Wines In Niagara

A local perspective

Tag: france

Burgundy, Day III: Marsannay, Maconnais and Cote de Beaune


In Beaune tasting the wines of Maconnais and Cote de Beaune.

Note: Wines In Niagara is compiling a daily photo blog from Burgundy during the Grands Jours de Bourgogne, an annual celebration of the wines of the entire region. Continue reading

Reif releasing The Fool 2010 Gamay for Beaujolais Nouveau madness

So, we know who picked the first grapes in the amazing Niagara vintage of 2010 (Paul Pender at Tawse, chardonnay for his bubbly wines) and we’re pretty sure who’s picking last (Jean-Laurent Groux at Stratus) but do you know who’s first to put a finished bottle of 2010 on store shelves?

Reif Estates' The Fool

Reif Estates' The Fool

Well, no need to guess. It’s Reif Estates in Niagara-on-the-Lake with the Nov. 18 release of its fruity “Gamay Nouveau” wine called The Fool.

It will be unveiled along with other entries from around the world during the annual Beaujolais Nouveau release at more than 400 LCBO stores across the province.

The annual release of Beaujolais Nouveau and other nouveau-style wines on the third Thursday of every November is celebrated around the world. Nouveau wines are traditionally among the fastest-selling products at the LCBO with most of the stock sold out in three to four weeks.

This is Reif’s second vintage of the The Fool, made of 100% gamay from the 2010 vintage.

The clever and modern label portrays the light hearted and fun nature of the wine and is inscribed with the words: “The Fool, with all his worldly possessions in one small pack, is always on his way to a brand new beginning.

Reif Estates' The Fool

Reif Estates' The Fool

Incredible to think that a few weeks before, grapes for the The Fool were just being picked in the vineyard.

I just sampled this wine and I can say it’s as good as any release of Beaujolais Nouveau I’ve tried in recent years. It’s bursting with fresh berry fruit, smooth on the palate, and offers up simple pleasure for $11 a bottle.

It’s a tradition every November for wine drinkers to raise a glass of nouveau to salute the year’s first wines. The Fool joins a big crowd of “nouveau” wines also being released on Nov. 18. Here’s what’s also available:


• Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau ($14)
• Duboeuf Gamay Nouveau ($9)
• Primeur Catalan Syrah Merlot, ($10)
• Drouhin Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau ($15 Vintages)
• Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau ($15 Vintages)


• Mezzacorona Novio Vino Novello ($10)
• Negrar Novello del Veneto IGT ($10)

The nouveau wine tradition began in the vineyards of France’s Beaujolais region more than 100 years ago when winemakers developed a quick maturing wine to toast the completion of the harvest with their workers.

The result was a wine that they dubbed Beaujolais Nouveau or Beaujolais Primeur.  News of this tradition spread and the annual release of nouveau wines eventually evolved into an international celebration.  In the 1980s, Italy began exporting nouveau-style wines called vino novello and Ontario has, in some years, produced gamay nouveau wines.

The nouveau wines will be available starting at 9:30 or 10 a.m. on Nov. 18, depending on individual store opening hours. While there is more in stock this year, each LCBO store receives a limited quantity of these popular wines, so customers are encouraged to shop early for the best selection.

For more information on the 2010 nouveau wines, go online to

Journey to Bordeaux: Part I

Bordeaux, Part 1

Beginning Note: In all my years of covering wine for Sun Media and other newspapers and magazines, a visit to Bordeaux somehow fell through the cracks. That’s not to say it wasn’t high on my list of priorities or there weren’t

Yeah, Petrus. And that's as close as I got.

Yeah, Petrus. And that's as close as I got.

opportunities for a structured visit to this most important wine region, it’s just that one thing or another got in the way.
I confess to being a slave to Bordeaux collecting in my youth. It was the focus for spending beyond my means as a young man (before kids). I had rack after rack of great Bordeaux in my cellar, many First Growths (I never missed a vintage of Latour or Mouton), and plenty of other classified wines from the key appellations. Over the years I just stopped collecting these wines as they grew prohibitively more expensive and my tastes turned to other regions in the world that offered better bang for the buck.

The First Growths are all gone now but I have held on to many great wines from Bordeaux that continue to stand the test of time and are simply ethereal whenever one is pulled out from its dark, damp room where all great wines must stay for a period of time.

Friends in Bordeaux

Well, look who I found in Bordeaux! My sister-in-law Susan and her daughter Caryn.

So, I finally agreed to a week-long trip to Bordeaux this summer that promised a good overview of the wines from First Growths to the simple wines in the lesser regions. My eyes are now opened to the fact that Bordeaux is not all about the flashy chateaux and the out of sight prices. It’s much more than that with hard-working farmers making exciting wines that cost a fraction of the price. There are also the sweet wines of Bordeaux, hit hard recently by competition from neighbouring Alsace, Germany, Austria and, yes, even Canada with its sweet icewines.
So, let’s begin our Bordeaux journey from the beginning. With my first exciting wine with some very special people …

By Rick VanSickle


After several delays from Air France, including three hours in Montreal while waiting out a lightning storm, and two hours in Paris sitting on the tarmac for the one-hour trip to Bordeaux, I was dying for a bottle of wine. I wanted my first taste of wine in Bordeaux to be a white wine from the famous region because we see so little of it here in Ontario.

First wine in Bordeaux.

First wine in Bordeaux.

By sheer coincidence, my sister-in-law, Susan Pearce, and her daughter, Caryn, were visiting Bordeaux at the same time I was. So we agreed to meet at the Hotel Le Regent in one of the main squares in the downtown core. I ordered a Chateau La Grand Clotte 2002, a Michel Rolland wine from St. Emilion and a good example of the “new Bordeaux” style. The semillon-sauvignon blanc blend was heavenly as we sat outside and watched the people stroll by on a hot evening in France.

Dinner later was with the small group I was travelling with for the rest of the Bordeaux journey. I was pleasantly surprised to find Marie Nicola, publisher of in Toronto and someone I follow on Twitter (karmacakedotca), was on the trip along with Neil McLennan, a magazine writer from Vancouver who knows his stuff when it comes to wine, especially Bordeaux wines.

Our first meal was at L’Ibaia Cafe, along the esplanade that hugs the Garonne River that cuts through the city of Bordeaux. It would be the first of a daily dose of duck served several different ways. The French love their duck and show passion in preparing it in myriad ways.

I ordered the Magret de Comard, sliced duck with a big hunk of foie gras to top it off. It was magical with the Chateau Bernateau 2004, a St. Emilion Grand Cru. We all got acquainted while we ate and drank the night away before our first official day in Bordeaux.


The French do oysters right.

The French do oysters right.

Before you venture forth into a wine region, you must know what you’re dealing with. Here are some facts:

• There are 10,000 wineries in Bordeaux
• 14% of all French vineyards are in Bordeaux
• 2.5% of all wine in the world comes from Bordeaux
• 117,000 hectares are under vine, which is five times the size of Burgundy
• The magical combination of terroir, selection of regulated grape varieties and know how is what makes Bordeaux wines so wonderful
• Key ingredients that make Bordeaux wines what they are: hot, sunny summers, fine autumns, rare frost in the winter months, damp springs, Gulf stream moderation and a huge pine forest barrier that protects vineyards from the Atlantic Ocean.
• There are 60 different appellations
• Grape varieties for the reds: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot
• Grape varieties for the whites: semillon, sauvignon blanc, muscadelle and sometimes colombard and ugni blanc
• 70% of all Bordeaux wines are sold through a wine merchant, or negotiant
• Prices fluctuate in Bordeaux depending on the vintage. In 2005 prices rose 300%, came slightly down in 2006, stayed the same in 2007 and will come down slightly in 2008. Prices in 2009 are incredibly 150% over 2008 prices, or nearly 450% up from 2004 prices. The trend? Prices come down slightly in poor vintages and rise dramatically in good vintages.


Duck topped with foie gras and served with Bordeaux red.

Duck topped with foie gras and served with Bordeaux red.

Our first appellation visit of the trip was to the fascinating and historic village of St. Emilion.

History is everywhere in this charming medieval village built from the limestone that has been harvested from over 200 kms of underground caverns. Limestone is omnipresent in St. Emilion and accounts for the wonderful soil that makes wines from this appellation so coveted.

The area’s first vineyards were planted by the Gallo Romans, but the region’s real claim to fame came in the 7th century when a hermit (Emilion) arrived and transformed it into a focal point for pilgrimage and prayer. A number or religious orders settled and later a medieval town sprang up. In the 12th century the area passed under British Crown as a consequence of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s marriage to Henry II. In 1199 their son, King John Lakland gave the people of St. Emilion the right to elect their own council (Jurade) of leaders with political and economic powers. In the 13th century, King Edward I gave the council the power over all wines bearing the jurisdiction’s name. Since then, except for a period during the French revolution, the Jurade has been the inspiration, guarantor and ambassador for the quality of the wines of St. Emilion.

The steep cobblestone streets of St. Emilion

The steep cobblestone streets of St. Emilion

There are 5,400 hectares of vines in the appellation all on the right bank of the Dordogne. Only red wines are planted with merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and malbec permitted in the blend. For a wine to be approved for the Grand Cru Appellation the wine must pass two blind tastings. St. Emilion was classified in 1955. The system is unique in Bordeaux as it is the only one which is revisable. It is reviewed every 10 years and it is designed to award good performers while at the same time punish under achievers. It was last reviewed in 2006. Note: the historical information above was obtained from the St. Emilion Facebook page.

I thought it was telling that there are 200 inhabitants of St. Emilion and 85 wine shops, most of them owned by negotiants who make sure there is a steady supply of wines they have a vested interest in. It was so much fun shopping for different and rare wines that we seldom see in Canada, especially the “garage” wines that are popping up everywhere in Bordeaux with their modern labels and New World appeal.

Marie takes a snapshot of St. Emilion

Marie takes a snapshot of St. Emilion

My favourite label was Bad Boy with a cartoon of a sheep leaning on a “garage” sign. Whimsical, yes, but a very serious wine made from 95% merlot and 5% cabernet franc. It’s the venture of Jean-Luc Thunevin, a leader in what’s known as the garage wine movement, an effort that’s focused on developing bolder, fruitier Bordeaux wines that can be enjoyed right away. Wine critic Robert Parker deemed Bordeaux’s black sheep, Thunevin, a “bad boy,” which explains how the wine’s name came to be. I can’t wait to try the wine with Jeff Aubry over at Coyote’s Run (I promised him we’d do a deal, my Bordeaux and his Alsace gewurztraminer he brought back from his recent trip).

So, after touring the cobblestone streets of historic St. Emilion, it was time to visit Clos Fourtet, a premiere Grand Cru St. Emilion winery, only a short walk from the town and built in the Middle Ages as a fortress to protect St. Emilion.

The 1945 Clos Fourtet

The 1945 Clos Fourtet

Our host was Matthieu Cuvelier, owner/director of Clos Fourtet since purchasing the property from the Lurton family in 2001. The winery is considered one of the top 15 properties in the appellation and makes only 4,000 cases of its top wine and half that amount for their second label.

The blend is 85% merlot with the rest a mix of cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. The wines and vineyards are undergoing a major overhaul with experimentation in biodynamic farming.

Most fascinating was the underground labyrinth cut from the precious limestone that built the town of St. Emilion. In fact, there are over 12 hectares of caves spread over four levels beneath the main winery. The caves act as a perfect cellar for the back vintages of wines which are stacked in mouldy piles by date every which way you look. Cuvelier showed us his most prized possession, a pair of wines from 1945, the war victory vintage that just happened to be one of Bordeaux’ greatest vintages. We couldn’t twist his arm to open one of them, however.

The entrance to the caves at Clos Fourtet.

The entrance to the caves at Clos Fourtet.

We had our very first taste of the 2009 vintage in the caves of Clos Fourtet as our host drew wine from one of the barrels of what will likely be the final cuvee from the spectacular vintage.

It was smoky, dense, rich, highly extracted with hedonistic cherry, blackberry and currants to go with oak, toast and limestone minerality.

“You can smell the richness of fruit and spices,” said Cuvelier. “Yet it still has freshness, acidity and minerals from the limestone.”

It was a treat to try a wine from the much anticipated 2009 vintage that all of Bordeaux is talking about. The “futures” price for the Clos Fourtet 2009 is $50 Euros, which will mean at least 2.5 times that by the time it gets to Canada.

In the barrel cellar at Chateau Tertre Daugay with Benedicte Pecastaing.

In the barrel cellar at Chateau Tertre Daugay with Benedicte Pecastaing.

We were also given a taste of the 2006 Clos Fourtet with its gorgeous black fruits, coffee and floral notes on the nose followed by waves of fruit and spice on the palate. But most impressive was the structure and balance that shows great promise for the future, exactly what you want from a classified Bordeaux.

Our last stop of the day was at Chateau Tertre Dugay, a Grand Cru Classe St. Emilion winery, and part of the Maison Malet Roquefort family of Bordeaux properties.

Tertre-Daugay was purchased by the Malet Roquefort family in 1978 at an auction and has worked hard to change the rustic style to a much more accessible wine in its youth. Other wineries in the portfolio include Chateau la Gaffeliere, Chateau Armens and Chateau Chapelle.

Chateau Tertre-Daugay owes its name to the limestone hill on which it is located in the southern part of the appellation. Considerable efforts have been made to modernize the winery and rework the vineyards to produce approachable wines while maintaining the finesse and balance Chateau Tertre-Daugay has been known for.

Inside the winery, brand new stainless steel tanks and a total modernization of the winery is underway while the facade of the historic property is undergoing a massive restoration. The view from the front of the winery is spectacular looking down at the vineyards of St. Emilion.

We tasted the 2005 Chateau Tertre-Daugay, a 70% merlot, 30% cabernet franc blend. It’s big, bold and fruit saturated and unapproachable in its youth. We also tasted the 2008 out of the barrel and loved the rich fruits, Espresso, spice and oak tones. But, most impressive was the 2009 barrel sample with gobs of cassis, blackberry, earth notes, toast, spice and vanilla all built on a sturdy frame. This wine will excite for years to come.

© 2018 Wines In Niagara

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑