The glorious Ice Wine of Niagara

Homemade red wine sangria with orange, apple, strawberry and ice in glass and pitcher

Canadian Ice Wine

Although Ice Wine originated in Germany, Canada’s climate has allowed them the successful and high-quality production of the wine – placing them with other leading producers of this wine in the world.

Although producing Ice Wine is risky business, some of the producers in Canada have managed to do it successfully time after time. The region of Niagara in Canada is one of the largest production regions for of Ice Wine in the world – and with unique techniques, climate and experience, it’s no wonder why.

In the Beginning

Ice Wine in Canada dates back to 1972 after unforeseen frost set in across some vines in British Columbia. The winemakers never intended on releasing the wine produced from these frozen grapes, but changed their minds a few years later. This sparked the interest of Ice Wine in Canada.

It was in 1979 however, with the establishment of Newark Winery in Ontario, where the production of Ice Wine truly began to flourish.

In the years to follow, the production of Ice Wine remained pretty constant. However, the last fifteen years saw a great change for this product.

Current Developments

The curiosity regarding the boundaries of Ice Wine has been pushed in the last decade – testing out new methods, varietals and techniques. Ice Wines have traditionally only been made with specific varietals, mainly Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Vidal.  In 1999, however, the first successful Merlot Ice Wine was produced, followed by a Shiraz, Sangiovese and Cabernet Ice Wine in the years that followed. The last decade saw a shift in perception regarding the limitations of this wine as well as moving away from Vidal and non Vinifera grapes.

Considering the amount of Ice Wine produced in Canada, there have been strict laws regarding the specifications of producing the wine – which has ensured a consistent standard throughout.
Currently, The Vintners Quality Alliance regulates this quality. There are a number of regulations Ice Wine has to meet in order for it to be considered a legal Ice Wine. These regulations control everything from the alcohol requirements, sugar content, harvest temperatures and even harvest months. Ontario, and Niagara particularly, has managed to meet these requirements and produce some of the world’s best Ice Wines.

A huge part of why Niagara is able to create such successful wines, is the terroir of the region. The soil of the region is rich in nutrients, and although it is considered a cool-climate area, there is a warm influence from Lake Ontario nearby that allows the grapes to ripen fully and consistently.

Considering the grapes are left on the vines for months after they have ripened, the wine producers have to protect the grapes from birds and animals – and do this by covering the vines with nets.

During harvest times, the grapes are picked in the early morning to ensure the acidity and sugars in the grapes are captured and retained for pressing. When Ice Wine is fermented, the process is slowed down tremendously due to the high sugar content and can take months to complete the process.

All these considerations and very specific techniques are what has allowed Canada, and Niagara, in particular, to stand out and make a name for themselves with the big European boys in the Ice Wine world.

Jura and Poulsard Grape Wines

Rose Wine, Grapes and Cheese

Jura and Poulsard Grape Wines

You might not have heard of it yet, but Poulsard can be seen as the king of red grape and red wine production in Jura. This tiny region East of France has managed to remain a mystery for many a wine lover; save for the popularity of Comté cheese, Vin Jaune (the Sherry like rarity) and Macvin du Jura (a blend of 2 parts unfermented (or barely fermented) grape juice and 1 part Marc). However, neither the region, nor the grape is anything short of formidable.

Terroir and back story  

Jura bestows its name to the Jurassic age. A nod to the ancient and rich terroir. Its rich soil remains predominantly Limestone with hints and overlays of clay peppered around the region to offer an interesting growing medium for its many indigenous grape varieties. Of which, they are speculated to have been over forty! The resulting wines are often complex and demanding patience from its growers.

The region itself sits between Burgundy and Switzerland. Albeit wetter than the former (Hello Cheese!), Jura’s vineyards are perched on a high-altitude, limestone-rich plateau angled eastward. Just right to capture the sun.

Enter Poulsard.  

That’s ‘Ploussard’ to the natives. Of the 20,000 ha of vineyards, Poulsard is the most planted red variety and makes up 80% of the wines produced from the region.

A specialty of Arbois (Northern Jura), it is a thoroughly black grape with thin skin and low tannin.

Growers employ particular patience to ultimately produce the complex wines this region is renowned for. Its thin skin often becomes a vintner’s nightmare as it makes it more susceptible to mold and disease while exposed to the elements. The vine itself provides an unpredictable yield. It is this versatility in the winery that makes it worth the while.

Although lending itself to long fermentation on skin, no amount of maceration will make the resulting wine any denser! That is the beauty of this grape. Poulsard wines are Gamay-like light red in their color.

Poulsard remains an incredibly versatile grape producing pale, delicately perfumed wines renowned for their peculiar charm. Frequently mistaken for Rose, it lends its heady aromas to Blanc de Blancs and Crémants (Crémant du Jura) of the region.

Vin de paille  

Another specialty of Jura is this “straw” wine. A blend of Poulsard, Savagnin and Chardonnay, this rarity is bottled in special half-size bottles. Poulsard is to thank for the wines red berry, yet un-overwhelming character.

Grape bunches are laid out on straw mats basking in the sun or hung indoors to dry and concentrate their sugars before pressing. The resulting wine is a minute quantity of very sweet wine that goes into barrels for ageing. Several years later, one can delight in opening a deeply hued wine with complex layered flavors of raisins and walnut.  These wines have the capacity to age for decades when produced.


Spring in a bottle. Nothing is as vivacious and inviting as a bottle of Poulsard. Although there are so many great producers in the area, these are just two refreshing bottles worth checking out that we have recently had.

  • 2015 Domaine de La Pinte’s Arbois Poulsard
  • 2014 Domaine de La Borde’s Ploussard Cote de Feule Biodynamic

Kangaroo and Shiraz: The ultimate pairing

Kangaroo and Shiraz: The ultimate pairing

Kangaroo Meat

Kangaroo can be a tricky dish to make if you aren’t prepared for the texture or flavours of the meat.
It’s a great alternative to beef, considering it has a similar texture, but with only 2% fat. To ensure you get the best of this dish, it’s imperative to prepare it correctly, and serve it with just the right wine.

When preparing kangaroo meat, most would agree that marinating the meat for as long as possible will help tenderize this intensely tough meat. While in the marinade, it is best to keep it in the refrigerator – but should be brought to room temperature before being cooked.

A popular (and almost perfect) method for cooking kangaroo is on a hot grill – whether it be stove-top or over a fire. The importance is that the grill should be extremely hot before placing the meat on it. Also ensure the meat is oiled on both sides before placing it in the pan.

Whatever your meat preference is, kangaroo should never be cooked above medium. Considering how lean and tough the meat becomes when over-cooked, it would only be beneficial to keep it at medium-rare to medium.Also, just like with beef, the meat should rest before slicing to avoid the juice running out and drying out the meat. And when you do slice it, go against the grain.Wine Pairing Kangaroo

When it comes to the perfect wine pairing for this dish, opt for something that is as dark and heavy as the meat is; you don’t want the one dramatically overpowering the other. The best option would be Shiraz – especially a cool climate one that is able to be bold, yet has the needed elegance.

Yarra Valley is currently produces cool-climate Shiraz’s that are absolutely spectacular. The wines from this region still have common Shiraz notes without being too heavily-bodied and overwhelming.
Common characteristics of these Shirazes include, cherries, prunes, dried fruit with smoky and meaty elements too. It’s a great combination and both the wine and meat will add to each other even more.

History of Kangaroo Eating

The consumption of Kangaroo in Australia goes back centuries.  Aborigines hunted kangaroo since the very beginning and relied on it for the protein. The bones of the kangaroos were also used to create hunting spears. Kangaroo was more than just a simple meat for the indigenous people – and the rituals behind preparing it were quite unique. In central Australia, where kangaroo meat was most popular, carcasses were often placed in a hole with hot coals over it and served alongside the body fluids.
This changed, however, and it became illegal to hunt kangaroos. Only in the 1980’s did those laws allow controlled, specific hunting of these animals (in the south) and in 1993 for the other areas. The over-population of kangaroos was what drove a big part of this legalization – but only allowing five out of the fourty-eight species of kangaroo to be used commercially.

It is amazing to think how far along the consumption of this meat has come – and how it can be maximized today to create absolutely amazing flavours. The best part about it is the great wine available today to just give it that extra edge.

Mavrud: The great rise after the fall

Mavrud: The great rise after the fall

Mavrud Grape

Considered the most valued grape varietal in Bulgaria, Mavrud is quickly gaining international recognition too. These wines are generally admired for its tannin structure, high complexity and intense dark fruit flavors. With a unique and fascinating history – and an even more interesting potential future – Mavrud is a grape to keep a close eye on!

Mavrud has been around in Bulgaria since the very beginning – originating in the western regions. The legend surrounding the name of the varietal has a few variations – with the underlying story being rather consistent. In the 9th century when alcohol was strictly forbidden, an old woman secretly kept a vine in her backyard, so she could give fermented grapes to her son. Years later, the ruler met this woman’s son, who was strong, brave and bold. The ruler was determined to meet this brave man’s mother. When the ruler found that the man’s strength was due to the wine (according to his mother) the ruler didn’t prosecute her for the vine she kept. Instead, he named the vine after her son – Mavrud.

Recent History

In 1814 there was a devastating demolishment of vines – taking out almost all vines, but the Mavrud grape remained. This proved to the locals that the varietal was to be cherished – which is a belief still instilled the most Bulgarians. This is seen in the fact that Bulgarians tend to search the ends of the earth for wines that contain this varietal.

Bulgaria’s wine history has been rather touch-and-go – but they have managed to stabilize and strengthen their industry quite rapidly. Prior to the 1990’s, Bulgaria’s entire wine industry was controlled by the Soviets, with all the wine being exported to either Russia – or kept in Bulgaria. The wine quality was also extremely low, with cheap and cheerful being the prominent aspect.

From the Shadows to the Present

When socialism came to an end, Bulgaria was able to have privately-owned land – which saw the beginning of quality wine being produced. In the last two decades, Bulgaria has massively improved their quality production – with international consumers amazed at the value and premium wines produced. Much of the success of these wines has to do with the old vines in Bulgaria; their traditional styles combined with modern technology and the massive investments from international onlookers.

The wine industry’s aim is to completely shift Bulgaria’s wines from being mass-produced, to premium wines. With this, their aim is to become leaders in export again – but this time, to the west. This has already proven to be a successful goal – since the reviews from international consumers have been spectacular. Bulgaria has managed to find just the right balance between old-school and new-world, while keeping the wines at a reasonable price.  With Bulgaria’s unique cultivars, wine consumers everywhere are building a curiosity around these wines – allowing a record-high of 200 million liters of wine to be produced and exported in 2013.

With grape varietals like, Pamid, Kadaraka, Misket, Dimyat and the honorable Mavrud, you can expect interesting and spectacular wines to come from Bulgaria in the coming years.

The Beauty of Napa Valley’s Chardonnay

The Beauty of Napa Valley’s Chardonnay

Chardonnay is a varietal much loved by the US and the world over – in fact, Chardonnay is the most planted varietal in the world and the leading one in America from the Vinifera grapes.  Each AVA region in the US has a different style in which they produce their Chardonnay. Some styles are full, heavy and intensely wooded, where some regions lean more towards a fresher, fruitier, unwooded style.  In California, the famous Napa Valley has been known to produce some excellent Chardonnays in both these styles. Here are some Wineries that show interesting diversity with its Chardonnays.

Alpha Omega

Alpha Omega Winery was only founded very recently – in 2006 – but has managed to create quite the name for themselves; producing wines of peerless quality. What makes these wines unique, is the combination of modern, as well as old-world techniques. This hand-crafted brand is dedicated to uniqueness and exploring new and exciting ways of producing great wine. When it comes to their Chardonnays, they truly shine. Producing both an oaked and an unoaked Chardonnay, Alpha Omega created major waves at the International Chardonnay Symposium in 2016 for their 2013 Chardonnay Reserve. With only a few hundred bottles produced, this wine is intensely full and rich with exceptional citrus fruit flavor and minerality. This Chardonnay was barrel fermented and is beautifully balanced – truly highlighting the quality this estate can produce.

Harken Wines

With some skilled and experienced winemakers involved at Harken, it is no wonder that the wine produced here has managed to gain quite the reputation. With the focus on creating old-school, heavy Chardonnays, Harken has received accolade after accolade for their spectacular Chardonnay. Their 2016 Vintage managed to score 87 points with the Wine Enthusiast Magazine, 90 points with Blue Lifestyle tasting panel and silver medals with both the Citrus Challenge and Los Angeles International Wine Competition.  This 2016 Chardonnay has beautiful layers of fruit and oak flavors with the complexity lingering on your palate. Harken’s previous Chardonnay vintages prove just as successful, also managing to score sterling points and receive medals for the value and brilliance of their wine. Their wine is generally considered easy drinking, complex with a profound balance of fruit and oak.

The Withers

The Withers wine was initially not created to be released to the public, but rather to drink among friends and family. However, due to the great love and appreciation for the wine, the wine was encouraged to be released commercially.  The basis of all the wine released under the Withers label, they produce wines that are consistently riveting while constantly striving for greatness, and staying true to nature. Unlike Harken’s or Alpha Omega’s Chardonnay, the Chardonnays produced by The Withers are crisp and have clear minerality. Their Chardonnay is wooded but is more in the style of the Chablis region – leaving an elegant, velvety texture in your mouth. The 2016 Chardonnay is part of why The Withers Winery was declared as part of the Top 100 Wineries by the Wine and Spirits Magazine.

2016 Proved to be an exceptional year for most producers across the region – and in return, some extraordinary wines are right at our fingertips. These three producers are only a handful of the many but lesser known Napa producers that have managed to do great things with Chardonnay – and the future seems to hold only more great potential for more exquisite wines to come from Napa ranging from the big and known players down to the up and coming.

State Crustacean of Oregon; Dungeness Crab

State Crustacean of Oregon; Dungeness Crab

Oregon Crab

In 2009, a school in Oregon succeeded in lobbying for and naming-what’s essentially Washington grown; as their state crustacean. School children in West Linn primary had the foresight to see that this species, well adopted to Oregon’s unique coast, could be of importance to the Oregonian economy.

Oregon could easily take the prize for most unique and interesting state. There is so much to list; record holder for most ghost towns in the US, a wonderous picturesque landscape, a melting pot of diverse cultures, and a deep pioneering spirit led on with the motto ‘Keep Oregon Weird’.

Oregon’s unique waterways are well provided thus the quality in seafood can be seen. Fishing miles cover over 700 miles of cool undeveloped coast from Astoria to Brookings. Local seafood veterans help you catch your own. Not to worry, minimal gear is required.

The Dungeness crab are famous for their sweet flavor regardless of where harvested on the Oregonian coast.

The Wine Pairing

One cannot speak of Oregon and fail to mention its phenomenal Pinot Noir which accounts for up to two- thirds of its overall production but it is not because of this that we think of pairing it with Dungeness Crab. Oregon’s production is no small feat for the sixth largest US producer of wine in the United States. Boasting seven major growing regions and 18 designated American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), Pinot Noir accounts for 15,500 acres in vineyards ranging between 200 to 800 feet grown on South and Southeast facing slopes.

Rich with varying terroir ranging from volcanic top soils to marine sedimentary soil, Oregon Pinot Noir lends itself to different yet memorable interpretations. You are sure to find wines that show emphasis on fruit, soft floral aromas, hints of spice and soft smooth tannin. Others with dusty, dry notes emphasizing earthy notes and black fruit with high acidity.

The complexities of style in Oregon Pinot Noir made a memorable mark in wine history; having been judged favorably against Burgundy in the 1979 wine Olympics in Paris. Since, wine has been made by most on a Burgundian template and the highest compliment you can pay a wine maker is to remark of their similarity.

You could make an adventure of it! Embarking on a tasting spree spanning the eighteen designations. None, would make a better pairing than the reddish-brown, white tipped Dungeness crab with a dab of butter, light chili aioli and a sweet compote on the side, a fresh Dungeness Crab grilled with most Oregon Pinot Noirs can make for a great relaxing  afternoon treat.

Oregon Pinot Noir Producers leading the next generation

Oregon Pinot Noir Producers leading the next generation

Over the years the Oregon wine industry has grown and become explosive. The US state is now a wine-making power house and one of the top producing states of superb quality Pinot Noirs. Here are some Oregon Pinot Noir producers whose wines have been leading the charge in this new wave of producers.

David Adelsheim

David Adelsheim is the founder of Adelsheim vineyard which is dedicated to creating world-class wines and elevating wine lovers with the unique spirit and beauty of Oregon. The vineyard was founded with a positive spirit and a lofty dream of building a world-class wine in an undiscovered wine region in the Chehalem Mountains of Oregon.

What sets Adelsheim apart is the fact that it is a live certified sustainable winery. Being Live implies that

  • It makes use of comprehensive sets of standards and procedures to ensure that both wine grape farming and winemaking production have minimal environmental impact.
  • It completes a series of requirements yearly that confirms their compliance with LIVE standards.
  • Adelsheim wines are independently certified to meet international standards for  environmentally  and socially responsible grape growing in the Pacific Northwest

In addition, David’s believes that it is better to allow his good works speak for him and that is why he has no interest in the winemaking techniques that are obscure; instead, he prefers to discover new techniques that highlight the distinctive characteristics of his wines and this is very evident in their wines when one tries them.

Alex Sokol Blosser

Alex Sokol Blosser is the producer of Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills Pinot Noir which is a family owned winery that has and is continuing the development and shaping Oregon’s wine industry. With over fifteen years’ experience in the wine industry, Alex Sokol Blosser is the fourth winemaker in Sokol Blosser’s history.

What makes Alex unique is the fact that he enjoys creating wines of world-class qualities with distinctive flavors in a sustainable and friendly environment. His mission is to achieve a reputation as a world-renowned producer of fabulous and sought-after wines.

At present, some of the unique wines produced by Alex Sokol includes Dundee Hills Pinot Noir, Goosepen Block Pinot Noir, Estate Cuvée Pinot Noir, Orchard Block Pinot Noir, Peach Tree Block Pinot Noir and one must also note he also makes a terrific Müller-Thurgau, Pinot Blanc, Big Tree Block Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, White Riesling, Evolution White, Evolution Red, a white Riesling dessert wine and the Evolution Sparkling.

Phil Kramer and Heidi Kramer

Phil Kramer and Heidi Kramer are the co-owners of Alexeli which is a family vineyard situated along the western foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon’s beautiful East Willamette Valley. Alexeli vineyard and winery offer a casual backyard feel with serene views of the countryside; it also contains healthy fruit for handcrafted estate wines.

What makes Alexeli Vineyard standout is the facts that they take pride in raising healthy fruit for high-quality handcrafted wines and the vines are rooted on a high wire system to increase sun and wind exposure, thus creating a preventative disease control system.

Phil Kramer also practices sustainable and environmentally friendly agriculture, and the vineyard has also achieved LIVE certification. Whether you just want to celebrate with friends, have a conversation around a dinner table or relax at a vineyard, Alexeli is a terrific expression of Oregon Pinot Noir at its core.

One must understand that Oregon Pinot Noir production is quite small yet of extremely high quality and therefore one should be prepared to pay high almost Burgundy type prices but these Pinot Noirs have earned this pricing over the last 40 years of development.

These three producers are great leaders but one should also remember that there are many top notch small producers in Oregon creating top of the line Pinot Noirs to compete with the best from any other country; if of course you can get your hands on them.

Ribera del Duero Wines

Ribera del Duero Wines

Ribera del Duero

Ribera del Duero is known to be one of the most important wine regions in Castilla y Leon which is located in northern Spain. Its reputation is primarily due to the high quality of red wines produced predominantly from Tempranillo grapes with some of the best examples renowned throughout the wine world. The quality of the regions red wines wouldn’t be as it is without these grapes.

Ribera del Duero was not awarded Denominación de Origen status until 1982 which is substantially late considering the vast history of the winemaking region centered on the leading local producer, Bodegas Vega Sicilia (founded in 1864). The quality of Vega Sicilia inspired the move but not put forward by the legendary winemaking estate. Robert Parker, who took a liking to Pesquera and Ribera del Duero, was the one instrumental in the move as you could expect this not only put Ribera del Duero and Pesquera on the map but launched them to world stardom.  The wine produced here is considered so good that it is often used for royal events within the country, with its Unico wine regarded as the greatest of Spain.

Focusing on red

Award-winning brands such as Vega Sicilia and Tinto Pesquera saw success like other wines have not in the region; thus started a small revolution turning local producers away from bulk rosé and co-operatives. The producers turned their eyes to quality reds as a great alternative. Other prominent producers such as Dominio de Pingus and Emilio Moro also started to create esteemed wines.

Ribera del Duero is now almost entirely devoted to the production of red wine with Tempranillo (known locally as Tinto Fino), as the most commonly planted grape variety. The true quality of the reds now produced here is incredible. The top examples will be deeply colored, with firm tannin structure to create complex aromas of dark fruit and are known to develop beautifully over time, increasing in complexity over the years. Digging deep into the roots of red winemaking and having almost complete focus on the grapes required is what has been needed and subsequently what has been done to achieve this. However, still today not all wines produced in the region are red.

Denominación de Origen regulations stipulate that Tempranillo must make up a minimum of 75 percent of all vinos tintos, meaning red wines. There is still a moderate level of whites’ produced, though the balance is usually made up of mostly Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Vega Sicilia introduced these varieties over one hundred years ago and have since continued to use them to this day.

Climate impacts

Ribera del Duero is located in the Iberian Peninsula at around 2800 feet above sea level. The name is Spanish for “bank of the Duero” due to the river dividing the region. This river is vital in supplying the water that the vineyards need to thrive. The region follows this course of the Duero river for around 115km upstream from Valladolid before then traversing into Portuguese growing areas.

During the day the region bakes in high temperatures with the nights cooling down. Such a divide in temperatures leads the climate to assist in offering the optimum accumulation of aromas, flavors, and complexities within the grapes. The soils are credited alongside the waters and temperatures for adding complexity to the grapes and character; this originates from the variation in the soil comprising of layers of limestone, marl, and chalk.


Aging requirements match that of the Rioja denomination, Crianza red wines must be matured for at least two years, 12 months of which must be in oak. There are plenty of variations in times spent in oak and developing, including Reserva wines which require three years aging, one must be in oak. Finally, Gran Reserva wines have to be aged for five years of which two should be in oak before they can be released. This specific aging requirement offers character to form within the wine and from the oak of the barrels used.

The wines are classified as much for their longevity as they are for grape quality following the above process Ribera del Duero has proven to produce some very well-aging wines. With combination of exceptional grape quality and very well aged wines, Ribera del Duero has seen massive success for its wines produced. This has been the case since the 19th century but with the recent (1982) DO classification, it has seen this popularity sore.


In the early 80’s when the classification was given, only 14 estates existed in Ribera del Duero; now there are more than 300, an incredibly substantial increase in such a short space of time. Whether the expansion to this extent is a good thing is debatable, however, what is known is that the quality of some of the reds leaving these estates is of exceptional quality, with intriguing definition and finesse. On the other hand, dubious oaks used on some productions have obscured some of the purity from the fruit lending itself to lesser quality wine.

In a surprising yet remarkable move by the Alvarez family, founding the Alion estate (a younger brother of Vega), this has laid the foundations for a more sophisticated approach culminated in an entirely new and modern Ribera estate. Setting new standards in the industry with advanced technology, all while keeping the legendary status of Vega out of the picture in an estate of its own.

One thing is for sure, and there is nothing dubious about it, Ribera reds are and as far as most people are concerned always will be the perfect accompaniment to the region’s signature dish of lechal al horno, meaning, lamb slow-roasted in an open oven, even the thought makes the mouth water. The combination which is a must-try gives French alternatives a run for their money.

North and Southern Rhône Soils

North and Southern Rhône Soils

The Rhône Valley is arguably one of the most admired regions of the world.  Although it is classified as a single region, the difference between the northern and southern part is immense. The reason for these differences is largely due to the terroir, and specifically the major differences in the soil types in these areas.

Up North

In Northern Rhône, the soil mainly consists of different groups of granite.  In areas like Condrieu, for instance, the soil is composed of granite and clay. The clay ensures the grapes ripen at a slower rate which adds acidity to the grapes. However, the granite acts as a counterpart in that it lowers acidity. Therefore, the combination of these soils ensures there is a perfect balance of acidity and tannin in the grapes.

Another example would be Hermitage  where there are sections of granite soils with clay and limestone. These wines tend to be a complete contrast to those of the sandy soils – with full-bodied, tannic characteristics found in the wine typically.

Some have stated that regions in France with high limestone content are considered to be a better overall sol base for wines. The limestone adds nutrients to the vines and increases the acidity substantially. The limestone works well throughout different terroirs since it allows water to drain, but also manages to retain heat in cooler climates.

Down South

In the south of Rhone, with the warmer climate and difference in soil, wines from this region are generally sweeter and fruitier. The soils in the south are much more diverse than those in the north.

Calcareous soil, commonly found in the south, plays a large role in the success of the famous Rhône grape blends. The calcareous soil is a combination of different sub-soils but is generally an alkaline base. This boosts the production of acidity in the grapes and forces roots deep into the ground in search of nutrients. Deeper roots often result in higher quality grapes.

Another major soil composition of Southern Rhône is the deposit of alluvial soil. The Alluvial soil consists of organic debris that is often washed onto vineyards by running water. Older alluvial deposits are much lower in nutrients than newer deposits and they are considered one of the best soils for cultivation. The soil results in smaller grapes which boosts the intensity and concentration of the flavors dramatically.

In Châteauneuf-du-Pape particularly, gravel is commonly found. Considering the gravel contains no nutrients, the vine roots are forced deep into the ground in search of nutrients, as with calcareous soil.  This essentially leads to wines that are bold and extremely high quality.

Ultimately, making good wine starts in the vineyards. The role soil plays in the production of quality wines obviously is critical and has a huge influence and will affect the wine that it develops and their ability to age in general.

Rioja Wines

Rioja Wines

Rioja and its sub-regions

Rioja is a wine region located in Spain, with DOCa status. Rioja is subdivided into three regions, Rioja Alta, Rioja Oriental, and Rioja Alavesa. The majority of wines to leave Rioja have a blended mix from all three regions; however, there is more commonly a growth of wines distinctly from each subregion alone. These single-zone wines have their individuality dependent on the climate, soils and winemaking processes used in each region.

Although Rioja has its three sub-regions, the wines produced and grapes they are produced from are relatively similar across all three as this is regulated by the country DOC system. Usually these wines were created using various grape varieties; however, it has become more common to see them produced as monovarietal wine. The authorized proportional variations are as followed.

Red wines must be made of at least 95% Tempranillo, Garnacha Tinta, Graciano, Mazuelo and Maturana Tinta. White wines must be made up of Viura, Garnacha Blanca, Malvasia, Maturana Blanca Tempranillo Blanco, and Turruntes (should not be confused with the Torrontés grape which is not genetically the same at all). Finally, Rosé wines must be made of a minimum 25% Tempranillo, Garnacha Tinta, Graciano, Mazuelo and Maturana Tinta. All three regions must follow these specifications; however, as we will explain later, foreign varieties have since been introduced.

Rioja Alta

Rioja Alta (the western part of Rioja) takes advantage of higher altitudes where its vineyards are sited. In this part of the region, soils have iron and alluvial elements and a higher concentration of clay; the lands also have less limestone than its neighboring counterpart. This combination which makes up the soils within the vineyard have helped produce wines that are well appreciated and regarded as elegant with acidity that is balanced, and not overwhelming on the pallet.

Rioja Alavesa

Rioja Alavesa consists of two separate pieces of land joining with Rioja Alta, due to this proximity, the geographic benefits are similar such as the DOC zone itself. Vineyards are located at a similar altitude to Rioja Alta, and so the wines often have similarities. Similar elegance, but also they show more acidity. This will be primarily be due to each sub-region having its macroclimate which varies slightly to one another, even in geographical proximity.

Rioja Oriental

Rioja Oriental (previously known as Rioja Baja) is the eastern section of Rioja and so offers an altogether different variety of wine than the previous two regions. The climate in Rioja Oriental relies more on the Mediterranean and so is dryer and warmer than the other two regions, emphasis on this region is on Garnacha. Wines from this region are known to be fuller-bodied than the other two regions usually with richer flavors and aromas.

Traditional and modern varieties

The regulating council for the DOC Rioja (founded in 1925) has authorized seven varieties to be produced in the region. This consists of four red varieties and three white. Red varieties include Tempranillo, Garnacha Tinta, Mazuelo, and Graciano. White varieties include Viura, Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca.

Recently (in 2007) the council decided to authorize one new red variety and six new white varieties, these can only be substituted and not used alongside existing varieties. The new authorizations include Maturana Tinta red the only red to be added. The white varieties include Maturana Blanca, Tempranillo Blanco, Turruntes, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo. To do this, the council had to make an amendment to the regulation which was approved in 2004 and subsequently amended again.

It is interesting to see foreign varieties introduced into the regions and to control this the regulating maintains that these varieties (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo) cannot make up the majority volume of the finalized wine. Alternatively, autochthonous varieties do not have a set limit as to the quantity in the end product. Foreign grapes were introduced to increase the region’s competitiveness in the international market, while the incorporation of new autochthonous grapes was used to recover Rioja’s viticultural heritage. The council’s plan seems on the face of it to have worked, and the popularity of the region’s wines has increased since the introduction of the new grapes in 2007.

Viticulture and production

Grape harvest is done in the month of October; the harvest is restricted to 6500kg per ha for reds and 9000kg per ha for white wines; this is to ensure the highest standards are kept. The pruning consists of forming the stump with three arms and two thumbs in each arm. Furthermore, each thumb will have two buds from which the shoots will sprout.

The production follows the standards mentioned at the top of this article; however, the actual process of the production is different for both reds and whites. There are two production methods for red, the one with carbonic maceration and the other where the stem of the cluster is removed before fermentation. White wine production consists entirely of the grape passing to the drainer, the skins are removed, and the grape juice enters the tank for fermentation.

A true Spanish jewel

Rioja is best known for berry-scented and barrel-aged wines from the grapes It can be argued this is Spain’s top wine region, and many traditionalist will still say this. With its only real rival coming from Ribera del Duero, Priorat and still Jerez to a lesser extent, there’s certainty  the quality of wine you can enjoy from these three incredible famous regions of Rioja. In 2017 vineyard area was said to be just under 65,000 hectares with over 90% of that exclusively growing red grape varieties, this, in turn, creates a vast certified production of a quarter of a billion liters for the year. The vastness of this area is astonishing and proof that quantity and quality can work hand in hand.

Eastern European Wine State of Affairs in Romania, Moldova and Bulgaria

Eastern European Wine State of Affairs in Romania, Moldova and Bulgaria


At present countries in Eastern Europe such as Romania, Moldova and Bulgaria are making a significant comeback in the world stage of wine production.

The regions have in the past been somewhat major exporters of wine to other parts of Europe specifically to the East and the former Soviet Union with somewhat limited world exports elsewhere and after the major challenges caused by the Soviet Union re-entering the Western export market seemed to be challenging since by then the Australia and to a lesser degree Chile explosions had risen so fast that these countries had challenges in both going against large trends from these countries while trying to repair their global perception of past years.

In this article, we will examine the state of wine production in Romania, Moldova and Bulgaria highlighting how these countries were able to revive the winemaking industries over time.

State of affairs of wine production in Romania: Winemaking in Romania is reckoned to be as old as 2,800 years when the Agathyrsi that lived in the region at that time were known for their vineyards. The earliest challenges winemakers in Romania faced was from a Dacian king who decided to grab vineyards in the winemaking regions of Romania for himself which effected several centuries.

The Romanian wine production industry also had to survive the phylloxera attack of the 19th century that swept through most of the European vineyards. During this period, wine from foreign countries such as France was imported into Romania, and these led to the popularity of wines such as Chardonnay and Pino Noir. This was well before communism took its toll on the industry. When Communism arrived the biggest battle against the wine industry in Romania became the fact that the industry came under the government control which held tight  every process involved in winemaking from how the farms were run to how grapes were harvested and all of these were for the purposes of caring for the Soviet Union’s needs which did not lie in quality production.

Faced with major challenges after the fall of communism, the process of rebuilding the wine industry of Romania started quite slowly with efforts such as complete replanting. By 2007, as a member of the EU, Romania was able to receive the help needed to revive the industry. Romania is currently the sixth-biggest wine producer in the world. The International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV) has predicted a steady growth of the Romanian winemaking industry and estimated an average of 5.2 million hectoliters produced in 2018. The increase in production of wine in Romania has also made exporting Romania wine to the UK and other parts of the world possible primarily as quality became now the norm. Although Romania is situated between Central and Eastern Europe, its wine production has been majorly influenced by Eastern Europe in the past.

Some of the major wineries in Romania that have consistently produced some of the best Romanian wines and lead by example through quality which will hopefully help the county at large can be seen by examples from Avincis, Rotenberg and Prince Stirbey amongst others and particularly using Western/French cultivars primarily such as Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and many others of the usual suspects.

State of affairs of wine production in Moldova: With three regions where wine is heavily produced and about 112 thousand hectares of vineyard, Moldova is a major producer of wine in the South-eastern Europe region with vineyards that are located in the Black Sea basin. Moldova is a rather large producer of wine for such a small country with red wine produced in the regions in the south and white wine produced in the central regions. Winemaking started in Moldova about 5,000 years ago, and despite the challenges which the industry has faced over time, it has remained a major contributor to the country’s GDP.

The wine industry of Moldova was not left out of the challenge of the World War I and World War II. Vineyards and wineries were heavily destroyed during this period, but the industry recovered efficiently from those challenges. After World War II, Moldova became the biggest wine producer in the Soviet Union. The Moldovan wine production industry, however, encountered another challenge, the Promoted Alcohol Prevention Campaign. After leaving the Soviet Union, the process of recovery of the Moldovan wine production industry that has continued till this date started with the privatization of a lot of the wineries. About 30,000 hectares of new vine plantations have been cultivated in Moldova in the recent years in an attempt to go towards quality production.

About 80% of the wine currently produced in Moldova are exported with the major destinations being the Ukraine, USA and Poland. Currently, the Moldovan wine production industry is poised for growth and international reach with major private investments in the industry. Blended wines have been a particular focus of the industry. The indigenous Moldovan grape varieties include Festeasca Alba, Plavai and Rara Neagra. There are about 140 wine companies in Moldova, and about 250,000 people from Romania that are employed by the Moldovan winemaking industry.

State of affairs of wine production in Bulgaria: The Bulgarian wine production industry also has quite a history as well as similar past challenges as Romania and Moldova although with its own slight variations. The Bulgarian winemaking history has been traced back to the Thracians who saw wine as a favorite drink and a way of connecting to their ancestors. The Thracians produced wine in Bulgaria as far back as 4,000 BCE. The winemaking culture of Bulgaria was preserved through centuries until the 20th century when the industry had a major boom.

In the 1970’s, Bulgaria was especially well known for its winemaking industry with exports all over the world with the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc being large destinations as well. In the 1990’s, the industry experienced a major decline after the fall of Communism. Winemaking in Bulgaria has, however, been notable, particularly since the country joined the EU and got access to the required resources for revitalizing the industry. Bulgarian wines are currently some of the most awarded wines in Europe.

Bulgaria has five major wine regions with the Thracian valley wine region being the home of the most wineries. It should be noted the EU has recently redrawn the Bulgarian wine regions into two only however the Bulgarian wine industry is not only balking at this but based on their belief in their Terroir they are internally pushing to further divide the country into 8 regions from the unofficial 5 regions. This means that if they continue in this path, a clash with the EU could be around the corner although some signs point to them concentrating on sales outside of the EU which may make this issue a moot one. Nevertheless, this is a developing subject that people need to be on the lookout for. As well as international varietals, there are also at present 44 indigenous grape varieties so far identified in Bulgaria; these include both red and white varietals.  The most well-known and currently showing the best results are Mavrud, Dimyat and Rubin. The winemaking industry in Bulgaria has about 260 wine producers. These wine producers include boutique wineries that have promoted wine tourism in Bulgaria.

Finally, having withstood the challenges, the winemaking cultures of Romania, Moldova and Bulgaria have been preserved over the years despite its many disruptions and appear currently to turning their new found quality practices and aiming towards global recognition.

Tokaji Essencia throughout history

Tokaji Essencia

Tokaji Essencia – or commonly known throughout history – the wines of the kings.
Tokaji is considered the rarest and richest wine in Hungary and has a long, intricate and popular wine history since its very beginning.

So what is about this wine that makes it so unique and admired?

Tokaji Essencia is an immensely sweet wine, specifically from the region of Tokaji, Hungary on the North-eastern most part of the country. Although many countries have mimicked the wine, the standard, and methods are almost exclusive to this area. The grapes used in Essencia are Aszu berries’ free run juice. The grapes are often handpicked to ensure only the best are used in production. The focal point of the grapes is the development of noble rot, which can push the residual sugar up to 85% and leaving the fermentation process to last anything from 2 to 8 years. After fermentation and bottling, this wine can last for centuries. This truly makes this wine incredibly intricate, unique and loved among many.

The appreciation for this wine was first evident in the 1700’s when the first ever appellation system created was specifically created for this wine. The system classified the wine into first, second and third class according to soil, sun and noble rot of the vines. This appellation system was founded more than 100 years before the system in Bordeaux.

Other than that, throughout history in sections across the globe, the mention of this wine was documented by authors, musicians, monarchs, and philosophers. Since sugar and alcohol were such high commodities – especially in France – these wines were like liquid gold to most people throughout history. In the centuries to follow, Hungary became a hugely popular destination with monarchs all over the world in search of this wine. And it is with good reason that this wine was so sought after.

Modern-day Essencia tends to be complex beyond comprehension. The liquid is thick with common aromas of honey, citrus, blossoms, and peach. What captures most consumers are the layers of apricot, caramel, and orange flavors that linger on the palate. Because of the sweetness of the wine, it is often only consumed in small amounts (a tablespoon at most.) In fact, it is commonly served in a crystal spoon.  The crystal spoon is a significant expression of the wine’s rarity and status. One might be surprised that often they will only have 2% alcohol yet with perfect balance able to live so long.

With the production of Essencia, only a few thousand bottles of each vintage are produced and released and it may only be a few vintages every decade that are able to produce it. The wine did suffer in the 20th century largely due to the communist regime that lasted well into the 1990’s and inhibited private producers and prevented the exportation of these wines. Only in recent years did the world get to experience the magic of this wine with its revival in quality and exposure on the world stage..

Essencia is often served alongside desserts that are slightly more savory to balance out the sweetness of the wine but one can argue that this wine should be dessert on to itself and thus does not need an accompaniment. Although the wine has a hefty price on it, most would agree that it is a price worth paying for the extraordinary experience that lays in the crystal spoon. With a long and ever-prestigious history, this wine should be something tried at least once in a lifetime.