Ask Chuck

Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Grapevine Magazine Article for Autumn Season: "To Own A Vineyard----Perchance to Dream-----!"

 It seems a universal trait to dream of walking through one’s vineyard on that special clear, cloudless day as the Sun radiates its light upon the rows of vines that stretch far into the horizon. A gentle breeze brushes the face to the tune of the many melodic yellow finches skirting among the growth. The earthy smell with its many floral scents envelopes one’s senses and confesses to last night’s rain. One feels at peace and content.  

Tony Auciello looks out of his farmhouse window and looks at the wide expanse of his TerraCello vineyard and sees his rendition of Tuscany.  

At his Del-Gatto Estates, Patrick Del-Gatto starts his day checking equipment and prepares for the long day of seasonal vineyard preparation.   

Caroline Granger inspects the budding grapes of what seems to be a great season at her Grange of Prince Edward County. 

For each of these winemakers/owners the experience is both similar and yet different. However, they share the same dream; the same love; the same passion and-------much of the same challenges.      

Originally from Anzano di Puglia (Apulia Region), Italy. Tony Auciello’s trip back home to visit his traditional wine making family turned into an obsession to bring back the family wine making traditions-----in Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada.  

Tony was aware of the sacrifices that needed to be made and, setting his dream in motion, he purchased land in the third highest and driest parts of “The County”.   

The former High School English teacher worked tirelessly day and night for five years building his dream several times “catching” pneumonia. In 2013, TerraCello Winery opened for business. 

Pasquale (Patrick) Del-Gatto also had “the dream”.  Like Tony, his background stems from a tiny town in Italy. Santa Croce del Sannio is located just north-east of Naples in which his great grandfather was wine maker. The title was passed to his grandfather and then to his father. Patrick was privy to the tradition decided it was time to realize his dream.  

He and his father purchased a 74-acre plot of land in North Marysburgh Township which had a superb microclimate that made it ideal for the vine.   

Patrick decided to leave his job as a supermarket manager, move to Prince Edward County and build his winery. He opened for business in 2009.    

Caroline Granger planted her first vines at The Grange of Prince Edward County in 2001. The pride of The County features a historic barn turned tasting room that looks out on a panoramic view of the 60-acre vineyard. Caroline and daughter Maggie built on the dream that started along with her father, Robert! 

In a previous interview with “The National Post (September, 2011)”, she describes: “I had no idea how exciting it would be, or how triumphant I would feel being able to do something like that, the incredible feeling of accomplishment… …!”  The winery opened in 2004.   

Dreams are part of everyone’s life. But---one must be prepared for the challenges they bring with them. Like in any relationship, one cannot live on love alone. So, it goes with the love between a person and his/her land. 

Challenges to vineyard ownership begin at the onset. As many business men often say to businesses that do not succeed, “They have dreams but no plan!” 

Tony at TerraCello talked about the “dream busters”! He mentioned winter preparation. “The biggest impediment is our winter insurance policy of sorts whereby we tie the viable fruiting canes to the lowest wire in the fall. You’re bent over the weeks trodden in mud. --- --- it’s damn hard. The work sends grown men home broken and in tears.”    

Tony also mentioned inclement weather that can surprise the winery owner. “Hail can destroy a crop so very quickly.” 

Patrick Del-Gatto mention one fateful day when his St. Croix grape crop was threatened by hail. The grapes were harvested during the hailstorm. The picking was successful and innovative Patrick named the wine “Hailstorm Red”!   

Not all inclement weather ends like this though. Auciello has had his share of hail problems.  

“Hail storms can open up berries attracting bees and ruin half your crop in one night.” But---not only hail is an enemy! Auciello described further!

 “An early spring frost has decimated 80 percent of the total crop before the season even began. … … Birds are a huge County problem. We are the top migration area… …! Entire acres of grapes can be devoured by thousands of birds. … … They once ate half my crop in a day. I cried… …!”   I remember what winery owner/vintner Donald Ziraldo once told me regarding birds and his icewine grapes at his Niagara Inniskillin Vineyard. 

 “Our very first crop was entirely eaten by them!” He went on to say: 

 It was Dec 3rd 1983. Karl (Kaiser) came back from a wine symposium in the states and he came into the winery. He said " I told you not to pick those grapes", I said, "I did not, I thought you did."  

"We had a 1/2 meter of snow the night before and by the time we got to the office the birds had eaten all the 13 rows of Vidal .... 

Then he called his buddies back in Austria and they told him he needed to net the vines...lesson learned.” 

Winery owners probably live on “pins and needles” when it comes to the weather. Too much of anything is not good.  

If it rains too much disease and rot may set in. If there is not enough, dry grapes may suck up the water when it does rain and dilute the concentration within the grape. A vineyard may be having a superb year until massive storm clouds appear and destroy.  

Then of course there is the vermin which not only includes birds but also rats, mice, squirrels, rabbits and any animal that eats grapes (including humans) ---all of which can destroy a crop. The problem of having a good crop is keeping it! 

In spite of the pitfalls, winery owners keep moving forward! 

A few years ago, I remember Donald Triggs then CEO and President of VinCor International (Now Arterra) answering the question of--- given any chance to be anywhere, he answered, “Anywhere I can kick dirt!” Kicking dirt in this case was farming and vineyards. That is what feeds the passion. 

Auciello said it another way, “My passion is watching my grapes develop and grow. I then take them and use my sense of art to make a traditional wine with no filtration and natural settling.”  

The wine made can be excellent but requires much personal effort both physically and, just as important, financially.  

People who buy the wine may not be as passionate about what goes on other than the fact that they like the wine------and are willing to pay the price.  

It is great to be able to make a fine wine that is without question excellent but if people cannot get the chance to buy the product, then what is the reason. Wine cannot live on passion alone!   

Some Ontario wines are available via the LCBO however as a general rule, just as many wineries sell their wine direct or on line. The financial return is not great! 

Heidi Del-Gatto mentions that with the cost of glass products, packaging, licensing fees, staffing, seasonal staff, administration costs and out of pocket expenses, the return on a bottle of wine is little.  

“On a $20 bottle of wine, the producer may net between $5 and $7 and that is from this that we pay our expenses.”     

Caroline Granger also has warned government about the “fragile state of the Ontario Wine Industry”. That its “less than 10 percent market share” has not changed.  She has attended “countless meetings” with government officials to remedy the state of wineries in Ontario but so far has had little success with what many of Ontario’s VQA wineries consider an “unfair taxation system” coupled with “limited access to their home market!”   

Caroline and the other wineries also touched on the fact that they cannot compete with the many non-domestic wines available via the LCBO. Many have support from their own wine regions.  

In order to survive Ontario’s wineries have successfully resorted to offering other items to supplement their incomes.  

Auciello knew that he made great wine (Boca Nera $75, available at the winery only) but that alone was not going to sustain his finances.  Being of Italian heritage and also a good cook, he decided to build a traditional pizza oven and make pizza Neapolitan style! 

Tony is regarded as a Pizzaiolo or a trained Pizza Specialist Chef and makes his pizza “lo Schiaffo” traditionally by hand with a slap. Using special dark Carbone dough, he makes the familiar Neapolitan airy thin crust pizza with thick airy edges. It is said to be good for digestion. 

Tony is noted about his pizza so much so that a number of wineries have mentioned his pizza sales.  The Grange of PEC doesn’t make pizzas but does have special events such as: Wedding packages, Corporate Retreats and Private Dining. All come with special items upon request. Del-Gatto Estates provides music entertainment on its patio while guests have a sip of wine. 

In addition, a mobile bar will be joining Grange guests seven days per week (12 – 5 PM) serving cocktails, popsicles beer, and wine plus a gourmet sausage menu.  

Most other wineries in all Ontario locations will offer events to foster business.  

Jackson Triggs has its magnificent Amphitheatre which entertains guests to various musical events. Inniskillin has its Grill. Norman Hardy has his outdoor patio with tasty treats and so on. Agrotourism is not an extra these days, it is a necessity.     

As Auciello says, “We have to improvise and initiate ways to increase cash flow!” 

It truly is amazing the lengths that wineries need to go to stay alive and then, when things seem tough enough------SURPRISE! The Pandemic hits and the Government reacts as expected------Stop everything and the hospitality industry which includes wineries is “boarded up!” 

Granger puts it very aptly, The pandemic has been an awakening for me. A little bit like jumping out of an airplane and realizing you do not have a parachute.”  

She goes on to say, “I have seen all the systemic inequities including the unfair tax burden and the woefully inadequate access to market creates a crisis within a crisis. While worrying about the safety of the people who work with me on the farm, I have had to contend with the complete loss of both my restaurant sales as well as all of my events--- An amount that represented between 35 and 40% of my total revenue target for 2020! This is farming country! What happens now has implications for years to come!” 

Dan Sullivan of Rosehall Run in Prince Edward County, comments of the hardships facing wineries and puts much of the blame on an archaic and unfair tax system. 

“…this business is hard. But there are some parts that could be made easier, starting with eliminating punitive taxation. These are holdovers from nearly a century of neo-prohibitionist government policy. 

It is nearly impossible to plan your next steps forward without a clear vote of confidence from our legislators and a willingness to put us on equal footing with international counterparts in their home markets. Stop taxing us like we are a foreign product in the biggest channel that matters-the LCBO and grocery/private retail...” 

If wineries (many of which are for sale and only conglomerates can afford) are to survive, something has to give.    

 Auciello would like to see a reduction in taxes and also a reduction in charges for the use of geographic terms. Caroline Granger says that investment in the region has slowed due to the difficulties of both taxation and Pandemic: “Government after Government has been told that this could be remedied at least in part!”   

Del-Gatto wants the wineries to be given a fair chance! 

Ontario wineries have a historic legacy that go beyond just wine. Richard Johnston’s “By Chadsey’s Cairns”, Henry of Pelham and The Grange all have historic reference that goes back to the United Empire Loyalists and beyond. Just on that fact, they are living history which deserves to have a better “shake” by those who govern them. 

Yet in spite of it all the challenges, they stay! Tony Auciello who had his winery for sale decided to stay.  

“I have given blood, sweat and tears and am passionate about my art. I can’t give it up!” 

Patrick Del-Gatto could have called it quits years ago when hail almost destroyed his crop, illness hit the family and funds were not available! However, blame it on personal faith or fate itself but one day when all seemed lost, he was working on the tractor in the middle of the vineyard when his tractor stopped dead!  

“OMG! What now?” He said to himself almost in tears! At that moment! Out of what seemed like “thin air”, thousands of Dragon Flies surrounded the machine. He remembered that his father loved these insects.  He named the resulting wine “Dragon Fly”!  

Caroline Granger sums it up neatly! 

“The difficulty in making a living from a winery has slowed investment in the region in the last few years but I still believe in the terroir the beautiful soils that give rise to interesting vintages year after year letting my daughter and I capture each season in a bottle. There are oceans of wine but on my farm at The Grange we have a small drop that is unique.”  

Regardless of all the challenge, inconvenience, problems---the Passion survives!   

“I want to work wherever I can kick dirt!”  

I think that Tony Auciello, Patrick Del-Gatto, Caroline Granger and the many winemakers all over Ontario, struggling to make a living out of the soil, will agree!  


*Post Script 

When I was in Brazil’s wine country, I tasted some magnificent wines made with pride and artistic flair. Yet, many Brazilians looked down on those wines due to the mere fact that they were -----Brazilian. 

Many in Ontario have that same attitude. Local is not taken seriously.  

So very wrong when time and again Ontario and Canada have proven not to be only good but to have bested some of the best the World has to offer. Support local! By supporting your wineries and their wine we can help our wineries excel and prosper! 

Go to your wine regions and try the superb Pinot Noirs, Cabernet Francs, Chardonnays, Rieslings and Sauvignon Blancs that are made at your doorstep. 

The Grange of PEC produces some fine Pinot Noir (Diane’s Block my favourite); Del-Gatto Estates Pinotage (Amazing!), Rosehall Run’s Ceremony Sparkling, (superb) and Ziraldo Estate Icewine (Magnificent wine from the man who started the Boutique Winery movement in Canada). It’s okay to enjoy non domestic wine but give Ontario a fair shake also!      


Thursday, September 23, 2021

Vignobles de Larose and Crus Bourgeois

 Cru Bourgeois
In 1855 Bordeaux listed 60 chateaux in a price/quality classification named "Crus Classes" or "Classed Growths".  This obviously left many chateaux out of the list. A list of chateaux that were considered just below (though some were obviously regarded as deserving of) "Classed Growth" status was developed in 1932. There were the usual controversies with deletions etc. but in 2020 a new list of 249 chateaux was developed. It will be revised in 2022. 
Presently there are three classification tiers in the present Cru Bourgeois: Cru Bourgeois (179 Chateaux), Cru Bourgeois Superieurs, (56 Chateaux) and Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel (14 chateaux).
Incidentally, the term  "Bourgeois" has been in use since the Middle Ages when residents of the Bourg (Burgh) of Bordeaux purchased the best land of Bordeaux and thus became known as Bourgeois.

Vignobles de Larose with  CEO and Chief Winemaker, Franck Bijon      

Chateau Larose Trintaudon  2014  Haut Medoc Merlot 51% Cabernet 45%  Petit Verdot 4%
90/100 Points        Crus Bourgeois Superieur
Colour: Dark red 
Nose: Hints of Cedar, dark fruit, dark chocolate, smoke and coffee
Palate: Bone dry, medium bodied with firm tannins and long in length.   
Comments: Still young and vibrant. Loads of fruit. 
Food Matches: Beef, Venison, Lamb. Beef with Barley Stews.     

Chateau Larose Trintaudon  2018   Haut Medoc Merlot 50%, Cab Sauv. 45%, Petit Verdot 5%
92/100 Points       Cru Bourgeois Superieur  
Colour: Dark red
Nose: Ripe, dark fruit such as black berry/currants, coffee, chocolate
Palate: Dry, medium to full Body, nice tannin, fresh acidity and very long length
Comments: Delicious now but will certainly improve for years, amazing wine!
Food Matches: Similar to above but would also include poultry such as Roast Turkey. 

Larose Trintaudon General Comments 
A 16 hectare vineyard was planted on land known as Trintaudon circa 1838 by Henry Delaroze who was owner of Chateau Gruaud  Larose and Larose Perganson. By 1872 the estate had grown to over 300 hectares and had risen to Fifth Growth Classified Status although it was not included in the Classification of 1855. The imposing chateau was built in 1884.
Larose Trintaudon went on to win many medals in competitions but starting in the late 19th Century through the mid 20th Century it fell victim to various diseases and two world wars and not to mention the aspirations of an owner who tried unsuccessfully to turn it into a dairy farm. Needless to say the chateau and its vineyards were devastated.
The 1960's saw a resurgence of this property via the owners of the Spanish Marques de Cacares purchased it and revitalized the chateau and its vineyard, planting 175 acres and modernizing its cellar. Professor Emile Peynaud was hired as consultant. 
The result is obvious. Chateau Trintaudon is now one of the largest estates. It created the Responsible Vineyards Charter and the first agricultural company in Europe to obtain CSR certification at the exemplary level. A leader in sustainable farming, Trintaudon continues to be a great example of what can be done when all things such as employees, animals, plants, vines, environment and wine are treated in a sustainable and fair way.

Chateau Arnauld  2012   Haut Madoc  Cabernet Sauvignon 64%, Merlot 36%     
90/100 Points           Cru Bourgeois Exceptionel
Colour: Very dark Red    
Nose: Mushroom, smoke, tobacco, black fruit, burning leaves, forest floor
Palate: Full bodied and still powerful, tannin still strong but loosening giving way to suppleness yet indicate still potential developmental  Integrated with Long finish.
Food Matches: A wine for game such a venison, moose, boar. Can be a super match with 16 oz (500 gms) bacon wrapped Filet Mignon.  
Comments:  An exceptional wine showing no sign of slowing down. Could develop for several more years though delicious now. 

Chateau Arnold 2018  Haut Madoc Cabernet Sauvignon 49%, Merlot 45%, Petit Verdot 6%
92/100 Points      Cru Bourgeois Exceptionel
Colour: Dark,  Almost Purple 
Nose: Dark fruit, plum, blackberry, currant, figs, vanilla wood
Palate: Full, powerful yet elegant, firm tannin is accessible but very capable of integrating with the flavours of this wine. The mouthfeel is full of soft silkiness that is full of ripe fruit. Very long length.
Food Matches: For your best Filets, Roasts and Game. 
Comments: A wine to keep which will develop very well of the next few years. Classed growth quality!

Chateau Arnauld General Comments 
One of the things that got me interested in wine is the exciting historic factor involved in various wineries and vineyards. Arnauld has all of these. The Priory of Arcins on which the land occupied by the Chateau is on, was host to many pilgrims travelling from various parts of Europe to Galicia, Spain seeking to see the body of the apostle Jacque (Saint James the Great, Christ's first apostle) which was discovered by a hermit called Paleyo in 813 AD.  
Pilgrims came to the site at Santiago de Compostela in droves----many of them stopping for food and wine at the Priory and hosted by the Commanderie de Saint-John-de-Jerusalem (Knights Templar). Vines were planted and land was bought and turned to vineyards. Pierre Jacques Arnauld, a Bordeaux magistrate bought the Priory in the 17th Century and renamed it Chateau Arnauld. The property was sold in 1956 and was finally acquired by an international insurance company called Allianz in 2007 where much renovation and improvement has been made since. The same owner owns all of Vignobles de Larose.         

Domaine Perganson
The story of Perganson begins with the French King's Advisor Jean-Pierre de Pontet purchased the plot of land that was to become Perganson in 1719. The thirst for French Claret by the English ensured that the vineyards of Perganson would prosper and they did. The land changed hands and name in the mid 19th century to become Chateau Larose Perganson. After the First World War saw the vineyards in the state of ruin and finally devastation when a series of business misadventures saw Perganson fall into total ruin where even the Chateau disappeared. 
Moving ahead to the 1970's the Forner Family, now the owners of the "Chateau" and its sister Trintaudon, made new plantings and gave Perganson new life and purpose. By the time the Allianz Group (AGF)  took over in 1986, it was an important property in both size and production. The Chateau Larose Perganson remains a singular entity with its own terroir and vineyard! The once important chateau which was regarded as Fifth Growth quality is now as it was.  

Domaine Perganson L'Experience 2019  Haut Madoc  Cab Sauve  67%, Merlot 33%
91/100 points
Colour: Red
Nose: Mixture of red berries such as strawberry and red currants, fresh floral aroma, herbal with pepper spice
Palate: Medium body, tight tannin, fresh mouthfeel with nice fruity, acid bite, some anise on the finish which shows good length.
Food Matches: Definitely a wine that can be used with vegan dishes, cold cuts and grilled meat. 
Comments: This  wine has no sulphites  and is the culmination of many years of research. The wine is not barrel aged and unfined. Label carries the High Environmental Seal which is a voluntary effort by farmers to using practices to protect the environment. 

Chateau Larose Perganson 2008  Haut Madoc Cab Sauve 50%, Merlot 45%, Petit Verdot 5%
90/100 points          Cru Bourgeois Superieur  
Colour: Dark red with brown tinges, clear
Nose: Dark fruit, earth, mushroom, some oak, dark chocolate, violet floral as it evolves in glass
Palate: Medium, still fresh with supple tannin and nice mouthfeel, vanilla wood, nice finish with an interesting red fruit finish.
Food Matches: Roast Duck, Turkey, Roast Beef, Grilled Streak/Venison
Comments: Cru Bourgeois Superieur status in 2020. Since there is no actual chateau on the property, the wine cannot be considered a Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel. The wine has excellent value per quality price and is capable of ageing very well.     

Chateau Tour de Pez 2018 Haut Madoc Cab Sauve 24%, Merlot 65%, Cab Franc 11%
92/100 points                Cru Bourgeois 
Colour: Very Dark Red
Nose: Mixture of Dark and Red fruit. earth, vanilla nose, some floral violet
Palate: Full and round, nice mouth feel, accessible tannins and somewhat refreshing acid finish.
Food Match: Filet Mignon, aged game, rabbit, roast beef, stew.
Comments:  Purchased by Vignobles Larose in 2019. Responsible Vineyard Management, Sustainable agriculture methods. Issued high quality environment certification. 


Saturday, July 24, 2021

These Wines Certainly Merited a Second Tasting!

Last week I had the pleasure of re-tasting several wines that I had tasted two years ago. The recent blends are a "new and Improved" version of the same. More often than not, second tastings can sometimes disappoint. This was not to be this case. The wines tasted in 2019 proved to be excellent but the second time was even better. Based on a Price per Quality ratio, these wines were excellent in value and could definitely challenge wines that were two to three times the price. To boot, these wines are all on the LCBO'S General Listing.

OGGI Organic Pinot Grigio 2020     LCBO #19853  $13.95    Veneto, Italy  94 Points (2019, 90)  

Colour: Pale Yellow, Clear

Nose:    Floral, apple, banana, citrus, forest perfume.

Palate: Medium to light body, fresh, zesty, clean, crisp finish

Food Matches:  Mussels, oysters, prosciutto, antipasti, salad (using wine as dressing)!

Angove Organic Chardonnay 2020   LCBO #553859   $14.70  Australia  94 Points (2019, 90)

Colour: Pale yellow-green, clear 

Nose: Peach, melon, granny-smith apple, herbal spice, vanilla oak, citrus

Palate: Medium body, fresh acidity, lemon citrus finish

Food Matches: Antipasti, salmon/trout, roast pork, grilled vegetables.

Comments: New Green Cap Closure signifies that this wine is vegan friendly. One can notice a bit more oak in the wine which adds to the flavour but does not take away any elegance. Value for money! 

Caparzo Toscana Sangiovese 2019  LCBO #361022 $13.95  Tuscany. 95 points (2019, 92)

 Colour: Intense Ruby Red, Clear

Nose: Ripe red and black cherries, hints of strawberries, blackberries, chocolate, cedar 

Palate: Medium to full bodied, smooth tannin, well balance and integrated, long, smooth finish.

Food Matches: Pasta, grilled meat, Italian sausage (hot or mild) and burgers

Comments: This wine is worth at least twice the price if not more. Excellent on its own yet superb with food. Value such as this is not easily found. This wine reminds me of a good Brunello. While the price did influence my score, this wine is great at any price. Buy now while you have a chance to get it.



Saturday, June 5, 2021

Casa Relvas Excels in Alentajo

 Alentejo---Portugal's Vast Region 

Alentejo stretches from northern granite hills to southern plains to cliffside beaches in the southwest. The landscape is populated by vineyards, cork, oak olive and eucalyptus trees. Here one finds agriculture a major part of the economy where cattle, horses, pigs, sheep predominate. The hot summers and cool  winters signify a Mediterranean climate with some Atlantic influence though due to varied topography temperatures may vary.  It does get cold enough to snow in Alentejo but infrequently.                 

 Casa Relvas

Casa Relvas is the general umbrella which all the Relvas businesses are included the initial thrust was with Herdade Sao Miguel and later  Herdade da Pimenta. Casa Relvas is a family affair with Alexandre Senior at the head followed by his two sons Alexandre Jr. and Antonio. Both sons are well versed in the vine with educational degrees from Bordeaux. 

 Herdade Sao Miguel

I have had the pleasure of visiting Alentejo sveral times  and twice was the guest of Alexandre Relvas at his Herdade Sao Miguel.  Sao Miguel has an expansive region of Olive and Cork groves along with many vines..  Here began Alexandre's Sr.'s mission with the vine!                                                               In 1997/98 he planted 98 hectares (244 acres) of cork trees and some 35 hectares (86 acres) of domestic vines along with olive groves in 2016. The result of his "project" has resulted in a highly successful venture of over 300 hectares (742 acres) of olive groves and  350 Hectares (865 acres) of vine in several areas. Grape Varieties: Trincadeira, Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Nacional. 


Herdade da Pimenta

Herdade da Pimenta has been part of the Relvas business since 2001 with a first harvest in 2007. It's its location is also the headquarters of Casa  Relvas and housed within an ultra modern building that has received many accolades for its design and technology from around the world.                                        The Herdade itself consists of 150 hectares (371 acres). of vines.                                                                Grape Varieties::  Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca (Red) and Arinto, Viognier, Antao Vaz    

Note: Due to demand of its wine and other products, other vineyards are rented and managed by the team members. 

Alexandre Relvas Jr. .                                                                                                                                  I met  young Alex on my first visit to Portugal's Alentejo and stayed at Sa o Miguel for several days. I found the young man who was barely in his teens to be extremely inquisitive with an insatiable desire to learn. On my subsequent trips I made sure I visited Sao Miguel. Alex certainly was his father's son as his knowledge, responsibility and capable talent proved to have grown by leaps and bounds. No father could be prouder served. Alex has turned into a passionate wine maker  and capable director.

Nuno Franco                                                                                                                                                Nuno was the very first member of the team Sao Miguel that I met. It was in Toronto at an agency  called Hobbs & Co. Margaret Hobbs had invited me to meet an up and coming winemaker/consultant from Portugal and wanted me to taste his wine. Little did I know that I was on the verge of a great adventure which albeit started some years later but set in motion that day.                                                  Nuno is one of the gentlest and politest persons winemaker or not, that I have ever met. His gentle nature overpowers one as he describes his wines and reveals his amazing talent for making one of this planet's superb wine.                                                                                                                                      The last time I saw him was at the Pimenta Winery where we tasted some of its fine wine. On this occasion I did myself a big favour and just listened to Nuno do his magic. That was in 2012 and the time has come to meet again.

Wines at the LCBO 

Herdade Sao Miguel 2017         Vintages #17515 

Grape: Touriga Nacional    Region: Alentejo         93/100 points                 $21.95                                   Colour: Red, clear    Nose: Black Cherry, plum and blackberry with nuances of anise, chocolate          Palate: Full, Sumptuous with superb long finish. Good now but so much better in one or two years       Note: Stock almost out so check store listings. New supply coming for December.

Herdade da Pimenta 2018           Vintages# 445114           91/100  points           $19.95                           Grape:  Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon    Colour: Dark Red, clear  Nose:  Dark Fruit, chocolate, anise  Palate: Round, firm and full with pleasant but prominent tannin and a finish of concentration.  Note: Wine is showing good now but will benefit from at least another year of aging. Will continue to develop for several years after. Great price for this level of wine. This wine has a strong blend of the first three grapes listed and has the additional international grapes for added flavour blend. The 2019 will just have the initial three in the blend.

Both  wines are available through Noble Estates   (905) 943-7272    3000 Steeles Ave East Suite 203

Markham , ON L3R 4T9    

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Sunday, May 23, 2021

Viva Portugal!

 Portugal's Diverse Viticulture

Portugal is smaller in size than many other countries. For example; The Canadian province of Ontario is 12 times its size and France is 6 times larger. However what Portugal lacks in size it makes up for in its demographic, geographic and culinary diversity. 

Stretching north to south----its outer edge shores follow along the Atlantic Ocean in the West, Mediterranean Sea in the South and Spain in the North and East. The Tagus River separates the northern from the southern  parts of Portugal and also acts as a divide between the mountainous and hilly north from the rolling and sandy plains of the south.  

Portugal's geography is quite variable thus, its wine regions are equally so. 


Situated in the South of Portugal is a wine region known for its Mediterranean Climate, beautiful beaches and almost endless sunlight (3000 hrs). The Serra de Monchique mountains that run between Alentejo and Algarve block the hot, dry winds from Alentejo and allows the moderating effects of both the Atlantic to the West and Mediterranean to the South. 

Sand, clay, limestone and schist make up the soil.

Traditional grape varieties range from  White Grapes: Siria (Roupeiro), Malvasia, Arinto and Monteudo (table grape) to Red Grapes: Periquita (Castelao), Tinta Negra. However a host of international grapes have become common. These include Trincadeira, Alvarinho, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah, Tempranillo (Aragones) and Touriga Nacional..  


Some of my best Portuguese  memories stem from my visits to the Alentejo region.  Alentejo is a large viticultural that covers  roughly one third the size of Portugal. The climate is Mediterranean with hot summers and mild winters where summer temperatures can climb high into the 40's Celsius. 

Topography varies from sandy plains and hilly areas to mountains near Spain. Soils are varied from granite and marble to schist to limestone and clay.  

Once again there are a group of traditional grape varieties. White Grapes: are headed  by the Antao Vaz which is grown mainly in Alentejo and is followed by Arinto and Roupeiro (Siria) . There are alao number of native white blending grapes used such Diagalves, Manteúdo, Perrum and Rabo de Ovelha. A point of interest is that he Perrum has been genetically linked to the Mission Grape of California..

Among the Red Grapes: Aragonez (Tempranillo) seems to be the predominant variety planted in this area, Alfrocheiro, Castelao (Periquita) and  Trincadeira follow suit.   International grapes such as Alicante Bouschet, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon are successfully being produced to make fine wine.  My favourite by far is the Syrah by Herdade Sao Miguel.followed by those of Esporao.

Alentejo is very popular in Portugal and highly regarded as a go to for quaffing wine and serious long term wine. 


Until not too long ago, the wine region of Lisboa was known as Estremadura but was renamed "Lisboa" to avoid confusion with the Spanish wine region of Extremadura as well as to associate the name of the wine region with the Portuguese capital city of Lisbon. 

The wineries of Lisboa feature many relics of ancient times such as Etruscan water ways and Roman ruins.  

Lisboa stretches south to north (just west of the city of Lisbon) along the .Atlantic coastline to Bairrada.  While Lisboa produces the most wine of any region from a wide variety of grapes both domestic and international, the coastal area is subject to a great deal of wind which affects the ripening of grapes. Hills and mountains inland do provide some escape and make viticulture a whole heap easier. There are 9 regional subdivisions  most important being Alenquer, Aruda, Bucelas and to a point Obidos which makes great sparkling wines. Other regions either make little wine or are resigned to making brandy or low alcohol whites.

Soil composition is mainly sand or Limestone in the north.

Generally speaking the main White Grapes of Lisboa are : Arinto, Fernao Pires, Malvasia,Seara-Nova,and Vital. Red Grapes are: Alicante Bouschet,, Aragonez (Tempranillo), Castelao (Periquita)), Tinta Miuda, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, and Trincadeira..International grapes such as Chardonnay (White) and Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon (Red) are also used.  


Between Lisboa and Alentejo is the Tejo Region.  Tejo is historically significant since many Roman relics abound----some in the very vineyards/wineries that its fine wine is produced.  This area was, until recently, called Ribatejo  However, as a tribute to the namesake of this area -----the river Tagus-----the name was changed to Tejo with one exception, that being, labels for the generalized basic regional wine (VR) have the Tejo designation while the higher (DOC) label designation has the Ribatejo name on the label. 

To the north one finds clay, limestone and schist while in the south the soils are sandy and poor. Alluvial soils along the Tagus allow for good drainage. 

Grape types include  White Grapes: Fernão Pires,  Arinto, Alvarinho and Verdelho   Red Grapes: Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, Castelao, Aragones and Alfrocheiro.  

Setubal Peninsula

Situated directly south of Lisbon and across the river Tagus, this wine region was once known as Terras do Sado due to the Sado river flowing just south of it. The topography is basically flat land though a small southern chain of mountains known as Serra da Arrabida cuts across the south. With the exception of the limestone and clay in the hills, the soil is basically sandy. Wine grown in the Arrabida hills is mainly sweet and succulent---made from Muscat of Alexandria grapes. The wine is fortified and comes under the Setubal DOC quality control while another DOC, Palmela seems to be particularly good at red grapes such as Castelao. Both DOC areas do grow various other vines vines such as Setubal ----White Grapes:  Antão Vaz, Arinto, Fernão Pires, Malvasia Fina, Roupeiro Branco and Verdelho    Red Grapes: Aragonez, Bastardo,  Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira and, Moscatel Roxo

Palmela: --------White Grapes: Alvarinho, Loureiro, Pinot Blanc, Rabo de Ovelha, Roupeiro Branco, Sauvignon, Semillon,and Verdelho, Red Grapes: Alicante Bouschet, Bastardo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Tannat, Tinta Miúda, Tinto Cão, Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira.. I am sure that there is intermingling of various types of grapes in both DOC regions.


Bairrada is situated between the Dao Region and the Atlantic Ocean. The clay/limestone and sandy soils along with ample rainfall and a Mediterranean climate make Bairrada a haven for many grape varieties but one sticks out above all. The Curia region within Bairrada is a lush oasis which has been known for its "thermal waters" since Roman times. It is here that I associate this region with one man. It is here that Mr.Luis Pato makes his fine wines and has become known as "Mr. Bairrada" and "Mr. Baga "for the grape he loves so much! Luiis is a living legend.  His family have been producing wine at Quinta do Ribeirinho since the 18th Century. . Mr. Pato exclusively has Portuguese grapes in his 65 hectare winery. The varieties he has re BagaTouriga Nacional, Maria GomesBicalCercealSercialinho and Arinto. I found that this region is highly underrated when compared to other regions but when wines such as Baga are well made, they challenge any in the World!


In the North Eastern part of Portugal about one hundred miles inland of the Atlantic Ocean and just south of the Douro Area lies the Region of Dao. While demarcated as a wine region in 1908, sale of wine by growers was restricted to co-operatives which, while advantageous as a sure sale, negated any incentive to developing both a terroir based wine and private ownership pride. During the last few years and especially since the European Union came into existence there has been a major shift to private ownership and a strong move towards local, terroir driven wine.  

The wines of Dao now more than ever reflect the unique sub-regions each with its own added micro climates. Due to this emphasis similar grape varieties can differ from concentrated, bold wines to soft elegant ones; from wines of floral and herbal characteristics to those of power and earth. Much does depend on the winemaker's style but the terroir will dictate how far he could go.
Sandy soils consisting of Granite seem to dominate in Dao with Schist outcroppings in some areas. Granite is igneous, crust rock which is reflective of the surrounding mountains in Dao. Schist is a metamorphosed rock which used to be layered sedimentary deposits of either organic substances or other rocks. Sand soil formed mostly by weathering covers the deposits. 
Vines grown on granite soils produce light, elegant wines while vines grown on schist and slate can be denser and have a higher concentration with less acidity. The soils for the most part are well drained.  

Surrounded by mountains, Dao is protected from the cold, winds and rain. The fact that Dao is a high mountainous region means that the night time temperatures tend to be cool thus allowing for slow ripening and good acidity making the wines elegant and capable of age. Many of the vines are over a century old and thus produce fine wine of concentration. As in Bairrada, Dao is underrated and capable of challenging the best anywhere. This allows for Dao to be very reasonable in price at local stores. Here one of the stars of Dao is the White grape Encruzado which makes excellent quaffing wines as well as top notch dinner wine. Other White Grapes: Bical, Cercial, Verdelho, Rabo de Ovelha and Malvasia Fina. I also noticed some wineries using Fernao Pires.  Red Grapes: Include, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo, Aragones), Alfrocheiro Preto, Jaen, with some Bastardo and Baga!     

Vinho Verde

Green is what you expect from the descriptive "Green Wine" that is used for this area. Green however, does not refer to the wine as much as the lush, green area that lies between the Douro and Minho rivers. Wine has been made in this lovely region from the times of Ancient Rome and has continued to be an influence in the world. As a matter of fact, when people mention Portuguese wine, after Port, Vinho Verde seems to be the name that crops up most! 

Vinho Verde wines are known for their freshness and fine acidity. This is owed partially to the cool and wet climate. Because of this the vines are low trained on wires to give the grapes more exposure to the Sun. Prior to this the vines were grown in the form of Pergolas which really did not give them a chance to ripen. 

The flavour and style of the wine produced here depends on the grape used. The White Grapes   include the Loureiro---floral wines; Trajadura---flinty/steel; Arinto----mineral; Avesso----creamy and Alvarinho---soft and fragrant. Red Grape Vinhao tends to be dark and acidy. In general the main wines from Vinho Verde tend to be white, light, aromatic with a slight fizz on the palate. While grapes are a main attraction, there are some historic wineries in this region. When in this region some years ago I was fortunate to visit a couple of these grand estates.

 Quinta Da Aveleda Quinta da Aveleda has been in the same family since the 11th Century. The estate has a unique garden with many interesting sites. Some of these sites are called "Follies" which are named for buildings and additions made by various members of the family through the years. There are gates, houses, ponds, statues, goat houses and even a window from the home of Henry the Navigator(Prince Henry) in the very large and spacious garden. The house is very large and also a historic piece. We had supper there and also tasted some of the fines wines of Aveleda with cheese that is made on the farm. Since my visit there have been further acquisitions by the family in charge.  .

Casa de Sezim The original building dates back to the 14th Century. The oldest part of it was built in 1390 and goes back in ownership to a companion of the then King of Portugal. The decor is quite impressive and of course all the rooms and gardens which adorn the estate have a story which involves brushes with antiquity. The whole area wreaks history. One thing that I didn't count on while  staying  at the Quinta was an evening of some special phantom noises that was said to come from the spirit world!

Keeping in mind that there are 9 subdivisions the Vinho Verde Region, there are many such places to tantalize the historical mind and these two should give you an idea of the wealth of history that exists in Vinho Verde and, in fact, all of Portugal!


Bordering Douro and Dao to the north and south respectively is the mountainous region of Tavora-Varosa. I haven't visited this area but from what I can research. The soil  is of granite/schist composition in a continental climate. That in addition to a high land allows the grapes to retain acidity which is beneficial to the making of Sparkling wine. Malvasia Fina, Cerceal (Sercial, Cercial), Fernao Pires, Gouveio  and Bical are the White Grapes while Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinto Roriz (Tempranillo) and Tinto Barroca are the major Red Grapes! Due to the potential for making fine sparkling wine, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have been planted in the region.


A similar area to the above with high continental climate and similar oils and vines.

Beira Interior

This is a region in evolution. Mountainous, continental in climate with  mainly granite and some schist soils. The harsh weather results in very hot summers and very cold winters. The white wine  tends to be aromatic and light in body while the red wine is complex with high spice and fruit. The predominant White Grapes are Arinto, Fonte Cal, Malvasia, Rabo de Ovelha e Siria with the Red Grapes being, Bastardo, Marufo, Tinto Roriz, Rufete and Touriga Nacional. Wine production is taken seriously here and the result will be surprisingly challenging wines.   


The Azores are a group or 9 volcanic islands---four of which, Pico, Sao Miguel and Terceira and Graciosa have vineyards.  They are situated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean some 1400 km from Portugal, 2000 km from Canada and 1500 km from Morocco. The climate is mild and wet. The soil is dark and very fertile volcanic. 

These islands may have been discovered by seafarers under the command of Prince Henry the Navigator. There are several theories of their discovery ranging from seeking shelter from a storm to being shipwrecked on one of the islands but regardless, the islands were claimed for Portugal and served initially to allow sheep to roam and develop as a food source for passing ships.  

A World Heritage Site, Pico is by far the most famous of the wine islands. It has a unique method of viticulture whereby stone walls are erected and protect the planted vines from salt spray carried by the wind and the weather itself. Like the rest of the Azores, the soil is volcanic in origin ----in fact the process is still going on with some cities such as Furnas, in Sao Miguel, in the centre of a  volcanic crater which still shows much activity.

Wine grape varieties reflect the Portuguese and Eastern European influences with White Grapes: Terrantez, Arinto, Verdelho, Boal and Fernao Pires. International varieties such as Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Riesling are also present. Red Grapes: include Tempranillo (Aragones), Saborinho (Molar, Negra Mole, Tinta de Madeira etc.) as well as International varieties such as Syrah, Merlot, Sirah and Cabernet.      

If in Sao Miguel lookup Quinta da Jardinete and if in Pico visit the Azores Wine Company and Cooperativa Vitivinicola da Ilha do Pico where making of that superior Terras do Lava red, white and rose occurs! 

 Douro  Wine Region

Douro wine making history goes back to the Roman era  if not earlier. This region is located some kilometres upstream from Oporto. Its main product has been the production of Port owing to the fact that ever since the mid 17th Century, fortified Port wine has been shipped via Oporto to England. In 1756, this region became so important to the economy of Portugal that the Douro Region was demarcated by a royal charter for the making of Port wine. Douro is a World Heritage Site!

Also known as Alto Douro, this region is sheltered from the Atlantic influences by mountain ranges. The climate is continental with hot, dry summers and cold winters. It has three subdivisions:Baixo Corgo, Cima Corgo and Douro Superior. While Douro Superior is expanding, Cima Corgo is known for its quality wine. 

Soil is basically schist/shale with some granite. 

While known for its Port companies, Douro non fortified grapes now have a strong following and can compete with the World's best. 

Grape Varieties 

Red Grapes: Bastardo, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo and/or Aragones), Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional. White Grapes: Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, Rabigato, Viosinho, Moscatel Galego and Donzelinho.   


Portugal's Wine Start Journey Started Here! Some years ago I visited this fabulous region.  It was thrilling to be in Oporto or Porto, the city where the Douro met the Atlantic. This was where it started all! Ships carrying their cargo of Port to England. Finding out that the liquid in the barrel improved after being on a ship for so long. The British developed a taste for this precious and founded a number of companies which began making it and shipping it to the island. The rest as they say is history! Speaking of history, Porto was known as Portus/ Cale in the time of Rome and was captured by the Moors in the Eighth Century. It was an important location and was the subject of many occupations through the centuries. Port is also famous for being he birthplace of Prince Henry or Henry the Navigator. According to history books, Port started shipping wine around 1678. The City Port does not just ship wine. It ships many other items such as cork, olive oil, fruits, building materials, cotton, silks and wool. It is a lovely place to visit with its many landmarks and also the many port houses along the Douro river. Port boats can be seen sailing around the river with barrels on board---simulating the trips to the port houses from the vineyard destinations. I could see the names of the houses across the landscape horizon as we looked across the river and also onto our side of the shore. FerreiraWarresSandemanTaylors and more were all prominently featured amidst the buildings and homes that made up the city. I was surprised to see how clean and well kept this port city was. I was also amazed at the effect of floods on the city had during the many years. We visited House of Sandeman and could see the levels that various floods reached during the years the building had been there. In extreme years the floods could get as high as 12 feet above the normal river level. Indicators on the walls of the Sandeman building "notch" the heights reached in various flood years. Flooding is not as much as a problem now due the the location of various dams up the Douro river. The climate of Porto is Mediterranean which means that summers are dry and hot and winters are rainy but mild. The temperature seldom reaches zero CelsiusSandeman! The name Sandeman should be synonymous with "First". Sandeman, was probably the first person to make use of the Coffee Houses that littered London in the late 18th Century as a place to develop a Port Company. This Scotsman from Perth borrowed $300 pounds at Tom's Coffee House to begin the journey that still is going on now. Sandeman was also the first to use a Brand name on a cask using the GSC (George Sandeman & Company) in 1805. Sandeman became also the first company to register a trademark in 1877 and the first to export bottled labelled wines (1880). Advertising was the next. Sandeman was among the first to advertise in 1905 and in the late 1920's Sandeman commissioned an artist, George Massiot Brown, to paint a logo and the silhouette of "The Don" was born. It was the first iconic logo for a wine. In 2002, Sandeman joined the Sogrape Group and the story goes on! Tour I was met with by a lovely and charming young lady, Ligia Marques who gave me a tour of the facilities. The museum was quite interesting with an array of labels, stamps, documents and historical paraphernalia concerning the company. We then went into the Barrel Cellar where casks of port slept. The company library with bottles of Port, some over one hundred years old, were kept. Ligia then arranged a meeting and a tasting with none other than the Chairman of the House of Sandeman---7th Generation Sandeman---George SandemanThe Tasting With George Sandeman The true expression of a person who is great is how gracious and humble he seems. We were very impressed by this persons "down to earth" attitude and easy, gentle manner. His main pleasure and pride is that his company has given so much pleasure to people. He went on to describe several of his ports and match them to various foods such as his Founders' Reserve with cheese or pecan pie On his Sandeman 20 Year Tawney, it is fruit such as peaches or blue cheese. Vintage Ports such as the fabulous 2000 or 2007 would be great with chocolate mousse or sweet fruit such as figs or salty creamy cheese or Stilton. A White Port is also available and is a pale yellow colour and can be served with such foods as cheese, creamy fish soups, white chocolate and fruit. There are various types of Port that are suitable to various tastes and budgets. Sandeman goes well with many foods. Other products such as Sherry, Brandy and Madeira are also produced. The question arises: "If it were not for Oporto and Port, would Portugal be as famous a wine country. I think we know the answer!.


As with the Azore Islands Madeira's "Discovery" was (is) credited to sailors under the command of Prince Henry circa the early 15th Century. Its subtropical, warm and rainy weather especially in winter makes wine making rather difficult due to the onset of disease. Vineyards are small and trellised. They are planted on man made terraces. 

As with many other products, the making of today's Madeira was an accident of coincidence and necessity! In the 17th Century Madeira was a stop-over for ships sailing to other colonies. The ships would pick up wine which was unfortified in the Island however the wine did not last the voyage well. To improve its lasting power, it was fortified with brandy (much like Port). The composition of wine however changed somewhat owing to the heat and movement within the ship. Wine that made a "round trip" thus was quite different in taste than when it started. Customers such as the Dutch East India Company however preferred this taste.

Methods of preparing this wine without the necessary trips were invented (special heating rooms) and the present drink was produced.

Grapes used in special styles and blends are: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, Malvasia and Tarantez. most common grapes used for making Madeira are Negra Mole and Complexa. 

Word of Warning  

If one wants to drive to any producers or as a tourist make sure you hire a guide and better still one with a car. Driving in Madeira is tough with narrow roads and many bumps. If you drive---be careful!