WHITE WINE SCALE

Bone Dry with flavours of lemons and minerals

  • Pinot Grigio (Italy)
  • Pinot Gris (France)
  • Albariño (Spain)
  • Garganega (Italy)
  • Dry Furmint (Hungary)
  • Gavi (Italy)
  • Muscadet (France)
  • Chablis (France)
  • Grenache Blanc (Spain, France)
  • Macabeo (Spain, France)
  • Vinho Verde (Portugal)
  • Grillo (Italy)
  • Arinto (Portugal)

Dry with Savory and herb flavours

  • Sauvignon Blanc (France)
  • Verdejo (Spain)
  • Grüner Veltliner (Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic)
  • Veroiccho (Italy)
  • Colombard (France, California)

Dry with flavours of grapefruit and green apple

  • Vermentino (Italy)
  • Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand)
  • Dry Chenin Blanc (France)
  • Dry Torrontés (Argentina)

Dry with flavours of yellow apple and pineapple

  • Chardonnay (France, Australia, North America)
  • Marsanne (Switzerland, France)
  • Roussanne (France)
  • Sémellon (France, Australia)
  • Trebbiano (Italy, France)

Dry with flavours of peach and lemon

  • Pinot Gris (United States, Canada)
  • Viogner (France, Australia, North America, South America, New Zealand, South Africa)
  • Dry Riesling (Germany, Australia, Hungary, Washington State, Canada)

Off-Dry with flavours of honeycomb and lemon

  • Kabinett Riesling (Germany)
  • Spätlese Riesling (Austria)
  • Chenin Blanc (France)
  • Torrontés (Argentina)
  • Müller Thurgau

Semi-Sweet with flavours of tropical fruit

  • Moscato (Italy)
  • Gewürztraminer (Germany)

Sweet with flavours of sweet lemon and honey

  • Late Harvest white wine (Everywhere)
  • Sauternes (France)
  • Ice Wine (Canada)
  • Auslese Riesling (Germany)
  • Tokaji (Hungary)

Very Sweet with flavours of golden raisin, fig and apricot

  • White Port (Portugal)
  • Moscatel Dessert Wine (United States)
  • Passito (Italy)
  • Vin Santo (Italy)

THE RED WINE SCALE

Bone Dry with a bold, bitter finish

  • Tannat (France, Uruguay, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, South Africa, Italy
  • Nebbiolo (Italy)
  • Sagrantino (Italy, Australia)
  • Malbec (France)

Bone Dry with savory flavours

  • Chianti (Italy)
  • Bordeaux (France)
  • Tempranillo (Spain)
  • Mourvèdre (France)
  • Anglianico (Italy)
  • Barbera (Italy)
  • Montepulciano (Italy)

Dry with flavours of vegetables and herbs

  • Sangiovese (Italy)
  • Carménère (France)
  • Cabernet Franc (France, Canada)
  • Lagrein (Italy, California)
  • Cabernet Sauvignon (France, Canada)

Dry with flavours of tart fruits and flowers

  • Mencía (Spain)
  • Valpolicella (Italy)
  • Rhône Blend (France)
  • Beaujolais (France)
  • Burgundy (France)
  • Syrah (France)
  • Merlot (France)
  • Trincadeira (Portugal)

Dry with flavours of ripe fruits and spices

  • Garnacha (France, Spain)
  • Amarone Della Valpolicella (Italy)
  • Negroamaro (Italy)
  • Pinotage (South Africa, Brazil, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, United States, Zimbabwe
  • Cabernet Sauvignon (Australia, Argentina, Chile, California)
  • Merlot (United States, Canada)
  • Alfrocheiro (Portugal)
  • Alicante Bouschet (France)

Dry with flavours of fruit sauce and vanilla

  • Shiraz (Australia, Chile, California)
  • Monastrell (Spain)
  • Malbec (Argentina)
  • Nero D’Avola (Italy)
  • Petite Syrah (United States)
  • Primitivo (Italy)
  • Zinfandel (California)
  • Grenache (California)
  • Touriga Nacional (Portugal)

Semi-sweet with flavours of candied fruit and flowers

  • Lambrusco (Italy)
  • Brachetto D’Acqui (Italy)
  • Recioto Della Valpolicella (Italy)

Sweet with flavours of fruit jam and chocolate

  • Port (Portugal)
  • Banyuls (France)
  • Maury (France)

Very sweet with flavours of figs raisins and dates

  • Tawny Port (Portugal)
  • Vin Santo (Italy)

Final Thoughts

Depending on where a grape is grown, the characteristics may change somewhat.  The climate and soil can be a great influence over taste.  For example Pinot Noir from Burgundy, France can be very different from the same varietal grown in Canada or the United States.  The same applies to any other varietal grown in multiple climates.

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The Wines of European Georgia

The country of Georgia is one of the oldest wine regions in the world.   Grapevine cultivation and wine production has been taking place for at least 8,000 years.  The traditions of wine are considered entwined with and inseparable from the national identity.

Georgia has five main viniculture regions.  The principal region is Kakheti, which produces seventy percent of Georgia’s grapes. Traditionally Georgian wines carry the name of the source region, district, or village, much like France does.  As with French wines, Georgian wines are usually a blend of two or more grapes. For example, one of the best-known white wines, Tsinandali, is a blend of Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grapes from the micro regions of Telavi and Kvareli in the Kakheti region.

The best-known Georgian wine regions are Kakheti (further divided into the micro-regions of Telavi and Kvareli), Kartli, Imereti, Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti, Adjara and Abkhazia.

Traditional Georgian grape varieties are not well known outside the region.  Although there are nearly 400 varietals grown, only 38 varieties are officially grown for commercial viticulture in Georgia.

Georgian wines are classified in one of six different ways:  sweet, semi-sweet, semi-dry, dry, fortified and sparkling. The semi-sweet varieties are the most popular.

The better known Georgian wines include the following:

  • Lelo is a port-type wine made from the Tsitska and Tsolikauri grapes.  The wine has a rich harmonious taste with a fruity aroma and a beautiful golden colour.
  • Akhasheni is a naturally semi-sweet red wine made from Saperavi grapes. The wine is dark-pomegranate in colour and has a harmonious velvety taste with a chocolate flavour.
  • Khvanchkara is a naturally semi-sweet red wine made from Alexandrouli and Mudzhuretuli grapes.  It is one of the most popular Georgian semi-sweet wines.  It has a dark-ruby colour.

There are at least 17 different white wines, 16 red wines and 8 fortified wines produced in Georgia, all produced with grape varietals unique to the region.  Though I wouldn’t consider Georgian wines a staple in North American wine stores, they do become available periodically.  If you do come across one it would be well worth picking one up to try.

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Wine and Eggs

If you listen to the ads on television, eggs are no longer just for breakfast and thus could be enjoyed with a glass of wine beyond the traditional mimosa, which is champagne and orange juice.

There’s a reason why mimosas are a brunch mainstay. Dry sparkling white wines like Champagne, Cava, and Prosecco are the number-one pick for any egg-based dish. Eggs, particularly the yolks, are rich and coat your palate with their savory flavor, which means their flavour lingers when you take a sip of wine. That makes the wine taste a little funny; maybe bitter or metallic or it’s difficult to taste at all. Sparkling wines, however, have that effervescence that actually cleans out your palate. They also tend to have high acidity, which does the same thing, as well as cuts through the natural richness of eggs. So that lingering egg yolk washes away and you can taste the wine again.

Below is an assortment of egg dishes that have been paired with a complimentary wine for enjoyment as a lunch or dinner entree.

Quiche Lorraine

Quiche Lorraine is the original form of quiche, from the French region of Lorraine. It is an open savory pie, filled with a cream and egg custard, and usually containing pork in one form or another, often bacon.  Quiche pairs well with Riesling.

Classic Rancher’s Meal

The Classic Rancher’s Meal consists of eggs, potatoes, pork (ham, sausage or bacon), and toast.  The combination, with the exception of the toast, is fried in a skillet.  Due to the nature of this fried meal, it is best paired with a Sauvignon Blanc.

French Toast

Chenin Blanc is a White wine grape variety from the Loire Valley of France. It is high in acidity to help cut the sweetness of French Toast with maple syrup.

Eggs Benedict

Eggs can be poached on the stovetop or in the microwave, and then set on English muffin halves topped with a slice of back bacon and a spoonful of creamy Hollandaise sauce. Chardonnay or Rosé will pair well with this rich delicacy.

Breakfast Sandwich

This ham, egg, and cheese sandwich on toasted bread or an English muffin pairs well with Lambrusco which is one of the oldest wines of Italy.  It dates all the way back to the Bronze Age. 

Huevos Ranchero

Huevos rancheros, or “ranchers’ eggs”, is a classic Mexican breakfast. Fried eggs are nested in a bed of refried beans, sour cream and salsa and served atop a warm tortilla. Try adding a bit of your favourite hot sauce for a touch of heat.  Pair with a Gamay.

Whatever egg dish you choose, there will be a wine that will pair well with it.

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Wines for the Holidays

To say that this year has been unique would be an understatement, and though the holidays may not be the same as other years, there are still opportunities to celebrate even if only to reward yourself on navigating through these trying times.

Wines such as Amarone or Châteauneuf-du-Pape would be a wonderful gift for a wine enthusiast or add elegance to any holiday dinner.  However, keep in mind that for a wine to be worthy of gift giving or dinner presentation, it need not be expensive.  If you would like some guidance for gifting or dinner pairing, your local wine merchant can be most helpful at providing suggestions in all price ranges. 

Given that 2020 has been very challenging for local businesses it has been suggested to pair wine that is being gifted with cheese, crackers, nuts or fruit from a local merchant, or a gift certificate from an area butcher or favourite restaurant.  If this idea interests you, people have been sharing their thoughts at #PairitForward.

Below I have provided a list of wines that have caught my interest this season, a number of which are on my own personal shopping list.  To help you decide whether any of these wines are best for you, I have included some of the reviewers’ comments and rankings.

White Wines

Domaine Chanson Les Chenevottes Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru 2014 – Burgundy, France ($89.95). This wine contains flavours of apple, lemon, pastry and honey.  It was rated 93 by Bruce Sanderson of Wine Spectator.

Fess Parker Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2018 – California ($21.95). There are light tropical notes, lemon confit, tangerine and mint.  It was rated 90 by Antonio Galloni, vinous.com.

Lundy Manor Chardonnay 2016 – Niagara, Canada ($25.95). It has hints of vanilla and caramel.  It was rated as 89 by Michael Godel, Wine Align.

Stoney Ridge Excellence White Meritage 2017 – Niagara, Canada ($22.95). There is an array of flavours of grapefruit, guava, passion fruit, lime and vanilla. This is the first time this wine has been offered for sale beyond the winery.

Tawse Limestone Ridge – North Estate Bottled Riesling 2017 – Niagara, Canada ($21.95). This wine is just off dry and well balanced between acidity and sweetness.  It was scored a 93 by David Lawrason, Wine Align.

Whitehaven Greg Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2019 – New Zealand ($23.95).  There are hints of pear and tropical fruit.

Red Wines

Borsao Berola 2016 – Spain ($18.95). This wine has hints of cherries, other berries and herbs are prevalent.  I have had this one before and am looking forward to buying it again.  It provides great value for the price.  It was rated a 90 by James Suckling. 

Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 – California ($59.95). This is a medium to full bodied wine that should be drunk from now until 2030.  It was rated 92 by James Suckling.

Il Molino Di Grace Chianti Classico 2015 – Tuscany, Italy ($19.95). The solid tannins suggest that this vibrant cherry-like wine will age well.  It can be enjoyed today or kept for up to 15 years.  It was rated 92 by Bruce Sanderson, Wine Spectator.

Luce Brunello di Montalcino 2015 –Tuscany, Italy ($150.95). Enjoy the aroma of berries, cherries, flowers, black truffles and black tea.  It is full-bodied with great tannins.  It scored a perfect 100 from James Suckling.

Montecillo Gran Reserva 2010 – Spain ($29.95). This wine presents silky tannins that will keep it drinkable through to 2025.  It was scored a 91 by Decanter.

Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve Meritage 2018 – British Columbia, Canada ($29.95). This wine consists of a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot.  It has a classic French style structure.

Nicolas Père & Fils Le Jardin Du Pape Châteauneuf-Du-Pape 2016 – Rhône, France ($55.95). It is a blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 20% Mourvèdre.  Big acidity and tannins provide great aging potential.  This is one of the wines on my list to purchase this holiday season.  It was ranked a 95 at the 2018 Decanter World Wine Awards.

Pieropan Vigna Garzon Amarone Della Valpolicella 2015 – Veneto, Italy ($63.95). With plummy prune aromas, sweet spice and cherries, the drinking window is now to 2030.  It was rated 94 by Michaela Morris of Decanter.

Queenston Mile Pinot Noir 2017 – Niagara, Canada ($40.00). It contains hints of cranberry, currants and cedar.  This wine is full of flavour.  It was rated as a 90 by David Lawrason, Wine Align.

Redbrooke Estate Cabernet/Merlot 2016 – Australia ($39.95).  There are flavours of cassis and red berries.  It was a gold medal winner at several Australian wine competitions and was scored a 95 by James Halliday, Wine Companion.

Sparkling Wines

Featherstone Joy Premium Cuvée Sparkling 2014 – Niagara, Canada ($34.95).  It is crisp and fresh with hints of lemon, apple and pear.

Gardet Cuvée Tradition Saint Flavy Brut Champagne – France ($47.95). There are flavours of baked apples, croissants and almonds.  It was rated a 90 by David Lawrason, Wine Align.

Graham Beck Brut Sparkling – South Africa ($18.95). With notes of apple and marmalade it will pair well with either turkey or ham.  For the price it can’t be beat.

Wines to Cellar

Ascheri Barolo 2015 – Piedmont, Italy ($49.95). There are notes of roses and tar and is available at an excellent price.  It has been rated a score of 93 by Bruce Sanderson, Wine Spectator.

Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut Champagne – France ($91.95).  It has hints of orange peel, freshly baked bread and honey.  It shouldn’t be uncorked until 2022 but can remain cellared until 2035.  Rated with a score of 91 by William Kelly, Robert Parker.

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Riesling 2018 – Niagara, Canada ($27.95). This dry Riesling should remain in the cellar until 2022 but should be consumed by 2028.  It was rated a score of 91 by David Lawrason, Wine Align.

Roche de Bellene Curvée Réserve Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2018 – Burgundy, France ($22.95). There are hints of cherry and raspberry.  It is best consumed from 2022 to 2025.  David Lawrason, Wine Align scored it 89.

Tawse Quarry Road Pinot Noir 2017 – Niagara, Canada ($35.95) It contains notes of black cherry, pepper spice and cloves.  It was rated a score of 91 by Sara d’Amato, Wine Align.

The Chocolate Block 2018 – South Africa ($79.95). This wine is a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, Cabernet and Viognier. The drinking period is from 2022 to2035. It scored 92 points by Neil Martin, Vinous.  The good or the bad is that it is only available in a 1,500 ml. bottle.

Final Thoughts

During these difficult times and trying to minimize interaction with others, I have become a fan of online shopping through the LCBO.  My overall results have been favourable and my selections are not limited to the products available at one particular store.

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Wine Clubs

From time to time I have toyed with the idea of joining a wine club, whether it be one associated with a specific winery or an independent one.  Both have their pros and cons.

According to the so-called experts, the best wine clubs give you key features including access to unique, curated wines for special occasions, last-minute gifts or simply to satisfy your own palette.

Wine clubs can help take the guess work out of deciding what to buy or drink, but more importantly a wine club can introduce you to new wines.

There are lots of clubs to choose from and most are accessible online.  At any given time there are as many as 20,000 Ontarians subscribed to wine clubs.  With over 200 wineries in Ontario and an additional 300 across the rest of Canada, as well as several independent wine clubs, it’s good to know all the facts first.

Most Canadian wineries have wine clubs although   there is difference in how the various club subscriptions work. So it’s important to understand things like frequency (when you’ll get your wine) and quantity (how much you’re getting) and what their rules are for opting in and out.

Things that are important to take into consideration are variety of wines on offer, exclusivity, early-access, value and quality.

It is beneficial to join a club that offers its members exclusive and early-access deals. Check to see if there are any savings from purchasing through the wine club versus through your local liquor or wine store, the quality of the wine being offered (award-winning, sommelier tested, etc) and the guarantees provided to its members regarding satisfaction with the product and service.

Some of the largest wine clubs (Peller, Hillebrand, Jackson-Triggs, Inniskillin, Great Estates of Niagara) are a good place to begin your investigation, but some of the smaller, boutique wineries should not be ignored.

Clubs, like kwäf’s ClubK, are not tied to just one winery, but instead offer an array of quality wines, providing the opportunity to enjoy the wines of many wineries. They work with top sommeliers to offer the best wines. Kwaf is Ontario based and curates the best of Ontario wine and delivers it directly to your door.

The Exchange is a wine club that offers wines beyond what is available through your local liquor or wine store.  The Exchange will provide a curated, mixed case of top quality wines directly to your door. They work with top Ontario wine agencies to find jewels for Exchange members. All the wines are rated at 90 points or more and have been carefully selected by their panel of critics for quality and value.

With an Exchange subscription you become part of a cooperative consisting of hundreds of like-minded wine lovers to ‘Exchange’ a purchase of a full case of a single wine with a mixed case of twelve different wines. The Exchange does everything from the curation, ordering, purchasing, warehousing, repackaging and delivery. The curated case of high-quality wine is delivered to your door once every three months.

With any wine club you should be able to:

  1. Access exclusive discounts
  2. Save time
  3. Discover new wines
  4. Have flexibility
  5. Gain from loyalty and rewards

Before making your ultimate club selection you need to determine whether your drinking habits and style suits the terms of the club. The main things to look out for are to ensure that there are no contracts or obligation to purchase wines; that the company has a large selection and variety of wines; and their prices are less than the retail outlets.

If you are a wine drinker and like discovering new wines, then wine clubs are worth joining.

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The Variable Health Benefit in Red Wine

A recent study of 16 wines from Australia and New Zealand has found levels of healthy antioxidants in red grapes decreased significantly over time.  Researchers say the compound called trans-resveratrol that is found in red wine is proven to have cardiovascular, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diabetic effects.  The more you consume of this compound in your food or beverages it is believed to better improve your health. 

When comparing younger bottled wines to mature red wines as the wine ages the concentration of this important bioactive compound decreases by about 75% over a 16-month period.  This is a significant decrease in the concentration of this health-benefiting compound.

The study published in the Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research found the concentration decreased in some wines by as much as 96%.  Irrespective of which winery the red wine came from or which variety it was, the loss was the same.

The popularity of younger red wines has increased greatly as millennials show a preference for younger wines than their parents do.  The younger generation’s philosophy is buy now, drink now or in a casual situation in a bar or bistro, drink by the glass.

The over 55 age group still consume a lot of full-bodied reds compared to the younger generations who want something that’s vibrant and fresh, not old and with a higher alcohol content.  The increased popularity of younger wine is due to a generational change rather than for health benefits.  The popularity of these wines has grown dramatically in the past 10 years.

However, being a member of the 55 plus crowd, I am a big fan of full-bodied aged wines that have had the opportunity to mellow and become silky smooth in a way that only time can achieve.  I am not saying I don’t like young fresh wines; I just don’t want a steady diet of them.  For example, if I am having food paired with a Pinot Noir, such as salmon or roast chicken, I want to experience the fresh lively taste.

On the other hand, if I am having roast beef, rack of lamb, Boeuf Bourguignon, or lasagna, there is nothing better than a well-aged Cabernet Sauvignon or Barolo.  In certain situations I am willing to sacrifice the health benefits in favour of flavour.

If I am simply having a glass of wine to sip on, I equally enjoy a young fresh red and a mellow aged one. Case in point; we had friends over recently with whom we share an equal appreciation for the Niagara region’s now defunct Coyote’s Run Winery (see my May 26, 2019 post, “The Passing of an Old Friend”). We enjoyed a cherry-red 2015 Cabernet Franc, as well as a smoky dark 2010 vintage of the same varietal. Both were very enjoyable. 

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Day Trip to The County

On the first anniversary of my hemorrhagic stroke I wanted to get away from the ‘scene of the crime’ so my wife suggested taking a day excursion to Prince Edward County.  The County is often compared to France’s Burgundy region in both climate and the grape varietals grown.

The County was officially designated as a VQA appellation in 2007.  It is separated from the mainland by the Bay of Quinte at Belleville and is completely surrounded by Lake Ontario.  The soils and microclimates of the County, coupled with a limestone base, provide an ideal growing environment for cool-climate grapes such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  This island setting is now home to over 40 wineries, a dozen craft breweries, fine restaurants, cheese producers, farmers’ markets and other local food purveyors.

I hadn’t visited the county for a few years and had lost touch with what is going on there.  So to prepare for our journey I checked out the latest reviews of the County wineries, which I combined with some curiosities of my own and developed a list of destinations.  My list consisted of 7 wineries, 6 of which were considered as the County’s movers and shakers of 2020 and the 7th was one that I had an interest in.  The wineries included Closson Chase, Devil’s Wishbone, The Grange, Hinterland, The Old Third, Rosehall Run and Waupoos.

The day didn’t exactly play out as I had planned, at least partially due to COVID-19.  Both Devil’s Wishbone and the Old Third were closed and a number of the others had a very limited wine supply.   For example, at the Grange, in order to purchase the only red they had in stock, I had to buy two 375 ml bottles of their Merrill House 2016 Pinot Noir as they had no 750 ml bottles left.  However, having now drank one of the bottles, my wife and I agree it was a good purchase at the equivalent price of $37 for a 750 ml. bottle.

However, as it happened, our last stop made the day worthwhile.  At the very end of Greer Rd. lies Rosehall Run, one of the original wineries established in the County.   Among our finds there was their 2018 JCR Pinot Noir, which in August was awarded the ‘Red Wine of the Year’ at the Ontario Wine Awards.  This wine has the potential of being one of the greatest and longest-lived Pinot Noir they have produced. Even though the wine may be enjoyed now it can be laid down for the next 5 to 7 years to reveal the purity that will evolve with time.  With a price point of $42, it is good value.

Our second find was a 2016 Merlot which was the result of them being able to secure a couple of tonnes of Merlot planted at Prince Edward County’s Huff Estates which resulted in Rosehall Run creating their first and only County Merlot.  The wine was barreled down in their underground cellar for 18 months. New French oak was utilized in preparing this small lot.  There is only a small quantity left and with its price of $35 a bottle, it will be gone soon.

Overall I have always found the offerings of Prince Edward County to be on the expensive side compared to similar offerings in Niagara and especially at the LCBO.  For a big part it is a factor of demand and supply.  The County VQA region is much smaller than Niagara and thus the quantity of grapes available is less and this is reflected in the prices.  There are some good value wines to be found for sure but you just need to be prepared to make the effort to search them out.   There are a couple of wineries, such as Sandbanks, where you can always count on finding a good selection and good value.

Given the climate of the region it is important to keep in mind that the mainstay varietals are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Baco Noir.  To expect to find a lot of other locally grown varietals, such as Cabernet, is not realistic. 

Given that the County has so much more to offer besides wine, a trip there is well worth the time.         

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Organic Wine

Even though organic food seems to be trending and very popular these days, it makes up only 5% of total vineyard space worldwide.  Spain, France and Italy represent 73% of all organic vineyards in the world.

Some common organic symbols

What Determines if a Wine is Organic?

Simply stated, organic wines are produced with organically grown grapes. In order to have organically grown grapes, a vineyard manager must implement an entirely different set of practices to maintain their vines. They generally must exclude the use of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.

Organic wine grapes are said to be much healthier and therefore produce heartier skins and higher concentrations of anthocyanins and antioxidants, including polyphenols and cardio-friendly resveratrol.  Also, organic wines are free of residual traces of vineyard additives such as chemical laced pesticides and herbicides.

Certified organic wines also have less sugar on average and don’t contain potentially harmful cellar additives such as flavoring agents or caramel coloring. These additives, plus higher sugar levels are what can cause wine-related headaches.

It is important to keep in mind that being organic doesn’t mean that the wine doesn’t have additives. There is a list of ingredients, such as  yeast, egg whites, and animal enzymes that are permitted in organic wines. Being organic doesn’t necessarily mean a wine is vegan.

The Organic Wine Dilemma

The challenge with organic wine is that the definition of organic can vary from one country to another.  The dilemma with organic wines is the importance of sulphur-dioxide (SO2), often referred to as sulfites, in the winemaking process.  Sulfites are used as a preservative.  Without them wine has a very short shelf life.

In both Australia and the United States, by definition organic wine cannot include sulfites.  However, in Europe and Canada, sulfites are permitted on organic wine.  This puts Australia and the US at a disadvantage not just because of the wines reduced shelf life but it can also substantially change the flavour of the wine.  Such wineries find themselves in a quandary because the effort made in growing organic grapes is nullified by the use of sulfites in the bottling process.

This raises the next question; are sulfites bad?

Sulfites have no effect on the majority of wine drinkers.  They are generally not the cause of red wine headaches.  However, there are some exceptions.  5% to 10% of asthma sufferers are sensitive to sulfites.

Sulfites in wine are surprisingly lower than in a lot of processed foods.  Wine ranges from about 5 mg per litre (5 parts per million) to about 200 mg per litre. The maximum legal limit is 350 mg per litre. In comparison, a decent dry red wine typically contains about 50 mg per litre of sulfites.

Wines with lower acidity need more sulfites than higher acidity wines. Also red wines tend to need less sulfites than white wines. A typical dry white wine will often contain around 100 mg per litre of sulfites whereas a typical dry red wine will have 50 to 75 mg per litre.

Wines with higher sugar content tend to need more sulfites to prevent secondary fermentation of the remaining sugar.

Sulfites help preserve wine and slow chemical reactions which cause wine to spoil. The process of using sulfites in wine has been around as far back as ancient Rome.

Very sensitive tasters have been noted to smell sulfur compounds in wine, although sulfur compounds are somewhat unrelated to sulfites. Sulfur compounds in wine range in flavour from citrus-like smells to cooked egg-like smells.  The warmer the temperature of the wine, the more molecular sulfur it releases. This is why some wines may have a cooked-egg aroma when they are opened. This can be resolved by decanting the wine and chilling for about 15 to 30 minutes.

For individuals who have sensitivity to sulfites in foods such as french fries, cured meats, cheese, and canned soup, they should probably opt for sulfite-free wines. Fortunately, several natural wines do not use sulfites in their processing. These wines can taste a lot different than normal wine but some are very good.  It is good to note as well that organic wines are similarly priced to non-organic wines.

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Choosing a Wine Decanter

While recently cleaning out one of our kitchen cupboards, my wife and I discovered that our wine decanter was cracked and thus needed to be replaced.  The one we had was at least 15 years old and had been nothing special.  It was just the typical flute design and made of simple glass.  However, since it needs to be replaced anyway, now is a good time to investigate and see what options are out there.

However, before striking off on my shopping expedition I reaffirmed what I need the decanter for.   My main purpose is aeration, so the wide neck flute design is still best for me. They allow more oxygen in so the wine aerates faster and more effectively. They’re also easier to clean than thin neck versions. Wide neck decanters are the most popular type and will work well for most wine drinkers.

The size of the decanter bowl, which is the bottom part where the wine sits, determines the amount of available surface area. The more surface area, the more contact between wine and oxygen and the less time you’ll need to decant.

Some wines need longer to decant than others. For full-bodied red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Tannat, Monastrell and Tempranillo, a decanter with a wide base generally works best.  They will need to be decanted for 1 to 2 hours.

Medium-bodied red wines such as Merlot, Sangiovese, Barbera or Dolcetto will benefit from a medium-sized decanter. Light-bodied reds such as Pinot Noir or Beaujolais decant well in a small to medium-sized decanter that in this case has been chilled.

White and Rosé wines don’t require decanting but serving them in a small chilled decanter is a nice touch.

For myself, being a fan of full-bodied red wines, a wide based decanter is best suited for me.

When it comes down to choosing, it is recommended to get a decanter that we love the look of, but at the same time is practical. The main emphasis should be to find one that’s easy to fill, pour and clean. There are lots of beautiful decanters that are a pain to use and thus spend their life on a shelf or in a cupboard.

There are different types of glass used to make decanters. Crystal is more durable and thus it’s often used to create large artistic decanters, whereas glass decanters tend to be made with thicker walls and simpler shapes. Either is a good choice but if you plan to put your decanter in the dishwasher, then standard glass is probably a better idea.

Some decanters can be very expensive.  However, the increase in cost has nothing to do with functionality. Decanter prices go up either with special design or material.  Some decanters are entirely about design, in which the shape only matters for the shape.

There are also wine aerators which introduce a superabundance of oxygen to wine as it is poured from the bottle into the glass.  The wine is decanted by the time the wine reaches your glass.  I have always considered these to be a gimmick for the wine enthusiast who has everything.  However, apparently these things actually work, though some better than others.

You can even successfully decant your wine by simply pouring it into mason jars, coffee mugs or even a blender.  However, if you select one of these methods I recommend returning the wine to the original bottle before serving in a wine glass, unless you had a very bad day and would benefit from the vast quantity of wine.

Personally I have always used a standard glass decanter for a few reasons. They are easy to use and clean and they are inexpensive.  I do also have 2 crystal decanters, a wine decanter that was a hand-me-down from my parents, and a whisky decanter that I received as a gift.  The wine decanter is hidden away in a cupboard and the whisky decanter has a place of honour on my bar.  Neither gets used.

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Alcohol-Free Wine

An ad for alcohol-free wines caught my I eye while reading a recent publication from the liquor store.  The ad promoted the wine as a great alternative for designated drivers, moms-to-be, or those just looking to abstain from alcohol. 

Not having seen alcohol-free wine before (I either don’t get out enough or don’t pay enough attention) I decided to investigate further.

Low and no-alcohol wines are something of an enigma since legally they don’t exist.  In order for a beverage to be called ‘wine’ it is required to contain a minimum of 8% alcohol by volume unless specifically exempted.

The subject of low and no alcohol wine tends to generate heated opinion. Traditionalists say it is a needless atrocity while others see it as an exciting part of wine’s future. Many criticize the lacklustre quality of these beverages from examples to date.

There’s also a lack of clarity about what ‘low and no alcohol’ actually means. Much has been written about ‘lower-alcohol’ wines (those containing between 6% to 11% alcohol by volume) but less on wines of 0.5% alcohol by volume or less. There are indications that this category is gaining increased focus from producers, retailers and wine drinkers.

As with the introduction of selling wine in cans for summertime consumption, the Europeans are leading the way with the development of alcohol-free wine.

Low and no-alcohol wines have not kept pace with low alcohol beers but sales have been steadily increasing. Market figures, scarce as they are, indicate 0%-0.5% wine to be a small but growing category. There are indications that 0% to 0.5% wine is the fastest- growing sector.  Consumers are identified as being regular wine drinkers over age 45 who want to reduce their alcohol intake without sacrificing on ceremony or taste.  These products allow abstainers to join in the fun or have the benefit of a drink at the end of a hard day without the guilt.

There is a general consensus that low and no-alcohol wine is a trend for the future. Britain’s Marks & Spencer has doubled its low and no-alcohol range wine over the last year as its wine sales in this category have risen 89%.

There is now a ‘scramble’ among wine producers to make low and no-alcohol products. Some of these are own-label wines, with Germany’s Reh Kendermann and Spain’s Félix Solís being two major suppliers. Big brands such as Freixenet, Hardys, Martini and McGuigan have all recently launched products in this market and more are said to be in development.

Bodegas Torres identified the movement of mature age markets toward less alcohol consumption about 15 years ago so they began development of a 0.5% white wine in 2007.  It received some positive feedback from markets in Sweden and Britain, as well as Canada.  Torres responded by adding a no-alcohol red and a rosé to its inventory.

German producer Johannes Leitz began development of no-alcohol wine after a Norwegian restaurateur asked him for an alternative to Coca-Cola or fruit juice for drivers.  Leitz was committed to making a good product so used good base materials in his Eins Zwei Zero Riesling.

Leitz then went on to produce a sparkling Riesling and is now planning to develop a more premium cru.

No-alcohol wine does not compete with traditional wine and that is not its purpose.  What it does do is provide an alternative to water, juice and soft drinks, which aren’t always a good match with food.

What should a no or low-alcohol wine cost in relation to traditional wine?  Some argue that such wines should be cheaper, since they avoid alcohol taxes.  However, producers using good quality grapes and ingredients say that the cost of producing their no or low-alcohol wine is similar to that of traditional wine.  The bottom line is quality matches price; the more you are willing to pay, the better the product and the more enjoyable your taste experience.

Whether these low and no-alcohol wines are as good as true fine wine is another matter. Many experts and consumers perceive it as nothing more than a hopeless aspiration while others are very enthused by the potential. If they are to truly succeed it will require time, patience, creativity and money. However, as the research suggests, there could be great rewards for those who accept the challenge.

Whatever you opinion it seems that low and no-alcohol wine are here to stay. More and more products will be appearing to tempt this growing market. My only stipulation would be that it has to taste like decent wine and not like Cold Turkey, Baby Duck, or heaven forbid, Welches Grape Juice.

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