Wine Do’s & Don’ts

Whether you are a newbie to wine or have been sipping happily for years, there are a few rules of etiquette of which you should be aware. And it’s not about being a wine snob! Etiquette is a good thing. All societies depend on a code or protocols of polite behaviour. We have our mothers & fathers to thank for teaching us good manners … for example, don’t speak with your mouth full! And I hope you agree that the following make good sense, too:

  • don’t pull up to the exit gate in a parking lot without your ticket handy
  • don’t board a plane when they’re loading group A and you are in group D
  • use your turn signal at least 50% more than you use your middle finger

Wine etiquette also makes sense and makes entertaining with wine easy-peasy. So here are a few do’s and don’ts for newbies and pros alike.

In General

1. Trust your palate. Don’t let someone else tell you which wines you should drink; drink what tastes good to you. But do become aware of why you like the taste of a particular wine … grape variety, sweetness/dryness, acidity, tannin, alcohol, body, flavour characteristics, texture and finish. Each one of these features of wine affect whether you like or don’t like the wine you are tasting.

2. Invest in some good glassware. Whether you like your wine glasses with stems or stemless does not matter. It is the size of the opening and the bowl as well as the thinness of the glass that will make a difference. I do not have the budget nor the space for a different glass for each grape variety. Therefore, I suggest universal glasses which can be used for white and red wines and offer good quality. Top brands include Zalto, Schott Zwiesel, Riedel and Jancis Robinson/Richard Brendon.

3. Don’t hold stemware by the bowl. Holding the bowl of a stemmed wine glass warms the wine and leaves unsightly fingerprints on the glass. Instead, hold the glass by the stem or base.

4. Don’t invest in fancy bottle opening gadgets. It’s easy to use a classic wine key. All the tools you need to open a bottle that has a foil and cork closure is at hand … small cerated knife for the foil, a hinged two-step cork screw, and a bit of muscle.

Classic wine key

5. Don’t wear perfume/cologne. Wearing perfume hinders your sense of smell and that of others. That also goes for scented candles. Sense of smell is essential to distinguish the aromas and flavours of the wine you are drinking.

6. Do try a variety of wines. Drink different varietals and wines from different wine regions of the world. How will you know what you like or do not like or what you are missing out on if you drink the same wine(s) all the time?

Serving Wine

7. Do pay attention to the right order when serving wine. Bubbly wines go first. Then go from white to rosé to red; lightest (e.g., Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir) to heaviest (Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon); driest to sweetest.

8. Do pour wine with the label toward the guest. That way people can see what they will be drinking. (Unless you are my friend George who loves to guess which varietal he is tasting.)

9. Don’t serve red wine at room temperature. The ideal temperature for red wine is slightly chilled (18 degrees Celsius or 64 degrees Fahrenheit). Lighter reds could be chilled even more (10-13 degrees Celsius). Chilling red wines enhances fruity flavours, tempers tannins, and reduces the heat of alcohol.

10. Do consider decanting some wines. There are two reasons for decanting wine: to separate sediment that has formed during aging; to expose the wine to oxygen. The latter is meant to soften acids and tannin. Do be careful, decanting a delicate Burgundy is probably not necessary, but an older vintage Barolo or Rioja could benefit from a little breathing time (30-45 minutes).

11. Do pair wine to the food you are serving. There are many resources on the Internet to help you pair food and wine. I wrote a blog on that topic for a winery that may be of some help to you. It’s a good idea to always choose both a white and a red wine for your dinner party table. That way you can address the different palates and preferences of your guests.

Bringing Wine

Bringing wine to a dinner party may pose a dilemma for your host. Most likely the host has already selected wine to pair with the food being served. However, a bottle of wine is always welcome. So here are a few options …

12. Do tell your host that the wine you brought is a thank you and that you hope she/he will enjoy it soon.

13. Do call ahead and ask if the wine you are eager to bring will work with the food and the occasion.

14. Do spend at least $15-25 on a bottle of wine to bring to a dinner party.

15. Do talk about the wine your host is serving or the wine your guests have brought. Wine can be a fun topic of conversation.

Are there any wine etiquette tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment.

Wine Sales in the Age of COVID-19

In My Hood

When the province of Ontario went into lockdown on March 17, wine and spirits sales soared.

It has been suggested that people were drowning their coronavirus sorrows in booze, but I think one reason was the closure of restaurants and bars. Another reason was that people were stocking up, afraid of shortages (like with toilet paper) and avoiding exposure to the virus while shopping.

According to the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) sales were up significantly in late March but have now returned to normal.

Wineries, too, were reporting good online wine sales (e-commerce) at that time. Wine & Spirits Agencies also reacted very quickly. Normally selling to restaurants and bars, they began to market directly to consumers. I took advantage of the more relaxed alcohol rules and ordered several cases of wine from agencies … happy to sample wines I would not normally have access to via the LCBO. Hence, my blog about indigenous wines … give it a read.

At the winery level, with tasting rooms closed due to the pandemic and online sales decreasing in May and June, fierce competition erupted. Wineries began to offer deep discounts on wine and free shipping. To help market wine and maintain social media presence virtual tastings became a thing. Wineries scrambled to make whatever sales they could online and offered curb side pickup for bottle purchase.

A Return to Normal?

Now, in Stage 3 of coronavirus measures, things have started to return to a semi-normal state (as winery tasting rooms open) but will wine sales rebound? Prior to COVID-19, wine sales already had challenges. The 2019 harvest in Niagara was a bumper crop so there may be a surplus of wine in many wineries. The 2020 yield is looking equally good but will there be tank space and a market for so much wine? Surveying the Buy/Sell section Ontario Grape Growers, there is amazing tonnage available.

Not all troubles in wine sales are COVID-19 related. Another challenge for the wine industry is a changing wine consumer demographic. Up until now the Boomers were the main wine buying group. But they are ageing, consuming less perhaps due to health reasons. Millennials are not replacing them when it comes to wine. Whether that is due to limited financial capacity (precarious work), competition from craft beer and cider markets, premium spirits and cannabis, Millennial are not maintaining nor growing wine sales.

Marketing Strategies

So what do wineries need to do to attract new consumers and grow their direct to consumer wine purchase (DTC)? Here are some important considerations. Think about the implications!

  • Most wine consumers are female
  • Millennials and Gen X are the apparent target groups
  • These younger generations grew up with SmartPhones, so social media presence and mobile friendly websites are critical (for easy to find content)
  • They rely on recommendations from friends and family while depending less on professional wine critics and scores
  • However, a large number follow influencers’ or celebrities’ social media accounts
  • They are value conscious but quality plays a more significant role
  • The environment and healthy options are important (sustainability, organic, low sulphites, vegan, low alcohol etc.)
  • Most lack brand loyalty and seek variety, new experiences (new wine styles)
  • Cans and creative packaging (including fun labels) appeal
  • Authenticity, uniqueness, an honest brand story are important
  • These wine consumers are looking for enjoyable, social experiences (wine tastings, winery bike tours, events & picnics at the winery, food and wine pairings, dinner with the winemakers, innovative wine education sessions)

Buying Wine in Ontario

For wineries, there has always been the challenge of multiple outlets to purchase wine.

  • LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) & Vintages (660 LCBO stores and about 280 LCBO Convenience Outlets)
  • 450 grocery stores across Ontario can sell beer and cider – including about 150 that can sell wine
  • 131 wineries in Ontario which can offer direct to consumer wine purchase within the province (but only three provinces allow DTC imports at the moment — B.C., Manitoba and Nova Scotia)
  • numerous wine & spirits agencies for purchase by the case (e.g., Vinologie, Buyers+Cellars, 30.50 Imports , The Living Vine)
  • WineAlign for wine reviews and curated cases

How has COVID-19 impacted wine sales in your hood? I’d be very interested in finding out.

What’s the Buzz About Indigenous Wines?

If you’ve been a wine enthusiast for a while you have probably tasted your way through the International Grape Varieties. A Cabernet Sauvignon or a Chardonnay wine despite the terroir or country it originates from has intrinsic, recognizable characteristics. For me, it’s not so much boredom of drinking the same familiar wines but a question of expanding my palate and knowledge. So why not try something new … or should I say something old and authentic – autochthonous or indigenous wines.

Italian Selection

One of the world’s countries with the most indigenous grape varieties is Italy. By some accounts (Dr. Ian D’Agata, Native Wine Grapes of Italy), there may be 500+ autochthonous or indigenous wine grape varieties. The National Registry of Grape Varieties lists the varieties authorized for cultivation and their count by 2020 was 569 with more being identified daily.

Hence, there is much to discover. I started by ordering a six pack of indigenous Italian wines from a local wine agency, Cavinona, which specializes in these more obscure Italian wine grapes. I was already familiar with Vernaccia (di San Gimignano) and Soave/Suavia (made with Garganega grapes) (which were part of the six), so I will relate my tasting experience with two wines that were new to me and really impressed.

Both wines come from the island of Ischia, the largest of the volcanic islands in the Bay of Naples (southwest of Naples and northeast of Capri in the  Tyrrhenian Sea). Ischia is known for its rich natural beauty, thermal spas, and sandy beaches. Where Capri is called the blue island due to its famous blue grotto, Ischia is called l’isola verde: the green island. Terraced vineyards cascade down the steep slopes of Monte Epomeo (762 m or 2,500 ft. above sea level). The verdant slopes are also home to Mediterranean maquis (or garrigue in French) which influence the aromas and flavours of the wines: mint, laurel, myrtle, rosemary and lavender. The volcanic soils contribute minerality while the sea adds a touch of salinity to the wines.

Casa D’Ambra Tenuta Frassitelli Biancolella 2018

  • pale straw colour
  • aromas of lemon, apricot, white peach and maquis
  • flavours of ripe apricot, lemon curd, lime zest; traces of minerality and salinity
  • medium bodied
  • medium acidity
  • my score 3.5/5

Casa D’Ambra Forastera 2018

  • straw yellow colour
  • aromas of lime, yellow peaches, apricot and maquis
  • flavours of lime zest, ripe apricots, olive brine
  • medium bodied and smooth
  • medium acidity
  • my score 4/5

Thus, my adventures in wine are taking me deeper into terroir and “somewhereness”. Indigenous or native grapes speak of the place they were born and add insights into the land, culture and people rooted there. These wines are more than just a product to make money, they are a testament to history.

Let me know your experiences with indigenous wine grape varieties, so please leave a comment.

Wine Tasting in Tuscany

If you follow my blog, you will have noticed that I like to combine travel with wine tasting.

So today, we head to Tuscany (Italy) for a something modern and something traditional.

Antinori Winery – James Bond modern!
Guicciardini Strozzi Winery – Traditionally quaint!

Tuscany offers the traveller and wine-lover amazing experiences, from the art of Botticelli & Michelangelo, to palaces and cathedrals, to fortified hilltop towns … the list is endless as are the wine tasting opportunities.

The main grape varieties of Tuscany are Sangiovese (signature red used to make Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, vino Nobile di Montepulciano), Canaiolo, Colorino, Malvasia nera, and Mammolo. Among white varieties there is Vernaccia (signature white used in Vernaccia di San Gimignano), Vermentino, Malvasia, and Trebbiano. Italy has the most indigenous/autochthonous grape varieties in the world and in Tuscany there are 130 registered varieties (but possibly closer to 280 as identified by local growers).

International varieties are also grown like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc which contributed to the creation of Super Tuscans in the 1970s.

Wines are designated DOC (Denominazione di origine controllata, DOCG (Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita) or IGT (Indicazione geografica tipica) according to the Italian wine classification system, which is a guarantee of quality and of place.

Wine Tasting @ Antonori

  • Book your visit ahead of time and select the type of tasting you’d like to do
  • Super modern winery twinned with family heritage & history
  • Very informative audio/visual presentation and staff
  • A large selection of wines to taste
  • Reserve a lunch on the rooftop of the winery (Rinuccio 1180) with spectacular views of the vineyards

Wine tasting @ Guicciardini Strozzi

  • Book your visit ahead of time (we were lucky to have had Principessa Irina Guicciardini Strozzi as our tour guide of Villa Cusona and their wines)
  • Very historic and traditional winery
  • A variety of wines to taste
  • We felt like family sitting around a harvest table for the tasting

I am planning a wine tasting for my wine club (The Grape Friends) and the theme is Super Tuscans, so here are some wine notes for my selection of wines:

Le Volte dell’Ornellaia 2017

  • IGT Toscana
  • Tenuta dell’Ornellaia is owned by the Antinori family
  • This is the third label of the famed Ornellaia estate and a Sangiovese blend
  • 2017 was one of the hottest and driest years on record with rain coming mid harvest and cooling things down for late ripening varieties like Sangiovese & Cabernet Sauvignon
  • thus, acids for this wine are still in tact (medium high) and there’s plenty of blue juicy fruit (blueberry, mulberry, plum, cassis)
  • flavour is savoury (forest floor) with a touch of spice
  • deep ruby red in colour
  • aged for 10 months, partly in barrique and partly in cement tanks, to obtain the perfect balance between tannic structure and fresh fruit
  • residual sugar is 4g/L
  • alcohol is 13.5%
  • price $29.95 CAD (Liquor Control Board of Ontario/LCBO)

Oreno 2017

  • IGT Toscana
  • from Tenuta Sette Ponti located in the Chianti, between Arezzo and Florence, and takes its name from the number of bridges that cross the river Arno between the two cities
  • this wine is a blend of Merlot 50%, Cabernet Sauvignon 40%, Petit Verdot 10%
  • aged in French oak barrique for 18 months
  • dark ruby red in colour with violet-purple rim
  • black cherry and red berry fruit, spice, some nuttiness, and a hint of balsamic
  • soft tannins
  • residual sugar 4g/L
  • alcohol 14.5%
  • price $86.95 CAD (LCBO)

Tignanello 2016

  • IGT Toscana
  • Tenuta Tignanello estate (owned by Antinori) is in the heart of Chianti Classico, in the gently rolling hillsides between the Greve and Pesa river valleys
  • this wine is a blend of Sangiovese (80%), Cabernet Sauvignon (15%) and Cabernet Franc (5%)
  • Tignanello was the first (1971) Sangiovese to be aged in barriques, the first contemporary red wine blended with untraditional varieties (specifically Cabernet) and one of the first red wines in the Chianti Classico region that didn’t use white grapes (notes from the winery)
  • dense ruby red in colour
  • blackberry, plum, cherry fruit, leather, porcini mushroom, tobacco & vanilla (coming from the oak)
  • silky tannins
  • residual sugar 4 g/L
  • alcohol 13%
  • price $124.95 CAD (LCBO)

Lux Vitis 2016

  • IGT Toscana
  • from Tenuta Luce in Montalcino, owned by Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi
  • this wine is a blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with a small amount of Sangiovese
  • aged in new French oak barrels for 24 months
  • depp ruby red in colour
  • black currant, plum, liquorice and Mediterranean herbs, smoke and a touch of white pepper
  • fine grained tannins
  • residual sugar 4g/L
  • alcohol 14.5%
  • price $175 CAD (LCBO)
Super Tuscan Wine Tasting

Cheers!

Great Wine from Hungary

Part of my wine journey in Central & Eastern Europe took place in Hungary.

Hungary has a rich and long history with wine. Although the Romans brought the vine to Pannonia (spanning present day Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina & Serbia), it is possible that the arriving Hungarian tribes (9th & 10th century CE) already knew winemaking. The Hungarian word for wine is bor (unlike the Latin vinum), thus perhaps indicating an Asian influence and prior knowledge.

Here are some fun historical facts about Hungarian wine:

 

  • There is a legend surrounding the defence of the castle/town of Eger against the Ottoman Turks suggesting that the red wine, Egri Bikavér (Bull’s Blood of Eger), was a significant factor in its spirited defence. The defenders had drunk the wine, soaking their beards red, prior to the Turkish attack. Seeing what they thought was blood stained beards looking over the walls, the Turks left … intimidated by the idea that these defenders had drunk bull’s blood. In the end Eger did fall to the Ottomans.
  • During the Turkish occupation of Hungary, the wine region of Tokay became famous for dessert wines (late harvest, noble rot). Documented in 1571, Tokayi aszú became the “wine of kings and king of wines”, so named by King Louis XIV of France ~ Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum.
  • Hungary was ceded to Austria in 1699 and new Germanic grape varieties were planted (e.g., Blauer Portugieser)
  • During the Communist Era, Hungary supplied a lot of plonk wine to Russia
  • Post Communism saw major improvements and foreign investment in Hungary’s wine industry (e.g., Antinori in Tolna region, Vega Sicilia in Tokay)

Hungary has 22 wine regions but they can be divided into three main areas:

 

  • North Hungary (northeast of Budapest) is hilly and home to the more famous regions of Eger and Tokay
  • Transdanubia (west bank of the Danube River) spans westward and southward from Budapest and includes the regions of Sopron, Badacsony, Balaton,Villány, Szekszárd and Somló
  • The Great Plain, heading east and south from Budapest, has sandy soils and is home to the country’s paprika production, but also includes wine regions of Kunság and Csongrád

Hungary produces more white wine (60%) than red. There are all the usual suspects  that we as wine enthusiasts have come to know (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot). But Hungary offers numerous indigenous grape varieties … interesting and diverse, most too difficult to pronounce, however, worth getting to know!

Main white varieties:

 

Furmintmain grape variety used for Tokaji, good body and high acidity, honeyed characteristics with notes lemon, green apple, ginger spice, & spicy green pepper

Hárslevelűnamed after the linden tree which the vine’s leaves closely resembleusually a blending partner with Furmint in Tokaji; as a single varietal, this full bodied wine offers high acidity, floral and lime notes, and a peppery finish

Ezerjó – a high alcohol wine, pale yellow-green in colour, light and crisp, with notes of lemon, apple, and peach—coming from the limestone soils of Mór (Transdanubia – southwest of Budapest)

Irsai Olivéra delicate, lower acid wine with Muscat characteristics (rose petals, orange blossom and lychee aromas, and flavours of grape, apple, lemon, apricot and peach) and a soft spicy finish; drink while young and fresh

Juhfark“sheep’s tail” in Hungarian describes the long shaped grape cluster; this mineral-laden wine is savoury, smokey, often salty with notes of lemon or citrus blossom; best examples have some age

Kéknyelűnamed after its blue stems, this is medium-bodied wine with floral and stone fruit aromas, mineral flavours and high acidity

Leánykathe name translate as “maiden”, this wine is full-bodied with some floral notes and soft acidity; it is more often used as a blending partner for Egri Csillag (a white wine blend from Eger)

Olaszrizling (Welschriesling/ Riesling Italico/Laški Rizling/Graševina) – a wine with generous acidity, fruity notes of green apple and lemon

Main red varieties:

 

Cabernet Francthe flagship wine of Villány, a medium-bodied, savoury, smooth wine with soft tannins and notes of raspberry and blackcurrant leaves; this wine is usually oak-aged in Hungary

Kékfrankosin Germany and Austria it is known as Blaufränkisch, a medium-bodied red wine with black cherry fruit, juicy acidity, spice, and tannic 

Portugiesera light bodied, pale, red wine with low acidity and spicy red and black berry fruit with a hint of violets; drink while young; used as a blending partner for Egri Bikaver 

Kadarka – a medium bodied red wine with racy acidity, quite tannic, floral and somewhat spicy, with flavours of sour cherry, raspberry and cranberry; also used as a blending partner for Egri Bikaver

Blauburgerdark in colour and low in tannin, this is a smooth wine but rather neutral in flavour (mostly elderberry); used as a blending partner to add colour 

Zweigeltviolet-red in colour, this wine is full bodied with soft tannins and cherry flavours

A few soil notes:

 

Hungary has some of the most ideal soil types for wine production: from ancient volcanic mineral laden soils, to diverse clays and phylloxera resistant sandy soils.

All soils are a composite of clay, sand, silt, and loam overtop bedrock. That bedrock can be from ancient volcanoes (igneous rock like basalt, metaphorphic rock like schist, gneiss, or slate) or from erosion of ancient glaciers, seas & rivers (sedimentary rock like limestone).

  • volcanic soils:
    • basalt – bright acidity in wines (e.g., Badacsony, Somló, Balaton)
    • rhyolite tuff (ash) –  balanced wines with bright fruit & acidity (e.g. Eger)
  • sandy soils – highly aromatic wines, pale in colour, low in tannin (e.g., Kunság, Csongrád)
  • clay soils – bold wines, high in extract & colour (e.g., Tokay has a mixture of clay & loess overtop volcanic rock rich in iron and lime)
  • dolomite & limestone soils –  long lived wines with structure and bright acidity (e.g., Villány)

 

Learn more

A recent article in The Independent (UK) highlights some of the “best” (a matter of opinion) Hungarian wines available in that country.

If you are in the USA, a wine agency called Blue Danube Wine Co. has a good selection of Hungarian wines and has educational information.

Another good resource, written by Master of Wine Caroline Gilby, often focuses on Hungarian wine (as well as Eastern Europe). Caroline has tasted extensively and provides great information on worthy wines, wineries and winemakers! Check out her blog.

While visiting Buda (on the opposite bank of the Danube from Pest and connected by a bridge), don’t miss a tutored wine tasting at Faust Wine Cellar in Buda Castle. Located in the cellars of the castle, reserve one of the 5 tables and let Gabor and Barbara guide you through a discovery of Hungarian wines.

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Find Me @

Although, I have not been writing my blog here consistently, I have been writing!

I work with a small, organic winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake ~ Frogpond Farm Organic Winery (Ontario, Canada), and write a monthly blog for their website … appropriately named, Frog Blog.

If you like what I have to say about wine, please check it out!

Recent blogs cover topics such as …

Am I Allergic to Wine

Are You Confused Yet? 

Ontario’s Finest Red

Thanks for reading.

 

Up and Coming!

Wines of Central & Eastern Europe

Aside from enjoying wine, I do love to travel!

And as they say, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”, so tasting wines from the area I find myself in and sampling the cuisine are some of my highlights.

A while back I had the opportunity to travel to Central Europe (countries visited on the trip: Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland). To say the least, the wines were lovely and wine bars abounded.

One of the best ways to get an overview of a country’s wines is to visit a wine bar. In Prague, the place that offers a great introduction to Czech wines is Vinograf Wine Bar (with 3 city locations) staffed with friendly sommeliers and wonderful chefs to help with food pairings.

 

Basically, Czech vineyards and wineries are located either south of Brno (the Moravia Wine Region, accounting for 96% of vineyards with conditions similar to Alsace) or north of Prague (the Bohemia wine Region, accounting for the remaining 4% of vineyards).  Then the two regions divide into 6 sub-regions of which 67% is planted with white varieties.

Top planted varieties:

White

  • Gruner Veltliner
  • Muller Thurgau
  • Riesling
  • Welschriesling
  • Moravian Muscat
  • Palava

Red

  • Saint Laurent
  • Blaufrankisch
  • Andre
  • Cabernet Moravia
  • Neronet

I highly recommend the white wines. They are well balanced with ample acidity that pair well with richer foods. The reds are light to medium bodied, perhaps a tad thin for lovers of Australian/Californian sun-soaked wines.

I’m Back!

Winery and viticulture studies have kept me busy so I have not blogged lately and I truly miss it.

It’s good to be back!

My next series of blogs will explore Ontario wineries and wines from a green perspective … sustainable viticulture, organic, biodynamic, and natural wines. What exactly do the terms mean? Can you taste the difference? Should you care?

In winemaking circles there is a debate going on concerning the manipulation of wines whether to achieve a winning taste profile or to fix a fault. To some extent, wine has always been manipulated, that is to say all winemaking decisions are a form of manipulation … whole bunch pressing, length of maceration, use of stainless steel or barrels, selection of yeasts, ageing on lees … and not to mention the decisions made in the vineyard.

But for the average consumer, these are tools in a winemaker’s toolbox and not a consideration when tasting the end product.

Yet, the emergence of new technologies and an array of wine additives (that do not have to be listed on the label) take manipulation of wine to another level and perhaps the wine consumer should know.

First, let’s be clear … manipulated or not … there is nothing harmful about wine … except over-imbibing.

Second, many wine consumers have a romantic notion of wine as a “natural” process and product … pick the grapes, crush them, let them ferment and voilà. Yes, more or less. There are still wineries and winemakers who hold with tradition and are non-interventionist but most need to make wine in the most economically efficient process and get it to market quickly. I’ll draw a parallel here to the slow food movement and fast foods. There is a time and place for both. But it’s also nice to have a choice.

Third, some people support organic and locally produced food and drink, have chosen to be vegan, or have health concerns (e.g., sulphite sensitivity). For more information about sulphur in wine see http://winefolly.com/tutorial/sulfites-in-wine.

Therefore, let’s get to know the winemakers and wineries (Niagara Region) that are trying to produce honest, quality wines and treating the Earth gently.

Some definitions pertaining to Ontario:

Sustainable

  • practices that involve environmental stewardship (e.g., power from renewable energy sources, treatment of waste water using engineered wetlands), social equity, and economic viability

Organic

  • no use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in the vineyard
  • use of sulphites (Free SO2) in wine is limited to a maximum of 30 mg/L (or 30 parts per million) and 100 mg/L for Total SO2
  • if not fined using animal derived products (e.g., gelatine, egg whites, fish swim bladder/isinglas) and sterile filtered using cellulose pad filtration (plant derived), these wines are also vegan-friendly
  • some organic wines voluntarily carry a logo on the front label from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency [Organic – Biologique – Canada, as of June 30, 2009] and the name of the certifying/verifying organization on the back label (e.g., Pro-Cert)

Biodynamic

  • organic (no use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides) but more complex
  • considers the farm as a living, self-sustaining system (based on theories by Rudolf Steiner)
  • also uses lunar and cosmic rhythms to time all work in the vineyard and wine cellar
  • the health of the soil is key to everything (plant growth, disease resistance)
  • a series of natural preparations are applied at appropriate times
  • certifying/verifying organization: Demeter

Natural

  • wine produced without chemical or technological intervention in the wine cellar (no additions or corrections)
  • from organic or biodynamic grapes
  • ideally, no sulphur is used and wines are not fined or filtered

Next post: Biodynamic wines, wineries

Question: Do you drink organic or biodynamic wines? Why or why not?

Bless the Monks for Making Wine

A long awaited post (interrupted by travel home to Canada) … about another winery in Slavonia (Croatia) that I had the privilege to visit, Kutjevo Cellars, established in 1232! It may be the oldest winery in Eastern Europe.

It was established by Cistercian monks (12 of them) who espoused manual labour and self-sufficiency. They supported themselves through agricultural activities such as brewing ales and making wine. So they planted vineyards in Kutjevo and built a wine cellar, a church (dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary), and an abbey.

Things were going splendidly until the Ottoman Turks invaded the area in 1537 … and the monks fled, the monastery was dissolved, and the buildings destroyed by the invaders. Yet, that was not the end of the vineyards and the wine.

In fact, historical records indicate that viticulture thrived during the Turkish period (roughly 160 years).

In 1698, long after the Turks and after the monastic lands had been leased to several foreign administrators, the estate was resettled by the Jesuits (until 1773 when the order was disbanded). They expanded the vineyards, restored the abbey ruins and church.

Then in 1882 the lands were sold at public auction and passed into the capable hands of the Turković family (from Karlovac). The last family heir, Baron Zdenko Turković and his wife Greta, a painter/sculptor, were the authors of two ampelography books. They also introduced grafting on American root-stock (because of phylloxera), planted 94 different European varieties of vitis vinifera (grapes) in the vineyards for research purposes and 6 American varieties. Graševina, (first mentioned in 1876) soon became the most popular and productive of the grape varieties. In addition, the couple started an archive of best vintage wines in the old cellars built by the Cistercians.

Wine Archive

But the devastations of WW1 and WW2 took their toll, the archive of wines was lost/destroyed, and the winery and vineyards passed into government hands during the Yugoslavian socialist era (starting in 1945). Expansion … industrialization … growth, Kutjevo Cellars became a large co-operative.

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In 2003 it reverted back to private ownership, under the guidance of tycoon Enver Moralić. The wine cellar now produces 6 million litres of wine per year. Graševina makes up 85% of total production, yet 30 different grape varieties are grown on 400 hectares of vineyard (owned by the winery) and on 400 hectares of vineyard owned by contracted grape-growers.

Now for the wine tasting and cellar tour …

We were met by oenologist Zrinka Vinković Jergović, one of 4 full-time winemakers at the winery.

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She outfitted us with our wine tasting apparel…

Tasting glass in a tote
Tasting glass in a tote

… and then we were off into the oldest part of the wine cellar, past a huge 1904 glass cistern, made in Switzerland, and still in use today, past oak casks and barrels … some of which are decorated to retell the history of the winery.

Kutjevo Barrels
Kutjevo Barrels 

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Zrinka very eloquently provided details as to the history of the winery, production information, winemaking styles, and poured 5 young wines for us to taste.

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Of course, the first had to be Graševina (2014), followed by Rhine Riesling (2013). It was informative to taste theses two side-by-side as Graševina is also sometimes called Welschriesling, but the two do not taste alike.

Both have very good acidity but the Graševina finishes with a spicy almost bitter bite characteristic of the grape variety.

Next was Traminac (Gewurtztraminer), floral and light.

It was during our discussion of the 2014 vintage conditions (rainy with fungal diseases prevalent), that Zrinka offered a taste of her 2014 Pinot Noir, to prove a point, that even in a bad year some grapes do well under the masterful hand of a good winemaker and a good vineyard manager.

The Pinot was delicious … juicy, with subtle fruit, a nice tannic backbone, and a healthy dose of alcohol. It still needed to go through malolactic fermentation and will be a star of the 2014 line-up. We also tasted the 2011 Portugizac (Portuguiser, introduced to Austria in 1770 probably from Portugal, offering prolific yields but simple, light-bodied, low acid wines meant to be drunk young) and Graševina Ice Wine.

A medieval spittoon/well in the Kutjevo Cellars
A medieval spittoon/well in the Kutjevo Cellars

The visit to Kutjevo Cellars should not be missed! Have you visited other Croatian wineries that have left an indelible impression? Please let me know and leave a comment.

Vallis Aurea (Golden Valley)

Leaving Vino-Hvar (Vina Carić) after working shoulder to shoulder with the harvesting crew, owners Ivo and Ivana (their children and extended family), winemaker Ljubo, and cellar-hand Haris was bitter-sweet. My practicum has ended but the friendships, memories, and the knowledge gained will remain.

Croatia has many wine regions and I had the chance to visit Kutjevo, perhaps one of the oldest, before returning home. This area of Slavonia (eastern Croatia) was a wine growing region for the ancient Illyrians and the Romans who called it vallis aurea or Golden Valley.

Situated on the southern slopes of the Krndija Mountains at 200-300 meters elevation, with only 500-800 mm of rainfall, and at 45.3 degrees North, Kutjevo vineyards are on the same parallel as Piedmont, Bordeaux, Côte du Rhone and Oregon. There are many small wineries in and around Kutjevo town, but the two I visited were truly an amazing experience!

First was Krauthaker Winery, recipient of several Decanter World Wine Awards (among other international acknowledgements). Greeting us was Ivan Štefanac, sales manager/sommelier, who gave us a quick look at the showcase vineyard at the entrance to the winery.

Each row is planted with a different cultivar representing 34 varieties grown in 29 hectares of Krauthaker’s own vineyards and in 55 hectares of contracted grape growers’ vineyards.

The varieties include Graševina (Welschriesling), Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Zelenac, as well as red wine varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Portugieser. White wines account for 87% of the production and red wines for 13%.

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The winery, founded in 1993 (with only one hectare of vineyard) by oenologist Vlado Krauthaker, who once worked at Kutjevo Winery (Podrum Kutjevo.d.d.) as head winemaker, is a strong proponent of environmentally friendly or sustainable wine-growing (only manure is used to fertilize the vineyards, horses are used for winter ploughing and summer cultivation, vine density is between 7,000-10,000 per hectare, thus giving each vine a space of 1.4 sq. meters, grapes are hand-harvested etc.)

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Next, we toured the cellars and then upstairs to one of the tasting rooms looking over the fall colours of the vineyards. Along with a selection of top quality wines (Vrhunsko Vino), Ivan served cheeses, breads, and water.

Our degustation consisted of the 2013 vintage of Graševina, Pinot Gris, Zelenac, Chardonnay Rosenberg (2011), Muškat Žuti (Yellow Muscat), and Merlot. Ivan very capably described the history of the grape variety in the region, production methods, alcohol content and flavour profiles of each wine. The wines were delicate, fresh, fruity, floral and perfectly balanced! Highly recommended. My favourite: Zelenac (known as Rotgipfler in Austria)

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Have you tasted a unique or rare variety? I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment.

Next post: Kutjevo Winery (Podrum Kutjevo d.d.)