Spain > Rias Baixas > Paco & Lola Albariño

Paco & Lola Albariño

Country: Spain
Region: Rias Baixas
Producer: Bodega Rosalía de Castro
Grape variety: 100% Albariño
Vintage: 2010
Found at: Co-op Wines and Spirits, Willow Park Wines and Spirits (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $21.99

About the region: I realized we hadn’t paid a visit to Spain yet, so since Spain is best known for its red wines, I was going through some of Spain’s main regions for reds. While doing so, Paco & Lola’s Albariño suddenly came to mind: a beautiful white from Spain’s Rias Baixas region I tried a few weeks ago. So instead of visiting Rioja, Ribera del Duero, or Priorat (all of which will get their turn!) we’ll start with one of Spain’s “less typical” regions on our first visit

Rias Baixas is located in the Northwest corner of Spain, just above Portugal. Due to its proximity to the ocean, the weather is cooler and wetter compared to many other of Spain’s wine regions (which especially inland are hot and dry). From a grape growing perspective, it’s characterized by small-scale production: the average grape grower owns less than 1.5 acres of vines. They use the grapes either for making wines for their own personal consumption, or sell it through one of the cooperatives or to one of the 181 bodegas (wineries). Most wineries purchase their fruit from grape growers as opposed to growing their own grapes, which is very common in Spain.

Although several other grape varieties are allowed in Rias Baixas, the vast majority of the wines that are produced here are 100% Albariño.

Galicia, the region of Spain which Rias Biaxas falls under, is known for its good food, in particular fish and shellfish. So it’s no surprise that Albariño from Rias Baixas pairs fabulously  with a wide range of fish and shellfish.

About the wine: Albariño typically is intensely aromatic and (despite being light-bodied) quite flavourful, often hinting towards exotic fruit aromas and flavours. Virtually all Albariño from Rias Baixas is aged in stainless steel tanks for a short period of time without any exposure to oak, which provides it with a clean, fresh flavour profile.

Due to its small-scale production, marketing their wines has often been a challenge for winemakers in Rias Baixas. In response to this, a group of viticulturists and winemakers joined forces in 2005 to capitalize on their vineyards by creating a brand that would appeal to audiences worldwide and to younger audiences in particular. They succeeded: Paco & Lola is currently available in more than 20 countries and has been receiving great reviews. The venture currently brings together over 450 growers, who are supported by a team that fulfills the daily activities in the winery, ensuring strict quality controls from the vineyard to bottling.

The wine is indeed quite aromatic, showing lemon and apple compote aromas, and hints of apricot. There’s a nice weight to the palate, balanced with solid acidity to keep it fresh. Here we find green apple and lemon peel notes, as well as hints of mango. The finish lingers nicely. Wonderful.

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France > Vouvray > Barton & Guestier Vouvray

Barton & Guestier Vouvray

Country: France
Region: Vouvray
Producer: Barton & Guestier
Grape variety: Chenin Blanc
Vintage: 2010
Found at: Willow Park Wines and Spirits  (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $16.99

About the region: Time to visit a lesser-known wine region! As a kid, I associated the Loire valley with castles like Chambord and Chenonceau, which we used to visit while camping there. Today, it makes me think of the wide variety of wines that are grown all along the river valley: from Sancerre in the East to Muscadet in the West and in between several others, including today’s region: Vouvray.

The grape variety grown here is Chenin Blanc in a wide variety of styles ranging from dry to sweet and from still to bubbly. Its flavours vary accordingly as well, ranging from green apple to exotic, but usually with above-average acidity and mineral notes.

About the wine: In 1725, Irishman Thomas Barton founded a wine shipping company in Bordeaux to distribute its wines, mainly across the channel. Eventually he bought several estates in Bordeaux as well and start producing his own wines. In 1802, his grandson and successor, Hugh Barton, joined forces with Daniel Guestier, a French trader, to create Barton & Guestier. Today, it develops a wide range of mostly entry-level wines among which the Vouvray stands out.

The Vouvray is off-dry, balanced by the characteristic acidity. It’s showing peach and pear flavours, as well as some floral notes. This will be another great wine for a nice summer day, which will hopefully come along soon!

In Susanne’s words: Nice, happy, special.

Argentina > Salta > Terrazas de los Andes Torrontés Reserva

Terrazas de los Andes Torrontés Reserva

Country: Argentina
Region: Salta
Producer: Terrazas de los Andes
Grape variety: Torrontés
Vintage: 2010
Found at: Co-op Wines & Spirits, Willow Park Wines and Spirits  (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $14.49 – $15.49

About the region: Despite being the fifth largest wine-producing country in the world and a history in winemaking that stretches back approximately 450 years, Argentina is one of the most recent additions to the international world of wine. Until the mid 1990’s, virtually all its wine was consumed domestically. Before then, we were missing out on Argentina’s fabulous Malbec, Bonarda, and the grape variety covered here, Torrontés. Much of this was due to Argentina’s political instability, so since that has improved considerably over the past couple of decades, Argentina’s export market and foreign investment has exploded.

Similar to how Alberta lies in the “rain shadow” of the Rocky Mountains, Argentina lies in the “rain shadow” of the Andes. Much of Argentina is therefore extremely hot and dry. The key to successful grape growing in Argentina is therefore altitude: most vineyards lie between 2,000 and 4,600 feet in altitude, which ensures that the grapes experience sufficiently cool nights to develop the desired color and taste. In the Salta region in Northern Argentina, vineyards are planted at over 6,500 feet above sea level, which allows for sufficiently cool sites to exist in a location not too far from the equator and which makes it the world’s highest vineyard area. Due its extreme altitude (and consequently, extreme climate), this region has the potential to produce wines of great purity and concentration.

The combination of dry, sunny conditions and low labour costs allow for wineries to grow large quantities of ripe, healthy fruit at a low cost, which translates into great value for us as the consumer.

About the wine: French producer Moët & Chandon was one of the first foreign firms to spot Argentina’s potential, so they set up shop in Mendoza in the 1950s to produce a sparkling wine. Due its success and as the political climate improved, they launched the Terrazas brand in 1999 to start producing still wines. Vineyard selection and strict quality control in the vineyard as well as the winery ensured that those became an instant hit.

Their Torrontés Reserva is grown at an elevation of 5,900 feet. That’s 1,400 feet above Banff’s elevation (at 4,500 feet)! It is unoaked, which implies that fruit flavours dominate, making this an ideal wine for a (yet-to-come) summer day. It’s showing floral notes, which is characteristic for Torrontés. There’s also some melon and canned asparagus, supported by solid acidity. The finish lingers quite nicely.

France > Burgundy > Joseph Drouhin Macon-Villages

Joseph Drouhin Macon-Villages


Country: France
Region: Burgundy
Producer: Joseph Drouhin
Grape variety: Chardonnay
Vintage: 2010
Found at: Willow Park Wines and Spirits  (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $17.99

About the region
: Although Chardonnay is grown all over the world today, its roots lie in Burgundy. And since the grape variety is named after a village in the Maconnais (one of Burgundy’s sub-regions), let’s visit that region this week. Added benefit: white Burgundy from the Maconnais is considerably cheaper than those from the more famous subregions to its North (such as Meursault). 43 villages in the Maconnais qualify to label their wines as “Macon-Villages”, which generally provide somewhat more complexity, ripeness, and character compared to those labeled as the more generic “Macon”. Chardonnay is a non-aromatic grape variety, which implies that it doesn’t have a very pronounced fruit character: to explore this for yourself, stick your nose in a glass of Chardonnay and then in a glass of Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling and you’ll find that the latter have a much more pronounced, fruity smell. Because it’s non-aromatic, the wine’s character is determined to a large the degree by where the vineyard is situated and choices made by the winemaker (e.g., the use of oak vs. no oak).

About the wine: Maison Joseph Drouhin is one of the largest producers in Burgundy. They own vineyards all over Burgundy (including parcels in several famous vineyards), as well as source grapes from other growers. They’ve been around for 130 years and are currently run by the fourth generation of the Drouhin family. Their Macon-Villages is made from grapes bought from other growers. After fermentation, the wine is aged in stainless steel for 6 to 8 months. thereby retaining its riper fruit characteristics.

Apple and melon notes dominate on the nose, combined with some subtle straw notes. On the palate there is above-average acidity, the apple and melon notes make a recurrence, as well as some lemon peel and minerality.

In Susanne’s words: Apple-y; tastes gooood.

Australia > Eden Valley > Yalumba Viognier

Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier


Country: Australia
Region: Eden Valley
Producer: Yalumba
Grape variety: Viognier
Vintage: 2010
Found at: Willow Park Wines and Spirits  (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $22.49

About the region
: In the past 25 years, Australia’s wine exports have sky-rocketed, resulting in Australia now being the world’s 4th largest wine exporter (behind France, Italy, and Spain). Good value-for-money, crowd-pleasing styles, and clever marketing have all contributed to its surge in popularity. In recent years, other New World countries (Argentina in particular) have become more serious competitors though, which has been putting pressure on Australia’s competitive position in the market.

The Barossa Zone in South Australia is mostly known for it’s dark, full-bodied, fruit-forward Shiraz (which we’ll come back to in a later post). Toward the eastern end of the zone lie the mountain ranges of the Eden Valley, with vineyards at 400 to 600 metres. Due to the higher altitude, the Eden Valley is considerably cooler than the Barossa Valley, which makes it ideal for white grape varieties, in particular Riesling and Viognier.

About the wine: Yalumba was founded in 1849 by a British brewer, Samuel Smith. While over the past several decades a large number of Australian wineries have been swallowed up by large, international wine companies, Yalumba stayed fiercely independent and is now run by the fifth generation of Smiths. As an independent, debt-free winemaker they are able to experiment, invest, and make wines that appeal to a wide variety of tastes.

The Eden Valley Viognier is sourced from 3 different vineyards and in terms of quality sits in between Yalumba’s Y series and their Virgilius. Compared to the Y series, the Eden Valley Viognier is sourced from better vineyard parcels and fermented in oak barrels (while the Y series only sees stainless steel). In my opinion, it is well worth the few extra dollars. The Virgilius is renowned for being one of the New World’s best examples of Viognier, so this winery has clearly shown they know how to handle this difficult-to-grow grape variety.

We tasted this one tonight and were yet again impressed by its weight and complexity. It’s got ripe fruit (apricot and melon), floral notes, lots of spice (cloves), and some almost bitter notes on the finish. It’s has a buttery texture which explains its weight, but enough acidity to keep it standing. So overall, it’s complex and intense, but still very well balanced. A bit over the $20 mark, but quite extraordinary.

Germany > Mosel > St. Urbans-Hof Riesling

St. Urbans-Hof Riesling


Country: Germany
Region: Mosel
Producer: St. Urbans-Hof
Grape variety: Riesling
Vintage: 2010
Found at: Willow Park Wines and Spirits (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $16.99

About the region
: The Mosel is the coolest of Germany’s premium wine regions, known for it’s white wines, particularly Riesling. The best examples of Mosel Riesling show a great balance between sweetness and high acidity, combined with floral and green fruit characteristics. Due to its cool climate, the best sites are on steep, south-facing slopes that maximize exposure to the sun and as such benefit ripening. Unfortunately, the region’s reputation has suffered at at the hands of quite a few high-volume, lower-quality sub-regions, such as Piesport Michielsberg (not to be confused with the high-quality Piesport Goldtröpfchen).

About the wine: St. Urbans-Hof was founded in 1947 by  Nicolaus Weis and today is owned and operated by his grandson, Nik Weis. Since 2000, the winery is a member of the elite VDP group. St. Urbans-Hof produces two entry level wines: a non-estate Riesling from purchased grapes of various Mosel vineyards (called “Urban”) and his estate Riesling, which actually carries the “St. Urbans-Hof” name on the label (as shown above).  Both provide excellent value, with the estate wine being worth the extra few dollars: it’s aromatic with peach, lychee, grassy notes, and a hint of petrol, which is characteristic of many Rieslings. The taste provides a great example of high-quality Riesling: sweetness balanced with mouth-watering, mineral acidity.

If you are up to spending a bit more and upgrade to the next level, try the Kabinett Mosel Piesport Goldtröpfchen, which offers even greater intensity and richness.

France > Pouilly-Fuissé > Louis Jadot

Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuissé

Country: France
Region: Pouilly-Fuissé
Producer: Louis Jadot
Grape variety: Chardonnay
Vintage: 2009
Found at: Willow Park Wines and Spirits ($37)

About the region
: Pouilly-Fuissé produces some of the richest white wines in Burgundy, due to the vineyards being situated on a series of amphitheatre-like slopes, which act as natural sun traps.

About the wine: This wine reflects the region very well. It offers pear and peach aromas, combined with a nutty and almost herbal character. It’s richer than your average white Burgundy, though it still sports a vibrant acidity to balance it out. For fans of oaky, buttery New World (United States, Australia, South America, etc.) Chardonnay who want to try a more restraint style, this would be a great place to start. On the other side, for Burgundy fans looking for a richer style of white that won’t break the bank, this would be a good bottle to try out as well.

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