Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Small in Size, BIG in Stature

Originally posted at

They are all looking for representation in North America and they have all travelled from the Abruzzo and Puglia regions of Italy to show off the wines they make and some very interesting grape varietals. The Abruzzo region is one of those well hidden secrets but is gaining in popularity as a tourist destination in recent years, especially amongst Italians and other Europeans. If you are looking at a map of Italy, look at the back side of “the boot” about half way up – mid calf as I like to put it – and you will find the region of Abruzzo. It is a fairly mountainous region in Italy but their economy is very diversified making it a region that appeals to a lot of different types of people for a variety of different reasons. Looking a little further down “the boot” you find the region of Puglia, which is basically the heel of the boot. For the most part, Puglia is very flat land but there are some mountainous regions at the top of the region. Wine has always played an important role in Puglia’s economy which has seen the land occupied by Romans, Greeks, Hannibal’s forces, Goths, Lombards, Byzantines and the Normans.

Within the tasting, both Abruzzo and Puglia were represented equally with three wineries a piece. As I mentioned at the beginning, all of these wineries were looking for representation and a chance to break into the North American market. Some of these wines, for that reason alone, were priced EXTREMELY REASONABLY and, it would not surprise me that, in future vintages, we see the prices of these wines steadily increase because they simply tasted that great. From the Abruzzo region of Italy, we found

Azienda Agricola CIAVOLICH Giuseppe
Cantina COLLE MORO Societa Cooperativa Agricola

with a wide variety of white and red wines to sample. Cantina COLLE MORO had one white wine that stood out incredibly well – 2007 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo. If you are unfamiliar with Italian grapes – since they do not use the same grapes that North American wineries use – Trebbiano is a very common white grape used in a variety of applications. It is widely used in Cognac production as well as table wines but with the table wines, it does not have a lot of aging ability so it is best drunk when young. This particular wine reminded me a lot of a cross between Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. There was a mineral component to the taste but it was also light and fruity. The aromas were the kind that are really hard to distinguish but were very interesting nonetheless. Aside from the Trebbiano grape, a couple of the other wineries brought wines that contain the Pecorino grape in styles that were both oaked and un-oaked. The oaked versions showed great balance and a lingering finish in the taste while the un-oaked styles were crisp and light and meant to be drunk young.

While Cantina COLLE MORO excelled at making great white wines, their red wines seemed to be lacking something – possibly they just needed time or were experiencing some bottle shock. However, where the other wineries had been okay with their white wines, the red wines they were offering is where they were definitely excelling this day. The region of Abruzzo is very well known for using a grape called Montepulciano, which should not be confused with a town of the same name in the Tuscany region of Italy. Montepulciano (the grape) is a grape with a lot of fruit flavours to it that makes it best served young. However, the wines featured today tend to prove otherwise because we had a couple of wines there that were knocking our socks off and were already well in advance of five years old. Cantina COLLE MORO was definitely sticking with the light, easy drinking style of this grape which made for a lovely way to start the tasting but as we progressed through the wineries, the older versions were really holding up and made for some interesting revelations.

Azienda Agricola CIAVOLICH Giuseppe had brought three different versions of their red wines, each containing 100% Montepulciano, but with different levels of aging. The first wine – Ancilla – which means “younger” was their 2007 vintage which had an amazing ruby colour to it accompanying light and fruity flavours. It was very easy drinking and definitely fit into the dangerous category because you could easily drink a bottle of this and not realize what you had just done. Personally, I would love this on a hot summer day, by the pool with some simple foods – bruschetta, antipasto, stuff like that. Their next wine was their 2006 Divus which was 100% Montepulciano but had spent some time in old French barriques as well as stainless steel. The extra year of aging plus the introduction of oak made this wine very fruit forward but with a spicy backbone – very yummy! The final wine that CIAVOLICH brought they have called Antrum which translates into “cave” representing the locale of the winery back in Italy – it is built into the side of a mountain. This was their 2003 vintage so it is close to six years old now, is more than ready to drink and can only be described with one word – WOW!

The final winery from Abruzzo – Peperoncino Vini – brought two Montepulciano’s for us to try representing two different vintages. This winery’s focus was to show how the grape can progress from one year to the next with the only difference being that of Mother Nature and what has happened in the vineyard over the year. They started us out with their Capestrano 2007 which was fruit forward with a slight hint of smoke in the aromas. There was some good structure to this wine with medium tannins so it is more than possible to age this for a couple of years to smooth it out and make it really easy to drink. Fruity with backbone is the best way to describe the flavours. The second wine they offered us was called Trita’no 2006 which is also 100% Montepulciano but had spent some time in larger barrels for less amount of time which made some very noticeable changes in the aroma and taste. The aromas were very earthy – mushrooms, vegetables, etc – while the tastes were spicy and fruity. The best way to describe this wine was either a spicy Australian Shiraz or an intense red Zinfandel from California. Since those are two of my favourite types of wines from around the world (or at least in terms of red wines) this wine rapidly became one of my top picks for the afternoon.

Making our way down the coast of the Adriatic Sea, we reach the region of Puglia. This area of Italy has a very diversified history over the years. Due to its geographic location, Puglia was an important strategic location for invading troops in ancient times but, in modern times, have come to count agriculture, manufacturing and, more recently, tourism as major components to their economic makeup.

Given that wine is in their blood in Puglia, it was not at all surprising the quality and character of the wines we tasted that afternoon. From the whites to the reds, there were several great examples of tasty, well made, quality wines – some of which were at extremely reasonable prices. One winery in particular stood out for me that afternoon – L’Antica Cantina San Severo. The gentleman who was representing the winery that day was explaining to us that they are really anxious to break into the North American wine market so they have priced their wines at a level that, they hope, makes for an easy entry into our wine market. L’Antica Cantina San Severo had brought four wine s – one white and three reds – and all of them brought something interesting and exciting to the table. The one white wine – their Castrum White – is actually a blend of three grapes: Trebbiano, Bombino Bianco and Malvasia. The variety in the grapes made for an interesting combination of flavours and aromas. There was a slight mineral aroma introducing you to this wine but the flavours were very light and easy drinking. A good balance of acidity and light fruit, there was also an effervescent quality to the wine making it truly refreshing and inviting that would be perfect on a hot summer day. The first two red wines they had available for tasting were blends of Montepulciano and Sangiovese. The Castrum Red and the Red San Severo DOC The Portal were both great examples of everything these two grapes have to offer – fruity, spicy, some earthy components and a good back bone making aging a possibility if you are so inclined. The final wine from L’Antica Cantina San Severo was their Nobiles Uva di Troia which is a unique grape unto itself. Uva di Troia is a grape that is indigenous to Puglia but is adaptable enough that it can be grown elsewhere due to its comfort level in a variety of soils. The grapes have a violet coloured red skin to them, are aggressive when on the vine and ripen mid season. It can be used on its own, like it was here, but is also used in blends alongside Bombino Nero, Montepulciano and Sangiovese to add some complexity to the finished product. This particular Uva di Troia did not have much in terms of aromas but the flavours were powerful with great backbone, tannins and structure. Considering that all of these wines were being priced to come in at less than $10 Canadian once they enter our market, L’Antica Cantina San Severo is definitely making wines of amazing value and, once they are here, I highly recommend picking up several bottles before they raise their prices in later vintages.

Now, aside from L’Antica Cantina, there were two other wineries representing the Puglia region of Italy – Antica Enotria and Casaltrinita. Antica Enotria was the one winery that did not bring any white wines with them and is also completely organic in their operation. Now, normally, the organic wines I have had in the past have not impressed me much but this time was definitely different. These are definitely wines I would be adding to my collection if they were available to purchase in our market and, hopefully, they will be very shortly. They brought four different wines, representing four different grapes, and all were single varietals – Sangiovese, Montepulciano (called Falu), Nero di Troia and Aglianico. We already know that Sangiovese and Montepulciano are very fruit forward wines – lots of berry, chocolate and spice flavours are common for their taste profiles. Organic wines (or at least those commonly found in North American markets) tend to have a slightly bitter aftertaste with them which some people do not enjoy. I have definitely encountered wines like that but what made these different is that they were silky smooth on the palate with no unpleasant aftertastes. The tannins were completely mellowed out and considering that none of the wines were more than three years old – with most of them only being a year and a half – that is phenomenal for an organic wine. Moving along to the Nero di Troia, a colleague of mine actually detected a bit of an aroma similar to Madeira when we tasted this wine. It was faint but it was there which is rather interesting considering they are very different grapes and different production methods from regions that are thousands of miles apart. This wine was very powerful and complex making it a wine that would pair well with a wide variety of foods. The final wine on their table was their Aglianico which is an Italian grape varietal that is relatively new to this region. Traditionally from Campania and Basilicata regions of Italy, there have been traces of these vines found in Puglia and some wineries have been experimenting with making it into a single varietal wine. It is known for high tannins and a slightly pungent nose but if you have the patience to age a bottle or two, than it can be a very rewarding wine – it just needs some time.

The final winery of the day was Casaltrinita and they brought some very unique grapes unlike many of the others available today. Their one white wine is made from the Greco grape which is virtually unheard of here in North America. The aromas were a combination of fruit, honey and mineral which continued on to the palate. For a white wine, it was very complex and very tasty – it reminded me slightly of an Off Dry Riesling. They brought a Rose wine which they had made using the Uva di Troia grape and, single handedly, it showcased everything a truly great rose wine should. The wine was full of fruity flavours and aromas, a great balance of acidity and flavour and very easy drinking. This wine was the perfect level of dryness and standing there tasting it made me want spring and summer here even faster than it was heading our way. Now, on to the red wines – Terra di Corte, Coppamalva and Nero di Troia. Right from the beginning, these wines impressed me. Terra di Corte is a blend of Nero di Troia and Merlot grapes bringing two very different grape varietals together to make a very balanced, fruit forward wine. There were some complimenting spice and cedar notes making this definitely a WOW! wine. The Coppamalva is a blend of Nero di Troia and Cabernet Sauvignon and although there was not much in terms of aromas to this wine, it had a very powerful flavour profile for us to enjoy. The final wine – Nero di Troia – was, as I am sure you guessed – 100% Nero di Troia grapes. The flavours were what made this wine very interesting – it was fruity and spicy but very light in nature which is unlike any of the other Nero di Troia wines represented in this room on that particular day.

Now, as I mentioned at the beginning, all of these wineries are trying to break into the North American market so, for any of us living in the US or Canada, it may be a while before we see any of these wines gracing our shelves. If you are in Europe, than this definitely works in your favour since you can probably find these wines on the shelves of your favourite wine shop already. If any of you are importers and are interested in bringing these wines in, feel free to post a comment or send an email and I can get you the contact information I have for the different wineries.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Enough is Enough

Originally posted on

The Wine Content Act in Ontario is actually not something new – it has been around in one form or another since 1972. Over the years there have been many changes to the act with the most recent visible change happening in January of 2001 when the wine content act was changed to allow a minimum of 30% Ontario-grown product and a maximum of 70% imported product in the “Cellared in” or “Cellared by” category. In actuality, the Wine Content Act had an expiry date of December 31st 2000 which, quite obviously, has been ignored by our politicians and has continued to remain in effect.

Now, not only are there no crop shortages, which is what precipitated the current changes to the Wine Content Act, but our grape growers are facing surpluses because the government is encouraging the LCBO to market the “Cellared In” or “Cellared By” wines side by side with wine made by our wineries using grapes that came from our soils. My father actually came to me just a couple of days ago because he had been in a local LCBO store and seen how the Cellared in Canada wine was on the exact same shelf as some of the smaller wineries he recognizes from my rather large collection of wine. It is a bit of sore point with me and I explained to my Dad that it is because the Cellared in Canada wine shares shelf space with legitimate 100% Ontario wines with no distinction in quality visible to the average consumer that I absolutely refuse to buy any wines from Ontario in a LCBO store. There are 160 wineries operating within the province of Ontario…how many do you think are available on the shelves of the LCBO. At last check, less than 25 of them are available according to the LCBO’s website. They then turn around and put “Cellared in” wines side by side with the lucky twenty five wineries who grace their shelves and it is not much wonder that the remaining 135 wineries are struggling, have grape surpluses and, in general, are having a hard time surviving from year to year. The true shame in all of this is that these smaller wineries continually make unique and interesting wines that most people are missing out on.

When people from other countries around the world hear about Ontario wine, or wine from Canada in general, they tend to look down on it thinking our table wines are awful tasting, of low quality and not worth wasting time on. At the other end of the scale they think our very pricey Icewines. Although Icewine is one of my personal favourites and I do have quite a few in my cellar, there is so much more to wine from our country than Icewine. With the next set of Olympics set to take place a year from now in Vancouver and Whistler area, you would think that this would be the perfect time to showcase just how great Canadian wine can be. Now, since the Olympics are in BC, then it does stand to reason that the Olympic Committee would choose a BC wine. Well, they did…SORT OF! There is a buzz going around the wine community, which we are trying to get the word out around here on about how The Official Wine of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver/Whistler is actually one of these horrid “Cellared in Canada” wines. The winery making the official wine is one of the larger, conglomerate wineries who are only interested in making a profit and, in the meantime, it is damaging our industry in a variety of ways.

Cellared in Canada wines only require 30% of the content to be made from Canadian grapes. The remaining 70% comes from another country that is more than willing to cut a deal on their juice. Chile is one of the more commonly used countries in this scenario and, although Chile does make some great wines, you can be sure that they are not giving the good stuff away to us Canadians. Now, picture yourself as someone who is new to wine, living in Ontario and you want to try something new and exciting. So, you make a trip to your local LCBO, because you don’t realize you can actually go straight to the winery and get some really amazing wines that will never see the light of day on the shelves of the LCBO, and you see some wines that are much more “reasonably” priced than the other wines on the shelf. Since you are not interested in spending a lot of your hard earned money on something you may not like, you pick up the cheaper Cellared in Canada wine as opposed to wine made from 100% Ontario grapes. Now, you take that bottle of wine home, crack it open, and you can’t stand the taste of it. No biggie – it only cost you $10 anyway so down the drain it goes – but what kind of opinion do you now have of Canadian wines…NOT A GOOD ONE! The problem with this scenario is that you now think that all Canadian wine tastes like this and you are not overly inclined to try wines made by us, even though what you have just tasted was made up of 70% wine that came from ANOTHER COUNTRY! With situations like this, it is not much wonder that the Canadian wine industry is looked down upon for creating inferior table wines or overpriced Icewine.

So, how do we get around this? Well, if you live in Canada or if you are elsewhere around the world and see Cellared in Canada wine, there is a group of us who HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you boycott any wines whose label contains the words “Cellared In” or “Cellared By”. If you are part of the media – newspapers, magazines, blogs, TV or radio – use your voice. Our government needs to realize just how damaging this situation is to our farmers, our grape growers, our wineries and our PUBLIC IMAGE. Given the state of the economy in North America, we really cannot afford to keep up the practices that the Wine Content Act has forced upon us in the last ten years. Enough is enough – stand up for your country, your jobs and your way of life!