Some winemakers believe that into each winery a little less rain must fall
By Ted McIntyre
Although I addressed the growing movement of organic wines in last month’s issue (http://travelinggolfer.net/2016/09/19/getting-back-to-nature/), two more sustainably produced wines hit my desk that merit attention. The first was Angove Organic 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, the product of a fifth-generation South Australia family winery that first made the move to organic practices a decade ago. Bearing a label designed specifically for the Canadian market, with immediate availability in the LCBO at a price tag of $15.95, the word “organic” hits you like a brick between the eyes. Whereas places like California still find a certain stigma attached to the organic term, where it sometimes suggests the wine may be of lower quality, north of the border it’s a marketing weapon in all aspects of food and beverage, as the Angove label suggests.
Angove Export Manager Mark Ramm hopes that the new release will lead to a strengthened offering for all Canadian consumers going forward. “We see many opportunities for great tasting, reasonably priced organic wines in the Canadian marketplace,” says Ramm. “Organic produce in general is one of the fastest growing consumer categories and it is fantastic to get an early position in this segment of the market.”
The warm inland climate of South Australia’s Riverland region and the accompanying sandy loam soils make it an ideal place to grow grapes organically, the company notes, as weed and disease pressure are minimal. “We use extensive under-vine mulching of composted winery grape waste to add carbon and nutrients to the soil which in turn builds flavour in the grapes,” Ramm adds.
Apart from also optimizing water use and creating healthier plants, “the organic crops seem to achieve flavour ripeness earlier, at lower sugar levels (and) have thicker skins, especially the reds,” notes Angove’s Chief Winemaker Tony Ingle.
The second environmentally friendly creation to catch my attention earlier this month was Montes’ Alpha 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile’s Colchagua Valley. It’s the product of dry farming, a sustainable practice that essentially relies on the irrigation that Mother Nature provides—a somewhat practical approach given the low levels of precipitation in Chile’s central zone in recent years. As vines learn to struggle for moisture, it translates to a greater sense of terroir, say many winemakers, since the root system navigates deeper into the native soil. It’s a practice that is seeing increasing popularity in rain-challenged winegrowing regions, including California, where there are about two dozen dry-farming wineries
Operating under the premise—and experience—that less irrigation produces lower yields but smaller, more concentrated grapes, and therefore greater quality, the move to dry farming has enabled Montes to reduce water consumption by 65%. That’s equivalent to the average annual water needs of a town of 20,000 in the region, the winery notes.
Accepting that climate change was going to increasingly affect their grape growing efforts, the company started experimenting with growing without irrigation six years ago. Just two years later, they had advanced from a single parcel of land to 300 hectares, covering all of Montes Alpha red wine vines.
“What we learned was that the vine adapts itself; so the first year it was on its knees, begging for water, but by the second year it had reacted, so the bud burst was later, the shoots and clusters were smaller, and the roots dug deeper,” Aurelio Montes, one of the winery’s co-founders, told The Drinks Business magazine last year.
It’s an expensive practice, since yields are half what they were previously under regular irrigation—and competition for water means you often have to plant vines further apart. But the resulting quality has spiked, Montes notes, adding that “a blind tasting with our six winemakers showed that wines made from grapes from full irrigated vineyards gained an average score of 88 points, while those from the non-irrigated vines gave an average of 92 points.”
The two planet-friendly wines mentioned above lead off this month’s reviews.
| Angove Organic 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon ($15.95)
A dense cranberry juice in colour, with a nose of soaked strawberries, prune and a little grape and cranberry, this is a thick, nicely textured cab with the body to handle robust red meats and spicy sausage. Dry with medium acidity, it has definitely picked up some of the soil of its Nanya vineyard in the Riverland region of South Australia, which gives it further distinction. Nice, long luscious finish, and well priced, with a cellar potential of four to eight years. 89
| Montes Alpha 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.95)
A dry-farmed vintage available at the LCBO (under the Vintages Essentials category), this is a winner right out of the bottle. Scents of blackcurrant jam, cigar box, tobacco, toast, nutmeg with plumy fruit undertones and well-rounded tannins—hell, there’s so much here, with the 12 months in French oak clearly contributing to the earthiness and complexity. Pretty impressive, given a less than optimal growing season in Chile’s Colchagua Valley for this vintage. This is also a good cellar candidate, given its robust structure. 91
| Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2012 ($38.95)
Crafted by the 80-year-old Gerardo Cesari house in Verona, Italy, this well-recognized LCBO Amarone is a silky smooth combination of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes. It’s aged for a year in a combination of French oak barriques and large Slavonian oak barrels, before being blended and aged in large oak barrels for another 18 months. It rests in the bottle for another eight months before being released. The end product is dry to medium-dry with a beautiful nose of raisins, dried cranberries and cherries with a touch of chocolate highlighting a finish that holds on for ages. Featuring velvety tannins, it’s delicious to sip on its own, but has the complexity and structure that makes it ideal for spicy pasta dishes, steak and other red meats. You can spend a fortune on Amarones, given the length of time and amount of quality grapes required to make them, but this—the entry level of Cesari’s three Amarones—is really good quality for the price. 91
| Wakefield Estate Shiraz 2014 ($18.95)
Smoother and better rounded than your stereotypical Australian Shiraz, the traditional peppery bite is replaced with more balanced fruit flavours of blackcurrant plum and a subtle nose that benefits greatly from a proper shiraz/syrah glass. A great pairing with lamb, it’s a deep ruby in colour. A tad more tarry than peppery, you have to bury your nose a bit deeper into the glass than with most shirazes, but you’ll find something special and unique there, where there’s mocha, herbs and an almost eucalyptus remnant. The 2014 edition cleaned up at the 2015 Great Australian Shiraz Challenge in November, claiming trophies for Best Australian Shiraz and Best Shiraz under $25, while earning 19.5 points, the highest score in the competition’s history.And while to North Americans it reeks of the gimmicky Coors Light “Cold Certified” label that turns the mountains on the label from white to blue when the beer is at the right temperature, this wine has a more practical sensor to help consumers with optimum serving temperatures. Named “Goldilocks,” label sensors use thermo-chromatic ink technology that turns green when white or sparkling wines are proper chilled, and fuchsia for when reds are at the right degree. 91
| FAT bastard Syrah 2015 ($14.95)
Now available in Quebec, the in-your-face, establishment-bucking FAT bastard Syrah (with the winemaker’s distinctive hippo on the label) is sourced from vineyards in the Languedoc region of Southern France, where the region’s stony soils and perfect microclimate traditionally yield mature grapes with a concentration of colour and aromas. The nose displays an intriguing spice with raspberry and blueberry and tinges of olive, sulfur and clove. While FAT bastard holds down the No. 1 spot for French Chardonnay, Syrah and Merlot sales in the U.S., this 2015 Syrah vintage seems a little lean and young in the bottle, but benefits nicely from a quick decanting. 87
|White Cliff Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($14.95) (On sale until Nov. 6 at the LCBO for $12.45)A lightly warmer and dryer growing season meant lots of high-quality fruit for New Zealand’s famed Marlborough Valley and its 2016 harvest, the bottles of which have already made their way into local liquor stores. This very well priced Sauvignon Blanc bears a slightly citric finish, but there’s so much to love here. Virtually clear as water, it’s spring-morning-fresh on the nose with aromas of lemon rind, mineral and grass clippings leading to a zesty acidity on the tongue. Extra dry with a medium body, it’s crisp and refreshing with lots of green apple and grapefruit flavours. 89|