VINHO VERDE RISING

 Mists in Melgaco, Minho 

Mists in Melgaco, Minho 

The white wines of Vinho Verde have a reputation: they're spritzy, light, and refreshing. But lately, there's been rising interest in the wine world as quality improves. 

If you've been looking for a wine to while away the Summer heat, say hello to 'veen-o vaird'. Or, 'veen-o vair-day', if you prefer. In the glass, this lower alcohol wine can be shockingly zesty and flavourful with lime, melon, kiwi, and a uniquely juicy salinity. Just remember that some wines are meant to be enjoyed in their youth, and this is one of them.

 Green as far as the eye can see

Green as far as the eye can see

The vines are located in the far northwest of Portugal on the Atlantic coast, a surprisingly mild and verdant area with plenty of rain and lush river valleys.

You might see VV labelled on the bottle as Vinho Verde DO (for Denomination of Origin) or Minho GI (for Geographical Indication).

 The wine regions of Portugal. Got them all? Good

The wine regions of Portugal. Got them all? Good

This is a hotspot for native grapes, some with challenging names, which helps to explain why we don't often hear about them. Wines are often blends of several grapes, but increasingly producers are releasing 100% varietal wines. Some white grapes you'll encounter are: Alvarinho (kin to Spain's Albarino; intense aroma, complex, floral), Arinto (minerality, vibrant acidity), Loureiro (meaning 'laurel leaf'; similarly floral nose to Gewurz), and Trajadura (peach, lower acidity, full bodied, adds weight to blends).

 Lindoso Espigueiro, Portugal

Lindoso Espigueiro, Portugal

 Over 2000 years of wine history. The Romans were here (of course)

Over 2000 years of wine history. The Romans were here (of course)

Although there are over 2000 brands made in the region, here in Canada there are two exports that dominate the market: Casal Garcia and Gazela, which are both appealingly light on the pocketbook. That's starting to change though, there's a new push to bring in more selection. The people demand Vinho Verde!

 Everyone turn to channel 13 on your headset and follow me. Mizarela, Portugal

Everyone turn to channel 13 on your headset and follow me. Mizarela, Portugal

 Terraces galore

Terraces galore

A word you might see on VV label's is Quinta ('kin-ta'), which means estate or farm.
 You want sub-regions, you get sub-regions! To the North: Minho River, South: Douro River, West: Atlantic Ocean, & East: the Marao Mtns

You want sub-regions, you get sub-regions! To the North: Minho River, South: Douro River, West: Atlantic Ocean, & East: the Marao Mtns

Notable Vinho Verde Wines to Buy:

Via Latina Vinho Verde DO Loureiro 2015: A rosey floral on the nose of this spritzy, high acidity sipper made by a wine co-op. Green mango and apple notes are the perfect antidote to rich, high fat dishes. 100% Loureiro.
Quinta da Aveleda Vinho Verde DO 2014: A winningly steely blend of Loureiro and Alvarinho with flashy saline acidity, and peaches 'n cream textured palate.
Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde DO 2014: Silky gunmetal and very, very mineral, with a touch of lime peel, and downright salty in the best kind of way. 95% Loureiro, 5% Arinto.
Pluma Alvarinho Vinho Regional Minho 2015: Yellow flowers are the lead into this satiny, juicily acidic wine. Lots of tasty white peach on the palate. 100% Alvarinho.
Tapada Do Marques Vinho Verde DO Arinto 2015: Green melon, tropical kiwi, and green apple skin are balanced by an appealing bitterness and white floral perfume. 100% Arinto.

Have you ever tried Vinho Verde? Do tell in the comments below!

Cheers,

Rachel

Photos courtesy of Vinho Verde & Wines of Portugal

PROSECCO SUPERIORE & WHY IT'S WORTH SPENDING MORE FOR

 Future UNESCO site? An application is in the works

Future UNESCO site? An application is in the works

It's a truth universally acknowledged... that a chilled bottle of Prosecco must be in want of a drinker. But must it be true that all Prosecco is equally cheap and cheerful?

Dear reader, today I will try to convince you in favour of spending a smidgen more in pursuit of higher quality. I put it to you that Prosecco Superiore is not only a delicious wine, but that it's worthy of your respect and interest.

Prosecco is made in an area of Italy called Conegliano Valdobbiadene, in the Veneto region in the northeast of Italy. Perhaps you've heard it's a hilly place where the vineyards are so steep they have to be harvested by hand, as no tractor would survive the slopes, but I think this picture says it best:

 It's a leg day

It's a leg day

There are two towns which give the region its name: Conegliano (home of the famous oenology school) and Valdobbiadene. There are 15 communes in this area, and you may see the name of one of 43 individual sites, or Rive ("ree-vay") on your bottle, in addition to the words Prosecco Superiore DOCG

The most famous subzone within the DOCG area is called Cartizze ("car-teet-zay"), a tiny 107 hectares that is known for some very special bubbles. One trick I learned from a winemaker is that Cartizze often has the scent of wisteria blooms, which is very romantic, as is the touch of sweetness found on the palate.

So what sets Prosecco DOCG apart? It's these steep, steep slopes, which make the best home for quality sparkling made from the Glera grape = the best aspect, the best soils, the best ripening (ps: Glera's a distinctive creature: it has a delicate floral aroma, peaches too, especially white peach, plus green apple). 

Wines made from the best steep sites have a definite brightness and lift that is utterly refreshing, and yes, you can taste the difference in a blind test. By law, the grapes must be picked by hand. Non-DOCG wines have a huge demarcated area, including the lesser regarded valley floors. 

Aren't you curious to try more of the wines produced in these hills? I know I am.

 These slopes are mayjah (the terraces are the work of centuries)

These slopes are mayjah (the terraces are the work of centuries)

Here's where things get a little confusing: the residual sugar content. There are three levels you'll see on the label: Brut, which is the driest (0-12 grams/litre), Extra Dry is the traditional style in the middle (12-17 g/l), and the sweetest is called, wait for it... Dry (17-32 g/l). So, easy to remember: just think the reverse of dry is Dry!

Other terms you might see are: Millesimato, which is the vintage the grapes were harvested. Spumante means sparkling. Frizzante, which is semi-sparkling and aged on the lees in a traditional style, and Tranquilo, which means 'still' (the rules are that Frizzante and Tranquilo wines aren't labelled with Superiore). Demi-long refers to the wine sitting on lees for at least six months, and Long is for at least one year.

Most Prosecco is made using the Martinotti (also known as Charmat or autoclave) method, which helps glorify the Glera perfume, although interestingly there are some wines being produced in the Traditional (or Champagne) method. 

 Veneto, meet Friuli. Friuli, Veneto. Protected from north winds by the Dolomites, with the Adriatic to the east.

Veneto, meet Friuli. Friuli, Veneto. Protected from north winds by the Dolomites, with the Adriatic to the east.

Notable Prosecco DOCG Wines to buy:

Bisol Superiore di Cartizze DOCG Dry 2014: Meyer lemon meets purple floral, and sweet red apple, lightly spiced with ginger. Creamy bubbles, luxurious.
Colvendra' Prosecco Superiore Millesimato Brut DOCG 2015: Soft candied pear, white honeysuckle, refreshing acidity with harmonious mineral and green apple palate. Summery. Melon kissed with grapefruit zest.
Sorelle Bronca Particella 68 Prosecco Superiore DOCG: Delicate green melon, leesy, creamy, yet vibrant. A stony mineral core with lilac top notes.
Terre Di San Venanzio Fortunato Valdobbiadene Brut DOCG: Luscious bubbles, fuller bodied. Notes of pear drop, green apple, and floral.
Val D'Oca Le Rive Di Colbertaldo Prosecco Superiore Extra Dry DOCG 2015: Full of green apple and crisp fresh pear. Orange peel citrus, green melon. Mineral for miles. Acidity balances plush residual sugar. Notably creamy mousse. Pair with delicate foods.
Villa Sandi Valdobbiadene Superiore Di Cartizze Vigna La Rivetta Brut DOCG: Lilac and fresh bloomed purple wisteria. Leesy complexity meets red apple on the palate. A treat.

I hope I've piqued your curiosity and you'll give these wines a try. Let me know, what's your favourite Prosecco? 

Cheers & Cin Cin,

Rachel

Photos courtesy of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Consorzio

CHECKMATE ARTISANAL WINERY

 Photo courtesy of CheckMate Artisanal Winery

Photo courtesy of CheckMate Artisanal Winery

Winery Visits: By Appointment Only

Location: Golden Mile, Oliver, BC

Website: www.checkmatewinery.com

A no-expenses-spared undertaking funded by the Mission Hill umbrella, this top secret project is finally available to taste. The winery has released just five wines: all are 100% Chardonnay from the 2013 vintage.

CheckMate’s winery is tucked away off the road south of Oliver in the Golden Mile area - near CC Jentsch and Culmina - available to visit only through privately arranged appointment (and it sounds like those are very exclusive indeed). Actually, until recently almost everything about this project has been cloaked in a shroud of prestige and mystery, including the wines themselves.

Before we talk wine, though, a little history: in 1994, Mission Hill Winery's reserve Chardonnay won Avery's Trophy at the International Wine & Spirits Competition in London. This was to put it mildly, a game changer for the Okanagan. The grapes used in that wine are from some of the oldest Chardonnay vines in Canada, from a plot on the Golden Mile that’s newly under the ownership of CheckMate. The plot’s still planted with this not yet identifiable clone that's being called Heritage.

These are wines several years in the making, and no corners have been cut. From three different sites, Aussie winemaker Philip Mcgahan (a transplant by way of the Hunter and Russian River Valleys) had his pick of the best rows from the best sites. Grapes are hand picked, hand sorted, and in the winery they’re experimenting with wild ferments. Kudos for their championing of no fining or filtration, instead letting the work of gravity and time take place. The bottles themselves are a tactile person’s delight, heavy and stubbily 19th century in shape.

The five wines, in what some may consider hubris, others brilliant marketing, range from $80 to $125 per bottle, and are available only through direct purchase on their website or from a restaurant wine list. Online, they are offered in elegantly packaged sets of three or five wines.

As I tasted the wines, I had a mixture of thoughts: not wanting to be accused of provincialism, but proud that these marquee wines may further help put the Okanagan on wine lover’s minds and maps. I’ve talked with some people ready to dismiss them as outrageously priced, and others ready to drink the kool-aid before they’ve even drunk the wines.

After tasting, I’m converted. They’re impeccably made, beautiful wines with soul.

Capture $90 - 94 points

The grapes for this wine are from the Border Vista vineyard, a warm site on the east bench of Osoyoos overlooking Osoyoos Lake. The wine spent 18 months in French oak, and only seven barrel’s worth was made. 

This was my favourite of the five, peaches and cream in the mouth, mineral, then with a clementine-citrus ring of acidity that kept going and going. Just amazing.

Queen Taken $125 - 92 points

Made from those mysterious Heritage grapes, on the cooler slopes of the Golden Mile, aged in French oak for 17 months.

Pear, apple, white peach, less linear than Capture but there’s lime here, and a touch of feminine floral perfume.

Little Pawn $110 - 93 points

Grapes are from the Barn vineyard, on the sunny eastern side of the valley’s Black Sage Bench.

Playful, with mineral on the nose, then pepper and ginger spiced apples on the palate. Sophisticated, hinting at ripeness yet taut.

Fool’s Mate $80 - 91 points

A blend of all three vineyard sites, aged 17 months in French oak.

Delightful yeast and biscuit nose. Generous but balanced oak, vanilla cream, mandarine, citrus, and peach.

Attack $115 - 93 points

A blend of grapes from the Black Sage Bench and Golden Mile sites. Aged 18 months in a substantial and new French oak foudre (large oval barrel).

Restrained toast and vanilla nose, silky textured palate, with gunmetal and gravel, then a hint of lemon, almond blossom, white pepper and ginger root.

NEW YEAR’S EVE BUBBLY & CANAPES

NYE is the perfect time to pop some bubbly. Whether it’s a Prosecco, BC sparkling, or a splashy Champagne, you’ll be sitting pretty with these easy to prepare canapés.

Below are recipes for some of the most popular bites from recent wine tastings I’ve hosted. The best part – no matter what kind of sparkling you serve, they’ll pair perfectly! These are the recipes I recently made on Global TV and CTV News.

Puff Pastry Roulade

Ingredients:

1 package of puff pastry

1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon herbes de Provence

To garnish:

Small wedge of brie or camembert cheese

Jam (such as cranberry or pear)

Chives

Instructions:

Cut puff pastry in half, and on a floured board, roll into a rectangle approximately 6” wide by 14” long

Brush the top of the pastry with water, then sprinkle with Parmesan, paprika and herbes de Provence

With the long side facing you, roll the pastry into a long thin cylinder

Slice into 1/4” rounds

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 450F for 8-10 minutes, or until golden

Once cooled, top with a dollop of jam, plus a small piece of cheese, and garnish with chives

Caviar Potato Chips

Ingredients:

Kettle-cooked plain potato chips

1 ounce caviar (such as Northern Divine)

1 small jar crème fraîche

Finely shredded lemon zest of half a lemon to garnish

Instructions:

Select round flat potato chips

Top with a small spoonful of crème fraîche

Add caviar using a non-metal spoon

Garnish with shredded lemon zest

Cheese & Grape Parcels

Ingredients:

1 package phyllo pastry

1 small bunch seedless green grapes

4 ounces Goat cheese

6 oil-packed sundried tomatoes, cut into thin slices

Vegetable oil to brush with

Instructions:

Lay two sheets of phyllo together, brush lightly with oil, then cut into 6 pieces (once lengthwise, then into thirds)

Cover unused pastry with a damp cloth

Lay each 2-ply piece into a muffin tin or onto a baking sheet, then top each with one grape, a tablespoon of goat cheese, and slice of tomato

Gather and twist the phyllo to create a parcel

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 400F for 7-10 minutes, or until golden

REFRESHING AUSSIE WHITES FOR PATIO WEATHER

What do patio umbrellas, floppy hats, coconut scented sunblock and backyard bbqs bring to mind? If you’re a wine lover, it’s a crisp, refreshing glass of chilled white wine.

Here are a few selections from a country that knows how to rock the outdoor get together, Australia! They may be best known for their powerhouse Shiraz reds, but I think you’re going to fall in love with these distinctive, lively whites from some of the oldest family wineries in the country.

Next time you head to the wine shop, seek out the Aussie section for these tasty bottles:

‘The Money Spider’ Roussanne 2013 – d’Arenberg

Rumour has it, if the tiny money spider crosses your path, money is soon to follow. This zesty, zingy wine is vibrantly full of lime and honey blossom. If you’re into NZ Sauv Blanc, give this little number a try! $17+

Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2013 – McWilliam’s

Made from high altitude grapes, which helps capture bright acidity, and concentrated crisp green apple and pear flavors. If you’re into Chablis, give this zinger a chance to delight you at your next picnic. $18+

‘Museum Release’ Marsanne 2008 – Tahbilk

Not too many people have had the chance to taste a Marsanne-based wine, a bit of a shame really, as with a little age like this 2008 release, it has incredible mineral, peach & melon, plus a nutty, toasty richness. Perfect for a leisurely glass on a chic patio. $21+

‘Vat 1’ Semillon 2011 – Tyrrell’s

This lux sipper is perfect for bringing to a fancy BBQ, a total crowd pleaser with hints of lemon, lime and a hit of popcorn richness from bottle aging. Pair with some shrimp kabobs and you’re golden! $35+