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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France’s Rhône Wine Region

Although the Rhône region produces white wines, it is better known for its reds. The wines of the Rhône will satisfy all tastes and budgets, whether you are looking for easy-to-enjoy, immediately accessible wines or cellar worthy, collectible wines.  As I have mentioned in the past, my favourite French wines are produced in the Rhône.

The wines are divided into four levels of quality:

Côtes du Rhône AOC

The Côtes du Rhône appellation was established in 1937, and its wines are among the most popular in all of France.  It accounts for 50% of the valley’s production and is considered as the ‘entry level’ classification. Most are red blends based on Grenache or Syrah and the vineyards are planted on a variety of different soils. Production rules are not as strict as other levels but wines must have a minimum of 11% alcohol and be made from the 21 sanctioned grape varieties.

These wines are easy drinking, and pair well with a variety of different foods so are perfect for every day. The white blends and rosés are equally delicious but may be harder to find.

Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC

The Côtes du Rhône-Villages appellation was created in 1966 and represents the next tier on the quality ladder. Wines from here have more body and a spiced red-fruit character.

The village wines are a bit more complex with lower yields and slightly higher alcohol. These wines are great for aging.

Côtes du Rhône (named) Villages AOC

Twenty-one villages are allowed to indicate their village name on the label.  In order to include the village name, the winery must comply with stricter requirements than for the Côtes du Rhône Villages. Those villages are:

  • Chusclan
  • Gadagne
  • Laudun
  • Massif d’Uchaux
  • Plan de Dieu
  • Puyméras
  • Roaix
  • Rochegude
  • Rousset-les-Vignes
  • Sablet
  • Sainte-Cécile
  • Saint-Gervais
  • Séguret
  • Sinargues
  • St-Maurice-sur-Eygues
  • St-Pantaléon-les-Vignes
  • Suze-la-Rousse
  • Vaison la Romaine
  • Valréas
  • Vinsobres
  • Visan

Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the most famous Rhône region and one of the oldest in France.  It was established in 1936, but its official boundaries were drawn up in 1919.

The wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape display great fruit freshness, black pepper, spice, earth and garrigue (a French term for the wild hillside vegetation of the Mediterranean Coast).

The vineyards are planted with 14 varietals at four levels of altitude as the land rises up from the Rhone River. 

The most plentiful reds include Grenache and Cinsault, with Mourvedre, Syrah and other sanctioned reds producing wines that are full and aromatic with spicy dark fruits balanced with acidity and minerality.

Whites make up only 6% of production but are worth trying. They speak of the warm southern climate – honeysuckle, stone fruits and melon, backed with refreshing minerality.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are usually pricier than other Rhône wines, with prices starting in the $50 range.  However, there are some much less expensive Rhône wines that are equally as enjoyable.  But if you are seeking a more collectable or cellarable wine, Châteauneuf-du-Pape provides some great choices.

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France’s Burgundy Wine Region

During the Middle Ages, Benedictine and Cistercian monks, whose responsibility it was to produce wine for the Church, began to recognize subtle variations in the wines from different areas.  They began to map the vineyards in terms of quality and as a result, Burgundy’s famous, complex cru system began to emerge.

Burgundy (aka “Bourgogne”) is small in size but its influence is huge in the world of wine.  It is home to some of the most expensive wines but there are tasty and affordable ones as well.

Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the two primary grapes of Bourgogne (Burgundy) white and red wines.  However, Aligoté, Pinot Gris, Gamay, and Sauvignon Blanc are grown as well.

Burgundy has 5 primary wine growing areas:

  • Chablis
  • Côte de Nuits
  • Côte de Beaune
  • Côte Chalonnaise
  • Mâconnais

Chablis

Chablis is the growing region located furthest north and is geographically set apart from the rest of Burgundy. The river Serein (Serene) flows through the area, moderating the climate, and the grapes have been grown here since the Cistercian monks first started the vineyards in the 12th century.

All the wines are white and made with Chardonnay grapes.

Côte de Nuits

The Côte de Nuits  is home to 24 Grand Cru vineyards and some of the world’s most expensive vineyard real estate. The area begins just south of Dijon and ends at the village of Corgoloin. 80% of the wines produced here are Pinot Noir and the remaining 20% are either Chardonnay or Rosé.

Côte de Beaune

The Côte de Beaune is named after the medieval village that is the heart of wine commerce in Burgundy.  The wine from this region is quite different from that of its neighbor to the north. Chardonnay plays a more important role with 7 of the 8 Grand Cru vineyards producing white wine, but there are many amazing red wines produced in this region as well.

Côte Chalonnaise

Côte Chalonnaise is situated between the towns of Chagny and Saint-Vallerin. Here there are no Grand Cru vineyards.

The first village in the northern part of the region is Bouzeron, the only appellation devoted to the white grape, Aligoté. This is a perfect summer sipper or choice for fish and shellfish. Aligoté is floral, with notes of citrus and flint, and perhaps a touch of honey.

Another village that does something a bit different is Rully, a vibrant center of Cremant de Bourgogne production since the 19th century. These white and rosé sparklers are made in the traditional method, just as in Champagne.

The wines from this area are good value. They range from smooth Chardonnays with subtle oak influences and ripe tree fruits to more rustic Pinot Noirs.

Mâconnais

Mâconnais  is the most southerly region, and Burgundy’s largest.  Located between the town of Tournus and St. Veran, it lies at the crossroads between Northern and Southern France.  The warmer climate is evident in the well-structured Chardonnays, with notes of ripe stone fruits, honeysuckle, citrus peel, and wild herbs.

Burgundy Wine Classifications

There are four levels of quality for Burgundy wines:

  • 1% Grand Cru – Wines from Burgundy’s top plots (called climats). There are 33 Grand Crus in the Côte d’Or and about 60% of the production is dedicated to Pinot Noir.
  • 10% Premier Cru – Wines from exceptional climats in Burgundy. There are 640 Premier Cru plots in Burgundy.
  • 37% Village Wines – Wines from a village or commune of Burgundy. There are 44 villages including Chablis, Nuits-St-Georges, and Mâcon-Villages.
  • 52% Regional Wines – Wines from overarching Bourgogne appellations.

Regional Wines

Regional Wines can be made from grapes grown anywhere in Burgundy and tend to be fresh, light, and lively. You will find them labeled “Bourgogne Rouge” (red) or “Bourgogne Blanc (white).

Village Wines

The next step-up is the “Village” wines, named after the towns near to where the grapes are sourced. These wines are still fresh and fruity, with little to no oak.

Premier Cru Burgundy

“Premier Cru” wines are from special vineyard areas within a village. They produce wines that are slightly more intense than the regular old Village wines.  Premier Crus are affordable and make marvelous food wines. The label will say “Premier Cru” or “1er Cru.”

Grand Cru Burgundy

The “Grand Cru” wines account for just over 1% of Burgundy’s annual production. Bold, powerful, complex and made for cellaring, they are the epitome of both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. There are a total of 33 Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy.

Chablis Classification System

There is a separate ranking system for Chardonnay:

  • Petit Chablis

Petit Chablis is produced from grapes grown surrounding the village, which are higher in acidity and have lots of light citrus character.

  • Chablis

The majority of the wines found on wine store shelves are in this category. These wines are a bit rounder and more minerally with grapes sourced from the limestone slopes near the village of Chablis.

  • Premier Cru Chablis

Premier Cru Chablis make up about 15% of annual production.  These wines are more elegant coming from vineyards filled with Kimmeridgian limestone marl, giving them a distinctive character.

  • Grand Cru Chablis:

These vineyards are located north of the town of Chablis, where the steep slopes face south-southwest. There is technically only one Grand Cru, but there are 7 “climats” inside that Grand Cru, and their names will be on the label: Blanchot, Bougros, Les Clos, Grenouilles, Presuses, Valmur, and Vaudésir. Many of the Grand Cru wines in Chablis are aged in oak.

Final Thoughts

Whatever your pleasure, make a point of trying some of the wines of the Burgundy region.  You can’t go wrong and you don’t need to spend a fortune to find a nice one.

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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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France’s Bordeaux Wine Region

Bordeaux is one of the most iconic wine regions of not only France, but all of Europe.  The wines produced in Bordeaux have become a benchmark for wine producers all around the world.

Bordeaux was first loved for its sweet white wines from the sub-region of Sauternes. The wine had prestigious clientele during an era when sweet white wines were more popular than dry red ones. There was also a rosé popular in the 1700’s, particularly with the English, who called it “claret” due to the wines translucent red color.

It wasn’t until the mid-1800’s that Bordeaux red wines became more well-known. The dramatic moment of this transformation was an official decree that classified the top producers of the day. The classification, now deemed the “1855 Classification”, identified the best producers in the region and ranked them 1 through 5. The classification basically hasn’t changed even though there are many more producers in the region making outstanding wines.

Bordeaux is one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious wine regions. Bordeaux is synonymous with quality and refinement. While the legendary wines of Château Margaux or Pétrus command prices that place them out of reach of the average consumer, Bordeaux’s true greatness lies in the fact that wines with elegance, sophistication and balance can be found at all price points.

Red wines from Bordeaux are medium to full-bodied with aromas of black currant, plums, and earthy notes. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vines originated in Bordeaux. The tannins in these wines are often high enough that wines will age for several decades.

One of the most important things to know about Bordeaux wines is that they are a blend of grape varieties. The red Bordeaux Blend is one of the most copied around the world and it includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and a small amount of Carménère.

When serving Red Bordeaux, it should be slightly below room temperature (around 65 °F / 18 °C) and decanted for at least 30 minutes. All red wines should be stored below 65 °F / 18 °C.

You should expect to spend around $25–$30 for a great bottle of Red Bordeaux.

Suitable food pairings for Bordeaux include,

  • Meat
    • Black Pepper Steak
    • Roast Pork
    • Filet Mignon
    • Beef Brisket
    • Buffalo Burgers
    • Chicken Liver
    • Pot Roast
    • Venison
    • Duck
    • Goose
    • Dark Meat Turkey
  • Cheese
    • Ossau Iraty
    • Basque Cheeses
    • Manchego
    • Swiss Cheese
    • Comté
    • White Cheddar
    • Provolone
    • Pepper Jack
  • Herb/Spice
    • Black Pepper
    • White Pepper
    • Oregano
    • Rosemary
    • Mustard Seed
    • Cumin
    • Coriander Seed
    • Anise
  • Vegetable
    • Roast Potatoes
    • Lentils
    • Mushrooms
    • Onion
    • Green Onion
    • Green Bean Casserole

The Bordeaux region is separated into two sub-regions, the “Left Bank”, referred to as Médoc and Graves, and the “Right Bank”, known as Libournais.

The Left Bank (Médoc and Graves)

This area is known for its gravelly soils and graphite-driven red wines with a dominance of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. The most prestigious sub-regions in the Médoc include Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Saint–Estephe, Margaux and Pessac-Leognan (the areas first classified in 1855). The wines from Médoc are some of the boldest and most tannic of Bordeaux, perfect for aging or matching with red meat.

Left bank Bordeaux blends, in order of proportion are:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Merlot
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Malbec
  • Petit Verdot

The Right Bank (Libournais)

This area in Bordeaux is known for its red clay soils that produce bold plummy red wines with a dominance of Merlot. The most well-known and sought after sub-regions including Pomerol and Saint-Emilion. The wines from around Libourne are still moderately bold, but generally have softer, more refined tannins. For this reason, right bank wines are a great way to get introduced to the region. Here is a typical example of a Libournais Bordeaux blend in order of importance:

  • Merlot
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cabernet Sauvignon

Entre-Deux-Mers “Between 2 Tides”

The area between the 2 major rivers of Bordeaux, the Garonne and the Dordogne, is called Entre-Deux-Mers. This area produces both red (predominantly Merlot) and white wines but is perhaps more well-known for its white wines, which are a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and the rare Muscadelle. Wines have grapefruit and citrus notes with zippy acidity–a perfect wine for summer and fish.

Sauternais Sweet Wines

Sauternes and its surrounding regions of Barsac and Cadillac, are along a particularly dank portion of the Garonne River. Morning fog causes the white grapes growing in the area to develop a certain type of fungus called Botrytis. The fungus causes the grapes to shrivel and sweeten making one of the sweetest white wines in the world.

White Bordeaux

Only a small part of Bordeaux’s wine production is dedicated to white wines. These wines are made with Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon and range from zippy and fresh from places like Entre-Deux-Mers to creamy and lemon curd-like from places like Pessac-Leognan.

Last Word

Bordeaux is a region that has been a source of inspiration to many of today’s most popular wines. If you are a fan of red wine and have never tried a French Bordeaux, I recommend purchasing a bottle.  Better yet, try both a left bank and a right bank wine and see which you prefer.

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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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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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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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

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.

Gisborne

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

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.

Nelson

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.

Auckland

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. 

Northland

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.

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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.

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