Published January 24, 2019 By Kevin MacIntyre
2018 was a very good year. Adventures in South America, Italy and throughout France culminated in some great experiences through some stunning parts of the wine world.
The Christmas break allowed me time to reflect on some of the great wines enjoyed on my travels, including some new finds in out of the way places such as the Pedernal Valley and Cafayate in Argentina, and new to me wineries in classic regions. The stunning whites of JanotsBos, a small négociant in Meursault (Burgundy), reminded me that there are still great unheard-of wines to be found even in the most famous wine regions of the world. The break also let me to open some bottles of wines collected on past tours. A 2007 Guado al Tasso picked up on a special tour in Bolgheri on the Tuscany coast, reminded why this is one of my favourite Super Tuscan wines – and wineries to visit – and a magnum of 2006 Giacomo Conterno Cascina Francia, picked up on the first wine tour I led to Piemonte, brought me back to a place with such a haunting beauty that it nearly defies description. The wines themselves were stunning but it was the memory of the places and people I met in these regions on my tours is what will last with me for an eternity.
Of course, not all the wines enjoyed over the holidays were sourced from trips abroad. Bottles of traditional method sparkling wines from likes of Benjamin Bridge, Lightfoot & Wolfville and Blomidon Estate reminded me that sometimes you don’t have to go far to find world class wines. The same can be said about food. My family’s holiday vice is cheese and cured meats from Ratinaud French Cuisine (Gottingen Street, Halifax). Lunches rarely consisted of much more than some baguette, a hunk of cheese – such as the delicious Electric Blue from Blue Harbour (Halifax) – and Ratinaud’s superlative cured meats. Their smoked goose prosciutto was a tasty revelation this Christmas. I am very excited about spending a week cooking and showcasing Bordeaux with Ratinaud owner Frederic Tandy this June. More on that tour here.
For the last three months of 2018 we have been working on a plan to grow our wine and food business. This year we intend to: write more articles and blogs on wine, food including some emphasis on our local food and drink scene, offer more tours to European wine regions (www.withzest.ca), and curate more events for our customers. We will also be offering a service of creating custom tours for groups of 6 or more people. Starting with this blog we hope to connect with you on a weekly basis which we hope will provide just a little more knowledge on the wines and foods of the world and in Atlantic Canada.
2019 is going to be an exciting year for us and hope it will be a great year for you as well.
Now permit me to ask you a few questions. What wine and food questions do you have that we could help answer? What food and drink topics would you like us to write about? And finally, what was your favourite wine you drank during this festive season?
I look forward to hearing from and seeing you in 2019.
Published December 20, 2018 By Kevin MacIntyre
Rayell Swan is a certified Sommelier and Assistant Manager at the Port by the NSLC. Rayell has traveled to Tuscany twice in the last several years on With Zest tours organized by Sommelier Mark DeWolf, visiting large and small estates, along the way.
Tuscany is at the top of a lot wine lovers lists of most desirable destinations for wine travel. Its iconic status has established the region as a travel destination for visitors from all around the world wanting to experience its history and production first hand. While its cities, including Florence and Siena, burst with culture and history, its picturesque natural landscape with rolling hills scattered with Cyprus trees, olive groves and fertile farmland reflect that Tuscany is, at its core, an agricultural region.
Tuscany has been a popular tourist destination for many years, but the wine touring concept is relatively new. The region’s wineries are adjusting to their popularity as a tourist destinations. As such, not all offer the tasting bars and gift shops we’ve become accustomed to when touring North American wine routes.
To optimize the Tuscan wine experience, planning is necessary especially when coordinating visits to wineries. Not all wineries are open to the public, including prestigious and well-known labels and producers such as Tignanello, Sassicaia and Biondi Santi. Its important to connect with producers to schedule appointments. Some like Antinori’s Tignanello are open exclusively for visiting trade, such as wine tour operators, retailers, restaurant sommeliers and wine media, but many others will accommodate visits, if timing allows. While many Tuscan wineries are not open on a daily business , many will open their doors on occasion to guests. And since, many of those wineries don’t have on-site tour guides, those that do open their doors for a visit often to do so with a warm welcome and will often include one on one time spent with a winemaker or owner offering the guest indepth information and a memorable experience.
Small group wine tours, with a connection to the wine industry, can often squeeze open a few hard to open cellar doors. In Nova Scotia, sommelier Mark DeWolf (Withzest.ca), who holds down the title of national president of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers, incorporates a rich amount of wine experience into his Italian tours along with culinary and cultural components.
A professional guided tour is an ideal option for discovering and exploring the wine culture of Tuscany. There are many benefits to travelling with an experienced guide. The agenda for each day is planned allowing travellers to embark on their journey in a carefree manner. Secondly, winery visits with an established and well connected industry professional typically increase the level of access offering exclusive opportunities for guests. A tour also includes organizing the smaller but important details of travel such as transportation, accommodation, and dining which give a guest the ultimate opportunity to fully relax and savour their experience. There is a lot of value to having a stress free vacation and a designated driver when visiting wineries.
I had the pleasure of touring on a With Zest tour to Tuscany a couple years ago which included a visit to the aforementioned Biondi Santi (including a memorable taste of their 1997 Brunello) as well as smaller producers that provided a chance to explore the unique and varied cross section of production. Baricci, a three generation winery in Montalcino was a personal highlight. The family operated winery hosts it tours and tastings in their winery, underneath their family home. The cellar, sales office and unofficial tasting room are all contained in a single room. This endearing experience coupled with outstanding wine was one of the best tasting opportunities of the trip.
Tuscany Top 5 Wine Styles
Chianti – Tuscany is Italy’s fifth largest producing wine region. It produces the familiar and widely appreciated wines of Chianti and this is the largest classified area of production which is reflected in the labeling of Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC). The noble Sangiovese grape regarded for its cherry notes and bright acidity is the base for the wines of Chianti, accounting for 75-100% of the final product. Wines labelled as Chianti Classico, the only ones to be adorned with region’s famous Black Rooster seal of authenticity, come from a more defined region and typically represent many of the best of the region.
The Super Tuscans – Chianti’s long established wine rules and regulations eventually lead to the creation of the unclassified yet recognized “Super Tuscan’s” during in the 1970s. The initial experimental expression of wines blended with international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon were introduced to great success and have firmly secured their place as quality wine of the region. The classics, such as Sassicaia, come from Bolgheri on the Tuscan coast.
Brunello di Montalcino – Better known simply as Brunello is a highly regarded and perhaps the most revered wine of Tuscany. Montalcino is located south of the Chianti region. Producers are situated around the majestic hilltop town and are devoted to expressing the terroir of the land. The Brunello, a Sangiovese clone, is used make 100% of the wines labeled. These wines are regal, elegant, and possess longevity to evolve within the bottle. Second to its production is the Rosso di Montalcino which is referred to “Baby Brunello”, it does not see the same aging requirements and is considered more approachable for consumption in its youth.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano – Vino Nobile is another Sangiovese based wine, known here as Prugnolo Gentile, produced in the area of Montepulciano. Similar to Montalcino, the vineyards surround the hilltop town but allow other local varieties to be included in its blend. The wines are typically a little plusher, warmer and a little less elegant compared to Brunello.
Vernacci di San Gimignano – The white wine of Tuscany is made from the Vernaccia grape and sees the most critical acclaimed being associated with Vernaccia di San Gimignano production. Many are unoaked and display grassy, white flower, almond and citrus notes, but an increasing number are oaked aged.
Published December 7, 2017 By Mark DeWolf
I imagine some forty odd years ago Roger Dial – the father of the Nova Scotia wine industry – had a dream of the Annapolis Valley awash in vineyards and tasting rooms. It may have taken a few decades longer than anticipated, but that vision seems to be finally coming to fruition.
When Lightfoot & Wolfville opened recently it represented another seminal moment in the history of Nova Scotia wine. There have been other high profile winery openings. Roger Dial’s original Grand Pré, the first farm winery in Nova Scotia, proved making wine from Nova Scotia grown grapes was possible. Hanspeter Stutz’s Domaine de Grand Pré brought the industry out of stagnation and immediately raised the bar of quality when it opened in 1999. Benjamin Bridge shone a large light on the potential for the highest level of quality wine production and when Pete Luckett opened his eponymous winery he brought a commercial level of wine tourism akin to much large wine regions to Nova Scotia. But no winery to date, has attempted to achieve the levels of wine tourism, dedication to the land and utmost attention to the liquid in the bottle like Lightfoot & Wolfville has. Others have certainly achieved one or two of those elements, but none all three.
Given the massive popularity of Nova Scotia wines in the province Nova Scotia wine has finally made its mark in Nova Scotia, but it has taken Benjamin Bridge to pry open the doors to national and international critical interest, and Lightfoot & Wolfville could be what’s needed to transform peaked interest into broader recognition.
The visions didn’t begin so big. Says co-owner Mike Lightfoot “well, when we (Lightfoot is co-owned and operated by his wife Jocelyn) started we were kind of interested in the thought of growing grapes for Benjamin Bridge. At the time I thought we might make a couple dozen barrels of Chardonnay at some time but we didn’t have this vision.” That vision grew substantially over time. In 2008, Lightfoot was told by Benjamin Bridge’s consultant Peter Gamble to grow a couple acres of Chardonnay. As Mike says “so we planted 5 acres and now we have close to forty acres of vines.”
That vision now includes one of the most spectacular estates in the country, let alone Nova Scotia. While there is little grandiose about Lightfoot & Wolfville there is an organic grandeur to the immense barn-like structure that houses the winery’s subterranean aging cellars – which is capable of hosting special events, such as weddings, social gatherings and corporate events – along with a tasting room and a large outdoor space which includes a wood fired pizza oven, seating area and a marquee tent capable of holding over 300 guests. The patio menu is small featuring items such as wood-fired pizza, salads and a well-constructed charcuterie board but should expand in offering and dimension once their new chef Geoff Hopgood sets up permanent residence in the province. Until then they be will be offering monthly themed chef’s menu style dinner events. Hopgood is a Nova Scotia native who achieved acclaim for his Maritime inspired Hopgood Foodliner restaurant in Toronto.
The winery has been about 5 years in the making and even though the original design was changed, according to Jocelyn “the rural Nova Scotia barn concept has always been part of the vision. We always knew we wanted to be very approachable. It was very important to us that we didn’t come off as anything other than fit organically within of our landscape.” Organic is a key word to use when describing Lightfoot & Wolfville. The winery’s vineyards which include the estate vineyard and a gorgeous property in nearby Avonport that boasts a near perfect southwest slope that seemingly flows into the meeting point of the Gaspereau River and Minas Basin are farmed using organic and biodynamic principles. The winery is the first and only winery with Demeter biodynamic certification in the province. Fittingly, a local boy, Josh Horton, who grew up just steps away from the Avonport vineyard is in charge of transforming the grapes into wine.
In addition to a large airy tasting room, complete with a long tasting bar, exposed beam ceilings the winery boasts an incredibly a well-trained and informative staff. Not surprising, giving the wealth of wine knowledge packed into the fresh faces behind the operation. In addition to winemaker Horton, Jocelyn is a graduate of the CAPS Sommelier program and Mike’s daughter, Rachel, who from what I could tell on my recent visit, is involved in multiple aspects of the operation, is a graduate of the Grape & Wine Technology program at Brock University.
The wines themselves are a cornucopia of Vitis vinifera such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling and hybrid varieties, the latter more often than not used to make blends such as their Tidal Bay. Early limited release offerings of their Ancienne Chardonnay and Pinot Noir drew praise from local and national critics alike. Now the winery boasts a full lineup of selections including TM sparklers, a range of unique vinifera offerings including a fragrant and appealing Scheurebe (Best of Class – White Wine of the Year at the Atlantic Canadian Wine Awards), an edgy age-worthy Riesling that showcases purity of fruit and what local winemakers describe as Nova Scotia’s electrifying acidity, a fresh and fruity rosé, Tidal Bay and collection of other wines. The wine collection as a whole offers purity of flavour without sacrificing structure and age worthiness. Indeed their top end Chardonnays could easily go a decade or more in the cellar and their Riesling maybe more.
The quality of their wines was clearly evident at the recently held Atlantic Canadian Wine Awards. The winery took home the top prize of Winery of the Year, Best of Class – White Wine of the Year (2016 Scheurebe), Best of Class Red Wine (2014 Ancienne Pinot Noir) and Best of Class – Rosé (2015 Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards Pinot Rosé) amongst other awards. Of the recognition Jocelyn says “we were blown with, and humbled by the results.”
While awards are always nice, from my discussions with Mike and Jocelyn the ultimate reward is their customers .Jocelyn remarks “we care about the people that enjoy our wines. It’s an honour for our wines to share moments with our customer’s life experiences whether it’s a couple enjoying one of our wines on their 25th anniversary or an event at our property.”
The success of the winery, means stocks are quickly depleting, so be sure to visit the winery, located on the Evangeline Trail between Grand Pré and Wolfville sooner rather than later.
Lightfoot & Wolfville aren’t the only winery making world class wines. Here are three I think would be comfortably placed on any wine list around the world.
2015 L’Acadie Vineyards Vintage Cuvee Rose $30.00 (NSLC, Bishop’s Cellar)
Appearance: pretty light copper, extremely persistent mousse, mineral/crushed rock and lees derived earthy notes on the nose with tree fruit/apricot and unripe red fruit flavours on the palate. It’s dry without being piercing or aggressive. It has a very pleasing balance to it.
2015 Lightfoot & Wolfville Terroir Series Riesling, $18.00 (at the winery, Bishops Cellar)
The Grapes: 100% Annapolis Valley Riesling cool fermented and finish with a dose of süssreserve (sweet unfermented grape juice) to keep acids in check.
The Juice: An incredibly vibrant and lively Riesling with a core of stone and citrus fruit flavours. This wine, like its classic European counterparts, will benefit from cellaring. Cellaring for 5 to 10 years will help bring its fruit to the foreground.
NV Benjamin Bridge Brut Rose, $28.00 (The Port by the NSLC, Bishop’s Cellar)
The grapes: The latest release from Benjamin Bridge is a stunner. A house blend of L’Acadie, Vidal, Seyval, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The Juice: In addition to its classic lees, mineral and salty notes this sparkling wine boast a really appealing upfront fruit package, blending both tart red fruits, sweet orange and apple flavours. The finish has a little chalky acidity that keeps everything all together.
Published February 9, 2017 By Mark DeWolf
This October I spent a week in the company of a group of intrepid wine enthusiasts in search of gold or perhaps better said, liquid gold. We spent a week in Burgundy’s aptly named Cotes D’Or – the golden slope – home of the world’s most luxurious, golden-hued Chardonnay and ruby Pinot Noir that are amongst the most prized gems of the wine world. In the all-important Asian wine market, Burgundy has wrestled share away from Bordeaux, previously the standard of fine wine, becoming the most in demand wine region. The result has been that Burgundy’s top small estates are rarely available in Canada, let alone Nova Scotia, and the few cases that cross to this side of the Atlantic reach stratospheric prices. If you have a few thousand to spend on a bottle of wine, Quebec’s SAQ (Société des alcools Alcool du Québec) lists a 2010 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée Conti Grand Cru for $2895.00 but if you had hopes of pairing it up with the 2009, priced at $2565.00, put your credit card away. You are out of luck. The 2009 vintage is sold out.
Yet despite the unreachable (at least to most wine lovers) prices of its top estates, there is a bucolic, seemingly untouched quality of this region bounded by Dijon in the north and Chalon-sur-Saone, a surprisingly large town that sits on the banks of the Soane River. During the fall season the slopes of the ridge that runs along the Cote D’Or’s western flank is indeed golden, as the vines that occupy almost every available acre of farmland to the west of the A31 highway are a glow with rich amber, red and yellow tones. Burgundy still portrays itself as farmers cum winemakers working amongst rows of vines and around medieval towns that have remained largely unchanged over the last number of centuries. Unlike its Bordeaux rivals, a region dominated by mega corporation wineries making their wines beneath the facades of elegant baroque-style chateau Burgundy remains a fragmented mix of small plots owned by a dizzying array of individuals. The famous Clos de Vougeot, a grand cru vineyard in the northern half of the region, is reported to have more than 80 different owners, some with plots as small as a couple rows of vines.
While Burgundy’s Cotes D’Or has long been delineated, sometimes confusingly so, as its vineyards were painstakingly mapped by Cistercian monks in the middle ages. The Cote D’Or is indeed a patchwork of climat – a French term used to describe an individual plot of land that showcases unique physical characteristics such as soil structure, aspect and climate. Some climat are only a few acres in size. After Burgundy was sold to Kingdom of France, and hold of the church diminished, its’ vineyard lands began to be sold off with the remaining lands auctioned following the French Revolution. An already complex tapestry of vines was now in the hands of a number of growers, further exasperated by the Napoleonic laws of succession which insisted on the subdivision of lands amongst heirs, leading to its current state, with plots of land owned by numerous individuals.
This fragmented nature of Burgundy, led to the rise of the négociants. The négociants are wineries that assemble their wines, often from a collection of smaller domains and vineyards. Some, only source from other, while producers such as Beaune’s Bouchard Pére et Fils notably own much of their own vineyard lands and supplement with grapes from others. For much of the last two centuries, the négociant played a critical role as many individuals simply didn’t have the resource to vinify wines from their small plots. The négociants collected the wines (sometimes as finished wines, sometimes as grapes that they would then vinify them) and bottle them under their own name. So while the region long espoused the virtues of the individual terroir/climat, in reality the quality of any wine laid largely in the hands of the individual or négociant, producing the wine. With the increasing value of Burgundy wines in the last few decades, the dominance of the négociant has diminished as individual domains now have the monetary incentives to craft wines from their own grapes and sometimes supplemented by their neighbours, making them in effect small scale négociants. It’s created more layers to an already complex industry, but has provided the opportunities for small domains to craft truly terroir driven wines and placed greater incentives for their négociant counterparts to produce increasingly fine wines.
While Burgundy’s prices remain high, the wines when well-constructed still remain the pinnacle expressions of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the wine world.
Jessiaume Santenay Graveniere Premier Cru, The Port, $48.99
The Grapes: Pinot Noir sourced from Santenay, a spa town located in the southern reaches of the Cotes d’Or. Santenay flies under the radar of many Burgundy wine lovers as it isn’t visible from the much travelled D974 motorway which runs alongside the region’s most prestigious wine addresses of the southern section of the Cote D’Or (known as the Cote de Beaune) where villages of Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet, Meursault, Volnay and Pommard reside.
The Juice: A bright cherry scented red with earthy underpinnings. Taut and clean. It’s a good solid, if a bit expression of Burgundy Pinot Noir.
2011 Bouchard Père et Fils Beaune Marconnets Premier Cru, The Port, $58.99
The Grapes: Bouchard Père et Fils is a historic name in Burgundy with records dating the company to the early 18th century. A couple decades back, the company was known as underperformer but since being acquired in 1995 by Champagne’s Henriot, significant investment in their winery and vineyard holdings has transformed the company into a top négociant, evident in this Pinot Noir made from vineyards on the north side of Beaune.
The Juice: The 2011 vintage represents a delicious mid-weight Pinot Noir with an elegant mix of savoury, herbal, floral and red fruit flavours. A nice tight structure makes this one enjoyable now and for a few years in the future.
2014 Albert Bichot Puligny-Montrachet, The Port, $79.99
The Grapes: Sourced from vineyards within the commune of Puligny-Montrachet in Southern Beaune, a village regarded by many as the source of the world’s finest Chardonnay. Despite being titled simply village wine the density and richness of this wine – along with its price – suggests it hits above its basic appellation. This wine spent 14 to 16 months in oak (15 to 35% new oak).
The Juice: A rich and well-constructed Chardonnay with the telltale signs of the appellation including rich orchard fruit and hazelnut flavours, a round texture accompanied with a cleansing finish. A sublime wine that will age gracefully.
Published June 29, 2016 By admin
Italy Made Easy, by Mark DeWolf
I simply love the simplicity of Italian food. It’s all about using seasonally available ingredients and emphasizing the freshness of those flavours. There’s nothing complicated about it. It’s an ingredient-based style of cuisine rooted in the simple enjoyment of good flavours. Leave the complicated techniques to the French and the molecular gastronomists and revel in the delicious nature of simply prepared Italian cuisine. Great flavour doesn’t have to be complicated, nor do the wine selections. The wines of Canaletto (available at NSLC stores) are simple but effective partners to a wide range of Italian dishes.
Linguine with Pesto
Pair with Canaletto Pinot Grigio, available at NSLC stores, $12.99
24 scallops, seasoned and seared
Liguria Style Pesto (see below)
5 cups basil
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp pine nuts
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
24 scallops, seared
Method: Wash and dry basil. Place dry ingredients in a food processor and pulse. Slowly add the olive oil. Add grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Mix well. To serve place seared scallops on a plate. Drizzle with pesto.
Lamb Skewers with White Beans, Rosemary, Pancetta and Seared Tomatoes
Pair Canaletto Primitivo di Puglia, available at NSLC stores, $12.99
1 ½ lb lamb shoulder, cubed
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp oregano, finely chopped
Freshly cracked pepper
4 tbsp olive oil
8 rosemary spears
150 g pancetta
3 cups cannellini beans, rinsed
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp rosemary, chopped
Splash white balsamic vinegar
Salt & pepper
Method: Set a grill to medium-high heat. Place lamb in a bowl with paprika, oregano, large pinch of sea salt, large pinch of freshly cracked pepper and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss with your hands so the spices are evenly distributed. Skewer lamb on rosemary spears. Grill for 6 to 7 minutes, turning regularly. Let rest for 3 to 4 minutes before serving. Place sauté pan over medium heat. Add the remaining olive oil. Add the pancetta. When the pancetta is browned, add the garlic and rosemary. When fragrant, add the white beans. Roughly mash the beans. Season the beans with a splash of balsamic (white preferred), salt and pepper. To serve place a spoonful of white beans on a plate and top with two lamb skewers.
Published September 27, 2016 By Mark DeWolf
Is Spain the new Argentina? Not really. There is definitely, a cyclical nature to the wine industry. Australian Shiraz got usurped by the California Pinot Noir craze which quickly faded as Argentinean Malbec and California Red Blends stole the spotlight. Will Spanish Tempranillo be our next favourite? Possibly. However, it seems more likely that Spain’s current upward trajectory is destined less to be a one-hit wonder, and is rooted in showcasing the diversity of Spanish winemaking, both of its classic grapes and international varieties.
I’m not one to suggest, Spain should become the next bastion of Shiraz and Pinot Grigio. There’s more than enough places making these grapes effectively, but Spanish Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon will draw consumers down the Spanish wine aisle, opening up the doors for exploration of its unique wine regions and local grapes.
Rioja has long been the epicenter of fine wine production in Spain and continues to hold fort as the country’s premium wine economic driver. Thankfully for us consumers the quality of Rioja remains high while its wines remain in the sphere of affordability. Great Crianza and Reserva can be had in the $18 to $25 range. Considering the extended aging period these wines undergo and the high overall quality of the wines, it’s a style I will always happily drop a green note on. While, retailers sometimes have a hard time expanding outside of the tried and true, such as Rioja, or resort to gimmick wines for immediate sale lifts, retailers across Nova Scotia, both private and the NSLC, seem to be embracing the diversity of the Spanish wine industry, which should prove a successful recipe for building a market for Spanish wines rooted in interest and value.
Let’s just hope, as Spanish wines become popular, retailers stick to wines that deliver quality for price. Spain is one of the world’s largest producers of wine, and at any moment many of its bulk wine producers in La Mancha – a region south of Madrid where half of the country’s wines are made, much of it destined to be sold at bargain basement prices at European supermarkets or sent in bladders across the globe as box wine filler – always has the potential to flood the market with cheap wine, if allowed to, that will devalue its quality wine production.
For now, look on the shelves for wines from that seem to be hitting a sweet spot in terms of interest and quality. The $15-$25 price band seems to be where Spain can deliver its most impact with both unique and interesting new styles and classic regional expressions finding a comfortable spot.
Here a couple new Spanish selections available at the NSLC.
Chardonnay may at times seem a bit ubiquitous but there is definitely something comforting about this grape that thrives in so many places, which includes Spain. This wine is an appealing wine with a rich mix of orchard, citrus and tropical fruit flavours.
Some of the best wines come from the places we rarely talk about. Such is the case of many of the wines of Calatayud, a rural rich in head-pruned vineyards full of the local Garnacha grape. While historically the region served up lots of inexpensive and simple Garnacha, a new bunch of winemakers are discovering the riches of the region, which include some very old vine Garnacha, including some high elevation sites. The village of Atea is 1000 meters above sea level and rich inblack schist, the same soil one can find in the Priorat.. This unique terroir and the old vines of Garnacha rooted in it, are the origins of Evodia.
This is a remarkably dense and concentrated wine with lots of blue and black fruit, mineral and floral aromas and flavours. A big wine for its price! It received a 90 point score from Wine Advocate.
Published September 17, 2016 By Mark DeWolf
It has been 3 years since I last imbibed the hauntingly decadent scents of Piedmont; at least in person, that is. Ever since, I’ve have dreamed about returning as I sniff and take sips of my much beloved – but not often enough enjoyed – glasses of Barolo and Barbaresco – the legendary Nebbiolo-based red wines of Piedmont. There is an undeniable allure to these wines, made from vines grown in the fog shrouded hills around Alba. Nebbiolo, is in fact derived from the word Nebbia, meaning fog. Alba is a town that is also often under its own veil of savoury perfume. In the fall, the scents of the region’s most prized culinary treasure, truffles, filled the streets and are proudly displayed like diamonds of the earth at Alba’s many small food and wine stores.
While my nose gravitates to the pale hued reds of Barolo, rich in a perplexing but utterly alluring mix of rose petal, dried fruit and chicken coop – yup, it can be a good thing – aromas and deceiving dry palates, Piedmont is full of contradictions. For every earthy, edgy Barolo there is a bright, fruit forward and tangy Barbera – a grape that long made green, herbal, tart reds until improvements in vineyard management allowed vintners to ripen the grapes to full maturity, translating to wines with riper blackberry (especially in wines made from grape grown in the lower lying vineyards of Asti) and cherry scented reds, often enhanced with some youthful oak tones. Even Alba, known for its prized truffles is home to truffles of a different sort, the ones wrapped in gold foil, and packaged under the Ferrero Rocher brand. Yes, this Italian culinary capital is home to Ferrero Rocher, one of the world’s largest chocolatiers and the producers of amongst other things, Nutella and Kinder.
It all speaks to my condition. I am full of culinary contradictions as I am as happy eating chicken wings as I am beef tartare, and when it comes to wines, I’ll lap up a fruity, pear drop, floral and tropical fruit scented Moscato D’Asti (also from Piedmont) with almost as much enthusiasm as a contemplative glass of old-school Barolo. It all makes for a wonderful opportunity to discover the region’s contradictions, as Piedmont offers every style ranging from crisp and refreshing Gavi – a white wine made from the local Cortese grape – to exuberantly aromatic Moscato, light and fruity reds such as Barbera D’Alba and the ethereal and complex Barolo and Barbaresco. Amongst my favourite producers available locally, include Borgogno, Pio Cesare and Produttori dei Barbaresco, the latter, unfortunately, down to just a few bottles of their single vineyard Rabaja, at Harvest Wines & Spirits. While it carries a seemingly high price tag ($54.9) for many of us wine lovers with expensive tastes it represents an incredibly affordable opportunity to try a single vineyard Barbaresco, which from more recognized estates would be twice its price.
The Grapes: Borgogno is one of Piedmont’s most respected old-school Barolo producers. This Barbera is treated with the same respect as its Nebbiolo based wines – in fact, the grapes comes from two vineyards, Liste and the much revered Cannubi, a spectacular cru just nestled up to the village of Barolo. Natural yeast, low fermentation temperatures and aging in large casks, translates to an elegant, traditional style of Barbera.
The Juice: A seriously, elegant, complex style with high-toned mineral, spice, pepper , cherry, plum aromas and a palate focused more pippy cherry fruit notes than the riper blackberry notes of Barbera grown on lower slopes. There is a lingering earthy, smoky note on the finish. This will make a great wine for an Italian inspired meal. Not heavy but very engaging.
The Grapes: Most of the Nebbiolo grapes used to make this wine come from the estate’s own vineyards in Serralunga D’Alba. Fontanafredda is a historic estate. It is was originally acquired in the late 1850s but didn’t start wine production until the 1870s. Over the past 150 years, Fontantafredda has grown into the region’s largest producer. Quality has in the past been variable, but over the past decade, since the estate was acquired by Oscar Ferenetti (Eataly), the wines seem to have improved and become very reliable, perhaps reflective of not only updates to winemaking processes but also a move to sustainable viticulture. Their widely available entry level Barolo (NSLC, $36.79) is a solid, albeit commercial-style, that provides good insight into the regional style.
The Juice: A dense, powerful style of Barolo that boasts the near opaque colour to match. This wine is a good representation of its origins, the iron charged soils of the Serralunga Cru, where this venerable Barolo estate calls home. This wine, along with darker fruit notes, brings a little more structure than the entry level version from Fontanafredda. Enjoyable now but can be aged for 5 to 10 more years in the cellar.
The Grapes: Grapes are grown on a mix of estate owned and contracted in the Monferrato and Langhe. Cool fermentation is employed to preserve the wine’s fragrance and then aged in a mix of old, large Slovenian oak cask and barrique, straddling the line between old school and modern methodology.
The Juice: A deliciously perky, vibrant Barbera with a nice mix of tangy red fruit and spicy notes. It’s worth holding, in the short term, to allow some its youthful exuberance to settle. Match this one with simple pasta, mushroom-based appetizers and light meat dishes.
Published September 6, 2016 By Mark DeWolf
In a recent piece I wrote for Occasions Magazine, I described my love of Pasta all’Amatriciana. Not long after the magazine hit NSLC store shelves, the Italian ground shook as an earthquake measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale, hit central Italy. Its epicenter was Amatrice, in Lazio, where more than 200 people lost their lives.
Amatrice was by all accounts an attractive, medieval town. In fact, it is often listed in travel guides as one of Italy’s most beautiful. While the world’s attention is now focused on the town, for unfortunate reasons, it has long been famous in the culinary world. Amatrice is the home of Spaghetti all‘ Amatriciana. The dish features spaghetti (I use bucatini, a thicker version of spaghetti, when I can find it), guanciale (cured pork cheeks) or pancetta, pepperoncini (dried hot peppers), garlic, tomatoes, white wine and Pecorino cheese. Like most great Italian dishes, it isn’t complicated but delivers so much flavour.
In the wake of the earthquake, restaurateurs around the globe are rallying to support this now decimated town, considered one of Italy’s culinary capitals; an amazing statement for a country where food is everything. According to Halifax resident, and Italian Consular Correspondent, Rodolfo Meloni “I am glad to report that the first restaurants in Canada to start this fund raising campaign are two well-known restaurants in HRM.”
Il Trullo, located in Dartmouth’s prestigious King’s Wharf condominium complex, is offering $3 dollars to support the victims of the earthquake for every order of Spaghetti all’Amatriciana ordered at the restaurant in the month of September. Those that prefer pizza over pasta, can still support the cause, as even the world of pizza has offered to help. Pasqualino Rossi and Francesco Martucci members of the AVPN – the association that certifies worldwide wide the true Neapolitan pizza, has urged their colleagues, to participate in this initiative by creating a Pizza Amatriciana. One of those colleagues is Piatto Pizzeria & Enoteca, located on Barrington Street in Halifax.
The initiative comes with support from Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, who recently called on chefs from around the world to put the famous dish on their menu, and donate a portion of sales to the town.
While, Amatrice is located in Lazio, a number of well-known wine regions can be found just across the border in Umbria, Marches and further south in Abruzzo. The wines of these regions, like the pasta, tend to veer towards simple, honest and deceptively flavourful. I for one will be venturing to Il Trullo and Piatto this month to support the cause, and am sure to make the dish at home accompanied with one of these great wines from nearby Marches, Abruzzo and further south in Puglia.
The Juice: A fine red wine hitting its stride. At 9 years old, this wine has developed the leathery, old wood tones I love in mature Italian wines but on mid-palate still has more than sufficient, lively cherry notes and impressive grape tannins, felt like a drying sensation in the gums to suggest it still has time in the bottle.
The Grapes: Montepulciano grapes sourced from an elevated single vineyard source in Contruguerra, a municipality in Abruzzo.
The Juice: A medium to full-bodied red wine that is smooth and approachable, but still well-structured enough to satisfy. A very primary-fruit centric nose opens with stewed red berry fruit, vanilla and peppery aromas. The palates follows suit. This wine possess a lot of the ripe and smooth flavours entry-level Montepulciano drinkers will enjoy but with a little more backbone which also make it appealing to the more experienced wine drinker. A good match to simple meats dishes but would also make a fine accompaniment to tomato-based pasta.
The Grapes: 100% Bombino Bianco, a grape that is grown along the Adriatic coast, but mostly in Apulia (Puglia).
The Juice: I liken this to classic Italian white wine. It is relative subtle in its charms with delicate floral, under-ripe stone fruit tones and a nice saline, mineral edge to it. The bottle (or two) of wine that you enjoy as guests arrive at a dinner party. It’s not complicated but it makes for a great aperitif wine.
Published August 18, 2016 By Mark DeWolf
Portuguese Red Wines for a Barbecue
I think we all can be forgiven for forgetting about Portugal’s table wine industry. Almost all the wines that make the voyage across the Atlantic to Nova Scotia from Portugal are the fortified wines of the Douro Valley, better known as Port, less the odd light and spritzy Vinho Verde and the sweet, pink and fizzy Mateus Rosé. Portuguese wines are a challenge for wine retailers. The market for them currently is so small, the wines of the country often aren’t afforded their own shelf space. In the case of NSLC stores, you’ll find them in a catchall area along with aperitif wines such as Sherry, Austrian, Greek wines and a couple odd Hungarian wines.
Recently, I sat down with José Maria da Fonseca’s Senior Winemaker Domingos Soares Franco. José Maria da Fonseca is a near 200 year old winery, based in Setubal near Lisbon, far away from the Port houses that line the banks of Douro, in Villa Nova di Gaia and across the river in Porto. His family has been in the wine business since 1834, but Domingos Soares Franco has made a name for himself and the winery, of late, by not simply adhering to tradition. Domingos Soares Franco was the first Portuguese winemaker to graduate from the University of California Davis. At the time, in 1980, UC Davis was the world’s preeminent oenology school and at the cutting edge of winemaking technology. However, Portugal’s wine industry, at the time, was still living in different decade; perhaps even a different century. Portugal, didn’t even enter the European Union until 1986 and its table wines – less the heavily exported Mateus – were known for their rough and rustic nature.
Since taking over winemaking duties in the mid-80s, Domingos has systematically revisited all aspects of the company’s vineyard and winemaking programs. The winery now has a virtual vineyard laboratory with according to Soares Franco “560 varietals planted. 120 of which are Portuguese grapes.” The team has been working to not only identify the right varietals for each micro-climate but also working to identify the best clones.
While this was my first chance to meet and talk with a representative of the winery, I have long considered José Maria da Fonseca a benchmark of quality Portuguese table wines. Their Periquita Original has perennially been one of my go to value picks at the NSLC. Historically Periquita was the name of one of the red grapes of Southern Portugal, but now the grape is known only as Castelao. Given the winery’s long history promoting Periquita – their Periquita Original is the oldest Portuguese table wine, having been produced on the Setubal Peninsula since the 1840s – they have been permitted to use it as a brand name. The wine itself is a blend of Castelao, Trincadeira and Aragonez.
The beauty of the wines of José da Maria Fonseca, and many Portuguese red wines, for that matter, is their ability to deliver flavour and character without being overly “goopy”. Their remarkable balance makes many Portuguese red wines admirable food wines and the perfect accompaniment to a summer barbecue as they complement the food, not overpower it.
2013 José da Maria Fonseca Periquita Original, Portugal, $12.99 Available at NSLC
The Grapes: A Castelao rich blend with some Trincadeira and a smattering of Aragonês (also known as Tempranillo) in the mix.
The Juice: A mid-weight red wine with a mix of red fruit and light vanilla tones. Bright, fresh and young with an appropriate fruit and tannin balance. Not overly complicated, but a good crowd pleaser that would find happy company with light barbecue fare such as grilled chicken.
2013 José da Maria Fonseca Periquita Reserva, $17.99 Available at Select NSLC
The Grapes: A blend of Castelao enhanced with classic Port varietals, Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesa.
The Juice: This wine offers a fantastic price to quality ratio. A medium to full-bodied red wine with floral, cherry, cedar and vanilla aromas and flavours. An appropriate amount of retained sweetness amplifies its fruit flavours and keeps its acid and tannins in check. For the price, this is definitely worth the upgrade from the basic version; especially if entertaining guests. This would make a versatile red for food pairing, as it would be comfortable matching up to everything from grilled sausages and barbecued chicken to fuller flavoured fare.
2012 José da Maria Fonseca Domingos Douro, $19.99 Available at Select NSLC
The Grapes: This is a red wine made up of the most classic Port varieties including Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Francesa.
The Juice: A rich red with darker fruit and more mineral notes, compared to the Periquita Reserva, reflective of the comparable warmth and poor soil found in the Douro. It’s a little compact; and without the residual sweetness of the Periquita it comes across as a much drier style. Match it up with some basic grilled beef. While not in market yet, the 2013 vintage – which will be labelled as Domini – should prove a little more exciting. The soon to be released 2013 is still a little tightly wound, but already shows some heady liquorice and mineral-notes and fine structure that should make this a really good bet for an inexpensive cellar wine. Put me down for a 6-pack.
2014 Caves Velhas Romeira, Portugal, $14.99
The Juice: A blend of Aragonês, Trincadeira, Alicante-Bouschet from warm Alentejano region.
Not part of the José Maria Fonseca portfolio. This is a solid value with a nice mix of red and blue fruit flavours. The palate is sumptuously smooth. There is little in this wine that stands out but at $14.99, I’d just as soon have something solid and satisfying, which this wine is. This a wine which would totally be comfortable at an informal backyard barbecue.
Galinha na Brasa (Barbeuced Chicken)
Recipe from Pimentos & Piri Piri: Portuguese Comfort Cooking by Carla Azevedo, published by Whitecap Books
Makes 4 Servings
1 whole chicken (2 1/2lb/1 1/4kg)
1/4 cup (60 mL) olive oil
6 large cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp (15 mL) paprika
1 tsp (5 ml) piri-piri sauce or Tabasco sauce
1/3 cup (80 mL) lemon juice
2 Tbsp (30 mL) finely grated lemon zest
½ tsp (2 mL) fine salt
Rinse the chicken under cold running water and pat it dry with paper towels. Using a sharp knife, remove the wing tips from the chicken (and the neck if it’s still attached) and trim off the fat and excess skin. Place the chicken in a resealable bag and set in a large bowl.
In a skillet, heat the oil over low heat. Cook the garlic for 3 to 5 minutes, until softened and fragrant. Remove from the heat and let stand for about 20 minutes, until cool.
In a small bowl, combine the oil and garlic with the paprika, piri-piri sauce, and lemon juice and zest. Pour over the chicken; seal the bag and turn to coat well. Refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight, turning several times. Bring to room temperature for 30 minutes before cooking.
Remove the chicken from the marinade, letting the excess drip off; reserve the marinade. Season the chicken with salt. Using butcher’s twine, truss the bird so the legs and wings are securely tied to the body.
Insert the rotisserie rod lengthwise through the centre of the bird, checking for balance. Insert the holding forks and tighten to secure the bird. Place a drip pan beneath and slightly in front of the bird to catch any drippings and prevent flare-ups as the bird rotates. Grill on medium-high (or over hot coals), brushing the chicken often with the reserved marinade, for 50 to 60 minutes, until a meat thermometer registers 185°F (85°C). Remove the bird from the skewer and cut into pieces, pouring a little extra marinade from the drip pan overtop.
Alternatively, to cook in the oven. Cut the chicken in half, transfer to a roasting pan, and bake in a preheated 350° F (175° C) oven for 40 to 45 minutes, turning halfway through and basting with the reserved marinade and some of the sauce that forms at the bottom of the pan often. Broil the chicken for about 5 minutes per side, until the chicken is golden brown and no longer pink inside.
Published By Mark DeWolf
Oh ‘Sherry’, Our Love Holds On
By Simon Rafuse
Don’t look now, but our love of Sherry has been revived.
To many, the name alone suggests overly sweet brown wines, opened on holidays, and then promptly forgotten in the liquor cabinet until the following year; but Sherry (Jerez in Spanish, Xérès in French) is so much more than that.
Sherry is a fortified wine made from three grape varieties, Palomino, Muscat of Alexandria, and Pedro Ximénez, grown on the south Atlantic coast of Spain near the city of Jerez. While there are many different styles of wine in the Sherry family, to simplify, they can be split into two main types: fino and oloroso.
Fino Sherries are light, delicate, and aged under flor, a yeast that grows naturally on the surface of the ageing wine in cask. The flor protects the wines from oxidizing and gives them their distinct nutty character over many years in cask. The well-known style of Sherry called Amontillado is in fact an aged fino. Although finos are usually bone-dry, there are also some sweetened versions called Pale Cream.
Oloroso Sherries are oxidized, richer, and often (but not always) sweeter. They will typically have a higher alcohol percentage (alcohol prevents the flor from developing) and be much darker in colour. Oloroso wines can be further sweetened into Cream Sherries.
Dry Sherries should be drunk chilled, usually before a meal or with lighter foods such as fish. Richer wines, like olorosos or aged finos (like Amontillado) should be served chilled but not cold, and sweeter Sherries are sometimes better at room temperature as a dessert wine, depending on just how sweet they are.
With so many different types of Sherry, there’s something for every occasion. Sherry can also be used in cocktails, like the classic ‘Dunhill’ or the ‘Adonis’. Whatever your taste, here is a range of bottles available in Nova Scotia for you to try:
Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe, Palomino Fino, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry DO, Select NSLC $22.99
Almonds, pear, lemon peel and brine on the nose. The palate is quite rich, with bracing acidity and pleasant bitterness. Very dry.
88 Points. Classic and widely distributed fino.
Williams and Humbert Don Zoilo, Manzanilla Sánlucar de Barrameda DO, Select NSLC $27.79
Lovely nose of apple flesh, sea salt, almonds and white flowers. Delicate palate, with great acidity and a briny finish. Very Dry.
90 Points. An excellent example of a fino Sherry.
Note: Manzanilla is a term for fino Sherry produced solely in the town of Sánlucar de Barrameda, and as such, has its own denomination.
Williams and Humbert Palo Cortado Solera Especial, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry DO, NSLC The Port (Clyde Street, Halifax) $39.99
Aged for 20 years, this wine has an intriguing nose of dried fig, orange peel, and toasted almonds. Bracing acidity gives way to a refreshing bitterness, and the finish sails along. Dry.
94 Points. Exceptional and very interesting wine.
Note: Palo Cortado is rare style of Sherry made from fino sherry casks in which the flor does not survive. These wines are then fortified further and allowed to age as an oloroso.
Williams and Humbert Dry Sack Medium, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry DO, Select NSLC $16.99
Beautiful amber colour. Brown sugar, sultana raisins, and candied orange aromas. Orange peel, bitter almonds, and some alcohol heat frame the palate. Sweet.
88 Points. Fine example of a slightly sweeter oloroso Sherry.
Romate Pedro Ximenez, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry DO, Bishop’s Cellar $25.99
Deep brown colour, with stewed cherry, dried fig, raisins, and chocolate powder on the nose. Thick and syrupy on the palate, with sweet dried fruit dominating. Very (Very) Sweet.
89 Points. Powerful wine with incredible sweetness and density.
95-100 Outstanding, superior complexity and style, 90-94: Excellent, a fantastic wine with layers of flavour, 85-89: Very Good, well-balanced and showing excellent finesse, 80-84: Good: A solid wine for everyday enjoyment
Simon Rafuse is the winemaker at Blomidon Estate Winery and an instructor with the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers Atlantic Sommelier program. Having studied in France, he has worked and travelled around the world pursuing his passion for wine.