The Element Wines Story; Boutique Wine Producers in Hawke’s Bay

The story of how Dom and Rachelle met is so adorable, it could be made into a movie.  The setting was their hometown, Auckland, New Zealand, and it was Tuesday, the 14th of January, 2002.  Rachelle was out for lunch, celebrating her cousin’s birthday.  Her cousin joked with the server that she should get a free drink as it was her birthday; the server told her she couldn’t, dampening the mood, so the girls decided to take their business elsewhere.  Little did she know, Rachelle was about to walk into the restaurant where her future life and wine partner worked.  The girls entered Wildfire, and took their places at the bar.  Dom casually sat down next to them, and was minding his own business; Rachelle goofily wacked the new patron next to her on the leg and told him that they had great drinks at this place, and he should try one.  He mentioned that he’d actually tried, and made, all of the drinks there, before turning to show her his work t-shirt with the Wildfire logo on it.  He took the rest of the night off, and bought dinner for the girls.  At the end of the night, he wanted Rachelle’s number.  Feeling a bit serendipitous, Rachelle told him she’d give it to him, but she wouldn’t allow him to write it down; if he could remember it, he could call her.  Thank goodness for Dom’s memory, because he did retain the number after hearing it only once, and as they say, the rest is history. 

Fast forward to 2019, and Dom and Rachelle now own and run Element Wines, a boutique vineyard and wine label in the Gimblett Gravels micro-climate of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, with their two daughters, Zoë and Zaymia, a couple of cats, Turbo and Bubbles, and one big German Pointer, Brewski, all in tow! 

So how did two Auckland-raised Kiwi’s end up in the Gimblett Gravels, running a vineyard and wine label?  The simple answer, is that they decided that life was too short not to follow their dreams.  The longer, more complicated story includes tonnes of courage, some definite ups and downs, overcoming a lot of hurdles, and binding together to spend their days creating something they love and are proud of, while enjoying their lives as a family.

A day in the life of the Smith family includes high school for the girls, and everything that comes with that, like homework, sport, friends and slumber parties. The girls have spent the last several years helping in the vineyard when they’re finished their schoolwork, and it’s definitely a family affair.  They help with everything from pruning to harvest, and have developed an impressive knowledge of wine-making for their ages.  In addition to running Element, Dom also works full time at Sacred Hill Winery as the Cellar Supervisor.  Rachelle spends her days tending to the vineyard, and running her family.  A typical weekend includes playing with the pets, sitting on their beautiful deck that overlooks their vineyard, and enjoying delicious food, once the vineyard work is done, of course.  Zoë and Zaymia make the Sunday pancakes or waffles, but Rachelle makes the best French Toast.  Dom can craft a mean, made from scratch pizza in his clay oven, or roast incredibly tender and flavourful meats, but whatever the menu, there is always a delicious wine pairing to complete the meal, along with satisfaction after a day’s hard work. 

Owning a vineyard seems romantic, and ideal, and in some respects, it can be.  Most of the time though, it’s really tiresome, and the work never ends.  There’s something to be done in every season of the year.  If it’s spring, the vines are beginning to bud, and need to be watched and protected from frost.  Summer brings growth and ripening, and lots of vineyard and machinery maintenance.  With autumn comes harvest time, unpredictable weather that could potentially destroy a whole season’s fruit, as well as the pressures of making the right decision of when to harvest. Then, the grapes need to be processed, and the wine needs to be made, and maintained, while winter requires pruning in the vineyard to set it up for a healthy spring, when the work cycle repeats. I was curious to find out how all of this became the couple’s dream.

Rachelle didn’t grow up in an industry family, but she was around wine as a child.  She has memories of her god-mother letting her try watered down wines to see what they tasted like.  She also had family and friends with wine labels or vineyards, and she would spend time at their houses; this lead to her developing a comfort and familiarity with the vineyard environment.  Dom didn’t grow up industry either, but was the son of two teachers.  Although his parents drank wine, it was Dom’s hospitality work that opened his eyes to amazing wine. He remembers feeling like he had the world at his fingertips when it came to the wines he was able to experience, both from the old and new worlds. When he used to go out with his buddies as a teen, he noticed that he was among the few whose alcohol choice for the night was a fine wine; he realized that he was actually quite fond of it.  He found satisfaction in making the perfect recommendation for guests in his restaurant, or showing them something different; he once made a recommendation to a Wine Spectator writer, without realizing it, and was thanked and acknowledged by the writer’s wife for making an exceptional pairing.  

Once Dom and Rachelle got together, wine became a big part of their dating life.  They talked about their bucket-list wines, and tried many of them together.  (Trying those bucket-list wines is still something they do today; they can both recall the specific flavours and intensities of a 2006 Dom-Perignon they shared as a celebration of overcoming vineyard hardships.)  Owning a vineyard became their “Lotto-dream.”  If they ever struck it rich, they’d buy one! Ironically, due to hard times, they were put in a position with the business they owned in Auckland where they either had to rebuild, or move on. They were at a fork in their road, and they knew it. Dom had a memorable conversation with a good neighbour friend one evening who recommended that Rachelle and Dom see this as an opportunity to follow their dreams.  They felt the same way, so they did.  

It was the 19th of November, 2012, when Element was born. 

Dom had been able to find employment at a winery in the Bay, so they began looking at Hawke’s Bay properties for their own vineyard.  They also favoured the wines that come out of the region; they love Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  Dom quipped that he would rather make “not-Sauvinon Blanc and have no money, than make Sauv Blanc and have money!” He’d been commuting between his job in the Bay and his family in Auckland since that August.  The couple had hummed and hawed over which property to go with, but kept coming back to a special one in the Gimblett Gravels.  It was a 4.2 hectare property, with 2.6 hectares under vine.  The vineyard had Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet and Viognier, the wines they wanted to make, not to mention gorgeous lavender that caught Rachelle’s eye. They ended up choosing the property for the vineyard, and not really caring about the specific layout or décor of the house! They got possession on that November day, and the girls still hadn’t seen the house. Rachelle took them to meet Dom to see it together, but Dom was held up at work, so they went for a drink down the road to wait. It really is a family affair! Then, all together, the family complete, Dom, Rachelle, Zoë and Zaymia walked into their new home, to begin a new life and a new adventure. 

Vineyard life didn’t exactly welcome them with rainbows and butterflies.  They had no furniture, and slept on air beds for a couple of months. The girls remember waking up that Christmas together in their half deflated air bed, that they were sharing to save on linen.  The vineyard had been damaged by frost that spring.  Dom had to learn to drive a tractor.  He had to learn to spray.  He had never done any vineyard work before.  He describes it as just having to “jump on board and figure it out.”  He tells the story of one particular night, where a storm was coming in, and he was trying to hook up some hydraulics on a machine.  It was 3.00am by the time he got it going and was able to spray.  To top it all off, he stepped on his sunglasses and broke them.  It was a long, hard night, to say the least. This wasn’t exactly the romantic dream they had envisioned!  It wasn’t all bad though.  The family has lots of fun memories of being together, all learning how to run the vineyard.  Everything was a novelty at first, even for the girls, and they enjoyed lifting wires, bud rubbing, and doing other jobs together.  Although Dom is quite certified now, in the beginning, they were largely self-taught, but they had some helpful neighbours and colleagues that supported them along the way.

After spending time with Dom and Rachelle this year, and seeing how challenging it can be to own a vineyard, I asked them why they chose that route, rather than just purchasing fruit for their label, like so many others do.  Why bother with the work?  Dom replied that it “seemed logical that you grow it and make it.”  They wanted the whole process.  Starting from the beginning, and having control over their fruit is part of their wine-making philosophy.  “Our story is that we grow everything that we make,” explains Dom.  A holistic approach is very important to them.

They strongly believe in nurturing the land, and that less is more.  “We have to tread lightly and look after the land,” Dom shares.  Although they’re not certified organic, they prefer all organic practices. They don’t use any harmful chemicals or sprays on their vineyard.  “My kids and my dog play here,” Dom says about their land.  It’s their home, and they take pride in caring for it. 

Another important company mandate to mention is that Element strives for a “true, terrior driven wine,” which is why they don’t mind to break away from popular trends and make wines that aren’t influenced by oak.  They currently use no new oak in any of their wines (even the reds) and are moving towards eliminating all oak use soon.  Many of Dom’s favourite wines from the old world haven’t touched new oak.  He remembers some specific wines from France that were made in either neutral oak or concrete, and he describes that “they get this intensity and expression from the vineyard and fruit not manipulated by anything else.”

After hearing their wine-making practices and philosophies, it made perfect sense to me why they chose their name, Element.  Their wines, born of the earth, from the vine, through the grapes, and into the bottle, truly reflect a sense of place, and are something completely unique to them. 

So where can I find this special, unique wine?  Customers can order directly from Element via their Instagram handle, @element_wines, their website, http://www.elementwines.co.nz, or see it on some wine lists throughout New Zealand. Rachelle offers tastings by appointment (021 146 8925) as well.

Options are Viognier, Cabernet Merlot blends, and Syrah from Element, as well as potentially a 2018 vintage 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Although they don’t enter wine shows, their Syrah has been their most highly accoladed wine with their 2016 Syrah getting 93 points from Cameron Douglas, Master Sommelier, and 93 points with The Wine Front in Australia.  Their Cabernet Merlots have certainly been popular among customers as well, and are often quick to sell out.  Element is truly boutique, meaning they produce only around 100 cases of wine per year, so if you want to get your hands on some, do it soon!

Their Viognier is aromatic, fresh and floral, with a beautiful oiliness to it that melts in your mouth. The Syrahs have that classic pepper spice, loads of cherry and liquorice, and a flinty minerality that can only come from the soil. The Cabernet Merlots have great structure, red and dark plum and black currants, a lovely hint of cocoa and beautiful soft, round tannins.

In reflecting on their wines and their journey, Dom and Rachelle realized they’ve already overcome several challenges.  They definitely had an uphill journey, especially at the start.  They had to learn how to manage a vineyard, while running a family. This means they have to sacrifice a lot of their personal time, and days off, to ensure that the girls and the vineyard both get the dedication they require.  Trying to find a trustworthy place to make and store their wine was a challenge as well.  They don’t have a winery on site, so to find a safe place where they could make their wine that would allow them creative control was a journey, but one that has rewarded them with a currently great home for their wines, and the all important creative freedom.  Having a vineyard is a lot like farming; the weather interferes negatively sometimes, and then they’re faced with challenges of how to work around that.  “It’s hard work, and hard work has to go in, in order to get the rewards,” Rachelle says. “When you’re small, you have to do more to reap the rewards.”  Lots of others also want to have their share, and have tried to get wine for less than nothing. 

When I asked them if owning the vineyard has been worth it, they both replied in a heartbeat, with a resounding, “absolutely!”  They’ve learned a lot about themselves, and each other, their relationship and their family.  It’s taught them that they still love each other at the end of the day.  It gives Rachelle the freedom to be a stay at home parent, who can be available when the girls need their Mom.  Dom shared that they’ve learned that “wine can bring amazing people together, because it has.”  They have made amazing friends within this industry, and the friendships they’ve gained, have been “the coolest thing it’s done.”  If there are three passions that consistently come through when spending time with Dom and Rachelle, they’re family first, relationships, and of course, wine. 

Pictured left to right: Dom, Zaymia, Rachelle, Zoë

We met Dom and Rachelle in the exact way adults always warn children to never make friends – over the internet!  When Greg and I decided to move to Hawke’s Bay, I started Instagram messenging every winery in the Bay that I could find.  Instagram used to lock me out after so many, and I would have to wait 24 hours before I could send more messages.  A lot of them never replied, but Dom did.  He was the first to reply to me, actually, and explained that they were a small winery, and couldn’t offer us jobs, but that he would help in any way he could.  After conversing with Dom for a few days, he invited us to come for a wine with him and his partner when we arrived.  I wasn’t sure if it would actually happen, but I said that we would love to.  I continued to message back and forth with Dom over the last month we were in Canada, with so many random New Zealand questions.  I think I actually asked him if they had peanut butter here! He was extremely helpful the whole time.  Once we had arrived, it was Dom that I sent a picture to of the first cockroach I had killed asking what it was and if it was poisonous! (We don’t have them in Canada.)  We did end up going for a wine with Dom and Rachelle, on only our second day here, and that wine turned into a dinner, 5 hours of conversation, and the start of a great friendship.

In the time we have gotten to know Dom, Rachelle and the girls, I can clearly see their strength, resilience, perseverance and dedication.  They were so brave to leave their life, family and everything they knew in Auckland, to move to the Bay and follow their dream.  They didn’t know if it would work out or not, and they took a huge risk; I have found though, that the greatest risks in life can lead to some of the greatest rewards.  Dom and Rachelle still work incredibly hard, and they invest their hearts, souls, and pocketbooks into Element.  They love their daughters more than anything in the world, and they’re doing a great job raising the girls; Zoë and Zaymia are beautiful inside and out.  Dom and Rachelle are some of the kindest, most hospitable, generous, and down to earth people we know. We are honoured to call them our friends.

Oh, and by the way…

…they make some pretty exceptional wine!

Two Natural Wines We Tried, and Why Natural Wines Could Be Better for Our Health

Natural Wine is gaining popularity as wine drinkers are wanting healthier, less chemically enhanced options. The trend in organic, clean foods is crossing over into a desire for wines with lower sulphites, farmed by real people and with minimal interventions. I’ve been doing more research on them myself, and after listening to a podcast about them this summer, I decided I wanted to try some truly natural wines, and contacted my local sommelier to have her add them to my wine locker. We don’t have many available yet in our small city, but she was able to help me find the ones we have access to. I had tried one of them at a wine tasting previously, (an orange wine – a white made like a red) and I wanted some reds this time, so she gave me two: a Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon, and Our Daily Wines Red Blend.

I am excited to share our opinions of these wines with you, but before I review the wines, it will be helpful to explain what natural wine is, and how it is different than most commercial wines. Natural wine is essentially made how they would have done it in the old days. As you are reading about natural wine’s characteristics below, remember that the opposite is true in many other commercial wines that are on our shelves.

Natural wine is hand harvested, and basically, it’s made with nothing fake or processed. (Organic wineries can still use machines to harvest). The vineyards must be sustainable, organic and biodynamic. See my blog post Organic and Biodynamic Wineries in Kelowna for more information on these practices. No chemicals are used in the vineyard, but natural plant based fertilizers and pest control methods are employed. Natural yeast, or native yeast, is found in every vineyard, growing on grapes and living in the air, and this is the yeast used to make a natural wine. It’s harder to control, as it’s natural, so it can produce unpredictable flavours, even undesirable sometimes, but it’s not formulated in a lab, and this is important to natural wine lovers. To a certain degree sulphites are present in grapes and bottle sanitization methods, but in a natural wine it’s common to find little to none present. (Organic wineries can still use sulphites to clean the equipment and bottles, although many try to keep it to a minimum). Natural wine makers will allow fermentation to stop when the yeast dies either from high alcohol content, or temperatures that kill it off. They also don’t add anything to alter sugar levels, so there’s no simple syrup going into them, nor do they use chemical additives to alter acidity, so you get what you get. There are no dyes or artificial flavours added to enhance appearance or cover up mistakes or unpopular flavours. No fining or filtering agents are used to rid the wine of sediment either, so they’re vegan, and you just need to remember not to pour the last ounce to spare yourself the chunks! (I explain this in my blog linked above as well).

Bonterra – Cabernet Sauvignon from California (labeled as Organic). We dripped on the label, so pay no mind to the purple streak, other than as a color indication!

I did some research on the producer’s website to find out more about their natural practices: http://www.bonterra.com.

They practice organic and biodynamic farming, and they are actually certified Biodynamic, meaning they’re holding tight to all of the practices they should be.

Their tasting notes boast bright cherry, currant and raspberry, with hints of oak and vanilla. I would completely agree with this tasting note. It wasn’t too complex, but there were a few layers, and it still had that California Cab taste, just with a bit less intensity. The tannins were still high, and the finish was medium. The body was a bit less than other California Cabs, but not by much.

I emailed them twice to ask for more specific information about sulphites and if they use them to clean the bottles, but nobody got back to me either time. That’s a bit unimpressive to me; if you offer a place for comments and questions on your website, employ someone to monitor them and respond.

Overall, this was a very good wine, and I would drink it again, gladly.


Our Daily Red – Red Blend from California (labeled as “No preservatives added,” and organic).

I researched this one as well, and this one is truly a natural wine: ourdailywines.com.

Our non-GMO wine grapes are grown without the use of conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or any chemicals deemed harmful to the environment. Furthermore, our certified organic winemaking facility allows for only minimal processing and prohibits the use of color, flavor or non-organic  additives and preservatives.

They also have no detectable sulphites, which is extremely rare in the new world.

Sulfites occur naturally in small amounts in a number of foods and also in wine. Winemakers add additional sulfites at various steps during the winemaking process to prevent oxidation and the growth of undesirable yeast or bacteria. At Our Daily Wines, however, we never add sulfites to our wines, and as a result of our care and processes, our wines are among the few commercially available which contain no detectable sulfites. We use natural, technologically advanced techniques to ensure freshness, resulting in wines that are the purest expression of the grapes and vintage.

They checked out in all of the areas I was concerned with in wanting a natural wine.

Now, for the taste!

It was acceptable. It had a bit of a yeasty aroma to it, which is to be expected from a natural wine. My mother-in-law was in the room when I swirled my glass, and without knowing anything about the wine, asked me from across the kitchen if I smelt yeast! It was noticeable, but I wouldn’t say unpleasant.

It was a red blend, and it had typical red fruit aromas of cherry and plum, and maybe some darker fruits like blackberry, but nothing intense. Their tasting note claims bourbon vanilla, but it was very faintly there. They claim a ripe and silky finish; it was balanced, in my opinion, and had a medium finish. It had light to medium tannins and light body, and reminded me of the same intensity as a Pinot Noir style red, although it was much lighter in body than a Burgundy.

Overall, it was a basic, simple wine, but it was perfectly enjoyable, and I liked knowing that it was very cleanly made, and had nothing in it that was bad for me. For people that drink wine a few times a week, it’s nice to know that there are options out there that don’t contain chemicals. Just like organic foods are healthier due to less chemical intervention in their growth, organic wines are healthier too, for the same reasons. They’re naturally grown, how they were meant to be.

I would purchase from either company again, and am curious to try some of their other varietals, if I ever see them in my travels. I encourage you to pick up a bottle of natural wine the next time you’re in the mood for something different, or a bit healthier!

Happy Wine-ing!

Aging Wine; The Need To Knows

“You get better with age like a fine wine…” ❤️

We’ve all heard sayings like this before that leave us to believe that all fine wine gets better with age.  This is partly true – many fine wines do get better with some age – but which wines are meant for aging and how long they should be aged, is actually quite a complex topic.  Then there are multiple factors that come into play regarding storage/cellar conditions that will either age wine well, or ruin it quickly.

A huge misconception I’ve come across in speaking with friends and family about wine is that it ALL gets better with age.  This is definitely not true!  There is a saying in the wine world that only 1% of wine is actually meant to be aged in the bottle, which means that 99% of the wine on the shelves right now is meant to be consumed within a few short years from now, or today!  More on specific aging times in a moment. I’ll tell you right now, that 1% more than likely didn’t cost less than $20 either, so if you’re hanging on to those $7.99 bottles, it’s time to grab some glasses, or possibly make dinner with some type of a wine sauce!

Wine needs to have certain qualities to give it the ability to age well.  Madeline Puckette, the creator of Wine Folly, gives 4 qualities that you can look for in a wine to determine if it is age worthy:  Acidity, Tannins, Alcohol Level, and Residual Sugar.  [1]

Acidity

The higher the acid in the wine, the better it will age.  When tasting wine, acidity is the factor that makes your mouth water.  It is often described as “crispness.”  Chablis, for example, has a high amount of acidity, and can age well, even though it’s made from white grapes. (Tip your chin down with the wine in your mouth and see how much spit forms. If there’s a lot, it’s higher in acid!)

Tannins

Lots of red grapes have high tannins and can be aged for several years.  Sometimes whites have tannins, but rarely.  Tannins are chemical compounds that come from the seeds, skins and stems of grapes.  When you taste them in wine, they’re not so much a flavour as a feeling.  (That dry feeling you get along your gums, like when you drink a way over-steeped tea, is the feeling of tannins!) In the process of making red wine, the grape juice sits with these parts of the grape, allowing the tannins to enter the wine.  Some can come from oak contact as well.  Certain grapes are more tannic than others, depending on their composition, and certain wines will be more tannic if they’re left to sit with the skins, etc. for longer periods of time.  These tannins can be bitter and harsh in young wines, but they help them age well because with time, the tannins “soften,” and become more “well-rounded.”  This basically means that instead of the wine tasting sharp and pungent in your mouth, it will taste more smooth and balanced; higher tannin wines need age to taste better.

Alcohol Level and Residual Sugar

Red wines with higher alcohol content, closer to the 14% mark, will typically age better than lower alcohol reds.  Whites have lower alcohol in them, but some grapes have particular compounds and sugar levels that will allow for a decent amount of residual, that is, left-over sugar, once the fermentation process is done.  These whites, like Rieslings, for example, have a balance of sugar and acid that enables them to age well.

So now that you’ve determined you’ve got a wine you’re going to hold on to, here are some things to think about before you put it away and forget about it.

Screwcap vs. Synthetic Cork vs. Real Cork  

The method of capping wines is still a largely debated topic in the wine industry.  Real cork, vs. synthetic cork, vs. screwcap – there are a lot of opinions out there on which is best and why.  For more information on this topic, check out my article Real Cork vs. Synthetic Cork and Screwcaps. For the purposes of this article, I’ll only comment related to wine’s age-ability and storage.

Australia and New Zealand initiated the use of screw caps, and still use them on many of their wines.  Other countries have started following suit.  A screw cap does not indicate poor quality wine, it’s simply a method that some producers believe is the best way to seal their wines.  Wines with screw caps don’t need to be laying down for storage, but they can be. Screw caps haven’t been tested for super long term aging, but some can last a decade or more.

Wine professionals have recommended to me, on more than one occasion, that synthetic cork should not be left in contact with the wine for long periods of time; they say it can leave a plastic type taste in the wine, and can also leave other synthesized compounds in the wine, that they don’t want to be consuming several years down the line.  Stand those synthetic cork wines up for any length of storage.  Fair enough. These are also only guaranteed for a few years at best.

Wine with a real cork must be stored lying down.  Cork is a natural compound, and it dries out over time.  By lying the wine on its side, the wine stays touching the bottom of the cork, and the moisture helps to keep the cork damp enough that it shouldn’t dry out.  This is important, because if the cork dries out, it shrivels up and shrinks, letting too much unwanted air into the bottle.  Over the years, the overdose of oxygen will ruin the wine, leaving it “oxidized” and undesirable. Natural cork has proven the test of time and has lasted sometimes for hundreds of years.

Cellar Conditions

Have you ever been to a winery, or seen photos of their cellars?  What do you notice about them?  They’re usually cool, dark, and damp, and the wine is off to the side and out of the way so it doesn’t have to be moved.

Cellar conditions for ideal wine storage should be between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius, and shouldn’t change much.  Light shining onto the bottles for some time can alter the wine inside, whether it’s natural or artificial light.  Humidity will help keep the corks damp, so they stay plump and tightly sealed to the inside of the bottle’s neck.  The more you can leave the wine alone, without bumping it and moving it, the better its chances are of aging well.

When wine is resting well, it’s aging well, similar to you!  Just think of how well you would rest if someone kept changing the temperature on you, shining light on you, and bumping you around – exactly.  This is why I can’t sleep on an airplane. If you want your wine to be pleasant, give it a good rest!

Did you know that storing wine in a kitchen is actually one of the worst places in a home environment to keep it?  The temperature fluctuates the most in kitchens/bathrooms out of any of the rooms in your home.

How Long is Too Long?

There is a window of time that most wine professionals believe wine is at its best.  The window will vary slightly for each wine, but at a certain point, it will hit its peak, and begin to decline in quality again.  There is no exact way to know when this is, so it can feel like a risk when you’ve been aging a wine for a while, and want to make sure it’s at its best before popping that old cork ever so gently!

So many great wines become collector’s items, and people spend so much money on them, that they never want to drink them.  I once heard someone on a wine documentary say something to the effect of how many of the world’s greatest wines have essentially gone to waste, sitting in someone’s cellar for way too long, because people don’t understand how wine ages.  There’s a time and place for cellaring wine, but in the end, wine is meant to be drunk.

Jancis Robinson’s The Oxford Companion to Wine is one of my favourite wine books.  She says, “contrary to popular opinion, only a small subgroup of wines benefit from extended bottle aging.  The great bulk of wine sold today, red as well as white and pink, is designed to be drunk within a year, or at most two, of bottling.”[2]

In her expert opinion, she goes on to list specific numbers of years that several particular types of wine should be aged for, of which I’ve only included a few popular choices.  Almost all whites retailing under the $20 range should only be bottle aged to a maximum of 2 years.  Heavier whites, like Chardonnay can sometimes last up to 6 years.  More expensive whites can age longer, like Chablis (up to 15 years), or some Rieslings (up to 20).[3]  This has to do with the structure of the particular grapes, and how they’re produced.

Surprisingly, the number doesn’t differ much for reds.  If they’re around that same $20 mark or under, the longest Jancis recommends you keep them is 3 years.  You can hang onto higher priced French wines in your cellar from 15 to 25 years, Italian Chianti or Spanish Rioja can present nicely up to 10 and 20 respectively as well.  Above the $20 price point, most Cabernet Sauvignons can be bottle aged for 7 – 17 years, Pinot Noirs, 4 – 10, Shiraz, 4 – 12, and Grenache, 3 – 8. [4]  Jancis has not lead me astray yet, and I trust these numbers; keep in mind there are always exceptions, and your cellar conditions need to be appropriate, especially if you’re considering aging your own wines in the bottles.

*Note that keeping value wines up to that 2-3 year mark is NOT going to enhance their flavour; think of that time frame like a best before date.

To determine how long the wine has been in the bottle, you’re going to have to do some math!  The year on the label is the year the grapes were harvested, not the year it was bottled necessarily, so if the label explains that it was aged in the winery for a certain number of years, you can add that time to the year on the label to get the bottling year.

If you’re looking to age a wine, remember to look for wines that are balanced in acidity, alcohol, residual sugar, or have some tannin to them.  You’ll want to spend a bit more on these ones, and watch out for synthetic cork. If you’ve got a lot of $20 to $30 wines sitting in your house, it may be time to have a party!  Let’s not let that wine go to waste.  Happy aging of the appropriate ones, and cheers to all the rest of them!

[1] Puckette, Madeline.  (2017, Feb.)  “How to Tell If A Wine Is Age-Worthy.”  Retrieved from https://winefolly.com/tutorial/how-to-tell-if-a-wine-is-age-worthy/

[2] Robinson, Jancis.  The Oxford Companion to Wine.  2015.  Oxford, UK; Oxford University Press.

[3] Robinson, Jancis.  The Oxford Companion to Wine.  2015.  Oxford, UK; Oxford University Press.

[4] Robinson, Jancis.  The Oxford Companion to Wine.  2015.  Oxford, UK; Oxford University Press.

A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned; Value Wines to Please Your Palate

Many of us enjoy wine for a variety of occasions.  Sometimes, we want that special, expensive bottle, to celebrate a milestone or achievement, but sometimes, we just want a glass of red on the sofa while we read a great book, or a cool crisp white on the patio on a summer weeknight.  Although these occasions are special in their own right, not all of us can afford to be cracking $50 bottles three times a week!  Lots of us have also tried that $8 wine that looked oh-so-good in the packaging, with the fancy bottle shape and funky label, only to be let down by its lack-lustre or overbearing, unbalanced taste.  Can we say “cooking wine”?

I used to wonder if it was even possible to spend less, and get more in a wine.  The great news is, yes it is!  You just have to know a few things.  I realize that the $10 – $25 price range is the largest market for wine consumers, and I want to help you find wines you love for that price!

I gathered some friends together to help me give you the best information I can, and added our tips too. Specific wines are bolded throughout to make them easier to spot!

If you’re looking for even more specifics, a sommelier friend put together a list organized by price, specifically for you, my readers!  Check out the list at the bottom.


The WSET Grad List

Ivy and Aaron are certified in WSET Level 2, just like us.  They’re frequent hosts of wine tastings in their home, because they love sharing their passion for wine with their friends.  They’re on a quest to try 100 grape varietals, and have reached the final stretches in that goal.  They have an entire book shelf full of wine books (of which I’ve only yet borrowed one) and are pursuing further education in the wine industry.

“There are a few strategies that I use when purchasing value wines. Depending on what type or style I am looking for will determine which countries I will look for wines in. I love Riesling and in the Germany section you can get Rieslings under $20 that are a great value. If I am looking for a fruity and accessible red my go to is Beaujolais which is found in the French section. Beaujolais wines are the Gamay grape and one of my go to wine varieties under $25.” – Ivy

“When looking for value be sure to look at South America. Chilean Pinot Noir and Argentinan Cab Sav’s and Malbec’s. You can find inexpensive quality wines.” – Aaron

Great tips! They also include a category that I often don’t shop in because I don’t digest it well; however it’s widely liked, extremely popular and important to mention here – Sparkling Wine.

“One of my favourite tips for value is bubbly wines! I love my Champagne but don’t always love the price. Cava, which is from Spain, is made in the same style as Champagne but without the price tag. You can find lovely Cava under $25.” – Ivy


We met Sandra and Ian while they worked in the higher-ups of a restaurant we frequented.  Over wine, we discovered we had more in common than we realized, and became friends.  They’ve got ISG and WSET certificates between them, and Sandra has years of experience in high end service. Ian is the bar manager, and wine/spirits buyer, at one of our city’s most trendy, award winning restaurants, recognized as a top restaurant in Canada.  (He also designs hundreds of spectacular, award winning cocktails!)

Ian walked us through how he designs wine lists for his restaurants. His goal is to find wines that will pair with the menu, cover main regions and the grape varietals they do well, and be of value to sell to patrons, for example, Pinot Noir from Oregon, or Argentinian Malbec.

He also frequents industry wine tasting events and tries new bottles that reps bring to him on the regular, so he shows the value in trying new wines and producers.

He spoke highly of South African wines for value, while still being interesting to the palate, (look for KWV on the label for higher labour standards in South Africa), as well as one other particularly interesting grape, and left me with this hilarious, but true quote.

“Look for a good Petit Syrah; you’re going to enjoy the shiz out of that!” – Ian

Sandra’s value go to is the Santos de Casa Reserva Alentejano, retailing for $27.  They’ve shared this with us before – delicious.

“I love a well paired bottle of wine, but sometimes you get home from work and you just need to unwind and have a glass of something and you don’t want to plan your meal or think too hard.  This is the perfect go to for those occasions.  It is smooth and neither too dry or too sweet and will appeal to the seasoned wine drinker and the person just getting into wine alike.”  – Sandra


Ken

We were privileged to take our WSET Level 2 from this knowledgeable and intelligent man, who is well certified himself, and always continuing his wine education.  He is currently researching and presenting on Biodynamic Wines in his free time, and is a University Professor by day.  When I asked him for some tips for you, my readers, he shared some extremely valid points.

“It’s hard to say what a ‘good wine’ is for someone, so the answer for me is to drink more, and try everything!” – Ken

 That is very well said.  The wines my friends and I are presenting to you in this article are great to us, but may not be great for you.  These are meant to be a starting point in your exploring.  I must also note, that a ‘good wine’ to me 10 years ago, is not a ‘good wine’ to me now, because I’ve done more learning and exploring; tastes change, so try to hold an open mind and be discovery oriented.  Don’t they say we should enjoy the journey, as well as the destination?

“One approach is to look for lesser known regions that are close to the ‘famous’ regions, for example, rather than Chateauneuf-du-Pape, try something from Gigondas, which is close, similar, lesser known, and provides a good value.

Another approach is to look for ‘lesser’ sub-appellations within regions, so for example, if a person likes Chablis, Petit Chablis, rather than Premier Cru Chablis.  This doesn’t necessarily mean poorer quality, just different aging.  The longer it’s aged, the more money the producer has tied up in it, the more they need to charge for the wine.” – Ken

He does realize that some of his suggestions require some background knowledge, but encourages readers to have fun exploring and experimenting.  Plus, if you’re reading this, and have a more specific question about either of Ken’s approaches, you can leave a comment and I can help direct you.


Dawn

Dawn is certified in ISG and WSET Level 3, and runs the Tasting Room at our Coop Liquor. She is hilarious, kind, hospitable, a great chef, and extremely experienced and knowledgeable. That’s why the owners of Coop have put her in charge of choosing and buying every single bottle of wine that comes into that store! She works with wine producers all over the world, and here are her go to’s.

1.   “Bodegas Laya from Spain . It’s a big, full bodied red that over delivers for the price.

2.   La Vieille Ferme Rosé from France.  It is not as dry as some of the rosés from Provence, but it is very well made and always quaffable.  It is perfect on a summer patio day.” – Dawn


Our Tips to Affordable, Yet Still Great Wine

 1. Find an affordable producer that you like.  Chances are, if you really enjoyed one particular wine of theirs, you might also enjoy their other wines.

2. Shop lesser known varietals. You can find amazing value wine if you’re willing to step outside the Cab Sauv and Chardonnay boxes.

3. Avoid the mass production wines!  These are the ultra-cheap, big name companies, that I won’t name, but you’ve heard of them.  If they’re mass produced, they’re going to be a value, yes, but also boring and predictably not great. Look on the label for hints that they’re mass produced, like the non-specific region of “California,” for example, rather than “Monterey County.”

4. Shop in the European sections.  Many of the most overpriced wines come from the USA.  Canadian producers have high operating costs and small production, so they have to charge more.  You can get really great wine, for under $20 from Europe.  Our faves are almost anything from Italy or France, Riesling from Germany, Duoro from Portugal, Rioja from Spain.  In the Italy section, if they have a ribbon around the neck that’s a blue/gray and says DOCG or DOC on it, you know you’re getting a quality controlled wine, and yes, they have these for under $20.

5. Shop in the South American sections!  Carmenere from Chile and Malbec from Argentina, are great.  It’s also worth trying the whites from these regions. Last week we had an Eco Chilean Chardonnay that was superb, and $13.

6. Be willing to take a risk!  We had a Boutari from Greece last month that was $18.  We were in Greece in 2015, and no wine grabbed us as “the best wine ever,” but we decided to give the Boutari a go (open-mind!).  It was wonderfully crisp, with lemon and fresh herb notes to it that reminded me of being in Greece.  You don’t know if you don’t try.

7. Keep a list of what you’ve tried, and write down what you like or don’t like.  Have your “go to’s” for value white, red, sparkling or rose. I use the Vivino app to keep a running tally, and when I have time, I add my tasting notes.


A Sommeliers List – Available at the Coop Wine Spirits Beer store in Blairemore

Angela is the sommelier at the Coop Liquor Store and Tasting Room, she is certified in WSET Level 3, and is currently taking her two year Level 4 Diploma.  She sent me a list of her favourite value wines, all available at our Coop Liquor Store!  Upon getting to know her, I’ve discovered she’s passionate about interesting wines and discovering new, quality wines for herself and her customers.  She’s not going to set you up with something run of the mill or boring, which I really appreciate about her, especially because she fills my wine locker every month!  I’ve personally had all of the Under $15 wines, and they’re fabulous.  I would also mention that any wine by La Vieille Ferme I’ve had has been affordable and tasty.  Check out her list below.  What do you notice about it?

Under $15

• Plantaze Vranac $13.99

• Claude Val Rouge and Rosé $12.99

• La Vieille Ferme Red $13.99

Under $20

• Gerard Bertrand Corbieres $17.99

• Henry of Pelham Baco Noir $15.49

• Glenelly Glass Collection Chardonnay $18.99

• Mediterra Poggio Al Tesoro $19.99

Under $25ish

• Ricossa Barbaresco $22.99

• Gray Monk White Brut Odyssey $25.99

• Chateau Pesquie Les Terraces $22.99

There may be a lot of grape varietals that you haven’t heard of before.  Just because they’re not mainstream doesn’t mean they’re not flavourful, or a good value.  A lot of them are also international.  Hmm… I think I read that somewhere.

Remember, take a risk.  You might not like all of these wines, but you might also love them.  Now get to the store, find a value wine, and start popping corks, (or unscrewing screwcaps)!

A special thanks to all of my guests: Ivy, Aaron, Sandra, Ian, Ken, Dawn and Angela.  You’re all wonderful for taking the time to contribute and I appreciate you!

Cheers!