The Wine Regions of Chile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aconcagua Valley

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

Atacama

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

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

Bío Bío Valley

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

Cachapoal Valley

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

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

Casablanca Valley

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

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

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

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

Central Valley

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

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

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

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

Choapa Valley

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

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

Colchagua Valley

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

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

Curico Valley

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

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

Elqui Valley

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

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

Itata Valley

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

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

Leyda Valley

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

Limari Valley

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

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

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

Maipo Valley

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

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

Alto Maipo

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

Central Maipo

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

Maipo Bajo

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

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

Malleco Valley

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

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

Maule Valley

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

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

Rapel Valley

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

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

San Antonio Valley

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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French Versus Italian Wine

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

Traditional Sparkling Wine

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

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

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

Great-Value Sparkling Wine

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

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

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

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

Notable Styles

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

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

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

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

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

Challenging Grapes

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

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

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

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

Notable Regions

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

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

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

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

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

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

The White Pinot

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

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

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

Aromatic Whites

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

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

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

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

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

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A Private Wine Cellar

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

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

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

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

Temperature

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

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

Light

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

Humidity

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

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

Odours

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

Storage Position

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

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

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

Record-Keeping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Enjoying the Wines You Love

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

Sparkling Wine

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

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

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

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

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

Light Acidic White Wines

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

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

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

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

Full-Bodied, Wood-Aged Whites

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

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

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

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

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

Highly Aromatic Whites

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

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

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

Young, Light, Fruity Reds

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

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

Spicy, Silky Reds

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

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

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

Luxurious Velvety Reds

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

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

Tannic Rich Reds

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

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

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

Mature Wines

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

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

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

Order is Important

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

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

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Wine Competitions and Awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How They Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interpreting the Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sláinte mhaith

Hungarian Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grape varietals being grown in Hungary include,

White Grapes

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

Red Grapes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sláinte mhaith

Dessert Wines

While many dessert wines exist, there are a few that define the category, ranging from less sweet to more sweet, light to alcohol-laden, and best for youthful drinking to better when aged for decades.

In addition to fortified wines, which were discussed on February 22, 2020, there are a variety of offerings that are considered to be great dessert wines.

Late-Harvested / Noble Rot Wines

Late-harvested wines are exactly that, wines that are made from grapes that are left on the vine until late in the harvest season.  They are then extremely ripe and contain an abundance of sugar.

Included in this group are ice wines.  Canada and Germany are the world’s largest producers of ice wines, and about 75% of Canadian ice wine comes from Ontario.  As it’s unaffected by noble rot and fermented slowly, ice wines retain many primary characteristics which set them apart from their botrytized counterparts. It is luscious, intensely flavoured, with aromas and flavours of ripe tropical fruits like lychee and pineapple when made with white grapes, although wines made with red varieties can give more concentrated strawberry flavours.

Much like Sauternes, icewine is a perfect match for strong cheeses such as Roquefort, Gorgonzola, or Parmesan. Milder cheeses aren’t strong enough to stand up to the drink’s lusciousness, but cheese-based desserts such as cheesecake are.

Salty hors d’oeuvres like tapenade or salted nuts enhance the fruity acidity of the wine, while balancing out the high sugar levels.

The high acidity also means you can opt for richer foods like pâtés.

Finally, similar to Riesling, ice wines go well with spicy foods, which are often hard to match with wine. This is because of its higher sugar content. Curries and aromatic Thai dishes which are usually difficult to match would go well with an icewine with pronounced tropical flavours.

Red ice wines, made with Cabernet Franc, shine when paired with richer desserts made with chocolate, which bring out their red fruit flavours.

Noble rot, or botrytized wines are a type of late-harvest wine, but the healthy grapes are actually attacked by a fungus called Botrytis cinerea, which punctures grape skins to dehydrate them and concentrate flavors, sugar and acidity. Botrytis adds its own unique flavors as well, such as hints of ginger, orange and honey.

Riesling

Riesling is one of the most versatile grapes in the world, making not only bone-dry wines, but lusciously sweet, high-quality ones as well. While Riesling is grown all over the world, the sweet versions of the wine come from Germany.

Sweet wines range from off-dry Kabinett and Spatlese with a small distinguishable amount of sugar and fresh, delicate fruit flavors, to late-harvested Auslese with a higher concentration, richer fruit flavors, and a broader mouthfeel, to fully botrytized Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese wines with lusciously-sweet, orange blossom-like, honeyed richness.  It is an excellent pairing with apple pie, caramelized desserts, tropical fruit, peaches and cream and sweet desserts.

Austria also makes Riesling using its version of the Pradikat system, and Canada is actually producing some delicious ice wine Riesling as well. All these Rieslings tend to be fairly low in alcohol, with the sweetest wines being in the single-digits of alcohol percentage and the double-digits of years to age.

Sauternes

There are those who would argue that Sauternes is the world’s greatest sweet wine.  Sauternes is one of history’s most coveted and expensive sweet wines. It is the gold standard when it comes to botrytis-affected wines, made from the Sémillon grape, along with Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. Producers selectively pick only noble rot-affected grapes as the fungus develops. These revolting looking grapes transform into a lusciously sweet dessert wine that is typically aged in oak before release. Dried fruit, saffron, honey, orange, golden apple, crème brulee and much more unfold over time in the bottle and the glass, aging for years and years after the vintage.

Tokaji

Originating in Hungary, made from the local Furmint grape, which is high in acidity and very susceptible to botrytis, Tokaji is best known for its aszú version, made from late-harvested, shriveled, botrytis-affected grapes gathered in containers called puttony. These super-sweet, barrel-aged Tokaji Aszú wines are low in alcohol, have a viscous mouthfeel, and are often quite honeyed. There is also a little amount of Tokaji Esszencia produced, which is made only from the syrupy free-run juice that comes from the aszú grapes. It is possibly the sweetest wine in the world, is extremely rare, can age for over a century and is typically sold by the teaspoonful.

If you happen to find yourself in a position to purchase some Tokaji, dessert pairings include roasted pineapple, caramelized apple, dark chocolate and Christmas pudding. 

Late-Harvest Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc, grown in its many Loire Valley appellations, is another one of those very common grapes, but whether dry or sweet, light or full, still or sparkling, it is always very characteristically Chenin.

Vouvray, perhaps the most famous Loire Valley appellation in France for Chenin, can range from dry to sweet even in this one region; the indications of demi-sec, moelleux, and liquereux will indicate the presence of residual sugar.

Sweet Chenin Blanc reaches its pinnacle in the region of Coteaux du Layon, where grapes are late-harvested in many passes through the vineyard. While producers hope for botrytis, it all depends on vintage, and some years will have more botrytis than others. The sub-regions of Bonnezeaux and Quarts de Chaume are even more highly sought-after, and the wines develop golden apple, honey, and orange blossom characteristics. Because of the amount of sugar in these wines, they will continue to develop with age, getting smokier and more interesting over time.

Desserts that pair well with late-harvest Chenin Blanc include fresh strawberries tumbling over shortcake or lemon-meringue pie.

Dried Grape Wines

A technique traditionally used in Italy, Greece, and sometimes Austria, dried grape, or passito, wines are made by purposefully drying healthy grapes after harvest, typically on straw mats or by hanging grape bunches from rafters. This dehydrates the grapes, concentrating the remaining sugar and flavors and creating a sweet wine with clean and often-raisined flavors. The passito process yields less wine than typical vinification does, since the juice is essentially being extracted from raisins, making these wines more expensive than their still-wine counterparts.

Red wines pair well with most desserts or blue cheeses.  The whites are best suited with exotic or candied fruits.

Vin Santo Del Chianti

While “holy wine” can be found in several regions of Italy (as well as a version from Greece), this version from the heart of Tuscany is the most famed. Made from Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia grapes that are hung in whole bunches from rafters, Vin Santo del Chianti is barrel-aged between three and eight years in either small oak or traditional chestnut barrels, allowing some of the wine to evaporate and concentrate flavors in the remaining amber-colored wine. The wine is rich and sweet, with golden raisin and dried fruit flavors.

Dessert pairings include Crostata di Frutta, blackberry mini tartlettes, ginger desserts, pumpkin pie, dark chocolate, and nutty desserts like pecan pie.

Recioto Della Valpolicella

In keeping with the famed red wines of this region in the Veneto of Italy, Recioto della Valpolicella is a sweet red wine made from dried Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes. Traditionally, grapes are dried on straw mats or in lofts called fruttai, which ensure that air circulates through the grapes during the drying process so that mold does not form. Recioto winemakers will typically allow the wine to ferment until the alcohol content is around 14% and will then chill the wine to stop fermentation and leave residual sugar. Dried berry and raisin notes characterize the dense Recioto della Valpolicella, along with chocolate and vanilla.

Desserts containing chocolate, coffee, or dried fruit such as Black Forest cake or tiramisu pair well with the Valpolicella. But where Recioto truly stands out is with ripened cow’s milk cheeses, becoming unexpectedly delicious with blue-veined cheese served with macerated fruit.

I must admit that prior to researching dessert wines there are a number of them that I had never even heard of, let alone tried.  The wines that are most easily found in local liquor stores will include late harvest wines, fortified wines, and Canadian ice wines.  However, if I ever get the opportunity to travel to France and Italy, there are a few selections that I will be on the hunt for.

Sláinte mhaith

BC’s Movers and Shakers

I previously examined a number of the trending wines from Ontario.  This week I will identify a similar group of wines that are on top of the wine scene in British Columbia.  The wineries presented here are based on my own interpretation of critic reviews and award results over the past year.  The information presented about each winery has been gathered from the winery web site.

Unfortunately, none of this particular group of wines is available in liquor or wine stores outside of B.C., but a number of them are accessible from the winery web sites.

The wineries are presented in alphabetical order.  Though the critically acclaimed wines are presented, I doubt you would be disappointed in any of the wines offered from these establishments.

Blasted Church Vineyards

The winery is on a former church site so they focus their story on local folklore; the blasting of a local church with dynamite in order to move it from one location to another. The owners have played out the church theme well, in everything from the wine names and labels to the organization of their web site.

Notable wines:

  • 2016 Merlot – $27
  • 2017 Pinot Noir – Sold out
  • 2012 OMFG (white) – $40

Cedar Creek Estate Winery

Cedar Creek has been Canada’s “Winery of the Year” twice.  Winemaker Taylor Whelan is building upon three decades of winemaking history and defining a new chapter with estate-grown, organic wines.  Both the Home Block and Cedar Creek estate vineyards have been officially certified organic following a three-year conversion of the estate’s viticulture and winemaking practices. For the Kelowna winery, it was a three-year conversion process, accredited by Ecocert Canada, which began in August of 2016.

Because of planting decisions made in the early 1990’s, they now have 30-year-old vines at the heart of everything they do.

Notable wines:

  • 2018 Chardonnay – $19
  • 2018 Platinum Block 7 Pinot Gris  – $30
  • 2018 Platinum Block 3 Riesling  – $30
  • 2017 Platinum Riesling Icewine  – $58
  • 2017 Platinum Haynes Creek Vineyard Syrah  – $50
  • 2017 Pinot Noir 2017 – $27

Deep Roots Winery

Deep Roots is a family owned and operated winery perched on the clay cliffs above Okanagan Lake on the Naramata Bench.

The family has been farming the land around the winery for 100 years, spanning four generations. After many years of selling grapes to other wineries they produced their first vintage in 2012.

They have two vineyards at two sites on the Naramata Bench: the Hardman Vineyard and Rayner’s Vineyard.

The Hardman Vineyard is home to nine acres where they grow Muscat, Gamay, Merlot, and Malbec. The Rayner property is home to eleven acres of vines including Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Malbec, and Syrah.

Both of these farms were planted with fruit orchards for much of the previous century, which has contributed to the unique and rich terroir of the area. All of the vineyard work is done by hand.

Notable wines:

  • 2017 Syrah – Sold out
  • 2016 Parentage Red – Sold out
  • 2017 Malbec – Sold out

Fort Berens Estate Winery

Fort Berens Estate Winery is a culmination of the dreams, vision and pioneering spirit of several entrepreneurs. The winery is owned by a team of eight individuals who share a common belief in the incredible winemaking potential of British Columbia’s Fraser Canyon and a shared vision to make Fort Berens into one of Canada’s leading producers of fine wine.

Notable wines:

  • 2017 Cabernet Franc – $28
  • 2017 Cabernet Franc Reserve  – $32
  • 2017 Pinot Noir Reserve – $30
  • 2017 Meritage  – $26
  • 2017 Meritage Reserve  – $32
  • 2017 Red Gold  – $45
  • 2018 Pinot Gris – Sold out
  • 2018 Chardonnay – $20
  • 2017 White Gold Chardonnay  – $26
  • 2018 Riesling Reserve  – $24

Gold Hill Winery

Gold Hill opened in 2009.  The founders, brothers Sant and Gurbachan Gill, are farmers from the Indus Valley region.

Sant moved to B.C. as a 20-year-old. He headed straight for the Golden Mile fruit belt and began growing. His younger brother, Gurbachan, soon followed. The brothers grew grapes for a number of wineries from their home vineyards, in their natural element. They understood the area’s microclimate and its dry, rocky soil to perfection.

In time, they bought land and planted vines. Soon they had a healthy business selling grapes to a growing number of notable B.C. wineries–but they had bigger plans for their land.

In 2009, Sant and Gurbachan decided to open a winery with the support of their family. For the location, they chose their prime vineyard on the slopes of a hill along the Golden Mile, between Oliver and Osoyoos.

They partnered with winemaker Philip Soo, a well-respected wine consultant with a terroir-driven approach and scores of great wines to his credit.

Gold Hill’s inaugural 2009 Cabernet Franc was honoured with the prestigious Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence in 2012.

Notable wines:

  • 2013 Syrah – Sold out
  • 2014 Syrah – $35
  • 2013 Merlot – Sold out
  • 2014 Cabernet Franc – $35

Hillside Winery

Grow the best quality fruit possible, pick at optimum physiological ripeness, ferment cool, and intervene with nature only when necessary are the objectives of Hillside. The temptation to constantly “fiddle” and “improve upon” Mother Nature is really more about manufacturing. Natural, beautiful wine is not manufactured—rather, it is carefully guided through natural phases to become the glorious essence of the effects of sun and soil on specific grape varieties.

It is their belief that great wines start in the vineyard, and to this end, they use only the best quality fruit available from their twenty acres of grapes densely planted on hillside terraces surrounding the winery. They also have partnerships with select vineyards along the Naramata Bench.

They are committed to producing hand-crafted, naturally fruit-forward, well-balanced wines that represent the true character of the grapes. The wine is fermented and aged in many small batches to maintain the varietal character and integrity of each grape type and vineyard.

Cool temperature fermentations for the whites using state of the art steel fermenters allow them to produce intensely aromatic and flavourful wines that captivate the senses. More traditional techniques are applied to the reds involving open top fermenters, French and American oak barrels, and a very hands-on winemaking team, resulting in rich, classic style wines that have consistently won accolades from wine judges.

Notable wines:

  • 2016 Cabernet Franc – Available to their wine club members only
  • 2016 Merlot Malbec – $26

Kitsch Wines

The Kitsch family’s Okanagan roots stretch back to 1910, when Kelowna was still a small, lakefront pioneer settlement. Four generations later, this entrepreneurial family takes great pride in helping to shape the past and the future of the Okanagan Valley.

Founders Ria and Trent Kitsch have blended their passion for wine and creative entrepreneurship to produce premium, sustainably-grown wines. With a little help from some friends, the young family transformed overgrown fields into lush vineyards, set on historic apple orchards that originally served as the Kelowna Land and Orchards (KLO) headquarters.

Notable wines:

  • 2017 5 Barrel Pinot Noir – $69
  • 2018 Maria’s Block Riesling – $25

Lake Breeze Vineyards

The wines of Lake Breeze are known to be clean, crisp and fruit driven in style.  They endeavour to take the natural expression of the grape and transfer it to the bottle with as little intervention as possible. 

The newly introduced Lake Breeze Cellar Series is a luxurious collection. Each varietal pays tribute to the regional wind that embodies its unique winemaking style.

In 2016 they introduced an additional premium wine made by Garron Elmes under the MacIntyre Heritage Reserve label. These wines are a bold and prideful celebration.

Notable wines

  • 2017 Aura – Pinot Noir – Sold out
  • 2016 Mistral – Syrah – Sold out

Lakeside Cellars

Lakeside Cellars is situated on the eastern shores of Lake Osoyoos.  The estate is comprised of a 14-acre parcel of land that was originally a vast cattle and agriculture enterprise dating back to 1882. In 2015, Harbans and Harkesh Dhaliwal purchased the historical landmark and resting place of the old Haynes Homestead.

Lakeside now also sits on the site of the first commercial orchard owned and planted by Leslie Hill. The Hill Ranch stretched 1,100 acres on the eastern slop around Lake Osoyoos. Orchards of cherries, apricots, nectarines, plums, prunes, peaches, pears and apples were the first planted in the Okanagan north of the U.S. border.

Upon purchasing the lakeshore property in 2015, the Dhaliwals inherited old-vine plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc planted in 1998. Their mission was to continue the tradition of agriculture on the property and guide its rich history towards the current Okanagan lifestyle.

Notable wines:

  • 2016 Portage Red, Okanagan Valley- $24
  • 2016 Syrah, Okanagan Valley – $26
  • 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley – $26
  • 2016 Cabernet Franc, Okanagan Valley – $28

Martin’s Lane Winery

The winery consists of three tiny estate vineyards.  They take a micro view of the vineyard and think about wines right down to the single block or vine. They consider their winemaking approach gentle and guiding.  The wines are tended, harvested and crafted by hand.  They don’t use a single pump as they believe this brings out elegant and complex expressions of Pinot Noir and Riesling.

Notable wines:

  • 2016 Simes Vineyard Riesling – Sold out
  • 2016 Naramata Ranch Vineyard Riesling – Sold out
  • 2016 Frtizi’s Vineyard Riesling – Sold out
  • 2014 Simes Vineyard Pinot Noir – $100
  • 2015 Simes Vineyard Pinot Noir – $100
  • 2015 DeHart Vineyard Pinot Noir – $100
  • 2015 Fritzi’s Vineyard Pinot Noir – $150
  • 2015 Naramata Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir – Sold out

Mission Hill Family Estate

Making great wines and providing a special place where people can enjoy them is the aim of Mission Hill. They want their winery to be a refuge from the hurried pace of daily life.

Notable wines:

  • 2018 Terroir Collection No. 19 Brigadier’s Bluff Rosé – Sold out
  • 2017 Terroir Collection Border Vista Cabernet Sauvignon – Available only to wine club members
  • 2017 Reserve Shiraz – $27
  • 2017 Reserve Pinot Noir – $28
  • 2018 Reserve Rosé – Sold out

Moon Curser Vineyards

Moon Curser Vineyards is a small, family owned winery on the East Bench of Osoyoos, BC.  It has been in operation since 2004, when Chris and Beata Tolley purchased an old orchard in need of replanting and set about converting it into what is now the Moon Curser home vineyard block, winery and tasting room.

The winery is known for growing unusual varieties such as Tannat, Dolcetto, Touriga Nacional, and Arneis to name a few. These varieties have not historically been a part of the South Okanagan viticulture but thrive in the unique terroir on the Osoyoos East Bench.

The vines have thrived in Osoyoos and continue to deliver unique, world-class interpretations of these traditional wines. Moon Curser has brought home many a gold medal from Canadian and international wine competitions.

Notable wines:

  • 2017 Touriga Nacional (red) – $40
  • 2017 Dead of Night (red) – $40
  • 2017 Syrah – $26

Nk’Mip Cellars Winery

Nk’Mip Cellars is the dedicated guardian of a proud legacy. They claim to be the first Indigenous-owned winery in North America and they express their culture in everything they do. The winery itself is a bold celebration and a strong reflection of their commitment to authenticity and deep respect for their colourful past. They have had international award-winning wines.

Notable wines:

  • 2018Qwam Qwmt Riesling – Price not provided
  • 2018 Winemakers Dreamcatcher – Sold out
  • 2016 Red Merriym Meritage – Price not provided

Red Rooster Winery

Red Rooster Winery was founded in 1990 by a European couple who settled in the area. The first vintage was released in 1997. It was not long before the winery became known for producing award-winning wines that express the very best of BC and the Okanagan. 

Notable wines:

  • 2018 Riesling – Sold out
  • 2017 Rare Bird Series Pinot Noir – $35

Sandhill

Each bottle of Sandhill wine is made from grapes that come from one of six unique BC vineyards – Sandhill Estate, King Family, Phantom Creek , Osprey Ridge, Hidden Terrace and Vanessa Vineyard. Each vineyard possesses a unique combination of soil composition, slope, sun exposure and drainage.

Each vineyard manager employs techniques that bring subtle influences into the growing environment. These one-of-a-kind conditions inevitably produce grapes with unique characteristics.

This, in turn, provides the opportunity to create a wine that’s truly distinct. In the winery, a non-interventionist approach allows the character of the fruit to shine through in the wine. This allows the complex, subtle, unique character of each vineyard to reveal itself.

Notable wines:

  • 2018 Riesling Icewine – Sold out
  • 2017 Single Vineyard Syrah Sandhill Estate Vineyard – $40
  • 2016 Single Vineyard ONE Vanessa Vineyard – Sold out

Township 7 Vineyards and Winery

Township 7 focuses on the production of small lot wines made from carefully chosen grape suppliers from the Okanagan Valley and from estate vineyards in Langley and on the Naramata Bench.

Notable wines:

  • 2018 Pinot Gris  – $19
  • 2018 Raju Vineyard Viognier – $25
  • 2017 Merlot – $25 at the winery
  • 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon – $28

Van Westen Vineyards

Situated in one of the most scenic wine regions in all of North America, Van Westen Vineyards has evolved from over 50 years of family tradition cultivating the soils of The Naramata Bench and producing some of the best wines in British Columbia.

With their expertise and emphasis on sustainable, cool climate viticultural practices, they continue to grow quality vinifera grapes and make premium wine.

Notable wines:

  • 2016 Vulture (red) – $40
  • 2018 Viscous Riesling – $25

Wayne Gretzky Okanagan

The Wayne Gretzky Okanagan winery doesn’t appear to have a web site and www.gretzkyestateswines.com only provides information on the Niagara winery.

Notable wines:

  • 2016 Signature Series Shiraz – No price
  • 2016 Signature Series Riesling – No price

The majority of these wineries are smaller family run operations built on pride and personal commitment to the creation of high quality wines.  Prices can range dramatically on the wines within and between the various wineries.  Some of the wineries have been producing great wine for many years while others are newer operations who are quickly making an impressive name for themselves.

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Enjoy Easter with Wine

Easter is traditionally a time for family celebrations that end with a scrumptious dinner.   I will look at traditional menu options but given the current climate where traditional family gatherings may not be possible, I will look at adding some glam to an everyday meal.

Also, given the strains being experienced by the local economy, all of my wine suggestions will be Canadian.

Lamb

Starting with the traditional Easter menu, the first option is lamb.  Lamb has a long tradition of being part of Easter celebrations.  It is available in many forms, suitable for any budget, ranging from a leg of lamb, to a loin, to chops, or even burgers. 

Lamb in any form is well complimented with a Cabernet such as Lakeview Cabernet Sauvignon ($29.95) or Featherstone Cabernet Franc ($19.95).

Ham

Ham is another classic Easter dish that can be prepared in a multitude of ways.  It can be baked using cloves and or a number of different glazes, ranging from savory to sweet.  Ham is also available in a variety of cuts ranging from the traditional ham on the bone, to small packaged hams to ham steaks.

Pinot Noir is a good option for serving with ham.  Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir ($34.95) or Henry of Pelham Pinot Noir ($16.95) are a couple of options.

Turkey

Turkey is a classic choice for Easter.  Not only is it suitable for large family gatherings but provides options for smaller dinners.  Alternatives to purchasing a full-size bird include, prepackaged turkey thighs or turkey breasts, or you can substitute chicken for turkey.

There are both red, as well as white wine alternatives to have with your turkey or chicken.  White wine suggestions include, Flat Rock Chardonnay ($19.95) or Inniskillen Montague Vineyard Chardonnay ($25.95).  Red wine options include Kew Vineyards Pinot Noir ($23.95) or Tawse Growers Blend Pinot Noir ($25.95).

Roast Beef

Over the years roast beef has been the choice of many for Sunday family dinners and Easter is no exception.  Featherstone Cabernet Franc ($19.95) or The Foreign Affair Dream ($29.95), which is a Merlo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc blend , are two good choices.

Salmon

Salmon, though less traditional, is a good healthy option for your Easter dinner.  It can be baked, poached, or my favourite, tossed on the grill, wrapped in lemons, onions, and capers.  It can be a great alternative if you are forced to a smaller than usual family gathering.

Sauvignon Blanc or Rosé pairs well with salmon.  Options include Wildass Sauvignon Blanc ($16.95) or Malivoire Vivant Rosé ($19.95).

Vegetarian Alternatives

Vegetarian alternatives to the traditional meat dishes are very popular.  These dishes are obviously a good alternative to meat any time, not just on special occasions.  Wine pairings  for vegetable mains are the same as those for salmon; Sauvignon Blanc or Rosé. 

Non-Traditional Options

No matter what your mood or what you are serving, wine can make the simplest of meals more elegant.   Here are some general options:

White Wine

  • Chicken based soup – Angels Gate Chardonnay VQA ($14.95)
  • White fish  – Sandbanks Summer White VQA ($14.95)
  • Mac and cheese – Peninsula Ridge Pinot Grigio VQA ($15.95)
  • Pasta with a white sauce – Mission Hill Five Vineyard Pinot Blanc VQA ($16.95)
  • Poultry – Tawse Sketches of Niagara Chardonnay VQA ($19.95)
  • Sea food – Cave Spring Riesling Dry VQA ($15.95)

Red Wine

  • Beef ribs – Strewn Rogue’s Lot Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc VQA ($14.95)
  • Beef based soups – Peninsula Ridge Merlot VQA ($15.95)
  • Hamburgers – 13th Street Burger Blend Gamay Pinot Noir VQA ($14.95)
  • Pasta in a red sauce –  Pelee Island Baco Noir VQA ($21.95)
  • Pork ribs – Pelee Island Pinot Noir Reserve VQA ($17.95)
  • Tomato based soups – Henry of Pelham Pinot Noir VQA ($16.95)

No matter what your Easter has in store, whether it be a family dinner with all the fixings, or a simple affair for only one or two people, make it more elegant with wine.

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Chardonnay Musqué

My wife has a strong dislike for Chardonnay but a fond love for Chardonnay Musqué.  This raised the question in my mind, what makes Chardonnay Musqué different from Chardonnay?  Is there truly a discernible difference?  My wife argues that absolutely there is.

I set forth on a research expedition to determine if there is a difference, and if so, why.

What I learned is that Chardonnay Musqué is an aromatic mutation of the Chardonnay grape. It is grown principally in the vineyards of Canada’s Niagara Peninsula and New York’s Finger Lakes.

The typical Chardonnay Musqué wine is off-dry, medium bodied, and has the distinctive, grapey, Muscat-like aroma. Depending on the region and producer, other flavours and aromas might range from tropical fruit to cinnamon-tinged lemon sorbet.

There are over 40 different clones of Chardonnay, but only two of these can be called “Musqué” due to their aromatic qualities.  For you techies they are Clone 77 and Clone 809.  These wines are generally unoaked in order to preserve the fresh and fragrant aromas natural to the grape.  This is the reason why my wife likes it so much (she has a real aversion to any oaked white wine)

Several Ontario vineyards are now planted with musqué clones and the grapes may be used as either part of a blend or bottled on their own. 

Generally these wines are best when consumed relatively young.  The aromas of Chardonnay Musqué are reminiscent of Viognier or even Torrontes, and it can be made in a range of styles from dry to a little sweet to quite sweet, sometimes even with a slight spritz. 

Chardonnay Musqué can be enjoyed on its own on a warm spring or summer day, or paired with mild curries, sushi, salads, grilled salmon, or seafood.

There are several Ontario wineries using one or both Chardonnay Musqué clones in their wines.  Trail Vintner’s Weiss uses Chardonnay Musqué as part of a Riesling Chardonnay Musqué blend, while other producers, such as Chateau des Charmes, Cave Spring Cellars, and Vineland Estates, prefer to bottle the clone on its own.

A few Ontario Chardonnay Musqués:

Chateau des Charmes

Paul Bosc, founder of Chateau des Charmes, chose the particularly fragrant and interesting Clone 809 for his Chardonnay Musqué.  Only about 500 cases are bottled by the winery annually.  The 2015 vintage is available from the winery or online for $14.95.

Cave Spring Cellars

Cave Spring Cellars 2016 Chardonnay Musqué is made from 100% Chardonnay Musqué Clone 77.  This wine is fermented in stainless steel and unoaked so as to maintain every nuance of the delightful aromatics of the Chardonnay Musqué grape. It’s a wine of refinement and class. Floral, yes, but it also offers bright citrus, tropical fruit, peach and a hint of vanilla aromas. Try it with green salads or shrimp Pad Thai.  It is available from the LCBO for $17.95.

Vineland Estates

Their 2016 Chardonnay Musqué is available from the winery or online for $17.95.  The wine is described as having an abundance of warm summer melon, lime zest and tangerine aromas that roll in the glass while the welcomed edge of acidity focuses and the perfect trace of a bitter finish.

Trail Vintner’s  Weiss

The 2017 Riesling Chardonnay Musqué blend is available at the LCBO for $19.95.  According to Natalie MacLean it is a delightful, vibrant white wine blend of Riesling and Chardonnay Musqué grapes form Prince Edward County. It has aromas of daisies, lychee, apple blossom and white peach, and is balanced with racy acidity for shellfish and vegetarian dishes.

If you are a fan of Chardonnay, and unoaked Chardonnay in particular, trying Chardonnay Musqué would be well worth your while; just ask my wife.

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