Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo – ‘3V’, Casa Madero, Val de Parras, Mexico, 2020, 13.7% abv.

DSC_0221DSC_0224Anyone who follows me on social media will know I was in Mexico recently with my family to celebrate 20 years of togetherness.  What better way to toast our family’s union than to enjoy a Mexican wine from the oldest winery in the Americas (est. 1597) with the anniversary dinner.

I have only ever had one other Mexican wine, and it wasn’t memorable (for the right reasons). That product was from the Baja, from where 90% of Mexican wines hail. But one must alwaysDSC_0124 maintain an open mind -and I’m glad I did, because the 3V was a lovely accompaniment to our celebratory dinner.

This 2020 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Tempranillo from the Val de Parras IMG_2299(‘parras’ means ‘vines’ in Spanish), is grown at 1,525m.  This is the only reason wines of any measure of quality can be produced this far south – the altitude offers an air conditioning effect on the vines.  The Val de Parras is a microclimate oasis in the middle of what is otherwise mountain ranges and semi-desert.

DSC_0108Deep purple with aromas of strawberry, blueberry, plum and boysenberry, the palate shows the same fresh fruit, augmented with dried tobacco leaf, marvelous body, and good acidity.  It has spent 12 months ageing in American, European and French oak.

The Mexican wine industry is very tiny and only 5% of wines are ever exported, so you’re unlikely to be able to buy this outside of Mexico.  But if you have an opportunity, do try a bottle.

There is no regulation in Mexico with regard to wine production – so, there are no DOCG, AOC, or AVA styleE5A54FDF-209A-43FE-A358-18A14190E6BD denomination systems. This means there are no established rules to follow for winemakers, but it also means they’re figuring out what works in the wine regions and which grapes respond best to the terroir and microclimates.  I’d say Casa Madero has done the work, and the 3V (as well as the second bottle, Shiraz), proves it.  

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Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Velenosi, DOC, Classico, Italia, 2021, 12.5% abv., C$27

Verdicchio, the name of the grape used for this wine made in Le Marche, is often referred to as ‘the little green one’.  The wines produced tend to be crisp and powerful with great acidity and minerality. IMG_1877

Verdicchio is grown in a region located near the ancient city of Jesi on Italy’s eastern coast, over the Apennines from Rome.  They’ve been making this wine here for over 1,000 years and it is renowned as one of Italy’s finest whites.

True to form, this example of the little green one is the colour of pale straw with aromas of acacia flower and lemon balm.  Flavours show more acacia, green grass, verbena, and fennel.

Each sip offers mouth-watering acidity that goes beautifully with pecorino cheese and salumi.  Pick up some taralli as well to complement your charcuterie.  This wine is also fabulous with light and creamy pastas and fish courses.

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Riesling, Poet’s Leap, Long Shadows Vintners Collection, Columbia Valley AVA, Washington, USA, 12.5% abv., 2021, US$16

What’s the saying, ‘When in Rome…?’  Well, when in Washington State, find yourself some Long Shadows Poet’s Leap Riesling from the Columbia Valley, because it’s one of the grapes they do best there.  

Pale yellow with aromas of green apple, kiwi and soft lemon, the palate offers more green and yellow apple, lemon zest and limeade with some freakishly high acidity that practically yells, “Drink more!”IMG_1274

Lightly off dry, it’s not cloying in the least.  Some additional flavours of ripe apricot, white peach, and fresh nectarine show up with a sliver of green grass just to make it interesting.  The long finish allows you time to admire its prettiness.

Fashioned in the tradition of the wines of Armin Diel, the infamous Riesling master whose family has been making wine in the Nahe since 1802, this complex wine is made by Gilles Nicault as part of the Long Shadows collection in Woodinville, WA.  Almost unbelievably, you can buy it at Costco for a mere US$16.  You’re welcome. 

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Tempranillo, Viña Cubillo, Crianza, Lopez de Heredia, Rioja Alta, Spain, 2012, 13.5 abv., US$40

DSC_7517Classic, classic, classic – it doesn’t get much better than this developed, yet still bright, mostly Tempranillo wine from benchmark Rioja winery, Lopez de Heredia.

The Cubillo vineyard has vines that are about 40 years old and the 65% Tempranillo is augmented by a traditional blend with Garnacha (25), Mazuelo, and Graciano (10).  This is the lightest and youngest of the DSC_7519Lopez de Heredia red wines and is often enjoyed much earlier than we did this one – but it was outstanding nonetheless (we opened it at 11 years old).

Translucent garnet, it has developed aromas of mushroom, oak, bark, and deeply composted leaves. DSC_7518 The dry palate is both soft and complex showing mocha nibs, cigar box, pastrami and walnut.  There’s even still some bright fruit – black plum and cranberry.  Spicy and candied, it has fabulous acidity and a lengthy

It was the perfect bottle to bring out for charcuterie and hanging out on a Friday.  If you have a bottle of this, enjoy now as it’s drinking perfectly.

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Pinot Noir, Clone Collection Dijon 777, Code Wines, Okanagan Falls, Okanagan Valley, BC, 2020, 13.5% abv. C$34

DSC_7471Owners Shay and Harlee Code decided in 2016 to purchase land in Okanagan Falls on which they planted Viognier, Syrah, several clones of Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay grapes.

In 2021, they made the full time move once their home and crush pad were established, but this bottle was made in 2020 at Roche (on the Naramata Bench).  All Code Wine from 2022 onward has been made at their own OK Falls winery building.

This is one lovely wine. Translucent magenta with aromas of cranberry, raspberry and green leaf, the palate is dry with light tannins and flavours of more cranberry, field berry, pomegranate, mint, and green grass.

We enjoyed this immensely with turkey, trimmings and fresh cranberry sauce.

Unfiltered and unfined, it’s the type of wine that’s right up my alley.  Beautifully elegant – delicious and delicate – it boasts absolutely phenomenal colour.  Their marketing is also spot on – complete with a clever play on their surname, combined with the genetic coding of whatever grape is in the bottle.

You can buy these wines at the winery itself, or at a few select stores in the Okanagan, Vancouver, and Victoria.  Code’s production is tiny (only about 600 cases annually), and only 22 cases of this Pinot Noir Clone 777 were produced.  If you are lucky to find a bottle (or receive one as I did), enjoy it! DSC_7472

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Pecorino, Colline Pescaresi, Azienda Agricola Tiberio, Pecorino IGT, Cugnoli, Abruzzo, Italia, 2021, abv. 14%

DSC_6823In 1999, when Cristiana Tiberio’s father Riccardo discovered this property and its rare Trebbiano Abruzzese vines in the middle-of-nowhere Abruzzo, emptied his bank accounts to buy it, and replanted most of it with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, more Trebbiano Abruzzese, Pecorino and Moscato di Castiglione grapes indigenous to the region, people said he was crazy – and worse, that no one would ever buy his wines.

Fast forward to 2022 – his daughter is the winemaker, and his son, the viticulturalist – and their wines earn accolades every vintage from adoring industry heavyweights around the globe.

Cristiana welcomed us into her home and spoke lovingly of her father and the absolute trust he hadDSC_6830 placed in her.

“My first vintage was 2004.  There are not many female winemakers. When I started making wine, people said, ‘Oh, they’re very elegant, female wines’. No one says that anymore. Now they say, ‘this wine is so great, so vibrant, so much energy!’ Putting people in boxes makes others comfortable….It’s not about being a girl or a boy, but you know, in Abruzzo, for many generations, the girl or lady in the wine family just had the role of public relations and accounting.”

DSC_6801“Outside Abruzzo, I haven’t had any trouble.  But here, no – she’s a girl, what can she do?!  Honestly, the secret of me has been our father. Since I was a child, I grew up thinking I could do whatever I wanted – it was up to me – being a girl had nothing to do with it. My father purchased this property and spent all his money.  I find this a big responsibility. It’s been tough, but I carry it.”

DSC_6824Riccardo has long since retired into his truffle hunting hobby (his retired dogs Quarmari and Diana are in the pictures, and all over their Instagram), but Cristiana and Antonio shepherd the 30 hectares of 20-80 year old vines with great passion, noting that “Every five minutes, there’s a new challenge.  Bugs, disease, pandemics, earthquakes…whatever can happen will happen.”

I have enjoyed these wines tremendously since they became available in western Canada – especially the Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo IGT – a free run juice rosé with cold maceration on skins that is all crunchy, red fruit – pomegranate, strawberry, and new cherry – with high acidity and light tannins.  

But the Pecorino IGT has such small production  that I was excited to taste it.  It’s a higher level wine, but it has been declassified to IGT status so the hill it hails from can be named on the label (Colline Pescaresi).  This is important as these vines are 15 years old and the grape is truly indigenous, and has not been nursery corrected. DSC_6820

Translucent gold from the thick grape skins, the Pecorino IGT is distinctly mouth tingling with yellow apple and white peach, augmented by rosemary, thyme, cheese rind and a slate-like minerality. The finish is long and evolves with savory, umami-toned notes. 


Note the rare double vine plantings.

These Pecorino grapes have thicker skins than the modern clones planted by other wineries on flatlands that have higher yields.  The skins help protect them from spring frosts, and in hotter vintages, they grow even thicker to protect the fruit.  The groundcover on these 3.5 hectares planted at 360m is completely spontaneous – nothing extra is planted or introduced into the environment.

DSC_6811While Tiberio is neither organic nor biodynamic, Cristiana agrees it would have been much easier for them initially if they’d had those certifications. Now she asserts, “I think the organic and biodynamic route has been important, but it has been overtaken by the marketing.  We don’t need a sticker or a stamp – we need to communicate the details of our land, our grapes, our process. It’s much tougher for a smaller winery like ours, because I need to invest time to communicate.  But at this point, we are good and now I do it for our industry.”

With her Pecorino wine now noted widely as a true benchmark Italian white, she couldn’t be more right.  They’re more than good.

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Verdicchio, Misco Riserva, Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Riserva DOCG Classico, Tenuta di Tavignano, Ancona, Marche, Italia, 2017, 13.5% abv.

DSC_6423DSC_6436Tenuta di Tavignano is located in a valley above the Musone River which flows between the Apiennes and the Adriatic on Italy’s hamstring.

Cingoli, known as the ‘balcony of the Marche’ since medieval times is just up the road, and the ancient town of Jesi is down wind.

I’ve arrived here on a quest for one of Italy’s best known white wines – Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi.  Misco, the name of this wine, is Latin for Musone, and Tenuta di Tavignano produces one of the top 100% Verdicchios available today, although wine has been made in this region of Italy since the 14th century. DSC_6433

Ondine de la Feld Aymerich (right) is the current custodian of Tavignano on behalf of her uncle Stefano Aymerich di Laconi and Beatrice Lucangeli.  She is one very busy person – orchestrating the work required to produce 150,000 bottles per year of everything from bubbles to whites to reds on 17 hectares.

This estate tasting started with a conversation about the available wines – some of which can be purchased by Canadians in Ontario and Quebec, and of course – in many other international markets. They’re top-ranked with regularity by industry heavyweights like Decanter, and Galloni,  But at Tavignano, the best deal is their ‘sfuso’ or from-the-barrel wines which are packaged simply for friends and neighbours at only 2€ a litre. DSC_6404

DSC_6417As Ondine remarks, ‘In Italy, wine is our bread.  We have the wine, bread and oil at church and this is part of our Italian heritage,  our life.  It’s our right and we want to make it available to everyone.’

I only wish the prohibitionists working within and across the restrictive Canadian wine laws felt the same.  For now, I’ll have to keep travelling to Jesi, Italy to take advantage of the deals.

DSC_6383And this is one of them. The Misco Riserva 2017 is made from handpicked passes over the last, most mature grapes of the harvest. Deep lemon, the nose and palate is all elegance – almond biscotti, white flowers, acacia and anise.  The year it spent on lees has built a real beauty with a deeply mineral backbone.  Two more years of aging in stainless steel gives the impression of it having spent time in wood, although it hasn’t.DSC_6425

I left with a bottle of this delicious wine (it’s not available as a sfuso), thanks to our helpful tasting guide DSC_6385Erica (pictured right).

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Sangiovese, Vigna Piuca, Azienda Agricola Castellinuzza e Piuca, Chianti Classico DOCG, Gran Selezione, Greve in Chianti, Toscana, Italia, 2017, 14% abv.

DSC_5320I liked colleagues Melanie and Giuseppe right away.  I had booked a premier tasting at the Casa Chianti Classico in Radda to learn more about the structure of Chianti Classico.  We connected quickly over a conversation about Canadian fish and chips, wine, and cars.

Melanie put the stake in the ground by emphasizing this was to be ‘conviviale’ – a conversation about wine where the wine should be dry, but not the conversation.  That suited me well.DSC_5327

Two Anantas started us off.  The 100% Sangiovese, Podere Le Cinciole, Chianti Classico DOCG, 2018 was a pretty raspberry, red currant, and amarena cherry laden wine, with bitter almond, sweet tobacco, and black pepper shaker tucked into dry, sandpapery tannins.  The Sangiovese and 2% Canaiolo by Fattoria Pomona, Chianti Classico DOCG, 2019 was a perfect garnet, subtly touched by pomegranate,  raspberry, dark plum, and garrigue.

DSC_5314The Riserva example was Azienda Agricola Casa Emma’s Chianti Classico DOCG, 2018 from Vignalparco, east of Radda – a delicious garnet wine with basalmic prune, cocoa nib, and an elegantly rounded leather structure.

The final wine was a supreme treat by the Azienda AgricolaDSC_5325 Castellinuzza e Piuca, Gran Selezione (only made in certain years  approved by the Casa Chianti Classico DOCG).  This 100% Sangiovese hails from a unique one hectare vineyard located adjacent to a cooling forest near Greve at 600m above sea level.  Very few bottles of this single hectare wine were made – and this was the last one at the Casa Chianti Classico.

Translucent garnet with little bricking, the wine has a nose showing DSC_5846dusty roses and violets, white pepper, truffle, and smoked meat.  Its dry palate has high acidity alongside plum, truffle, dried herb, salumi, and a drizzle of bittersweet castagno (chestnut) honey. DSC_5315A lengthy finish is complemented by velvety tannins and development remarkable for such a young sample.  What might await a lucky drinker in 5, 8 or 10 years?

DSC_5307This special tasting was augmented by a delicious charcuterie featuring a Chianti Classico olive oil from corregiolo olives tasting of bitter green grass and ground black pepper.

The Casa is purpose-built for experiences such as this.  In addition to holding tastings, press briefings, and WSET classes, the whole second floor is dedicated to understanding the ‘sensory path’ and the unique character of the ‘Gallo Nero’ wines of Chianti Classico.  Truly conviviale, and highly recommended if you are in Chianti and want to delve deeply into the region’s wines.

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Sangiovese, Occhio di Pernice, Avignonesi Winery, Vin Santo di Montepulciano DOC, Montepulciano, Toscana, Italia, 2005, 12.5% abv, 50 € (100 ml)

DSC_4872Before we travelled to Italy, I had planned a casual visit to the Avignonesi Winery, imagining I’d simply enjoy some Vino Nobile di Montepulciano on the patio enroute from Perugia to Greve.  I had enjoyed their wine before in Canada, and was curious to drop in and see the property. DSC_4904

But then we arrived at this magical place – Italy’s largest biodynamic winery, nestled into the beautiful Tuscan countryside – and I was captivated.  Manager Yelena and sommelier Almudena were gracious and welcoming – and before I knew it, I was immersed in a tasting.

DSC_4874Their Il Marzocco Chardonnay IGT, 2020 was a complete surprise.  I hadn’t flown all that way to drink Chardonnay – but then I did.  What an unexpected delight.  Pale lemon with verbena, pineapple, white flower, and a surprising backbone that could carry it through a meal, its delicate lees offered a creamy contrast to the excellent acidity.

Since I had written about their Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, 2014, Almudena offered me the 2018 version.  Translucent ruby with roses, light prune and basalmic, this wine is a true Nobile classic.  DSC_4879

DSC_4876The single vineyard Oceano, was an ethereal beauty.  A 100% Sangiovese, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, 2017, the Oceano vineyard has blue clay soil which grows structured grapes.  Translucent ruby with delicate tannins, its nose and palate are intense with rose water, sour cherry, dried rose, potpourri, thyme, and rosemary.  It’s an emotional wine – with a very long and deep finish.

However, the Vin Santo was the one that has ruined me for all future versions.  This one spoiled me.  DSC_4883

This Vin Santo, or ‘holy wine’, is made from 100% Sangiovese grapes that are dried post-harvest on bamboo mats in the hall beside the tasting room from September until January (see picture).  Once dried, they have very high sugar content and are then pressed.  While it takes about one kg of grapes to make a 750ml bottle of wine, about 7kg are needed for each small 375ml bottle of Vin Santo.  

DSC_4886Fifty litre barrels are used for aging the wine for 10 years with the ‘madre’ or starter wine, plus room for air to ensure oxidation.  The wine rests in bottle for at least a year after the decade in barrel.  

The Occhio di Pernice Vin Santo (Eye of the Pheasant) is a masterpiece. Deep, tawny brown with extremely viscous and heavy legs, it teases with a nose and palate of maple syrup, brown and burnt sugar, light molasses, and burnt caramel. Just-baked gingerbread and spice cake leap from the glass, along with clove and a shaving of chocolate truffle. Remarkably fresh, there’s no coating of the mouth because of the very high acidity.  The finish goes for miles.

DSC_4903I brought some of this potion home with me.  Thankfully it was available in 100ml bottles, so I didn’t need to risk any airline losing my wine and causing tears.  My Eye of the Pheasant is safely ensconced now in the cellar.  For how long, nobody knows.DSC_4891

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Sangiovese, Podere Scopetone, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Montalcino, Toscana, Italia, 2017, 14% abv.

We met with Loredana Tanganelli and her daughter Giada at Podere Scopetone on the outskirts of the old walled Tuscan town of Montalcino.DSC_4577

Loredana and husband Antonio Brandi have owned the petite estate of only about 2.5 hectares since 2009 when they merged their apiary business and land (La Melina) with that of Scopetone, which was originally planted in 1978 and owned by Federigo Abbarchi and Angela Corioni.

DSC_4575DSC_4579The soils on which their Sangiovese is planted and farmed organically are marne and iron-rich red silt, and sit at 450m on the north-western corner of Montalcino. 

Although Scopetone are carefully organic, and only resort to pesticides and other controls when absolutely necessary, you won’t find reference to that on any of their labeling.  They’re just too tiny to struggle through the bureaucratic hoops and paperwork.

These grapes are grown on some extremely famous property – it’s where Ferruccio Biondi, the man credited with inventing Brunello – planted his first Sangiovese in the 1870s.  This is known as the Scarnuacuoia cru, and it’s Brunello’s oldest vineyard. DSC_4565

Loredana, Antonio, and Giada are its most recent caretakers, and they take this responsibility seriously – crafting some of the finest and most traditionally elegant Brunellos you will find on the market.  There are no over-produced, flavour and tannin bombs here.

Giada led us expertly through an exquisite tasting of the Rosso di Toscana IGT (lifted aromas of violets, roses and plums with crunchy sage and cherry), the delicately soft 2020 Rosso di Montalcino DOCG (basalmic with sour cherry), and the 2015-2017 vintages of Brunello di Montalcino DOCG.

The 2015 and 2016 are stunning wines – both ruby red with various nuances of cherry, plum, orange, mint, pomegranate, rose and herb.DSC_4581

But the 2017 version from the old Scarnuacuoia vines is the pièce de résistance. Translucent ruby with aromas of sour cherry and dusty rose, this wine shows off a frame of strawberry, cranberry, pomegranate and wild mint.  Dried marjoram, rosemary, and sage echo on the palate which has an extended, mineral finish. Light leather and cured meat linger. There are no sharp corners or holes in this beauty. 

These are gorgeously crafted wines, by some of the most modest, and loveliest people around.  DSC_4585

Available in Canada at Ontario’s LCBO, and throughout the US as per various importers, they’re also in the UK, at Berry Brothers & Rudd. 

The Podere Scopetone wines are underappreciated unicorns, and fly far below the radar. Catch them if you can.  


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