Brunello di Montalcino 2019-Great Material & Spirited Character Animate a Lustrous Vintage

vineyard under blue sky

By: Raffaele Vecchione (Founder and Editor of WinesCritic.com)

An in-depth analysis of a rich, sunny vintage with over 150 Brunello di Montalcino 2019 tasted.

  2019 is assuredly a vintage that will be remembered over the years thanks to the perfect amalgam of technological and phenolic maturity and the sheer quantity of grapes the producers took to the winery.

  This extraordinary year,  at a historically difficult time, which raised many doubts about climate change and the seasonal trends it brings, arrived like Manna from heaven for National and International producers and wine merchants.

The waiting was over, Brunello di Montalcino finally signed its name on the register and it did it in grand style.

  The 2019 followed two difficult vintages; the 2017 was decisive, vibrant and distinguished itself with a solid acidic impression and some slightly herbaceous matrices. (https://www.winescritic.com/brunello-di-montalcino-2017-la-maestria-dei-produttori-viene-fuori-nel-difficile-millesimo/)

  The rainy 2018 which was difficult to manage cultivation wise was pleasant with great harmony albeit unstable and rather fragile in some expressions.

  2019 was everything producers look for in a vintage. A sunny year, sometimes hot, dynamic and rich, solid and layered, complex and territorial. The right amount of well distributed rain contributed to the maturity of the grape without ever being cause for alarm. The harvest, which went smoothly during a window of time when the weather was mild and dry, framed an almost perfect picture for the winemakers.

  In 2019 the most memorable event was the exceptional absence of storms (hail, frosts, drought or excess rain) which we have unfortunately become more accustomed to over the last few years.

  A few rain showers, perfect for lowering the temperature and reinvigorating the grapes, arrived in the middle of July and August without doubt contributed to making this a great year.

  In the glass the vintage is distinguished by notable material in the sip, thanks to a perfectly centred grape harvest; lively tannins, rigid at times but noble and fine nonetheless thanks to the quality of the fruit and the producer’s interpretation of the right amount of refinement in barrels of different dimensions.

  The finale is always fresh, harmonic and balanced, highly appreciated from the start.

  Over the last few years we are witnessing wines being bottled earlier than the classic time during which the major part of producers usually bottle. They are trying to bottle before the classic month of September, bringing it forward to July or even March or April in order to benefit from the longer period in the bottle before the new vintage is released onto the market,at the same time this keeps the freshness and character of Sangiovese more fragrant and tasty.

  New containers are arriving in the wineries, there’s a crazy search for wooden barrels which are taller rather than wider (refinement vats), these are useful because they increase the contact surface of the wine to the most noble part of the wood.

  The production is also helped by the  great enthusiasm and willingness to work on expressions which are born from the territory, in particular from single vineyards.

  The ever more expert merchants are looking for territorial wines which are easily to recognise and trace back to the vineyard. This concept of the vineyard allows us to take some prerogatives in order to understand the evolution of a single parcel over time which is rigorously vinified whilst carefully maintaining maximum attention towards truly bringing out its unique particularities.

  The primary analysis during the tastings of 150 Brunello di Montalcino allowed us to place it alongside the great vintages of 2010, 2015 and 2016. Maybe the right mix between the different vintages would bring us something new and unexpected in the structure of the 2010, the power and astringent character of the 2015 and the class and elegance of the 2016.

  It has an agile and sinuous movement and is immediately striking to the taster by showing the right amount of material and freshness.

  About ten wines would have been on the podium to contend for the title of best wine of the vintage.

  In the end the one to win the highest recognition and take home a perfect score was Giodo, a union of balance, class, elegance and quality of material.

  Demonstrating the right concentration and the right determination in the alternation between fruit and citrus which always distinguishes the great Sangiovese. It will continue to grow over time and will give the best of itself from 2025 onwards.

  The painstaking work done by Bianca Ferrini and Riccardo Ferrari, respectively owner and agronomist/oenologist of the winery was perfectly directed by Carlo Ferrini, the World famous consultant oenologist.

  Behind him the fantastic competitive challenge between three Titans. Renieri and Fuligni are incredible wines which tell the story of the greatness of the vintage in different manners. Renieri is spicy and decisive, creating remarkable salivation which makes the expression absolutely gastronomic and pleasing with the edgy traces which distinguish a thoroughbred Sangiovese.

  Fuligni has an auster character, composed and rigid at times, a wine that we need to understand and read in an introspective manner to truly appreciate the quality which distinguishes it. There’s no need to shout and in the 2019 vintage the symphony is regal and dashing.

  Pietroso is exciting in the deep traces which alternate between the fruity character of cherries and sour cherries mixed with candid notes reminiscent of the freshness and elegance of magnolias, gardenias and hawthorn.

  In the Olympus of expressions which are more unique than rare is Madonna delle Grazie, produced by Il Marroneto it steals the scene with captivating nuances and the mastery of a select few. It’s the tannins profile which is exciting, dense and compact, absolutely integrated from the start.

  On the same footing we find Vignavecchia di San Polo, it’s the best expression ever made in the winery, the method and the Venetian rigour have born great fruit and given satisfaction with a wine which is precise and essential with character to sell.

  Still tying on points (98) are different profiles and different visions from producers who have their fingers on the pulse of great wine production.

  Piero, Vigna del Suolo, Giovanni Neri and Vecchie Vigne respectively, then Talenti, Argiano, Casanova di Neri and Siro Pacenti are all incredible wines which border on perfection of execution and underline the depth of the vintage.

  A heartfelt thanks to all the producers who participated in our tasting and who welcomed us during the harvest period.

History in a Glass 

3 wine glasses different colors of wine 3rd glass being filled by pouring wine from bottle

By: Tod Stewart

As with everything, wine is not immune to the whims and vagaries of tastes and trends. In fact, some of the most historically popular (and important) wines have practically fallen off the modern wine aficionado’s radar. Yes, sherry, m’dear, I’m talking to you. The good news is that your moment in the spotlight may be returning.

  Sherry sports the distinction of being an incredibly significant yet incredibly misunderstood player in the wine game at the same time. This is likely due to a double whammy of being unfairly associated with “grandma’s wine” and erroneously associated with something sweet. The sweet stuff your (probably British) grandmother once drank (or maybe still does) isn’t what most Spaniards would regard as sherry. In fact, sweet, or “cream,” sherry is a decidedly English concoction developed to satisfy a certain palate. Most “true” sherries are really quite dry (fino sherry is perhaps the driest wine commercially made). But let’s back up a bit. What exactly is sherry?

  Sherry is the product of a demarcated area of southern Spain’s Andalusia, close to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s important to stress that authentic sherry is Spanish. Period. Full stop. Sure, “sherry style” wines are produced around the world, but the real deal comes from Spain. Yet considering the influence of the British on the development of the sherry trade and with sherry firms sporting names like Duff Gordon, Osborne, Williams & Humbert and John Harvey & Sons, you might be tempted to think it’s made in England. Andalusia is a hot region with little rain. The chalky albariza soil plays host to the white Palomino Fino grape variety (along with some Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel planted in the less favorable barros and arenas soils).

  While unique soils and grape varieties are the cornerstones of sherry’s character, the production methods and maturation process really give the wine its character.

  Sherry begins life as a dry white wine, which is then lightly fortified (usually to about 15 percent alcohol via the addition of a grape spirit and wine mixture) and is left in barrels filled only two-thirds full. A typical table wine would oxidize under these conditions. But the damp sherry cellars filled with oxygen-rich Atlantic air create ideal conditions for the development of flor – a yeast blanket that covers the surface of the wine and both protects it from deterioration and eliminates harmful, vinegar-producing bacteria.

  The wines designated as fino, the lightest and driest style of sherry, go on to mature for a year or so. The flor allows finos and sherries based on the fino style, like amontillado and palo cortado, to mature, for the most part, biologically since the flor does the aging. Barrels with little or no flor are given additional fortification and designated as oloroso. These wines are given an extra dose of alcohol and allowed to age oxidatively, as oxygen does the aging.

  After the cellar master determines which barrels are going to result in what, the wines are introduced to soleras for final blending and maturation.

  A solera is basically a series of barrels. Each contains the same style of wine but of differing stages of aging. Fully mature wine is tapped off the bottom barrel. This barrel is topped up with slightly younger wine from the barrel above, which is topped up with even younger wine from the barrel above it. New wine is introduced to the first barrel in the chain. (Then it tells two friends, and they tell two friends and so on. Sorry, but that paragraph just set itself up.)

  This constant blending, referred to as “dynamic maturation” (as opposed to “distressing maturation,” which is what I’m personally experiencing), results in a supply of fully mature wine that is always consistent. Stylistically speaking, finos and their ilk tend to be lighter and more delicate, while olorosos are darker and nuttier. Cream sherries (e.g., Harvey’s Bristol Cream) are typically blends of sweet wine with drier wine before being sold to old people in the UK. Serve finos cool, the others less cool. Also, don’t forget they are wines, so treat them like wine and not like, well, not like whatever stuff you keep sitting open in a dusty decanter on the mantle for eternity.

  Even if you understand sherry’s complex creation cycle, you still aren’t out of the woods when it comes to fully comprehending the stuff. And honestly, the industry itself is partially to blame for a lot of the confusion.

  I mean, just as you are getting the concept of “dynamic” aging and how it results in uniformity of the finished (and non-vintage, I should add) wine, you run smack into sherries proclaiming to be a 20-year-old or a 30-year-old. Having made peace with the claim that fino sherries are light, fresh and delicate and should be consumed within six months, you are hit with something called a “very old fino.” This happens right after you’ve been told that an amontillado is, more or less, an aged fino. Huh? Oh, yeah, and don’t forget manzanilla, which is a fino aged near the sea (And how “near” counts for near?). What’s a palo cortado (and why are there three levels of the stuff)? The verdict seems to be constantly out. And what is PX? Sounds like a virus. Is “amoroso” a sherry or an aphrodisiac? Is cream sherry a dairy product? And what are we to make of a “Palo Cortado ‘Almacenista’ Solara Matured by Vides 1/50”? Did Torquemada use this stuff to extract confessions? “Cardinal Fang, make the heretic learn about sherry!”

  Luckily, developing a taste for sherry is a fair bit easier and more pleasurable than actually understanding it on a technical level. But, for some, it might not be the smoothest ride.

  Sherry is a bit of an acquired taste. In my university years, I had read about the wonders of dry fino sherry long before I ever had the opportunity to taste it. And when I did, I couldn’t believe people actually drank it, let alone waxed rhapsodic about it. It can indeed have floral overtones, but in general, fino sherry is an oxidized, high-alcohol number that smells not of a particular vinifera but, depending on the style, of sea spray, bitter almond and green olive. Darker styles like oloroso and amontillado lean toward notes of walnut, sultana raisin, fruitcake and yes, varnish. In other words, not pinot grigio. Thank God. Sherry remains staunchly traditional and demands that you conform to it rather than vice versa. Like other complex forms of art, you often don’t fully appreciate it until you’ve looked at it, listened to it or tasted it a number of times. You mature; so does your palate.

  So, what’s the future looking like for a wine as complex and traditional as sherry? For some answers, I spoke to Victoria González-Gordon López de Carrizosa, from the historic González Byass, a legendary sherry bodega (and creator of the now legendary Tio Pepe brand) with roots stretching back into the 1800s. 

  “Since the sherry ‘glory days’ of the 1970s and 80s, producers have adapted significantly to the changing demands of international markets,” she emphasized, noting that while volume sales are still important in traditional markets like the UK and Holland, González Byass has focused efforts on moving away from volume production, aiming instead at high quality, premium sherries. “Much emphasis has been put on education,” she notes, as sherry is a wine that needs to be understood: its particular production methods, styles and versatility.”

  She reveals that “change has been constant since the turn of the century, as sherry producers have looked to establish sherry as quality, world-class fortified wine. As a result, the Consejo Regular Jerez, the governing body for sherry, is initiating changes across the board in order to prepare the region for the future. This includes expanding the production areas for sherry, which will allow more wineries to promote their wines as sherry. In addition, new grape varietals are being approved for production, responding to the demand for native varietals and those that can adapt to the changing climate – and to allow for more innovation in the future. Another important factor is a change in regulations so that different wines and styles are more easily understood by the end consumer.”

  Creative bartenders, it would seem, may be the engine driving sherry’s future popularity.

  “It is clear that mixology is helping us reach new, younger consumers,” González-Gordon López de Carrizosa confirms. “We believe this is an important way to communicate the versatility of sherry. In markets like the USA and Canada, it is great to have our sherry ‘name called’ or specifically mentioned as an essential ingredient in a well-made cocktail. We are proud to have González Byass sherries featured in cocktails on top mixology lists and in the very best bars in major, trend-setting cities around the world. Often, this experience can be the first and very important step to introducing our wines to consumers and giving them a chance to learn about this fascinating drink.”

  As they say, what goes around comes around, and it seems the time is now for a bit of a sherry renaissance.

Greece: A Wine Odyssey 

Picture of a greek god statue drinking out of a bowl

By: Tod Stewart

It’s hot. I mean, it’s really (expletive) hot. Hades hot. The afternoon sun, with not a cloud to diffuse its merciless heat, beats down on the vines. And on me. I’m not sure if vines sweat, but I’m starting to get just a tad sticky under the collar. Luckily, the vineyard’s elevation, combined with a modest breeze blowing off the Kassandra Gulf, offers a modest respite from my discomfort. The promise that we’d soon be heading back to the cool tasting room of Domaine Porto Carras to sample the fruits of the vine’s labors was also enticing.

  Greece in mid-July is typically hot. This year is record-breaking, as it has been through most of Europe. It might have been a bit uncomfortable at times, but the awesome scenery, fantastic food and, of course, the huge variety of top-quality wines more than made up for any negatives. (At some point, I’ll submit a piece on the pros and cons of being a food/drink/travel journalist…sometimes it’s not as romantic as it sounds.)

  I’m here in the northern part of the country, in Thessaloniki, to be exact, on a junket hosted by Greece and the European Union. My job was to learn more about the protected designation of origin (PDO) Slopes of Meliton and the protected geographical indication (PGI) Sithonia. I was about to get a thorough introduction to one of the area’s most important wineries.

Where I’m at now is in the PDO Slopes of Meliton region, a roughly circular area around Mount Meliton (which is about 120 kilometers southeast, more or less, of Thessaloniki). It’s located on the second finger of a three-fingered peninsula that looks just like the prongs of Poseidon’s trident into the crystalline Aegean. Within its boundaries lie the impressive Porto Carras Grand Resort and the equally impressive Domaine Porto Carras winery. The latter is the place I’m here to check out.

  Concluding my walk through some of the Domaine’s 450 hectares of organic vineyards, I head into the recesses of the winery to taste a range of impressive wines. These include a trio of crisp, fresh, melon/peach/mineral Assyrtikos, two vintages of the ripe, tropical, baking spice and baked apple-tinged Chateau Porto Carras Le Grand Blanc (a blend of Malagousia, Assyrtiko and the red Limnio) and a lemony/cherry/stone fruit Blanc de Noir (100 percent) Limnio.

  Assyerti-what? Malagou-who? You won’t be taken to task if you’re not exactly literate in the vernacular of Greek grape-speak. After all, the land is planted with over 300 indigenous grape varieties, most of which (okay, practically all of which) will be unfamiliar to non-Greek wine consumers (and likely winemakers). Sure, there are non-indigenous varieties, like cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and viognier, that are likely familiar to most (and likely pronounceable). But native varieties like Agiorgitiko, Xinomavro, Monemvasia, Avgoustiatis, and maybe Mavrotragano certainly aren’t (yet) household names in North America and don’t exactly roll off the tongue the way chardonnay and merlot do.

  Of course you’ll likely not be bombarded with several hundred difficult-to-pronounce varietals when you begin your exploration of Greek wines.

  As far as black-skinned varieties go, you’re most likely to encounter Agiorgitiko, Limnio, Xinomavro and possibly Mantilaria.

  For whites, you’ll probably meet Assyrtiko, Robola, Moschofilero, and Roditis (the latter two are technically pink-skinned but typically wind up as white wines. More frequently, you’ll also encounter Malagousia.

  “Malagousia has essentially been taking the place of Moschofilero over the past 20 years or so,” observes Steve Kriaris, president of Kolonaki Group of Companies, one of the leading importers of Greek wines into Ontario. “It’s a bit more well-rounded than Moschofilero and ultimately has a little more to offer the consumer.”

  I’m back in Toronto five months after my sojourn and still itching for a way to recreate the “Greece Experience.” In fact, it was the desire of tourists to relive the memories they had of their time in Greece that, in part, led to the popularity of Greek wines on this side of the pond, according to Kriaris.

  “As the popularity of Greece as a tourist destination grew,” he said, “those returning brought fond memories of the experience back with them…including fond memories of some terrific wines, and they wanted to relive the memories at home.”

  It’s Sunday night, and Kriaris, myself and Joy MacDonald, Kolonaki’s national sales manager of fine wines and spirits, are sipping our way through a selection of some of Kolonaki’s latest offerings, ensconced in the wine cellar of a (surprisingly) jam-packed Mesez restaurant.

  Greece is one of the oldest wine-producing countries in the world, with historical records dating production back some 6,500 years. Historically, wine became an integral part of Greek society, interwoven into its culture as it spread through the Mediterranean world. However, it wasn’t until fairly recently (starting mostly in the ’80s) that the Greek wine “renaissance” firmly took hold, and the world began to discover the quality and variety of Greek wines. Why the delay? Kriaris cites a couple of reasons.

  “The ’80s saw the first influx of younger Greek winemakers who had received their training outside of Greece, typically in Bordeaux and, to a lesser extent, Burgundy,” Kriaris explains. “They were not only exposed to more international styles of wine, but came home with the knowledge of how to make them, and they started crafting some really amazing wines.”

  The other reason we’ve already alluded to: the challenge of dealing with multiple tongue-twisting grape varieties planted throughout multiple regions. “There was so much to learn, and consumers felt overwhelmed,” Kriaris concedes. Things have changed pretty drastically these days, both in terms of Greece as an international player in the wine game and with consumers themselves.

  For the number-lovers out there, here we go:

•   1,617 wineries

•   more than 7,500 brands

•   17th largest producer

•   26th largest exporter

•   wine styles = white, red, rose, sparkling, sweet

(source: O.I.V. (2021) / Greek Wine Federation

  Growing consumer interest has also led to them focusing not just on establishing a comfort level with Greece’s indigenous grapes, but making the connection between specific varieties grown in specific areas. “The regionality of Greek wines has just begun,” Kriaris maintains. “Now it’s not just Assyrtiko or Malagousia, it’s Assyrtiko from this area, or Malagousia from that area.”

  While consumer sophistication and curiosity have fueled an interest in high-quality, modern-style wines, it can’t be ignored that the wine that historically became most closely associated with Greece (for good or bad) was undoubtedly retsina. Essentially a wine made from grapes must be treated with pine resin, often so much resin that one got the feeling that they were drinking pine sap rather than wine. But this, too, is changing.

  “Retsina used to be made without much thought,” Kriaris explains. “The amount of resin legally permitted ranged from 0.5 parts to one part per 35 ounces or so of must. That’s quite a range.” Of course, a good dollop of resin can mask numerous wine flaws, and bulk producers of the style tended to go heavy on the pine and light on the wine, as it were. And unfortunately, it was this style of retsina that ultimately hit the export market. In Kriaris’ words, “The bad juice left the country. Ultimately, what happened is that every major producer had to have a retsina in its portfolio, and the huge increase in volume resulted in an equally huge decline in quality.”

  However, the fate (and reputation) of retsina is changing. As every winemaker reading this knows, wine (any wine) is effectively a “garbage in, garbage out” situation. You can’t craft great wine from substandard fruit. And you can’t make a respectable retsina with lousy juice as the base. Today, serious retsina producers start with high-quality wine, often made from a single varietal, and the resin used (sparingly) comes from a specific strain of pine tree grown in limited areas. I’ve tasted some of these “modern” retsinas and can assure you that they are nothing like what most of us have probably experienced. They are typically floral, fruity and fragrant, with subtle notes of pine being a team player rather than the captain of the flavor profile.

  Domaine Porto Carras’ tagline is “New Era,” and it was explained, over the course of my tasting by CEO Sergei Smirnov, that this stood for a “new approach to everything,” not just a new approach to Greek winemaking. “New Era starts with people,” he noted, adding that the “connection between grapes and people matters.”

  Indeed, the modern Greek wine industry is certainly about connecting grapes to people because it’s still a bit of an undiscovered treasure waiting to be uncovered.

  “What I would say about Greek wine is that, in the wine world where everything seems to be just the same, there’s one country creating a huge new identity, varietal over varietal, region over region,” Kriaris concludes. “And that’s Greece. So if you want to get back to the fun of the wine world, which is what got us all here in the first place, and start exploring again, I’d say that a new journey now starts in the Greek wine world.”

Wines of Argentina

charcuterie board with wine

 By: Tod Stewart

Bonnie and Clyde. Jekyll and Hyde. Bread and butter. Salt and pepper. Some things are so synonymous with something else that it’s almost impossible to mention one without the other. In the oenophilic world, it’s hard to mention Argentina without mentioning (or at least thinking about) malbec.

  Personally, I can’t think of any other country whose vinous history is so inexorably linked to a single grape variety. (Okay, New Zealand and sauvignon blanc; I’ll give you that.) So important is malbec to Argentina’s wine industry that it accounts for almost 40 percent of all Argentine wine sold. And each year, April 17 is celebrated as Malbec World Day, a global initiative created by Wines Of Argentina (the organization responsible for, among other things, promoting the country’s wines) that seeks to position Argentine malbec as one of the most prominent varieties in the world. 

  First introduced in the mid-19th century, malbec vineyards in Argentina continue to expand, with close to 110,000 acres in the ground today.

When I visited Argentina a few years ago, I got a first-hand look at what progressive winemakers were doing in terms of technological improvements, vineyard site selection and viticultural and vinicultural practices. In other words, serious winemaking practices by dedicated, quality-oriented vintners. It wasn’t always like this.

“Until the late 1980s, Argentina was probably the worst wine producing country in the world,” admitted California vintner Paul Hobbs during an interview (and being careful not to mince words).” Having established a number of successful partnerships in California, Hobbs set out to prove to himself and the rest of the world that, when treated with respect, Argentine malbec could yield wines as good (and in the case of those from his Argentinian venture Viña Cabos, often better) than the best any country has to offer. The reason for the poor quality was simple: nobody really wanted to make anything better.

“Wine was strictly for consuming, not selling in bottle,” Hobbs maintained, “and for the most part it was all oxidized. There was really no concept of how to make good wine.”

  Thanks in large part to the pioneering efforts of local winemaker Nicolás Catena, whose epiphany came while in Napa Valley (and who took inspiration from Robert Mondavi’s contribution to the wine scene there), the scene began to change. Hobbs experienced a similar epiphany on a road trip from Santiago, Chile, to Mendoza, Argentina, at about the same time that Argentina’s winemakers were starting to get serious.

  “I saw what was possible,” he recounted. “There was a strong culture of wine, but a lack of practical knowledge. The vineyards were poorly farmed. The vines, especially for malbec, were over-irrigated, and in an effort to mitigate the threat of hail, trained far too low to the ground.”

  However, he saw a strong work ethic in the people and the potential in the land to support a world-class wine industry. “What I saw,” he says, “was an unpainted canvas.” Transforming this canvas into a vinous Rembrandt has been, essentially, what Hobbs has been able to do.

  While controlling yields and bringing more modern winemaking equipment and techniques to bear has certainly led to the continuing improvement in the overall quality of Argentina’s wines, perhaps the most significant factor behind the positive developments in the country’s wine industry hasn’t been so much about how to treat the fruit, but rather, where to plant the fruit. And as winemakers began to explore grape varieties beyond malbec, it has become apparent that they behave quite differently depending on where they are planted.

  “In our case [site selection] is the most important thing,” admitted Germán di Césare, winemaker at Bodega Trivento. “The vineyard selection is critical because it is where the whole process begins. Each site provides different characteristics to the wine, so we plant according to the wine we want to produce.”

  I also asked Gonzalo Bertelsen, general manager and chief winemaker at Mendoza’s Finca el Origen, who elaborated further:

  “Every vineyard suits a particular vine and wine,” he told me. “And even within the same vineyard, we see big differences in how the vines behave depending on weather, grape variety, soil, rootstock, irrigation, canopy management, hang time, and so on.” He notes that merlot wines made from fruit grown in the eastern part of Mendoza are typically very different than those sourced from the region’s western part, which is 600 meters higher.”

  In fact, elevation has turned out to be one of the most critical considerations in the critical process of vineyard location. The vines for Hobbs Viña Cobos wines are planted in numerous high-elevation vineyards throughout the Uco Valley and the department of Luján de Cuyo. The soils in these vineyards tend to be poor in organic material and blessed with deep layers of rock and mineral, as well as good drainage, resulting in fruit with concentration, structure and complexity.

  “High-altitude vineyards provide a wide temperature range,” Di Césare confirmed, going on to explain that “low temperatures at night and higher temperatures during the day make for perfect conditions for the harvesting of perfectly ripened fruit.” 

  As alluded to a few paragraphs back, malbec might be the preferred weapon in most Argentinian winemakers’ arsenal. Still, plenty of other red and white varieties are being used with generally favorable results.

  “We are sure that we can show there is much more Argentina can offer than just malbec,” Julián Iñarra Iraegui, commercial director for Proemio wines, told me. “The region we are in, Maipú, from my understanding, is the best region for growing cabernet sauvignon. We also make wines from petit verdot, syrah, grenache and cabernet franc.” Iraegui said that Proemio is looking to “deconstruct and reconstruct” classic French blends to craft wines that are both single varietal expressions and blends featuring those same grapes. He stated the winery’s style is “more French.”

  “We avoid over-extraction and the heavy use of oak,” he said. “We import our barrels from France, and we are also using some barrels that are made from tree branches rather than trunks. We are the first winery to use these in Argentina.”

  Tasting through a range of Proemio wines with Iraegui, I was impressed by the complexity, poise 

and refinement of the wines crafted by French-thinking (though of Italian descent) Marcelo Bocardo. “Marcelo loves blends,” Iraegui revealed when asked whether malbec might be better as part of a blend than as a single varietal.

  Though the winery makes a couple of 100 percent malbec wines, Iraegui said that the winery “loves cabernets.”

  Indeed, the Proemio cabernet sauvignon “Reserve” 2016, with its aromas of tobacco, black currant, mint, pepper and dark plum, more than adequately showed the potential of this grape variety. Juicy and dense, it was nonetheless perfectly balanced and elegant, with a hint of spice intermingling with the chewy cassis fruit.

  Just as Argentina isn’t solely about malbec, it’s also not strictly about vino tinto. Most of the main international white varietals (chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, viognier, semillon, chenin blanc and muscat) have taken root in the country’s soil. But the most interesting white variety is something unique to Argentina.

  A cross between the Listán Prieto and Muscat of Alexandria varieties, Torrontés (or more precisely, Torrontés Riojano (there are three variations of the grape), gives white wines with intense aromatics and lively flavors (very much like a dry muscat…not surprisingly).

  “Torrontés is a magnificent variety, with a high oenological value and [versatility] to obtain different wine types,” Susana Balbo of the Eponymous Winery explained to me. “In our case, we produce low-alcohol wines, natural sweet wines, dry wines, barrel fermented wines and late harvest wines from Torrontés grapes. Due to its great aromatic richness and its adaptability to diverse types of climate, Torrontés provides an interesting range of aromas that makes each wine unique.”

  I’m not sure if the situation is different in the United States, but in Canada, the wines of Argentina have generally been relegated to the “cheap and cheerful” category, which isn’t really fair and certainly doesn’t allow consumers to experience what the country really has to offer, wine-wise. Sure, you can get perfectly acceptable wines for under $20 (that’s CDN, so apply the current conversion factor for USD). But I highly recommend springing for something a bit more upmarket. You’ll likely find that the flavor profile will increase dramatically even though the price will still be below that of wines from more recognized countries and regions.

The Beaujolais “Nouvelle” Generation

overlooking village surrounding a wine field

By: Tod Stewart

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé! Readers of a certain vintage may recall the pandemonium at the local wine purveyor upon the unleashing of that phrase. It was the official annual call for wine lovers to storm the shelves and grab as many bottles (or cases) of the year’s first ferment.

Beaujolais nouveau was never (and still isn’t) a particularly great wine, but then again, it wasn’t meant to be. The wine itself was simply “a means to an event,” for lack of a better way to state it. Originally meant to celebrate the vintage and slake the thirst of the French workers who’d been toiling in the vineyards, Beaujolais nouveau morphed into an international phenomenon, spawning a plethora of fun, fruity, fast-fermented wines around the globe – and also spawning global parties.

A major bonus of the nouveau craze, insofar as the region’s winemakers were concerned, was the spreading of the word Beaujolais far and wide. The downside may have been that all Beaujolais started to become lumped together in the minds of consumers, leading to the incorrect assumption that, in spite of the wine’s (subtle) diversity, it was all fun, fruity, light, and inconsequential.

“I would agree on the fun and fruity description. Light not so sure,” contends Phillippe Marx, Commercial Director for Vinescence, a 350-producer-strong cooperative established in 1929. With growers spread over 2,970 acres across the region, Vinescence is able to offer selections from every Beaujolais category. 

  “With the recent climate evolution, we have wines with 13 per cent alcohol that I would not describe as light,” he suggests [Indeed, I recently had one that was 14 per cent]. “If you are speaking about the structure, yes, we have less structure and body than wines made from Cabernet or Zinfandel, but what we do have is elegance -– something that a larger share of the consumers are looking for.”

  The profile of Beaujolais wines as being “elegant” rather than “opulent” stems from a couple factors. The first is the grape variety used. The second has to do with what’s done with it.

  The Gamay grape (Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc if you want to be precise) is the Beaujolais grape. Sure, there are plantings in other parts of France (notably the Loire Valley), and in pockets scattered around the globe (it does quite well in Ontario’s Niagara region), but in no other region is it as dominant as in Beaujolais. In fact, about 98 per cent of all vines planted in the region are Gamay. Thin-skinned, early-ripening, and moderately vigorous, Gamay more often than not yields red wines relatively high in acid, low in tannin, and eminently fruity -– both on the nose and in the mouth. The grape’s qualities are enhanced via a semi-carbontic fermentation process, where whole grape clusters (including stems) are, in the words of Jancis Robinson, MW, “…fermented whole, fast and relatively warm, with some pumping over and a high proportion of added press wine….” This can last for as little as three days (in the case of nouveau) and up to 16 for the more top-level cru Beaujolais.

  “The typical carbonic maceration of full grapes enables us to express all the aromatic potential of the Gamay grape,” Marx confirms. “In the last decade, we rediscovered the possibilities offered by using oak and some longer maceration time. For some of our crus like Morgon and Moulin à Vent, or some single vineyard wines, we are also working in a more Burgundian style of vinification, with destemming and longer skin contact. This adds more structure to the wine, and with soft oak aging, enables us to smooth the tannins and reveal the full depth of the wine. This approach enables us to take advantage of the versatility of Gamay, and give [it] the chance to show all [its] potential, from the soft juicy Chiroubles, to the earthy Côte de Brouilly, and the soft bodied Morgon,” he explains.

  Of course, the supple, easy-drinking nature of Beaujolais wines might have the Napa Cab crowd dismissing them as less than “serious.” Marx responds to such criticism in a way that leaves me nodding (rather enthusiastically) in agreement. “Regarding serious; who said wine has to be serious? Wine is about sharing pleasure and good vibes. Serious is such an old way of approaching wine; a time when it was reserved for serious [air quotes] people. Beaujolais is a wine that speaks to all consumers – young and old – who are looking just to enjoy a nice glass, or discover the complexity that a mature Gamay wine can offer.”

  Delving a bit more deeply into what differentiates the styles of various Beaujolais wines -– from Beaujolais, to Beaujolais-Villages, to the ten crus de Beaujolais -– Marx notes that a winemaker aims for different outcomes depending on the pedigree of the wine being produced.

  “We at Vinescence have the chance to produce all the wines from Beaujolais, from Beaujolais Nouveau to each of the single crus. When producing Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages, you are trying to extract something different than when you produce, for example, a single vineyard Morgon. For the first ones, you look to keep the fruit, and the freshness. For the other one you are trying to have more extraction and reveal all the potential. This potential is the combination of the soil, the exposure, the altitude. So yes, nature gives you a different potential, and with your specific vinification style, you try to express the best of this potential. For instance, we age some of our crus in oak barrels to underline the structure … we decided that this is not an option for our Beaujolais Villages. This is not what we are looking for in a villages-level wine. In Beaujolais we are fortunate to have a whole spectrum of different profiles due to that combination of natural elements – our role is to express them in the best possible way.”

  Speaking of different profiles, there’s also been increased interest in Beaujolais Rosé and especially Beaujolais Blanc.

  Beaujolais Rosé remains, in my opinion a niche market. We are not competitive on prices because of our limited yield,” admits Cathy Lathuiliere, Export & Winemaking for Domaine de Lathuiliere-Gravallon, an estate that dates back to 1875. “On the other hand, it is another story for Beaujolais Blanc, which is becoming more and more in demand. Indeed it is a Chardonnay similar to Bourgogne wine, which is becoming more and more inaccessible in terms of price. Some customers who previously bought a generic white Burgundy at a reasonable price have switched to Beaujolais Blanc, which can be an excellent alternative.”

  In fact, one of the tenants of “Beaujolais Nouvelle Generation” -– the ten-year roadmap developed by Inter Beaujolais (the Beaujolais wine council) is to diversify the region’s wine portfolio by placing additional emphasis on rosé (short-term goal) and white wines (mid- to long-term goal).

  Of course, one element the winemakers of Beaujolais have had to contend with (touched on earlier in the story) -– and one with which they have no control over -– is the effect of climate change. Interestingly, winemakers in the region are not necessarily seeing this as a bad thing for them, understanding, of course, that it’s not the ideal situation globally.

  “We have observed during the decade a global warming, [that it] is totally beneficial for Beaujolais,” says Lathuiliere-Gravallon. “Now we make more balanced wines, with a little less acidity. Unfortunately, this warming has reduced the yield due to frost and hail,” not to mention drought conditions.

  Marx points out that when he came to Beaujolais 35 years ago, harvest started in mid- to late-September. The past vintage harvest started in mid-August. While he concedes the extra warmth ultimately leads to wines with more structure, there are some new challenges to deal with. “We need to work harder during vinification to maintain the balance between freshness and body, fruit and structure,” he notes.

  While Beaujolais producers can’t directly alter the effects of climate change, they can work together to ensure the byproducts of their profession contribute as little environmental impact as possible. In fact, winemarkers in the region have taken an active role in developing and encouraging sustainable practises on their own, initially with no government encouragement or support. Today they are leaders in promoting positive environmental, economic, and social aspects relating to their industry.

  Marx made some good points a few paragraphs back about the “serious” nature of wine. At the risk of going off on a personal opinion tangent (but since I’m the writer, why not?)… when you consider the rather “serious” state of the world these days, maybe what we could all use is a large glass (or three) of a wine that has been fermented for one reason only: to bring pleasure. It’s not meant to be analyzed, collected, cellared or, (shudder) scored. A few good, fruity gulps of Beaujolais Nouveau (sightly chilled) might be just what the doctor ordered. Of course this year le Beaujolais Nouveau n’est pas arrivé! -– at least here in Ontario (due to supply chain/due to inflation/due to Putin/due to COVID – pick one…or all). But thankfully there’s plenty of Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages, and crus de Beaujolais to keep the party rolling.

What Does Sustainable Packaging for Liquid Look Like in 2023?

recycling symbol with bottles

By: Sam Johnson

The process of designing sustainable packaging for liquids is a complex one. Today’s store shelves are lined with glass bottles of wine, spirits, juices, and more — all of which include packaging that may be elegant but is certainly not eco-friendly. For instance, in order to make glass, we need sand, and every year, the world uses 50 billion tons of sand to manufacture glass — a number roughly twice the amount that all the world’s rivers can produce. Moreover, removing this sand from riverbeds and shorelines disrupts ecosystems and leaves communities vulnerable to flooding. Glass is infinitely recyclable, but we make approximately 10 million tons of it every year, and our recycling statistics still have significant room for improvement. According to the most recent statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency, we recycle only 39.8% of wine and liquor bottles and only 15.0% of other glass jars.

  Unfortunately, rigid plastic bottles are not the answer. As a material, plastic has revolutionized the way we do business and the way we live, having become a necessity in everything from our food packaging to our textiles and electronics. But with the raw materials necessary to manufacture glass slowly running out, manufacturers are now seeking ways to make plastic packaging more sustainable.

  The answer to this problem is minimizing waste and reducing the materials needed to package products. Reducing packaging waste means less waste to deal with at the recycling plant or ending up in landfills, resulting in less plastic finding its way back into our environment.

Current Packaging Options for Wine are not Sustainable

  Today, it isn’t easy to imagine a wine industry without glass, cardboard, or plastic packaging. In relation to the broad scope of history, however, these packaging materials happen to be fairly recent inventions.

  In 1869, John Wesley Hyatt treated cellulose from cotton fiber with camphor to invent the first synthetic polymer. While searching for an ivory substitute, he stumbled on a revolutionary material that forever freed manufacturers from natural materials such as stone, wood, metal, bone, or horn. Suddenly, manufacturers could make their own raw materials, which was hailed as a great win for the environment — plastic would save elephants, rhinos, and tortoises from the ravages of human greed, as well as put affordable manufactured goods within reach of all classes.

  Roughly a century later, however, society’s optimism for plastic began fading. People first took note of floating plastic garbage on the ocean’s surface in the 1960s. Now, 8 million pieces of plastic pollution enter our oceans every day, amounting to 12 million tons of plastic waste dumped into the oceans every year. In total, we create 300 million tons of plastic waste each year — over 270 million tons of which end up in our environment after being dumped into landfills and oceans.

  Despite the damage caused by plastic since its introduction to consumer markets over a century ago, recent studies have warned that the environmental impact caused by glass bottles — the primary packaging utilized by the wine industry — is even greater than that caused by plastic ones. According to experts from the University of Southampton who spearheaded one such study, “The environmental impact of glass bottles (new and recycled)…[was] the most [negatively] impactful packaging” for each category of drinks included in the study, “with plastic bottles always [showing to be] the second-most impactful.”

  In essence, the University of Southampton study showed that, while traditional plastic packaging tends to cause a larger environmental impact “at the end of [its] life cycle,” glass bottles cause more harm to the environment overall. This is because glass bottles require more energy to produce and transport since they weigh more than other forms of liquid packaging, which releases greater quantities of carbon emissions at each step of their supply chain.

  To compound this issue, the furnaces required to manufacture glass bottles run 24/7 and, according to AGC Glass Europe, “…cannot be stopped and cooled” so long as they are in operation, which typically lasts 15-18 years. Moreover, along with emitting larger quantities of carbon emissions (CO2), these furnaces can also release greater amounts of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), further contributing to acidification and the formation of smog.

Alternative Packaging Solutions for Wine Have a Long Way to Go

  In light of the costs and environmental impact associated with manufacturing, filling, and shipping glass bottles, wine-makers have increasingly looked to more environmentally-friendly alternatives. Perhaps the most common and popular of these is cardboard, which has given rise to the popularity of boxed wine among eco-conscious consumer markets.

  While both glass and cardboard are considered to be equally recyclable, cardboard used for boxed wine boasts one primary advantage in regard to sustainability: a lower carbon footprint. Additionally, cardboard costs much less than glass bottles to produce and ship and poses far less risk of breaking than glass.

  However, alternative packaging like cardboard for the wine industry is not without its drawbacks. For one, wine cannot be poured directly into a cardboard box — it must be contained within a plastic bag that is then placed in the box. As such, boxed wine cannot age, making it a less appealing option for consumers with a more refined palate or those seeking a bolder taste in their wine. Moreover, the inclusion of plastic bags in packaging for boxed wine inherently makes them a less-sustainable option for both manufacturers and consumers.

  Although there are more environmentally-friendly packaging options available within the wine industry, none currently available are completely sustainable. In order to achieve this desired level of sustainability, manufacturers should look to ways that allow them to lower the base amount of packaging used through a practice known as source reduction.

How Source Reduction Can Make the Wine Industry More Sustainable

  The overall goal of source reduction is to curb waste at the source before it is even created. In fact, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says source reduction is the most promising means to achieve sustainability.

  The main goal of source reduction is to reduce the amount of material used in packaging so that less ends up in landfills or oceans when it’s no longer needed. To do this effectively, forward-thinking manufacturers must examine every stage of their packaging production process, from sourcing materials all the way down through shipping and disposal options after use.

  Source reduction is the first step in any sustainable packaging strategy, and most manufacturers are finding that flexible packaging is the way to make it happen. The amount of plastic required for liquid packaging, for example, is cut drastically by using flexible packs instead of rigid plastic containers or bottles. Reducing the amount of plastic used in packaging means less plastic for consumers to recycle as well as reducing manufacturers’ carbon footprint by using less energy in the production process.

  Source reduction also means ensuring that packaging does not add unnecessary weight or volume to products. Flexible packaging for liquids like wine is far lighter than heavy glass bottles. Less weight equates to less pollution from transportation costs.

  Statistics prove that flexible packaging requires fewer resources and less energy to produce. For example, according to Robbie Fantastic Flexibles, a member of the Flexible Packaging Association, “the manufacturing of 780,000 flexible pouches consumes 87% less coal, 74% less natural gas, and 64% less crude oil in comparison to the manufacturing of rigid packages.”

Innovative and Sustainable Packaging for Liquids

  There are new and more sustainable ways to package liquids that result in less waste and greater ease of use for consumers. The design of rigid plastic and glass bottles has not changed significantly since they hit store shelves a half-century ago. But today, some manufacturers are designing flexible plastic packaging for liquids that will provide circularity throughout their supply chain and the product’s lifecycle.

  For example, one new alternative to consider comes from AeroFlexx in the form of the AeroFlexx Pak. These paks are produced with up to 50% recycled material and include a self-sealing valve, allowing consumers greater ease in dispensing only the amount of product desired at a given time.  

  Unlike traditional glass bottles for wine, these innovative valves do not need to be closed by consumers. When consumers knock a package off the counter, it will not spill. When they drop it onto the floor, it will not splatter, and they can hold an entire package upside down without any components escaping. In addition, products such as these remove the need for additional components in the wine’s packaging — caps, corks, and lids, for example — helping to further reduce waste for both wine-makers and consumers.

  These new flexible packages will allow consumers to use every bit of the product they purchase.

Unlike boxed wine that frequently uses non-recyclable plastic in its containers and dispensers, innovative flexible packaging for wine has the added benefit of being curbside recyclable wherever other similar products are accepted.

  For retailers who ship large quantities of glass bottles and jugs containing wine, flexible packaging will offer a way to transport that product without waste due to breakage. Furthermore, lighter plastic packaging means they pay far less for shipping.

  When forward-thinking manufacturers design flexible packaging for wine with source reduction, sustainability, and recycling in mind, it creates a win/win scenario. These sustainable packaging alternatives require fewer plastics to produce and less energy to ship, saving money in production and transportation, as well as in potentially-wasted product.

  These changes in liquid packaging are not just good for the environment — they leave a positive impact on everyone involved.

About the Author

  Sam Johnson has spent a decade drafting, editing, and managing content across an array of industries including entertainment, technology, environmental, political science, government relations, and more. obtained his MBA from the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College in Winter Park, FL, in 2017. After graduation, he consulted with the Office of Technology Transfer at NASA-KSC to help commercialize environmental remediation technology for startups.

Hidden Vineyards Around the Globe

By: Hanifa Sekandi

As we cycle into another year, we often think about the year we just endured, years past and what may be in the future. The notion of “Are you living your life?” has a strong presence during this introspective time. Also, are you holding yourself back? Are you living a life full of moments you can look back at and cherish? Travel is a wonderful way to experience life. It is during our travels that we collect enriching moments. If you are fortunate enough to travel, you understand the value of experiencing a new place. Is it too late to explore? Never! There are hidden vineyards around the globe waiting to enchant you. Viticulture is more than just a beautiful bottle of wine. It is an opportunity for you to explore, to see all that this life can be. There is something still waiting for you to uncover. Perhaps in the coming year, you will find yourself in a land unknown at one of these hidden vineyards, capturing a moment of a lifetime.

  Dorothy realized on the Yellow Brick Road that there is “no place like home.” Sometimes that hidden gem is closer than one believes. There could be a beautiful vineyard in North America you have yet to discover. Other times, we must push our limits, dive into the unknown and travel to foreign lands where unseen vineyards thrive. The world of viticulture is as complex as the vines that grow. It gives as much to life as it is given. More importantly, it is the hands that toil the land. It is the winemakers who should be revered. 

Hidden in New York

  Many people forget that New York is more than Time Square or the Statue of Liberty. Indeed, New York is a city that never sleeps at night, has Broadway shows and is filled with people rushing to catch a train somewhere. If you are visiting this state, you should consider escaping the theatrical atmosphere of the city and escaping to North Fork, New York. Just east of Manhattan, North Fork is situated on the North Shore of Long Island. This picturesque breath of fresh air is home to 36 wineries, plush apple orchards and potato farms. Here you can sip on a premium selection of wines, cabernet franc, merlot and sauvignon blanc. Many wineries offer an opportunity for wine tasting so that you can experience quite a few wines from different vineyards. Who would have thought that a northern Napa Valley-like place exists so close to chaos? Few, unless you are a viticulture expert, and so a visit to one of these wineries is a wonderful opportunity.

  In 1985, North Fork of Long Island AVA was created to preserve and continue this growing wine community. This is an important tourism infrastructure that allows this shoreside’s economy to thrive. There are many worthwhile vineyards to visit here, most notably Kontokosta Winery. It is the stunning views from this vineyard that give you a breathtaking glimpse of Long Island Sound. It is easy to feel like you have found yourself in a world that seems to exist on its own as you stroll this vineyard or find yourself taking in the expansive views while sitting on the beautiful terrace. This family-owned farm/vineyard is known for its award-winning wines. Its 2019 Sauvignon Blanc won GOLD at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and its 2018 Anemometer White also won GOLD in 2021 at the same competition. They have continued to impress, which is apparent with the numerous awards they have been awarded. The family commitment to sustainability and being hands-on during every stage of the process gives way to exceptional vintages.

Small but Mighty Moldova

  This is one of the unlikely places in the world where you would look for good wine, let alone rare or exquisite wine. Moldova is not a country many think of when considering vineyards or wine regions. As they say, gems are only found by those who seek them. Here, there are indeed decadent red and white wines and vineyards that carry stories of the past. The beauty of wine is that you learn more than just about wine. You learn that winemaking and its production hold different meanings in the country and region of origin.

Winemaking in Moldova has ancient roots from the Neolithic Period. As with many wine regions, the art of winemaking came from settlers to the land who brought with them their winemaking skills. First, settlers from Greece came with the asset of fermentation and, later the Romans’ winemaking expertise. The business of making wine and turning vineyards into a profit-turning endeavor began in the Middle Ages with senior Moldovan servants. Like many alcoholic beverages, only those of high standing or prestige in society were privy to the best bottles made.

  Moldovan vineyards are in Balti, Valul lui Traian, Codru and Stefan Voda. A vineyard considered a hidden gem is the award-winning Purcari winery, established in 1827. The favorable weather conditions in this wine region have been likened to the Bordeaux region. Both the climate and rubidium-rich soil carry similarities, leading many to conclude why the French began cultivating wine in this region. When Russian Emperor Nicholas I awarded the Pucari winery the prestigious honor of the exclusive winery in Bessarabia, it was a great shift that allowed this winery and its wines to be experienced abroad. In 1878, the Negru de Purcari won gold at the Paris World Expo. Today, this winery is thriving, and its wines are exported to over 25 markets. Yes, you can find a bottle of their high-quality wines if you live in one of the markets. But a visit to this winery situated in scenery will take you back in time and take your breath away. It is truly remarkable and a trip worth taking. Pucari is more than just a winery; it is also a hotel, so wine revelers can stay on the estate to get the essence of the old world while dining on local dishes with wine made on the estate.

Swiss Chocolate and Wine

  The Swiss are famous for their decadent chocolates. Chocolate and wine are a divine pairing. So, how does wine in Switzerland measure up? For those who have tried delicately churned smooth and buttery Swiss-made chocolates, you know that the standard for making good chocolate is beyond great; it is superb. The same sentiment extends to wine which has a long history dating back to the Roman Empire. Wine in Switzerland is predominantly produced by vineyards situated in the west and south. Red grape varieties grow quite robustly in this wine region, with approximately 57 percent grown. The remaining percentage is white grape varieties. As with chocolate, wine is steeped in traditions past. These traditions still carry the foundation of how Swiss winemakers make wine.

  Knowing that Switzerland has six wine regions to explore is a bit daunting. All vineyards in this picturesque country are worth visiting, but notably, the Lavaux region, which is nestled between the Alps and Geneva. The Domaine Croix Duplex vineyard, established in 1929, might make you want to pack your bags and move to this beautiful country. If you could imagine a paintbrush in motion, this is what you will experience if you visit this vineyard. It sits in a backdrop that makes one feel like they are living art in real time. At this family-owned estate, you can try a selection of pinot noir, one of the most common grape varieties grown in Switzerland. They also have an excellent selection of the second most grown grape, white Chasselas. Swiss winemakers are also heralded for their uncanny approach to making exclusive wines made with grapes only found in this region. Most vineyards will have a selection of specialty wines. Domaine Croix Duplex has a specialty wine called Grappa de Fleurettes. What makes this wine unique is not just the grapes. It is the process of de-stemming the grapes and gently bursting the berry so the aromatic essence is still present after the wine has been fermented and distilled. This is a sublime experience during a tasting. Add a decadent piece of Swiss chocolate, and it is pure bliss.

  Viticulture allows traditions to transcend time. Where there is wine, there is history. Alas, one must not forget the foundations that were built before them. Everything that we experience today was once a dream. Every wine bottle uncorked belongs to the past as much as it does to the present moment. These vineyards are not just needed to fill your glass but to show us that growth is challenging, but with effort, it can yield spell-bounding results. When you travel abroad, escape to a hidden winery. Meet the people, learn from them and become the ultimate student of life.

Rare Wines Around The World 

wine collections displayed

By: Hanifa Sekandi

  Every wine collector believes their collection of vintage wines is nothing like anyone has ever seen. When collectors curate wines, they look for the best and go to great lengths to get their hands on a bottle. If this is you, you may be missing a few rare gems that only those in-the-know truly, know about. Further, some of the rarest wines in the world come with a jaw-dropping price tag and are not easy to come by. Surprisingly, there is no TV show called “Precious Wine Hunters.” Wine represents lost stories that take us back in time, stories that remind us that in every century, people overcome obstacles. Wine is a tribute and notebook of lost times full of lessons. With every bottle, there was either joy or turmoil. Take a trip down vineyard lane and discover the untold stories of vines of the past, the people who toiled on that land and the pain and glory they felt, one crushed grape at a time.

What Makes Wine Rare?

  Before we explore the unknown world of wine, it is essential to clarify what classifies a rare wine since we live in an overly social world. With different medians for information, confusion is the norm. It is easy to create an illusion of luxury. Moreover, it is easy to buy into the scarcity effect and assume that something exclusive is rare. Precisely, it has nothing to do with sitting with the cool kids or faking it until you make it. A rare wine stands alone in its glory and does not need pomp and circumstance to catch your attention. It is what it is: rare. So, what makes wine rare? This is a nuanced conversation because a range of factors come into play.

  A rare wine may be a bottle that houses exquisite grapes that produce a smaller yield. Such grapes may not grow if conditions are not favorable. Vines spoiled by pests will also produce a smaller yield since few grapes, if any, can be harvested. Hence, it is a rare bottle of wine with a small number of bottles produced. A winery producing a limited amount of select wine can increase the price. Both accessibility and price point can render a wine rare. Another element is time. How long has this wine been stored? For example, a 1774 Vercel “Vin Jaune d’Arbois” was stored close to France’s Jura Mountains in an underground cellar. This wine sold for $120,800 at auction. Both age and it being a rare historic discovery classify this wine as rare.

  So yes, scarcity does factor into designating a select bottle of wine rare. But there is more to the story. Although, a homebrew wine that you made may be rare for you. It certainly will not have sommeliers lining up to sample or make it to the auction block. The types of grapes contribute to its rarity and the vineyard of origin. Of course, a wine produced from a single vineyard is considered rare. Also, who made it is an important marker. Many viticulturists would agree that the rarer the grape, the better. The 30 grape varieties that are predominately used in 70 percent of the bottles of wine produced worldwide would not be considered rare, per se. When we think of rare, we travel to smaller vineyards that grow vines that are not commonly known. These are wines that not only have a hefty price tag but may only be familiar to those who live close to the vineyards or true precious wine hunters. So, there are elements of exclusivity, scarcity and time determining if a wine is a gem to imbibe or carefully store, to gaze at or boast to friends and fellow collectors. 

A Rare Find in Germany

  There are many rare finds in the wine landscape, and this is indeed one of them. The vineyard of origin of this bottle of wine found in a Roman soldier’s tomb in 1867 will never be known. There is no way to decipher whether the grapes used are from an elite vine. It is simply called the Speyer bottle of wine. This bottle of wine is touted as the oldest bottle of wine in existence. It rests comfortably on display at the Pfalz Historical Museum in Speyer, Germany. It has remained intact for well over 1,693 years in a 1.5-liter glass bottle with intricately designed dolphin handles.

  Inside this well-preserved bottle floats olive oil and herbs, used to preserve the wine or enhance the flavor profile. It is sealed with wax. It dates to 325 C.E, Roman rule, a time when local grapes were used for making wine. The ratio of wine and oil is in favor of oil. Since it was discovered in the soldier’s tomb along with other broken bottles, it may signify an afterlife offering or be placed alongside the deceased for ritual purposes. Can you drink it? According to researchers, although taking a few sips will not kill you, it most likely does not taste particularly good! 

The High-Priced Bottles from France’s Jura Region

  It is clear that time is a factor in the rarity of wine. The length of time wine has matured or whether it has historical roots matters. Some wines are considered both vintage and rare. A bottle of 1774 Vercel “Vin Jaune d’Arbois sits perfectly in this category. Not only is it a rare wine, but it is also a vintage classic made by legendary winemaker and inventor of vin jaune, Anatoile Vercel. The sale of three bottles in 2018 was put forth by his descendants who live in Arbois. The vineyard where these wines were made is in the eastern Jura region. It was during King Louis XVI’s reign when these bottles’ grapes were harvested, another element that adds to the rarity of this wine.

  Can you drink it? How does the oldest wine in the world taste? Fortunately, 24 wine experts who have had the privilege to taste it in 1994 can answer these questions. Yes, it is, as you would imagine it, sublime. They rated it a 9.4 out of 10 and noted that the longer it ages, the better it will get. The experts recommended that the next time it should be tasted is 100 years from now. So, how does it taste? Aromatic notes of cinnamon, spices and curry engulf the senses with a smooth essence of nuts, vanilla and dried fruit. The savagnin, a local grape used to make this wine, is matured in a barrel with a film of yeast. It is also attributed to the yellow coloring. 

Secrets in New Jersey

  Who would have thought? Certainly, not the people who discovered a case of 1796 Lenox Madeira stowed away at the Liberty Hall Museum. In 2015, during renovations, this imported case of wine was discovered while encased behind carefully plastered walls. How did it get there? And to whom do they belong? Madeira is a Portuguese wine that was illegally smuggled into the United States. John Hancock was a merchant, political leader and an American founding father infamously known for avoiding British tax and smuggling wine on his ship, Liberty. It has been documented that on this very ship, bottles of black-market Madeira were seized, an incident that has been purported to have incited the Boston riots. It was the prohibition era, but Hancock’s bold moves set in motion a new era: the Revolution. 

  America represented the new world for those who settled. Although, it was a world that already lay rich in culture from the people who walked the land centuries before the ships came to shore. Madeira, a much-loved beverage of the 1700s, carries as much turmoil as it does joy. This was a voyage of promise and the realities of both pain and displacement, but not what the winemakers of the vineyards on this island off the east coast of Morocco foresaw. This viticulture gem is prized for its history and the journey took to foreign lands, another reminder that wine carries both joy and sorrow. Does this wine measure up? As of now, no one has tried it.

  There are many unexpected turns in the world of undiscovered rare wines. There is a bottle or case of wine somewhere yet to be discovered. There is a winemaker whose lineage carries prestige or a rare grape only a select few may try. This is what makes wine unique and loved by many. It is an unpredictable beverage shrouded in secrecy and infamy. It is a bit of an anomaly that in modern times, one can casually stroll down liquor store aisles – a remarkable freedom in and of itself. For people of past times looking into the future and seeing the selection of wines on demand, just at your fingertips, this would be a rarity. Every wine, whether prestigious or not, would leave them spellbound. 

The Cape Crusaders of PIWOSA 

wine bottles spread out

By: Tod Stewart

  Challenging perceptions – and righting misconceptions – typically isn’t an easy thing to do. This is especially true when attempting to raise the stature of something generally not held in particularly high esteem. Until fairly recently, the wines of South Africa tended to be passed over by all but the most knowledgeable wine types – at least here in Canada (but I suspect in other parts of the world as well). Thankfully, this situation has changed considerably – largely due to the quality of the wines themselves and the efforts of dedicated winemakers continuously looking to improve things. I dub these folk “Cape Crusaders,” among them, the members of the Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa (PIWOSA for short) are some of the most heroic.

  Though these guys and gals are superheroes of the wine world, they were wearing jeans rather than spandex (as was I, so let’s get that cleared up right away) when I met up with a few of them in a Toronto bar a while back. Their mission isn’t ridding the world of crime but rather ridding it of ignorance, preconception and overt cluelessness. All in the name of South African wine. Gesundheit to that!

  The group came together via a shared vision of how the wines of South Africa – and the industry itself – should look.

  “It was a combination of a lot of years of frustration,” admitted Alex Dale from Radford Dale (and also the PIWOSA co-founder and director), who shared a glass or two with me along with Paul Clüver of the eponymously named Elgin Valley-based Paul Clüver Wines and Bruce Jack, from the Drift Farm in the Overberg Highlands. “Of all of us traveling around the planet, going to the shows, working with importers, doing our bit, we realized that the reputation of South African wines, in many markets, was being driven by wines on the low end of the scale. This isn’t South Africa – especially not South Africa today.”

  Of course, guiding consumers to the best wines South Africa has to offer assumes, to a degree, that they even know much about the country’s wine industry. It could be a bit of a shaky assumption, at least as far as the market for South African wines in Canada goes.

  “South Africa remains a largely unknown winemaking country in Canada. It is geographically very far away, so quite fairly, many people have not visited; therefore, their frame of reference is limited,” suggests Laurel Keenan, the manager of Wines of South Africa (WOSA), Canada. “That in and of itself can be a big obstacle. The second is the amount of shelf space we are generally afforded in retail stores, which is quite small and sometimes hard to locate. For a long time, the selection was also not reflective of the best wines produced there, but that is slowly changing.” It’s also worth remembering that sales of South African wines and spirits were impacted by global anti-apartheid sanctions imposed in the mid-1980s that were not lifted until 1994, meaning that once they were lifted, the industry required a huge “re-education” effort.

  People like Dale and the rest of the PIWOSA contingent realized that if a change were to be accelerated, they would have to, in Dale’s words, “roll up our sleeves and do it ourselves.” With no government funding, the member wineries had little choice but to crack their collective piggybanks and pool their resources. “Either we clubbed together to make a difference and make it happen by ourselves, or it wasn’t going to happen at all,” Dale emphasized.

  One might wonder (okay, I wondered) how this “club” of 10 wineries (today 12 as a couple of new member wineries have since jumped aboard) in a sea of about a thousand in South Africa can hope to have any impact on the global market. Clüver is quick to point out that PIWOSA represents the “super-premium” tier of South African wines. In other words, the wines that fall into the price bracket noted by Keenan are where the real “bang for the buck” starts to be realized. And while there are other South African winery associations in operation, none, in Clüver’s eyes, “are as committed to the process or as organized and active as we are.” However, he is emphatic that PIWOSA member wineries aren’t the only ones producing fantastic wines at what he says are “ridiculously low prices.”

  Ridiculously low prices can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Though I would be the first to agree that its top-tier wines are largely undervalued, the “cheap and cheerful” image of South African wines may have created a misconception among consumers that this was all the county’s winemakers had to offer. And trying to work from the “bottom up” is no cakewalk. If you get into the market on the high end, it’s fairly easy to work down (look, in no disparaging way, at what Robert Mondavi did – reportedly personally disfavourably – with the Woodbridge brand). It’s not so easy going the other way.

  “The South African entry into the major market, after 1994, was never from the premium end. It was always volume, always commodity, always the lowest common denominator. So our collective mission, our task, is to eliminate old preconceptions and raise the bar. A lot of sommeliers are very Euro-centric with their wine lists and perceive South African wines in a way that is completely inaccurate. We want – and need – to change this, and the impact we can have as a collective is exponential to what we could do alone.”

  I touched base with Dale recently to get an update on PIWOSA and where things currently stand vis-a-vis the quality and perception of South African wines. What he told me was refreshingly positive.

“In many places, it is day and night compared to 10 years ago,” he enthused. “Gone are the days when you needed to hear references to burnt rubber and critter labels at every turn. We are welcomed today just about everywhere, taken seriously and listened to. Sure, it’s not like selling Burgundy, but we have made enormous strides, and PIWOSA has been very much at the forefront of this, notably in the UK, Canada and across Asia.”

  Of course, the industry today faces challenges that were likely unexpected when PIWOSA was initially established. Climate change and prolonged drought are two major impacts on South African winegrowers.

  “The change in climate coupled with the sustained drought we experienced in 2016, 2017 and 2018 along with the ongoing lack of a reliable supply of electricity got many of us thinking – and some acting! Many wineries have implemented significant water efficiencies as well as energy- generating initiatives, whether emergency-type fixes with generators or much more sustainable, long-term shifts in introducing solar. There has been a realization that in agriculture, we can’t just carry on as before. Although not yet widespread, some of us are converting or have converted to organic production (Radford Dale included, as our Estate in Elgin is one of only and handful in South Africa to be fully organically-certified).”

  When asked if there have been any trends in winemaking styles, Dale stated, “There has been a generational shift away from the sorry era of Parkersied wines and the big/powerful-is-beautiful thinking. Interestingly, this transition plays directly into the handbook of PIWOSA, where we have always advocated balance and greater authenticity in our wines. Also, we’ve seen the emergence of a young and diverse generation of very aware, passionate and capable winemakers, and this is possibly the most exciting development in the South African wine industry. We really have a hotbed of talent and energy here right now.”

  PIWOSA’s commitment to excellence goes well beyond the crafting of top-quality tipples.

“Our ethics charter was pioneering in the industry. It committed each member to the highest levels of integrity, employee-welfare, ecological best-practises and so forth, long before these subjects came under the spotlight and global scrutiny, as they have in recent years. There is certainly more attention to these matters in the industry now, generally, which has got to be a very positive development. Lastly, I think the resilience we have demonstrated as an industry, over the COVID era, has shown just how strong we can be. Not only did our government try to put us all out of business and fail (with multiple bans on the sale or transport of wine, initially in both export and domestic markets), not only did we receive zero financial support, grants, tax-relief, employee support or any other COVID-related funding, but we ended-up selling significantly more premium South African wine internationally, as consumers around the world rallied to help us in the face of what was plainly an unjust targeting of our industry, for political reasons, with no connection to the pandemic whatsoever. As Nietzsche said, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ It certainly has!”

  As a winegrower, you know that the best quality fruit usually comes from vines that are resilient, adaptable and, well, pretty stressed. Considering what the vignerons of South Africa have gone through over the years, perhaps these factors result in top-quality winemakers as well.

Undiscovered Gems: Wine Regions of Africa 

push pinned in madagascar

By: Hanifa Sekandi

Some say that South Africa is the only wine region in Africa that you should venture to if you ever make it to this beautiful continent. Is this true? It might be if you are unaware of the breathtaking vineyards in other countries. Viticulture in Africa has barely scratched the surface. It is not as widespread compared to North American and European wine markets. Both continents have lucrative and renowned wineries. As winemakers strive to tip the scale in competition, it is not surprising that wine savants have their eye on what many call the Motherland, where all things began. There is no question that the climate in many African countries is ideal for vines to grow. And harvesting biodynamic wines is also possible since an existing diverse ecosystem permits this with ease. Also, life in Africa is deeply-entrenched with nature. In addition, there is an understanding that all species must live in harmony. The great vineyards in Africa do not rule those lands. They become a part of its history as they plant their roots in ancient mineral-rich soils.

  When people think of diversity in viticulture, they generally stay within the framework of wines made in North America or Europe. Entry into the wine market on a global scale is easier for these regions. The dominance of such wines has nothing to do with quality at times. Although, one cannot say that a vintage bottle of Bordeaux made from a prestigious winery in France is not worth every penny. South African and Moroccan wines have created a buzz, but there is still more to discover.

  Thanks to the evolving times, social media and the internet document many undiscovered gems. This allows one to see that the wine industry has barely touched the edge of exploration and possibility. It is also a surprising notion since a form of wine has been made for thousands of years in many countries worldwide. What brings all these nations together? European travelers bought their vines and their winemaking to them, thus planting an interconnected web of vines and winemaking traditions globally. 

  Come along and explore just a few undiscovered, breathtaking and small but mighty wine regions in Africa. The first stop is Madagascar, and finally, Ethiopia on this new adventure. They are contenders for sustainable, organic and biodynamic winemaking. Sustainable practices exist in these regions out of necessity. As this movement takes hold globally, winemakers who want to cut down on waste while still producing wines that respect the land and allow nature to flourish freely may also adopt these sustainable practices.

Wines Of Madagascar

  Winemaking in Madagascar started with the French colonialists. The first vineyards are said to have been established by Jesuit missionaries. The intention for growing wine initially was not for commerce or how one enjoys wine today. Records from this time show that the sale of wine at the Maromby Monastery was a source of income for

the monks. Large-scale wine sales in this region did

not occur until after the emancipation from the French in the 1960s. The Swiss saw an opportunity on this island. They intended to rebuild through a development aid program in the mid-late 1960s. Some would say it was a short-lived enterprise since they withdrew from this program in 2011. Unfortunately, even with the aid, they did not make significant headway in the wine industry. Their exit left a big gap for winemakers who have not been able to gain the momentum needed to compete on a large scale. The wine produced in Madagascar is geared towards the local market and tourists. Rum is the main export.

  Vines are planted on the highlands on steep slopes and in areas with cooler altitudes. This helps prevent fungal disease and high levels of alcohol in the grapes that have not reached the ideal ripeness for harvesting. Pineapples, rice paddies, bananas and sugar cane are also planted nearby. The plant diversity among the vines demonstrates that vines can co-exist and thrive. The need to clear lands simply for grapes is not necessary. Perhaps, this is a great initiative to model for newer winemakers considering biodynamic practices. It is also an opportunity to increase their profit margins by selling other fruits grown on their land at local farmers’ markets or having an on-site shop. Yes, Madagascar is behind and nowhere near being considered successful in the wine market. But this wine region does provide a gateway to new ways to create biodynamic vineyards. Rice paddies are situated in the low-lying, damp valleys below vines nestled on the hillsides. Both benefit from the placement since the terraced slope runoff allows the rice to thrive.

  Since Madagascar is off the East coast of Africa in the Southern Hemisphere, grapes are harvested in the rainy season during February. The process of winemaking here is unique. Winemakers here allow their senses and instincts to determine when grapes are ripe—a simple yet effective method to replace a refractometer. From here, grapes are fermented in large concrete vats, where a mechanical press is used for extraction. The liquid is transferred to another concrete vat that contains sugar and preservatives. It will further ferment for approximately six months. The richness of color in the red wines made here is due to the skin remaining on the grapes during fermentation. Ready-to-bottle wine is bottled in previously used bottles by hand. The entire bottling process is done by hand, including labeling and corking. Wasting bottles is not an option. The labels of old bottles are peeled off, and bottles are cleaned and reused.

  Seven of the eight wineries on this island use a French-American hybrid grape. Only one winery, Clos Nomena, uses Vitis vinifera, a European grape varietal touted by sommeliers, who say that the finest wines are made with these grapes.

The Growing Vines Of Ethiopia

  Tej is a traditional Ethiopian wine once consumed by the nobility and that dates back centuries. It consists of water, gesho and honey. Gesho is a plant that is similar to hops. Although this drink does not contain grapes, it is still classified as wine in this region. Many liken it to mead, an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting water, grain, spices, fruits and honey. Although wine in this country has existed since the first millennium A.D., the presence of large-scale vineyards with methods attributed to European wine cultivation only began in the late 1950s. The oldest and most well-known vineyard in this region is Awash Winery. It was established in 1956 under the helm of real estate developer Mulugeta Tesfakiros and politician Ras Mesfin Sileshi. In 2013, it was acquired by the Blue Nile company and partnered with 8 Mile, a company chaired by legendary musician Sir Bob Geldof. This partnership aims to expand its global reach and scale of production by building another distillery.

  Approximately 10,000 million bottles of wine, primarily consumed within Ethiopia, are produced annually by Awash Wineries. The second winery, Castel Winery, produces the remaining bottles, approximately two million bottles annually. It was established in 2007 and located in Zway, south of Addis Ababa. Awash Winery is in Awash Merti Jersu. The proximity to the equator allows for harvest to occur twice a year due to a shorter vegetation cycle. Harvest occurs from June to July and from November to December. This is a great benefit that European vineyards do not get to experience. Perhaps this makes up for some of the other shortcomings that the Awash vineyards must navigate. Harvested grapes are transported for seven hours down the vineyard winery path. It is a somewhat long journey that leaves them vulnerable to the scorching sun burning their skin. Even with a protective shield placed on top, the sun’s powerful rays can still permeate this barrier. To ensure that the grapes are cool enough before pressing, they are left overnight in the truck, a method that offsets the day’s travel under the beaming sun. At the Awash Winery, there is a small selection of wines offered. Axumit Sweet Red Wine is a much-loved wine by Ethiopian locals. Similar to Madagascar wineries, the bottles are recycled for rebottling purposes. The bottles themselves are collectibles since some have been used for over five decades – true history in a bottle indeed.

  Castel Winery is a partnership between the Ethiopian Government and the Castel Group. Partnering with a company responsible for making and distributing premier beer and wine brands is a formidable venture. Both parties believe that this winery will be able to compete with South African wineries since it is in a region located 1,600 meters above sea level and where temperatures sit evenly at around 25 degrees Celsius each year. The sandy soils also benefit from the approximately 650 millimeters of annual rainfall. Bordeaux vines were imported and planted in this region and occupy most of the space in these vineyards. There are two ranges of wines produced at Castel. The most notable wine is Rift Valley. It is a premium wine aged in French oak barrels. With the help of the European Union’s Everything But Arms program and AGOA program, Castel Winery plans to expand into European and North American markets.

  The undiscovered gems for African wineries do not stop in these two countries. As you know, when a seed is planted, growth is inevitable. Other African countries are taking note. So, this journey into the unknown world of the Motherland’s wineries will continue. Like the bottles that have circulated in the hands of many, there is more to this story. For now, dream of an evening in Antananarivo, Madagascar spent drinking Clos Nomena-made wine or a day in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia having your first sip of Tej.