Monday, May 29, 2017

Fresh New Wines

Francisco Baettig
It’s reached my ears and my taste buds that New World wines are getting very fresh!

Not the clumsy flavor bombs of old, but a lighter, more elegant and more food-friendly crowd.

And it’s a good thing, says top Chilean winemaker Francisco Baettig. That also goes for Argentina, Australia and South Africa.

Baettig knows. He’s head winemaker for Errazuriz, mother brand of Arboleda and Caliterra as well as the iconic Sena and Vinedo Chadwick.

“I usually harvest a month ahead of most wineries,” he explains. And that's because earlier-harvested wines taste and age better because they’re more balanced.

“The key is managing the vine canopy. I don’t prune the leaves, so I protect the grapes from excess sunlight. Also we irrigate less, so there’s lower sugar in the fruit and less alcohol in the finished wine. Heavy irrigation was used in the past to make big, powerful wines.”

In northern Chile, Francisco points out, there’s little water but there's no lack in the centre, the south and on the coast where more winemakers are growing vines. In these cooler areas, you can dry-farm (without irrigation) – especially Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – because there’s enough rain.

“It can take a lifetime to see fundamental changes in wine-making but Chile’s moving very fast. There’s a huge improvement in quality and style. We have better plant material than 15 years ago: better clones, better vines, and planting them in the right areas.

“We're still a young industry, only 25-30 years old, and I’m happy with what we’ve done. The small producers are very terroir-driven and they push the big producers to improve.

“The big guys still export on volume/price mainly to supermarket chains. The small guys sell to wine shops and on-trade and restaurants at better prices.

“Chile has to export because we don’t have a strong domestic high-value market. We used to export lots of cheap wines because we could, but today you can’t keep doing that.

“Our challenge now is to be recognized for our high-quality rather than volume wines. Informed consumers recognize our icon wines but most are aware only of the value-priced wines. As they learn more they start to understand. But that takes time.

“At Errazuriz, our upper range reds like Chadwick and Sena are always bottled under cork. In some markets the screwcap doesn’t work very well: in Asia they don’t like it, in Canada it works, in the US not so much. In the UK, it works very well – although they associate it with cheaper wines.

The icon wines from Errazuriz are the Bordeaux-style Don Maximiano ($84.95); Syrah-based La Cumbre (89.95); Carmenere-driven KAI ($149.95) and the 100% Cabernet Vinedo Chadwick ($249.95), all rated at a stellar 95 points or higher, at the LCBO Vintages shop online.

Chadwick and Sena were judged one and two in the Berlin Tasting of 2004 tasted blind by European experts against the most famous wines in the world.

Aside from the icons, not to be missed are the super-value Cabernet Sauvignon Rose, $13.95; Sauvignon Blanc, $16.95; and Pinot Noir, $24.95

“Canada is our number one market, then the UK, then Asia as a whole. It’s 60/40 reds and whites, especially Chardonnay. In Canada, Chile's image is better than in the UK – partly because of the price cutting by the British supermarkets," adds Francisco.

Chile’s 2017 harvest was a month early in some regions, with high temperatures and low yields. Coastal regions were spared but inland was hit by drought and wild fires that burned 500,000 hectares and claimed 11 lives.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

My Wine Recommendations at Vintages: May 27

From aristocratic Tuscany, the white Frescobaldi Castello di Pomino Bianco 2015, $19.95, brings sensuous pear-apple and vanilla notes to a lemon-citrus base for just sipping or serving with grilled white fish, garlic chicken, moules frites in the great outdoors (92).

A good white that caught my eye is the Domaine Saint Germain Macon Aze 2015, $15.95, a white Burgundy (Chardonnay, natch) with a wonderful lemony freshness and pineapple-honey palate appeal (89). With shellfish, grilled white fish, pasta salads and Asian dishes.

The 2015 vintage was good to Marlborough, New Zealand, and the Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc is living proof, $29.95: chewy, elegant and mouth-filling with white grapefruit and lime zest to the fore (89). Or you could save ten bucks with the Villa Maria Cellar Selection (2016, mind you) with a dill, apple and Asian spice tilt (88).

For your oak hit, there’s Luis Canas Fermentado en Barrica Blanco 2015 from Rioja, $18.95, a sturdy white that drinks more like a dry red (88). Barrel-fermented Viura for the most part, toasty, yeasty and mouth-filling. Charred chicken and planked salmon pair well.

If you really want oak, there’s El Enemigo Chardonnay 2014 from Mendoza, Argentina, $25.95. Dig out your own splinters (84).

In the price stratosphere, Kistler Les Noisetiers Chardonnay 2015 from California at $99.95 is another toasty oak heavyweight (89). You could serve these with steak, no problem!

There’s a very good value pink Pipoli Vigneti del Vulture Rosato 2016, $15.95, dry, berry-fruity and pleasantly refreshing, from the volcanic mountains of Basilicata in Italy’s deep south (89). Don’t waste cellar time, enjoy now with salade composee, grilled salmon and picnics.

A flock of nice 2016 dry pinks from Provence and the Languedoc includes Gerard Bertrand’s Cote des Roses, $17.95; Chateau la Tour de l’Eveque, $18.95; Gassier Sables d’Azur, $16.95; and Henri Gaillard, $16.95. They’re pretty interchangeable 88-90 -- partners for charcuterie, smoked salmon, and bbq fish, competent and good value.

For that chewy fruity cherry-plum, slightly bubble-gum Band-Aid thing we all like to get from Beaujolais, Trenel 2015 fills the bill, $16.90. Defines easy-drinking with a smoky hint that’s great for burgers, pizza, meatballs (89).

Cannonau di Sardegna 2012, a Vintages Essential red at $14.95 (91) is an old favorite in Canada, prized for its leathery, savory, spicy plum and berry flavors. Made from the local Garnacha grapes that were brought to the island by invading Spaniards long ago. A regular patio red to enjoy with red meats, game and barbecue.

Monday: Meet the New Word's Fresh New Wines! Right here!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Warm Welcome

Frank Baldock’s (finally) gone digital.

Still carrying no baggage, Frank’s Wine Express now brings you wine news, reviews, pithy tasting notes, columns, and About To Be Famous recipes in a timely new blog.

Your host, award-winning journo and former Pres of the Wine Writers’ Circle brings a sharp sense of humor and keen nose for value to the job. Check out for proof.

Tomorrow, at this location, learn what’s really worth buying in Saturday’s Vintages release. 

For those who don’t know me, in previous lives I was Features Editor of CANADIAN LIVING, helped launch FOOD, a short-lived but glorious Canadian equivalent to BON APPETIT.

As Executive Editor of TV GUIDE, Canada's largest magazine, I introduced Wine, Food and Sports to improve its 800,000 weekly circulation.

As Consulting Editor, I helped launch METRO, the 180,000-circulation daily in Toronto’s newspaper wars.

At Ontario’s Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism, I launched the flagship business magazine CHALLENGES.

At Telemedia Publishing, I developed new magazines from concept to launch.

In nine years at THE TORONTO STAR, as well as Wine Columnist, I was a Senior Editor on the National Desk, Foreign Desk, and the Business and Entertainment departments.

My newspaper career spans the MONTREAL STAR, TORONTO TELEGRAM, the CALGARY ALBERTAN, as crime reporter, and THE SHEFFIELD STAR.

Thought you should know!