How North America Destroyed the Vineyards of Europe

How North America Destroyed Europe's Vineyards

And why you should learn the history of French Wine Law - Part I

During the 19th century, wine is THE most traded commodity in the world. It was not the arms trade (as it is today); it was wine.

 

And it’s France that commands first place as the undisputed world leader in the premium wine trade.

It’s the Industrial Revolution. For the first time ever, railways and steamships will connect goods quickly to markets around the entire globe.

These improved trade routes will stimulate unfettered consumer demand for European wines that will generate a planting frenzy in France, Italy and Spain.

And then, the wine market will crash. Not just once, but many times.

This post is the first of a series of 3.

In these next lines, we will learn what caused the wine market crashes of the 19th century and explore the devastating vine diseases that are still a problem for vignerons today. We detail how 4 scourges will destroy Europe’s vineyards during its guilded age; when they arrive, how they are spread, and what the known cures for them are.

Visit us again for Part 2 where we look at what happens next during the so called ‘dark ages’ of wine. Unscrupulous fraudsters will fill voids left by severe yield shortages. They will produce watered down plonk – all sold under famous French names.

In part 3, learn why everyone interested in wine education or WSET certification needs to know the history of French wine law. After the economic devastation and social unrest of this period, it is France that will step up to create new wine laws. They will establish governing bodies to protect the price, prestige and quality of their most lucrative possession, their wine. In fact, they are so successful, French wine law will become the blueprint for most European wine and food laws today.

{If your interested in a fascinating look at how society’s views have changed towards wine, spirits and our health from the 16th century until today? Read this post here.}

So why during the golden era of wine trading, did the market crash?

The wine market crashes of 1845, 1863, 1882 and 1885.

Wine growth during the 19th century is primarily fuelled by improved trade routes that bring goods to markets around the world. Ironically, it is equally the cause of it’s demise. Transatlantic trade brings back vine diseases from North America that European vines can’t withstand.

Somm

Vine Diseases

1. Powdery Mildew - 1845

What is it?

Powdery mildew (öidium in French or now more widely known as uncinula necator). This disease attacks the green parts of vines. It gets it’s name from the spores that multiply into powdery looking cobweb-like growths.

How does it spread?

Winds will swiftly spread the disease. Found in England in 1845, it will cross the Atlantic to France by 1847.

What does it do?

Powdery mildew decreases both the amount of wine made from the plants as well, the quality is crap. Infected grapes make mouldy tasting wine. It also reduces the colour and the amount of wine that can be made.

Powdery mildew will cause the disasterous vintage of 1854 – France’s smallest since 1788.

The cure

Fortunately, the gardener who first disovers powdery mildew in England also notices the cure – a mixture of sulphur, lime and water – and sprays it on the vines. After 1854, this solution is widely accepted (and still used today).

2. Phylloxera - discovered in France in 1963

What it is and what it does?

Phylloxera is a louse (plural: lice) that feeds of the roots of vines causing it to bleed out the sap and eventually kills the plant. So just as France’s vineyards recover from powdery mildew, this bug will come along.

How it spreads?

And it doesn’t stop in France. Slowly through the decades, it will crawl its way throughout Europe. Originally called Phylloxera Vastatrix (the devastator), it is now called Dactylasphaera Vitifolia.

Truly, the social and economic effects of phylloxera are massive and can be compared to the failed potato harvests of Ireland. In France alone, that bloody bug will annihilate 2.5 million hectares of vineyards!

 

Phylloxera Vastatrix or 'the Devastator' as it wiped out most of the vineyards in Europe - "Phylloxeria Plant Louse" by treegrow is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In fact, riots will ensue in Burgundy. Lynch mobs will attack the teams sent in to spray the vines and soldiers are sent in to surround and protect the famous Meursault vineyard.

Imagine the trauma of watching your neighbour’s entire vineyard die and then waiting and seeing it come for your own.

The cure?

Eventually, scientists discover they can graft French vines onto American rootstocks and save their plants. American vines form a scab over the feeding area so the vine doesn’t bleed to death and survives.

But, it will take some time to implement this change, to find rootstocks that will work in French soils and…to convince the French. Indeed, Burgundy will outlaw this solution until 1887, almost 20 years after it’s arrival there.

3. Downy Mildew or Peronspera (introduced in France sometime before 1882)

What is it?

While the cure for phylloxera is fully underway, a new disaster will strike. Likely carried on the rootstocks sent from North America to prevent phylloxera, a fungus called downy mildew will slip into the country.

By 1882, the disease is already widespread throughout France. In fact, downy mildew is one of the most economically significant vine diseases for decades to come, producing many record low-yielding vintages up until 1969.

What does it do?

Downy mildew attacks the green parts of the vine and can cause the leaves to fall off completely – thereby halting photosynthesis. You can’t make much wine with what’s leftover and the resultant wines are weak.

How it spreads and the cure?

Generally spread during wet vintages, copper sprays are the first effective treatment. Now, expensive fungicides are also used.

4. Black rot - 1885

What is it?

American rootstocks also brought black rot fungus to Europe (Guignardia Bidwelli).

In fact, right now it’s currently contaminating vines in Europe.

 

 

How it spreads what does it do?

It’s spread by mild, wet temperatures and can kill upwards of 80% of your crop. It attacks leaves, shoots, and berries. Early signs show tan coloured spots on the leaves. This schmo is such a swindler as grapes will appear to be normal until mid-summer when berries will turn black, shrivel and turn into ‘mummies’.

How it spreads and the cure?

This is the bane of organic growers because of the limited ways to control it. Infected mummified berries must be painstakingly removed (along with parts of the cane) and burned. Otherwise, the spores will survive overwinter and come back in the spring.

It takes merely 7 hours in warm, wet conditions to spread!

For non-organic growers, fungicides need to be applied in the Spring continuously until the fruit ripens.

Those are the 4 scourges causing the complete annihilation of the wine market in the 19th century. How did this happen?

Improved trade routes grant quick access to new markets all over the world stimulating demand for Europe’s wines. At the same time, diseases piggyback on organic material from North American and plague all of Europe; native European vine species have no defence mechanisms to protect themselves.

But what happens next is equally as discomforting.

Visit us next week, where we cover the ‘dark ages’ of European wine. When consumer demand for European wine is at it’s pinnacle, fraudsters flood the market with ‘wine’ made from beet juice.

And if you’re interested in learning more about European wine law, visit us at https://www.sommwine.com/ for information on our next wine and sommelier courses.

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Good-bye to Beaujolais Icon Georges Duboeuf

This week, the wine industry lost one of it’s tireless trailblazers. Georges Duboeuf, aged 86, died. With Georges’ passing, the entire wine world paused in silent reflection.

Perhaps you’ve tried a bottle of Duboeuf Beaujolais wine?

Beaujolais is a red wine that smells and tastes of bright raspberry and cherry fruits. These wines are never drying or bitter and most are made for immediate consumption and pleasure. That is, the vast majority of them do not require cellaring and are just scrumptiously delicious on release. Glug, glug!

In fact one style of Beaujolais, Beaujolais Nouveau, is the earliest legally released wine in France. On the third Thursday in November, at 12:01 am, the first Beaujolais Nouveau is released to the public, during a massive party, torchlight parades and fireworks. And this party lasts an entire week!

Georges Duboeuf, is known as the largest marketer extraordinaire of Beaujolais’ success.

In a region that has been shrinking steadily over the last 2 decades, the Duboeuf family has kept many vignerons in business. The Duboeuf domain only owns one Beaujolais estate: Château des Capitan’s in the Cru of Julienas. But they purchase 20% of all grapes in the region for their Duboeuf family brand to make 2.5 million cases annually.

What is Beaujolais Nouveau?

These wines are released when they are maybe 1-2 months old. They are made with a winemaking technique known as carbonic maceration which brightens both the color of the wine to give it a fuchsia rim as well as a pronounced candied cherry fruit aroma and flavor.

 GEORGES DUBOEUF BEAUJOLAIS NOUVEAU 2019

Beaujolais Nouveau should be chilled before drinking. Serving temperature for this light bodied red wine is best at a cool 10 º Celsius. Most sources say you should chill the wine to bring out the fruit flavors. What this really means is that chilling the wine tapers the sour tartness of these super young wines.

Drink immediately and do not cellar. Glug, glug!

Here’s a breakdown of Beaujolais appellations terms of quality from lowest to highest.

  1. Beaujolais AOC

Basic Beaujolais wines are made from grapes grown on the flatter sites and may go through carbonic maceration (see above) or at least a semi-carbonic giving it that fuchsia rim and lifted bright red fruit aroma and flavor. The main difference between this and the Nouveau category is that they are generally a little more concentrated and released after some time spent in the winery that results in softer mouthwatering acidity.

Serve at 12 degrees Celsius in a Burgundy wine glass. Hold for 1 year only and do not cellar.

 

      2. Beaujolais Villages – Beaujolais Villages wines are made from grapes that are grown on hillside sites that give better drainage and result in a slightly richer style of wine.

Serve at 12 degrees Celsius in a Burgundy wine glass. Drink within 2 years

     3. Beaujolais Cru – there are 10 ‘Cru’ villages in Beaujolais. A Cru village occupies the best sites for growing Gamey, the grape in Beaujolais wine. The grapes are planted in the best granite soils and on hillside slopes with the best aspects. Crus are the closest thing to a Grand Cru you can get from Beaujolais.

Old vines in Morgon - one of 10 Beaujolais Crus
Old vines in Morgon – one of 10 Beaujolais Crus

 

 

 

For taste, these wines are even riper and more concentrated. They move away from the black raspberry and tart cherry of the villages and nouveau bottling’s and instead offer more black cherry and plum fruit along with slight tannins (that fuzzy drying feeling on your gums). Some of these have a hint of cinnamon spice from oak barrels.

Duboeuf produces many Cru wines from grapes they purchase. But they only grow grapes on their own estate for just one wine, the Château des Capitan’s Julienas. This is considered the top wine from Duboeuf. It’s only $25 at British Columbia Liquor Stores.

Drink most Cru bottling’s within 3 years. However, wines that are vilified traditionally (without carbonic maceration) may be cellared for up to 10 years. Serve at 15º Celsius.

When you enjoy Beaujolais, give a nod to Georges Duboeuf for sharing them with the world.

 

 

Choosing a Great Sparkling wine with the right glasses for your 2020 New Year’s Eve Party!

woman toasts with Champagne

SommWine's

Guide

to Choosing Sparkling Wine with the right Glasses for a New Year's Party

You’re hosting a New Year’s Eve party. What bubbles should you buy and which wine glasses should you use?

Here are three of the most popular sparkling wine styles broken down into what they taste like, what budget you will spend, and a couple of suggestions for awe-inspiring wines within the category to impress your friends!

 

SommWine

Styles

Prosecco

Flavour Profile: lightly fruity showing honeydew melon and white flowers.

Budget: inexpensive basic Prosecco from small family producers such as Vaporetto’s Prosecco Brut No. 8 or spend a few more dollars to buy wine from the hillside appellation of Valdobiaddene such as Valdo’s Valdobiaddene Superiore Marca Oro Prosecco Brut.

For the wine savvy: These more expensive Proseccos come from the esteemed ‘Grand Cru’ of Conegliano Valdobbiadene in particular, the Cartizze hillside.  These wines show less fruitiness and exude a distinctive volcanic minerality. Try the Nina Franco Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Cartizze DOCG.

Cava

Flavour Profile: lemon peel, overripe apple, biscuit and matchsticks

Budget: start at the inexpensive basic and delicious Cava from Jaume Serra to more depthy and still reasonably priced Riserva Sigura Viudas.

For the wine savvy: Spend a little more for the Brut Heredad Riserva bottling of Sigura Viudas which is plated with silver. The wine is not my style but the bottle will indeed impress your friends and is aged 36 months on lees. For a much richer and cleaner bubbles with apple, toast, brioche and earthy yumminess try the Torelló Gran Torelló ‘Vinyes de Can Marti’ vineyard. This is one of only 12 wines that made the new ‘Grand Cru’ list in the recently formed ‘Cava de Paraje Calificado’

Champagne

Flavour Profile: tart lemon juice and lemon curd with brioche, light toast and matchsticks

Budget: Premium bottlings only. Lesser known Champagnes from Ployez Jacquemart will save you a few dollars. But the Grand Marques houses of Möet Chandon and Louis Roederer, for example, will cost a little more. The Grand Marques Champagne houses are the generally the most well-known among consumers and will be labelled as ‘Coopérative Manipulant’ on the back.

For the wine savvy: Impress your friends with a lesser-known grower-producer such as Pierre Paillard or Gimmonet et Fils. You can recognize these bottles as they will say RM or Récoltant Manipulant’ on the back label. Otherwise, pick up a ‘Prestige Cuvee’ or top bottling of a Champagne house (Dom Pérignon, Cristal, Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill etc). Ask at your favourite wine shop for their selection.

If you would like more sparkling wine suggestions, you can check out our post here.

SommWine

Glassware

The flute

 

The flute is a narrow glass designed to keep your bubbles active for the longest. This is the most popular choice for serving sparkling wine on New Year’s Eve.

Pros: A flute’s form is tall, lean and simple. It maintains the bubbles in your wine the longest. This is a recognizable and elegant crystal glass.

Cons: This style is not great for wine aromatics. The glass has too little exposure to oxygen for releasing wine aromas. You also can’t swirl this glass to help release the aromas. Ask yourself this, ‘It’s New Year’s Eve, do I care?’

 

The vintage flute

 

Vintage flutes are a crystal glasses that are quite tapered at the top and are fashioned exclusively for vintage sparkling wine and Champagne. Vintage sparkling wine are wines where all the grapes for the wine are picked in one year. They are made in limited quantities. The vintage (year) will be listed on the front label of the wine. These wines are generally aged for longer before release and meant to be kept even longer in your cellar.

Because they are aged, they show more créme brûlée, lemon custard and toast characteristics and are really meant to be sniffed slowly and reflected on.

Pros: This glass makes you look cool. It’s slim enough to maintain the bubbles in your wine and the slightly wider top should allow you to smell some of the developed aromatics of an aged wine.

Cons: However, it’s not THAT great for wine aromatics in reality. Vintage Champgane flutes still have too little exposure to oxygen for releasing wine aromas and you still can’t swirl the wine.

 

The white wine glass

 

It’s now de riguer to serve sparkling wine in a white wine glass. Make sure the glass slightly tapers at the top.

Pros: A wider glass exposes a larger wine surface to oxygen for optimal aromatics. Wine savvy people will adore you for this.

Cons: The bubbles won’t last as long in this glass so pour only a little at a time. Most people will think you just don’t have any ‘proper’ slim Champagne glasses, so make sure you let them know why you are serving their bubbles this way!

 

The coupe

 
These are the Champagne glasses my mother has in the China cabinet and generally from the baby-boomer era. Interestingly, they are designed from a mold of Marie Antoinette’s breast and the style originally comes from the 18th century!
 
Pros: None. These are now being used for classic cocktails where they belong. Only bring these out on New Year’s Eve if you want to laugh at people spilling their wine (not recommended).
 

Cons: The bubbles won’t last as long. Because you can’t swirl (or walk, or move) without spilling the contents, these glasses are only good for sitting at a bar. Despite the wide surface area exposure, they are not great for enjoying the aromatics of the wine.

 

Happy New Year!

And if you like what you see, go on and share it!

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* There was no payment for the writing of this post. However, Wines of Argentina did graciously host me for a trip to Argentina in 2016.That’s where I gained a new appreciation for Malbec and all its many faces 🙂

Why New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is so darn good!

Sheep are prolific vineyard workers in New Zealand

Why New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is so darn good!

Sauvignon Blanc [sew-veen-yahn blonk] is a white grape variety that has been grown for centuries in the Loire Valley and Bordeaux in France.

Yet, the we can thank New Zealand for bringing Sauvignon Blanc to world center stage.

This all happened in the 1980’s when New Zealand producers collectively entered Sauvignon Blanc into the United Kingdom. The UK market is considered to be the benchmark for wine products. If your wine succeeds here, it will pervade the world!

The producers came with a single clear message: New Zealand produces aromatic, crisp and thirst-quenching wines and ALL are produced with sustainable practices.

Most of us are likely familiar with these wines and their intense gooseberry, passionfruit and fresh cut grass aromas.

But perhaps not everyone is aware that New Zealand wineries are 100% sustainable and their grapes and wineries are required to be certified by independent agencies.

 

Sheep, for example, are NZ’s vineyard workers as they munch on the leaves that grow in the vine canopy. In fact, many consider them better leaf pluckers than machinery as they will pluck the leaves internally and provide space for proper aeration of the grapes thus preventing vine diseases.

Does this eliminate the need for human vineyard workers? Not in the least. Sheep must be monitored closely since if they are left for too long, they will demolish the entire plant!

Yet sheep will happily work overtime!

Sheep are prolific vineyard workers in New Zealand
Sheep are prolific vineyard workers in New Zealand. They munch on the leaves surrounding Sauvignon Blanc grapes providing aeration.

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.

Mahatma Gandhi

non-violent Indian Activist

So why is New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc soo darn good?

It’s the combination of several factors; some planned and others just happenstance.

In 1980, the New Zealand (NZ) government hired now infamous ‘flying vine doctor’ and native Australian, Dr. Richard Smart as the Government Viticultural Scientist.

It was Dr. Smart who published ‘Sunlight into Wine: A Handbook for Wine Grape Canopy Management’ along with colleague Mike Robinson.

‘Sunlight into Wine’ is considered THE benchmark viticultural guidebook for vineyardists and New Zealand is now considered the ‘cradle of knowledge’ for vine canopy techniques.

Further to their credit, New Zealanders invented their own leaf plucking machine, the Gallagher leaf plucker as well as other pruning machinery. Sauvignon Blanc is a vigorous grape variety and the Gallagher leaf plucker helps to control vine vigour while simultaneously maintaining low costs.

In addition to this, New Zealand producers utilize a vineyard technique they mastered that ensures Suavignon Blanc’s broad range of fruit flavours, from tart green fruit and herbaceous notes all the way to tropical passionfruit and quava.

They pick the plots separately, vinify them individually and then blend them together. Genius!

As Aristotle put it so elequently, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

 

Photo: Jay Berkow 'Vineyard 2, Brightwater,NZ'

 

These plots are based on specific soil types (alluvial or gravel) or on the various ripeness levels. Hence, tart lime zest and underripe gooseberry notes are tasted along with riper citrus tones of grapefruit and even tropical fruits.

New Zealand has some natural advantages too.  It’s cool climate is well suited to Sauvignon Blanc.

These two islands are located in the southern hemisphere where a thinner ozone layer moves up from the antarctic during the summer months. Cloudless, unpolluted skies mean that New Zealand receives 30-40% more UV than in the northern hemisphere at similar latitudes. Most of this UV is felt in the summer, but higher levels are present in the fall as well.

Furthermore, the high temperature variation between daytime and nighttime temperatures aids the slow development of aromas and flavours in the grapes (see diurnal temperature range). With higher UV and the slow development of the grapes you get the intense tropical passionfruit and quava aromas. Finally, as annual rainfall is quite low, the grapes are able to stay on the vines long into the fall.

Here's a quick look at Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand...

Somm

Facts

Quick Facts Sauvignon Blanc

  • Sauvignon Blanc is a white grape variety originally from France​
  • the vine is quite vigorous
  • if the vegetation isn't controlled (by pruning or by a low-vigour rootstock), the wines will taste grossly pungeant and smell like cat's pee
  • that's why using sheep to leaf pluck helps save costs!
  • New Zealand inventions such as the Gallagher Leaf Plucker machine help to save costs in the vineyard too
  • almost all New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is the clone UCD1
  • it's susceptible to powdery mildew

New Zealand Quick Facts

  • New Zealand is made up up 2 islands; the North Island and the South Island, where Marlborough, it's most famous wine region lies.
  • it generally has a cool, maritime climate although many of the best Sauvignon Blanc vineyards are drier (see Wairau Valley)
  • located in the southern hemisphere, their seasons are opposite those of Canada and the US. They harvest grapes in May/ April instead of September/ October.
  • NZ's Growing Degree Days (GDD) range from a cool 900 to a warm 1600 GDD. Marlborough has 1165 GDD.
  • or, NZ's average temperatures are from 14℃ - 17.5C
    (58℉ - 63.5℉). Marlborough's is 11 - 13℃.
  • Marlborough's annual rainfall is 655mm/yr
  • the diunal temperature range and the long cool growing season are considered key components to the aroma and flavour in the grapes

New Zealand

New Zealand's

WINE REGIONS

that produce Sauvignon Blanc

Marlborough

NZ’s most famous region for Sauvignon Blanc is Marlborough and within this region are many broadly defined subregions (7). I say ‘broadly’ because each subregion has many valleys and can have many different aspects, mesoclimates and soil types.

Wineries often have vineyards in multiple subregions and pick the sites at separate times, then blend them together to make a wine that is ‘greater than the sum of its parts’.

Marlborough's 3 subregions

Producers: from inexpensive brands such as Kim Crawford and Oyster Bay; to mid-priced fantastic deals from Seven Terraces and Spy Valley; to premium, complex Greywacke Wild Sauvignon

Southern Valley

Soils are heavier and have more clay therefore it's not the best site for Sauvignon Blanc. Pinot Noir and other white aromatic varieties do well here

Wairau Valley

old, gravelly riverbed broadly covers both the drier, cooler inland sites that produce earlier ripening grapes as well as sea-breeze moderated coastal sites. These are flat sites and both make that hallmark fruit intensity and body of good Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

Awatere Valley

south of Wairau. These are cooler, drier, windier and often higher elevation sites on hillsides. Producers here tend to pick at lower yeilds (which along with the well-draining soils of this favourable site equates to higher quality wines).

‘Kei puta te Wairau’ means ‘the place with a hole in the cloud’

Mauri saying

*wairau is the driest and sunniest place in NZ!

Photo: Sid Mosdell 'Wairau Valley'

But Marlborough isn't the only New Zealand region that produces great Sauvignon Blanc...!

Waipara Valley

[Way'-par-a]

58 km north of Christchurch and 300 km south of Marlborough lies Waipara Valley

Waipara Valley’s vineyards, like that of Marlborough are mostly flat sites with mountains in the background.

Wairapa. "Rolling Hills and Velvet Green' by Jocelyn Kinghorn license cc

Wairarapa

[why-rha-rhappa]

at the southernmost tip of the north island. It's most important subregion for quality wines is Martinborough. Martinborough is one hour from the country's capital of Wellington in the North Island.

Wairarapa contains only 3% of the countries vines, yet hosts 9% of the winemakers. Here you will find quality oriented lifestyle wineries and iconic producers such as Ata Rangi and Craggy Range.

The region’s flagship wine is in fact Pinot Noir which takes up 50% of plantings in the area.

"Martinborough Hotel" by SdosRemedios is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

SommLinks

  1. If you want to geek out about how to use sheep in the vineyard, check out this pdf from the Hawks Bay Vineyard Association here.
  2. An older version of Dr. Richard’s book ‘Sunlight Into Wine’ can be downloaded here.

Best Wines for Mother’s Day

Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, wines tastes are sexist.

What do I mean?

If you speak to a heterosexual couple and ask them what kind of wine they would like to drink; the woman wants a white wine and the man wants a full-bodied red wine. That is, if the guy doesn’t just want a beer.

But it’s 2019, you deplore; we shouldn’t generalize this way.

Except that most of the time, if you speculated this way, you would be right more times than you’d be wrong.

Since we’re generalizing, we would also be correct to assume that the woman in this circumstance will be more agreeable and likely will choose the full-bodied red wine over her own preference because she’s ‘not so fussy’. And really, the guy is only having the wine to please his female partner so it is a compromise on both sides.

Ying and Yang

But tomorrow is Mother’s Day!

We’ve watched our mom’s compromise time and time again. Let’s get mom whatever she REALLY WANTS!

So if she drinks wine, here are my Best Wines for Mother’s Day recommendations.

White wine and slightly bubbleD!

Vinho Verde from Portugal

3789119177_4473dbe506_z

Vinho Verde means ‘green wine’; referring to the wine being youthful, just like mom. Not only are these wines beautifully aromatic with tart pear, orange blossom and white flowers, they are bottled with a touch of effervescence (bubbles) and are dry to off-dry. Another great feature is they are low alcohol wines (9-11%) which means it is perfect for our ‘Best Wines for Mother’s Day’ list.

‘Cause really, no one wants to see mom wasted sharing your most embarassing diaper stories with company!

Did I mention that these wines are REALLY inexpensive too?!

ROSÉ wine

Côte de Provence from France

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Rosés from Provence wines are a gorgeous light pastel pink colour  – just like the sun setting over the ocean, and they smell lightly of strawberries and white flower perfume, quite sublime and therefore, a best wine for Mother’s Day! Côtes de Provence wines are usually 12.5%-13% abv and dry.

Top notched wines are mid-priced and higher.

Red Wine + Esoteric

Verduno Pelaverga from Italy

An hour away from Barolo in Piedmont sits the village of Verduno, a steep hillside with the white-capped Alps mountains in the background. It’s a red wine, but it is sleeeek. Pale ruby coloured and quite aromatic with ripe strawberry fields and dried garrigue herbs.

Make sure the label says ‘Verduno Pelaverga’ and not just ‘Verduno’ – they are made with a better biotype of the grape and are therefore, more richly scented.

Take mom on a picnic in the park with this bottle!

Yes, it is thoughtful to send your mother a gift such as wine on Mother’s Day. She is the reason we exist; she’s our tree, our unwavering support. The self-sacrifycing ‘I’m not so fussy’ line’ she’s stated for years is the reason we’ve grown up to be the people we are.

Make sure on Mother’s Day you remember what’s REALLY important and give your mom the gift of time.

Happy Mother’s Day, Marian!

The Many Faces of Malbec

Sunrise in Mendoza, Flickr Tony Bailey

The Many Faces of Malbec

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 well and can gain a stewed fig and balsamic reduction notes. It can be gamey and smell like game 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. Malbec is fruit packed on it’s own.

That’s not to say that they’re aren’t great values on excellent 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 wines made with Malbec as being too proletariat and ordinary. Yet cool, high elevation sites will show a gravelly mineral note or iodine-blood saltiness that wine snobs love. And since Malbec is a grape that changes based where it is grown, it’s worth knowing more about Argentina’s wine regions to know which areas and producers have the styles you love most.

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 more easily navigate to the styles of Malbec that you like the most.

Somm

Facts

  • 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

Malbec berries are tightly packed and work well with the dry Argentine climate

Malbec berries are tightly packed and can be susceptible to bunch rot in humid climates. The grape is therefore well suited to the dry Argentine climate.

Quick Facts Argentina

  • Argentina has a dry climate with which works well with Malbec
  • known as the Zonda, a dry, dusty, hot afternoon wind helps to prevent fungal diseases yet can adversely affect flowering in the spring
  • a dry climate means that organic viticulture is easy here - horray!
  • They still have to worry about frost in many places. Vines in the north (Salta) are trellised high in perral (pergola) to avoid the coolest frosty air. Cool air is heavy and always sinks to the bottom leaving warmer air above.
  • The summer hail here is called Piedra. One feature 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. Many experts say that wines made from ungrafted vines are superior in quality.
Pergola trellising system in Argentina. In high elevation sites, Malbec will be trellissed high yet underneath the canopy to protect the grapes from sunburn and aerate them to protect the tight bunches from rot

Some high altitude vineyards have Malbec trellised in a pergola or parral. That is, the vines are tied high while the grapes fall below the canopy. This protects Malbec from sunburn as the high altitudes literally put them closer to the sun (more intense ultraviolet radiation). The parral training system also aids aeration so Malbec's tight bunches don't rot.

Argentina's

WINE REGIONS

This can be pretty confusing so we'll just discuss a few...

Cuyo

in the far west of the country next to the Andes Mountains are Cuyo's 3 provinces. Provinces such as Mendoza are divided into departments which are further divided into districs which are further divided into single vineyards. Often there is a department and a district with the same name. Here are Cuyo's 3 provinces.

  1. San Juan
  2. La Rioja – producing mostly white wines
  3. Mendoza

San Juan

Argentina's second biggest wine producing area.

Producers:

Graffigna, 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 as the producers mentioned on the right may have vineyards in all three regions to use as single vineyards or as a part in blends.

Old school wine press for making Malbec in Uco Valley, Mendoza
Old school wine press for making Malbec in Uco Valley, Mendoza
Maipú
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 (where Alfredo Roca is) 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. Highest elevation vineyards are in Las Compuertas and Vistalba

Uco Valley
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

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

vineyard at Bodega Colomé in Salta Argentina where Malbec vines sit at over 9000 feet
vineyard at Bodega Colomé in Salta, Argentina where vines sit at 3111 meters or 10,206 feet

Somm

Styles

If you like dark fruits, cocoa and oak flavours of baking spices to stand out in your wines try ...

Vista Alba (Corte A)
Graffigna (some have noticable residual sugar so skip those)
El Porvenir
Viña Cobos (especially the Bramare line that has very balanced oak and fruit)

If you like the bramble fruit and pretty violet notes to stand out...

Salentein
Bodega Noemía
Krontiras
Colomé

Dirt + Blood
or Gravel and Iodine- blood like saltiness

And if you want those notes of gravel or iodine make sure to choose the top bottlings of a producer from excellent sites. These include high altitude plantings in Uco Valley (Pajare Altamira, Gualtallary (Tupungato), and Vista Flores), or Colomé's Altura Maxima Vineyard (which means Maximum Height)

Argentine Wine Regions

Argentine Wine regions

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* There was no payment for the writing of this post. However, Wines of Argentina did graciously host me for a trip to Argentina in 2016.That’s where I gained a new appreciation for Malbec and all its many faces 🙂