International Grapes Versus Native Grapes

You might have heard the term “native grapes,” but what do we mean by it? And what about “international grapes” – what are those? In this blog post we’ll give you the lowdown.

According to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV):

  • There are around 10,000 known wine grape varieties
  • 6,000 belong to fine wine species Vitis vinifera
  • 13 of those grape varieties cover more than a third of the global vineyard surface
  • Just 33 grape varieties cover 50% of the global vineyard surface

What are Native Grape Varieties?

“Native” or “indigenous” varieties refer to grapes that thrive in their originated region. These produce quite distinctive wines. Italy alone boasts over 400 registered grape varieties (although probably, lots more varieties occur in the country).
There’s been a worldwide drive to revive obscure, local grapes in the last few decades, literally bringing back more variety. Viognier was one of the firsts. It is so hard to imagine that Viognier was almost extinct in the 1960s, since they have been so widely planted. Other examples include Ruchè from Piedmont, Criolla in Argentina or Trepat in Catalonia.

Why are Native Grapes Rising in Popularity?

Many cultural factors account for the rising popularity of native grapes. With our current generation of winemakers and wine drinkers, there is a newfound enthusiasm for new old-world styles, production methods, and even varieties.

With a high standard placed on localism these days, we see many people reestablishing the bond between grape varieties and their homes! These factors coupled with the ease of growing these varieties in their home environments, these new native varieties produce interesting wines that attract the newer generations of wine drinkers and makers.

These grape varieties also grow in fewer numbers or produce a lower yield. This creates an opportunity for winemakers to explore and create new boutique or novelty varieties of wine.

Bringing Back Tradition with Native Grape Varieties

With the popularity of native grapes rising again, many winemakers, viticulturists, and regions are reviving these grape varieties.

Restoring Old-World Vines in the Present

One leading force in this movement is Spanish winemaker Miguel A. Torres, from Bodega Torres. He went to France to study viticulture, and upon his return to Spain in 1983, he was sure that there would be old vines that had survived the 19th-century phylloxera epidemic –the tiny louse that destroyed most of the vineyards in Europe. So Torres reached out to farmers in Catalonia. He asked them to get in touch if they found vines they could not identify.

In the mid-1980s, a red wine grape that was later identified as Garro was found. Its vine was first checked for disease. Then, using scientific methods, it was acclimated to different soil types to see where it would grow best. The vine was then grafted to another one, eventually planted in Conca de Barberà. The grape made its debut in 1996 as part of the Torres’ Grans Muralles blend. So far to date, the company has been able to identify and revive almost 50 forgotten grapes that survived phylloxera. An upside of these revivals is that many of these grape varieties show good heat and drought resistance; this obviously appeals to today’s winemakers who are struggling to adapt to climate change.

Preserving Old-World Vines for the Future

Another interesting movement is the “Louvre of Wine” that is occurring in France. Scientists from the French National Institute for Research into Agriculture, Food and the Environment will be freezing the largest collection of vines. If the current popular grape varieties die out due to climate change, they might one day be revived. 

Scientists will freeze the vines using liquid nitrogen at -320 °F (-196 °C). The hope is that future researchers will use these these long-lost varieties to find a way to revive them for wine drinkers decades from now. 

What are International Grape Varieties?

Grape varieties that are planted in a lot of different countries are known as “international varieties” or “classic varieties”. Cabernet Sauvignon is the best-known red, and Chardonnay for white. The majority of these varieties are French in origin – this means they are native to certain regions of France.

They gained international recognition when the wines produced were labeled as varietal wines. This means when new-world winemakers started labeling their wines as varietal wines. This was the opposite of what their old world counterparts did. Old-world wines are usually named after the appellation or region that the grapes were grown in.

As per the OIV these are the most popular red wine grape varieties that grow around the world. 

  • Cabernet Sauvignon 
  • Merlot 
  • Syrah 
  • Grenache Noir 
A glass of white wine made from popular international grape varieties

As per the OIV, these are the most popular white wine grape varieties that grow worldwide. 

  • Chardonnay 
  • Sauvignon Blanc 
  • Riesling

Why are International Grape Varieties So Widely Planted?

It’s All in the Name

So why are international grapes so popular?
For starters, when winemakers began naming wines after the variety rather than the appellation, and it really caught on among consumers. So, these wines grew in popularity, and many winemakers began copying them by planting these varieties themselves and producing their own wines by the same name.

Smart Marketing

Since they are so recognizable, this was also a commercially smart move for winemakers and wineries trying to get on the map. Many wine lovers would be willing to pick up a bottle of a famous grape variety such as Merlot. However, not many people wanted to experiment with a native variety that is lesser known.

They’re Easy to Grow

Lastly, many of these international varieties are easier to grow than native varieties which often require more tending to. Take Cabernet Sauvignon for an example. This grape can grow in several regions worldwide due to it’s versatility. Cabernet Sauvignon thrives in both cooler and warmer climates alike. However, you can expect wines that differ in taste and characteristics. 

International Grape Varieties aren’t Always Successful

A Merlot Mishap

It is important to remember that even international varieties that have proven their success tend to go in and out of fashion. A good example of this is Merlot in California. Its rapid expansion in the early 2000s (and not a well-thought-out one) led to the rise in the number of Merlot grapes. Soon after this, due to many factors, Merlot dropped in popularity. This obviously included the high number of grapes available. In addition to this, the low pricing, and typical average flavours led Merlot to its demise in popularity.

Precious Pinot

In addition to this, some varieties just aren’t suitable for a particular climate, resulting in poor-quality wine. One of these examples would be Pinot Noir. Even though it is an increasingly popular grape variety, it is difficult to grow. It is even harder to produce optimal wine if it is grown in regions that don’t allow the grape to thrive (outside of its normal growing regions). Therefore, winegrowers need to keep climate and terroir in mind when looking for the right grape varieties to grow.

What Do You Think? 

Do lesser known grape varieties make your wine journey more exciting? Or does it only make wine more confusing? We’d love to know what you think! So tag us or send us a message on our Instagram @WineCollective.

And if you’re looking to discover more interesting grape varieties, then you’re at the right place. Subscribe to become a member and enjoy new and exciting wines from around the world, delivered straight to your door!

Celebrating The Wonderful World of Malbec

It seems like every day is a new “national” day of celebration – whether it be for hot dogs, beans, or umbrellas, everything gets its own day of recognition. Celebrating is fun, so it’s not that we’re complaining. We bring up this phenomenon because today is Malbec World Day! The name may sound a little funny to English speakers, but the sentiment is all the same: let’s celebrate great Malbec.

Malbec World Day was started in an effort by the Argentine government to ramp up the purchasing of their Malbec and now Argentina produces over 85% of the world’s supply of Malbec. That is quite the market share. Even though the grape originated in France (where it is often known as ‘Côt’), Argentina was the first to really embrace the Malbec varietal. Wine Folly has a really great blog post comparing the two, if you would like to learn more. It is undeniable that the hard work put in by Argentina to expand Malbec as their main grape varietal has allowed the wine type to flourish. Though you can also find Malbec being made in the US, Chile, and Canada – Argentina and France still remain as the world Malbec powers.

Over the years we have had a number of amazing Malbecs cross our paths. Malbec is a great wine to pair with classic Argentine dishes and BBQ – but it also pairs well with Indian cuisine featuring cumin. It’s a great wine to keep on-hand as Malbec is a fantastic wine for sharing that is generally very palatable. We currently have three Malbecs from Argentina available to members:

  • La Chamiza Polo Amateur Malbec : The Amateur line from La Chamiza are intended to portray more youthful and energetic qualities, which is evident in their Malbec. This is a fruit-forward profile on the nose, but there is something extra with every swirl. When tasting, there is a distinct jammy quality in the mid-palate that gives this a bolder presence and fuller body while still remaining effortless with moderate acidity.
  • Sierra Los Andes Malbec : If you want a pure, quintessential example of a mid-priced Argentine Malbec, this is it. Grown from the pristine El Alto Vineyard located in Ugarteche, the 1050 meter altitude gives rise to a balance of fresh acidity, plump texture, and vibrant fruit flavours. This Malbec offers a plush, velvety mouthfeel and lightly chewy tannins. It is definitely dry, but balanced by the ‘sweet’ flavours of sun-kissed fruits, giving us a textbook Malbec.
  • Klassen Astrum Barrel-Fermented Malbec : This premium Malbec is a truly special experience to enjoy. Fermentation occurring directly in oak barrels imparts soft, silky tannins and better oak integration, making this Malbec very quaffable. Medium to full-bodied, good tannin structure and balanced acidity, try serving a glass with a charcuterie platter or lamb. We have a small, finite quantity of this vintage and are very excited to share it with those who choose to invest in such an exceptional Malbec.

No matter which Malbec region you choose to imbibe, we always recommend selecting a Malbec produced by a knowledgeable, reputable grower. Luckily there are many in the world who are sharing incredible wine that can be enjoyed any time of year. So raise your glasses and help us in celebrating Malbec World Day! ¡Salud!

An Exclusive Tell-All: My Love Affair With Wine

I used to know that I enjoyed wine, but I honestly couldn’t have told you exactly why. I loved the taste, of course, but I was sure that I hated all Merlot and that white wine in general was just ‘okay’. I enjoyed the smell, but to me, all reds just smelled like wine, or if I was getting really creative, like grapes. All white wine tasted like juice, and I tended to drink it as such, without paying much attention to it at all. I was completely content with my limited wine knowledge, because I honestly had no idea how limited it was… until I joined the WineCollective team.

For the last several months I have been surrounded by my very impressive team of wine professionals and they honestly blow me away with their knowledge and love for wine. I remember the first time we did a wine tasting in the office, it was during my very first week working at WineCollective as the Customer Service Coordinator. I probably sat with an inch of California Merlot in my glass for an hour, trying to identify the things that the rest of the team were saying they smelled and tasted. Plum, cedar, vanilla, strawberry, rhubarb… what?? Since when are all of these things, and more, present in this one glass of wine? How have I missed this for all these years? And so my wine education began.

Since that day, I have focussed on learning about wine, I even enrolled in wine school and have completed my Level 1 WSET course through Fine Vintage Ltd.. I now find wine amazing! Not only because it’s delicious, but also because of the culture that exists around it, the generations of families whose way of life rely on the wine industry and the intricacies in each and every wine making process.


Here are some of my favourite wine related discoveries:

  • Wine is about 7000 years old!
  • There are over 10,000 grape varietals, about 1,400 of them are used to make wine.
  • Maybe the most obvious, but I swear it never occurred to me, the type of wine, ex. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio is the grape varietal used to make that wine.
  • Shiraz and Syrah are the same grape. Shiraz is grown in warmer climates like Australia, while Syrah is grown in cooler climates like Northern France.
  • Climate, region, growing season, altitude and winemaking practices all have drastic influences on each bottle of wine produced, so a complete dislike for one particular varietal, worldwide, would take a lot of research to confirm.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon was created by combining Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc and recent DNA testing has proven that Cabernet Franc is also a parent of Merlot
  • White wine only tastes like juice if you drink it as such. I have been most surprised by my gained knowledge of white wines! I’ve found beautiful, tantalizing aromas and flavours  in white wines such as peaches, passion fruit, pineapple, honey, caramel, vanilla and so many more, what’s not to love?
  • Riesling, though delicious, can smell and sometimes taste mildly like petrol or rubber bands, usually more apparent in aged wines. This can take some getting used to, however there are many other beautiful flavours present in Riesling to focus on.
  • “Sweet wine” is actually a style of wine, for example Ports or Sauternes. Describing the majority of wines as sweet in inaccurate. Sweetness may be implied by the flavours present in the wine, but there is actually very little sugar in the majority of quality white and red wines, which are mainly categorized as dry wines.

I could go on and on. My family and friends lovingly refer to me as a wine snob now, but I would say that the difference in my attitude towards wine is that I’m actually paying attention. I’m looking for more in wine than I ever have. It takes practice to be able to identify the complexities in wine and I have a lot to learn, but I am definitely enjoying the process. I encourage anyone who has never explored wine this way to try it out. Spend some time looking at, smelling and really tasting the wine in your glass. Don’t get discouraged if at first you don’t smell or taste anything but grapes, keep trying and you will surely enjoy what you find!

Want to talk wine or have questions about WineCollective? Pick up the phone or send a note to Jessica!


Continuing Wine Education with WSET

Wine & Spirit Education Trust or WSET has been providing certified wine education and training since 1969. Founded in London, the program is now offered in 66 countries including the London Wine & Spirits School in the U.K.

WSET logo

Through 5 levels (including a 2 year diploma) students learn all about wine regions, grape varieties and food pairings; all of which come along with a whole lot of wine tasting. While you may not be a Master Sommelier in the end, WSET certification is a significant qualification in wine for a curious enthusiast or industry professional.

All WineCollective staff have completed WSET courses and received some level of qualification in wine training, enabling us to choose great wines to deliver to your front door! Over the past few weeks, Larissa completed her Level 2 certification – though we’re still waiting to hear if she passed or not 😉 

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 3.05.24 PM

The Level 2 course goes into further detail of everything learned in Level 1. If you already have a great understanding of wine, you are able to skip Level 1 and move directly into Level 2.

“Looking Behind the Label” – Level 2 WSET

The course focuses on production, quality, grape varieties, styles of wine (including sparkling and sweet) and even spirits. Even more, how a bottle’s label can help you determine quality, variety, production, etc.

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 12.39.54 PM

At times, reading a label (especially from the Old World) requires some previous wine knowledge, all taught during the course. For example, to determine the label and wine above, the consumer would need to know that Chablis is a sub-region of Burgundy and that the key white grape variety in Burgundy is Chardonnay. Chablis wines particularly must be 100% Chardonnay, normally unoaked.

WSET’s Level 2 goes very into detail about grape varieties, bulk production, which regions they thrive in and the variety of styles and characteristics they can take on. During the 3 days of Larissa’s course, she tasted over 50 wines from around the world using WSET’s Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine, which should already be quite familiar to WineCollective members.


To Larissa’s surprise, the recent course had only several industry professionals taking part. The majority of students were wine lovers looking to expand their wine knowledge, including a WineCollective member!

We encourage all of our members to check out WSET courses available in their city through Approved Programme Providers. Larissa took her course through Fine Vintage LTD which offers regular courses and levels through out the year in most Canadian cities.

For more information, visit WSET, or contact us for classes in your city.

Happy Tasting!

Not-so basic Bordeaux

Delving into Bordeaux and trying to understand this classic region and its iconic wines can be a daunting task. There is literally lots of ground to cover, Bordeaux stretches over 296,000 acres, compare to the more familiar Okanagan Valley, with just 8,619 acres of vineyards. We will provide you with some of the most important information you need to know about the not-so basic region of Bordeaux.

Bordeaux bottles



Where most people start, is the explanation of right bank vs left bank. The Gironde estuary is fed by the Dordogne and Garonne rivers, which split the wine region into two main areas. The left bank is west of the Gironde and Garonne and north of Bordeaux city. The right bank is on the east side of the Dordogne.

The left and right banks are home to some of the more recognizable regions and prolific Chateaux. Within the greater Bordeaux, there are many other sub-regions and thousands of vineyards. In the north-east you will find Cote de Blays and Cote de Bourg. Between the two prongs of the ‘fork’ is Entre-deux-mers. As well, south of Bordeaux city, Sauternes and Barsac produce some of the world’s best sweet wines.

The 296,000 acres make Bordeaux the second largest wine growing region in the world. The large acreage produces a wide selection of styles of wine from sweet wines in Sauterne, sparkling Crémant de Bordeaux, inexpensive, to the most regarded in the world.

Map sourced from Table Wine at


Regions and sub-regions

There are 38 sub-regions in Bordeaux, which cover 57 appellations. A region’s classification will influence the price and demand for its wines. WineFolly shows a table of the premium regions, partnered with the more affordable options.

bdx regions
Chart sourced from


The left bank, in Haut Médoc is where you can find some of the finest red wines of Bordeaux: Margaux, St. Estephe, St Julien and Pauillac. The regions in the left bank have higher rock content, which provides well-draining soils. Cabernet Sauvignon performs best on well-drained soils. The rocky soils also retain more heat, helping to ripen the grapes. The right bank is home to the highly-prized reds of Pomerol and St. Emilion. The rigth bank has greater clay content in the soil, making it a more ideal location for Merlot.

Understandings the classifications

Among the thousands of  vineyards and growers, approximately 200 properties are classified. Châteaux that are ranked within the three classification systems provide the benchmark for quality wines from Bordeaux.

The 1855 Médoc classification is the most expansive and recognized. The list of classified properties was created for the Universal Exposition in Paris, in 1855. Producers whose wines consistently commanded the highest prices were ranked from first to fifth growth.  Here is a list of the Chateaux in each of the 5 rankings, provided by

All the classified properties were on the Left Bank, and most were in the Médoc Since 1855 there has only been a single amendment, Château Mouton-Rothschild was raised from a second to a first growth. You can identify wines in this ranking system by “Grand Cru Classée en 1855” on the label.

Since the inception of the 1855 classification, other regions have created their own rankings. Most notable is St. Emilion Classification, and the communes of the northern part of the Graves  region, known collectively as Pessac-Léognan in the 1959 Graves Classification.


Bordeaux as a style of wine

The popularity of wines from Bordeaux have created a style of wine that is replicated around the world. From Napa to Adelaide, winemakers produce wines in a ‘Bordeaux style’, using Bordeaux  varietals and techniques to achieve a Bordeaux-esque wine. In tasting notes, reviews and media, a wine may be referred to as a ‘Bordeaux blend”, but unless it is from Bordeaux it is referencing a style of wine and not the origin.

The permitted red varietals found in Bordeaux blends are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. The left bank wines are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, producing a more tannic, structured wine with higher alcohol and acid. Merlot based, right-bank blends offer a softer style and tannin, that is more approachable in it’s youth.

Vintages matter

Bordeaux is unique in that it is an ideal, but also volatile area to grow grapes. The climate is moderate and maritime, vintage variation is high and weather patterns vary year to year. Typically, Bordeaux is temperate with mild winters, damp springs and rainy autumns.The unpredictable nature of the seasons leads to high risk, and potentially high reward. It is important to research vintage notes, especially when investing in an expensive bottle. Most critics and journals will publish vintage scores, like the one shown on

bdx vintages
Vintage ratings from


With a deep history, thousands of acres under vine, and many styles of wine produced, Bordeaux is a complicated, but worth while region to study. Many try to simplify the complex structure and terminology of Bordeaux wine, but it is difficult to do this without leaving out important information.

Tell us about your experiences with Bordeaux, your favourite places to visit, the most memorable bottle of wine, or what questions have gone un-answered!

University of Alberta Alumni presents an ‘Educated Palate’

Education is one of the most important goals our team brings to the WineCollective experience. In exploring unheard of grape varieties and unfamiliar wine regions, we support our members’ wine journey. WineCollective strives to build our member’s confidence so that they can easily conquer any liquor store or wine menu.


In June we were fortunate to bring a small dose of the WineCollective experience to the University of Alberta Alumni Association. We hosted a wine tasting, an ‘Educated Palate’.

With the help of Crush Imports, Redback Wine Imports, South by Southwest Wine Imports, Cellar Stock Importers and Plaid Cap Imports, we presented 14 Canadian wines to roughly 70 U of A alumni. From table to table, past graduates were eager to learn about each of the wineries, regions and of course, wines!

If you don’t already know, each tasting card that is included with every bottle of wine in your monthly wine shipments is created by the WineCollective team. Upon testing and tasting the wines with wine importers and representatives, such as those named above, our wine director, Amber, vigorously writes fully loaded tasting notes, highlighting the eyes, nose, and mouth characters as seen on the cards. Reviews are also created through research and at times, interviews with winemakers or ambassadors.


The Educated Palate event was an excellent opportunity for alumni to be engaged in conversations about the wine. Comparing their own tasting notes with others’, ours and the wine reps’, gave a first hand WineCollective experience. After discovering what about the wine tickled their tongue, participants were able to order more of their favourites online.

We snuck in our exclusive Schug Estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. While made in Sonoma Coast, the wine was an excellent reference point for tasters, as they were able to compare Okanagan, Niagara and California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. For those unfamiliar with varieties and regions, it was a huge stepping stone into learning about how differences in climate and soil can affect a grape’s character in the final wine. So yes, U of A alumni, not all Chardonnay tastes the same!

All of the wines poured at the Educated Palate are now available in the online store with member pricing! Though you won’t receive a physical tasting card, you can find all of our reviews and tasting notes on each of the wines online.


TH Wines Viognier $26.99

Stratus Kabang! Riesling $17.99

Cassini Chardonnay $26.99

Cassini Merlot $26.99

Burning Kiln Horse & Boat Riesling $18.89

Burning Kiln Pinot Noir $26.49

Bartier Bros. Semillon $22

Bartier Bros. Illegal Curve $22

Clos du Soleil Rose $21

Lake Breeze Meritage $25.49

Fielding Gewurztraminer $19.49

Fielding Cabernet Franc $24

Fielding Pinot Gris $19.49

Fielding Red Conception $23.99

A reminder for alumni, you can still receive $5 off your initial shipment of a WineCollective subscription! Use the coupon code ALUMNI2015 to take advantage of this special opportunity.

P.S. Want to educate your friends, family or colleagues? Contact us today to set up your own WineCollective hosted tasting party.

Zinfandel and Primitivo

Zinfandel is becoming an increasingly popular grape in North America. Primarily known for its fruitier and sweet styles, it is difficult to imagine its relation to the big and structured Primitivo of Italy. With several recent Zinfandel/Primitivo features on WineCollective, we’ve decided to bring you some wine education on the grape and it’s Italian twin.


Zinfandel was first introduced to the Apulia region (the ‘heel’ of Italy’s boot) in the 18th century. However then, it was known as the Croatian varietal, Crljenak Kaštelanski or Tribidrag, and developed the name Primitivo from the term ‘primativus’ as it can typically be one of the first red varietals to mature in the season. Black and thin-skinned, Primitivo holds high sugar levels allowing for vast alcohol content dependant on fermentation. Overall, Zinfandel and/or Primitivo can range from 14% to 17% ABV.

In Italy, Primitivo was first used to plump thin red wines produced in Tuscany and Piedmont. After the grape arrived in California in 1968, ampelographers declared Zinfandel and Primitivo identical in 1972 after noticing many similarities. Soon after, Apulia began constructing single varietal wines of Primitivo, which resulted in rustic, juicy, structured and high alcohol wines.

Meanwhile, back in California, White Zinfandel began to emerge and soared in popularity. Stripped of its skins prior to fermentation, White Zinfandel does not hold big alcohol, or tannins and body as the grape normally would produce. Instead, producers are able to play off the sweet flavours of Zinfandel and today, the rosé wine makes of for 85% of Zin production in the United States and six times the sales of regular Zinfandel wines.

The name, Zinfandel was created along with its introduction and production in America. Overall, the grape is the third-leading wine variety grown in the state with more then 48,000 acres in 2013.


While we do love sweet rosé wines, we are very grateful that California began to make wonderful bold reds from Zinfandel. In the 1990’s a few wineries including Ravenswood and Turley proved that hearty world-class reds could also be produced from the grape. Today you can find delicious examples from Sonoma, Napa and Lodi.

Zinfandel & Primitivo Characteristics

Fruit: Blueberry, cherry, plum, jam, cranberry. coconut

Earth: Spice, tobacco, black berry, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, coffee

Other: Smoke, burnt sugar, sawdust, candied fruit

Because of Zinfandel and Primitivo’s fruity sweetness, the wine is a great match for curry spices, and sweet and hot BBQ dishes. In Italy the wine is typically paired with rustic tomato dishes or chilis and meatballs.

Interested in trying the difference between the grape brothers? We have had several recent Zinfandel and Primitivo features on WineCollective, from Lodi and Apulia, all available on the online store! Use the coupon code GRAPERELATE for $10 off your order.


Rampage 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel 

Lodi, California

Mouth: Ripe red fruit, cherries and strawberries are concentrated and deep. There is enough wild-berry and secondary notes to balance the richness of fruit. Aged in both French and American oak, adding vanilla and spice to the wine. The Zinfandel is blended with Petite Sirah and Petite Verdot, which add to the structure and tannins of the wine.


Pirro Varone 2009 Casa Vecchia Primitivo 

Puglia, Italy

Mouth: Similar fruits from the nose of plum, currants and dried cherries. Combined with some chocolate notes, reminiscent of Black Forest cake. We are most impressed with the lusciousness of the wine, that supports rounded tannins, moderate acidity and a juicy finish. A very well-balanced wine!


Cameron Hughes 2012 Lot 464 Old Vine Zinfandel

Lodi, California

Mouth: Dark fruit with more chocolate and spice. The oak is clearly apparent, however well integrated, creating a luscious and warm palate. Tannins are present and pleasant, not overly drying. Dense and concentrated, the finish trails on and on.

All in all Zinfandel and Primitivo are genetic twins. Whether you are enjoying a bright White Zin, a big and bold Primitivo, or both, take a minute to appreciate the differences in history, cultivation and wine production which have all lead to a variety of delicious styles that any wine lover can enjoy today.

What can you see in your glass?

In order to evaluate, interpret and judge the wine we are drinking, we examine it’s appearance, smell and taste. It is tempting to skip the first step and go nose-deep into the glass. But you could be missing some valuable information, how a wine looks can tell you a lot about its style.

Wine Tasting - Eyes

Your tasting environment should be as neutral as possible. Natural light is best when inspecting the appearance of your wine. If your table or countertop is dark, grab a piece of paper or white napkin to place under your glass. Pour the wine into an appropriate drinking vessel, preferably not a mason jar or plastic cup. The proper stem ware is important, as it is produced to maximize the potential of your wine. Once the wine is in your glass, tilt it to a 45 degree angle.

What are we looking for when we look at our wine? The standard, industry set of checkpoints are: clarity, intensity and colour. There are other observations you might make, but these are the basic components of ‘appearance’.


Is the wine clear or cloudy? There could be sediment in your glass that can be avoided with proper decanting. Or the lack of fining and filtering could leave the wine hazy. What can be interpreted from your wine’s clarity?

  • Visible sediment may indicate that a wine is older. Sediment will accumulate as the wine ages, this tannic acid collects and creates a mass that is suspended in the wine. In a wine that has aged and is stored properly, the sediment will tend to collect around the neck of the bottle. This is why you should stand the wine up to allow the sediment to collect at the bottom of the bottle before decanting and serving.
  • Minimal or no fining and filtering. Some producers opt to only perform basic sedimentation (allowing gravity to pull particles away from the wine) then rack the wine from the lees. You may ‘rack’ a wine multiple times to increase the clarity of the wine. After racking, wines may be fined. Fining is the process of adding a coagulate to the wine that bonds the small particles together. They are then large enough to form a sediment that can be racked.
  • Faults. Sometimes an excess of sediment or cloudy-ness is indicative of a fault in the wine.  If you are unsure whether your wine is faulty at this point, assessing the intensity, colour and aromas/taste will help confirm your suspicions. Possible culprits to a hazy wine?
    • It was not in a temperature controlled environment. When a wine is exposed to prolonged heat, the proteins in the wine can appear hazy.
    • There could also be some microbiological activity. This will be clear to you when you taste the wine – it won’t taste good, but will not be harmful either.
    • If there is some effervescence to the wine and it has a soda-water quality, the wine may have undergone a secondary fermentation in the bottle. Again, this is not ideal, but is not harmful to you.
    • Lastly, is your glass clean? We know stem ware is pesky to clean and polish, but be sure that your glass isn’t smudged or dirty, and that there is no debris that would be confused with cork or sediment in your wine.



The intensity is the depth of colour, and is described as either pale, medium or deep. To determine the intensity, we look at how deep the colour is at the core and how consistent the colour is from core to rim.

  • White wines are easier to determine intensity based on the transition of colour from core to rim. Because all white wines generally have a core that is paler than reds, you need to judge on a scale separate to red wine. The outermost rim will always be colourless. If the colourless rim extends towards the core, it is pale. If the deepest colour from the core extends consistently, close to the rim, the wine is deep.
  • Red wines can be examined similar to white wine. If the colour from the core extends consistently to the rim, it is deep. And if the outside watery rim is very broad, it would be considered pale. Another trick to help determine the intensity, place a book or print underneath your glass. Can you read the words (pale), see the words, but not clearly (medium), or not see anything through the wine (deep)?

Wine Tasting - Colour


There are some differences in technique when examining a red wine compared to white wine. When examining the colour of a white wine, tilt the glass and look at the core. This is the centre of the glass and will be the deepest and darkest colour. For red wines, tilt the glass and look at the wine between the core and the rim. The colour of the wine can help us determine many different things, or at least give us hints!

  • The most important and easiest to identify factor of a wines’ colour is its age. A white wine that is youthful will typically be lemon, or lemon-green. An aged white wine will have turned to amber or brown. Red wines in their youth are are purple or ruby, and will transition to garnet or brown. Wines will show their age at different rates. For example, Cabernet Sauvignon will hold it’s youthful appearance longer than a Pinot Noir.
  • It is difficult to determine the exact varietal of a wine based on it’s colour, but certain wines are easier to identify than others. Most white wines will fall within a spectrum of lemons. A light bodied whites with reflections of green, we we would infer is a Pinot Grigio, not a Chardonnay.  Similar in red wines, a purple wine is more likely a Mourvedre and not a Grenache.
  • You can also deduct whether a wine is grown in a cool climate or warm climate. The appearance of green in a white wine, is actually chlorophyll. This could tell us that the grapes might not be fully ripened, from a cooler climate or a cooler vintage. Red wines from a hotter climate will be more opaque and deeper. Cooler climate red wines have less pigment. Think of a Pinot Noir from Sonoma compared to a Pinot Noir from Washington. There are other implications that can affect the depth of colour, but these 2 very different climates will produce a Pinot with a different depth of colour.
  • A winemakers methods and preferences also have an impact on the colour of a wine. A Chardonnay that is fermented in stainless steel will be brighter lemon, while a barrel fermented Charonnay will have more gold hues. Some wines are also deliberately oxidized, these are usually fortified or dessert wines. Their colours will appear ‘aged’, amber, brick, tawny and brown. These methods of production are all controlled by the winemaker, and not indicative of fault or wine that is too old.


What else is in my glass? 

Bubbles in sparkling wine are a great thing, bubbles in a still wine are not. If you find that your Syrah is fizzy, the wine most likely went through a secondary fermentation in the bottle. This is not intentional. If you are drinking a Prosecco, Champagne or Cava, take note of the bubbles. Are they tiny and delicate or vigorous? Do they dissipate quickly, or last for a long time in your glass? You can assess the quality of a sparkling wine by its bubbles. After tasting the wine, you will be better equipped to determine if the bubbles are delicate, creamy or aggressive.

Tears or legs? All wine will form tears on the side of the glass. Have you noticed when you swirl your glass to open the aromas, the wine tends to stick to the side and run down in a pattern around the glass? These demonstrate the viscosity of the wine, with higher sugar and alcohol content, the tears are thicker.

Next time you enjoy a WineCollective wine, be sure to log in and give your comments! We want to know what you see in your glass.

Mouthful of Mataró

Though this red grape variety originated in Meditteranian Spain (500 B.C.) with the name Mataró, it is largely known for its French production as Mourvèdre. Meanwhile, the name Monastrell is lost in origin, but seems to work for all with easier pronounciation. Crazy enough, these are just three of over 95 names from around the world that label this red wine.


Mataró thrives in hot climates with plenty of sunshine and no shortage of water. Clay soils have proven to be most suited to the grape as they retain water. Though it can be quite complicated to grow and typically requires the entire growing season to reach maturity, the sugar levels remain high, which results in higher alcohol levels. The grape and resulting wine can be compared easily to Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz with its chewy tannins and full body.


  • 150,000+ acres of Mataró plantings
  • Grown mainly in Valencia and Jumilla regions
  • 4th most planted grape in Spain
  • Also used to make sparkling Cava rose
  • Characteristics: Game or meat, earth, red berries, prunes, blueberry, cherry


  • 25,000 acres of Mourvèdre plantings
  • Rhône and Provence regions
  • Often blended with Cinsault or Carignan
  • Characteristics: Barnyard or sulfur (which mellows with age) game, red fruits, strong herbal flavours


  • 2,500 acres
  • Grown in South Australia
  • Known as Mataró, which was brought over in the 19th century
  • Responsible for creation GSM blends in 1990’s (Grenache, Shiraz, Mataró)
  • Characteristics: More berries (blackberry, blueberry, cherry), strong aromatics, earthy qualities

United States

  • 1,000+ acres
  • California and Washington State
  • Came over in the 1860’s and is known as Mataró
  • Characteristics: Dark berries, plums, prunes, herbal flavours, earth, leather


Food Pairings

Mataró, Mourvèdre and Monastrell are paired well with foods with lots of umami (savoury flavours tasted through glutamate receptors). We recommend beef short ribs, lamb, rabbit and pork shoulder for protein, lentils and mushrooms for veggie options. Lavander, rosemary and thyme work best for seasonning.

WineCollective has featured many Mataró wines, and especially, GSM blends which have become popular in regions beyond Australia. You can find these listed wines perhaps in your cellar, at Highfield, and of course, the WineCollective online store!


Lo Nuevo Pasico Old Vine (Monastrell, Shiraz)

Jumilla, Spain

This is a rich and modern style red from Jumilla. Raspberry, plums and tart rhubarb with a bit of red licorice. The acidity is lower than moderate, the fruit is left weighty on the tongue. The tannins are sticky and well formed. The finish is accented with a savoury and cracked pepper.


Château du Trignon GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre)

Côtes du Rhône, France

Primary aromas of fresh and sweet cherries with touches of strawberry and red currant. Very fruity characteristics overall. The fruit continues onto the palate with undertones of warm toast adding dimension and structure to the wine. It is well balanced and soft, with a fleshy finish. A great and easy drinking wine for any evening.


El Petite Bonhomme (Monastrell, Grenache, Syrah)

Jumilla, Spain

Voluptuous plums and dry black fruits fill the mid palate. The wine is full bodied with soft tannins in the texture from the grape’s skins and spending 6 months in used French oak, which also gives some spice. A sweet and fruity finish lingers with a velvety smoothness.

p.s. You can use the coupon code NEWSTORE10 for $10 off an online purchase. Or better yet, come visit the new store!

WineWatch tasting experiment

You may remember during our Welcome to Wine blog series, the importance of serving wine at the appropriate temperature. If served too cold the aroma and flavour characteristics of the red or white can be completely concealed, making for a very inaccurate tasting experience.


This past Christmas, WineCollective’s Amber received a WineWatch, which she highlighted as her favourite gift. After bringing it into WC headquarters, this small gadget was not only extremely useful during a tasting, but also proved our top tips on wine temperature.

After refrigerating the Bodegas Artadi 2010 Artazuri Granacha, we wrapped the WineWatch thermometer around the bottle. It gave us a reading of 12° Celsius for our first round of tastings. We then allowed the wine to reach 15° and 17° Celsius before trying it again. Here is what we found!



Eyes: Purple core in colour that trails to ruby red around the edge of the glass.

Nose: Friendly and filled with raspberry fruit, but no other distinction.

Mouth: Cool with high acidity. While refreshing, the fruit characteristics are all muted and impossible to pick apart.



Eyes: No difference in colour.

Nose: What used to be a fruity feminine aroma is now more masculine. Black pepper spice notes along with red fruits.

Mouth: More balanced and rounded with lower acidity. Ripe strawberry and raspberry flavours on the palate. Finish is smooth, but short.



Eyes: Deep garnet with minimal trail to edges

Nose: Stronger spice on the nose woven with dark cherries and nutmeg.

Mouth: Juicy dark cherry and raspberry lushness. Rounded complexity of earthy notes. Long and dry finish.

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After our wine tasting experiment, the WineCollective tasters agreed that the Granacha was best at 17° C. While the red wine was refreshing when cold, all of the aromas and flavours were revealed more with some warmth and time in the glass.

You can find the nifty WineWatch at retailers across Canada including The Bay, Home Outfitters and even at Willow Park Wine & Spirits.

Welcome to Wine – Decanting

Decanting wine is a debated issue in the wine world. While some professionals don’t believe it is necessary, most (including the WineCollective team) support that the process does influence the wine’s taste, aroma and overall quality. For new-to-wine drinkers, decanting wine may appear complicated, “Should I decant this, or not?”


The truth is, all wine can be decanted – including whites and not just and old Bordeaux. There are two reasons to decant:

1. To separate the wine from sediment (common in older wines).

2. To allow oxygen to mix with wine (typical in younger wines).

During ageing, it is common for sediment to appear in the bottle. Sediment is also intentional, if a winemaker chooses not to fine or only lightly filters the wine. While sediment is not harmful, it can leave a bitter taste. To remove, position the bottle upright the day before you plan on serving the wine. This will gather all of the sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Slowly pour the wine into the decanter and stop pouring as soon as you see the sediment. You can do this directly prior to serving or up to half an hour before.


At times, younger wines need to decant for a long period of time in order for it to fully aerate. Leaving wine for an hour or so in a decanter will allow for more pleasant aromas and a more mellow alcohol taste. Again, slowly pour the wine into the decanter and let sit for some time. You can pour directly from the decanter since they make a nice addition to a table setting.

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With that being said, when choosing a decanter stay away from trendy spiral or painted designs. While they look super cool, they are impractical to clean and you want to be able to see your wine clearly. We suggest one with a big base and wide-open mouth.


Depending where you shop (Wine Enthusiast has quite the selection) and the decanter’s size and fanciness, prices from $40 to $400. If you don’t normally decant your wine, give it a try and experiment with time. Learning and tasting the difference and effects of decanting wine is all part of expanding your wine knowledge.

Welcome to Wine – Natural wine

Last week, on our WineCollective blog, we posted the differences between organic and non-organic wine (as well as vegan and biodynamic). Lately however, we have also noticed another trend breaking out into the largest winemaking regions including France, Australia and the United States.


* Natural Wine. Marc Rosenthal. The Wall Street Journal

Natural wine producers are beginning to set a new standard – one that involves absolutely no intervention during winemaking. Alexandre Bain, Pouilly-Fumé’s only natural winemaker says what sets natural wines apart from organic is that “organic and biodynamic are the tools, natural is the philosophy.”

In depth, natural winemaking involves no corrections to sugars or acidity in addition to the organic and all natural process of growing grapes and vineyard care. Even more, natural winemaking has no removal of excess dilution and no additional yeasts. Natural yeasts always take place in making wine; however, most producers add commercial yeasts in order to kick-start the fermentation process.


Unlike other beverages and food, wine is not required to include nutrition labels that would otherwise state all ingredients used in the wine. The New York Times says that producers avoid listing this information, as consumers would find it confusing. As an example, the use of egg whites for fining is not commonly known to the average wine drinker, yet is absolutely necessary information for an individual following a vegan diet.

For the consumer, diet regulations as well as nutrition details are at times extremely important. As a result, many consumers want wine labels to be more detailed or are turning to natural wine.


Natural wine has begun to create debate within the wine community. While some winemakers swear by the process – or lack of – others are arguing that the wine is weak and that certain additives are beneficial to the end product.

Many natural wines do still include the tolerated sulphite amount of 150 mg/L. As sulphite helps to preserve wine, those that do not include the additive are fragile, losing colour and flavour through any shipping stress. Sulphite also helps to kill harmful bacteria that natural wines are more open to.  Other enzymes help to remove solid pieces in wine as well as amplify desired aromas, textures and tastes.


* RAW Artisanal Wine Fair 

For certain winemakers, natural wine is “as nature intended.” While this new phenomenon is spreading, with Artisanal wine events such as RAW in London, wine drinkers have much to consider. With limited research, it is unknown if wine additives are harmful to the body; however, we do know it is wise to stay away from large amounts of preservatives. Second, are taste, aroma, colour and depth more significant than the alternative – which some winemakers call “beet juice”?

My opinion is that there is no harm in drinking any wine. Sulphite, additives, enzymes and all – winemaking has been through the process of reaching perfection for thousands of years. While I am a fan of the organic and biodynamic approaches, personally they are not required to enjoy a glass. I do however see the perspective of those with dietary restrictions, so the question remains:


Should producers be required to include nutrition and ingredient details on their wine labels? Tell us what you think!