Why is Brunello di Montalcino so Special?

Why is Brunello di Montalcino so Special? Montalcino is a small Tuscan town about 45 minutes drive South of Siena. For many years, the area grew a grape variety they called Brunello. It was only in the late nineteenth century that it was determined to be the same grape as Sangiovese. However, the clone of Sangiovese grown in this area is smaller than the clones grown in Chianti. That, combined with the warner climate, meant that the wines around Montalcino have always been considered among the best wines in Tuscany. The Brunello clone of Sangiovese was further improved by Clemente Santi, who isolated certain vines of Sangiovese that produced grapes capable of extended aging. In 1888, his grandson Ferruccio Biondi-Santi produced what many consider to be the first modern version of Brunello di Montalcino, a wine that aged for more than 10 years in wood barrels. Today, Brunello are aged 4 years before release, of which a minimum of 2 years must be in oak. This delay in release leads to a cash flow problem for estates who have to wait a considerable period for payment. As a consequence, the region allows producers to produce a Rosso di Montalcino, also made with Sangiovese but with shorter aging requirements. It can be sold after one year with just 6 months of aging in barrel. The Rosso is also 100% Sangiovese and grown in the same area as the grapes for Brunello. Browse through our wines from Montalcino, which include both Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino.

An Insider’s Guide To Merlot Wine: All You Need To Know About This Grape Varietal

Merlot is considered extremely versatile and adaptable. Great when used as part of a blend but also delicious on its own, this grape varietal has left a lasting impression on the wine industry.

  Merlot is a grape varietal that is praised and loved by many all over the world. But what exactly makes this grape so special? In this article, we look at the origins of merlot, the main regions where it is grown and it’s most defining characteristics.  Merlot: The Origins Of This Beloved Grape Variety The earliest mention of this grape varietal was recorded in the French wine region of Bordeaux in approximately 1784. It is believed that during this time, it was most often used when making blended wine. Directly translating to ‘The Little Blackbird’, Merlot became known for its ability to add softness and fruit-forward characteristics to wine when combined with the French favourite, Cabernet Sauvignon.  As the popularity of Bordeaux wine increased, so inevitably did the popularity of Merlot. Soon, this grape varietal was being planted all over France, especially on Bordeaux Right Bank. Sadly, Merlot is susceptible to frost, mildew and rot and successive bad vintages through the ’50s and ‘60s prompted a 5-year ban in 1970 on new plantings by the French Government. After the ban was lifted, it was widely planted once again. What Are The Main Wine Regions That Grow This Grape?  One of the defining characteristics of Merlot, according to many wine enthusiasts, is the fact that it is a bit of a chameleon – it is adaptable and can take on the character of its location and winemaking techniques.  The popularity of Merlot has led to its introduction in many wine regions all over the world, from the Golden State of California to Down Under in Australia. Let’s take a look at some of the modern interpretations of this French classic varietal. Tuscany Merlot is the fifth-most planted grape in Italy and has featured prominently in many Tuscan blends, more commonly known as Super Tuscans. They often use Merlot to make a single varietal wine or blend it with other grapes such as the local Sangiovese or more international varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.   The warm climate helps ripen the Merlot grape varietal and soften harsh tannins making the Tuscan versions range from big, bold and oaky to restrained, delicate and earthy.  California The second most popular red wine varietal in the United States, Merlot has been produced in California since the mid-19th Century.  In fact, it was Californian winemakers that originally made the first 100% Merlot wine. Typically warm California wine regions such as Napa Valley and Paso Robles produce a Merlot that is round and lush with jammy fruit character, most often complimented with spice and vanilla notes from oak ageing. Chile  Although Chile is widely known for its red wine varietals Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère, Merlot has quickly become prominent. Chilean Merlot tends to be full-bodied yet delicate and is capable of standing out against even the strongest of flavours.  Colchagua Valley’s Apalta sub-appellation is an area where you can find some great examples of Merlot. Merlot: Tasting Notes & Flavour Profile Similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot …

Read more

Chilean Wine 101: The Regions, Grapes And More

Chilean wine is characterized not only by its rich and bold red grape varietals but also, its crisp and fruit-forward white grapes, offering something for everyone.

A Brief History Of Chilean Winemaking  Chile may fall under the category of a New World wine region but its winemaking traditions and industry certainly aren’t young. Over the last 30 years, quality Chilean wine has competitively made its mark on the modern global wine industry but its history of wine production dates back to the 16th century.  In the early 1500s, Spanish monks brought wine grapes to New World regions including Chile. Upon discovering the perfect soil and climate conditions for viticulture, these settlers began planting the first vines with Mission grapes, known locally as Pais. As more European immigrants began settling in Chile and surrounding regions, they brought with them more grape varietals, particularly from the Bordeaux region.  In the early 1800s, Chilean winemaking began to flourish after declaring their independence from Spain and incorporating European varietals such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay into their wine production repertory.  While some argue that the early success of this New World region is most notably down to pure luck due to the fact that it escaped the ravages of the phylloxera pest, it is hard to argue the fact that Chilean winemakers produce some of the best wine in South America.  What Are The Key Grape Varieties?  As all wine consumers know, the popularity of a wine region relies on the quality and diversity of the grapes that they produce. Chile’s wine industry is based on diversity and for that reason, it offers some of the most unique and historic grape varietals seen in the modern wine world.  Surprisingly, when you think of this New World region and its climate, you may instinctively associate it with rich red wine. While Chilean winemakers certainly deliver in this category, white grapes are also extremely popular. From bold, world-class reds to refreshing, crisp whites this country produces them all.  Cabernet Sauvignon For many, Cabernet Sauvignon is considered as the king of Chilean grapes and is produced in warmer regions such as Maipo Valley, Colchagua Valley and Aconcagua Valley. Generally, winemakers use this grape as either a varietal wine or as part of a blend. Chile’s Cabernet Sauvignon is known for its deep flavour and aroma. Full-bodied and intense, it offers tasting notes of black currant, fresh berries, violets and chocolate.  Carmenère Carmenère has an interesting history in Chile. For years, people thought that Chilean Merlot had a distinctive peppery and herbaceous character. However, with DNA testing in the mid-1990s, it was discovered that Chilean merlot was actually Carmenère.  This is not unusual since the two grapes look very similar. However, rather than rip up all the Carmenère vines, the Chileans decided to embrace this variety and make it their own. It is much more widely planted in Chile than in its original home in Bordeaux since it is much easier to ripen in Chile’s splendid climate. This red grape varietal is prized for its depth of colour and complexity. It offers flavours of tart raspberries, cocoa powder and herbaceous notes of green …

Read more

What Is Tempranillo? An Insightful Guide

Tempranillo, the quintessential Spanish grape, is known for its thick skin and beautiful juxtaposition of both earthy and fruity characteristics.

Examining This Spanish Grape: The History Of Tempranillo  Tempranillo is the quintessential Spanish grape. The third most planted varietal in the world, it is most famous as being the primary grape of Rioja reds where it is blended with a bit of Graciano, Mazuelo or Garnacha. Originating in the Iberian Peninsula, it dates to at least the ninth century, and Spain is responsible for 80% of the world production.  Tempranillo now grows in most of the Spanish red wine regions, often with other names like Tinta del Toro,  Tinta del Pais and Tinto de La Rioja. But the grape has made headway in other parts of the world, mainly in Portugal (Tinta Roriz), Argentina, Mexico and the United States. While not having the same kind of recognition as other red grapes such as Merlot or Pinot Noir, its long history of making complex, long-lived wine is one to truly applaud.  Due to the hardy nature of the vine, it has a natural ability to withstand hot, dry climates making it perfect for cultivation in Spain and other warm wine regions around the world. The thick skin of Tempranillo grapes allows the fruit to fully ripen in hot daytime temperatures while cooler nights help maintain the natural acid balance.  This Old World grape varietal may have started its existence as a staple in Spanish winemaking tradition but has since become appreciated around the world.  Tempranillo Wine Characteristics: What Does It Taste Like?  Tempranillo is known for its contrasting earthy and fruity flavours, most notably leather and cherry. This medium-bodied ruby coloured wine has a low to medium acidity level and offers smooth tannins on the finish.  On the palate, you can expect fruity notes of plum, figs, strawberries and occasionally tomatoes. On the more earthy side of the spectrum, wine connoisseurs may observe notes of cedar, tobacco and cloves. Tempranillo is often aged in oak barrels, mostly American, which give an aroma of vanilla, coconut and caramel.  New world versions of Tempranillo tend to be more fruity and tannic while the Spanish tempranillo shows more earthy notes. Best Food Pairings For This Grape Varietal  Due to its savoury qualities and fruity finish, this wine style complements a wide range of dishes from grilled meat to paella and tomato-rich Italian pasta.  For a more rustic, traditional experience consider pairing this grape varietal with a true classic Spanish dish of roasted vegetables and cured meats. The saltiness of the meat pairs exceptionally well with the sweeter fruit notes. With its moderate tannin and acidity, it has been known to pair well with spicier Mexican cuisine and corn-based dishes. Cheese and charcuterie boards are also a great match for Tempranillo. Where To Buy Tempranillo Wine In Ontario?  Interested in trying this beautiful Spanish grape for yourself? The good news is that Tempranillo can be easily purchased in Ontario especially through a trusted online wine agent. Here at Small Winemakers, the Tempranillo grape varietal has held a special place in our hearts for a long …

Read more

Top Ontario Restaurants To Order Wine & Food From Right Now

Although we can’t physically dine at Ontario restaurants during COVID-19, we can still do our part to support them by continuing to order food and wine online.

  While all industries are struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant and hospitality industry certainly has been one of the hardest hit since the beginning of this crisis.  According to the latest news reports, social distancing restrictions in Ontario will be effect until potentially halfway through the summer season. Yet, there is still uncertainty as to how and when measures will be loosened.  As the isolation period rolls by, a number of restaurants in cities like Toronto and Ottawa have sadly been forced to close their doors permanently. The restaurant industry needs our help now more than ever. Below are ways you can show your support.  How You Can Support Restaurants In Ontario During COVID-19 With the capacities of most food and wine establishments across the province limited, many questions have arisen such as: Will our favourite restaurants still be around in a post-Coronavirus world? How will this impact the culinary experiences that we have become accustomed to?  Fortunately, there are many ways that you can continue to support restaurants in Ontario during this unprecedented time. Many individuals are choosing to donate to organizations that are fundraising to support restaurant workers who may have lost their jobs or are struggling due to a lack of income. Another popular form of support is buying gift vouchers for your favourite restaurants to be used when they re-open.  More recently, some agents have come together with a Restaurant Relief Case, which is a mix of 12 wines from 12 different agencies. A portion of the proceeds goes to help participating restaurants and Community Food Centres Canada. However, the best way that you can immediately help your local restaurant community is to order wine and food for takeout and delivery. Rest assured that gestures like this are highly appreciated by those involved in the restaurant industry.  Top Ontario Restaurants To Order Wine & Food From Small Winemakers Collection has been fortunate to work with many restaurants across Ontario as a wine agent for over 20 years. And we’d like to encourage you all to do your part and support local restaurants in any small way that you can.  Below is a list of some of the restaurants across Ontario that are continuing to make their food and wine menus available while observing health and safety guidelines.  Ottawa Restaurants Pelican Seafood Market & Grill, 1500 Bank Street Sur-Lie Restaurant, 110 Murray Street Das Lokal Kitchen & Bar, 190 Dalhousie Street Evoo Greek Kitchen, 438 Preston Street Mati Restaurant, 428 Preston Street  Pubblico Eatery, 1331 Wellington St. West Brassica Restaurant, 309 Richmond Road Town Restaurant, 296 Elgin Street Trattoria Caffe Italia, 254 Preston Street Vittoria Trattoria, 3625 Rivergate Way East India Company, 210 Somerset Street West North & Navy Italian Kitchen, 226 Nepean Street Kingston Restaurants Atomica Kitchen, 71 Brock Street Days On Front Restaurant, 730 Front Road Red House West, 629 Fortune Crescent Wooden Heads Pizza, 192 Ontario Street Harper’s Burger Bar, 93 Princess Street Casa Domenico, 35 Brock Street Olivea Restaurant, 39 …

Read more

What is the Best Closure, Cork or Screw Cap?

wine cork in bottle and corkscrew

What is the Best Closure, Cork or Screw Cap? We were recently part of an interesting experiment in our office. With considerable foresight, two New Zealand producers had bottled their 2002 Sauvignon Blanc under both cork and screwcap and tucked them away in the cellar. Eighteen years later we were able to see what the impact of these two closures was on the wines. Which was the better closure, cork or screwcap? Certainly, the wines were very different. The ones sealed with cork were deep in colour. The aromas showed dried fruit flavours (apricot, dried apple, dried pineapple) and the typical herbaceous notes of grass and green pepper had turned to canned peas and asparagus. But the wines were still alive, albeit quite different from what they would have been upon release. The wines under screwcap were very different from the ones under cork. However, they were also different from what they would have been upon release. They also had a deep colour, indicative of long aging, and the noses showed developed fruit, though not to the extent that the wine under cork did. It was like these wines were the younger brothers of the corked wine: aged, but just not quite as much. All told it was a fascinating exercise. This article will explore the differences between cork and screwcap. The History of the Cork? Throughout history, various materials have been used to seal bottles including cloth, leather, clay and wax. For a long time, glass was widely used but being hand blown, a uniform seal was difficult to obtain. It was only in the late 1600’s that it became possible to create glass wine bottles of an almost uniform shape and design, thus allowing cork to become the stopper of choice. Cork was chosen for many reasons but the main one being that the material is malleable and can expand and contract to the shape of the bottle neck so as to be almost air tight. This is an important point. A seal should limit the exposure of oxygen to wine, since oxygen destroys wine much the way it turns an apple brown. Nevertheless, small amounts of oxygen are important to allow a wine to develop. Cork allows a very small amount of oxygen to travel into the bottle so that the wine can develop tertiary qualities as well as expel unwanted gases and aromas. Natural wine corks come from the cork oak tree or Quercus suber. Cork oak trees are first harvested at about 25 years of age. The trees are not cut down, but rather stripped of bark. Only about half of the bark is harvested at any one time, so it can grow back without killing the tree. The cork will not be harvested from the same tree in another 9 to 12 years. Each tree can be harvested approximately 12 times, as it is common for the trees to live to 200 years old. The largest cork producing countries are Portugal, Spain, Italy and …

Read more

Wine in Vienna – A Streetcar to the Vineyard

Vineyard in the city

Wine in Vienna – A Streetcar to the Vineyard We were lucky enough to be in Austria for an extended weekend last September to explore wine in Vienna. On a beautiful sunny Saturday morning, we decided to visit our friend, winemaker Alex Zahel at his winery in the 19th district. From our Airbnb in the center, we hopped on the streetcar and rode through the city for 30 minutes. As easy as that, we were at the winery, ready to embark on a discovery of the wines, the vineyards and the cuisine of Vienna. This article will discuss the wines of Vienna, with a focus on its main grape variety, Gruner Veltliner. History of Wine in Vienna Vienna is probably the only capital city in the world that can advertise a significant wine industry within the metropolitan boundaries. The first documented mention of vineyards in Vienna dates back to the 12th century, but some say the Emperor Probus, in his Roman military camp of Vindobona, promoted viticulture. Wine was part of Roman legions’ salary and transporting wine from Italy was getting too expensive. Following Roman times, it was during the Middle Ages that vineyards began to sprout up around the city, but mostly on the outskirts and suburbs. Not always being of good quality, rumor has it that some of it being was so sour and undrinkable; they used it to mix mortar for Saint Stephen’s Cathedral rather than pour it out. Sometimes, to make the wine more palatable, substances were added such as honey or saffron but that was outlawed when wines with harmful additions started appearing. Emperor Joseph II regulated the transfer of wine from vineyards to tavern and in 1784, the typical Viennese Heuriger (wine bar) was born. The ordinance stated that everybody was allowed to sell home-made food and wine without obtaining a special permit. Two other events impacted the history of Viennese wine. Phylloxera (vineyard pest) destroyed most of the vine stock in the mid-19th century and resistant rootstock from America had to be grafted onto existing vines in order to reestablish the vineyards. Also, the antifreeze scandal of 1985 destroyed the wine market with some countries banning Austrian wine outright. Some producers had the bright idea of adding diethylene glycol to the wine, imparting a little more sweetness and body… not a good idea. The scandal eventually lead to the restructuring of the wine industry, with new laws and standards concerning yields and styles of wine. In 2002, a system of classification (DAC) was launched. These measures have placed Austrian and Viennese wines in the forefront of quality wine production today. What’s Happening Today? With 637 hectares of vineyard and over 200 wineries, Vienna is a bustling wine region producing high quality wines within a metropolitan city. Forming a green belt around it, the majority of the vineyards today lie within the suburbs at the city limits. From varied limestone-rich soils in Ottakring and the 19th district comes beautiful Gruner Veltliner, Riesling and Chardonnay …

Read more

Lambrusco, the Misunderstood Red Sparkling


One of my favorite memories of drinking Lambrusco happened many years ago during Vinitaly. After a busy morning of tasting Brunellos and Proseccos, we left the show early and headed for lunch on a sunny patio in Verona’s centro storico. As plates of culatello (cured ham from Parma) and bottles of chilled, frothy Lambrusco kept flowing, I thought to myself “can it get any better?” Needless to say, I was hooked on this refreshing, earthy sparkling wine. This article will explain what Lambrusco is, what you should look for when buying Lambrusco and why it is so sadly misunderstood. What is Lambrusco? Lambrusco is an Italian red or rose sparkling wine made from Lambrusco grapes. It can be dry or sweet, but dry versions are usually what you will find in the trattorias of Emilia Romagna, where Lambrusco is produced. There are sweet versions, and much of this is exported to America and Northern Europe. The export boom began in the 1970’s. For those old enough to remember, The Price Is Right game show sponsors included Rice a Roni (the San Francisco treat) and Riunite Lambrusco (Riunite on ice that’s nice). That version was mostly pink, sickly sweet, low in alcohol and always cheap. Sadly, production of this style is still going strong today at about 125 million bottles per year. No wonder so many people snub their nose at the mere mention of Lambrusco… The truth is that Lambrusco can be a serious wine, worthy of consideration by wine lovers. It is one of the best “food wines” available and can be served as an aperitif, with appetizers, with main courses and, certain sweeter versions, with desserts. Not many other wines can boast this kind of versatility. Interestingly, Lambrusco’s fizz is generally not created using the traditional method (second fermentation in bottle) but rather using the Charmat method (tank) like Prosecco. Some smaller artisan producers have been experimenting with the traditional method, but most agree that the tank method preserves the essence and terroir flavours of the grape. One Name, Many Grape Varieties Lambrusco is not a single grape variety, but an umbrella name for as many as 15 different red grapes that are not clones or mutations but different varieties with broadly similar characteristics. They originated in the Italian province of Emilia Romagna, and like many Italian grapes they are high in acid and tannin. They became popular because they yield heavily – producing almost three times more fruit per vine than most varieties. It requires significant work in the vineyard to reduce yields and produce superior grapes. The most high-quality Lambrusco varieties are Salumino, Grasparossa and Sorbara. These will be discussed in more detail below. Lambrusco Maestri, Marani and Montericco are also widely planted, but these tend to produce lower quality fruit and go into making some of the larger commercial versions of Lambrusco wine. Places where Lambrusco varieties grow best have had DOC’s (appellations) created, named after the quality Lambrusco varieties and centered on a particular …

Read more

What Makes Napa Valley So Special?


What Makes Napa Valley So Special Sunshine, warmth, elegance, and opulence. These are words that come to mind when describing Napa Valley, what many consider to be one of the world’s greatest wine producing regions. What makes Napa so unique? Location, climate and terroir: mountains, benchlands and valley floors, diurnal temperature swings, fog and marine air flow, over 100 types of soil… these features and more combine make this the special place that it is. Relatively small in size, Napa measures approximately 50 kms long by 8 kms across at its widest point. When people think of California wine , they most often think of Napa. Strangely, Napa is responsible for only about 4% of California’s wine production. Many of the producers are small estates, but there are some exceptions. History of Napa Valley The history of wine production in Napa began with the first commercial winery started by John Patchett in 1858. Patchett hired Charles Krug to produce his first vintage. Later Krug went on to start his own commercial winery in 1861 which is still in operation today. After this, many followed suit and opened other commercial wineries. Wine production is Napa has not been without its setbacks. The first of which was the infestation of the root louse Phylloxera in the late 1800’s. This plague killed over 80% of all grapevines in Napa and took almost 100 years to mend. Shortly after, prohibition was introduced in 1920 and then the Great Depression started in 1929. Most wineries had to close, and farmers were forced to switch to producing walnuts, prunes or apricots to earn a living. It wasn’t until after WWII that Napa once again started to grow and flourish. In the mid 1970’s, Napa got the needed boost to their international reputation. The 1976 Judgement of Paris was a wine competition organized in Paris and featured 9 French, a British and an American judge. This was a blind tasting of top-quality Napa Chardonnay’s and Cabernet Sauvignon against the best wines of Burgundy and Bordeaux. A Napa Chardonnay and Cabernet sauvignon took top place in both categories. News quickly spread around the world of the results and helped to launch the region’s reputation as a producer of world class wines. Modern Challenges Today, there are currently over 500 wineries operating in Napa Valley. With increased quality of wines and number of wineries, different challenges have appeared. These include land cost, climate change, soil erosion, water quality and labour costs. It could be argued that climate change is the single largest challenge of the modern era by increasing the risk of drought and wild fires. To be proactive, some farmers have chosen to replant varietals that are better suited to the changing climate in an era of global warming. Napa Valley Grape Varieties The diversity of Napa’s terroir and climate allow for the planting and flourishing of many varietals. Of these, approximately 20% are white and 80 % are red, the most popular being Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay …

Read more

A How-To Guide To Decanting Wine

Decanting wine is a great way to open up a wine to its full potential and elevate the overall tasting experience. With the right tips, this is a process you can do easily from your own home.

All wine connoisseurs will have heard of the term ‘decant’ and it is not unusual to see a sommelier in a fine dining restaurant decanting a bottle of wine before serving to a table. However, many are still unaware as to what this process is or why it is carried out. Below, we walk you through a how-to guide to decanting wine.  Wine Decanting: What Is This Process? Simply, the process of decanting wine is the act of slowly transferring the contents of a wine bottle into another receptacle without disrupting any sediment. Wine is typically poured into a glass vessel called a decanter. There are many different types of decanters including the swan, duck, cornett, and more standard options.  While the act itself sounds quite straightforward, there are other considerations that must be kept in mind. One of the many reasons why wine lovers approach this process with hesitation is because they aren’t fully confident as to the means for which it’s needed. For example, which bottles require decanting? Or, in what way should I be decanting the wine?  Why Is Decanting Wine Needed And Does It Make A Difference? Wine decanting isn’t just purely for spectacle and flourish. Rather, it is a process that seeks to elevate the wine experience and therefore, the appreciation of wine.  The question of why is often what causes the most confusion. Generally, as wines are laid flat in cellars, sediment tends to become distributed throughout the bottle. If left like this for a long period of time, it can lead to a more than sour-tasting experience if pouring straight from the bottle.  Fundamentally, wine decanting offers the following benefits:  Separates sediment from the liquid: Sediment isn’t necessarily harmful to wine but it certainly isn’t pleasant to taste. Red wines tend to contain the most sediment, especially older wines and vintage ports.  Enhances flavour through aeration: Allowing wine to ‘breathe’ by aerating it enhances the wine’s flavour by allowing the tannins to soften and releasing gases that developed through lack of oxygen in the bottle.  Recovers wine from a broken cork: It is not uncommon for a cork to break when opening a bottle of wine. If this happens, decanting the wine can ensure that no solid pieces stay in liquid and get transferred into your glass.  You may wonder exactly how much of a difference this makes to the wine tasting experience. If so, you wouldn’t be the first. The reality is that decanting wine not only ensures that an astringent taste isn’t left on the palate due to sediment but also opens up the aromas of a wine. For many wines, especially young wines, decanting before serving gives the wine’s flavour profile the opportunity to fully flourish. Therefore, enhancing the tasting experience.  How To Decant Wine: A How-To Guide  Next, you will need to learn exactly how this process is carried out. When it comes to wine decanting, there are two main methods: by sediment or by oxygen. Below, we guide …

Read more


    Stay up to date!
    Sign up for the Ultimate Wine Lovers Newsletter with weekly offers
    Thanks for signing up. You must confirm your email address before we can send you. Please check your email and follow the instructions.
    We respect your privacy. Your information is safe and will never be shared.
    Don't miss out. Subscribe today.