It’s World Malbec Day today. So let’s celebrate and give hommage to this great grape!
I’m sure you already know about Malbec and you’ve most likely seen it on wines from Argentina. In fact, much of the world has an intense love affair with Malbec.
Yet, you may not know that Malbec has many faces. In cooler sites and years, it can show red fruit such as raspberry or red plum but can gain blueberry notes and even riper black berry fruit in warmer areas. When all these fruits combine, they are said to have bramble fruits. Malbec also ages fairly well and can have a stewed fig and balsamic reduction notes. It can be gamey and smell like hung meat, and may have oak spices that give it a sandlewood perfume or a cocoa note. It may even smell of mint leaves.
Some Malbec’s show an immediate sweet taste on the tip of your tongue when it first enters your mouth. Beware of these Malbecs – they are often the most inexpensive ones and have residual sugar in them which it doesn’t need.
That’s not to say that they’re aren’t great values on Malbecs. I’m sure you’ve tried those too!
In fact, Malbec shows differently depending on where it’s grown. The grape variety is originally from France. You can taste wines from Cahors AOC to try wines that have slightly lower alcohol levels and certainly an earthier, meatier quality to them.
Perhaps because the world loves Malbec so much, many sommeliers dismiss Argentine wines made with Malbec as being too proletariat and ordinary. Yet cool sites will show a gravelly mineral note that wine snobs love.
Here are some quick facts about Malbec and why you shouldn’t dismiss this incredible grape! I’ll also share some producers with you so that you can easily navigate to the styles of Malbec that you like the most.
Malbec is a black grape originally from Bordeaux, France
In France, it has many synonyms such as Côt and Auxerrois
After the great frost of 1956, it simply isn't replanted in Bordeaux
Bordeaux’s climate is Maritime and wet so it doesn’t work well with poor Malbec who is susceptible to bunch rot.
Malbec wines are still made in the village of Cahors where it rains less than in Bordeaux
French agronomist Michel Aimé Pouget brought Malbec to Argentina in 1853
History of Malbec
Quick Facts Argentina
Argentina has a dry climate with which works well with Malbec
that means that organic viticulture is easy here - horray!
They still have to worry about frost so many vines in the north (Salta) are planted high in perral (pergola) to avoid the coolest air which is heavy and always sinks to the bottom leaving warmer air above
The summer hail here is called Piedra. One of the most obvious features of Argentinan vineyards are the black nets that cover the vines to protect them from frequent hail storms that can occur every month. These storms can be made of huge stones that also damage cars and trees!
Hail problems means that many producers have vineyards planted in different areas as an insurance measure
most vines are ungrafted because the biotype of Phylloxera here is mild. Ungrafted vines are said to be of superior quality
This can be pretty confusing...
in the far west of the country next to the Andés Mountains are Cuyo’s 3 provinces. Provinces such as Mendoza are divided into departments which are further divided into districts which are further divided into single vineyards.
La Rioja – the oldest region producing mostly white wines so we’ll leave this one out
Argentina's second biggest wine producing area.
Garafigna, Los Moras
most wine comes from the south in Tulum which is at lower elevations of 650 meters (2132 feet). Wines from here are rich and more blue/ black fruited than red. Watch out for those wines that have residual sugar in them!
Best quality wines come from higher elevations in Padernal Valley 1100 meters/3608 feet meters and Calingasta at 1500 meters/4921 feet. Wines from here taste fresher with more red fruit (plums and black raspberry) and may taste dryer and more old world in style.
Mendoza also has 3 subregions
the traditional heartland with the majority of wine production (makes 70% of Argentina's total. Often Mendozan wines are a blend of all three regions.
Producers to look for: Alfredo Roca
lower elevation and therefore warmer and traditionally known for higher yields and lower quality although districts of San Rafael and General Alvear can produce high quality wines
Luján de Cuyo
Producers to look for: Cheval des Andes, Mendel, Krontiras
the traditional zone of Mendoza at 800-1000 meters (2600-3200 feet) elevation, clay soils (Malbec likes this!) known for it's red fruit, elegance, mid-palate and texture
Producers to look for: Archaval Ferrer, Salentein
The rising star of Mendoza between 1000-1600 meters (3280-5250 feet). Cool temperatures from higher elevations ensure the sunlight effect on thickening skins for higher tannin, fuller body and pretty violet aromas with natural high acidity. Soils are very poor and have high drainage together with constant breezes that ensure low yields and high quality. Most famous is the department of Tupungato taken from an extinct volcano of the same name.
Salta hosts the famous property of Colomé which is the regions best and grows Malbec at 3111 meters/ 10,206 feet elevation!
Other producers to look for: El Esteco, El Porvenir
If you like dark fruits, cocoa and oak flavours of baking spices to stand out in your wines try ...
Vista Alba (Corte A) Bramare + Viña Cobos El Porvenir
If you like the bramble fruit and pretty violet notes to stand out...
Every wine tasting event is special. The paragraphs below detail 7 tips for getting the most out of wine tasting at VinItaly.
What is VinItaly?
Each year in April, the beautiful medieval city of Verona becomes a mecca for wine students, journalists and importers. They come for VinItaly, a cornucopia of wine and food tasting events over 5 days.
What makes this wine tasting event so special? It’s open to the public. At wine tastings, you get to try an amazing array of different styles of wine at a fraction of the cost.
‘VinItaly in the City’ is just one of the events. Brightly coloured flood lights highlight the ancient walls in the evening. Food trucks and wine producers peddle their wares as musician play live in the Centro Storico of Verona.
The ‘headliner’ for VinItaly is the grand tasting at Veronafiere exhibition space, a mere 10 minutes drive from the center. Free shuttle busses bring the masses to the exhibition space and back.
Veronafiere is massive. Each building houses 1000’s of producers.
Aethetically, this is my favourite wine tasting event of the year. Milano fashion suits and funky leather dress shoes meets old world wine tradition and large round wheels of stinky cheese!
Check out the photos in this post; notice how each wine booth is independently designed. Italians use their sense of fashion and grace to turn a simple booth into a modelling runway.
You MUST go!
Since this is the only event that allows both the wine trade and the public together at the same time, it is important that you know how to look like one of the pros. So here are 7 tips to get the most out of VinItaly’s wine tastings.
7 Tips to get the most out of VinItaly’s wine tastings
This space is huge so plan ahead. Choose 6 regions of Italy you want to explore and see where they are on a map of Veronafiere. Try to spend quality time in 2 maybe 3 regions per day.
Make sure the wine regions are close to one another in the exhibition area. You can easily waste a lot of time walking back and forth across the massive exhibition space. Check out the map of Veronafiere by downloading the brochure on the VinItaly website or by clicking here.
If you are a wine buyer for a store, it’s always great when you say hello to your importers (who have also flown from all over the world to work at the event).
However, if you are not part of the wine trade, VinItaly’s website allows you to email individual producers. Give them a day when you plan on being near their section and see if you can set up an appointment or two.
Give yourself plenty of time to find their booth but don’t stay with them too long. It’s really not easy to keep a timetable since there are soo many things to do. And know this; once you sit down, you will end up spending more time than you thought and time will fly.
Don’t feel that you have to book appointments either. You WILL be invited to sit at a table for charceuterie and wine just by passing by. (This won’t happen with the top producers of Barolo or Brunello di Montalcino – you know, the most famous regions of Italy, but it will happen everywhere else!) Italians are the most welcoming culture.
For those in the wine trade, you can choose to just skip any bookings and simply text your importers when you happen to be nearby. (Importers will let you know in advance their booth numbers). They will appreciate you coming out of your way, and may provide you with immediate introductions to the best Italian producers they represent.
2. Wear comfortable yet stylish shoes!
You will behave as a kid in a candystore since seeing this much luscious Italian wine in one place is mind blowing!
So, wear comfortable shoes! You will want to explore as much of the exhibition space as possible.
Furthermore, Verona is known for their high quality shoe shops and fashionistas which means, make sure your shoes look good! A little shoe polish goes a long way to avoiding that up and down look of Italian judgement and disdain.
3. Make use of the regional bars.
Looking at the Veronafiere exhibition space (from the brochure you downloaded above), you’ll see that each building hosts 1-3 regions of Italy.
Once inside, find each individual producer by locating them on the large boardmaps at each of the main entrances.
OR you can go to one of the many ‘regional bars’ hosted by certified Italian sommeliers as in the picture below. The regional bars have a ‘wine list’ of producers and wines to sample from that region. The bars are a great way to understand a region in a limited time.
It also gives you the opportunity to rest your feet!
The sommeliers show equal support for each wine and producer so they won’t tell you what their favourite wines are. However, after a time they get to understand your tastes, and they will pull out fantastic recommendations for you.
4. Bring your own water bottle.
With all wine tastings, drinking water is important. You can buy water at Veronafiere, but it’s not always there when you need it. And you don’t want to waste too much time looking for it to buy it.
Tip #4 is the most important wine tasting tip for VinItaly.
It’s much easier to bring your own 1L water bottle and fill it up whenever you see a water fountain at the wall. Full disclosure, I’ve even filled it up in the bathroom. So save the single use plastic and bring a 1L water bottle in your bag.
Food however, is everywhere! And it IS amazing. As Italians view wine as a food, Pavillion C is completely dedicated to it. Olive oil, pasta, aged cheese, mortadella, every version of salami, you name it.
In addition to this, there are pop-up tents showcasing Italian restaurants where you can share lunch with friends over a white tablecloth.
5. Some Southern Italian regions require more patience.
Most of the pavillions are well mapped out so that finding the producer you are looking for is easy. However, when visiting Sicily, nothing seemed to match up. After finding the information booth and receiving an updated list and map of all of the producers, still nothing was where it was supposed to be. I wasted too much time searching instead of tasting.
6. Don’t expect to get anything done on Wednesday
Wednesday is the last day of VinItaly and most of the producers are gone by 11 am. If they are still there, they are packing up. Wednesday is not the most productive day for tasting.
This year, I’ll see if I can visit the German and Austrian producers on Wednesday. I’m counting on them to stay until the end! Check back at the comments after April 10th and I’ll let you know if I am right.
7. DO NOT GET DRUNK!!!
It is not appropriate to get drunk at any industry wine tasting. EVER. One of the complaints from the wine trade about VinItaly, is how some members of the public use the time to drink too much. That’s why most wine tasting events have separate tastings for the wine trade and others for the public (where the public is charged much more than the wine trade).
So don’t forget the spit part of sniff, swirl and spit.
Instead, practice the art of mindful drinking and think about what went into making this gorgeous liquid. This should be easy as the producer/ artisan is right in front of you.
Indeed, public drunkenness is completely unacceptable in Italy, overall. This holds true even where there is live music, dancing, and a free bar. Be an ambassador and respect the local culture; eat enough food and drink enough water to balance the alcohol in the wine.
If you’ve been to VinItaly and you have some insider tips on how to get the most out of the wine tasting event, please leave your comments below!
Or, if you know someone who is heading to VinItaly, you can share this by clicking on a social share button.
If not, but you would like to learn about more wine tasting tips, subscribe to Sommwine in the right sidebar at the top of this post.
Disclosure: Although I was not paid to write about VinItaly, I did recieve a scholarship to study with VinItaly International Academy in 2016.
We hear it all the time; wine is good for our health! But is it, really?
Let’s remember that wine is a product for sale and marketing directives are there to encourage us to increase consumption and profits. Providing good reason to distrust some news sources. Let’s also not forget that alcohol abuse is often seen as the culprit behind the breakdown of families and society as a whole. Neither side of this debate is new.
And my, how perceptions change!
Let’s begin by sharing a brief history of the attitudes of society towards alcohol over time.
Attitudes to alcohol in the Medieval and Renaissance periods
In medieval times, wine is seen as an important contribution to health. What’s the proof? Monks live longer lives than the rest of the populace all because of the benefits of moderate and regular wine consumption! Even distilled spirits are named ‘Aqua Vitae’ or ‘water of life’ and praised for their medicinal value.
Later, in the 1600’s, wine is spread throughout the world as it becomes a vital part of the transatlantic trade. Samuel Pepys writes of using caudle in his famous diaries, a mixture of gruel with wine or ale, as an effective treatment against sea sickness.
Then, attitudes shift.
The time of the revolutions: Industrial, French, and American
In the UK, gin develops an association with higher crime rates and the working classes. Public drunkenness is at an all time high and the Gin Act raises excise taxes on the product but is soon repealed. Despite these efforts, gin sales continue to grow.
Gin bad; wine good…
Peter Shaw’s treatise The juice of the grape- or wine preferable to water (1724) cc
Gin’s image suffers immensely in the 1700’s because it is considered the cheap alternative to the more prestigious elixir of wine. Wine must be imported from foreign countries. Gin can be made anywhere at low cost.
Not that there was a shortage of inexpensive plonk in the world. The working classes in England just couldn’t afford it as 18th century lawmakers slapped expensive customs and embargoes on poor quality wine.
Wine therefore, captures an association with the upper classes. Poets strengthen this connection between wine, aristocracy and polite society in their writings.
Wine spreads to most households
By the 18th century, wine is now a kitchen necessity and many recipes in England make food in ‘the French way’ by adding wine. Caudle, (mentioned above) is now a common household remedy; the wine being the remediating ingredient for many sicknesses. Wine reaches the middle classes.
But what were attitudes to wine in the rest of Europe?
In the wine producing nations of France, Spain and Italy, wine is not separated along class lines in the same way as it is for Brits. Wine is drunk by everyone and seen simply as an extension of food. In fact, even today most Italians do not distinguish between wine and food. To Italians, both food and wine offer the same benefits; providing necessary nutrition in their diets.
London Slums; Gustave Dore(1872) cc Wellcome Images
It’s ok to be drunk if…
Society views drunkenness as fine if you live on a farm and don’t have to report to anyone else for work. But this is the Industrial Revolution. More and more people are moving to cities and factory owners want sober, reliable workers. Protestants especially view binge drinking as anti-capitalist and inefficient. Even moderate consumption is a sin. Women’s movements grow and recognize alcohol abuse as a main cause of domestic violence, child abuse and lost wages.
Just before the turn of the century, a louse spreads and kills most of the vineyards of France, Italy and Spain . Wine production drops and fraud runs rampant as producers bulk up their stocks with cane and beet sugar. This, in turn causes quality to plummit and therefore stock prices of both wine and Cognac which is also made from grapes. Suicide rates rise among despairing farmers who see no reason why their vines and therefore livelihoods are dying en masse. I think the worldwide social upheaval this causes is difficult for a person today to fully appreciate. At the time this happens, wine is the most traded commodity in the world.
The rise of Whisky
All classes turn to Whisky to take wine’s place!
A man pours whisky into a flask; Erskine Nicole (1869) cc BY.
Another twist this century…
Society again takes serious issue with alcohol consumption during WWI. This is where we see the global rise of temperance and prohibition forces. As the world’s greatest powers battle for supremacy, alcohol is seen as a dangerous disturbance; one that could spell the downfall in war efforts.
Even Czar Nicolas II bans vodka in Russia in support of the war. Routinely, the directives aim largely at the working classes. Certainly Nicolas still enjoyed Champagne and vodka during this time.
And somehow, wine is again exempt from most boycotts especially in Catholic areas where it is used in the sacrament of Christ during mass. The United States and almost all of Canada vote for full prohibition (Quebec bans spirits but as a Catholic province continues to allow beer and wine sales).
Prohibition in the US destroys the wine industry of Napa. It’s not until the late 60’s that the area begins to revive itself.
But is wine healthy?
Ironically, the reasons for alcohol’s success equally has to do with it’s benefits for health as it does for for it’s harm. For a long time, alcohol is safer to drink than water!
Remember, this is before sewage systems and water purification pumps of modern municipalities. This played a major role in alcohol’s rise in popularity over the ages whether it be wine, beer, gin or other spirits.
Yet check out this poster from the Temperance movement in Canada circa 1912. As the quality in public drinking water improves, alcohol is demonized; drinking water is now de rigeur!
Modern-day Science and Wine
And what is science telling us today?
Many articles promote wine consumption and particularly red wine consumption as being good for us. Supporters point to a component in the skins called reservatrol which act as antioxidants. However, according to Medical News Today, eating grapes and berries (especially cranberries and blueberries) provide a better source of reservatrol than wine.
Wine + Health and Heart Disease
Wine and Heart Disease
Wine is also said to promote heart health in various ways such as reducing heart disease by the way it affects the gut microbiome. And although there is much evidence to support this, the truth is that the research is still not conclusive.
Other studies show that moderate wine drinking boosts levels of omega-3 fatty acids in plasma and red blood cells. These are the fatty acids that are found in fish and are linked to lower rates of heart disease.
There’s also evidence showing that ethanol in wine helps to metabolize glucose (and it’s non-alcohol ingredients may help too). One study focused on Type 2 diabetes patients and found that red wine significantly increased high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the good cholesterol) and brought the total cholesterol down (the bad type). Unfortunately, the study was only a 2 year project using a small sample of 240 patients – not conclusive, but promising.
Wine as an Aphrodisiac and Sexual Health
As it’s Valentine’s Day, I just had to include this part.
Evidence does show that red wine affects sexual function in a positive way, but it’s not clear if it’s more due to diet, exercise, genetics or a combination of all of them. They do know that people with excellent diets, who exercise regularily and drink moderately have lower levels of stress and better sex lives.
Love cc Giuseppe Milo
Your best bet for a healthy sex life is to eat a Mediterranean diet, one filled with vegetables, fish, legumes and grains. It’s linked to lower levels of sexual dysfunction (in a study of 600 women) as well as lower levels of erectile disfunction.
It’s true that wine may elevate our mood and therefore sexual desire, and even improve blood flow. Wine contains quercetin – an anti-inflammatory property that increases circulation. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids are also known to improve blood flow so it’s possible that wine (which can increase the level of omega-3 fatty acids in our blood cells) does as well. So wine can improve your sex life, if your problem is low blood flow.
These possible benefits can only be seen when consuming MODERATE amounts of wine (and not beer, not spirits, just wine).
Of course, alcohol dependence and overuse does just the opposite in men and causes mulitple sexual dysfunctions including erectile dysfunction.
With the advent of scientific reserach, we can now say that there is a indeed a problem with alcohol – when it is overused.
Over consumption of high-alcohol spirits contributes to cirrhosis of the liver which causes death. In intimate partner relationships, alcohol use is strongly correlated with physical and sexual abuse. Studies also show that the victims of assault are often under the influence of alcohol. There are many more known problems related to alcohol consumption.
As alcohol consumption increases and is abused, society suffers.
And this information is not lost on the Millenial and Z-Generations. Millenials are that group who were born roughly between 1980 and 1994; Z-Generation between 1995 and 2005.
Previously, marketing studies prepared us to get ready for the Millenial takeover in wine consumption. Since they are the largest numerical group born after the Baby-Boomers, they were poised to become the largest consumers of wine, beer, and spirits. What would they choose to drink? Which one would sway their hearts and minds the most?
But then, something happened. These groups choose to look out for their health instead. They want to drink less, way less. Social acceptance of binge drinking is at an all time low.
This mindset is also forecasted with the Z-Generation as they become of drinking age. Not only are they congnizant of their health and welfare, but the phenomenon is coupled with stagnant wages and less certaintly in economic stability. Remember, Gen-Z’ers were raised during the financial crisis of 2008.
Is there a future for spirits?
Even cocktails, traditionally the realm of spirits, are changing. Industry experts at Just-drinks.com say that new cocktails are incorporating wine; port, red and white wine instead of spirits. All this to lower the amount of alcohol in drinks. Further, wines with lower alcohol may actually take center stage over the big, ballsy reds of the recent past. Spritzer, anyone?
How much wine is safe?
For most women, safe consumption is to have one glass of wine per day. For men, you may have 2 glasses. And both of you, leave 2 days of the week open to consume no alcohol at all!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
***Much of the medical information was obtained through Medical News Today and links to recent research papers from there. Media Bias Fact Check rates MNT as providing information from legitimate science based research.
This is part 2 to ‘Champagne’s Dirty Little Secret’ where we questioned the higher prices of Champagne sparkling wine and discussed marketing practices. If you would like to read that first, click here
Is it worth it for us to spend the extra money on a bottle of Champagne?
Champagne does indeed have a unique terroir – the soil, the climate, and the complete natural environment – is unlike anywhere else.
A Vineyard in Champagne
The marginal climate is wrought with frosts and fungal diseases and the grapes just barely ripen during long, cool seasons that create this region’s calling card . The high diurnal temperature fluctuations between daytime and nighttime help to maintain the steely, mouthwatering acidity that Champagne lovers crave and which allow the wines to age for decades in a cellar. Veritably, grapes intended for bubbled Champagne would not taste good if made into a still wine. They are too austere; too lacking in flavour; too acidic for any other kind of wine. Therefore, as high yields cause dilute, uninteresting wines in other regions, here it works beautifully. The purpose for great bubbles is to avoid concentrated flavours. Therefore, as the CIVC (Comité de Champagne) sets the yields each year to ensure that there is never an overproduction of wine – as opposed to them setting a limit to maintain quality – fits in Chamgapgne as the bar for quality remains high. As Tom Stevenson points out, it is ‘ripe acidity’ that is the perfect result of Champagne’s climate.
But critics are correct to point out that the question of ‘terroir’ for Champagne can be easily debunked. Most Champagne’s are blended; from different villages, across from the five major districts, from various grape varieties and often from different vintages. In fact, Krug has over 200 separate wines that it draws upon to produce its non-vintage brut. The purpose here is to produce the same consistent house style from year to year, devoid of vintage variation, and it seems to follow that it is therefore, devoid of terroir. Furthermore, the style of each Champagne is just as dependent on what the winemaker does to the base wine, blurring the footprint of terroir further. As my friend argued, Champagne is defined mostly by winemaking techniques.
And yet, there is just something about Champagne…!
No where else can you achieve such racy acidity (if this is what you like, and I do!).
gyropalette for ageing and riddling Champagne. Photo: CC Olivier Colas
pupitre at Pol Roger. Photo: CC Thomas Er
Realizing the expense and effort that goes into each bottle is worth mentioning. The wines are held back for a long time before being sold. Even the non-vintage wines must be aged for a minimum of 15 months before they are disgorged and rebottled. Have you seen the way that the bottles need to be spun a quarter turn every day until they are upside down (sur pointe)? Pol Roger has 5 people who do this every day by hand during the ageing process. Others must buy a gyropalette, a massive machine that mimicks this process.
Here is a selection of some of my favourite Champers…
Delamotte Brut Champagne $62.99
Gloriously creamy and crisp and lasts forever in your mouth. The style is elegant; the brioche, and macademia nuts are enveloped in lemon juice and white flowers and finishes crisp and long. In fact, if you ever see any Delamotte on the shelves, it’s worth picking it up. Their vintage Champagnes are only made in the lesser years. Why? Because in the good vintages, it’s bottled as Salon, one of the most sought after Champagnes for sommeliers.
Pol Roger Cuvee de Réserve Brut Champagne NV, $65.99
This is more widely available than the Delamotte but offers that same
crisp lemon juice finish. One of the amazing feats of Pol Roger is they still riddle their bottles by hand to move the lees to the top of the bottle. Pol Roger is another elegant Champange with a crisp finish as the one above.
If you prefer richer, more toasty Champagne’s, buy Louis Roederer Brut Premier featured on the right. $67 in BC Liquor Stores
Larmandier-Bernier Latitude Extra Brut
This is a grower’s Champange (not owned by a large negociant house who buys grapes from other producers) and a husband and wife team who farm their vineyards biodynamically (organic and then some). Taking a large step away from commercially produced Champagne, this couple keeps yields down to a measly 50hl/ha which is less than half of what the maximum yield is in Champagne. This is also a 100% Chardonnay. It is leaner and has less bubbles than the previous two Champagnes (because there is a lower dosage (Extra Brut) it. For those people whose stomachs can’t take all of the persistent bubbles of Champagne, this could be for you (Shawna L – I’m talking to you!).
And as Champagne is not in everyone’s budget. Here are some amazing bubbles at more affordable prices.
For those of you fortunate enough to live in British Columbia Canada, I have an even better option for you.
Blue Mountain Sparkling wines. I can’t believe the consistent quality the Mavety’s produce. Their family owned vineyards in Okanagan Falls have a large temperature range (diurnal) between daytime and nighttime leading to this incredible mouthwatering acidity throughout all of their wines. Most of their sparklers sell out each year and top restaurants and wine shops who have formed long term relationships with the Blue Mountain vineyards get an ‘allocation’ each month or year.
Blue Moutain Winery in Okanagan Falls, British Columbia, Canada
Thank goodness they released the Gold Label Brut last year (pictured on the right), the only non-vintage wine in the lineup with higher production levels so you are more likely to find this wine in private liquor stores in the province (think Liberty Wines and Marques in Vancouver or Blackcomb Cold Beer and Wine in Whistler). Excellent crisp sparkler without the intense toastiness of other wines (yet still aged for 24 months before release) and for $30 it is an amazing find.
For those who prefer ‘vintage’ wines that have longer ageing and more of that toasty, brioche complexity search out their other bubbles. They carry a Vintage Blanc de Blancs (crisp, lemon curd, creme brulée and toast made with Chardonnay and the 2009 was their last release) and ONLY $40 – can you believe it?! The Vintage Brut Reserve (currently the 2009) is actually still available to buy online so snatch it up!
Brut Rosé RD 2013
My favourite! The Rosé is aged on on lees (dead yeasts) for 36 months (not as long as the Blanc de Blanc and Brut Reserve). So a little less brioche and toast and slightly more fruity. If you find this, buy it!! If you can’t find it, the Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler sells this by the glass year round. Or go and sabre a bottle in their wine cellar.
Is it worth it to spend the extra money on Champagne? If you have it to spend. Otherwise, seek out other wines that are every bit as delicious and easier on the pocket book too.
In ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blonds’ Marilyn Monroe sang ‘Diamonds are a girls best friend’ in a pink satin dress surrounded by dapper men in black tuxedos. I’m a brunette and Champagne is my best friend?
Champagne and diamonds are two luxury products whose value is questioned because of their actual lack of rarity. It was the marketing genius of DeBeers that led to the perceived scarcity of diamonds. It is the Comité de Champagne (CIVC) that controls the amount of Champagne allowed to be made each year. This amount is based on the world’s demand for Champagne. Just like DeBeers, the CIVC makes sure that the growers will not sell enough grapes to cause a reduction in price (and following that, the perceived value) of Champagne.
Indeed, most Champagne houses produce bottles in the millions each year. In fact, Dom Perignon, does not even admit what their production is. Moët makes upwards of 30 million bottles: Veuve Clicquot sits at 13.5 million. Clearly, just as with diamonds, there is no possibility of the world running out of Champagne. This is Champagne’s dirty little secret.
How does Champagne market itself as a luxury product? First, by aligning itself with the upper classes. Roederer’s Cristal was made at the request of Tsar Alexander II. Champagne was a favourite of Napoleon Bonaparte. Sir Winston Churchill drank so much Pol Roger that they dedicated their top wine to him. Then in the 19th century, Champagne crossed the transatlantic and enraptured wealthy Americans via Champagne Charlie (Charles Heidsieck) and Lily Bollinger. In 1973, Bollinger partnered with the world’s greatest spy, James Bond and is featured in 13 Bond films.
Rap stars have also promoted the frothy fun. Tupac’s song serenades the recipe of ‘Thug Passion’ – one part Alizé Passion Fruit Liqueur and one part Cristal. Cristal is the cuvée prestige, the flagship or the top wine of the Louis Roederer house that sells for $300/ bottle.
Originally, Jay-Z also promoted Cristal. That is until the Economist interviewed the managing director of Roederer. When asked if the attention from rap artists was detrimental to the Cristal image, he responded, “That’s a good question, but what can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it. I’m sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.” It seems that rap culture may not quite bestow the polished image that all the Champagne houses are looking for.
In the follow up, Jay-Z took the comments as racist and promptly pulled all Cristal from his nightclubs. Then, business-savvy Jay wisely bought the Armand de Brignac Champagne house before featuring the gold-laden ‘Ace of Spades’ bottle in his next music video, “Show Me What You Got”. Watch how he turns away the bottle of Cristal and then see how the girl’s eyes light up when they present the bottle of Armand de Brignac. Burn! Then quick move to positive product placement.
And since my sister celebrates her birthday this weekend, I just have to bring some Champers to celebrate the milestone. We’re staying at the luxurious Sparkling Hill Resort in Vernon, British Columbia built by the owner of Swarovski crystal jewelry. The place is adorned with crystal chandeliers, snowflake crystal lights, crystal fireplaces, and more crystal throughout the steam rooms of the spa. Marilyn, you can take your child labour, environmental abuse blood-diamonds, I’ve got ethically made Austrian crystal to pair with my Champagne! (In fact, Marilyn Monroe was garbed in Swarovski crystal for the movie, not in diamonds.)
And if 20th Century Fox didn’t put out the extra dough for Marilyn to wear real diamonds, is it worth it for us to spend the extra cash on the coveted name of Champagne?
The answer: it depends.
More on Champagne and other sparkling wines in the next post.
[This article is the second of a three part series on the Similkameen Valley and it’s wineries.]
left to right: Melanie, Wes, Tara, son Fable, Brad, daughter Molly, Jenny Moon, Cristine, Walter and Vincent/ Photo: Brandon Elliot Photography
When Sergeant Makepeace (Cristine) and Staff Sergeant Makepeace (Walter) retired from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the community must have been extremely saddened by the exit of their two aptly named officers (because really, who wouldn’t trust a police officer whose name is ‘Make-peace’?!) In 2005, they purchased the organic farm in Cawston and moved into their new classic-style farmhouse adorned with a picturesque white verandah that oversees the trees and vines. As a certified organic farm, it seems a natural extension of the Makepeace’s legacy of community service with the RCMP. Now, they can save the world by one fruit at a time!
For years, the public never got to taste the wines from the Makepeace’s vineyards. At least, not knowingly anyways. Walter, knowing nothing about making wine, sold his grapes to other wine producers in the area.
Finally, in 2011, Clos de Soleil winery honoured the couple with their name on the label of the ‘Grower’s Series Makepeace Merlot,’ a small-lot production of their premium grapes. For a couple of years, they contracted Serendipity Winery to make wines under their newly created Hugging Tree label. Meanwhile, Walter and his youngest son Brad took this time to study winemaking at Okanagan College and are now making Hugging Tree wines themselves. Hopefully the the rest of us may now get the chance at sampling their great juice.
Hugging Tree Winery is in Cawston, British Columbia in the Similkameen Valley. It is only a few minutes drive from both the town of Osoyoos and Washington State in one of Western Canada’s wine regions.
Hugging Tree Vineyards and the Similkameen Valley / Photo: Brandon Elliot Photography
The Similkameen is, indeed, gifted with that special sense of place. The gravelly, sandy loam subsoils are perfect for growing high quality grapes. (If you wish to read more detailed information about Similkameen soils and its relationship to high quality grape growing, click here). ‘Similkameen’ is a First Nation’s word meaning ‘the winding stream’ as the Similkameen River twists through the valley providing much needed access to water. The desert-like area has stately grand rust-red and black Ponderosa Pine trees, and sand-coloured hills and valleys set against blue, blue skies. It rarely rains here averaging only 240 cm per year. If clouds ever dare cross the sky, they are mostly of the white, fluffy variety. It is on the east side of the Similkameen River on gentle, west-facing slopes stretching up from Highway #3 where the Hugging Tree vineyards lay.
The willow tree on the property and the image on Hugging Tree labels / Photo: Brandon Elliot Photography
Hugging Tree name and image of two trees wrapping their arms around each other in a happy embrace is in fact a willow tree that grows on the property. Yet it also seems a fitting nod to the legacy of this wonderful, welcoming family that includes three free-spirited children – now grown adults – Wes, Jen and Brad Makepeace. Brad has brought his own family into the business with wife, Tara and daughter Molly and young toddler, Fable. Wes and Jen, on the other hand, make for much needed hands only at certain times of the growing season and for the most part live their lives away from the farm. “It’s a good tactic that helps us maintain the family peace and equilibrium,” says Jenny Moon over our phone conversation.
Tara, Brad’s wife, works in the tasting room at the farm. I first met Tara in 2015. With thick, long dark hair contrasting against her large blue eyes and round full lips and dark lipstick, she is striking! On this early summer afternoon in July 2017, her hair has light, sandy brown roots that gradually move into a blond hombre, thick and wavy. She wears just a hint of lipgloss. She pulls off both looks so well.
the Tasting Room / Photo: Brandon Elliot Photography
The tasting room at Hugging Tree is a moderate size with ample natural light accented with Victorian industrial lightbulbs, wooden flooring and a cement bar. A record player, the colour of 1950’s sky-blue, plays pop songs of another era. It makes for fun, happy and hopping energy and seems to say, ‘the door’s always open!’
Then there are the wines.
The first time I tasted Hugging Tree, it was back when I first met Tara and Brad in 2015. They made an appointment with me at the restaurant I was working in and I tasted the wines in the cool cellar downstairs. It was a mix of wines made both through their contract with Serendipity and wines made by Brad and Walter. The wines were all solidly good. Tara and I shared the same favourite wine of the flight, the 2012 Moonchild Merlot (named after Brad’s sister, Jenny Moon).
Now, two years later in the tasting room at the winery, the wines are all distinctly excellent.
Brad joins us to chat a few minutes into our tasting. Tall, dark and handsome with hair that reaches just past his ears and tucked behind them. He has a beard and handlebar mustache and wears a black, sleeveless Motörhead shirt. Yet overall, Brad exudes a softness, especially in his facial features. He is the kind of person who will never trumpet his wines loudly and proudly in the way that legendary leaders like California’s Robert Mondavi has or the how the Okanagan Valley’s Anthony Von Mandl does. Instead, Brad’s persuasion is of the humble, tranquil kind – a low, even drumming that never rises in power and force, nor dims.
That’s right. I promised to talk about the wines.
The 2015 Viognier shows pronounced aromas of ripe peach, orange oil and lots of pretty floral accents. On the palate, it is oily textured and rich yet still finishes with bright mouthwatering length.
I know that Viognier is a difficult grape to get right. It needs a long growing season in order to develop it’s characteristic violet and peach aromas. If you don’t pick it at just the right time, the acidity in the grapes will drop quickly and you will end up with a fat, blowsy wine. In this Hugging Tree Viognier, the richness of the stone fruits and fatness of the texture is balanced by the crispness of the acidity. And oh my, what length!
How did he do it?
The Viognier, Brad tells me, is grown on three different soil types. This year, Brad has picked each lot at different times – hence, the balance of rich fruit and refreshing acidty. Bravo, Brad!
The Hugging Tree 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon shows that quintessential blackcurrant and blackcurrant leaf with a touch of herbaceous mint and sage – the sure sign of high quality Cabernet. An insider’s tip: Watch out for the Cabernets coming out of the Similkameen. The fruit is properly ripened here! I took home 2 bottles of the Cabernet to lock away in my cellar.
Hugging Tree 2012 Moonchild Merlot – as stated above, I first tasted this in 2015 while at work. My tasting notes were disappointingly concise and noted, “…richly fruited, beautiful tingly powdery tannins. Yum!” Retasting this now, the wine has evolved, the tannins have softened and the juice shows distinctly dark plum with cocoa and a lovely green herb note.
Brad sent me away with a couple of bottles which are soon to be released. Here is the sneak preview of them…
Hugging Tree Merlot 2014 – black cherry and bright red fruits combine beautifully. There’s a beautiful dustiness with violet perfume, cedar and vanilla. The alcohol is quite generous and the tannins are ripe and rounded. Don’t cellar this one! Drink it, it’s beautiful now!
Hugging Tree Telltale 2014 – The Telltale is the Bordeaux blend of the line. This year it has 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 16% Petit Verdot, and 8% Malbec. I opened this too early!! In fact, if you were to look up the definition of infanticide you might see me drinking this bottle of 2014 Telltale. Forested and woody from new oak, it needs time to soften and integrate and to reveal the dark brooding fruits now hidden behind the baking spice. Tannins are youthful and beautifully grainy. The great texture is a hint at the quality here. Cellar for 2-6 years.
Hugging Tree Winery is certainly THE winery to watch out for in Canada’s best kept secret, the Similkameen Valley.
[This article is the first of a three part series on the Similkameen Valley and it’s wineries.]
The Similkameen Valley is a wine region in British Columbia nestled in a basin just west of the Okanagan Valley. Here the hillsides reaching up from the Similkameen River have sagebrush and Ponderosa Pine trees, and orchards and vines compete for soil with oceans of dry, yellow grasses. For those of you who haven’t beheld the image of grasslands when the wind is blowing, a visit to the area is rewarded amply by that vision alone. The town of Cawston, only 16 minutes from the border with the United States, is the Organic Farm Capital of Canada and the epicenter of a cluster of high quality wines which are as gratifying as the landscape; there are many reasons to go!
This is about Chardonnay. Why? It’s grown all over the world and I’ve noticed Chardonnay has taken a ‘hit’ in sales. Coined the ‘Bridget Jones effect’ by wine writer Oz Clarke, this movement has proselytized vast numbers and most people are no longer buying bottles of Chardonnay (Bridget Jones would write in her diary about her sad, manless life over an oversized pour of Chardonnay and then gripe about how she was going to kill herself and put her head in the oven). This negative marketing caused Chardonnay sales to plummet. I too, had lost my Chardonnay-mojo, disenchanted with the bitter finish of over-oaked butter bombs. Now, I’ve learned that Chardonnay can be absolutely delicious with oak as long as the fruit takes center stage and the oak plays second fiddle. Here’s what you probably know already… (more…)
A colleague of mine recently wrote that he notices the trend for massive red wines waning. Although I desperately want that to be true, I don’t see it and I want that change. I crave it. You would think that this one would be finished already in the same way that big, buttery Chardonnay moved into the ABC (anything BUT Chardonnay) or the way that Merlot sales crashed and pushed up the sales of Pinot Noir after the movie Sideways. Yet every night on the floor at the restaurant, people request huge wines. Won’t people eventually get bored of big reds and try something else? Why is it so easy for people to be monogamous when it comes to wine?