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.

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 …

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Natural Wine: What Is It?

When you shop for a bottle of wine you may not always think to check whether it is natural or not. But knowing the parameters might help you make better choices.

Natural wine isn’t a new concept. In fact, it has been around for thousands of years. It is only recently that this phenomenon has become trendy and passionately followed by many restaurateurs and wine aficionados.  This movement is thought to have begun in rural France where a community of winemakers chose to farm organically. In the last few years, producers of natural wines have become more visible in other parts of the world and this movement has gone from a niche interest to a burgeoning trend. But what exactly is natural wine and how does it differ from other wine classifications such as organic or biodynamic? What Is Natural Wine?  Natural wine essentially is the process of making wine with as little or no manipulation at all. In its purest form, it is made solely from unaltered fermented grape juice and nothing more. To truly understand the difference between how this type of “low-intervention” wine is produced and other more conventional techniques, we are going to revisit the basic winemaking process.  Natural or raw wine, as it is also referred to, differs in the growing, picking and fermenting stages of winemaking. For a wine to be considered natural, the grapes must not have any treatment using pesticides or herbicides. Additionally, natural winemakers will harvest their grapes by hand rather than relying on machinery.  Unlike conventional winemakers, when it comes to fermentation, natural wine receives no additives at all. To start the fermentation process, natural winemakers rely on the ambient yeast already present on the grapes and in the winery. Some winemakers will use small amounts of sulfites, preservatives and stabilizers in order to protect the wine’s profile during bottling. Otherwise, man-made intervention is kept to a minimum.   Being unfiltered, natural wine often displays a cloudy appearance and is considered a living organism – full of naturally occurring microbes. Natural, Biodynamic vs Organic Wine – What Is The Difference? Sustainable and eco-friendly approaches to grape growing and winemaking have led to new terms to describe wine production.  Yet, how does a natural wine differ from organic or biodynamic wine? Organic Wine The criteria for organic certification varies from country to country. Generally, it refers to any wine that has been grown using organic practices. Organic grapes are cultivated in vineyards that ban the use of artificial inputs such as synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Organic sprays can be used. Organic production also demands that winemakers protect and maintain certain standards in the winery. Depending on where the wine is made, organic production may or may not allow the addition of sulfites. For example, the US does not allow the addition of sulfites, whereas Canada and Europe do. Regardless, the amount of sulfites in an organic wine are generally lower than in most non-organic wines. Biodynamic Wine  Similar to organic wine, biodynamic winemakers follow and adhere to all organic criteria while putting in extra measures to protect the ecological integrity of the vineyard and soil.  Many conventional vineyards are monocultures in which …

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Exploring Wine Types: A Beginner’s Definitive Guide To Sweet Wines

Explore this beginner's guide to sweet wines

For many people, a glass of sweet wine at the end of a long and satisfying meal is the ultimate treat.  Canadians have long had a hate for sweeter wine because of the sickly sweet wines that dominated our market in the ’70s and ’80s.  Many of these wines had sugar added to try to appeal to an unsophisticated market and were cloying because of their lack of acidity.  However, a quality sweet wine, where the sugar level is achieved naturally and balanced by high levels of mouthwatering acidity are some of the most sublime and sought-after in the world. Wines such as Sauternes, Tokaji Aszu and Vin Santo have been produced for hundreds of years, but many people continue to reject these wine types.  In recent years wine lovers have begun to give bottles of sweet wine more attention, as they have discovered the brilliance and versatility of a great sweet wine.  A Beginner’s Guide To Sweet Wine: What Is It?  Sweet wines are any type of wine that has a significant and noticeable level of sweetness. The best way to measure the sweetness of the wine (other than tasting it, of course) is to look at the residual sugar concentration.  Most dry wines are under about 10 grams per litre of residual sugar (1%). Off-dry wines may have more noticeable levels of sweetness but will still not be considered “sweet”. They may have between 10 and 30 grams per litre of residual sugar (1% to 3%). Anything over this is considered “sweet”, but even sweet wine types can vary in their sweetness levels. Depending on how ripe and concentrated the grapes are, these wines can have up to 500 grams of residual sugar per litre. Different Ways of Making Sweet Wines There are a number of ways to make sweet wine. It all depends on the region, the grape, and the process of winemaking that’s traditional to that area. Quality sweet wines are made by ensuring that not all of the sugar in the grapes is fermented into alcohol. These always start out with extra sweet grapes, but there are different ways of ensuring that grapes have a high level of sugar in them. Here are some of the most popular ways to make this wine type.  Late Harvest The easiest way to make a sweet wine is by picking grapes a little later in the harvest period. The longer the grapes are on the vine, the sweeter and more concentrated they become. Certain categories of German wines, such as Spaetlese and Auslese are made from late-harvested grapes.  As grapes are hanging on the vine, and especially when there are humid conditions, they may be infected with a fungus called Botrytis Cinerea. This is a type of rot that can ruin the berries. However, when humid conditions alternate with drier spells, a beneficial or “noble rot” can develop.  Grapes so infected have sugars concentrated and also develop notes of honey, beeswax and ginger, which can make the resulting …

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A Guide to Sparkling Wine

glasses being filled with sparkling wine

When you think of sparkling wine, most people think of the two major players – Champagne and Prosecco. If you love a glass of bubbly, you’ll be happy to know that there are tons of interesting sparkling wines out there. Whether your taste leans towards French wines from the Champagne region, Italian sparkling wines, or even something a bit more unusual, there are plenty of options for everyone. This guide will help you understand the history and variations of sparkling wines available today. The Interesting History of Sparkling Wine Originally, wines that were bubbly with carbon dioxide occurred accidentally. There are reports throughout history of wines that were bubbly and sparkling, although it was typically considered a defect in production. Many people consider Dom Pérignon, a 16th century French Benedictine monk, to be the father of sparkling wine. In fact, he worked hard to ensure that the wine his monastery produced did not have bubbles. The glass bottles they used were so delicate that there would often be explosions when warm weather activated dormant yeast in already-bottled white wines. The resulting carbon dioxide created from yeast turning sugar into alcohol would create bubbles that would either push the cork out of the wine or explode the delicate glass bottles completely. Any bottles that managed to survive had sparkling wine inside them. The Most Popular Methods for Making Sparkling Wine Although Dom Pérignon didn’t invent sparkling wine, he did pioneer a number of techniques that are currently used when making sparkling wine, such as making white wine out of red grapes and blending wines from different vineyards to create complexity. Depending on where you are in the world, there are different methods of making unique sparkling wines. Traditional Method The traditional or Champagne method, which is falsely attributed to Dom Pérignon, begins with a base wine that ferments normally.  Base wines from various vineyards and possibly vintages are assembled and mixed together, creating a more stable mixture known as cuvée.  The cuvée is bottled and a mixture of yeast and sugar is added to induce a second fermentation in the bottle. The carbon dioxide that is released during this fermentation cannot escape, so the wine becomes naturally carbonated. The yeast cells remain in contact with the wine for a period of time ranging from 9 months to many years. During this time, the yeast breaks down, a process called autolysis, and the wine begins to take on some of the yeast characteristics. Aromas and flavours of bread, brioche and pie crust are often used to describe traditional method sparkling wines. The big challenge and most expensive part of the traditional method is how to get the yeast out of the bottle before it is sold. The technique, known as “riddling”, that was invented by the widow (veuve) Clicquot, was to place the necks of the bottle a rack and slowly rotated by hand them until the yeast was confined to the top of the bottle. The top part of the mixture …

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What Is Rosé Wine? An Introductory Guide

Read this guide to rosé wine and learn about this beautiful summer sipper.

Rosé wine is the perfect summer sipper and has become extremely popular across North America in recent years. But did you know it’s probably the oldest type of wine? There are a number of different methods used to make rosé, but the oldest way is to simply leave the grape skins, seeds, and stems (called grape must) in with the raw grape juice, then take them out earlier than you would with red wine. The longer the grape must remain in contact with the wine, the darker the final product.   There are a number of different styles of wine that fall under the umbrella of ‘rosé’. Depending on where they’re grown, and how they’re made, the taste of the final product varies widely. Rosé can taste light, floral, and fruity, or crisp and dry with aromas of rhubarb and lemon. This guide to rosé wine will introduce you to the world of rosé and give a brief overview of its history, as well as the most popular varietals available today. Rosé Wine: How It Is Made  There are a number of different methods used to make rosé wine. Each region traditionally has a preferred method. The oldest method out there is the maceration method, where grape must (skin, seeds, stems, etc) is left in with the grape juice for a short period of time, then removed to create a light pink wine. This is the easiest and most flavorful way to create a rosé wine. Another method which isn’t as popular but remains quite traditional in some regions is the saignée method. Winemakers ‘bleed’ a small percentage of the liquid out of a vat of grape must and juice. The separated liquid is allowed to ferment into rosé on its own, while the original vat becomes a deeply concentrated red wine. Some vintners do make rosé by mixing a small percentage of red wine into white wine. This blending method is actually forbidden for wines that come from certain wine-making areas in Europe. However, it remains a popular method for creating specific types of wine, like sparkling rosés. The Different Styles of Rosé Wine There are many unique styles of rosé wine with flavours that range from earthy and oaky to fruity and floral. Depending on your taste, one method or region may produce a rosé that you favour above all others. Try a few out, and see which is your favourite. Full Bodied (Tavel Style) There are several types of full-bodied rosés available, but none exemplify this flavour profile better than the Tavel-style rosé from the Côtes du Rhône. This robust, high-alcohol wine is typically light watermelon pink and offers aromas of ripe fruit, nuts, and orange. Don’t let the pale pink colour fool you- this is one of the most robust rosés out there. Light-Bodied (Provencal Style) Looking for a delicate summer sipper? The Provencal style of rosé is fruity, with aromas of strawberry and watermelon, finished with a fresh minerality that perks up the palate. It’s extremely …

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Why is Champagne the most luxurious sparkling wine on the planet?

Sparkling wine “sparkle” because when wine yeasts convert sugar to alcohol, they give off carbon dioxide as a bi-product. Trapping this carbon dioxide is what creates bubbles. But all bubbles are not created equal. There are two major ways of creating the bubbles: In the bottle and in a tank. The price of a sparkling wine is usually a function of the way these bubbles are created. In the Bottle — Traditional Method The traditional way of creating carbonation, and the method that Champagne invented, is to let the wine ferment in the bottle. A finished wine is bottled, and then small amounts of additional sugar and yeast are added to the bottle before it is corked and laid on its side. For 6 to 8weeks, a second fermentation takes place and the carbon dioxide dissolves into the wine. The wine can then rest anywhere from 6 months to many years depending on what sort of flavours the winemaker is after. The longer a wine ages in the bottle, the more contact it has with the yeast, which creates bready, brioche or toasty notes. The bubbles also become more integrated and finer the longer a wine sits”on the lees”. Once a wine finishes aging on its lees, the final task is to extract the yeastfrom the bottle. A complicated process is then undertaken to slowlyturn the bottle to an upside–down position before freezing the neck and extracting the sediment. Voila! a bottle of sparkling wine is born. This whole process is complicated, time consuming and capital intensive, and is why Champagne costs what it does. But other countries, such as Italy(in Franciacorta) and Spain (in Penedes) have created a reputation for producing traditional method sparkling wine. They typically do not have the same aging requirements and toasty or biscuity flavours, but theyare well worth a look. Pierre Gobillard Champagne Brut Authentique$59.50 btl / $357.00 cs (case of 6 x 750ml) PierreGobillard is not one of the grande marque houses in Champagne. They area small, family-owned recoltant manipulant (a grower who makes and markets Champagne under their ownlabel, from grapes exclusively sourced from their own vineyards.) The Gobillard family’s estate is in Hautvilliers, the cradle of Champagne and birthplace of renowned Benedictine Monk Dom Perignon. The Gobillards have been producing outstanding Champagne from their vineyards for three generations and the quality and their reputation is the result of hard work, a passion for innovation and know-how passed down the family over the years. This Brut Authentique is a beautiful, full-bodied Champagne which celebrates the classic trio of Champagne grapes – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier – by including them all in equal proportions. The result is a sensational golden wine with delicious aromas of dry fruit and honey which works well both with foodand on its own. If you are looking for a delicious Champagne, skip themore famous brands, where $20 in every bottle is spent to market toyou! Majolini Franciacorta Brut$37.00 btl / $444.00 cs (case of 12 x 750ml) …

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Demystifying Rosé Wine: Which Rosé Should You Choose?

Rosé has exploded onto the North American scene in the past decade. In France, it now surpasses the sale of white wine. While we enter a three-month stretch of blissful pink wine drinking weather we have to keep in mind that not all rosés are created equally. There are many factors that contribute to a good quality rosé. In fact, the different pink hues, styles, variety of grapes, county and producer can all effect quality and it can be daunting to decide which rosé will suite your taste. Hopefully, we can help demystify rosé wine and lead you to the perfect style for your summer sipping enjoyment. What is Rosé Wine? Simply put, rosé is made when the juice of red wine is strained from its skins before it becomes too dark. Where does Rosé Come From? You can make rosé anywhere in the world, from almost any black grape and is not from a specific grape or region; but referred to as a genre of wine such as red or white. The biggest producers by volume are France, Spain, Italy, and the United States. However, many other wine regions across the world produce high-quality, delicious rosé. Most rosés are blends of multiple grapes, but some of the best are made with single varietals from premium grapes. Common grape varieties used in dry styles are Grenache, Sangiovese, and Pinot Noir. However, unique varieties from smaller winemaking regions are becoming popular amongst serious wine enthusiasts. How is Rosé Made? Let`s walk through rosé making 101 to understand how production can affect quality: Blending: white + red = rosé, right? Most often not. The practice of blending is prohibited for most quality wines (except, strangely, Champagne) and associated with high-volume, low quality rosés. Direct Pressing: Same approach as white wine making, but black grapes are crushed then immediately pressed. Since the colour is in the skins, as opposed to the juice, and very little skin contact occurs, very little colour is extracted. Rosés produced this way often lack complexity, but they are refreshing and good for quaffing. Saignée or Bleeding Method: Early in the production of red wine, some juice is removed or “bled-off” to be vinified separately as a rosé. The rest of the juice continues vinifying into a red with even deeper colour. The winemaker gets two wines out of one batch of grapes. The rosés are good with this technique, but purists claim it is not a “true” rosé. Skin Maceration: Grapes are crushed and the juice is left in contact with the skins for a limited amount of time before pressing. Limited skin contact allows the juice to extract some colour and phenolic compounds from the skins. This method produces deeper colour, more aromatic and complex rosés. What are the Different Styles of Rosé? The primary flavors of dry rosé wines are red fruit, flowers, citrus, and melon, with green notes on the finish such as grass or celery. The varietal used to make the wine will greatly …

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Celebrate with the Best Sparkling Wine

Best Sparkling Wine

When we break out a bottle of bubbly, it’s often in celebration — a special occasion or milestone. New Year’s Eve, car racing victories and anniversaries have become linked with Champagne, but the drink you use to celebrate doesn’t need to be Champagne, or even traditional method sparkling wine. The type of sparkling wine you chose to drink depends on what you like and how much you are prepared to spend. What is Sparkling Wine? Sparkling wine is any wine that has bubbles in it. Unlike soda pop, though, where carbon dioxide is injected into the liquid, sparkling wine owes its effervescence to a unique chemical reaction: when grape juice ferments into wine, yeasts turn the sugar into alcohol and give off carbon dioxide. When this process is controlled, and carbon dioxide retained, it essentially carbonates itself. The result is sparkling wine. All sparkling wine start as a still wine. A second fermentation is induced by adding additional yeast and sugar to the wine before recorking. The longer the yeast stays in the bottle, the more yeasty characteristics are imparted to the wine. Sometimes a wine can lay “on lees” for up to 10 years, during which time it develops incredibly complex aromas. And depending on whether this second fermentation is done in a bottle or in a larger pressurized tank, the sparkling wine is either considered traditional or tank method sparkling wine. The pinnacle of traditional (in bottle) method is, of course, Champagne. Champagne vs. Traditional Method Many wonder what is the actually difference is between Champagne and other traditional method sparkling wines? Not much. The simple truth is that all Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. The only way a bottle of sparkling wine can be called Champagne is if it comes from the Champagne region of France. Even if a bottle made in the Okanagan Valley has been made the same way and with the same grapes as a bottle from Champagne, it can only be called sparkling wine. History of Sparkling Wine As with much of wine, the history of sparkling wine can be traced to religious orders in France. Once bottled, wines would occasionally, if they had any residual sugar remaining, re-ferment in the bottle. And if there was any weakness in the glass, the bottle might explode. This was not an unusual occurrence and it made the job of a cellar master quite dangerous indeed! Legend has it that Dom Perignon was the first to understand that it was fermentation that gave the wines their sparkle and another monk, Frere Jean Oudart, perfected the means for controlling the ever-important second fermentation. The process travelled to Spain in 1872 via Josep Raventos who  started producing traditional method sparkling wine in Penedes, just outside Barcelona — a wine we know today as Cava. Italians also have a number of sparkling wines made using this traditional method, such as Franciacorta. However, they are probably best known for their other great contribution to the world of sparkling …

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