Category Archives: Wine Education

WINE (noun): the alcoholic fermented juice of fresh grapes used as a beverage

Source: Merriam-Webster

Ice Wine – Canada’s specialty

No good meal should end without a little something sweet. So it seems only right to end the Canadian-hosted Winter Olympics with a little something sweet. And what better drink to finish off the celebration than the decadent sweet wine Canadians do best –icewine.

Though Canada is not the home of ice wine, it certainly has become known for it. Germany has been making ice wine (or eiswein) for over two centuries, while Canada has been at it only since the 70s. In fact, icewine (one word in Canada, two words everywhere else) did not take off in Canada until the early 1990s. The high point for the industry was when Inniskillin's 1989 Icewine took the Grand Prix d'Honneur at Vinexpo in Bordeaux. This award put Inniskillin – and Canadian Icewine – on the map. Production has been growing ever since.

What is ice wine and how is it made?

Basic definition: Ice wine is dessert wine made from grapes that freeze while still on the vine. It is sweet because the water freezes, but not the sugar, leaving a much more concentrated grape.

The process: The grapes ripen just as other grapes do, but then they must stay on the vine until the first "hard freeze," or until the temps reach 17 degrees Fahrenheit (in Canada). Two climate factors much come together to make an ice wine crop work.
1. The first hard freeze cannot come too late – a late freeze means a higher chance of rotten grapes.
2. Temperatures must be cold, but not too cold – if the temperatures drop too low, the grapes are too hard and the juice is lost.

If these two factors come together, a successful ice wine can be made.

The grapes are picked and pressed while still frozen, meaning many harvests occur at night and in the early morning. Yields are low and the fermentation process is slow due to the concentration of sugar in the grape must.

The finished product: The finished wine is concentrated and sweet, but with a unique freshness that differentiates itself from other dessert wines, such as those made from botrytis-affected grapes. The wine is pure and clean, with notes of honey, citrus, apricot, apple and caramel. The acidity is bright and finish amazingly long. If you're not a fan of port or Sauternes, you may be surprised at how much you like Icewine – it's uplifting rather than heavy.

The grape most used for Canadian ice wine is the native variety, Vidal. But Inniskillin – and other producers – are also using Riesling and even Cabernet Franc to create even more decadent ice wine.

The wine can be costly, due to the intense process it takes to pick and press the grapes, as well as the low yield from frozen grapes But it is worth every penny as you sip this decadent treat!

So toast the final days of the Olympics with a glass of Canadian Icewine as a salute to the host country. May as well have a bowl of vanilla ice cream along with it as the pairing will put you in heaven.

Revisiting 2003 Bordeaux

When high reviews came out for the 2003 vintage in Bordeaux, I was pretty skeptical. Really? Weeks of 100 degree weather producing Bordeaux of that caliber? I don’t think so. Grapes need slow ripening periods of mild sunshine and heat, with cooler temperatures at night. I was in France the summer of 2003 and I guarantee there was nothing mild about that heat, and absolutely nothing to cool you off at night. So if I could not cool down and sleep at night, how on earth could the grapes?

It’s not that I didn’t think the wine from the vintage could be good – I bet it tasted fantastic in the barrels – lots of ripe fruit, higher alcohol, plush in texture – what I doubted was its ability to age well. Even over a few years. When temperatures spike like that in the vineyards, balance gets out of whack in the grapes, and balance is a key component in wine aging. My thought about the ’03 (because I had had some basic ’03 Bordeaux that I did not fancy) was that five years down the road, the wines would take on a “stewed fruit” character, typical of wine that have too much extracted fruit and high alcohol.

But last night, I had the opportunity to taste the 2003 Chateau de Pez, a Cru Bourgeois from St. Estephe. I was bit disappointed when my husband brought it out of the cellar for dinner, as I think we have quite a few better wines than any ’03 Bordeaux. But, it was his birthday, after all, and I was the one that messed up the babysitter schedule which led to us having birthday dinner at home.

We popped out the huge Bordeaux glasses, got the ribeye steak cooking and poured ourselves a bit to swirl and help the wine aerate and open up.

And indeed it did. No longer would I dis the ’03 vintage. There was not a stewed fruit to be found in this lovely bottle. There were marks of blackberry and currant, a touch of wood notes, some coffee style undertones and a bit of herbs. Tannins were elegant, completely integrated but present. Nice long finish and just all around great. I’ve had more complex wines, but this easily beat out a wines I’ve had for twice the price.

Not sure where you can find the ’03, but the 2005 vintage, which is a highly touted vintage in Bordeaux, is currently available and less than $50!

It will be on my next order and will definitely keep you posted on how compares. Meanwhile, I may be digging around to taste some more 2003 Bordeaux. I love it when wine can change your mind.

Year in Review – Top Appellations of 2009 Part 3: Argentina

Argentina is hitting it big these days. With the popularity of Malbec still growing, and the recognition from media and retailers to some grapes sarge vinespecific to Argentina (like Torrontes and Bonarda), Argentina is on the right track. Sales of wine from here grew 60% last year and most of the wines coming from this country are well in the value range, which is what people like these days!

Argentina Facts:

-Argentina is the 5th largest producer of wine in the world
Malbec, the grape most often used as a blending variety in Bordeaux and Bordeaux blends, has found a home in the high elevation vineyards of the country.
Torrontes, a white variety unique to Argentina, is delightfully aromatic and crisp. Salta is a region further north that is becoming well known for Torrontes and other white wines.
-Many of Argentina’s vineyards are very high elevation, which is one of the reason’s Malbec is able to thrive – the dry air and strong temperature catenawineryshifts keep it disease and rot-free. But they do have to mind the hail storms here…
-Mendoza is the heart of Argentina grape growing, and is just a 45 minute flight from Santiago. Though you wouldn’t want to try the drive as that would take you through the Andes mountains.
Bonarda   is a unique Argentine grape variety that is used mostly in blends, but occasionally as a single varietal – worth trying!

While Malbec is definitely the “state bird” of Argentina, other grapes are making excellent wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and, becoming ever more popular, red blends. So pick up some wine from this tango country – you’ll find many deals under $20 and the wines are certainly well worth it.

Year in Review – Top Appellations of 2009 Part 2: Tuscany

tuscan houseAnother appellation that grew last year – Tuscany. Wine sales from Tuscany were up 66% in 2009. Not as great a growth streak as Cotes-du-Rhone (151%), but it was steady. Tuscany is home not only to the classic Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, but also the collectible “Super Tuscans” and a growing group of delicious value blends. One of our best sellers this year was the Monte Antico 2006 Rosso, a delightful Tuscan blend for just $11. Not only is the wine delicious and diverse, but the region is stunningly gorgeous!


Tuscany Facts:

– The main red grape is Sangiovese . Most reds are based on this indigenous variety.
– The three “classic” wine districts of Tuscany are Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montalpulciano
– The more recent districts known for Super Tuscans are Bolgheri and the Maremma
– IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) is a recent classification created in 1992 with Super Tuscan wines in mind – it is applied to wines from a specific geographic area, not fitting the DOC/DOCG mold, but offering superior quality to Vino da Tavola (table wine).

Tuscan wines are delicious with food, particularly foods of the area. Sangiovese has such excellent acidity, anything tomato sauce based is a delightful match. So give a Tuscan wine a try. My personal favorites:

Value: DiMajo Norente Sangiovese – light and easy drinking, bright fruits, bright acid – a fantastic food wine.

Mid-range: Le Macchiole Rosso 2006 – this is a Tuscan wine for the new-world palate. Full of ripe, sweet fruit and a touch of oak, very easy drinking and

Cellar-worthy: Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino 2004 – Super Tuscans are nice, but this Brunello takes the cake. I have a few bottles of the ‘01 in the cellar waiting for me one day. Very age-worthy, always exceptional.

And of course, Tuscany has some white wines as well, which can be lovely. But they are outshone by the reds and I definitely would suggest many other white wine producing regions in Italy over Tuscany.

Year in Review – Top Appellations of 2009 Part 1: Cotes-du-Rhone

We love to watch the trends of our buyers at Though they don’t always represent what is going on through the country, it is kind of cool to see what’s going on with our customers and why they are buying what they are buying. This week I’m going over our top 5 appellations this year, giving you the facts on the region and the wines!

village cdr

#1: Cotes-du-Rhone.  Known for value and quality, the Cotes-du-Rhone is full of easy-drinking wines that are perfect for food. This year, the region was up 151% in sales. Why the growth? A few reasons. First, some stellar back-to-back vintages – ‘06, ‘07 and ‘08 are all particularly touted as excellent. Excellent vintages can mean that the “starter” wines of a region, such as Cotes-du-Rhone in the Rhone Valley, can offer incredible quality for the price.

CdR facts – 

– The appellation of Côtes du Rhône encompasses much of Rhone region, not to mention much of the wine!rhonemap_crop
– Two-thirds of the wine produced in the Rhone Valley is of the Côtes-du-Rhône appellation. 
– Over 23 grape varieties permitted in production 
– Most all of this appellation is in the Southern Rhône, as the wines are blends, though there are some Cotes-du-Rhone areas in the Northern Rhone.
Red wines are based on Grenache, which must constitute at least 40% of the blend
Whites focus on Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Roussanne, occasionally with some Viognier.

There is one higher level in the Côtes du Rhône called Côtes du Rhône Villages. These wines are from specific village areas that have higher standards the wine must reach to receive the village label. For example, reds from this appellation must con tain at least 50% of Grenache. Some villages to take note of are Cairanne, Rasteau, Seguret and Sablet. I am a particular fan of Cairanne.

The wines of Cotes-du-Rhone are delicious and often easy drinking. They combine good, ripe berry fruit with layers of spice and sometimes a touch of earthiness. Acid and alcohol are usually in balance (careful on some of those 2007 wines as the alcohol can be a big high!) and tannins are low to medium in the reds. These factors make CdR wines perfect for a variety of foods in a variety of seasons. So grab a bottle or two and see why this region continues to grow!