Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Chenin Blanc

This week, we're looking at a grape that's maintained popularity in Old-World France while also becoming a major player in New-World South Africa: Chenin Blanc! 

We've used the word 'workhorse' to describe grape varietals in the past (our article on Grenache comes to mind), but it's hard to find a better contender to the title than Chenin blanc. Used in making some of the longest-aging sweet wines as well as dry whites in France, table wines in South Africa, sparkling wines in various regions around the world, and even in fortified wines and spirits, Chenin Blanc is one hardworking grape!

So, where do we start? Well, how about Chenin Blanc's homeland: France's Loire valley? Here, Chenin blanc is made in a few different varieties. The first, and perhaps most approachable, is in dry, crisp white wines, particularly from the appellation of Anjou. These are usually vinified as 100% Chenin blanc, although occasionally blended with another white grape, such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, to add structure. These wines tend to be crisp, light, and refreshing, with notes of honey and flowers on the nose. Slightly to the South-East of Anjou, we find Vouvray, where Chenin Blanc is often used to make slightly sweet (or off-dry) white wines. In addition to making dry and off-dry wines, Chenin Blanc is also used in making sparkling wines (crémants) and dessert wines throughout the Loire valley.

Leaving the Loire Valley (and France) behind, there is no shortage of regions where we can find Chenin Blanc. It is often used in inexpensive white wine blends in Argentina to make wines that are refreshing and easy-to-drink. Califronia used to have more Chenin Blanc than France in the 1980s, and, although the state's white wines have since become dominated by Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc is still used in various parts of Califronia's central valley to make ripe, ready-to-drink white blends, as well as some noteworthy single-varietal wines that often display melon aromas.

Finally, we arrive in South Africa, perhaps the region most strongly associated with Chenin Blanc today. South African chenin blancs can range in flavours from fruity (such as the melon notes noted earlier) to floral and even herbal. Many South African producers are now also oak-aging their Chenin blancs, causing them to develop butfoie gras, salmon with dill sauce, or quiche. Non-oaked, dry Chenin blanc is great on its own, or paired with a Greek salad or cold cuts. Off-dry Chenin blanc is best paired with slightly spicy dishes, such as mild curries, or a rich dish, such as carrot risotto. 
tery flavours and textures. These pair particularly well with rich dishes, such as

Wherever it is planted, Chenin blanc often produces high yields, but ripens late, which can be problematic in cooler climates where snap frosts or (as has happened recently) hailstorms can hit towards the end of summer. Winemakers must also control yields to avoid producing 'watery' or 'bland' wines. So, this 'workhorse' grape does require quite a bit of work! Because of its popularity around the world, Chenin blanc is an excellent grape for exploring a previously unfamiliar region. So the next time you're shopping for wine, why not take a look at what sort of Chenin blancs are on offer?

The Short Version
Names: Chenin Blanc, Pineau (Loire), Steen (South Africa)
Flavour Profile (Dry, Unoaked): Aromas ranging from floral to herbal on the nose, sometimes with notes of honey. Nice crisp acidity.
Flavour Profile (Dry, Oaked): Fruity and spicy notes on the nose, with buttery aromas and flavours.
Flavour Profile (Off-dry, Unoaked): Aromas of peaches or acacia on the nose, with nice acidity and sweetness on the finish.
Food Paring (Dry, Unoaked): Greek salad, cold cuts, bruschetta.
Food Pairing (Dry, Oaked): Quiche, salmon with heavy sauce
Food Pairing (Off-dry): Mild-to-medium curry, carrot risotto
Best-Known Regions: France (Loire), South Africa, California, Argentina
Price Range: $10-$30

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Counoise

This week, we're in the Rhone Valley, looking at a lesser-known, 'peppery' grape: Counoise!

The Rhone Valley is home to some of France's best red blended wines. From the Cotes du Rhone Villages, to the appellations of Ventoux and Gigondas, up to the prestigious plantings of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape, this French region produces world-class Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre blends.  But Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre (or 'GSM' for short) aren't the only wines grown in this beautiful region. Indeed, the region also grows some fantastic, if lesser-known grape varietals, such as the soft, 'peppery' Counoise.

Counoise (pronounced "Coohn-waaz") is a red grape varietal that has traditionally been used mostly in blends in Cotes du Rhone's most prestigious appellation: the Chateauneuf du Pape. Although not as well-known as Shiraz, Grenache, or even Mourvedre, it is prized by many winemakers for its ability to 'soften' the tannins produced by other red grapes, which makes the wine more approachable and easier to drink. Counoise also adds a trademark 'peppery' or spicy note to blended reds, as well as having flavours of plum or wild raspberries.

In addition to its use in the Chateauneuf du Pape, it is also sometimes used to produce red wines in southerly Languedoc and it makes for some interesting rosé wines in Provence. Outside of France, Counoise has recently gained popularity in Washington State and California, where it is often made without blending and bottled as a varietal wine. As with blends that use Counoise, these 100% Counoise wines tend to have spicy, peppery notes as well as hints of vanilla and raspberries on the nose and deep, earthy flavours. The best food pairings for Counoise wines tend to be dishes that compliment its peppery notes, such as Peppercorn New York stirploin stake, sausage jambalaya, or rosemary chicken w
ith red potatoes. 

Counoise grapes tend to ripen late and give off only moderate yields, making them poor value-propositions for winemakers looking to get the most for their space and work. However, its versatility in complimenting the biggest red grapes in the world as well as producing interesting and complex single-varietal wines is unmatched. So, the next time you're looking for something different or picking up a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape for a nice dinner, ask if it's made from Counoise -- if it is, you may be in for a treat!

The Short Version: 
Names: Counoise, Counoise noir, Damas noir, Moustardier
Flavour Profile: Peppery and wild raspberry notes on the nose, with earthy flavours on the palate.
Main Regions: Cotes du Rhone, Washington State, California
Price Range: $15-$30

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Sylvaner

This week, we're exploring Northern France and looking at a unique Alsatian white grape varietal: Sylvaner! 

As with many other grape varietals, Sylvaner is called slightly different things depending on where you are. It is usually spelled 'Silvaner' or titled somewhat more elaborately as 'Grüner Silvaner' in Germany and Austria. Conversely, in France's Alsace region, it is almost always referred to as Sylvaner, and in Croatia, it goes by the name of Silvanac Zeleni. Regardless of its origin (or its spelling), Sylvaner is responsible for some fantastic, full-bodied, and nicely-structured white wines.

Sylvaner tends to ripen early and is a productive grape, meaning that yields can be quite high. However, winemakers must trim their grapes and reduce the yield sizes in order to ensure that the resulting wines are flavorful and distinct, rather than bland and watery. Also, despite its popularity in colder-climate countries such as Germany and Austria, Sylvaner is somewhat sensitive to frost, and snap frosts can be devastating for a harvest. Despite these risks, well-made Sylvaner will usually have a fair amount of freshness and structure on the pallet and a nose ranging from herbal to floral. Some winemakers prefer to leave some residual sugar in their Sylvaner, making it slightly sweet (or demi-sec), but most Sylvaners today are made dry.

If you do have a demi-sec Sylvaner, however, it can make for fantastic paring with spicy Asian cuisines, such  as thai curries, spicy General Tao chicken, or Teriyaki ribs. Dry Sylvaners are best paired with more traditional seafood dishes, such as sole or salmon, cold cuts, or drunk on its own as an aperitif.

The Short Version
Names: Sylvaner, Silvaner, Gruner Silvaner, Silvanac Zeleni
Main Regions: Germany, Austria, Alsace (France), Croatia, Switzerland
Flavour Profile: Most often with herbal and eucalyptus notes as well as floral aromas. Fresh, well-balanced and structured pallet.
Food Pairings (Demi-Sec): Thai curries, Spicy chicken, Sweet and Sour fish or ribs
Food Pairings (Dry): Baked salmon, cold cuts
Price Range: $15-$30

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Malbec

This week, we're taking a look at an Old World grape that's gained a name in the New World -- Malbec!

Although Malbec is now probably best-known for making affordable and approachable wines in Chile and Argentina, this black grape varietal was once most-planted in France's prestigious Bordeaux region. Indeed, Malbec continues to serve as an important grape in Bordeaux's Cahors appellation, as well as in parts of Burgundy and the Loire Valley. Mostly, though, it can be found on the lush mountains of South America.

South American Malbecs generally exhibit lush, ripe, fruity flavours, with powerful aromas and a smooth, easy-to-drink palate. Conversely, Malbec wines from Cahors (often labelled simply as 'Cahors wine'), traditionally have powerful tannins that require proper aging to soften and 'open up'. Today, however, many Bordeaux winemakers have begun making Cahors wine that is a little bit more approachable, often with notes of plum and chocolate on the nose and a smoother-drinking style. In Cahors, Malbec wines are often grouped into three categories: Tradition, Prestige, and Spéciale, with the complexity, intensity, aging potential, and price increasing as you move across the categories. Outside of Bordeaux, Malbec can also be found in the Loire Valley, where it is known as Cot and is often blended with Cabernet Franc and Gamay to make approachable, inexpensive wines.

Malbec is not easy to grow. Indeed, one of the reasons behind its decline in France is likely its sensitivity to frost, mildew, and rot. In this, it is similar to Merlot, but often produces smaller yields and less complex wines. Perhaps that is why most of Bordeaux has moved to a Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc blends. However, no matter what it's origins, a good Malbec can serve as a great, easy-to-drink wine that pairs very well with a variety of foods. For South American Malbec, open with lamb shanks, pulled pork or BBQ ribs. If you've got a Malbec from Cahors or elsewhere in Bordeaux, try it with beef stew, blue cheese, or a new juicy steak. Better yet, grab a bottle of Malbec from Argentina and one from France and see the variety of wine that this grape can produce! 

The Short Version:
Names: Malbec, Cahors (Bordeaux), Cot (Loire), Auxerrois (Burgundy)
Primary Regions: Argentina, Chile, Bordeaux, Loire
Flavour Profile (New World): Smooth, easy to drink, with notes of ripe red fruits
Flavour Profile (Old World): Intense nose, sometimes of plum or chocolate, with strong tannins and complexity.
Food Pairing (New World): BBQ ribs, pulled pork, lamb
Food Pairing (Old World): Steak, beef stew, blue cheese
Price Range: $15-$30

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Melon de Bourgogne

This week, we're exploring the West end of France's Loire Valley region and looking at a grape with a checkered past: Melon de Bourgogne.

As the name suggests, Melon de Bourgogne hails from France's famed Burgundy (Bourgogne) region, where it was banned in the 16th and 17th centuries. Fortunately for winemakers (and wine-drinkers!) the grape proved able to survive a particularly harsh winter in 1709, which caused a proliferation of 'Melon' plantings in the Nantes region. Today, it is primarily found in the western part of the Loire Valley, near Nantes, where it is used to produce Muscadet. Indeed, Muscadet continues to be the top white wine in the Loire Valley by volume. 

Not to be confused with the often-sweet and always aromatic Muscat, Muscadet wines are normally dry and exhibit a strong, pin-pointed acidity with nice minerality and fruity-ness as well as elegant aromas ranging from fruity to floral. Dry Muscadet wines are also typically on the lower end of the alcohol spectrum, rarely exceeding 12% alcohol, which may make them appealing to those who prefer fresh, lower-alcohol wines that have a good amount of finesse.

Outside of the Loire Valley, Melon de Bourgogne is also planted in California, where it was confusingly called Pinot Blanc (not to be mistaken for Pinot Blanc from France or Pino Bianco from Italy). Indeed, in order to avoid confusion with E
uropean Pinot Blanc wines, many Californian wineries have started labeling their Melon de Bourgogne wines with the simpler, if less romantic name of 'Melon'. It has also recently seen some plantings in Argentina and Oregon State. Despite it's ability to survive a frost in 1709, Melon de Bourgogne is actually rather sensitive to cold weather, and winemakers must be selective in choosing where to plant the vines.

When it comes to pairing Melon de Bourgogne wines, perhaps the most classic example is pairing with oysters. However, it's minerality and acidity also make for a great pairing with spicy chicken dishes and even tacos. It also makes a great companion to more traditional white-wine-friendly dishes, such as sole, bass, scallops, or light pastas. So, the next time you want to try something a little bit more obscure while shopping for a white, why not give a Melon de Bourgogne wine a try?

The Short Version
Names: Melon de Bourgogne, Melon, Muscadet, Pinot Blanc (in California), Gamay blanc
Flavour Profile: Notes of white flowers and/or apples and pears on the nose, with good acidity and minerality.
Best-Known Regions: Loire Valley, California
Price Range: $12-$25

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Verdicchio

This week, we're looking at one of central Italy's classic white wine grapes: Verdicchio!

Primarily grown in four regions of central Italy's Marche region, Verdicchio's name derives from the Italian for green (verde), due to the light yellow and even slightly green colours that often characterize Verdicchio wines. Despite the similarity of the names, Verdicchio is a largely Italian grape and shouldn't be confusvinho verde!
ed with Portugal's 'green' wine,

Wines made from Verdicchio often have aromas of green apple and citrus, as well as a good amount of acidity and minerality with notes of almonds on the finish. Some Verdicchio wines, particularly those made in the Castelli di Jesi area, tend to be lighter and cleaner, emphasizing the grape's natural citrus aromas and easy-drinking style. Others, such as those from the Matelica DOC, tend to be somewhat softer and rounder, trading some of the grape's high acidity for notes of flowers and almonds.

Although usually meant to be consumed quickly, when aged, wine made from Verdicchio can develop a very luxurious velvety feel. Verdicchio is usually vinified on its own, although it is sometimes blended with Gargenega in making white wines in Italy's Veneto region. It is also sometimes used to make spumante, or Italian sparkling wine. Wherever it comes from, though Verdicchio wines make a great aperitif or pairing for sole, mussels, oysters, or gnocchi.

Verdicchio grapes tend to ripen late into the harvest season and is often harvested in mid-to-late October and is susceptible to fungal diseases, but can produce large yields. Because of this, you don't need to spend much to get a great Verdicchio white and some great expressions of this wine can be found under the $15 mark, although you will also be rewarded if you're willing to splurge for a higher-end bottle. So the next time you're thinking about pairing wine with oysters, or just enjoying a nice evening in the sun, try a bottle of Verdicchio!

The Short Version:
Names: Verdicchio, Trebbiano di Lugana, Trebbiano di Soave, Giallo, Maceratese
Flavour Profile: Notes of green apple on the nose, with good acidity and hints of almonds in the mouth.
Best-Known Regions: Marche, Veneto
Price Range: $12-$25

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Seyval Blanc

This week, we're looking at a lesser-known white wine grape that's popular in Eastern North America and in England! 

I recently had the opportunity to chat with a winemaker from upstate New York who made some interesting wines, including wines from a grape named Seyval Blanc. As I'd never heard of this varietal before, I couldn't resist learning a bit more about it. In her Oxford Companion to Wine, Jancis  Robinson refers to Seyval Blanc as a "useful" grape varietal, largely due to its high productivity and its ability to ripen early. Seyval blanc is also resistant to cold climates and can survive the harsh winters of Canada and the North-Eastern United States.

In Ontario and New York, Seyval blanc is often blended with Chardonnay or other white wine grapes, although it is possible to find wines containing 100% Seyval blanc. Wines made from Seyval blanc tend to have a nice touch of minerality (not unlike a Chardonnay), and grassy or melon-like aromas on the nose. However, wines made exclusively from Seyval Blanc can sometimes lack character and complexity, which makes blending with a more powerful varietal like Chardonnay a popular choice. Aging in oak barrels is another way to add complexity to the wine, although given the price of barrels and their limited re-usability, this is a rather costly endeavour.

If you travel across the pond to the United Kingdom, you might be surprised to find Seyval Blanc being used in sparkling wines. Usually blended with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier, Seyval Blanc sparkling wines have a nicely crisp and clean palate with a good amount of acidity.

Food pairing with Seyval Blanc can be a slightly tricky affair, as it can be difficult to ensure that the food does not overpower the fairly light wine. Most Seyval blanc wines are great on their own, or can be paired with cold cuts, mild cheeses like Havarti, or salads. Light fish, such as sole, can also work well.

The Short Version
Names: Seyval Blanc, Seival, Seyval.
Best-Known Regions: Ontario, New York State, United Kingdom
Flavour Profile: Aromas of melon and hay, crisp and clean on the palate.
Food Pairings: Salads, sole, cold cuts
Price Range: $10-$50

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Gros Manseng

This week, we're exploring south France with a very unique grape varietal: Gros Manseng!

Unless you're a connosieur of armagnac or wines from South France, you may not have heard of this 'big' grape varietal. Grown primarily in South-West France and Gascony, Gros Manseng is part of a family of three wines, which also includes Petit ('small') Manseng and Manseng Noir ('black Manseng'), which is a red wine grape. As the name suggests, the main difference between Gros and Petit manseng is the size -- Gros Manseng usually has significantly larger berries and berry clusters than it's 'small' cousin. Also, while most Petit Manseng wines are sweet, many producers make dry or semi-dry wines using Gros Manseng.
Gros ManseUgni Blanc in making brandy in France's Armagnac region. In addition to its usefulness in producing brandy, however, Gros Manseng is also used to produce table wines, either as a blend with another grape, such as Sauvignon Blanc, or on its own. Wines made from Gros Manseng typically have good acidity and pleasant floral and apricot aromas.When blended with Sauvignon Blanc, Gros Manseng's acidity helps balance the intense floral notes of French Sauvignon Blanc. When vinified on its own, the high acidity retains its usefulness, usually acting to balance out the sweetness in an off-dry or medium-sweet wine.
ng is often used alongside

Despite being thick-skinned, Gros Manseng requires good timing and care when harvesting. Picking the grape too early will not allow its full flavours and intensity to come out, while waiting too long will lead to 'flat' wines that lack flavour and are 'short' in the mouth. Additionally, if a winemaker is too rough with the berries, there is a risk of the wine developing excess tannins, making it difficult to drink.

Gros Manseng really shines when it comes to food pairings. It's sweetness-acidity balance lends itself well to a variety of dishes, particularly foie gras, smoked turkey sandwiches, or Indian dishes, such as Chana Masala. It's also a great ac
companiment to Thai curries and spicy sushi. So the next time you're getting take-out, pick up a bottle of Gros Manseng to accompany it!

The Short Version
Names: Gros Manseng
Popular Regions: South-West France, Gascony, Armagnac
Food Pairings: Foie gras, thai curry, Chana Masala
Price Range: $15-$25

If this article has got you thirsting for a bottle of Gros Manseng, try Domaine de Papolle's medium-sweet Gros Manseng, available at an LCBO store near you!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Mourvedre

This week, we're completing our look at Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre (GSM) wines by looking at the last of the three grapes in this powerful red blend: Mourvedre! 

In past articles, we've looked at Grenache and Syrah (or Shiraz, as it is now more commonly known), mentioning that these two grapes are often blended with Mourvedre to make a 'GSM' or Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blend. So today, we'll be looking at the last of these three grapes and exploring just what makes this red blend so interesting and popular around the wine world.

Mourvedre is a warm-climate red grape varietal, traditionally popular in south France (such as in the Rhone, Provence and Languedoc regions) and in Spain, where it is often called Monastrell. It has also recently become more popular in Australia and California, where it sometimes goes by the name of Mataro. In a 'GSM' blend, Shiraz typically adds good tannins and Grenache adds an 'earthy' flavour, while Mourvedre creates good structure and intense fruit, making for a nicely balanced but still approachable blended wine. It is sometimes vinified on its own (mostly in Spain), which creates heady wine with strong flavours and tannins. In France, Mourvedre (alongside Grenache and Syrah) is perhaps best-known for its use in making wines in the prestigious Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation.

Mourvedre can be difficult to grow, with its small, thick-skinned berries susceptible to mildew and sensitive to low winter temperatures. It ripens late and its leaves must be cut often to ensure that the leaf-to-fruit ratio remains low, lest the grapes fail to ripen or produce watery wines. Once the grapes to ripen, winemakers generally have only a short window before it begins to lose it's acidity and develop undesirable prune-like flavours. When all goes well, however, Mourvedre can produce excellent, well-structured wines with good tannins and acidity.

When it comes to food pairings, Mourvedre wines tend to require intense dishes, such as barbequed ribs or steaks, lamb, game, and veal. It's a great accompaniment to dishes that traditional Provencal spices, such as lavender, rosemary, or thyme. The next time you're getting out the barbecue, give a Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre wine a try!

The Short Version
Names: Mourvedre, Monastrell, Mataro
Flavour Profile: Structured wines with good tannins, fruity flavours and aromas of blackberries.
Best-Known Regions: France (Rhone, Languedoc, Provence), Spain, Australia, California
Food Pairings: Barbecued ribs, steak, game, veal
Price Point: $15-$50

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Marsanne

This week, we're going to the South of France to learn about a popular but perhaps lesser-known white wine grape, Marsanne.

The Cotes du Rhone is where we began our agency in 2004, so it remains a special appellation for us here at Nokhrin Wines. Although it might not have the prestige of Bordeaux or the 'terroir' of Burgundy, it remains an amazing appellation for good quality, well-priced wines, and Marsanne is certainly part of that story. This grape can make for some wonderfully full-bodied white wines with notes of honeysuckle, almonds, and spices. It is often used to add spice and body in blends and is often blended with other white wine grapes, such as Roussanne and Viogner. Despite this, it is possible to occasionally find 100% Marsanne wines.

Marsanne vines are vigorous, meaning that vines and leaves tend to grow quickly and large. Partly due to its vigour, winemakers have to control Marsanne yields, keeping them fairly low and harvesting early in order to ensure that the end result has good acidity and is not 'flabby' or 'watery'. Marsanne grapes are also picky -- if the climate is too hot, they will over-ripen, leading to 'flabby' wine. If it it too cold, they will not ripen properly, also leading to wine that lacks flavour or aroma. Despite this, it has proven to be a popular grape in numerous big-name wine regions, including the Cotes du Rhone, other sections of Southern France, as well as Australia and California.

Pairing for a Marsanne (or Marsanne blend) wine tends to be similar to other white wines, although Marsanne wines can have more body to them than your average white. This makes them good pairs for dishes like chicken with cream (not tomato) sauce, richer foods such as duck or lobster, and, of course, foie gras. And, of course, Marsanne makes an excellent choice for a fish course.

The Short Version
Names: Marsanne, Avilleran, Ermitage Blanc, Rousseau, Hermitage.
Flavour Profile: Rich body, aromas of honeysuckle, spices, white peaches
Best-Known Regions: Cotes du Rhone, South France, Australia, California
Food Pairings: Foie gras, duck, fish, chicken
Price Range: $15-$25

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Mauzac

This week, we're looking at an aromatic French white wine grape: Mauzac!

Unless you happen to be a sparkling wine aficionado, you may not have heard of Mauzac before. Popular with winemakers in Southwest France in the 1970s and 1980s, Mauzac has since become supplanted by the better-known Chardonnay as the leading white wine grape for the region. Nevertheless, many wineries in parts of Languedoc and Southwest France continue to use Mauzac to create fantastic still and sparkling wines.

Wines made from Mauzac tend to be highly aromatic and have unique flavours of dried apples as well as a good amount of acidity, particularly in dry sparkling wines. Mauzac grapes ripen late in the harvest season, making them sensitive to early frosts. Traditionally, winemakers would harvest Mauzac grapes in late September or early October, giving them time to undergo additional fermentation on the vine. Today most prefer to harvest Mauzac earlier in the season to maintain the grape's natural acidity. The grape is also susceptible to rot due to its high fertility and the dense structure of its fruit.

Mauzac is often vinified on its own, particularly when winemakers make use of more traditional vinification methods, such as methode ancestrale or methode gaillacoise (these are usually demarcated on the wine label). However, some winemakers prefer to blend Mauzac with Chardonnay and/or Chenin blanc in creating their sparkling wines. In addition to Languedoc and Southwest France, Mauzac is sometimes used in making still white in Bordeaux.

Pairing a sparkling Mauzac wine depends largely on whether the wine is sweet or dry. Sweet Mauzac sparklers pair best with foie gras, light seafood dishes, and Cantal or goat cheese. Dry sparkling wines made from Mauzac pair well with fish or berries or can be consumed as an aperitif.

The Short Version
Names: Mauzac, Mauzac Blanc, Blanquette, Caspre, Gaillac.
Flavour Profile: Highly aromatic nose of apples and candied fruit with a nice bit of acidity.
Food Pairings (sweet): Foie gras, goat cheese, Cantal, Brebis
Food Pairings (dry): Fish and light seafood dishes, strawberries.
Price Range: $15-$35

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Touriga Franca

This week, we're going back to Portugal to explore one of the country's most exciting red wine grapes: Touriga Franca

Despite the name, Touriga Franca (also known by the slightly more flowery monicker of Touriga Francesca) has no connection with France or with French wines. Instead, it makes do with being the most widely-planted grape in Portugal's famed Duoro valley. It's popularity comes from its consistent yields and resistance to pests, making it a safe bet for winemakers. I is also a versatile grape, and, much like Touriga Nacional, can be used in both table and port wines. Winemakers often blend Touriga Franca with other grapes, such as Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), which help to balance out its fruity perfume and dense colour with stronger tannins and higher acidity. Indeed, as with most Portuguese grapes, it is quite difficult to find unblended Touriga Franca in the LCBO. However, it's worth noting that there are few Duoro or port wines that don't contain this wonderfully fruity grape! 

In addition to being popular in the Duoro valley, Touriga Franca is frequently planted in other parts of Portugal, such as Ribatejo, Terras do Sado, and Estremadura. It has also been used in fortified wines in both Tasmania and California. Food matches for table wines made with Touriga Franca include pork and beef stew, pork, and lamb stuffed with vegetables. When it comes to fortified (ie. port) wines made with the grape, stilton cheese and dark chocolate tend to make good dinner-table companions. The next time you pick up a bottle of Duoro red, see if you can spot the notes of wildflowers and red fruits that make up the trademark Touriga Franca perfume!

The Short Version
Names: Touriga Franca, Touriga Francesca,  Rifete, Esgana Cao
Flavour Profile: Notes of red fruits and wildflowers, with elegant structure and strong tannins. 
Best-Known Regions: Portugal (Duoro in particular), Australia (Tasmania), and California. 
Price Range: $15-50
Food Pairings (table wine): Stew, wild game, lamb
Food Pairings (fortified): Stilton, Gorganzola, dark chocolate

If this post has made you thirsty for some Duoro red, you might want to try the award-winning Quinta de Lubazim's Grande Reserva 2008, now available at a Vintages section of an LCBO near you!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Barbera

This week, we're looking at Piedmont's 'people's grape', Barbera!

Ah Barbera, the people's wine of Piedmont, renowned for its versatility, high acidity, and beautifully dark ruby red colour. It is currently Italy's third most-planted red grape varietal, after Sangiovese and Montepulciano and, although some have traced its origins to Lombardy, Piedmont is usually considered this red grape's spiritual home. Despite being a tremendously popular Italian grape, Barbera's history is not without controversy. In 1984, a scandal broke out when over thirty people died after drinking cheap Barbera wines that had been adulterated with Methanol. This caused a sharp nosedive in the grape's popularity and significant new restrictions were imposed on winemaking with the grape, particularly in the country's DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) regions, such as the DOCs of Alba and Asti.

Barbera vines have large leaves and tend to ripen late, allowing them to develop a high level of acidity. It's versatility allows it to be used in both young, inexpensive, and easy-drinking wines as well as in powerful, intense, and high-end bottlings. Traditionally, wines made with Barbera grapes tend to be full-bodied, light on tannins, high in acidity and dark red in colour. Some winemakers have recently begun to experiment with aging their Barbera wines in oak barrels before bottling. This adds spicy notes to the wine, as well as softening the acidity and adding tannins. Barbera wines can be paired with a large variety of dishes, including braised chicken, lasagna, barbecue ribs, and cheeseburgers.

In addition to Piedmont, Barbera today can be found in a significant number of other wine regions. It is very popular in neighbouring Lombardia, as well as in Emilia-Romagna. It is also grown across international lines in Slovenia and has been introduced to Argentina and the hot Central Valley of Califronia. So, the next time you're looking for a big red wine to go with your week-end barbecue, give a Barbera a try!

The Short Version
Names: Barbera, Lombardesca, Barbexinis, Perricone
Flavour Profile: Dark ruby red colour, high acidity, low-to-medium tannins, low tannins. Notes of cherries, raspberries, and vanilla.
Food Pairing: Barbecue ribs, chicken, lasagna
Price Range: $15-$75

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Tinta Barroca

Apologies for the missing post last week! This week, we're looking at a lesser-known port grape: Tinta Barroca

Unless you're a port lover, you've likely not heard of Tinta Barroca. However, this red port grape is the third most-planted grape in Portugal after Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz! As the monicker of 'port grape' implies, Tinta Barroca is primarily used in the making of fortified wines (read: ports) in Portugal's famed Duoro valley. The grape has a thin, dark skin and produces good yields, but can fare poorly in high heat, which can cause the grapes to shrivel on the vine, which certainly doesn't make for good port! In order to avoid this, winemakers normally plant the grape on higher altitudes or on northern-facing slopes to limit sun exposure.

Tinta Barroca is useful in producing slightly jammy and rustic wines, which allows it to add fruitiness, and colour to port blends without also adding too much tannin. The grape also has high sugar content, which is allows it to develop a large amount of alcohol via fermentation (another useful feature for making port, as it lowers the amount of spirit that has to be added later). Tinta Barroca is rarely vinified on its own in Portugal, instead being used in blends for both ports and unfortified red wines. It is also sometimes grown in South Africa, where single-varietal bottlings can be found. These tend to be very intense, high-alcohol wines that are not the most approachable. However, blends with Tinta Barroca and other Portuguese reds, such as Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, or Tinta Roriz can make for some fantastic wines. The best Tinta Barroca is still to be found in port, however.

When it comes to port and food, cheese tends to be a strong candidate. In particular, salty cheeses like Roquefort or Gorgonzola can provide nice contrasts to the sweetness of port wine. Almonds and walnuts can also be used as a nice complement and to bring out the nutty flavours of a vintage or colheita port. Desserts with citrus, such as lemon tarts, can also make for a nice pairing, particularly with 10- and 20-year tawny ports. 

The Short Version
Names: Tinta Barroca
Flavour Profile: Rustic, slightly jammy, with high alcohol.
Best-Known Regions: Portugal (Duoro/Oporto), South Africa
Price Range: $15-$150
Food Pairings: Blue and salty cheeses, nuts, lemon tart.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Arneis

We're back to Italy this week with a look at a Piedmontese white grape: Arneis!

With it's refreshing acidity and aromas of flowers and citrus, Arneis really is a perfect summer white. Originating from Piedmont, Italy, it is most popularly grown in Piedmont's southern Roero region (just Northwest of the town of Alba, which is famous for its truffles as well as its wine). Indeed, while Arneis is now being planted in Australia, New Zealand, and even California, the Roero region continues to be the grape's true home. The grape is sometimes known as 'Barolo bianco' (white Barolo) as a reminder of the fact that it was once blended with Nebbiolo to make red wines in the Barolo region. 

Arneis is a light white wine, offering notes of grapefruit, citrus zest and floral aromas on the nose before proceeding to flavours of pear, apple, and white peaches on the palate. Arneis wines tend to be crisp in acidity and easy to drink, making them perfect for an aperitif or pairing with light dishes, such as salads, cold cuts and light seafood. Although historically blended in red wines, today, Arneis tends to be vinified on its own (without blending with other grapes) and is usually unoaked, letting the grape's natural flavours and aromas shine.

In Piedmontese, Arneis literally means "little rascal" -- a name that came about due to the difficulties associated with planting and harvesting the grape. Arneis grapes tend to have low acidity and have a tendency to over-ripen, making it difficult to find the perfect time to pick them. Arneis is also traditionally susceptible to mildew and allows for only modest yields in most years, which can make growing it a lot of work for re

latively little result. Thankfully, Italian winemakers evidently enjoy the flavours and aromas that the grape produces enough to keep producing this fantastic summer white!

The Short Version
Names: Arneis, Barolo Bianco
Flavour Profile: Aromas of citrus, flowers, and sometimes almond. Flavours of peaches, apples, and pears. 
Best-Known Regions: Italy (Roero), Australia, California, New Zealand
Price Range: $15-$30
Food Pairings: Salad, seafood, cold cuts. 

If this article has made you thirsty for a little bit of Arneis, why not try Daniele Pelassa's Roero Arneis San Vito -- a great traditional expression of this fantastic grape, available at a Vintages section near you!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Cinsault

With the weather finally warming up, we thought it'd be a perfect time to take a look at a great Rosé grape: Cinsault!

Cinsault (or Cinsaut, if you prefer) is a hardy grape. It can tolerate heats that make other grapes wilt on the vine and can produce yields that would make Chardonnay blush. It is commonly used in a variety of wines, but it is perhaps best-known making intense reds from South Africa, where it goes by the name of Hermitage and for being blended in fantastic rosé wines from Languedoc and Rousillion in France. It is also planted in Italy (where it is known as Ottavianello), Lebanon, Australia, and Morocco.

Cinsault vines produce thick-skinned grapes which are resistant to drought, but can be susceptible to disease, rot, and mildew. This makes hot, dry climates the ideal place for this grape. Wines made from Cinsault tend to be very flavourful, with soft tannins and penetrating aromas of strawberries, cherries, and perfume. Good Cinsault wines (particularly those made with smaller yields) often have a very pleasant, velvety mouth-feel. Cinsault is occasionally vinified on its own, but more frequently, it is blended with Grenache and/or Carignan to add structure and tannins. As a rosé wine, Cinsault pairs tremendously well with strawberries, salads, or Danish blue cheese (the saltiness of the cheese balances out with the sweet aromas of Cinsault quite well). As a red wine, it pairs well with red meats, such as veal, lamb, and pheasant.

The Short Version
Names: Cinsault, Hermitage, Cinsaut, Ottavianello
Flavour Profile (rosé): Strong aromas of fruits, with light flavours and soft mouthfeel Flavour Profile (red): Soft, with dark fruit aromas and light-to-mid weight
Best-Known Regions: Languedoc-Roussilion, Provence, South Africa, Puglia
Price Range: $15-$40
Food Pairings (rosé): Strawberries, light salads, salty cheeses
Food Pairings (red): Veal, lamb, pheasant.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Trebbiano

This week, we're looking at a grape popular in Italy and France, for very different reasons - it's Trebbiano! 

You might not think so when you look at the name, but Trebbiano is the second most-planted grape in the world, and Italy's most commonly planted white wine grape. It's medium-sized green leaves and green-to-amber berries are most commonly found in Tuscany. In fact, it was once so popular in Italy that authorities had to allow it to be used in red wines, such as Chianti Classico. So, if it's so popular, why have so few people heard of it? The answer may be because, when vinified on its own, Trebbiano tends to produce largely unremarkable and easily forgettable wines that do not keep well. It does, however, produce a very nice acidity and citrus notes on both the nose and palate, so most Italian winemakers opt to blend it with other varietals, such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, or Malvasia. There are also eight restricted wine-making regions (DOCs) in Italy that bear its name, such as the Trebbiano d'Abruzzo DOC and the Trebbiano di Soave DOC. Trebiano must make up a significant percentage (usually over 50%) of any wine that wishes to be classified under any of these DOCs.

When it's not being used in the production of an Italian white wine, Trebbiano can be found under the name of Ugni Blanc in France, where it is used to make brandy, armagnac, and cognac. It's high acidity allows it to produce smooth spirits via distillation, and it is used in all manner of spirits, from inexpensive eau-de-vie to top-shelf cognac. It is also frequently used in white wines in Provence a
nd Gascony. Trebbiano/Ugni blanc wines pair well with curries, dark fish, and other spicy dishes, as well as Brie, Camambert, and English Cheddar.

The Short Version
Names: Trebbiano, Ugni Blanc, Albano, Thalia
Flavour Profile: High in acidity with citrus and floral notes.
Best-Known Regions: Tuscany, Marche, other Italian regions, Cognac, Armagnac, Provence.
Price Range: $15-$40
Food Pairings:
Curry, Fish, English Cheddar, Brie

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Pinotage

Join us this week as we take a look at a controversial grape popular in South Africa: Pinotage.

Pinotage has certainly had a bit of a checkered past. Created from a cross-breeding of Pinot Noir and Cinsualt (also known as 'Hermitage', thus the name 'Pinotage' for the new grape), the grape has gained some notoriety as winemaking and wine-drinking trends have changed over the years. Pinotage is primarily planted in South Africa, form where it originates. In fact, for better or worse, Pinotage remains synonymous with South African wine for most people. Massively popular in South African wine-making from the 1960s to the 1990s, Pinotage popularity took a hit when South African winemakers began to experiment with global varieties (such as Shiraz and Merlot) after the end of apartheid. The tendency for Pinotage wines to develop a pungent sweet aroma and distinctly 'un-European' wines also didn't help its reputation as the general public began to turn away from mass-produced 'New World' wines in the 2000s.

Pinotage vines tend to be relatively easy to cultivate. Having inherited some of the characteristics of Cinsault, they are resistant to disease, and yield small grapes and large leaves. The grape ripens early and has high sugar levels, which makes for strong tannins. The tannins are often softened by long periods of fermentation under cool temperatures.Separating the skin from the grape early on in the fermentation period can also help reduce the tannin content, but can also result in the wine losing its flavours and aromas.

Pinotage wines tend to be rustic in character and have earthy and smoky notes in both taste and smell. This makes them good pairings for red meats, such as game, steak, burgers, or barbecue ribs. Pinotage is often blended with other grapes, suchas Shiraz, Merlot, or Cabernet Sauvignon) to make a variety of different styles of wine, from intense reds to easy-drinking rosés and almost everything in between. There are over a dozen different single-varietal (ie 100%) Pinotage wines available at the LCBO now, as well as dozens more that contain Pinotage as part of a blend, so pick up a bottle today!

The Short Version
Name: Pinotage
Flavour Profile: Smoky, Earthy, with notes of berries.
Best-Known Regions: South Africa, with some plantings in New Zealand, California, and Virginia
Price Range: $20-$40
Food Pairings: Steak, game, burgers, BBQ ribs

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Koshu

Apologies for the late post this week folks. To make it up to you, this week we'll be looking at a highly unusual grape from a highly unusual region: Koshu.

Source: Wikipedia
We reported last week that the Japan Times ran an article about a new wine (not sake) being produced in Japan from Koshu, a grape grown on the foothills of Mount Fuji. Once used to make unappealingly sweet wines, modern-day Koshu wines have a nice level of acidity, a pleasant fruity bouquet with a hint of smokiness, and a touch of astringency that makes them perfect for pairing with sushi, sashimi, and other Japanese cuisine. Perhaps most alluring, however, is the colour of the grapes: a beautiful light-pink hue, unlike anything seen elsewhere in the wine-making world.

Koshu is well-suited to Japan's wet climate. When other grapevines begin to rot due to continued rain and high humidity, Koshu's thick skin allows it to remain healthy. It ripens late and harvests are typically in late October or early November (compared to August or September in most European vineyards). Despite this, it typically has a low alcohol content and is meant to be consumed young, much like vinho verde. Some wineries are experimenting with oak aging to add body and fullness to the wine, although most Koshu wine is stored only in stainless steel tanks prior to bottling. Koshu received a slight boost in popularity when Robert Parker tasted the wine in Japan in 2004, giving it a 88/100 rating. However, it remains a largely unknown grape to most wine producers and drinkers. So if you're looking for a gift for a wine lover who has seemingly tried it all, perhaps it's time to seek out a bottle of Koshu!

The Short Version:
Names: Koshu
Flavour Profile: Light, fruity, clean, with a touch of smokiness/astringency.
Best-Known Regions: Japan (Yamanashi Prefecture)
Price Range: $20-50
Food Pairings: Sushi, sashimi, other Japanese cuisine

Friday, April 12, 2013

Weekly Wine Happenings for April 12, 2013

Some interesting news in the world of wine this week. Perhaps most interesting (and most alarming) for Ontario wine drinkers is a National Post article stating that LCBO workers have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action if an agreement cannot be reached between the union and retail giant. As the article points out, no strike action is yet confirmed, but it is possible that the LCBO will shut down if an agreement is not reached soon.

In less pressing news, the Globe and Mail printed a piece on Faugères, a lesser-known appellation in the Languedoc-Rousillion region of France, which produces some great, largely unkown wines. The author labelled Faugères as 'wine for hipsters', which is true if Bordeaux and Burgundy are your benchmarks, but if you want something really obscure, we suggest taking a look at Koshu, a Japanese wine that really is quite unique.

The Telegraph also ran an interesting story on the evolution Rosé wines, tracing the shift from rosé as 'swimming pool wine' to something that is taken seriously by wine writers and everyday drinkers alike.

Finally, the New York Times printed an article on retirement of Jacques Lardière, the former head of Burgundy giant Louis Jadot. The article offered an interesting look at Mr. Lardière's time with Louis Jadot and his legacy.

That's it for us this week. We hope you have a fantastic weekend with good wine and even better company!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Get to Know A Grape: Shiraz (Syrah)

This week, we're looking at one of the world's most popular red varietals, Shiraz.

Ah, Shiraz, the red grape that seems to be planted just about everywhere. From the smoky red of Australia, to the fruit-forward Shirazes of Califronia, to the intensely earthy and structured Syrah/Grenache blends of the Cotes du Rhone in France, there seem to be few wineries who don't produce at least some form of Shiraz. As a grape, Shiraz is relatively easy to work with -- it ripens early, is resistant to mildew and rot, and can be used to produce a variety of wines. As a wine, Shiraz tends to have high tannin content and intense flavours and aromas, particularly of blackberries and dark chocolate. Many Shiraz wines from California have 'jammy' notes and are intensely fruity. Conversely, in the Cotes du Rhone, it is usually blended with Grenache and Mourvedre to make 'GSM' wine. Shiraz also has a lengthy history 'down under', serving as one of Australia's oldest and most popular grape varietals. Australian Shirazes tend to be medium-bodied with hints of both fruit and pepper and a nice touch of tannin. They can also be intensely smoky or, like Californian reds, 'jammy'. Conversely, 'GSM' wines from the Cotes du Rhone in France tend to be full-bodied with rich but smooth tannins. In terms of food pairings, Shiraz tends to pair well with red meats, pastas with tomato sauce (such as pasta arrabiata), and chili con carne. Shirazes from Australia or California also pair well with some spicier dishes, such as chicken vindaloo, lamb madras, Thai beef curry, or spicy chutney.

The Short Version
Names: Shiraz, Syrah,  Antourenein Noir, Candive, Marsanne Noir.
Flavour Profile (New World):  Jammy, Fruity, with notes of pepper
Flavour Profile (Old World): Earthy, full-bodied, with rich, smooth tannins.
Best-Known Regions: France (Cotes du Rhone), Australia, California 
Price Range: $15-$50
Food Pairings (New World): Thai curry with beef, pizza, chicken vindaloo
Food Pairings (Old World): Steak, red meats, game, pasta with tomato sauce

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Touriga Nacional

Given the recent weather, it seems my confidence in spring, patio parties and rosé may have been slightly premature. Still, we soldier on and hope for better weather to come! This week,  we'll be looking at a popular Portuguese red grape, Touriga Nacional.

Touriga Nacional is extensively used in port wines, with it's acidity and strong tannins acting as a 'backbone' of sorts to ground the sweetness and intensity of port. In addition to port, however, the grape is also used throughout Portugal to make still, dry red wines. It is particularly popular in the Duoro and Dao regions -- two of Portugal's hotbeds (in both a literal and figurative sense) of wine production. Touriga Nacional vines yield small clusters of grapes (or 'berries') with thick skin. Although small berries means lower yields, the grape is able to survive the searing summer heat of Portugal's Duoro region. When vinified on its own, it produces wine with intense aromas of berries, violets and floral notes, as well as strong tannins. It can also be blended with other grapes, such as Touriga Franca (aka Touriga Francesca) in order to add finesse to the wine and making it slightly lighter. It is also sometimes blended with  Tempranillo (which is usually called 'Tinta Roriz' in Portugal).

In addition to Portugal, Touriga Nacional is also grown in Australia (where it is usually just called 'Touriga') as well as parts of Chile and Argentina. No matter what region, the grape tends to produce wines that are powerful, intensely purfumed and have strong tannins. This makes them perfect for pairing with steaks and other robust meats, as well as heavy cheeses, such as double- (or even triple-)cream brie and camambert. It's also a great barbecue red, pairing well with sausages and grilled veggies. In short, it's a relatively little-known powerhouse grape that is sure to please with a good meal!

The Short Version
Names: Touriga Nacional, Touriga, Mortágua, Tourigo Antigo.
Flavour Profile: Intense floral and berry notes with strong tannins. 
Best-Known Regions: Portugal (Dao and Duoro in particular), Australia.
Price Range: $12-$50
Food Pairings: Steak, red meats, soft cheese, grilled vegetables

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Grenache

This week, we'll be looking at a hot-climate grape that is also responsible for a large portion of Rosé wines: Grenache

As it feels that spring may have finally sprung, we thought it a perfect time to talk about rosé wines, which brings us to Grenache, a hot-climate grape that plays a major role in many of the world's rosé (or blush, if you prefer) wines. In particular, a great number of Spanish and French rosé wines have at least some Grenache in them, often blended with other grapes such as Cinsault, Shiraz, or Mourvedre. When used in rosé wines, Grenache adds fruity aromas and body to the wine, while red wines made with Grenache tend to be full-bodied and have powerful, earthy aromas.

Grenache grapes tend to ripen late in the year, which means that a hot, dry climate is necessary, lest early frost ruin the ripening process. This has made it a popular grape in Spain, where it is known as Granacha and is the third most-planted varietal after Tempranillo and Bobal. It is often seen as a 'workhorse' grape varietal, able to be blended or vinified on its own and useful for both red and rosé wines. In France, Grenache is particularly popular in the Cotes du Rhone region, where it is often blended with Syrah (Shiraz) and Mourvedre, creating the famous 'GSM' blend. It is also one of only four grapes allowed in the southern Tavel AOC, which produces a large number of the France's rosé wines. It is also popular in the prestigious Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation, where it is often blended with other grapes to make red wines, as well as in the hot climates of Languedoc and Roussillion, where it is used for both red and rosé blends.

As it is used in both red and rosé wines, food pairings for Grenache tend to vary wildly depending on how it has been vinified. If you're drinking a rosé made from Grenache, 
try it with some spicier dishes, such as stir fry, chilli chicken chow mein or spicy chutney. Grenache rosés also make or great wines to sip on the deck when the weather gets a little bit warmer. For Grenache reds, such as 'GSM' blends, red meats make for great companions to Grenache's full body and powerful aromas. Barbecue steaks, ribs, and lamb make for good accompaniments to this great wine! So, as you start to think about pulling out the barbecue and having a nice day in the sun, don't forget to bring a bottle of Grenache along -- it'll make the first barbecue of the season just that little bit better!

The Short Version

Names: Grenache, Garnacha, Aleante.
Flavour Profile (Rosé): Fruity nose, but dry, structured, and nicely bodied.  
Flavour Profile (Red): Earthy notes with hints of berries and herbs. Full-bodied and powerful wines.
Best-Known Regions: France (Cotes du Rhone), Spain, Australia
Price Range: $10-$50
Food Pairings (Rosé): Stir fry, spicy chilli chow mein, spicy chutney, or just serve chilled on its own. 
Food Pairings (Red): Barbecued ribs or steak, lamb, other red meats.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Pinot Meunier

This week in our Get to Know a Grape feature, we'll be looking at a lesser-known red grape varietal: Pinot Meunier.

There can be little doubt that Pinot Meunier is the poorer cousin of Pinot Noir. In fact, if grapes were to receive label royalties, Pinot Noir would probably be living in a Beverley Hills mansion, while Pinot Meunier would have to be content with a one-bedroom apartment in the outskirts of the city. Pinot Meunier accounts for about a third of the grapes planted in France's Champagne region, but it is afforded only minor billing on most Champagne labels (in fact, many Champagne houses don't mention Pinot Meunier at all!). Despite this, it plays a vital role in Champagne making, giving Champagnes body and richness and turning the pricey sparklers from party fizzlers into memorable wines that can stand on their own. It also contributes fruity aromas and flavours to wines, fleshing out the bouquets created by Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Outside of Champagne, Pinot Meunier is used to produce still red wines in Germany (where it goes under the names of Schwarzriesling ('Black Riesling'), Müllerrebe, or Müller-Traube. These wines can be light (in both flavour and colour) and fruity or rich, dark, and full. It has also recently been used to produce light and fruity white wines as well as making for a unique, pinkish and slightly smoky wine in Germany's southwestern Württemberg region -- quite a diverse grape, to say the least! Pinot Meunier is also used in California to make sparkling wines and Australia to make still red wines.

Pinot Meunier is also more apt to survive frosts than Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, making it a safer bet for Champagne winemakers. However, Champagnes made from a large proportion of Pinot Meunier are usually not very suitable for long aging, so best to drink them quickly! An exception to this is Krug Champagne, who use a large percentage of Pinot Meunier in even their highest-end and longest-aging wines.

So, the next time you're having a glass of Champagne, remember Pinot Meunier. It's likely responsible for making your glass -- and your evening -- that much more memorable! 

The Short Version:
Names: Pinot Meunier, Schwarzriesling, Müllerrebe and Müller-Traube
Flavour Profile (Sparkling): Rich, buttery, smoky flavours
Flavour Profile (Still): Light, fruity, although can also be made more intense. 
Best-Known Regions: Champagne, Germany, California, Australia
Price Range: $40+
Food Pairings (Sparkling): Strawberries (obviously), sushi, thai food
Food Pairings (Still): Pork, lamb, cold cuts

Friday, March 15, 2013

Weekly Wine Happenings for March 15, 2013

It's been a fairly slow news week for wine, although there have been some interesting stories as well. Keep up with the latest wine news with our weekly wine happenings roundup!

Some rather scandalous news to round off the week today, as the Drink Business reported that 2 men had been jailed over counts of wine-related fraud totalling £5 million.

In winery expansion news, Donald Trigg (former chief of Vincor) has launched a new winery in BC's Okanagan Valley.

Similarly, the Jackson Family (owners of Kendall-Jackson and numerous other Californian and Australian brands) are evidently close to closing a deal on some new wineries in Oregon, according to Wine Spectator.

Speaking of Australia, Decanter reports that a winery in Western Australia's Margaret River region have created Western Australia's first ice wine. It'll be interesting to see if the unique climate will make for a different wine than icewines from Niagara or Germany.

Moving to sunny Spain, Spanish winemaker Raventos I Blanc has unveiled a framework for a new Cava appellation with a goal of creating higher-quality Cava wines. We're always excited about the prospect of higher-quality wines, although the new appellation is still very much a work in progress.

The Telegraph reported that French wine consumption has hit a record low. Perhaps the iconic image of a French family sitting to dinner with a bottle of wine is changing? I suppose that leaves more for us, though!

Finally, in Vintages releases, the Domaine de Papolle Gros Manseng 2011 is being released this Saturday. It has received fantastic reviews from a variety of wine writers, and David Lawrason has made it one of his top Vintages picks this week!

We hope you have a fantastic week-end and visit us again next week for our roundup of the hottest wine news around the world!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Nebbiolo

In this week's 'Get to Know a Grape', we'll be looking at a nebulous Italian grape: Nebbiolo.

There's always something about cold winter evenings that make me crave a good Nebbiolo. This Piedmontese grape is really something special, and one of my personal favourites. Why? Well, for starters, there's the elegance of the wine it produces. A bit like Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo usually produces medium-bodied wines with notes of ripe fruits and a good amount of acidity and tannin. This makes them perfect for drinking on their own, or for pairing with a variety of foods. But pairing flexibility is not why I love Nebbiolo. Nor is it the beautiful Piedmontese hills -- an absolute winemaker's dream of sun, moisture, warm weather and elevation. No, the real reason I love Nebbiolo is for its ability to produce wonderfully smooth yet also amazingly complex wines. For me, Piedmontese Nebbiolos are much more approachable than Burgundian Pinot Noirs, yet they pack all of the elegance, structure and complexity of Pinot Noir -- all without requiring several years in the cellar. Getting a good Nebbiolo means being able to drink something tonight that is interesting as well as thoroughly enjoyable.

I suppose I'm getting a bit ahead of myself here. Let's go back to the basics for a moment. Nebbiolo is a red grape, primarily grown in the Northern Italian region of Piedmont, a region famous for its hills (see photo above), truffles, and wines. Together with Barbera, Nebbiolo is a landmark Piedmontese grape and is used in the prestigious appelations of Barolo and Barbaresco. Nebbiolo wines from these regions, such as those made by the super-prestigious Azienda Agricola Di Angelo Gaja, can easily go for several hundred dollars per bottle, but you don't need to shell out nearly as much to get an enjoyable wine. Indeed, many great Nebbiolos are available at the $15 to $50 range, and even the lower end of that range can offer some great wines.

In addition to Piedmont, Nebbiolo is grown in Lombardy (also in Italy), California, Washington State, and even parts of Australia. Nebbiolo grapes can be planted in cooler climates, but require a significant amount of warmth to develop the necessary sugar and fruit flavour that makes great wine. This 'Goldilocks-zone' requirement has led to several unsuccessful experiments with Nebbiolo. For instance, many Australian wineries found that the climate was too warm for good Nebbiolo, while those in other parts of Italy found the weather too cold to get Nebbiolo wines with fully-developed aromas. In short, if you want a classic Nebbiolo, it's best to stick to Piedmont.

Nebbiolo grapes can also be blended with other grapes, such as Barbera or Croatina, adding darker colours and more intense flavours to the wine.
As far as food pairings go, Nebbiolo wines are best paired with Italian dishes, such as gnocchi, Canneloni with tomato sauce, or pizza. Red meats, such as filet mignon, rabbit, or wild game are also good matches if you're up for some finer cuisine. Most good Nebbiolos are great sipping wines, as well, perfect for having with friends or family on a cold winter evening.

The Short Version:

Names: Nebbiolo, Brunenta, Spagna, Nebbiolin
Flavour Profile: Medium-bodied, elegant, and silky smooth
Best-Known Regions: Piedmont (Italy), California
Price Range: $15-$50, going into the hundreds for wines from prestigious producers in Barolo or Barbaresco.
Food Pairings: Pasta with tomato sauce, gnocchi, pizza, filet mignon. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Sauvignon Blanc

We've moved our regular Get to Know a Grape feature to Wednesdays this week to take a look at a dominant white grape: Sauvignon Blanc.

Together with Chardonnay and Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc is one of the best-known and most popular white wine grape varieties. Planted everywhere from Australia to France to California, this is a truly global grape. So what makes Sauvignon Blanc so appealing? For starters, its a very diverse and (like Chardonnay) "malleable" grape. This means that wine made from Sauvignon Blanc will taste different depending on the climate, soil type and vinification methods. For instance, Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire Valley and New Zealand tend to be crisp, acidic and refreshing. Conversely, those from California and British Columbia often have intense notes of tropical fruits, such as mango and passionfruit, and a more buttery taste.
For the winemaker, this means the chance to make a unique wine from a common grape. For the customer, it means that knowledge of region becomes that much more important, as you'll get a very different wine from a Californian Sauvignon Blanc than in a French one! Even within a region, Sauvignon Blanc wines can vary significantly. For example, wines from Pouilly Fumé in the Loire Valley region of France tend to be very dry and crisp, while those from Touraine (also in the Loire Valley region) tend to be fruitier and more floral.

Sauvignon blanc grapes tend to do well in sunny climates that have moderate heat. The recent rise in global temperatures has caused some issues for Sauvignon blanc producers in many warmer regions, such as Spain and Australia, as they must harvest the grapes earlier in order to avoid over-riping. Like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc is often aged in oak barrels before being bottled, especially in California. The oak aging softens the acidity of the wine, making it mellower while also adding a more buttery texture. Sauvignon blanc is also frequently used in dessert wines, such as those made in Sauternes or Barsac in France, making for deliciously sweet wines that pair well with cheesecakes and creamy dessert dishes.

Because of the effect of regional varieties, it is difficult to create a single list of food pairing suggestion for Sauvignon blanc. For light, crisp Sauvignon blanc, such as those from Sancerre or Pouilly Fume in France, light fare, such as salads, are a good, safe bet. Risotto and shellfish tend to pair well with New Zealand Sauvignon blancs and chicken and veal tend to go well with heavier, oaked Sauvignon blancs, such as those from California.

The regional variations of this popular grape can certainly be intimidating. but at the end of the day, no matter where the Sauvignon blanc is from or what style its made in, the most important thing is whether or not you like it! So if there's a flavour profile or food matching that you have in mind, ask around at wine stores, suppliers, or agencies (like ourselves) to see what sort of sauvignon blanc they can recommend to suit your preferences.

The Short Version:

Names: Sauvignon Blanc, Blanc Fume, Picabon, Savagnin
Flavour Profile (Oaked): Exotic fruits, peaches, and kiwi flavours.
Flavour Profile (Unoaked): Mineral, flint, thyme, and bell pepper notes and flavours. 
Best-Known Regions: Sancerre (France), Pouilly Fume (France), California, New Zealand, Margaret River (Australia),
Price Range: $10-$50
Food Pairings (Oaked): Chicken, veal, vegetables with buttery sauce
Food Pairings (Minerally/Crisp, Unoaked): Risotto, salad, grilled fish.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Weekly Wine Happenings for March 1, 2013

Staring March 1, we'll be doing a weekly round-up of the hottest wine news both online and in-print. See what the hottest wine-related stories are, with a bit of commentary from yours truly.

There has been quite a lot of exciting wine news and general buzz this week! From wine scams to the launching of the Nelson Mandela family winery,  it's certainly been a busy week for wine.

The Winnipeg Free Press reports that US wine exports were up in 2012, with strong showings in both the Canadian and Export markets. California still dominates US wine exports, but does this growth mean that we'll be seeing more wine from other regions, such as Oregon and Washington State in the LCBO?

Speaking of the LCBO, the Globe and Mail ran an interesting article about the still-murky prospect of importing wines from other provinces. While it seems theoretically possible to purchase wine from other provinces for personal consumption, it seems unclear as to which merchants would be willing to ship to other provinces. Could Ontarians start buying wine from the SAQ, for instance?

Moving away from the Canadian side of things, the Drinks Business reported that a Chinese winemaker is going to be exhibiting their wine at the London International Wine Fair this year. This is the first time that a Chinese winemaker will be presenting wine at LIWF and perhaps marks the beginning of exported Chinese wines?

Reuters also ran a story about the UK government selling off some of its wine cellar in an attempt to make the government's cellars self-sustainable. It certainly seems a necessary measure in tough economic times, but will it be enough to actually make the cellar economically self-sufficient?

Decanter published an article about con men pretending to be representatives of UK merchants Berry Bros. and Rudd in order to scam wineries out of 1.5 million pounds worth of wine. Certainly a poignant warning for wineries to be careful in who they do business with.

Also in the news, a post from the Wall Street Journal blog pages about the launch of the Nelson Mandela family winery. It'll be interesting to see what Mandela's name can do for the reputation of South African wine.

Finally, there's a new Vintages release this Saturday! Lots of interesting Australian and Italian wines, as well as our very own Sobro red 2010 from Herdade do Sobroso in Portugal! You can read a review of the Sobro 2010 as well as other wines in this Vintages release at Michael Pinkus' Grape Guy blog