My Chilean Wine Adventure

This story includes two stories I did for the Telegraph Journal Provincial Edition from when I was in Chile in the late fall of 2013. I have added some additional pictures that did not run in the print edition.

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The gorgeous Santa Rita estate

PART I  – The Diversity of Chile’s Wine Regions

Having recently spent two full weeks in Chile, the first on a Wines of Chile sponsored trip for journalists to key wine regions, and the second on a holiday with my wife, my article this week is focused on the diversity of terroir and grapes in this impressive wine country. I will also do a follow-up column on some specific trends, but this week is more of an overview.

Chile is a long, skinny country, only averaging 177 km in width, and covering an awesome amount of latitude – from S 17° to 56° – a total of over 5,000 km. Not surprisingly, a country that size, with an agreeable Mediterranean climate, has a lot of suitable terroir for grape growing. Adding to that, the country is blessed with two long mountain ranges running parallel to each other – the towering Andes and the ‘shorter’ Coastal range – a large number of valleys, and the cooling influence of winds from the Pacific Ocean to the east and the high altitude Andes mountains to the west. As a result, Chile has a seemingly endless number of choices for vineyards when it comes to temperature, altitude, angle to the sun, slope, and soil. Granted, there isn’t much rain, but they use irrigation where needed, and for now there is enough water.

There isn’t wine made from tip to tip, but there are wine regions as far north as the Elqui Valley at 30°, and as far south (that’s colder, remember) as the Malleco Valley at 38°. More extreme regions are being considered. That said, the bulk of the wine production centres on a much tighter area, mainly in the valleys around and just south of the capital Santiago, namely Aconcagua, Maipo, Casablanca, San Antonio, Leyda, Cachapoal, Colchagua, Curico, and Maule. I visited all of these except Maule on my trip.

We in the wine business have traditionally classified Chile only by these valleys, but their industry has very recently reorganized their appellation system, recognizing Costa (Coastal), Entre Cordilleras (the flatter area between the mountain ranges), and Andes areas. They did this to reflect the fact that where you are in relation to the ocean and mountains is as or more important as how far north or south you are. Costa areas are cooler and sometimes foggy, the flatter areas are hotter, and the Andes areas can be quite cool, especially if they are planting at high elevations. The cool Costa areas are typically planted with white grapes, plus Pinot Noir; the flatter areas are basically red wine territory, and the Andes has a mix, as the big difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures can result in both elegant red and white wines.

In terms of grapes, the most common red varieties for quality wines are: Cabernet Sauvignon ~ 41,000 hectares (ha) planted, Merlot ~ 10,000 ha, Carmenere ~ 9,000 ha, Syrah ~ 6,000 ha, but there are also significant amounts of Malbec, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Carignan, plus 12,000-15,000 ha of El Pais, the original European wine grape brought to Chile by Spanish Conquistadores almost 500 years ago, and known as the Mission grape in California. There is also a large amount of grapes, including muscat, grown for making Pisco, the nation’s main spirit, often used in the Pisco Sour cocktail. For white grapes, they have: Chardonnay ~ 13,000 ha, Sauvignon Blanc ~ 12,000 ha, plus a bit of Viognier and Riesling. Although there is more Chardonnay planted, Sauvignon Blanc is often the only white wine available by the glass at everyday restaurants, based on my week as a tourist. As an aside, wine is relatively inexpensive in Chile. We rarely paid over $20 Cdn for a bottle of good wine in a restaurant, and a glass of wine that would cost $8-12 here is only $5-7 there.

We had a fairly busy schedule, first visiting Santa Carolina, one of the oldest wineries, right in Santiago, part of Maipo, then heading to the other big producers, Concha Y Toro – Chile’s largest winery – then Santa Rita, also in Maipo, all on the same day. Although large producers, these wineries all make a wide range of quality wines, from good value $10-12 juice right up to super premium $100+ “icon” wines. Highlights included the great value Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon from all three wineries, as well as some of their oddballs and specialties, like the potent Gran Reserva Petit Verdot from Santa Carolina, a three vintage vertical (96, 02 and 09) of Chile’s first icon wine, the fantastic Don Melchor Cabernet from Concha Y Toro, and the floral 2010 Bougainville from Santa Rita, which is made from Petit Sirah, common in California but rare in Chile. The estates were gorgeous too.

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Wonderful Chilean Petite Sirah

 

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Santa Carolina, right in the city of Santiago

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The historic cellars at Santa Carolina

On day 2 we hit up Anakena, a modern, organic winery in Cachapoal, making a range of precise, great value wines;  Miguel Torres in Curico, an offshoot of Spain’s Torres wine business, making highly respected wines in all price ranges; and the historic San Pedro – also in Curico – the winery with the largest single vineyard in South America at 1200 ha, and producer of the large volume Gato Negro wines, as well as several premium brands, including Tarapaca. One of the more interesting wines from this day was the refreshing Miguel Torres Santa Digna Estelado Rosé sparkling wine, made from 100% El Pais grapes, from vineyards ranging from 50 to over 100 years old. I want the ANBL to seek out and list this wine. It is like drinking history. Again, all three estates were impressive.

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San Pedro has a huge single vineyard

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Organic specialists Anakena in Cachapoal

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The tasty rosé bubbly made from Pais at Miguel Torres

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Cellar at San Pedro

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Traditional Chilean dancers at San Pedro

On the third day we started with an epic tasting at Montes’ premium winery in Colchagua, in the Andes foothills, a modern design using Feng Shui principles, highlighted by a spectacular tasting room overlooking the vineyard slopes. Tasting their icon wines – Folly Syrah, “M” Bordeaux Blend, and Purple Angel Carmenere – was a great experience, but I was also intrigued by their Outer Limits CSM, a beefy Carignan, Grenache and Mourvedre blend made from the higher altitude vineyard we could see from the room. We finished the day at Casa Silva, also in Colchagua, enjoying their wonderful polo themed restaurant, great hospitality, political discussions (!), and rustic wines.

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The “Big Three” reds at Montes


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Magnificent tasting room at Montes

In the morning we headed back to Maipo to visit Odfjell, a new, modern winery owned by a transplanted Norwegian, and operating using biodynamic farming. It is a beautiful estate with quality wines that would look great on our shelves, or in my cellar! The next day was a visit to another biodynamic producer, the renowned Matetic in San Antonio, a cool climate specialist making excellent Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, Syrah and one of the best Chardonnays I’ve had in recent memory, their 2011 EQ Chardonnay. I can’t believe this sells for under $30 in Ontario. A special order may be…well…in order. We also made a short stop at the Leyda property owned by San Pedro. They are close to the ocean, in a very cool area, and are hoping to make the best Pinot Noir in Chile. The vines are young, but they are well on their way. The Chardonnay is good as well.

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Biodynamic vineyards at Matetic

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Biodynamic preparations at Matetic

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Terroir of Leyda

My last winery visit was the next day at perhaps the most visually stunning estate, Errazuriz in Aconcagua. Almost desert-like terroir results in big, serious red wines from their estate, but they also bring in grapes from cooler areas to make fresh whites. Their “Max Reserva” line of wines are excellent step-up brands, and their icon wines: Kai Carmenere, La Cumbre Syrah, and Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve Bordeaux Blend are all world beaters, winning blind tastings against much more expensive European and American wines.

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Wow – Errazuriz estate

Stay tuned for my next column, where I’ll dig deeper into the intriguing history of Chilean Carmenere and Carignan.

Wines of the Week

Red: Errazuriz Estate Carmenere, $14.99

A basic Carmenere made with ripe grapes and using a fair amount of oak aging to make a smooth, easy drinking, consumer friendly wine.

White: Santa Carolina Reserva Sauvignon Blanc, $13.29

Great value Sauvignon Blanc, with wet stone, lemony citrus, and gooseberry notes and a fresh crisp finish.

PART II – Cabernet, Carménère and Carignan: The Three C’s of Chilean Red Wine

When I go on a trip to one of the world’s wine regions, I am lucky that I get to taste hundreds of wines, but there are always highlights, wines that strike a chord and are memorable. On my recent visit to Chile, the red wines that stuck in my mind the most were the three C’s: Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, and Carignan.

I won’t dwell too much on Cabernet, since it is very much a known commodity here in New Brunswick. It is the most planted red grape by far in Chile, and makes great value wines. Indeed the best value Cabernet in the world, in my opinion. You can find Reserva Cabernets with fruit and structure for under $20. Or, you can buy super premium Cabernets or Cabernet based blends, like Don Melchor from Concha Y Toro, Medala Real from Santa Rita, “M” from Montes, Almaviva, or Don Maximiano from Errazuriz) that challenge the most expensive wines in the world, for one quarter the price or less.

 

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 Some of the great reds at Concha Y Toro

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Impressive vertical of the great Don Melchor

Yes, Chilean Cab is great, but it is Carménère that really intrigues me. This grape is almost forgotten in its Bordeaux homeland, where it had trouble ripening, was prone to coulure (which prevents vines from flowering) and thus was abandoned, but it thrives in Chile. The curious story is that they didn’t even know they had Carménère in Chile until the 1990’s, because it was mixed in with Merlot in many vineyards. This resulted in vegetal tasting wines labelled Merlot, since Carménère is a notorious late ripener.

Since 1998, the grape has received increasing focus both from Chilean wine producers and the world’s wine critics. The early versions released as single varietal wines at the ANBL in the early 2000’s were notoriously “green” tasting, more green pepper than grapes. Currently, growers are planting Carménère where it has time to ripen – such as in the Cachapoal Valley – sometimes picked around three weeks after Cabernet Sauvignon, which we’d normally consider a late ripener. When picked ripe, the wines turn out very nice, with purple colour, savoury spice, delicious dark fruit flavours, and easy tannins. Not only are wineries producing great value Carménère at under $15, they are also making premium versions, with some wineries even making “icon” wines costing close to $100 or more. Examples include the stellar Kai from Errazuriz, Herencia from Santa Carolina, Concha Y Toro’s Terrunyo, Pehuén from Santa Rita, Alwa from Anakena, Montes Purple Angel, and Microterroir Los Lingues from Casa de Siva. There is some question whether these wines are ageworthy, since Carménère left to ripen will drop in acidity, so some wineries add a small amount of more tannic grapes, but I tried some 100% versions on the trip that were aging nicely. Personally, I’d prefer it if wineries made 100% Carménère.

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The last “C” grape of interest is Carignan. This southern French variety is not planted in huge amounts in Chile, but the ones I tried on this trip were excellent, deserving more production. The bulk of the Carignan is planted in the hot, dry Maule Valley, where it existed for decades without much interest from quality wine producers, ending up in jug wine blends. It has become trendy though, and many wineries now produce Old Vines, dry farmed, bush trained Carignan. I tried a number of these, and loved them all. They are very dark, with attractive anise and cassis fruit aromas and flavours, with lots of texture, as well as good acidity.

In 2001, Odfjell, a winery very near Santiago, took over a vineyard in Maule with 100 year old Carignan vines that was not being farmed. They now produce an excellent, low yield, premium wine. They are part of VIGNO (Vignadores de Carignan), a newish group of Carignan producers, who self police in terms of the way these vines are farmed and made into wine. We do not currently have any dry farmed Chilean Carignan at ANBL, but Odfjell would be a great place to start.

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Biodynamic vineyards at Odfjell

Next time you go red wine shopping, you can’t go wrong with Chile’s Three C’s.

Wines of the Week

Value Red: Concha Y Toro Trio Merlot Carmenere Cabernet Sauvignon $15.99 at ANBL

This is excellent value, with great body, dark plum and savoury flavours. Enjoy on its own or with grilled meats.

Premium Red: 2007 Casa de Silva Microterroir Carménère, $46.79 at ANBL

A terrific example of premium Carménère, with some age. Savoury, peppery, smooth, oaky red with an elegant finish.

 

Hammond River Is The Latest New Brunswick Craft Brewery

Good Drink, February 7, 2014, The Telegraph Journal

by Craig Pinhey

Atlantic Canada has been hit with a veritable Beer Revolution in the last couple of years, with small microbreweries popping up in towns small and large on a regular basis.  It is difficult to keep up with the barrage of openings in Nova Scotia, and here in New Brunswick we are trying to catch up. Three are opening in the next few months, and there are no doubt more on the cusp.

The first is Hammond River Brewing, a small, “draft only” brewery opening on Stock Farm Road in Quispamsis.   They are kicking off with a launch party on Thursday, February 13 at the Saint John Ale House. Contact the pub for tickets.

Owner and accomplished homebrewer Shane Steeves set up his “nanobrewery” – that’s the name coined for very small brewing operations – in the basement of his home, something that is becoming increasingly common in North America. It makes sense. Beer is food, and is best sourced locally and served fresh. Every town in New Brunswick could and should support a small local brewery.

Hammond River brews 30 gallon batches (in a 40 gallon kettle), and expects an annual production of approximately 10,000 litres, or just under 200 litres a week. That’s about 47 cases of 12 standard bottles of beer a week, except you can’t buy his beer in bottles; for now it will only be available on tap at pubs. You cannot buy beer at his brewery in Growlers, either, so don’t try!

“To start,” says Steeves, “I’ll have two taps at Saint John Ale House, two taps at Bourbon Quarter, and one tap each at The Barrels Head and Shiretown.” He is considering selling to other cities, but is smartly staying local for start-up.

Before opening his own brewery, Steeves had been homebrewing regularly, and also making occasional batches of his “West Coast” style Hammond River Pale Ale at  Big Tide brew pub in Saint John. At his own brewery, though, his flagship beer will be his Hop Flash IPA.  This will be sold at a premium to pubs, compared to his other beers, because of the high cost for hops.  For a 30 gallon batch he uses a total of around 1.5 kg of hops – so that’s roughly 4-5 grams per serving, exponentially more than a typical Canadian pale ale –  of five different varieties, most giving citrus (grapefruit) and piney/floral/herbal characteristics typical of West Coast style beers.

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The nearly 2 pounds of hops used in just the finishing addition for Hop Flash IPA

“The hops used in my IPA are Magnum, Columbus, Centennial, Cascade, and Chinook,” explains Steeves. “The majority of my hops are added in the latter part of the boil to give big hop flavours and aromas, as well as some staying power for hop freshness.”

Hop Flash checks in at 6.6% alcohol and 66 IBUs. IBU is short for International Bitterness Units. To put this in perspective, mainstream Canadian beers are typically around 10 IBUs,  whereas English style bitters and Premium lagers are generally around 20-40 IBUs.

His other starting brews include: Red Coat India Red Ale, Covered Bridge ESB, and Back In Black Oatmeal Stout. Look for them soon at the aforementioned pubs.  You can follow Hammond River Brewing on Facebook.

The two other breweries opening soon are Big Axe in Nackawic and Brasseurs du Petit-Sault in Edmundston.

The owner/brewer at Big Axe is Peter Cole, and he plans to release a stout, IPA and a cream ale from his 40 gallon brew system, starting in mid-March on draft, and via Growlers at the brewery in May. They are only two minutes from the Trans Canada Highway, and also have a B&B. “Ideally,” says Cole, “people will stay here and be able to try our craft beer!  Our location is waterfront on the Saint John River and we have 53 acres of land with our trails joining the provincial snowmobile/ATV trails.”  Sounds like a great getaway to me!  Check out BigAxe.ca for more information.

Brasseurs du Petit-Sault is a larger microbrewery, 15 bbl (over 10 times the size of Hammond River or Big Axe), and is located in the old police station, which has undergone major renovations. “The company is privately-owned,” says  spokesperson Mychèle Poitras, “but with the added twist of having over 60 investors, which makes it somewhat of a community project.”

They will specialize in Belgian style beers, and, to that end, have a working relationship with Belgium’s Brunehaut Brewery, makers of St. Martin Abbey ale and other classic Belgian styles.  Brasseurs du Petit-Sault recently hired two experienced brewers and are making test batches at the pilot brewing system at NBCC Grand Falls.
Their equipment arrives in March, and they anticipate a June opening.

Their initial beers, developed by Brunehaut, will be a blonde ale and a Belgian wit (white).  They plan “more complex” beers in the future. You can learn more at  www.brasseurspetitsault.com.

Craft beer is really happening in New Brunswick. It is a revolution you should get behind.

 

Wine of the Week

Jost L’Acadie Pinot Grigio,  $16.99 – this is a fresh and fruity off-dry white made from mostly Nova Scotia Acadie Blanc, with some Ontario Pinot Grigio. I have no problem with wines that are blends of grapes from various regions or countries, as long as it is clearly stated on the label, as with this wine.  It has tasty fresh fruit flavours of pear and citrus, with light white flower notes. Enjoy with spicy Asian cuisine.

Events

February 13th and 15th – Picaroons Beer and ChocolateTastings in Fredericton. Try a selection of Picaroons brews with various chocolates. The Feb 13th event is at the York Street Station ANBL, and I will lead the tasting on the 15th at The Schnitzel Parlour.  $50 for 4 courses.  For tickets go to Picaroons Brewtique at 422 Queen Street in Fredericton.

Tuesday, February 18th – Big Reds at happinez wine bar. Join me for a tasting of some power reds. Go to happinezwinebar.com for more information.

Saturday, February 22nd – Red Cross WIne Fair. This wonderful fundraiser always sell out and this year is no exception. There are a few VIP tickets left. For $40 more you get a 1 hour premium wine tasting before the main event. See you there! VIP tickets can be purchased atwww.eventbrite.ca/e/saint-john-wine-fair-tickets-9672595995

Saturday, March 8 – Fredericton Craft Beer Festival. This successful event returns to our capital this spring and is a can’t miss for beer lovers. More information can be found at www.frederictoncraftbeerfestival.com.

Cheers!

Craig Pinhey is a certified Sommelier, beer judge and writer. Visit him www.facebook.com/Craig.Pinhey.FrogsPad or follow him on Twitter as frogspadca.

 

Lessons from the Red Wine Tasting of a Lifetime

Lessons from the Red Wine Tasting of a Lifetime

by Craig Pinhey

Good Drink, New Brunswick Telegraph Journal,  November 15, 2013

One of the best parts of taking the Sommelier course back in 1999-2000 in Halifax, then teaching it later on here in New Brunswick, was the opportunity to taste the iconic wines of the world: Grand Cru Burgundies, Classed Growth Bordeaux, top Barolos, Prestige Champagne, Super Tuscans, and other wines I would generally never get to drink because they were far out of my price range. Tasting them with others who were learning about fine wine was an excellent way to experience these premium wines for the first time. To be truthful, in 1999 I didn’t really know what I was tasting, as I was a relative newbie.

Looking back now, I have had the benefit of over a dozen years tasting and writing, traveling the wine world, judging, and doing events, and I have tasted many of these wines several times, sometimes at the actual wineries, and I feel confident that I know where they sit in the wine world. I can separate their reputation from their actual quality, and give some perspective on their price and status.

This was put to the test a few weeks ago when I had the honour of being invited to be one of only a handful of Canadians to participate in the Master Blending Classification in Montreal, where we blind tasted 30 of the top Cabernet Sauvignon blends in the world, all from the 2009 vintage. This annual event is organized by Wolf Blass, with the intent to show where their top red – their Black Label Cabernet Shiraz – sits in the upper echelons of the world’s best Cabs.

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And these WERE the best, at least the ones generally considered to be so, based on magazines and the price tags. Many top Bordeaux were there, including all five First Growths; these are the top Cabernet Sauvignon-heavy blends of the Left Bank of Bordeaux, that were ranked in the famous 1855 classification. Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Lafite Rothschild, Haut Brion, Margaux and Latour are collectively the Rolls Royce of wine. The 2009’s we tasted sell on the world market right now for well over $1000 a bottle; for example a case of 12 bottles of 2009 Lafite goes for over $18,000, according to Decanter magazine.

Other iconic reds at the tasting were Italy’s top Super Tuscans: Sassicaia, Solaia, and Ornellaia. Top Napa efforts were there too, including Opus One, Dominus, Joseph Phelps Insignia, Harlan Proprietary, and Ridge Monte Bello. Similarly, the best of South Africa, Chile, and Australia were representing their countries.

 

 

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This was, indeed, the tasting of a lifetime for me, as least thus far in my wine life, and the immense task was not lost on me. I treated it as a major lesson, and also a great opportunity to contribute to a very interesting comparative exercise, while tasting some of the most amazing beverages the world can produce. We wine geeks love this stuff.

 

 

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I learned several things at this tasting. Here are the most interesting:

1. Not everyone prefers First Growths

I guess I have expensive tastes, since 3 of my top 6 scoring wines were First Growths, but I noticed that many judges didn’t score some of them very high. We see the scores, but not who gave them, so unless each taster tells the others their scores, we don’t find out who liked what. I scored them 93, 93, 92, 90 and 89, but I noticed some scores in the low 80’s and even in the 70’s. I know judges can be calibrated differently, but can you imagine a professional scoring a wine that cost over $1000 under 80/100? I doubt they will ever admit to it in print.

2. The top wine was not the most expensive wine

My highest scoring wine was Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, a so-called “Super Second” growth, which typically sells for under $300 (what a deal!) whereas the top wine overall, on average, was another Bordeaux, Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou, another Super Second that I gave 91, available for $480 at Quebec’s SAQ. Clearly I prefer premium Bordeaux to top New World Cabernet, as I scored 11 wines 91 or above, 7 of which were Bordeaux.

3. Many icon wines are vastly overpriced

Yes, the wines on average scored very high, but note that we knew that all the wines were $100+ on the market. I can’t speak for other judges, but I expected all the wines to score over 90, and, when I was disappointed by a wine, I found it difficult to go below 90. That said, I had to, because that reflected how much I preferred other wines. Overall, my scores ranged from 88-94. Now, some of these wines sell for around $100, some are several hundred, and a few go up into the stratosphere, but – I’ll be frank – none of them justify a price tag over $150. Yes, they may do better, slightly, in a blind tasting when compared to the best Cabernets in the $25-50 range, but are they THAT much better? In my opinion, no. This actually makes the Wolf Blass Black Label look relatively good value, as it costs just under $100 at the ANBL, and scored an average of 90 at the event, which was also my score. I also scored Chile’s Vina Almaviva 93, and it sells for under $150 in Quebec. The truth is that demand, particularly from Asia, has pushed the price of the most famous wines to stupid price levels. I promise you – they are not worth it.

This tasting was exciting, very informative, and I’d love to do it again, but I may never, so that may have been the tasting of my lifetime. Sadly, I had to spit, but don’t worry, I did drink a little bit of all my top scorers after they revealed the wines – I’m not an idiot!

For more information on the Master Blend Classification, go to www.masterblendclassification.com

 

Old World Summer Whites

This is the unedited version of my column which appeared in theTelegraph Journal on June 28, 2013

OLD WORLD SUMMER WHITES

by Craig Pinhey

I know Canada Day is coming soon, and I always urge Canadians to drink local, but my column this week doesn’t focus on Canadian wine. My previous column did – email me if you missed it.

When I go shopping at my friendly neighbourhood ANBL store, I’m not only looking for wines to write about; I’m buying wine to drink. And, often, when I look at my cart at the end of shopping during these warmer months, it is mostly filled with Old World white wine. If any of you don’t know what I mean by Old World, I’m talking about wines from the European countries that have been making wine for centuries, or even millennia.

Mainly I mean France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Germany, but Old World also encompasses the rest of Europe, and even parts of Asia and Africa. I do buy more than my fair share of Canadian wines too, as they tend to be closer in style to European wine than they are to most New World Regions. I would buy more if we could get a wider selection here.

This isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy the wines of the New World, but more an indication of my personal preferences for a certain style of wine. Other than the clearly off-dry wines like most of the German Rieslings we see here in New Brunswick, wines from the Old World are perceived as drier in style than their New World counterparts. There is also a textural component that I love, a smooth but not sweet mid-palate, and this generally points me in the direction of Europe. More winemakers there tend to make wine in a way that accentuates texture over fruitiness, and I don’t mean body from alcohol or sugar, although these components can certainly provide fullness. The alcohol tends to be lower, actually, which is appropriate for summer. I’m talking about a natural richness from the grapes themselves, as well as oxidative rather than reductive winemaking, in some cases. Making wine in old barrels gives richness without any oak or vanilla flavours.

Fruity doesn’t mean sweet, of course, and you can’t smell sugar. That’s an essential lesson for new wine students. But a touch of sweetness does push up the perceived fruitiness of wine on the palate, which is why many inexpensive wines these days – white and red – are made with an added dose of sugar. It can also take the edge off of a dry wine that has firm acidity and bitter tannins.

But I prefer wines with an edge.

Besides the 400+ Canadian wines I judged at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada last week, I also tasted through a dozen Old World whites since my last column. Here are my three ‘edgy’ favourites from the tasting. You’ll note they all have a moderate alcohol level of 12.5%.

2012 Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio, IGT Dolomiti, Italy, 12.5% alc, $14.99
This old favourite has changed from a DOC Trentino to an IGT Dolomiti wine recently, but is still estate grown Pinot Grigio, made in the crisp, fresh, dry Northern Italian style. So much of the Pinot Grigio on the market today is too sweet and simple, but not Mezzacorona.

2011 Viura, Finca Antigua, La Mancha, Spain, 12.5% alc, $14.79
Viura is hardly a household name, but it can make really solid wine. This is a dry white with fruity pear notes, good body and balanced acidity. It is a good value, everyday, versatile white.

Wine of the Week: 2011 Periquita White, VR Peninsula de Setubal, Portugal, 12.5% alc, $12.79
This is terrific value for a really good, fresh, crisp, fruity white that also has good body and a clean, smooth, finish. A blend of Moscatel (Muscat), Verdelho, and Viognier, with a bit of Viosinho. A “chill and thrill” wine.

Cheers!

Upcoming events:
Saturday, July 13th: Picaroons’ Brewer’s Bash, Fredericton, www.brewersbash.picaroons.ca
Saturday, July 20th, Uncorked River Cruise: Beer Tasting, Saint John, www.uncorkednb.com/events.html
Monday, July 29th, Summer Wine Tasting at happinez wine bar, Saint John, www.happinezwinebar.com

Cheers!
Craig

Craig Pinhey is a Sommelier and writer. “Like” his Facebook site at www.facebook.com/Craig.Pinhey.FrogsPad or follow him on Twitter as @frogspadca

 

New Brunswick’s Increasingly Exciting Wine and Food Scene

NOTE: The edited version of this column  was published in the Telegraph Journal on June 14th
The past few weeks have been very busy for me, and that is mostly due to the local wine and food scene.  When I moved here in late 1998 there was no commercial local wine made from New Brunswick grapes; now we have several wineries making good wine from grapes, and more are on the way soon.
In addition, there wasn’t much of a restaurant scene 15 years ago. That sure has changed.  We now have dozens of very good restaurants around the province, and several that I would proudly put up against pretty much any place in Canada. I went to one of those – Deja Bu in Caraquet – for a dinner and lunch two weeks ago as part of Festivin. More on that later.
A month ago I was in Windsor, Ontario judging the All Canadian Wine Championships (ACWC), Canada’s oldest national wine competition. Next week I’ll be in Niagara judging the newest one: the National Wine Awards of Canada, via Wine Align, which essentially replaces the Canadian Wine Awards. And, as soon as I get back, I have to zoom to Halifax to judge the Atlantic Canada Wine Awards. New Brunswick wines factor into all of these competitions.
The results are out from the 2013 ACWC’s, and once again New Brunswick wineries brought home some hardware. You can see all the results here: www.canadianwinetrail.com/cwt.
The biggest winner from New Brunswick was Gillis of Belleisle winery, located in Springfield, about 13 km from Norton. Gillis’s wines have been made the past few years by Brock University (Ontario) trained winemaker Hyun Suk Lee, who is more commonly known as Leeko. Originally from Seoul, Korea, Leeko has made major strides at Gillis, producing good wines from estate grapes and other fruit, including apples, as well as purchased fruit from other areas, including red and white grapes from former winery owner Paul Boudreau’s vineyard in Memramcook.
Gillis won Silver medals for their 2012 Honey Rosé – grape wine with honey added, and Apple Crisp – apple wine flavoured with cinnamon sticks, and a huge Double Gold for their 2011 Premium Red, a blend of 80% Foch from Memramcook and 20% Marquette grapes from the same site, but dried using the method made famous for Amarone wines in Veneto, Italy. They have 100 cases of it and it is priced at $24.75. The Apple Crisp will be released soon, but the Rosé is available now for $13.75.  They aso have some of their Silver Medal winning Premium Red from 2010, as well as their Cranberry Ceilidh, which won Gold last year in the off dry fruit wine category. It retails for $15.
These wines should be available at your local ANBL, but for now you can purchase them at their very nice little winery, or at the Kingston, Saint John, and Sussex farmer’s markets.
Other NB winners included Winegarden Estates with a big Double Gold for their 2012 Maple Dessert Wine and a Silver for their Rubina Blueberry wine, Bronze for Happy Knight for their Black Currant wine, and Silver for their 2012 Crème de Cassis, and Verger Belliveau Orchard, who snagged a bronze for their 2012 Beausejour.
Now, back to Caraquet. Two weeks ago I spent a couple of days at the annual Festivin in Caraquet, which is a can’t miss event for me.  This is one of the premiere wine and food events in Atlantic Canada, and their Gala Dinner, this year held on Thursday, May 30, is the crème de la crème. This very special event was held this year at Sommelier Robert Noel’s déjà BU! bar à vin et resto, a groundbreaking restaurant by the shore in Caraquet.  This year’s special guest was Sommelier Véronique Rivest, Best Sommelier in Canada for 2012, who recently returned from placing 1st in the Americas in Brazil and 2nd in the world in Tokyo. Rivest talked us through the wines she chose to pair with a multi-course meal that included oysters two ways, a seafood platter featuring house smoked scallop, lobster tempura and sea urchin rice, pork cheeks, kobe beef,  tenderloin on the bone with umami sauce, and a spectacular dessert. Perhaps it is needless to say that there were many fine wines served. The entire evening was a massive success.
dejabukitchen
Robert Noel and his team in the kitchen at déjà BU!
The next day, at a tasty burger lunch at déjà BU!  Rivest gave a demonstration on how to do a blind tasting of wine when put on the spot, which Is something I’ve done myself before, but never under the pressure of a major Sommelier competition. She did very well, practically nailing all four wines. Attendees were impressed.
verodejabu
Sommelier Véronique Rivest speaks from the kitchen at déjà BU!
That Friday night I attended the Festivin Grand Tasting, a typical wine show except that it has a super fun Caves a Vin that continues after the show closes. If you have never attended Festivin, put it on your schedule for next year. It helps if you are bilingual, but you’lll have a terrific time in any case.  www.Festivin.ca.
My work wasn’t done, though, as that Saturday morning I returned to help present Portuguese and Spanish wines at Rothesay’s The Shadow Lawn Inn’s Iberian wine and food dinner, which was very well received. I look forward to future events there, as the kitchen is one of the best on the province. www.shadowlawninn.com.
This busy wine and food schedule is a great indicator of where New Brunswick is heading, food and wine-wise. People have shown that they will support these types of events, and are ready, perhaps, for even bigger and better things. I know I am.
Cheers!
 
 

Wine of the Week:
2011 Gillis of Belleisle Premium Red, Springfield, New Brunswick, $24.75

A soft, round red with pleasant dark plum and spicy blackberry notes. Enjoy it on its own or with game meats or beef and lamb with an intense reduction. Go to  www.gillisofbelleisle.com for more information.
Events:

Picaroons’ Brewer’s Bash
On Saturday July 13th Fredericton will play host to a new sort of beer festival, with many Canadian breweries not currently sold here in New Brunswick. At last count, in addition to our local breweries there will be 8 from BC, 6 from Alberta, 2 from Saskatchewan, 2 from Manitoba, 14 from Ontario, 10 from Quebec, 8 from Nova Scotia, and 1 from each of PEI, Newfoundland and the Yukon! There will be live music, too, including one my favourite bands, The Skydiggers. Check www.brewersbash.picaroons.ca for more information.
Wine and Beer Tours
A local entrepreneur has started Uncorked Wine Tours, a Saint John area business that conducts local wine and beer tastings and tours. Great idea! Check them out at www.uncorkednb.com. They are running a River Cruise/New Brunswick craft beer tasting on July 20, 2013. Ahoy!
 
Wine Tastings
Keep watching my Facebook site for information about future tastings at happinez wine bar and classes via UNBSJ.
Cheers!
Craig

 

Craig Pinhey is a Sommelier and writer.  “Like” his Facebook site at www.facebook.com/Craig.Pinhey.FrogsPad or follow him on Twitter as @frogspadca

London Calling, May 2013

London Calling

by Craig Pinhey

(unedited version of my column published May 17 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal)

Yesterday and today, at Canada House in Trafalgar Square, London, England, some of the world’s most influential wine critics and Sommeliers are experiencing some of Canada’s best wines, from BC, Ontario and Nova Scotia, in an event entitled “REDISCOVER Canadian Wines.” The media and trade tasting event is a result of a partnership between Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada and the Canadian High Commission in London, England.

This is exciting news for Canadian wine. You might argue that we as an industry should first open borders between our own provinces for wine, beer and spirits sales before we worry too much about exporting our best wines to Europe, the USA, or elsewhere, but there is a bigger picture to consider.

The acceptance of our wines – our best wines, yes, but also our everyday wines – is important to our producers. It gives confidence, and encourages investment in further grape planting. Canada is a premium wine producer, and there seem to be more expensive wines on the market every year, yet we Canadians are not making more money, so it may be that export of these will become very important. Canadians can only afford so many over $20 wines. Also, it is good to put out feelers now and create excitement. 2010’s similar Seriously Cool Chardonnay event received great response from the international media in London, and this week’s event should do the same.

Someday, and it is possibly not that far off, Canadian consumers will truly take to our own wines to the extent that people do in other wine countries for their wines, and when this happens we will certainly drink every drop that we can produce, but at the moment export is attractive. This certainly applies to wines like Benjamin Bridge Brut, from Nova Scotia, super premium bubbly that is already competing with top Champagne in terms of taste, but they will need to do this in world markets too, as their production gradually ramps up. It seems counterintuitive, but it may make more sense to sell it to Europeans and Asians instead of provinces west.

The wines for this week’s tasting were selected by a small group of wine journalists several weeks ago. I had the pleasure of representing Atlantic Canada. The Cool Climate Oenology & Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) at Brock University in Ontario hosted the tasting. We blind tasted over 250 submitted wines, narrowing them down to 89 wines. In addition we nominated sparkling wines for submission, so there will be 20 bubblies at the London event, including from three Nova Scotia producers: Benjamin Bridge, Blomidon Estates, and L’Acadie Vineyards. I’m sure they agree that it is a true honour representing our country.

Grape varieties to be showcased as table wines include Pinot Noir, Bordeaux blends or varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot), Syrah, Gamay Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling.

Although few of these top wines ever make it to the ANBL, we do have wines from several of the producers who are represented in London. For this week I have selected two Wines of the Week, one somewhat premium and another that is under $20.

Wines of the Week
2011 Malivoire Gamay Noir, Ontario $24.99
Malivoire is represented at the London tasting with a Gamay and a single vineyard Chardonnay. We recently received a very small lot of 4 cases at the ABL, and they are all at the Dieppe store. The Gamay is completely unlike the Beaujolais wines people are used to in New Brunswick. It does have the berry fruit, and it is fairly light in body and colour, but it very dry and has good structure from acidity. It is great with charcuterie and cheese.

Pelee Island Reserve Pinot Noir, Ontario, $17.29
Pelee Island has several of their premium wines at the Canada House event. Here at the ANBL we have a fair number of their value offerings, but my favourite is their Reserve Pinot Noir. This is heavier than the average Ontario Pinot Noir, with more oak presence, but it still has the expected cherry notes from Pinot, and decent acidity. Drink with roast chicken or grilled lamb.

Other news and events:
2013 Canadian Brewing Awards
The 2013 Canadian Brewing Awards gala last week announced several medals for our New Brunswick breweries, including four for Moosehead, three for Pump House and 1 for Acadie Broue. Congratulations, all! They also announced the terrific news that next year’s Gala Awards Dinner will be held in Fredericton. Find out more at www.CanadianBrewingAwards.com.

May 24 – June 1: FestiVin De Cariquet
This annual festival is filled with exciting food and wine pairing and wine tasting events. You can find all the relevant information at www.FestiVin.ca. Follow along as I report from FestiVin on my Twitter feed @frogspadca and post photos at www.facebook.com/Craig.Pinhey.FrogsPad. The special guest this year is the Top Sommelier of the Americas and 2nd best in the world for 2013, Canada’s own Veronique Rivest!

June 1: Spain and Portugal Wine Dinner
Join me at The Shadow Lawn Inn in Rothesay for this special wine and food pairing. The details are up here: www.shadowlawninn.com/premium-iberian-wine-pairing-menu.html

Cheers!
Craig

Craig Pinhey is a Sommelier and writer. “Like” his Facebook site at www.facebook.com/Craig.Pinhey.FrogsPad or follow him on Twitter as @frogspadca

Atlantic Terroir Proves Suitable for Aromatic White Wines

Good Drink, May 3, 2013, The New Brunswick Telegraph Journal
Atlantic Terroir Proves Suitable for Aromatic White Wines
by Craig Pinhey

Many New Brunswickers already know about the Tidal Bay wines from Nova Scotia, even though we haven’t been able to buy them at the ANBL…yet! That is changing right now, as Jost’s 2012 Tidal Bay hits the shelves this month.

Tidal Bay is an appellation that was created for low alcohol, off-dry, aromatic white blends grown in Nova Scotia. They have a lot in common with the Vinho Verde wines of Portugal, both being light, fresh blends that include aromatic grapes, although Tidal Bay wines are not fizzy, and tend to be more premium, typically around $20.

The wines are very fresh and fruity, and always have a floral component arising from the use of extremely aromatic grapes like muscat. The appellation rules stipulate a maximum for these aromatic grappes, in order to avoid a wine that is too over the top and one-dimensional. Although the creators of Tidal Bay – a wine industry group – wanted pretty wines, they also wanted wines with good acidity and balance. To that end, there is also a maximum residual sugar level, or to be more specific, a maximum that is tied to the acidity level in order to retain balance.

The wines must pass a taste panel each year to be accepted, to label them Tidal Bay. I am honoured to be on the taste panel.

Tidal Bay are not the only Atlantic aromatic wines that are currently receiving attention. Nova Scotia is abuzz with the release of the 2012 Benjamin Bridge Nova 7, an aromatic, fizzy and quite sweet, pink wine that is closer to Piedmont’s Asti then Vinho Verde or Tidal Bay, and sells for around $25. Not only does it sell well in its home province, they’ve also released the wine in Ontario the last couple of years to good reviews. I recently tried the 2012, and it is a delicious little wine, with pretty pink rose aromas and pink grapefruit flavours. It is lightly fizzy, under screwcap, and has a lot of acidity to balance out the ample grape sugars. It is only 7% alcohol. You can order Nova 7 or other Benjamin Bridge wines for shipment out of province. Go to their website for contact details. www.benjaminbridge.com.

Other Nova Scotia wineries make Tidal Bay wines as well as other aromatic blends, and single varietal wines from Muscat or Ortega and even Acadie Blanc can be very floral. The terroir is well suited to making fruity white wines with good acidity, and when you use the right grapes, you get attractive aromas that people clearly like.

Here in New Brunswick our wineries can’t make the Tidal Bay wines, as for now it is only a Nova Scotian appellation, but that does stop them from making similarly styled wines. I have had several very pretty, fruity whites from Richibucto River Estates, Motts Landing, Gillis Of Belleisle, and Dunham’s Run. Check them out this spring!

Cheers!

Wine of the Week
2012 Jost Tidal Bay $19.99.
The 2012 Jost is an excellent example of just what the Tidal Bay wines are meant to be. It has a lovely nose that is both fruity and floral, and the balance on the palate is just right. It is crisp, off-dry but not cloying. I’m so glad to see it here, and I hope other Tidal Bay wines from more wineries will follow.

Vinho Verde is Not Just Fizzy Fun*

*Unedited version of my New Brunswick Telegraph Journal Good Drink Column from September 2012

Most people associate Vinho Verde with simple, low alcohol white wines with lots of acidity, a bit of fizz, and green apple/lemony citrus notes. While that description fits most of the wines reasonably well, my travels this week in Portugal have shown the region to be capable of much more than that.  In fact this northernmost wine region of Portugal used to make mainly red wines, although that changed several decades ago.

Verde refers to the lush greenness of the area, something that is clearly noted when travelling through the hilly countryside filled with trees, corn crops, quaint, rustic homes with red tile roofs, and grapes, which grow practically everywhere, not just in commercial vineyards. It seems every home has its own grapes growing on overhead pergola-style vine training systems, often with granite posts. These are seen in every town, in almost every yard, in parks and even over bike paths, as I found out on a ride along the Lima River.

 This old fashioned training system may be normal for these areas, but has practically disappeared in commercial vineyards, where they have moved to the more internationally used French cordon system, or variations thereof, in neat, 1.5-2 metres high, rows which allow grapes to ripen better and allow easier harvesting, including using automated harvesters.

The other big change to Vinho Verde that modern winemaking has brought to the region is the way in which the wines get their slight fizz. Historically this was achieved by allowing wines to undergo some malolactic fermentation in the bottle, which would create bubbles and often make the wine a bit cloudy. This is impractical for commercial production of wines that are now exported by the millions of bottles all over the world. They now use CO2 injection to get their tiny bubbles, or, in the case of certain, more serious, dry dinner style wines that are typically single varietal (Alvarinho, Loureiro), they don’t have any fizz at all.

Interestingly, this CO2 fizz also heightens the perceived acidity on the palate, and allows a wine with relatively low measured acidity and high sugar content to seem fresh and dry,yet with the forward fruitiness that sugar encourages.

During the week I have been taken to several of the nine sub-regions of Vinho Verde, starting from the city of Porto in the south west on the coast, up north through the Ave and Cávado sub-regions to Lima, then further North to Monção e Melgaço, where the Alvarinho grape is king. Today we went east from Porto through Sousa to Amarante and back, visiting various estates to try their wares.

Portugal is a land of many grape varieties, but, as per www.vinhoverde.pt, there are 15 key ones used in Vinho Verde, that stand out as the best quality and the most common.  Most of the basic Vinho Verde whites are blends, often of the floral Loureiro and apricot laden, rich and floral Alvarinho, alongside Arinto and Trajedura, and sometimes Avesso and/or Azal.

Alvarinho is arguably the best grape of the region, although many Vinho Verdes do not contain any Alvarinho at all.  I tasted several wines made from 100% Loureiro that were very Gewurztraminer-like, as good as most Alvarinho,  There is a trend to dry, dinner wines, and to single varietal wines, and certain producers are making oaked wines, although I personally don’t believe this improves the wine; it just makes it suitable for different food types.  We also tried some decent reds, particularly the wines from Aphros. As with any region, though, the wines run the whole range from simple to good, not so good, and occasionally to complex and excellent.

One thing is for certain: the Alvarinho from the northern Monção e Melgaço sub-region deserves notice in the rest of the world, as it ranks up with those from its neighbour, Spain, but tends to be less expensive. I’ve often said to my wine friends that Alvarinho deserves to be considered one of the top white grapes in the world alongside Riesling, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Perhaps this will happen, yet.

We tasted a 2004-2011 vertical from a producer named Soalheiro that taught us a lesson. Not only is Alvarinho exciting, aromatic, full bodied and sporting good acidity when young, it also ages very nicely in the short term, developing a honeyed richness and complexity somewhat along the lines of Riesling and Hunter Valley Semillon.

As with any wine region I visit outside of North America, it is hard not to notice the extremely inexpensive prices here. A very decent Vinho Verde can be had for 2 euros ($2.50 Cdn), although that inflates to over $10 Cdn by the time it hits the ANBL shelves in Canada. Still, these are good value, and there is no good reason why the ANBL couldn’t list several of the better wines instead of just selling the basic entry level wines, which are admittedly good value quaffers.

I have to admit that I am stupefied that the ANBL currently has no Alvarinho on its shelves, not from any part of the wine world. That’s a problem.

Some good choices would be Alvarinho from Soalherio or Solar de Serrade, Lourerio from Quinta de Gomariz, and some of the other single varietal wines from various producers. Consumers are hungry for new grapes! Feed them!

WINE OF THE WEEK
There isn’t much wine from Vinho Verde to choose from at the ANBL, so I’ll looking at the rest of Canada to ship in some personal stock based on what I tasted this week, but we can buy the Gazela, a nice little fizzy, citrussy sipper for $10.49.  It is 9% alcohol, with a bit of sugar but balanced with acidity, and made from Loureiro, Pedernã, Trajadura and Azal grapes.  I visited their estate yesterday and was DULY impressed. It is very modern, yet housed in an 11th century feudal lord’s castle.