Wine’s “Best Before” Date

Photo credit: CanadianTire.ca

As a follow-up to my blog “To Age or Not to Age” from January 15th, I have put together a list of generally accepted retention times for common varietals of white and red wine. However, proper storage methods need to be followed in order to best achieve these results.  Refer to Wine Storage Options for information on how best to retain wine.

The information provided here refers to the length of time a wine can be retained, not the length of time a wine will necessarily continue to be enhanced.  In certain instances some vintages may be retained longer while others should be drunk shortly after purchase.

White Wine

There are a several white wine varietals that age well. The most renowned is Chardonnay, which gets its ability to age from a combination of higher acidity paired with oak-aging.

Sémillon is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc in the white blend of Bordeaux. Sémillon has been shown to age gracefully and develop interesting nutty flavours over time.

Riesling is Germany’s aromatic and often subtly sweet white has proven to do well during aging. As it matures it turns a rich yellow colour with aromas of petrol.  It may sound disgusting but tastes wonderful.

White Rioja or Rioja Blanca is a white wine that begins with citrus and mineral flavours but then becomes increasingly rich and flavourful with age.

Chenin Blanc wines from France’s Loire Valley have produced some great choices of wines suitable for aging. There are also some new options from South Africa that are making a name for themselves.

Fortified dessert wines tend to age longer than stilled wines. Sherry, Madeira and some Marsala have shown to improve in flavour over decades.  There are several botrytized white wines such as Sauternes and Riesling that age nicely for up to 30 years.

Drink Within 1 to 3 Years

  • Albariño
  • Chenin Blanc
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Grüner Veltliner
  • Moscato
  • Pinot Gris/Grigio
  • Prosecco
  • Dry Riesling
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Torrontés
  • Verdicchio
  • Vermentino
  • Vinho Verde

Drink Within 3 to 5 Years

  • Alsace White
  • White Bordeaux
  • Oaked Chardonnay
  • Oaked South African Chenin Blanc
  • Sémillon
  • Trebbiano
  • Oaked Sauvignon Blanc

Drink Within 5 to 10 Years

  • Oaked Grüner Veltliner
  • Kerner
  • Muscat
  • Oaked Albariño
  • Sweet Loire Valley Chenin Blanc
  • Hungarian Furmint
  • White Bordeaux
  • Burgundy Oaked Chardonnay
  • Chablis
  • Auslese German Riesling
  • White Cotes du Rhône
  • White Rioja/ Rioja Blanca

Drink Within 10 to 20 Years

  • High quality Chablis
  • Beerenauslese Riesling
  • Ice Wine
  • Late Harvest Riesling
  • Sauternes
  • Rutherglen Muscat
  • Vendage Tardive Alsace

Some red wines with high acidity and high tannin are perfect to lay down and age for a few years.   Here are some red wines that are known to age well:

Cabernet Sauvignon has a high range of variability because there are a wide range of quality levels and regions. Look for wines with deep color, a higher level of acidity, balanced alcohol levels and noticeable tannins.

Merlot will age in a similar manner as Cabernet Sauvignon. Wines become softer and often smokier with age. Right-bank Bordeaux wines are a great place to start when looking to find cellarable Merlot.

Monastrell/Mourvèdre has extremely high tannins and colour. In the Bandol region of Provence, France, this grape doesn’t usually fully develop its taste until after at least 10 years of aging.

Tempranillo is one of the best varieties for long-term aging.

Sangiovese is another top-notch grape variety to age long-term because of its spicy acidity. Over time it will mellow out and produce sweet fig-like notes.

Nebbiolo grapes produce wines with incredibly high tannins that softens and seems to sweeten over time.  Barolo and Barbaresco are great examples of wines made with Nebbiolo grapes that age extremely well.

Red Wine

Drink Within 1 to 3 Years

  • Beaujolais
  • Dolcetto
  • Gamay
  • Lambrusco
  • Primitivo

Drink Within 3 to 5 Years

  • Barbera
  • Cotes du Rhône
  • Garnacha
  • New world Merlot
  • Petit Syrah
  • Most Pinot Noir
  • Crianza Rioja
  • Viognier
  • Zinfandel

Drink Within 5 to 10 Years

  • Most Cabernet Franc
  • Carmenere
  • Chianti
  • Grenache
  • Malbec
  • Old World Merlot
  • Pinotage
  • Reserva Rioja
  • Sangiovese-based wine
  • Syrah
  • Tempranillo

Drink Within 10 to 20 Years

  • Amarone
  • Bandol
  • Barbaresco
  • Barolo
  • Red Bordeaux
  • Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre)
  • Brunello di Montalcino
  • Douro reds
  • Most Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Dulce Monastrell (sweet red)
  • Nebbiolo
  • Red Port
  • Some Sangiovese
  • Some Tempranillo

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An Italian Region Revival

The ancient Italian wine region of Basilicata is undergoing a revival thanks to a new generation of wine makers. Although wine has been commercially produced there for over a century it is not well known, but that may be about to change.

Photo credit: winefolly.com

Basilicata is a mountainous region located in the south, stretching north from the arch of Italy’s boot.  Its climate is dominated by the Alps of the north rather than the warmer climate of the south.  The region’s wineries are scattered around the extinct Monte Vulture volcano.

The region is primarily a red grape growing region predominately consisting of:

  • 42% Aglianico del Vulture
  • 8% Sangiovese
  • 5% Aglianico
  • 4% Primitivo
  • 3% Montepulciano
  • 3% Italica
  • 2% Malvasia
  • 2% Trebbiano Giallo
  • 1% each of
    • Malvasia Bianca di Basilicata
    • Barbera
    • Malvasia Nera di Brindisi
    • Moscato Giallo
    • Merlot
    • Cabernet Sauvignon

Basilicata has two major wines: Aglianico del Vulture Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC), established in 1971, and the Superiore Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), which was established in 2010.  In total there are only four DOC wines and one DOCG wine produced in the region.

If you are interested in trying the wines of Basilicata, keep an eye for any of these though they are often difficult to come by:

  • Aglianico del Vulture Superiore DOCG
  • Aglianico del Vulture DOC
  • Matera DOC
  • Grottino di Roccanova
  • Terre dell’Alta Val d’Agri DOC

You are more apt to find these wines in the specialty section of your wine store as they will not be available on a day-to-day basis.  Happy hunting!

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The Styles of Irish Whiskey

In recognition of the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day, I decided it is a good time to discuss the different styles of Irish Whiskey.  As with most things Irish, there is disagreement as to how many styles of whiskey there are; some would argue there are four, while others claim only three.

Photo credit: Forbes.com

I will begin this discussion by identifying the three styles that all the experts agree upon.  Those are malt, pot still and grain.  The debated fourth style is a blended combination of two or more of the other three styles.  Those who argue that there are only three styles base their argument on the fact that blends can only exist because they are the product of a combination of the other three styles.

Below are definitions of all four styles, as well as examples of each.  The whiskies highlighted in blue are periodically available in Canadian liquor stores.

Single Malt Whiskey

Malt whiskey is produced from 100% malted barley. It is double or triple distilled in copper pot stills. To qualify as single malt, the whiskey must be made in its entirety at one distillery. Irish single malts are typically soft in texture, smooth, sweet, and malty in flavour.

Examples of single malt whiskies include Bushmills single malt, Knappogue Castle single malt, Connemara 12 Single Malt, Teeling Single Malt, West Cork, Tyrconnell and The Sexton.

Single Pot Still Whiskey

This style is unique to Ireland.  It is made from a mash of at least 30% malted and 30% unmalted barley, which gives pot still its characteristic full-rounded and spicy flavour. In addition to the barley, the mash may contain up to 5% of other cereal grains, such as rye or oats. The mash is fermented and then double or triple distilled in copper pot stills.

Examples of single pot whiskies include Redbreast, Powers John’s Lane and Powers Three Swallow, Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy, Green Spot, Yellow Spot, Red Spot, Blue Spot, Drumshanbo and Teeling.

Single Grain Whiskey

Unlike pot still and malts, grain whiskey is distilled using a column still instead of a copper pot still. This produces a spirit that is lighter and cleaner in body and sweeter in taste. It is most often distilled from a base of corn (maize) with up to 30% malted barley added. Other grains such as wheat or oats may also be used.

Single grain whiskey must be made at a single distillery.

Examples of single grain whiskies include Kilbeggan Single Grain, Teeling Single Grain, The Busker, Clonakilty Bordeaux Cask, Egan’s Vintage Grain and Glendalough Double Barrel.

Blended Whiskey

A blended Irish whiskey should not be automatically considered to be inferior to a single grain, single malt or pot still whiskey. The success of the blend comes down to the quality of the whiskeys it is contrived of and the skill of the blender who creates it.  A blend is a mixture of two or more styles of Irish whiskey. There are no specific names to differentiate between blends made from malt and grain, pot still and grain, malt and pot still, or even malt, pot still and grain.

Blends are often light when grain whiskey is included in the mix, while the addition of pot still or malt whiskey will give body and complexity. Blended whiskeys can be a great alternative to a single pot still or single malt whiskey, which may be too rich or intense in flavour.  Blended whiskey is generally smooth, mellow and silky.

Blended whiskey may be distilled in pot and/or column stills and can be made at a single distillery or multiple distilleries.

Blended whiskey examples include Jameson, Powers Gold Label, Clontarf, Bushmills Black Bush, Teeling Small Batch, Writers’ Tears Copper Pot, Dubliner Bourbon Bask, The Irishman Founder’s Reserve, The Busker ‘Triple Cask Triple Smooth’, The Dubliner, and Teeling Blackpitts.

If you are a whiskey fan and have not tried all four variations of Irish Whiskey, you owe it to yourself to sample them all.  You may discover a new favourite.

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Canada’s Liquid Gold

Ontario is internationally acclaimed for its Ice Wine (also spelled Icewine).  However, it is said to have been discovered by accident in Franken, Germany in 1794 by farmers trying to save their grape harvest after a sudden frost.  Winemakers that year had to create a product from the grapes available for harvest. The resulting wines had an unusually high sugar content, along with great flavour. As a result, this new technique became popular in Germany and by the mid-1800s, the Rheingau region was making what the Germans called Eiswein.

Photo credit: TheDrinksBusiness.com

In the 1980s, Ontario’s vintners recognized that their cold winters would provide the perfect conditions for producing exceptional Ice Wine.  In 1984, Niagara’s Inniskillin winery was the first Canadian winery to produce Ice Wine for commercial purposes. This wine was made from Vidal grapes and was labelled “Eiswein”. Canadian Ice Wine soon became popular and more Canadian producers picked up the idea. The international breakthrough of Canadian Ice Wine came in 1991, when Inniskillin’s 1989 Vidal ice wine won the Grand Prix d’Honneur at VinExpo in Bordeaux, France. By the early 2000s, Canada was established as the largest producer of ice wine in the world. In 2001, the EU recognized Canada’s high standard for producing Ice Wine and began allowing its importation.

At the normal fall harvest time, producers leave select vineyards unharvested and wait for winter to set in. Being left on the vine, the grapes are vulnerable to rot, high winds, hail, hungry birds and animals.  The grapes are harvested in the middle of the night at temperatures below -8°C.  The grapes are picked by hand and must be pressed immediately while they are still frozen.

Only about 10 to 20% of the liquid in these frozen grapes is used for Ice Wine. The juice is so sweet that it can take from 3 to 6 months to make ice wine.  When it’s all done, wines have around 10% alcohol by volume (ABV) and a range of sweetness from around 160 to 220 grams/litre of residual sugar, which is two times the sweetness of Coca-Cola.

Grapes that grow well in cold climates make the best ice wines.  These include Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Vidal Blanc.

To produce Ice Wine, summers must be hot and winters must be cold. Of all the wine-producing regions in the world, only Ontario has a winter climate consistently cold enough to produce Ice Wine every year. Even Germany cannot produce an Ice Wine every vintage.

Regulations in Canada, Germany, Austria, and the U.S. prohibit dessert wines from being labeled as ice wine if grapes are commercially frozen. Instead, these products are usually labeled as “iced wine” or simply “dessert wine.” So, if you’re looking for true ice wine, be a wary shopper and read the labels or look up the production information.

Ice Wine is not just a dessert wine, but if you do serve it along side dessert, make sure the dessert is less sweet than the Ice Wine.  Pairing suggestions include fruit cobbler or pie or cheesecake.  White Ice Wine goes well with apple pie, cheesecake, vanilla pound cake, ice cream, fresh fruit panna cotta, fruit compote, crème brûlée and white chocolate mousse.

If you are serving dark chocolate, it pairs well with Cabernet Franc or other red Ice Wine.  White chocolate goes well with a Riesling or Vidal Ice Wine.

White Ice Wine pairs well with savoury dishes, such as chicken liver pâté, oysters or foie gras.  These salty foods enhance the wine’s sweetness.  The acidity of the Ice Wine cleanses the palate between bites.

Spicy foods, such as spicy chicken or Thai curry will pair well because the sweetness of the wine will control the heat of the food while maintaining the flavours of the spices.

White Ice Wine pairs well with snack foods such as soft cheeses or blue cheeses.  Red Ice Wine goes well with nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts and pecans.

Ice Wine should always be chilled, whether that be for 15 minutes in an ice bucket or 2 hours in the fridge before enjoying.  It can be served in an Ice Wine glass, which is a narrow, tulip-shaped long-stemmed glass or it can be simply served in a white wine glass.  A standard serving is about 1.5 ounces or 45 ml per person.

Once opened, unlike other wines, Ice Wine will keep in the fridge for several weeks.

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The Colour of Wine Bottles

Wine bottles come in a variety of colours but the most common ones come in shades of green, brown, and clear. Winemakers will consider several factors when choosing between the colours of wine bottles to use. The decision will be based on aesthetics (packaging), whether or not to showcase the wine’s colour, the level of required UV protection and any consumer expectations such as traditional European bottling concepts.

Some wines are fermented in the bottle while others are bottled after fermentation. In recent years the bottle size has been standardized, measuring 750 millilitres. Wine bottles are produced, however, in a variety of volumes and shapes.

Many European winemakers base their glass colour selection on tradition.   However, some vintners select a glass colour on visual aesthetics, design and packaging. Others choose a bottle based on the colour schemes associated with the label design or a presentation that fits a certain marketing goal. For example, occasionally you may come across a blue bottle, which is driven by marketing. Flint/clear bottles may also fall into this category because the clear glass is the only way to showcase the colour of the wine.

Photo credit: BruniGlass.com

Producers need to choose between a clear bottle that displays the wine colour or a dark coloured bottle colour that provides UV protection. Wine is sensitive to both sunlight and fluorescent light.  As little as a single hour of sunlight can cause lightstruck, which impacts the flavour of a wine. This can cause wine to taste like rotting leaves, cooked cabbage, leeks, onions, skunk, wet wool or soy.

Certain grape varietals, wine styles, and wines that have more amino acids or hydrogen disulphide (H2S) are more at risk to develop off-flavours. Because of this, sparkling wine is rarely bottled in clear glass. Since aromatic and neutral white wines are delicate, you can taste any off flavours more easily.

Not surprisingly, clear/flint bottles filter the least amount of light, resulting in more light damage than other glass colours. Wines bottled in flint/clear glass are meant for immediate consumption. Tests on white and sparkling wines bottled in flint/clear glass and trials show that citrus aromas in wines decrease and off-flavors increase after only 3.3 – 3.4 hours of exposure to fluorescent lights.

Clear colourless bottles have recently become popular with white wine producers in many countries including Greece, New Zealand and Canada, as well as for sweet white wines from Bordeaux.

Antique/Dark Green Glass

Antique Green is a darker shade of green that is the traditional glass colour for red wines that need to age, including the red wines from Bordeaux, Rhone and Burgundy, France.  It is also popular in the U.S. as it provides the wine with UV protection from fading or oxidation.

Many white wines also come in dark green bottles in order to reduce the effects of UV light.

Champagne/Vibrant Green

Champagne Green is a vibrant green that is the dominate colour used in the Champagne and Alsace regions of France. It is also commonly used within Germany and Austria for bottling Riesling and in California for Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Champagne Green filters out 63% to 92% of UV light.

Dead Leaf/Pale Yellowy Green

The third shade of green is Dead Leaf Green which is almost a light yellowy-green colour. This shade of green provides some UV protection and is traditionally used for white wines. It is one of the traditional glass colours for wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy, France.

Wine in a colourless bottle is meant to be drunk right away, not stored and aged.

Amber Brown Glass

Amber/brown glass filters out 97% to98% of the light wavelengths and offers the best UV protection but is rarely used outside of the Rhine region of Germany. If wineries were always basing their decision on the glass that best protects their wine, amber brown coloured bottles would be the most common bottle used.

Final Thought

The choice of colour for a wine bottle depends on several considerations and each winery selects the colour(s) that they feel are right for them and their brand. Their choice is based on their priorities between marketing, tradition, wine integrity or a combination of the best practices in each area. Those decisions impact your wine experience.

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Wine with Pasta

Photo credit: NicoBoston.com

Pairing wine with pasta is somewhat of a misnomer as what you are really doing is pairing the wine with the pasta sauce. For the purposes of today’s discussion I will stick to the basics, focusing on five common types of pasta sauce:

  • Tomato
  • Cheese
  • Seafood
  • Pesto (herbs)
  • Primavera (vegetable)

Tomato-Based Pasta

The tomatoes in these sauces make them high in acidity.  Because of this, a relatively tart but not too heavy wine is often best suited for these dishes.  If you want an Italian wine, Primitivo, Sangiovese or Chianti would go well.  Other options include Grenache, American Zinfandel or a French Rhône blend.

Cheese-Based Pasta

Cheese is very versatile and pairs well with either red or white wine.  It is best to pair the cheese with a wine having similar characteristics.  For example, creamy cheeses, such as ricotta, will go well with an oaked Chardonnay or Italian Trebbiano.  Light body red wines compliment sauces made with hard cheese.  Some suggestions are Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Langhe Nebbiolo.

For additional cheese pairing ideas see my blog Cheese Pairings from March 6, 2021.

Seafood Pasta

For everything except tomato-based seafood dishes, a lighter weight, acidic white wine is the ideal choice.  Options include Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio, Grenache Blanc, Muscadet, Verdiccio or Vernaccia.  For tomato-based dishes a Rosé is a good option.

Pesto or Herb Pasta

Although pine nut and basil pesto is probably the most common of the herb pasta sauces, other options include basil and walnut, parsley and pistachio and peanut and cilantro.  A white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc or Austrian Grüner Veltliner would be a good choice.

Primavera Pasta

Primavera sauce may consist of a variety of vegetables such as onions, garlic ramps or artichokes.  For non-tomato based primavera sauces, a flavourful white wine is well suited.  Options include Sauvignon Blanc, Vermentino and Trebbiano di Luana.  For tomato-based primavera, follow the suggestions for tomato-based pasta above.

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Triumph to Tragedy

My wife and I recently hosted a family dinner and for the occasion I asked my wife to purchase a Riesling to go along with it.  One of the challenges of living in a rural community is that the local liquor store doesn’t have a lot of choices when in search of a particular varietal. She returned home with Tawse 2017 Sketches of Niagara Riesling. 

When we opened and served the wine with the dinner my wife and I identified the bouquet right away, diesel fuel.  My wife was immediately turned off by it while I became positively excited.  This was the first Ontario Riesling that I have had that authentically portrays its Old-World style German cousin.

The wine was vibrant with subtle floral, nutty, fig, smoke and pear notes, a soft sweetness and long finish.   It is a great value at only $18.95.  Even though my wife was not a fan of the nose of a traditional German style Riesling, she did enjoy the overall flavour of the wine.

When I clicked on Tawse website to see if I could learn more about their German style Riesling, I saw that their wine maker, Paul Pender, had been tragically killed several days prior.  I never had the opportunity of meeting him but after tasting the Riesling, as well as other wonderful creations from Tawse, I certainly wish I had.  His untimely passing is a tragic loss to the entire wine community.

If you are a fan of Riesling, I suggest picking up a bottle or two of the Sketches of Niagara as a tribute to its creator.

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Appassimento Style of Wines

Appassimento is an Italian term that describes the drying of harvested grapes.  Traditionally this was done on bamboo racks or straw mats.  The process took anywhere from a few weeks up to several months to concentrate the sugars and flavours of the grapes. This process is used in making Amarone, Recioto and Sforzato.

Photo credit: WineAnorak.com

The process goes all the way back to the Egyptians or Greeks. The fruit was dehydrated by either leaving them on the vine to dry naturally in the hot sun or by picking and laying the bunches out on straw mats or hanging from rafters.

These types of wines became popular because they provided higher levels of alcohol and sweetness, thus making them not only more stable and complex but appealing to the consumer.

Today, dried grape wines are made in many regions of the world. The most well-known are the Amarone and Recioto wines of Valpolicella in Veneto, Italy.  However, dried-grape wines are also made throughout the rest of Italy and Mediterranean Europe, parts of the southern hemisphere, and even in cool climate regions such as Romania, Moldova, Switzerland, France, Austria, and Germany.

Canada is even now experimenting with these wines. Niagara’s Magnotta’s Enotrium is considered the first of its kind in Canada.

Today the appassimento process consists of harvesting ripe grapes and drying them for a period of several days or months in special rooms where airflow, humidity and temperature are controlled to varying degrees. The process does not ripen grapes like green bananas turning yellow and then brown in a bowl on your kitchen counter. Instead, the process concentrates what already exists in the grapes after they are removed from the vine. The grapes must be very healthy and fully ripe with adequate levels of acidity when harvested.

There are many different approaches to drying in Ontario. Some vintners use ventilated barns or open-air greenhouses while others use kilns.

The drying process will take anywhere from two weeks to over 140 days. Aside from concentrating sugars, acidity and tannins, the drying process will result in important microbiological changes in the grapes that can impart additional unique aromas and flavours adding greater complexity and intrigue to the final product. After the desired period of drying has elapsed, the winemaker will perform a final sorting to eliminate any unwanted fruit from entering the fermentation stage.

Anywhere from 30% to 50% of the original harvested juice yield will be lost using this process. Many of Ontario’s top appassimento-style wines are only made in select, high quality vintages. It is important to inquire as to what percentage of the wine has been dried and to take note of the alcohol percentage and residual sugar present. Knowing this will help you predict the final style of the wine and can help you match your taste preferences to the right product.

A second, less costly by-product of the appassimento process is ripasso wines. Unlike the appassimento wines where dried grapes make up part, or all of the final blend, ripasso wines use fresh, undried grapes to make the base wine which is then re-passed over the used skins leftover from the rarer and expensive appassimento process. This second contact with the skins may start a short re-fermentation adding a slight increase in alcohol to the base wine while adding extra complexity and flavour.

Ontario wineries producing wines using this process include Angel’s Gate, Big Head Winery, Burning Kiln Winery, Kew Vineyards, The Foreign Affair Winery and Rennie Vineyards.

The VQA of Ontario (VQAO) is currently reviewing the use of terms like appassimento and partial appassimento on labels of VQA wines. The VQAO is attempting to update the rules to ensure producers meet all the necessary legal limits for sugar, alcohol content and percentage of dried grapes so consumers will have clarity when buying wines.

As the Canadian wine industry continues to evolve, I believe the inclusion of the Appassimento style will enhance the industry moving forward. Expansion of Canadian viticulture and winemaking provides consumers with an even greater selection of fine wines offering excellent value.

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Scotch Whisky

There are four main whisky regions in Scotland – the Lowlands, the Highlands, Campbelltown and Islay. There are also two whisky sub-regions, Speyside and the Islands, both of which are part of the Highland region.  The Islands are considered to include all the whisky producing islands in Scotland except Islay. Although each distillery’s whisky is unique, the malts produced in each region have some common characteristics that separate them from scotch produced in other regions.

There are four main types of Scottish whisky – ‘single malt’ which is made by one distillery in one batch using only water and malted barley, ‘ grain whisky’ where rye or wheat is added, ‘blended malt’ which is a mix of malts from more than one distillery and ‘blended whiskies’ where many malts and grains are blended together.

Scottish whisky is made and governed by law and must be a minimum of 3 years old before it can be called whisky. Most distilleries produce their first bottling at 10 years old though many are aged longer.

Highlands Region

The Highlands is the largest whisky producing region.  It generally produces more full-bodied whiskies with deep flavours of peat and smoke.

Flavours of fruitcake and oak with heather and smoke are prevalent in Highland whiskies. Wild seas and impenetrable moorlands dominate, creating powerful peaty drams, whilst still leaving room for floral, silky elegance.

The vast size of the region has resulted in Highland whiskies tasting very different from each other, ranging from the extreme heathery, spicy character of Northern Highlands to the fruity whiskies of the Southern Highlands.

Famous highland distilleries include Oban, Glenmorangie, Dalmore, and Glengoyne.

Islands Sub-Region

The versatility of the Islands includes both citrus and smoking peaty flavours.  Scotch from the Islands can be described as a milder version of Islay whisky. The islands, which include Arran, Mull, Jura, Skye and Orkney, have hints of brine, oil, black pepper, heather and honey.  Most of the Island whiskies are salted by the sea.

Talisker’s potent malt hails from the largest distillery of all the islands. Tobermory offers fruity flavours and Jura is nutty and oily, more mid-range in flavour intensity.

Speyside Sub-Region

Speyside is home to over half of Scotland’s distilleries.  However, since Speyside is geographically part of the Highlands, it is considered to be a sub-region of the Highlands by some and a separate region by others.  The region received its name from the river Spey, which cuts through the area.  Many of the distilleries use water straight from the river in their production process. 

Speyside scotch is arguably the country’s most complex, renowned for its sweetness and elegant flavours and aromas, including nutty fruit flavours of apple, pear, honey, vanilla and spice.  Speyside whiskies generally do not use peat as part of their process.

These whiskies often make use of sherry casks thus there is a variety ranging between light and grassy malts such as Glenlivet, and the rich and sweet likes of Macallan.  Other whiskies hailing from the region include Glenfiddich, as well as Balvenie, Aberlour, Tomintoul and Glen Moray, as well as blends like Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal.

On a personal note both the Glenlivet 15 year old and 18 year old are two of my favourites.

Islay Region

Islay scotch is considered to be the smokiest and strongest flavoured of the single malts.  The strong flavour is believed to be due to the region’s exposure to the high winds and seas of the west coast. 

The distilleries include Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Bowmore, and Ardbeg.

Campbeltown Region

Campbeltown was once considered the whisky capital of Scotland but today only three distilleries remain.  The scotch is peaty with a hint of sea salt and a briny character and is said to have flavours of wet wool, salt, smoke, fruit, vanilla and toffee.

Springbank produces three uniquely different whiskies; Longrow, Springbank and Hazelburn. They range from double to triple distilled, non- to richly peated, caramel to clear.

Glengyle produces the sweet, fruity and spiced Kilkerran while Glen Scotia is light with grassy palates.

Lowlands Region

The whiskies of the Lowlands, which are located just above England, are not peaty or salty.  Soft and smooth malts are characteristic of the region, offering a gentle, elegant palate reminiscent of grass, honeysuckle, cream, ginger, toffee, toast and cinnamon.

Lowland whisky is light with floral tones.  The whiskies include Glenkinchie, Bladnoch, Auchentoshan, Linlithgow, Girvan and Strathclyde.

During the upcoming weeks I will discuss a couple of the regions in more detail and relate some of my personal experiences.

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Dry Times Ahead

North America is now said to be entering the early stages of a Champagne shortage which could last for several years.  There are a number of reasons why this is happening.  First, there are the supply chain issues that I discussed in my December 31, 2021 blog, Wine Shipping Delays. This problem was caused by the effects of COVID-19 on the shipping industry, which has resulted in deliveries taking two or three times longer than normal.

Photo credit: https: TheGrapeGeeks.com

Complicating things further has been the fluctuations in the demand for Champagne.  Because of the COVID-19 related lockdowns of 2020, demand fell by about 25% but rose back up again by the end of that year.  The upward trend continued throughout 2021 with demand returning to pre-pandemic levels as consumers were willing to spend more to wine and dine at home since they were often prevented from dining out at fine restaurants.

However, the Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), who regulates how much Champagne may be produced each year, in response to the initial reduction in demand, reduced Champagne output but did not react to the resurgence in demand at the end of that year.  The effects of the reduced Champagne production won’t be felt until this vintage reaches the market in a few years’ time. Ironically, the organization whose purpose it is to protect the Champagne industry inadvertently caused significant financial damage.

While consumer demand for Champagne was expanding throughout 2021, France’s Champagne region was experiencing extreme weather issues.  In March there was scorching heat that burned many of the vines.  This was followed by frost that destroyed about 30% of the vines.  Finally, there were torrential rains during June and July that resulted in mildew coating many of the remaining vines.  As a result, the 2021 grape harvest was the smallest in many decades.

Champagne production won’t be returning to normal anytime soon.  Shortages are expected to last through until at least 2025.

These availability problems will provide growth opportunities for producers of other sparkling wines including Italy’s Prosecco, Spain’s Cava as well as many North American varieties. Canadian options include, among others, 13th Street Cuvée Brut Sparkling Rosé, Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs Brut Sparkling, Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Rosé Brut VQA and Château des Charmes Brut Sparkling.

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