Destination: South Africa

Last week, I had the privilege of traveling to Toronto, Canada to take part in an initiative to further understand South African wines and learn about the PIWOSA group (Premium Independant Wineries of South Africa). What a treat it was to meet these 9 gentlemen (and 1 lady) who represented not only their wineries, but their country as well, with fabulous (and not full of band-aid Brett) wines!

with Sir De Villiers Graaf of De Grendel Winery

De Grendel Wines – owner and managing director De Villiers Graaff was on hand to share wine from his winery outside of Cape Town. Land bought by his grandfather in 1891, this area would be considered one of the most continental with high diurnal shifts in temperature. Typically lots of rain too, although drought has been a very real thing to manage this year. Specializing in sauvignon blanc, merlot and shiraz, his chardonnay was nothing to sneeze at, and in fact all of his wines were outstanding with the pinot noir being featured for trade in the morning. I was particularly impressed with the Shiraz, as it exhibited “Rhone-like” qualities with huge violets and pepper but all well balanced with acid and tannins. The pinot had a full nose of red pomegranate, strawberries and blueberries with just that hint of smoke and dried herbs on both the nose and palate. I hope one day I can sell these wines in the store. The quality was unbelievable.

Bruce Jack of Drift, et al!

The Drift – Bruce Jack, owner and winemaker comes from the most southerly and easterly vineyard of the ten, with weird and wacky blends that actually work! Bonfire Hill has a blend of shiraz/malbec/pinot noir/barbera/cinsault, while the Moveable Feast has an even wackier blend of shiraz/tannat/touriga nacional/malbec and pinot noir! Talk about represent! Bruce has experience making wine in many parts of the world in both hemispheres, giving him reason to feature all of these grapes! The monovarietal wine Gift Horse is made with 100% Barbera and was super savoury with lots of salami, pepper, balsamic with undertones of cardamom and slight cassis. A truly unique wine and winery!

Glenelly – Nicolas Bureau comes from a line of Bordeaux wine producing families, his grandmother being born in left bank Bordeaux, so being in the wine industry comes very naturally to Nicolas. His grandmother bought the estate in 2003 specifically to grow the varieties of Bordeaux, as it was found the alluvial soils were familiar to that of Bordeaux. These, along with chardonnay, make their home in Stellenbosch. The chardonnay was very pretty and quite classic with a full mouth feel and flavours of stone fruits, citrus, with vanilla and apple pie undertones. Fairly new to the South African wine industry, Glenelly is certainly making their mark.

Jordan Estate – Gary & Kathy Jordan own and make wine at the estate, and no, the wines in North America do NOT have a spelling error! Due to proprietary rights on another Canadian wine, in North America, they are known as Jardin. Gary is a geologist and Kathy is an economist, and between the two of them, they also make outstanding wine! Also located in Stellenbosch, they have a little bit of the main red varieties, but the main focus is chardonnay. And it’s no wonder as they offer three distinct styles: the completely stainless steel unoaked version, the regular oaked in 228l French barrique, and the one tasted, the Nine Yards chardonnay, (because they put the whole nine yards in there!); with the fruit coming from their best eastern facing vineyard that have well drained soils of old granite and white quartz surface gravels. This wine is fermented in barrel and spends 12 months ageing there also, not with battonage, but a full turning of the barrel from one end to the other, to ensure the lees covers all surface area of the wines. What a great chardonnay with great complexity and full flavours!

Journey’s End – if anything, Michael Dawson, Winemaker and Tom Hanson-Smith, Branch Development Manager, were super fun to be around! Always smiling, laughing or talking! Some great youth here to drive the brand, with the Destination Chardonnay, their flagship wine, showing incredible character and complexity, one of the highlight wines of the show for sure. For oaked chardonnay, I couldn’t help but wish my boss were on hand, as he would have completely LOVED all these South African chards, especially Destination, which showed huge complexity and depth. Not bad for Mike’s first vintage as winemaker to Journey’s End…I was more than impressed.

Ken Forrester

Ken Forrester – imagine my surprise when I returned from Toronto, to read my schedule and find out that it was the SAME Ken Forrester, whom I had just met coming to visit me in the store! My rep was even more surprised to discover that I had already tasted many of Ken’s wine! Ken is, in many ways, the captain of the PIWOSA ship, encouraging the alliance and traveling together, spreading the ‘gospel’ of the quality of South African wine. Ken’s philosophy about chenin blanc, is that it needed to be shaken out of its mold and start shining on its own. He has certainly done that with levels of chenin from entry level Petit right through to the stunner FMC. I decided to go middle-of-the-road with the Old Vine Reserve that had laser sharp acidity, complemented by flavours of peaches and cream, vanilla, toast and hints of cinnamon with a finish of brioche and baked apples. That two months in barrel makes a world of difference!

Klein Constantia – from the oldest wine region in South Africa, we were able to taste the famed Vin de Constance, a sweet wine made in an old Danish style bottle with the Muscat di Frontignan grape (aka Muscat Blanc a Petit Grain). Beautiful deep golden in colour with lots of dried apricots, marmalade, ginger and ripe peach, with a full bodied, unctuous mouth feel, but with the leveling out of high acidity to keep it from being cloying. With between 150-165 g/L RS you need that high acidity! Interesting little wine with ageing done in combination of French/Hungarian/acacia barrels, not botrytised grapes, but rather passilerage grapes (raisining on the vine rather than noble rot). Hans Astrom, managing director and partner of Klein Constantia, firmly believes the Vin de Constance can rival some of the best sweet wines in the world, at a fraction of the price.

Paul Cluver – Paul has his winery in Elgin, one of the coolest wine regions in the whole Cape, as it is surrounded by three mountain ranges. Mostly known for apple production, it is Paul’s family who has been instrumental in bringing the wine region of Elgin to a fine wine producing region. Known for aromatic whites, his winery is the largest producer of riesling in South Africa. No word of a lie, it was one of the best reislings I’ve ever tasted from anywhere in the world. For you wine geeks out there, there is 9.9 TA and 18 g/L RS in this wine. High, high, searing acidity that is enamel stripping, but oh so good, if you’re a fan of high acid wines as I am! Lime zest, green apple, stainless steel minerality and hints of honeysuckle and petrol, this riesling was everything I thought it should be, could be and was. Ultra yum.

Bruwer Raats

Raats – Bruwer Raats has a similar terroir to Napa in his Stellenbosch location, and is a specialist in chenin blanc and cabernet franc. I love that. Grow what you know does well for the terroir. That’s what every smart winemaker should do! Bruwer considers chenin a “thoroughbred”; meaning that if you treat it like a winning race horse, it will be! Making chenin both in stainless steel and oak, he is creating pure expressions of chenin blanc. His “Original” chenin had a fruity nose of peaches and pears and even hints of pineapple! Great wet stone minerality with more peach pear and pineapple on the palate. I found this to be very “chablis” like, which should be taken as a complement…

Radford Dale – last but certainly not least, from The Winery of Good Hope, Alex Dale featured wines from the Radford Dale property. Not only that, as co-founder and director of PIWOSA, Alex is passionate about the wines of South Africa and tirelessly travels the globe, convincing folks like us, that the wine producing capabilities in South Africa are huge, and let’s give them a fair shake shall we? Focusing on Rhone style wine, the featured wine Black Rock was a blend of syrah, carignan, cinsault, grenache, mouvedre and a pinch of viognier to create a smokey, meaty, chewy wine with loads of dry herbs, red fruits and balsamic notes. Great body and texture with tart red fruits of cranberry and currant, but well balanced with tannins and acidity. Such a cool wine.

I was honoured to have been invited to this event, and to meet all of these incredible ambassadors for South Africa. Owners, directors, winemakers, marketers and exporters, their goal is clear: present to the world the quality and potential of South African wines! One day I’ll get there and see for myself. Until then, cheers!

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ChardonnYAY day!

Who loves Chardonnay? Apparently many, with a twist on the name to ChardonnYAY, and enough to have a celebratory day! We were to have a tasting here at the store to celebrate this momentous occasion, but alas, it was too close to our spring open house, so we had to cancel. But never fear! I am here to bring your attention to a few of the stellar chardonnay you may see out there in the market, some you have tasted, and some maybe you haven’t!

Chardonnay is known as the “winemaker’s grape”, grown all over the world, and totally versatile. You’ll find it in famous wines like champagne, by itself in a sparkling blanc de blanc versions, oaked, unoaked, and even in my own backyard of the Okanagan, you will see it made into ice wine. It’s easy to grow, and for many, easy to like and drink. But, it has suffered over the years, going through the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) phase, which is still relevant to many. Even for myself, I’ve gone through a roller coaster where I was anything but, all for it, and my pendulum has moved again to…”let’s drink something else”. Unlike my boss who totally digs the big, buttery, full-bodied Chard monsters, I’d prefer to have just a little MLF (malolactic fermentation) with my chardonnay, along with the stainless steel variety, no heavy oak thanks. And those of you who know me, know my love and passion for Italian wines, and although I carry one in the store, I firmly believe Italians should not make chardonnay. And only because with so many native grapes at their fingertips, and the chance to make something special and different, why make chardonnay? It’s a question only they can answer, and with it being the 9th most popular grape grown in Italy, I guess it means something!

2013 Catena Alta Chardonnay – after recently attending a dinner featuring Catena family wines, I must admit I’m a bit biased towards this one. Not the entry level, nor the single vineyard White Stones or White Bones, that are appropriately expensive, but for under $40, this is a solid chardonnay with everything done right: a combination of first, second and third use French oak, some MLF, and wild yeasts, giving this wine huge complexity with aromas and flavours of baked apple, lemon meringue, peach, fig jam and brioche with hints of vanilla crumble and wet stone. All with high acidity to balance it and clean the palate. Awesome, just awesome.

2015 Yalumba Organic Chardonnay – you might remember I just wrote about this ‘oldest family winery in Australia” on my previous blog. They not only have the high end red wines of shiraz and cabernet, but the feminine beauties in their organic line, viognier and chardonnay. Wine drinkers want organic these days, so this just might fit the bill. From their certified organic vineyards of Riverland and Adelaide Plains, the grapes must be in perfect condition before being picked. Natural yeasts again add to further complexity with aromas and flavours of melon, peaches and cream and lemon curd. Great price too, at least here in Alberta!  You can find it for about $22!

Prefer Chilean? The Torrean de Paredes is fermented in oak, and gives off much more of a tropical note of banana and baked pineapple. Prefer unoaked? The Drouhin St. Veran, which is from the Maconnais region of Burgundy, just before you hit Beaujolais. It is completely done in stainless steel, to keep the fruit character of the chardonnay at the very forefront. Again, under $40!

The Canadians have a pretty good handle on this grape, with Culmina winery, on the Golden Mile Bench, producing (in my opinion), one of the best chardonnays not just in the Okanagan, but in Canada also. The Triggs family went to great lengths in soil study, altitude, aspect and degree days to pick just the perfect site for the Margaret’s Bench chardonnay. Called Dilemma, because the choice was made to rip out the original vines and plant them 200m higher, could have indeed caused a great dilemma for the family! Clearly, they chose wisely, as this 2013 Dilemma Chardonnay (although expensive – it’s $57 CAD) exhibits great chardonnay characteristics of stone fruits, hazelnut, vanilla spice, and wet stone, with high, sharp acidity, but rounded mouth feel due to a portion of new French oak being used. Simply fantastic, it might be the best $57 you’ve ever spent.

Not to be forgotten, is of course, wine from Napa Valley. The Truchard family is now 2nd generation, with young Anthony III, I’m sure being groomed for the task to come! But he’s a little boy, so there’s time! I recently tasted this wine, and am thrilled that our general public will be able to taste it this Saturday, should they drop by for our annual spring open house. And why not? It’s a beautiful chardonnay, not a big oak bomb that sometimes tends to happen in many Napa chardonnays. Well balanced, using only 33% new oak, various strains of yeast, battonage, and partial MLF. All of this creates a balanced, lovely mouthfilling wine, with harmonious acid to cleanse the palate. Full of pears, baked apples and toasted oak, this is a pleasing chardonnay that I would have no qualms about serving to my guests! The 2015 is on the shelf for about $46.

And what would a post about chardonnay be if we didn’t talk of the crème de la crème, the region that perhaps boast some of the best in the world? That would be the Côte D’Or, specifically the Côte de Beaune, where chardonnay reigns supreme in Mersault, Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet. When I think chardonnay, THIS is the wine and these are the regions I want to drink! No small change though, as these wines can be priced well over $100 or even more! The 2014 Domaine Blain-Gagnard Morgeot Premier Cru is no exception. Priced here at $114, it is stunningly beautiful with lovely integrated oak flavours – about 15% new oak used for the Premier Cru, and a combination of grapes from both older and newer vines. The Morgeot appellation is the largest PC in Chassagne-Montrachet with plantings of both pinot noir and chardonnay. Make sure you drink this with those that will appreciate it! Great substance and texture with linear acidity and flavours of lemon curd, spiced vanilla and hints of coconut and brioche along with subtle wet leaves and mushrooms. Oh so delightful!  Happy Chardonnay Day!  Drink something great, and tell me about it! Cheers!

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The World of Yalumba

In 1849, a vineyard was planted in Angaston, South Australia, which now makes Yalumba the oldest Australian family winery. Yalumba is also part of an elite group of families in Australia, called ‘First Families of Wine’, with the 12 families owning a total of 5000 ha of vines along with 1200 years combined experience in viticulture and winemaking. That’s impressive.

And just two weeks ago, Ambassador Jane Ferrari came to town to launch “The Caley”, a project to bring an Aussie Claret to the world. Grandson to Samuel Smith, the founder of Yalumba, Fred Caley- Smith was a horticulturalist, correspondent and adventurer, who after 18 months of intense travel to locales such as India, USA, Europe and the Middle East, documented his horticultural findings in letters sent back home. The end result was more sustainable viticulture and how vineyards were managed. Of course, I can’t tell the story nearly as eloquently as Jane Ferrari can, but the history is fascinating, which in my books, makes the wine even more delicious, even before it’s even tasted!

2012 was an epic year for viticulture in Southern Australia, and this incredible wine made from 3/4 cabernet sauvignon (1/3 of that from Coonawarra, and 2/3 from Barossa) was blended with 1/4 shiraz from Barossa creating their version of a “super claret”.  Like many of the world’s winemakers, there is a shift towards indigenous or ‘wild’ yeast, which are naturally present on the grapeskins, to start the fermentation process. This contributes to the complexity and richness of wines, and the Caley is no

(L-R) Marcia J. Hamm, Manager of Hicks Fine Wines, Jane Ferrari, Yalumba Family Ambassador, Doug Hicks, Owner, Hicks Fine Wines

exception. No overextraction and jammy flavours were wanted, so gentle pigeage was undertaken to achieve just the right balance of colour and tannin. Yalumba is also one of few wineries around the world that has their own cooperage, the building of wine barrels for the purposes of fermentation, maturation and ageing of wine. Having your own cooperage means specific sizes, wood grains and toast seasoning levels, whenever you need them, for the perfect completion of wine!

For the 2012 vintage, the wine was matured for 22 months in a combination of both new and old barrels made of French oak; using barriques (228L) and hogsheads (300L). After bottling, the wine rested further for 36 months, and was just released 2 weeks ago, with only 5200 bottles made, 60 of those for all of Alberta! That’s how prestigious this wine is, rivaling Henschke’s Hill of Grace and Penfolds Grange for exclusivity.

What a pleasure to be able to taste this wine, and be invited to the inaugural launch of ‘The Caley’, with Jane choosing Edmonton as her starting point. Awesome! On the nose, the wine had strong notes of black currant, eucalyptus, chocolate, violets, and hints of fruitcake. The palate had smooth silky tannins with balanced acid and alcohol, with bursts of black fruits of blackberry and blackcurrant, along with black tea, cigar box and eucalyptus. All with a long, lingering finish. Stunning really, and perfectly described by Jane Ferrari as the ‘George Clooney’ wine – smooth and suave, while the upcoming 2013 vintage (can’t wait for that!), is more like ‘Wolverine’, muscular and powerful! The wine comes wrapped in tissue with a map of Fred Caley’s 18 month journey, and features a book with the history of Yalumba and the wine, all packaged in a beautiful keepsake box.

We’ll get four of these stunners sometime in the fall, and if you want to get your hands on one, it’ll be a SR of around $500.

You know you want one…

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National Sauvignon Blanc Day

Sauvignon Blanc (like malbec) can be found on many wine lists, but unlike malbec, is grown all over the world, with some famous wines coming from the French regions of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume, and from the New World in New Zealand. Of course great expressions of this grape are found everywhere! The wine is typically high in acidity, and the aromas and flavours are generally all things green: grass, nettles, jalapeno peppers, gooseberry, and even “cat’s pee”. But pick the grapes early, preserving acidity, as overripeness will lead to dull wines. In fact, many producers in New Zealand pick in the middle of the night to keep the acid levels as high as possible. All of these lovely green notes, are due to the compound methoxpyrazine (pyrazines for short) while volatile thiols in the winemaking process can ease off on the green to produce aromas such as grapefruit, passionfruit, and in some cases, smoky-flinty notes. And then there’s the fact that sauvignon blanc is a parent (along with cabernet franc) to its more famous offspring: cabernet sauvignon.

For me, there is nothing like a chilled sauvignon blanc on a warm day! In my neck of the woods, I can’t really say that about today! But put the thought on hold, and when the sunshine comes, enjoy the glass of sauv blanc from whichever country you prefer!

2016 Mount Riley Sauvignon Blanc– probably one of the better sauv blancs I’ve had in a long time from New Zealand, as the pyrazines are bit more mellow and the grapefruit and passionfruit aromas shine through without the “grassiness” being too overwhelming. Price is right too at only $21, you’ll want more than one!

2015 Casa Lapostolle – from Chile made by a French winemaking family, I love the tropical pineapple notes that shine through on this wine. Like the Mount Riley, well priced at $22.

2014 Roger Neveu Sancerre – from of the most famous regions for sauvignon blanc, the Neveu Sancerre sings with its laser sharp acidity, ripe yellow fruit, white flowers and granite-esque minerality. A superbly balanced, refreshing wine.

2014 Tiare Sauvignon – although Italy is not well known for growing sauvignon, its best expressions will come from Alto Adige and Friuli, both in the extreme north of the country. Cool climate sauvignon results in green pepper, lemongrass and gooseberry with high, searing acidity and a clean finish.

2014 Honig Sauvignon Blanc – from the family that only grows two grapes: sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon, this wine is one of the best of sauvignon blanc I’ve ever tasted. It also has a combination of some of my favourite components: family owned, sustainably farmed and solar powered. Lees ageing adds complexity to the wine, along with a small amount of semillon to give some beautiful aromas and flavours of beeswax, jasmine and lemon zest along with the token grapefruit and passionfruit. Go big or go home on this one and pay the $33 price tag. You’ll be glad you did…

2011 Les Hauts de Smith – this baby to Haut Lafite Smith is no slouch. White Bordeaux doesn’t get much of a look, but this 100% sauvignon is unbelievable and the lots of grapes for this white are treated exactly like the ones for big brother. Every time I taste this wine, it completely blows my mind; something that a sauvignon blanc doesn’t do often. With ageing in 50% new oak barrels, and bâtonnage for 10 months, these add superb complexity with lemon curd, white peach, yellow fruit and hints of fennel. Completely outstanding! $57

For this Sauvignon Blanc day, why not pick up something you’ve never tried before? Cheers, Salud, Santé and Salute!



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National Malbec Day

French or Argentine? When you think malbec, what country comes to mind first? Is it the malbec made popular by the Argentinians where (almost) every winery in the country has one, and it’s found everywhere on restaurant wine lists? Or, do you think of the old country malbec from Cahors or from Bordeaux where it was (& still is, although not seen as much) part of the famous blends of the region? Whatever your choice, it’s a big bold wine that is inky purple in colour with high tannins, medium acidity and lots of black fruit, both sweet and savoury spice and bramble notes. Love it or hate it, Malbec is still high on many people’s list as a go-to, first choice grape. My philosophy on this grape is that it’s easy to say, therefore easy to order in a restaurant! Nobody wants to look silly when they order wine!

But seriously, even though it’s never my first grape to reach for, there are some good ones out there:

Luigi Bosca, a family owned winery, have their roots in both Italy and Spain, and one of the great families of the area, the Arizu Family. And this particular one, is under $30 on the shelf and one of the highest selling malbecs in Alberta! With notes of black plums, black cherries, and vanilla spice, it’s a perfect match for barbecue, wild game and hard cheeses.

From the Bergerac region, on the right bank of Bordeaux, this Château Laulerie Malbec may be slightly more unknown, but no less delicious! Dense with black fruits and hints of pepper, the tannins are oh so silky on this one! And the price? Outstanding at $22!

And last, but certainly not least, the Astrolabe Cahors malbec. Malbec is king in the Cahors region in southwest France. More earthy tones in the malbec here, this wine is full-bodied with concentrated black fruits, with candied cassis notes, hints of earth and spice; pair it with lamb, beef, ripe cheeses and anything with truffles! At $33, it’s one of the more expensive malbecs, but certainly worth the price!

This is just the tip of the Malbec iceberg! Not only are there the malbecs featured in the photo available for sale, but there are many, many more! Whatever country malbec you happen to reach for first, Happy Malbec Day and may your glass always be full! Santé!


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