In this article:
• Canada’s first female master sommelier: Jennifer Huether;
• March 5th Vintages Preview with more great ‘fringe’ South American wines – Top 5 Chile; Top 5 Argentina – and a rare specialty of the Dolomites.
• What are we, and the world, drinking? A world wine market update with a smattering of Top Smart Buys
Canada’s newest Master Sommelier
What do 180 talented, knowledgeable, dedicated, evidently wine-crazed, relentless and single-minded wine industry professionals from around the world have in common? They’ve put themselves through, and emerged successfully on the other side, of one of the world’s most rigorous set of examinations, administered by the Court of Master Sommeliers. After years of preparation and a nail-biting three‐stage oral exam (no pun intended), these candidates proved they have what it takes to attain the highest level of standards of wine theory, beverage service and tasting ability.
So grab a glass of LE MESNIL BLANC DE BLANCS BRUT CHAMPAGNE AC, Grand Cru $52.95 (from the February 19th release) and join me in a toast. It was with both admiration and delight that I greeted the news of Jennifer Huether MS’s success last week in Irving, Texas, when she became Canada’s first female master sommelier, and one of still only three in the country (Bruce Wallner of Paese Ristorante in Toronto was Canada’s second MS). Jennifer has been a pillar of the wine community in Ontario for over a decade. I still recall our days tasting together back in 1999-2000 ‘after hours’ in the LCBO lab with Claudius Fehr, then buyer of European wines for Vintages, for the Wine & Spirits Education Trust diploma course in Toronto. She was frighteningly sharp even then. Today she’s head sommelier for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, so you can enjoy top-level service, and of course some fine wines, at places like the Air Canada Centre Platinum Cluband E11even where her team of sommeliers (including our own Sara d’Amato) is unparalleled in the province. Rumour has it that she will begin using WineAlign reviews on their new iPad wine menus to help dinners navigate through the list, so you know she’s on top of her game….
There’s no question that South American wines, especially from Chile and Argentina, are hot. And not just in Canada: Chile’s international exports were up 57% in the period 2005-2009, making that thin sliver of a country the world’s fifth largest exporter by volume, behind France, Italy, Australia and the US. In Canada, Chilean imports rose 33% in the same period, making them also our country’s 5th most important wine trading partner.
Argentina does not yet figure among our top 8 sources for imported wines, but watch out. Those tango-dancing, Fernet-swigging Euro-Latinos enjoyed the most spectacular export growth of all, up 114% internationally from 2005-2009. Given the ramped-up excitement surrounding Argentine wines, it’s just a matter of time.
This week’s top South American release as well as the undisputed numero uno smart buy is the astonishingly good 2009 CONCHA Y TORO MAYCAS DE LIMARI RESERVA SYRAH Limarí Valley $14.95 (91pts). Yes, that’s right, 91 points for a $15 dollar wine. I nearly fell over, too, after tasting this wine and checking, and double-checking, the price. I reported earlier this year on the unique soils and characteristics of the Limarì Valley, some 400kms north of Santiago, so click here if you’d like to read up. There’s also a video of the assistant winemaker from Maycas del Limarì describing the soils.
Two more of the top five from Chile in this release also happen to come from the Limarì Valley, proving that something special is going on there. From the same producer, try the 2007 CONCHA Y TORO MAYCAS DEL LIMARI RESERVA ESPECIAL CHARDONNAY Limarí Valley $19.95 . It’s a classy, barrel-fermented chardonnay that stands out for it’s pronounced minerality and lively natural acids; leave it another year in the cellar to show at it’s best. Also smart value is the 2008 TABALÍ RESERVA CABERNET SAUVIGNON Limarí Valley $14.95 . It’s chalk full of smoky, mineral, savoury flavours, making it a fine picnic-tablemate for the upcoming BBQ season.
In Argentina, like in Chile, it’s the ‘fringe’ zones that are causing the most excitement. I also reported in detail on the Argentine wine scene recently, following a two-week R&D adventure, so click here to read the news. While over ¾ of the country’s production comes from Mendoza, and there are of course many spectacular examples, in this release it’s all about the newly emerging areas to the far north and south. Try the 2007 MALMA RESERVA MALBEC Neuquén, Patagonia $15.95 to get a sense. There’s an uncommon freshness to the black fruit flavours, fine, natural balance and salty-mineral flavours that distinguish the wines of Patagonia in general.
A couple thousand kilometers to the north in Salta province is the home of Donald Hess’s Bodega Colomé project. Founded in 1831, it’s considered the oldest winery in Argentina, but it’s also cutting edge. Hess family Estates bought the farm in 2001, which included 11 hectares of pre-phylloxera vineyards, with some vines almost 150 years old and still producing. Hess also planted an experimental vineyard at a neighboring estate at the extraordinary elevation of 3,111 meters above sea level, the highest vineyard in the world to my knowledge. Check out the 2008 COLOMÉ AMALAYA Calchaquí Valley, Salta $18.95 from this release. It’s the excellent entry level wine from Colomé, principally malbec with some supporting grapes, offering a fine floral-violet fragrance and vibrant acidity. Another year or two in the cellar will allow the wood to better integrate.
World Wine Trends:
In case you didn’t know, Canada’s wine consumption will continue to grow
What will you be drinking tonight? Chances are I already know, at least statistically, thanks to the results ofVINEXPO’s 9th study on Global current and future trends to 2014: consumption, production, distribution and international wine and spirits trade were revealed last week in Toronto. And there’s at least a good chance that you will be drinking wine, as the study puts Canada’s wine consumption growth rate at six times the world average. According to the study, wine sales volumes are expected to grow 19% by 2014, while average worldwide volume growth totals 3.18%. “In the span of 10 years, Canada’s wine consumption will have grown 6 times faster than the world average,” explained Robert Beynat, CEO of VINEXPO.
Between 2005 and 2009, Canadians increased their wine consumption by over 22.5%, and from 2010 to 2014, wine consumption is forecasted to increase by 7.9 million cases, which would place Canada third behind China and the United States, in the running for the title of most improved wine consumers. We’re talking volume here, but even in terms of value, Canada should more than double the world’s growth projections (+18.58% vs. +6.73%). Not only do we like to drink more and more, but we also like to trade up to better wines: Canada is the 4th largest market worldwide for sales of wines priced more than US$10 per bottle, behind the U.S., UK and France. I’m guessing that there are few food products – aside from perhaps braised pork belly, poutine or gourmet burgers – that could claim such growth.
Despite our modest population, relatively to our envious size, Canada now ranks as the world’s 5th biggest wine importing country by volume, and imports are increasing steadily (+16% predicted to 2014). In 2009, imported wines represented 72% of your total wine consumption, with France still leading but trending down almost 2% in 2005-2009. But don’t be mistaken. France is making better wines than ever. It’s just that competition, which once did not exists, is now getting stiffer and stiffer. There are no fewer than 5 French wines in my top ten smart buys this week; for a sip of Gallic greatness try the 2008 DOMAINE DE LA TOUR CHABLIS MONTS-MAIN 1ER CRU $29.95. It will remind you of how good chardonnay can be. The 2009 CHAVET MENETOU-SALON BLANC $18.95 and 2009 CHÂTEAU DE LA GREFFIÈRE MÂCON-LA ROCHE VINEUSE $14.95 are also smart buys in the French white department.
Italy is currently Canada’s second largest source for imported wines, but with a +23% increase over the same period 2005-2009, looks set to edge out the French for our greatest foreign affection. The mini theme in the March 5th release is northern Italy, and there’s a very tasty red from an obscure indigenous variety grown in the shadow of the pointy Dolomites to highlight: 2008 PISONI TEROLDEGO IGT Vigneti Delle Dolomiti $14.95. It’s food friendly in the typical Italian style, and fresh and lightly herbal, like cool climate cabernet franc mixed with syrah.
Despite these imports, we’ve not forgotten about our heroic local vintners: in the next five years domestic wines will see a 26% increase, meaning that Canadians will be knocking back a respectable 14.6 million cases of locally-produced wine. Though compared to the world’s average annual production of 3.083 billion 9-litre cases, Canada’s output remains a drop in the proverbial bucket. A drop worth buying this week is the 2009 TWENTY TWENTY-SEVEN CELLARS FEATHERSTONE VINEYARD RIESLING VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula 91 $24.95 ***, from young talented winemaker Kevin Panagapka. It’s made in an uncompromisingly tight, lean austere style, the way we like it.
Red and Rosé: Red Hot
Red wine consumption has grown by 23% between over the last five years, and the VINEXPO study expects a further 20% increase in the next five. In 2010, over two-thirds of wines consumed in Canada were red. Also notable is the dramatic rise in rosé consumption, even if they only account for 3.5% of all wines drunk by Canadians. Pink was up 43.85% between 2005 and 2009, and will continue to grow by over 50%. There’s no worthy rosé in the March 5th release, but a smart red buy is the 2009 ST. GERVAIS RÉSERVE CÔTES DU RHÔNE AC $13.95 .
Other interesting worldwide tidbits:
Pull your weight, eh: C’mon you maritimers and you mid-westerners, you’re not pulling your weight. 90% of all wine drunk in Canada is consumed in just 4 provinces: Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta.
That Euro-lifestyle: half the world’s wine comes from France, Italy and Spain.
Betcha didn’t know: China ranks seventh in the world for wine production and nº1 in terms of growth expected: +77% between 2010 and 2014.
400M cases disappear each year: In 2009, more than 31.5 billion bottles of wine were consumed worldwide, up 4.5% compared to 2005. That equals 2.626 billion 9-litre cases. But average worldwide production is 3.083 billion 9-litre cases. So where did the other 400 million cases go?
A new arms race, but this time it’s a corkscrew: The VINEXPO study forecasts a moderate increase in world wine consumption of 3.18 %, ¾ of which is driven by just three countries: the U.S., China and Russia
The wine-spangled banner: The U.S. will become the world’s leading wine market in 2012, ahead of Italy and France.
Not enough sparkle: In 2009, still light wines accounted for 92.6% of all wine consumed across the world.
But there’s hope: in 2010, sparkling wines accounted for 7.4% of all wines drunk worldwide, with consumption is expected to grow by 5.61% (compared to the 2.98% growth rate of still wines) between now and 2014.
Think pink: of all wine categories, consumption of rosé wines will increase the most in the next five years.
Not just more, but better: total wine sales consumption by value in 2009 was up 9.25% compared to 2005, while over the same period, the volumes of still light wines consumed grew by 4.2%. The trend is expected to continue to 2014.
Forza Azzurri: Italy is the leading world exporter of wines by volume
But, vive les Bleus, too: France remains the leading world exporter of wines by value
Threat from other down unders: Chile’s is +33% in Canada putting them into 5th position in terms of volume. South Africa is Canada’s 7th largest supplier, but enjoyed the greatest increase 2005-2009: +62%. Other countries to watch: Argentina, up 114% internationally from 2005-2009, Spain and USA up by 42% in Canada.
More than just a body shot: Tequila has enjoyed the fastest growth of all spirits in the last five years, up 36% and ahead of vodka and bourbon (+23%). Cognac/Armagnac and Scotch whisky were the biggest losers at -7% and -6% respectively.
John Szabo, Master Sommelier