Uruguay: Emerging from Behind the Shadows of Chile and Argentina in the World of Wine

Woman reading a wine label

There are many things the country of Uruguay is known for. Among them, soccer, asado and tango tend to come to mind. However, the tiny South American country excels at something else too, something that is often overshadowed by Argentina and Chile…wine.

It might be a small country, yet that small size doesn’t seem to be deterring it from stepping up into the competition for wine production. In fact, the growth of Brazil’s wine market is really a positive force for Uruguayan wines. Furthermore, Brazil’s tourism to Uruguay is also growing and that spells big growth for this little land brimming with wine.

The majority of Brazilian wine drinkers love to try new styles of wine. Brazilians are very open to newness and for this reason, many of them happily cross the border to sample Uruguay’s wines. In fact, the Uruguayan Chamber of Tourism states that around half a million Brazilians come to Uruguay each year to luxuriate in the resorts and on the sunny beaches as well as partake in cultural activities, part of which includes wine tourism.

Wineries in Uruguay confirm this with the majority of tourists that come through being noted as Brazilian. They come to the wineries and engage in tastings, and Uruguay is quite ready to embrace the barrage of happy wine-loving tourists from all over the globe.

There is one thing though that could further catapult Uruguay into wine-stardom in South America. If it diversifies a little more, it may see even more of a boom in tourism and wine sales. Tannat, the best-known grape variety in Uruguay, is also the one that has the most focus. And for good reason! It’s very full-bodied and tannic, and it boasts the highest level of antioxidants over other red grape varieties. It thrives here from the soil and climate and is capable of making magnificent wine from the grape that in its homeland of France could never thrive.

However, other varieties shouldn’t be overlooked all in the name of Tannat. Merlot and Cabernet from Uruguay are nothing short of spectacular. Albariños are also emerging with full potential. Having more variety translates to having more of a global reach.

Speaking of reaching the rest of the globe though, Uruguay is smartly shifting to engage with consumers in the digital world. In Brazil alone, many wine drinkers buy their bottles online. The UK and China top that list (sent out by the Online Retail and Communications in 2018), though other countries are getting on the trend.

With a versatile and easy interface on websites and apps, wine producers in Uruguay have complete control of surpassing Chile and Argentina simply by being more accessible. On top of that, becoming more visible by education those in the wine trade and consumers is how the tiny country is set to climb to the top.

One sip and you’ll see why Uruguayan wine will be the next big thing. While its been around for a while, by utilizing marketing and avenues of modern exposure, it will reach more palates and become more common on the shelves of your local wine shop and on the menus of your favorite dining establishments.

Will Turkey’s Wine Industry Ever Recover from the Red Tape Tug-of-War?

Wine bottles with glass

The beautiful country of Turkey is a land of fertile terroir. It has a stunning climate that’s hot yet not humid, ideal for making wine. Although it’s had a long winemaking tradition, the current regime is making things difficult for those who have practiced the art of growing vines and turning them into wine as a means to support their families.

Much of the wine in Turkey comes from native grape varieties like Narince, Kalecik, and Karasi for example. However, the growers that haven’t been scared off from their traditions have increasingly turned to European grapes in order to find new markets to keep their business’ alive.

The International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV) notes that Turkey currently has the 5th largest area of vineyards in use anywhere in the world. Sadly, because of the political state, many of these grapes merely get eaten fresh or are dried for later consumption.

This is all largely due to religious reasoning for the country abides by Muslim beliefs. Winegrowers have continued to step up quality over the last decade while Belgium remains the largest market abroad for these wines, though Turkish wines can also be found in the UK, Germany, and the US.

The high taxes and stricter regulations of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have made it all the more difficult for the world to get a taste of Turkish wines. Restrictions in regards to alcohol in Turkey have been around for ages. In the 17th century during the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Murad IV placed a massive ban on alcohol (coffee and tobacco too). Interestingly, he died from alcoholism.

Still, if you go to Turkey today, you won’t see any form of alcohol advertised there. You’re not even allowed to order it online though you will find it in supermarkets. The ban is unfortunately affecting the expansion of wine culture for the country. To add insult to injury, there may also be a consumption tax added in addition to the already steep 18% VAT tax.

Despite this, that hasn’t stopped winemakers from living their dreams of bringing Turkish wine to the forefront of wine consumer’s minds. After all, the soil and climate are ripe for production. Hanging onto the optimism, many are going forward without letting obstacles stop them. Wine has always been produced in these fertile lands and with international acclaim in the form of gold medals at various competitions, the future has potential.

Even though wine exports have been relatively stagnant for several years, the wine producers still are at work, honing their craft and preparing for the next great renaissance of Turkish wine to wow the world.

Sherry: Spain’s Essence in Need of a Renaissance

Sweet Port Dessert Wine

The fortified wine of Spain known as Sherry is in trouble. Once a popular aperitif, it’s now dwindling in popularity. Many are quick to point to the overabundance of the stuff, making it rather cheap in price. Perhaps if it were harder to come by, people would jump at the chance to drink it.

Perhaps a bottle of it graces the top shelf of your home bar. Gathering dust and looking rustic, you probably grab other spirits in favor of the fortified wine from Andalucía. Maybe you think it’s something grandmas drink when they finally send their grandchildren back home to their parents, yet head to Spain and you’ll see the most macho of men enjoying Sherry with tapas.

Outside of Spain, Sherry is sadly misunderstood and not consumed as often as it should be. One of the biggest misconceptions about this libation is that it’s a spectrum of different styles. You have Fino and Manzanilla, the 2 driest styles. You have Amontillado, a toasty, spicy, medium-dry Sherry. You have Oloroso which is denser and a bit sweet. Then there’s cream Sherry and Pedro Ximénez with the delightfully sweet flavor of raisins.

Perhaps why you’re not enjoying your Sherry is that it needs to be chilled. It also shouldn’t be sitting there gathering dust on your bar. It needs to be tasted while fresh. That being said, when you open a bottle of Sherry, it should spend no more than a few days to a week in your refrigerator or it will be easy to see why you aren’t fond of it.

Knowing this, it makes sense why Sherry isn’t being indulged as much as it should be. It’s different from other wines because it has such severity in styles. The key to bringing it back into a renaissance lies with the emerging popularity of tapas bars. As what’s old is new again reemerges into the mainstream, Sherry just might get the second chance it so dearly deserves.

Although 2018 saw sweet Sherry types composing about 50% of Sherry sales, much of that consumption is from an aging generation. While our elders know a thing or two, as tastes change, the impact could mean a cut of 20 million liters by the time we hit 2025.

What can Spain do to encourage a renaissance? The best strategy is to focus on the younger generation and appeal to their tastes with the other styles. Sweeter wines are on the decline but few people realize that Sherry isn’t always a sweet-style wine. With the growing popularity of these tapas and Sherry bars though, there is much opportunity to create a new following of the younger set.

After all, Sherry is really very flexible in style. Putting the focus on these other styles of the iconic fortified wine will help it to have the right reach in the future.

Argentinian Pinot Noir: Taking a Stand Against Beloved Malbec

Glass of Red Wine and Fire Pit

To say the Malbec of Argentina’s Mendoza region is highly-adored is an understatement. It’s one of the most exported wines from the country, yet it’s surprising to find that Rio Negro only comprises 20% of the vineyards.

As one of the top 5 wine producers in the world, Argentina exports mostly reds. It would be criminal to assume that none of the other reds on the roster are as divine as the much-prized Malbec. In fact, one of the most masterful grapes to thrive in the Rio Negro’s cooler climate is Pinot Noir.

If you’ve found love with Argentinian Malbec, it’s time to take a taste of the Pinot Noir. The key is in choosing bottles that come from Rio Negro. In other parts of the country, this varietal is prone to the elements, rendering a less-than-notable tasting. But from Rio Negro, the dry climate is ideal. With hot summers and cold winters, there is plenty of consistency in cultivating the perfect vines.

Warm days give way to cold nights and thus, a lengthy growing season ensues that gives balance for rich fruit flavor and prime acidity. Alluvial soils of gravel and limestone are well-drained, making it easier for those tending the vineyards to control water. The result breeds some of the most elegant Pinot Noir in the country.

Inspiration seems to have been drawn from New Zealand’s similar Pacific breezes though in Rio Negro, the Atlantic is the defining characteristic. You get a light wine with earthy tones and a firm-footed acidity that surprises in the most pleasant of ways, making one realize that Malbec shouldn’t be getting all the adoration.

Argentina’s Rio Negro Pinot Noir might just be the perfect red. It’s deep in color and rich, a different contrast from what you find with this varietal in other parts of the country. Bold styles and tastes are commanding the attention of Argentinian Malbec lovers. As wine drinkers take notice, more Pinot Noir is being planted to meet the growing demand.

The biggest chance for the growth of Pinot Noir in the region will be from the north in the US. Americans love Malbec from Argentina yet many tend to assume quality with the reds. This will be a pivotal point for Rio Negro’s Pinot Noir to set an example, one akin to that of New Zealand’s Pinot Noir perfection that has taken the world by storm.

Astonishingly, the prices are rather reasonable even for a bottle produced by one of the most popular wineries, Bodega Chacra. Choose a bottle and discover something new to love about Argentina!

Getting to Know Bordeaux’s Right Bank

Man standing in vineyard

For years, the Left Bank was the more famed of the two portions of Bordeaux. That all changed when Robert Parker began lavishing his affections on the ‘garagistes’ or garage wine approach that is popular on the right. Good thing too, for while the Bordeaux of the Left Bank is incredibly esteemed and glorious, patience is in order.

Left Bank Bordeaux is best to tuck into your cellar, awaiting perfection. In the meantime, what shall you drink? Turn your attention to the Right Bank and you’ll find many young wines that consist of primarily Merlot based blends. They’re rich in fruit and are far less tannic and acidic, making them a prime choice for earlier consumption.

These softer, richer New World flavors are most certainly due to the differences in soil and terroir. It’s fascinating to explore that just a short distance away, the composition is so vastly different. Most of the Right Bank sits further inland. Plus, it’s hidden from the Atlantic Ocean. It gets less rainfall and in summer, reaches higher temperatures.

While it has that going for it, the Right Bank tends to be more prone to frost which could spell trouble for the vines and each grower’s yield depending on how tough the season is.

Still, the Right Bank already sounds less complicated than the Left Bank. At a precursory glance, it is. That’s because the soil here is a bit less of a challenge. It’s got limestone closer to the top and there’s less gravel for the vines to struggle through. You might think without these things that the Right Bank lacks character but nothing could be further from the truth. Exploring that unique and New World-style character is a must for anyone that dares to delve into the captivating world of Bordeaux.

Sitting on the right bank of the Dordogne, the soils vary in composition thanks to the erosion of a number of source rocks. These include limestone, sand, clay, and a little gravel. This area encompasses the Libourne, Saint-Émilion, Fronsac, Pomerol, and Cites de Bordeaux, to name a few. The mostly fine textures of these soils are ideal for absorbing water which keeps the vines cool. Because most are atop hills and are rife for good draining, any excess waters seep into the deeper layers which keeps it from upsetting the roots of the vines.

The area that falls between Garonne and Dordogne, which includes Loupiac, Cadillac, and Entre-Deux-Mers among others, has more of a clay to limestone base. This means they are cool yet humid. The soil here features good minerality that transfers easily to the vines.

Within Bordeaux, the radical differences between the soils from bank to bank and within each bank compared amongst itself is sheerly mind-boggling. These extreme variances in organoleptic components is what brings all the magic to the wines here.

Of all the appellations in the Right Bank, Saint-Émilion and Pomerol are undeniably the most important. As part of Le Libournais, they have an exceptional amount of prestige surrounding them. Plus, in the case of Saint-Émilion, it resides upon a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As such, the wines of Saint-Émilion have a classification that is reviewed every decade for a more reliable ranking.

As such, understanding what makes Saint-Émilion and Pomerol have in the way of soil is the key to finding those little nuances when tasting. A more detailed account of the lay of these 2 appellations follows.


Saint-Émilion might just be the most fascinating of the major Bordeaux appellations. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one with an incredible diversity of soil types.

Here, the soil begins with a thick layer of sandstone, shale, and calcareous shallow marine deposits. But it gets more complex from there. Saint-Émilion has 5 main areas that it is divided into based on soil type. You have Côte Sud, or South; Graves de Figeac; the West coast; the North coast; and the plateau of St-Martin.

Graves de Figeac has more gravel upon which Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon tend to thrive exceptionally well, though the entire appellation is Merlot’s esteemed home, a brilliant place for the craft of the finest red wines.

With the exception of the gravel soils of the Graves de Figeac on which Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are particularly well adapted. St-Émilion is the home of Merlot, which makes up a dominant portion of the crafted red wines. The Merlot here are less austere than the others in surrounding regions. Aging for 10 to 15 years is the best way to enjoy these powerfully elegant wines with a fruit-driven and velvety richness that nothing comes close to.

Interestingly, this famed Right Bank region contrasts in style with other Bordeaux as well as with itself. In wine terms, it’s almost as old as time hence why it rates as a historical site. Despite this, it was often outranked by nearby Médoc, but that was only because no bridges crossed the Gironde at the time. From the 1820’s on though, it became an important part of Bordeaux’s Right Bank.

Many argue that Côtes-St-Émilion with its slopes and ridges to the south of the town is the most important portion of this appellation. The thin limestone soil atop the limestone rock does bode well for some of the best wines. Then again, the Graves-Saint-Émilion in the west has more gravel and sand has wines that aren’t earth-shattering. The contrast is purely incredible, particularly given the distance between them is nominal.

With its own classification system though, it can get tricky. Look for Premier Grand Crus Classes to experience the most exceptional offerings. They will be charismatic yet graceful, rich and intense, full of tannins as in other areas yet much more approachable prior to aging. It’s incredibly fine with a richness of black fruits, spices and a supple mouthfeel.


Pomerol, to the west of Saint-Émilion, is varied in terroir and slopes, a bounty that helps it create unique expressions in its wines. This uniqueness and divergence in soil and terroir give Pomerol a style all its own.

Pomerol was created in 1936 yet has enjoyed the tradition of winemaking since Roman times. Sure, it’s the smallest wine-producing portion of Bordeaux though that just makes for cozy beginnings. It doesn’t have an official ranking or classification system either but it boasts some of the highest winemaking standards anywhere. The unique soil profile puts it on the map as the world’s best Merlot-based wines. They’re well-balanced with aromatic prowess and a silkiness that feels like a dream.

It helps to look at it in 3 components. There’s the plateau, the slopes on the plateau, and then the flat bits of parcels after the slopes. By and large, the best estates are on the plateau. Here, the soil is a mixture of clay, gravel, and iron oxides, or what they call ‘crasse de fer’ which literally translates to ‘iron filth.’

Thanks to the clay, the wines here are absolutely rich, dense, and fully luxurious. Not surprisingly, they are among the most expensive. Despite the flatness of the plateau, the soils, slopes, and exposures are all different. Thus, you’ve got a mix of clay, gravel, iron oxide, and sand.

While other appellations have clay soils, those in Pomerol are completely unique. This clay is produced out of the degraded limestone. The limestone is rather high in acidity and calcium which all breaks down in time with erosion. Clay soils are also known for a high Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) which gives the vines more nutrients via the soil.

Of further distinction is the blue clay of Petrus, a famous style that is only found on this high point. It only exists here and nowhere else in the world can lay claim on the abundance of blue clay found here. Estimated to be around 40 million years old, the density makes it intensely difficult for the vines to penetrate, however during wet vintages, that clay becomes much like a sponge creating an absolute perfect environment for thriving vines.

Prior to the 20th century, Pomerol had only been known for creating largely unimpressionable light white wines. As those vines were replaced with red, it lacked the prestige of Saint-Émilion. It merely passed as just a fairly good Bordeaux. But since then, Pomerol has risen to stardom, likely in part due to Petrus.

With the passage of time Pomerol has found its way into the hearts of Bordeaux lovers. These seductive offerings are velvety and rich, far richer than even the best Medoc has to offer and with more substance than Saint-Émilion. With the rise of the garagiste style, it has only further gained success as one of the most important appellations of the Right Bank.

Basically when it comes down to it with the Right Bank, the grapes are plumper and fatter thanks to the rich calcium deposits from the ground below. It often stuns those that love wine to find out that Bordeaux is so much more than ‘Bordeaux.’ Even people who have considered themselves aficionados for years are surprised to discover the differences.

And what differences! Even in each bank, the opportunity to taste and discover what makes each commune’s bounty so esteemed is one that should be looked to with joy. However, it’s high time that the Right Bank started enjoying the limelight too. Luckily it seems there are many more wine drinkers eager to find out what these intricacies in the soil composition mean for the flavors that dance upon their palate and the textures that abound in every bottle.

From North to South: Excellence in the Rhône Valley

a view over a vineyard at Alsace France in autumn light

While Bordeaux certainly holds firm ground at the top echelon of French wine, the Rhône region of France is also considered among the finest. Just south of Lyon and spanning nearly to the Mediterranean Sea, the Rhône is home to appellations named for the communes that dot the river banks.

As Bordeaux has the Left Bank and Right Bank, Rhône has the North and the South. Northern Rhône includes the town of Vienne down to just south of Valence. In Northern Rhone, Syrah, or Shiraz as it is known elsewhere, is the only red grape permitted in the wines though some white grapes may be used with very specific conditions. The whites have more leeway with Viognier, Roussanne, and Marsanne grapes.

Perhaps you’ve sampled Australian Shiraz and wonder what might be different with the wines of Northern Rhone. In short, the cooler conditions, higher elevations, and those intensely rocky soils all play a hand in giving Syrah from the North a drier and more acidic taste. It’s a bit herbal and smoky, often compared to the pleasurable flavor of bacon fat.

A Tale of Two Regions

Size-wise, Northern Rhône is smaller than Southern Rhone. In fact, all of Northern Rhône is smaller than one of the South’s most prized appellations, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Most of the wines (95% of them) come from the South.

In Northern Rhone, temperatures are much cooler and the climate provides more rain. Here, the growing season is also shorter with notable changes throughout the four seasons. With the unrivaled Mediterranean climate, steep hillsides, and rocky soils, the grapes that are permitted to grow here thrive. Add to it the natural moisture that comes via the Rhône river and you’ve got an exceptional microclimate that produces exquisite grapes.

Northern Rhone

All told, there are eight appellations in the Northern Rhône Valley. Côte-Rôtie is where Syrah is vinified with Viognier, a white grape that serves to make it appear even darker. Translating to ‘baked slope,’ it’s named for the terroir. Most of the appellations in the North allow a fixed percentage of white wine grapes to be blended, but in this appellation, some producers won’t just blend. They’ll often co-ferment just a small amount of Viognier.

Côte-Rôtie wines are exotically silky and treasures to behold. It’s not just the flavor but the texture as well. High demand and small size mean these will cost you a pretty penny but they’re well worth the splurge.

Moving southward in the Northern Rhône Valley, Condrieu is next where white wine is produced. Only Viognier is allowed and you’ll know it from the spectacularly floral aromas. Condrieu wines are noted for having some of the most beautiful bouquet of aromas in the world. To the taste, the wine is quite rich and evokes the flavors of lychee.

With Condrieu, most growers use French oak barrels for vinification. Others use both stainless steel tanks and oak barrels. It varies from producer to producer as well as influence from the vintage. Skin contact and malolactic fermentation all go down in the barrels. Aging often varies between 6 to 18 months, though the best results seem to come from 6 to 9 months aging before bottling. You’ll find it in sweet, dry, and even a middle ground between these 2 extremes.

The appellation of Chateau Grillet only has one chateau. It crafts exceptional white wine from Viognier. To try it is to be on top of the world for it’s not easy to come by and is incredibly pricey.

Saint-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, and Hermitage all make reds from Syrah and whites from Marsanne and Roussanne. The notable whites from these Northern Rhône appellations are intense, made only in small amounts. With Saint-Joseph, there has been a shift toward biodynamic farming. The AOC laws permit blending of up to 10% white wine grapes with the red as long as the grapes used are co-fermented. Stainless steel tanks seem to be favored here though aging takes place in oak barrels. After aging, the treat is discovering these feminine wines that can be enjoyed very early on at very reasonable prices.

Crozes-Hermitage wines are typically made with destemmed grapes though traditionalists use whole bunches for vinification, all in concrete tanks. Cooperatives use stainless steel vats though. Depending on the producers, you’ll see pump-overs and cap punching but new and used French oak barrels and demi-muids are put the use.

Cornas focuses on only Syrah reds. In this appellation, vinification uses open-top cement vats of traditional styles but other growers tend to prefer stainless steel tanks. New oak isn’t as popular here, leading to more masculine wines with gritty tannins and a dark berry flavor.

Saint-Peray makes whites from Marsanne and Roussanne. It’s split with 40% sparkling and 60% as dry white wine. As per the AOC, sparkling wines of Saint-Peray must be produced using the same method as Champagne.

Southern Rhone

The appellations in Southern Rhône run from either side of the river and onward to the mountains and valleys. As mentioned, it’s much larger than the North and thus, the terroirs, microclimates, soils, and the wines that come from it are all incredibly varied.

While it’s not entirely fair to generalize, compared to the North, wines of Southern Rhône are often lighter, more open, sweeter, and contain more alcohol. These are the wines to seek out if you enjoy fruitier flavors. It’s ripe, fresh, and often holds hints of those lovely Provencal herbs with just a hit of spice to accentuate it.

Southern Rhône has something for every wine lover including reds, whites, sparkling wines, and rosé. Most of the time, the wines from this region don’t need to age which is ideal for those who can’t wait to uncork a bottle.

Here, the climate is hotter with less rain. Another key difference is that 15 different grapes are permitted to be grown in the South. It does have similar rules as its northernly neighbor for blending red and white grapes but there is more room to express with unique characteristics and styles.

Grenache is the clear darling of Southern Rhone. It’s planted everywhere in this region, though one appellation is the pinnacle of perfection for it, responsible for putting the South on the map, Chateauneuf du Pape.

Key Southern Rhône Appellations

Chateauneuf du Pape became an official appellation in 1936 and holds the title for using 15 different grapes. Some producers even use all 15 of those grape varieties in the wines they create. Plus, the terroir of Chateauneuf du Pape is very diverse with stone, sand, rocks, limestone, and clay. Chateauneuf du Pape also has the mistrals going for it. These are very strong, dry, and cold winds that blow over 60mph. They are outstanding for repelling insects as well as keeping the air and grapes clean.

For a wine to be considered as part of Chateauneuf du Pape, the vines from which the grapes grow must come from one of the 5 communes. Chateauneuf du Pape is by far the largest. The others are Bedarrides, Orange, Sorgues, and Courthezon. When choosing wine from Chateauneuf du Pape, you’ll find a broad range of styles. Some are elegant while others are full-bodied. They’re easy to enjoy, and even easier to fall in love with.

Cotes du Rhône offers outstanding young wines at affordable price points. Character-driven, the reds tend to be fruity and sweet with just enough spice and ripe red berries. They’re quite food-friendly too.

Of distinction are the Cotes du Rhône Villages, a higher level while Cotes du Rhône lacks the same prestige due to its terroir. For either instance, the vineyards need to be in one of the 18 named villages of the Cotes du Rhône appellation. If it sounds large, it is. It’s the second largest in all of France only behind Bordeaux. The incredible variety of terroir and soil from rocky to sandy and everything in between makes for an abundance of unique wines. Like Chateauneuf du Pape, you’ll find red, white, sparkling, and rose, though you’ll also find sweet dessert wines too in Cotes du Rhone. Grenache dominates the reds while Grenache Blanc is the most important grape for the whites.

Another Southern Rhône appellation to note is Gigondas. It was part of Cotes du Rhône until 1971 when it was given AOC status. Gigondas sits just northeast of Chateauneuf du Pape and has three notable terroirs. There are gravel and clay soils that are dominant in the flat areas. On the bottom of the slopes, more gravel and sand persist with less clay. The hillsides are formed with limestone, rocks, and clay. Overall, it’s cooler so you will find wines that taste less ripe and are lower in alcohol content. They’re rustic and slightly less complex though they have green olive characteristics and bode well with aging around 2 years.

Gigondas wines have improved throughout the years with Grenache marking it as the most important grape. Naturally, the AOC has rules for Gigondas that the wines here must be a minimum of 50% Grenache.

Over the years, the wines of Gigondas have gotten better and better. Grenache is the most important grape in the appellation. In fact the AOC rules state to be a wine of Gigondas, all wines must be at least 50% Grenache.

While Rhône might not be Bordeaux, it should never be overlooked. It’s also less mystifying to understand than the Bordeaux region. According to Robert Parker, they have continued to rise in value yet are more affordable than some of the more notable regions, both in France and even in the states.

The quality continues to improve yet the prices aren’t soaring, making for more reason to grab a bottle of Rhône wine to enjoy with dinner or friends. Naturally, the best part of every wine region is discovering the notable appellations within it. Perhaps a tasting is in order with something from the North and the South to round it all out.

Pinot Noir of Oregon: The Rise of Beautiful Wines from the 1980’s Onward

Wine, grape and cheese

In the 1980’s, Oregon was barely a speck on the world wine map. There were a handful of wineries across the state, most of which are no longer around. Today though, Oregon’s vineyards have their cups running over, now with around 800 wineries where Pinot Noir is the absolute star of the show.

Often, California and Burgundy in France get all the love when it comes to Pinot Noir, but a shift has been in the making since those primitive days in the 1980’s. Perhaps that’s due to Robert Drouhin’s hand in 1987. When he purchased Dundee Hills land then, it paved the way for how the world would soon see this emerging Pinot Noir region.

He wasn’t the first French transplant to make a positive mark on American soil. Others came and breathed life into a region that was a virtual desert in terms of garnering affection for its wines. Classically-trained winemakers brought with them the proper cultivation of these vines and bred a respect for the older ones while allowing wine to age in the barrel. They paired these solid Old World techniques with those freedoms of the New World and now we have much to raise our glasses of Pinot Noir to.

Among the original pioneers of Oregon’s wineries, Elk Cove Vineyards, Ponzi Vineyards, Bethel Heights Vineyard, and Sokol-Blosser Winery are still going strong. Then there are ones like Ken Wright Cellars that came about in the mid-1990’s and joined the army of vineyards that has now made the beautiful Oregon landscape thrive.

Wright is largely considered the key to all of this in more recent years for defining the sub-AVAs of the valley and rebirthing Carlton into a winemaking hub of sorts. With expressively potent wines that age well, all small-batch crafted, it has ignited soul into the region bringing consumers to taste what Oregon uncorks from its mighty Pinot Noir selections.

In 2017, the first-ever 100-point wine was awarded for the 2016 Patricia Green Bonshaw Block Pinot Noir by Wine Enthusiast for wine sourced and produced completely in Oregon. Sadly, Patricia Green passed away before these honors were bestowed.

As for Oregon’s constantly-growing roster of vineyards, Pinot Noir lovers have are certainly spoiled for choice. The delightful maritime climate means milder winters and cooler summers than competing Burgundy. The North Willamette Valley’s soils tend to vary greatly with fascinating basaltic lavas and marine sediments. Those marine sediments are composed of sandstone and mudstone but don’t have carbonates. They drain quickly, allowing for stunning quality in the grapes.

The younger vines are truly expressive and spectacular on a different plane than elsewhere. Pinot Noir of Oregon is something special and unique, something that you should make sure you try. Need suggestions? Patricia Green Cellars, Domaine Serene, and Broadley are good ones to start with

The Big Chill: Why Niagara-on-the-Lake Ice Wine Creates Your Perfect Winter Wonderland

Wine tasting even

Have you ever tried freezing grapes to enjoy as a refreshing snack on a hot day? Someone had the brilliant idea to use frozen grapes to make wine and the end result is ice wine, a truly unparalleled wine experience!

Many people think of frolicking through the vineyards, touring the wineries on warm spring and summer days or even in the coolness of fall. But one of the best ways is to set your sites along the Niagara Escarpment and Lake Ontario where you’ll find this sweet dessert wine.

The sugars that are naturally present in the grapes don’t freeze so it creates a stunningly sweet and highly acidic drinking experience. It’s a labor of love to craft such wines, one that yields small amounts due to the difficulty in production. On the surface, you might think ice wine is just a fancy dessert wine, but because of this production, it is much more expensive and comes in smaller bottles.

It all started in this region in 1984 at the Inniskillin winery where Karl Kaiser of Austria crafted the first ice wines in Canada. Inspired by Walter Hainle who created ice wine in 1972 in the Okanagan Valley, the ice wines were intensely difficult to produce. Others that would follow suit would learn immense disappointment from hungry birds devouring their crops. It was Kaiser though that found success in 1984 for using nets to protect the vines and hence, earning the distinction of being the first to create ice wine for Inniskillin.

From there, Canadian ice wine became very popular, particularly in 1991 as the 1989 Inniskillin Vidal ice wine took home the Grand Prix d’Honneur at the Vinexpo. Soon, Canada would become the largest producer for ice wine anywhere in the world. One of the greatest reasons is that ice wine, despite having a high sugar content, isn’t as cloyingly sweet as other dessert wines. It has a refreshing quality due to the high acidity.

It does have an alcohol content that is slightly lower than regular wines. In Canada though, it has an alcohol content between 8% and 13% It has a very intense amber color that evokes a tropical feel. Serving it chilled before a meal or enjoying it afterwards is an ideal choice. Furthermore since its early years when the Hybrid Vidal was the most commonly used grape, today most quality ice wines are done from Vitis vinifera grapes including some great examples from red grapes.

Ice wine from Niagara-on-the-Lake is ideal with rich foods. Serving it with a bold cheese plate that has blue cheese is a luscious pairing. Pâté makes for another sophisticated match. You should notice flavors of baked sweet fruits like pear and apricots with a mineral flourish.

While ice wine seems to be heavily adored by those who get to taste it, the Japanese are particularly enamored with it. In Japanese culture, the gift-giving aspect is a seasonal thing, not to mention the tourism to this area which has created an impressive segment of the market for ice wine.

Napa Cabernet Sauvignon: How it’s Evolved from the 80s, 90s, and Today

Wine glasses with wine bottle on a black background, minimalism, silhouette

The entire Napa Valley wine region was born out of a desire to imitate the success of the French Bordeaux. While wine was made in jugs ages before, it truly wasn’t until the 1970’s when the world was just starting to take notice of what California was doing with Cabernet Sauvignon.

In 1976 during a private wine competition held in Paris, Napa was given a nod of approval when compared to Bordeaux and Burgundy wines. Merely one decade later, Groth Cabernet Sauvignon’s 1985 vintage scored a perfect 100 points by Robert Parker, a renowned wine critic who finally helped give Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon the credibility it needed to thrive.

That was really all it took for Napa to get on the fast-track to wine notoriety. Starting in 1990 and onward through the 2000’s, every vintage produced seemed more stunning than the year prior. The interesting thing was that many winemakers that had been honing this craft for ages and wanted wines that aged well. Others were sure that going for what consumers wanted with riper fruit tastes and softer tannins was the way to go.

In essence, the time between the 1990’s on up through today has been a marvelous period of growth for Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley. It’s hard to find a bad bottle of the stuff when browsing wines to take home and serve for dinner tonight. Granted, a bottle that deserves aging shouldn’t be your immediate choice if you’re planning to drink it now. The boom of wineries in Napa Valley meant new wineries popped up virtually overnight.

There’s no need to pick sides, however there are some things you should understand when trying to choose a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley’s esteemed wineries.

Quality of Fruit

If you want a fruity fresh flavor, choose Cabernet that uses grapes that were precisely ripened at the time of picking. This gives you that ripe taste of plum, black currant, raspberry, black, cherry, blueberry, and blackberry.

Complexity in Flavor

That depth of flavor is like stepping into every layer of the wine. It evolves over your palate, perhaps starting out fruity and then leaving a mineral feel behind before ending on notes of mocha or espresso. The tannins add more texture too for a sublime experience.


Good Napa Cabernet Sauvignon always has a gracefully elegant appeal to it. Those that have good acidity are ideal for aging beautifully.


For any wine, new or old, tannins should be well-integrated to balance out with the flavors, acidity, and alcohol content.

Hint of Oak

The best Cabernet Sauvignons of Napa always have oak. It’s not about the quantity though but how the oak impacts the flavor, much like adding seasoning to steak.

We’d be remiss not to recommend stellar examples of Cabernet Sauvignon that have been quite enduring in Napa Valley. You’ll never go wrong with Caymus, Chateau Montelena (the one that blew away everyone in Paris in 1976 in the Chardonnay category and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars with their Cabernet in the 1976 tasting as well), or Duckhorn which has aged quite well to thrive in every decade.

How Marsala Wine is Making a Comeback Beyond Deglazing Dishes

White wine

Marsala hails from the town of the same name on Italy’s island of Sicily. Over the last few decades, it hit a low few ever thought it could recover from. While it’s often used in cooking with the famed dish of Chicken Marsala stealing hearts everywhere, to drink a bottle of Marsala wine was often seen as a joke.

This fortified wine that would join the ranks of Sherry, Port, and Madeira was made to travel well. The high alcohol content made it appealing for long voyages in the 1770’s. Thanks to a British wine merchant named John Woodhouse, when he found this area ripe for growing grapes, complete with Mediterranean climate and hot, windy summers, it was a match made in heaven.

With all that going for it though, Marsala still fell into a downward spiral. Over 100 cantinas popped open in the early 1900’s and with them, experiments with advanced oxidation techniques and adding artificial colors or flavorings sullied the wine’s esteemed reputation. It took ages to shed this notoriety. Up until now, it was relegated to the status of cheap cooking wine. A bottle of it might in fact be in your pantry now, waiting to deglaze a pan for your next homecooked dinner.

Marsala is now coming back into its well-deserved glory. It’s not the same as what you would only dare to reduce down into your sauces anymore though plenty of those bottles are still in your local supermarket. Should you pour a glass of those to sip over dinner, your palate might never forgive you.

If you look beyond that though, you will find exceptional bottles elegant enough to wow you alongside any meal. Save the supermarket stuff for your dishes. The good Marsala is awaiting your approval.

Marsala has DOC regulations and aging categories, levels of sweetness, and all sorts of complexities to it which can make it intimidating. Especially if you’ve ever sampled that old stuff that made it the joke of the wine world. Marsala DOC has to be made with Catarratto, Grillo, or Inzolia white grapes or Nerello Mascalese, Pignatello, Damaschino and Nero d’Avola red grapes. It’s further categorized by how long it has aged, ‘fine’ being the distinction for a minimum of one year aging, ‘superiore’ for 2 years, ‘superiore riserva’ after 4 years, ‘vergine solera’ after 5 years, and the ultimate ‘vergine solera stravecchio’ which has to be aged for no less than 10 years.

Beyond aging, there are terms to describe the colors and whether it’s dry, semi-sweet, or sweet. The range is incredible and utterly unique. You may catch notes of vanilla, spices, dried figs, balsamic, or bitter almonds. But what you will most certainly notice is it’s not that undrinkable mishmash of that it turned into decades ago.

Marsala is trending again and the only way to experience it is to seek out quality producers. From the classic realm, Cantine Florio and Cantine Pellegrino are notable though newer additions like Marco De Bartoli are worth finding too. Typically, you will find Marsala goes beautifully with desserts and chocolates, particularly of the dark variety, but go bold and try it with aged cheeses or smoked fish to be pleasantly surprised. As it shakes off the rumors now with DOC status to help it climb back into the hearts of wine lovers everywhere, it just might find a place in your heart too.

Levant Wines: A Brief Overview of Ancient Treasures Becoming Modern Pleasures

Four glasses of champagne in a toast

Winemaking has been a tradition across the world since BCE times, thousands upon thousands of years ago. Quite likely, it was probably produced even before then, but this is as much as archaeological digs have granted us in the way of learning of our wine ancestors. Perhaps one of the most mystical of these wine regions is that of the Levant.

The Levant is merely a historical term for the geography of ancient areas that are now known as Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, parts of Jordan, and parts of Syria, all along the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Wine is said to have originally come from the Levant and though this region is small, understanding the terroir and its history is to understand how wine as we know it has come to grace our glasses. It should be noted that since, we have come to learn that wine predates even this region going all the way to the Caucuses and Mesopotamian basin.

Today, the primary focus comes from Lebanon and Israel. Likely, they’re the last places one might think of for wine, though the Levant is where it was close to when it all begun and more importantly a strategic place where it was traded to other regions. Italy and France often get all the credit. They certainly get all the fame, but the ancient Romans built the temple to Bacchus, their god of wine, in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley.

That fact surprises most people, for the recent turmoil in the region often overshadows the wine industry. Make no mistake about it though as Lebanese wine has been on an impressive growth spurt. Just 19 years ago, it had only 14 vineyards while today, it boasts 50 of them.

Serge Hochar played a vital role in bringing more attention to the wines of Lebanon. His 1967 vintage garnered all the attention at the Bristol Wine Fair in 1979, claiming the Best Find at the time. His family winery, Château Musar, was among the key players in the world of Lebanese wine. While stunning, the wines will indeed set you back. The oldest winery (not to mention the largest) is Château Ksara which was founded in 1857 by Jesuit priests and now prices delicious wines more approachably.

Another portion of the Levant comes from Israel, though some of the sites for viticulture are among the West Bank, the best regions in the country are in the north part in the Galilee and  Golan Heights. Much tension mounts in this area with the Palestinian Authority and Syria too, though wine collaborations seem to be coming into fruition with Marawi, an ancient native variety.

But these are modern times where wine even in the smallest corners of the world is now becoming more visible, much thanks to globalization and precise marketing. Wine culture continues to thrive. We’d be making the ancients proud.

Deeper into the Levant

With the people in the Levant region domesticating grapes (olives too) somewhere around 6,000 years ago, these fruits began to grow into larger and tastier varieties. So much so that the Phoenicians began spreading them about during trades all across the Mediterranean.

As much as has been discovered to this point, archaeologists seem to concur that winemaking in its most primitive form began around these parts. They can’t seem to pinpoint it entirely as it was about 7,000 years ago that they surmise, however, there was a discovery of an ancient site dating 6,000 years tucked into an Armenian cave and in Georgia several sites have shown winemaking dating back 8,000 years. The Egyptians and the Hittites were largely credited with fermentation, the very same that finally reached France in 500 BCE.

But in some portions of the Levant, like Lebanon and Israel, the older winemaking ways endured long after they’d gone the way of the dinosaur in other parts. In other words, the local traditions in a particular portion of the Levant trumped the technology at hand. Some favored using these older ways of winemaking. After all, why mess with a good thing?

Even in a country as small in size as Israel, each region had a method of winemaking it favored over the other. In some cases, it was from one village to the next. It might be hard to imagine, but back in those days, career choices were staunchly limited. Most people farmed and did it as part of the art and culture of the world they knew.

And thus, winemaking really didn’t change very much in this region, not until later on in the 1800’s. Baron Edmond de Rothschild of France brought along new ideas and techniques for the Israelis to use in winemaking. Yet despite this, the old ways were still largely favored, keeping up with traditions by using the ancient troughs they used from the olden days even in the 1990’s.

Even the winemakers in the Levant today draw inspiration from the ancients. It only makes sense given the terroir. The soil is rich with mineral clay here, while the climate is rather arid. Along the coast, that temperate Mediterranean climate is what allows the varietals to thrive. Rain is seasonal and falls in favor for the vintages here.

As mentioned before, while Lebanon has experienced a boom in wine popularity in recent years despite a past of winemaking that extends further into time than that of France, Israel is also on the up and up. There are over 300 wineries with an impressive variety. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carignan, and Shiraz are among the most commonly planted varietals in Israel.

With the Levant, the Mediterranean Sea gives its hearty blessing on the lands in the way of climate. Drip irrigation systems help keep the soil moist in times of intense heat, allowing the ancient traditions of the Levant to be discovered by modern wine lovers.

Under the Surface of the Left Bank: A Detailed Soil Composition Comparison

Clean potting soil for cultivation.

The Left Bank as wine lovers know it didn’t gain notoriety for being one of the world’s best locales for wine until the beginning of the 18th century. Once it did though, it established the benchmark for some of the finest wines in the world today. One of the key reasons that wine from the Left Bank, the home for all 1855 official Classified Bordeaux wines, is so highly regarded has much to do with the unique soil types and grape varieties.

By location alone, the Left Bank has the more ideal positioning closer to the ocean. And while that gives the vineyards in the region more of a maritime influence with more rainfall and cooler days in the growing season, it goes so much deeper under the surface.

The soil from which these famed vines grow holds clues in how wine from each of the major appellations of the Left Bank will taste. Discovering the many subtle as well as vast differences between each holds the key for tasting the best that Bordeaux has to offer.


Stretching from the south in Blanquefort and beyond St-Estèphe in the north, this appellation is nothing short of huge. Haut-Médoc appellation is not the same as Médoc, which can make things a bit confusing. While there is much to know, our focus here is strictly upon the soils in this region. That being said, most of Medoc’s soil is inferior to what you’ll find in the Haut-Médoc.

But since it’s so vast, the differences in the soils and terroir certainly play a major role in the style and quality of the wines from this appellation. Here, you find most of the soils composed from thick layers of gravel which were once swept away down the river. Over time, they built up on top of a heavy clay base. With warm and well-drained gravel terraces, it is the perfect environment for Cabernet Sauvignon to ripen with absolute efficiency.

Move further inland in the appellation though and the soils become more of a deep clay deposit composition. And then, you’ll find portions that have patches of limestone with sandier soil that bring more diversity to this primarily gravel-driven area.

Because of this sprawling size and the differences in each pocket for the soil, it’s a bit difficult to pinpoint a specific flavor, character, or style from the Haut-Médoc wines. They vary from estate to estate, and perhaps the most fun you’ll have is sampling them to discover the different nuances each soil characteristic brings.

When it comes down to it, the soil of the wines in this appellation contain deposits of Garonne gravel along with sand, clay, and limestone in varying degrees. The best vineyards all have those deep gravel soils though, ideal for flat or only slightly sloped elevations to drain the water away.

The vastness of this land gives way to much diversity in terroir, soil, and micro-climates. In the north, there’s more gravel, clay, and limestone along with cooler soil and temperatures to match. Harvesting here usually occurs a day or so later than in the south.

In the west though, there is usually more clay. Head south, and the soils are finer and flatter with gravel. And then there are the elevations which range from a mere 3 meters on up to 44 meters, the highest in the entire Left Bank.

In the west of the appellation, the soils often have a higher clay content and as you travel further south, you find finer soils and flatter terroir with gravel, but with more sand in slightly warmer temperatures as well.

All told, the Haut-Médoc has 21 different communes and with the often overlooked smaller inland Moulis and Listrac going off the radar. Moulis is the smallest in Médoc yet is filled with Cru Bourgeois. The location is inland, further from the Gironde, which means the terroir is a bit cooler than the rest of the main appellation.

In addition to being a bit cooler, Moulis’ soil consists of gravel for the most part with a little clay and limestone mixed in for good measure. Thanks to the natural drainage, wines from Moulis tend to be more elegant, especially when compared to those of Listrac.

Listrac wasn’t an appellation until 1957. Here, the soil is also mostly gravel and clay with limestone and sand. Some of the highest elevations in Medoc are in Listrac. It’s inland, nestled into a heavily wooded area far from the Gironde. This keeps it slightly cooler so you get grapes that are a bit less ripe. The difference this makes is that the impact on the natural drainage along with the temperatures create a bit of a rustic character in Listrac wines. Both of these small appellations are a good place to start when entering the world of wine as although a little harder to find, they are far more approachable from a monetary perspective, good value before entering the truly expensive appellations.


Margaux wines get their distinctive textures and flavors from the soil. With a high gravel content, it creates an outstanding drainage situation that’s different from nearby Pauillac and St-Estèphe, both of which feature more clay. Because of the gravel composition in the soil, the vines must seek deep into the land to find nourishment and water, making them stronger as well as more fascinating with the characteristics of deeper soils coming through.

In Margaux, it is said to be one of the most diverse of any of Bordeaux’s major appellations. The size means that the terroir will vary as you move along from one chateau to the next. As a whole though, the lack of clay and the persistent gravel make it ideal for grapes to thrive.

This composition is precisely why the wines of Margaux are so esteemed. They provide natural drainage, retain heat while reflecting sunlight, and by nature, force the vines to root deep down into the soils. While some estates do have more clay in their terroir, it is the exception to the rule. Those that do often take advantage of more Merlot in theory blend to counter the predominance of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Comparatively to other appellations, the lack of depth for Margaux’s soils allows them to heat up much more quickly resulting in grapes maturing before the other appellations. On the Left Bank, Margaux is usually the first to be picked during the harvest. One taste of Margaux wine and you’ll see how the mostly gravel-based composition reflects in the elegant, intense, and stunning floral charms. Like violets, it is a treasured flavor, resplendent in the lengths the vines will go to deep down in the soil. Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of this appellation and it boasts the most amount of First Growth Chateaux.


Pauillac earned its stellar reputation no doubt through the terroir and soil in the appellation. It’s incredibly varied, distinctive from surrounding St-Julien on the south and St-Estèphe to the north. Some say it has the perfect soil for Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, making for Bordeaux’s finest wines.

To understand Pauillac best, it helps to view it as two large areas rather than one mass. In the northern portion, the land sits at slightly higher elevations. The soils here tend to be deep with gravel sitting atop a bed of sand, limestone, and marl. On the southern end, the larger, gravel rocks and stones persist with more clay further down in the sub-soils.

Thanks to the Gironde estuary, the vineyards here have better access to water. In the soils, the iron and clay composition lend a reddish-brown hue but the further north you go, it gives way to that limestone and marl.

These vineyards have more access to water from the Gironde estuary. You can further subdivide the terroir of Pauillac along the lines of a compass. At the lower southern end of the appellation, the soils in Pauillac feature gravel, rocks and stones of various size and sand with deposits of iron in the clay.

Head west toward the inland and there’s less gravel to be found. Instead, smaller stones and rocks are mixed with the sand in the soil. Generally though, these rocky soils are ideal for growing grapes. The vines must stretch deep into the soil, a rite of passage to thrive so well. The soils of Pauillac wouldn’t work for any other type of agriculture, but for grapes, they are the key to the success of this appellation.


The variety of styles from St-Estèphe are noted as being true terroir wine. In particular, the influence of the soil with gravel and a bit more clay than Médoc can be tasted with each sip. Nearby Pauillac, the contrast between St-Estèphe is fascinating given that the distance between them is minute.

You wouldn’t need to be completely astute to notice the rich mixture in the soils here, composed of rocks, clay, gravel, and limestone atop the surface. What lies beneath though is a complex blend that creates the distinction of this appellation.

St-Estèphe features slopes and elevations, and due to its proximity to the river has a bit of a micro-climate itself. Divergent terroirs reign across the appellation, adding more complexity to the Bordeaux in these lands. On the lower terraces, the soil features more gravel, but head east and marine limestone becomes a major player. What’s more, in the south portion of this area, the sub-soils are filled with loam. The biggest difference in the wines here is that the large clay deposits help the appellation create amazing wine even in hot and dry years, making it a prime choice during any vintage.


Of all the major Bordeaux appellations in the Left Bank, St-Julien is the smallest. Yet in that small stature, it packs a powerful punch in the way of soil composition. This is evident in the different styles where you’ll find powerful, tannic, and rather masculine creations alongside more traditional styles.

For some wines, they may be mistaken for wines from Pauillac which is easy to see. After all, they are neighbors. But the discerning palate will know the difference for St-Julien has an even more elegant and refined style to it.

In almost a rectangle of sorts, the soils are a mix of gravel, clay, sand, and limestone. There are also plenty of diverse rocks and stones in a medley of sizes and shapes. More gravel is found to the north and east but in the west, particularly as you move southward, you will find more sand and smaller gravel stones. It’s this gravel that gives the vines the drainage it needs, creating perfect sunlight and warmth for deep vine growth into the soils. Among the best vineyards are those that slope gently and access the Gironde where the micro-climate brings the best bounty of the land.

Sauternes & Barsac

The most famous botrytis wines thrive in these communes. Often the vineyards here are simply united under ‘Sauternais.’ Here is where you get those syrupy wines, much thanks to the gravel layers that develop in the knolls on the clay sub-soils. The noble rot or botrytis thrives from the climate as yields stay low for phenomenal sweet wines.

Ciron, a little stream, is primarily responsible for creating the captivating morning and night mists in the autumn. It’s almost magical as the heat and moisture combine to form a special bacterium that creates the noble rot. This is the reason why Sauternes is still the reigning champion of mellow wines that are complex, rich, and abundant in sugar.

Just a few small differences can be found between Sauternes and Barsac. Namely, Sauternes is a little hillier which makes those mists more effective while Barsac features flatter lands that are brimming with sand and limestone to craft more elegant and fine flavors.

Each of the major appellations of the Left Bank has its own nuances. But even for those who adore Bordeaux, delving deeper into the soils provides a new perspective and newfound appreciation for the wines that are crafted in the gem of France.