What’s in a Grape? Sauvignon Blanc

One of the most popular white grapes in the world, Sauvignon Blanc has many different expressions: from bone-dry and herbaceous to exuberant and tropical. Did you know these things about the grape variety? 

Sauvignon Blanc Profile

  • What are famous examples? Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, white Bordeaux, Fumé Blanc, New Zealand styles
  • What countries produce the most of it? France, New Zealand, Chile, United States, South Africa
  • Characteristic aromas: grass, hay, grapefruit, green pepper. Cool climate: asparagus, melon. Warm climate: flint, coconut, pineapple, gooseberry. Oak-aged: toast, smoke
  • Acidity: Medium to high
  • Alcohol: Medium

Where Does Sauvignon Blanc Come From?

Contrary to popular belief, Sauvignon Blanc originated not in Bordeaux, but in the Loire Valley. Here, you’ll still find the most sought-after renditions, such as Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. These wines are quite perfumed, with floral and citrus notes. The grape is also an important blending partner in Bordeaux, where it is made into white wine that often sees some oak-aging. Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire Valley are usually unoaked and fruit-forward in style, while white Bordeaux is more complex and has a bit of a nuttiness to it. 

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

From France, the grape was taken overseas, and it now prospers in many different regions. Sauvignon Blanc has a particular affinity for New Zealand, where it produces a distinct green pepper and grapefruit character. From the early 1980s, this zesty style was embraced by the market and helped establish the reputation of New Zealand wines. Nowadays, other regions are going after this style of the famous grape variety.

California Sauvignon Blanc

Oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc from California is another style to know. While white Bordeaux is often aged in older (used) oak barrels, iconic California winemaker Robert Mondavi created a more pronounced style in the 1960s. He named it Fumé Blanc, for it smoky, toasty character. In the United States, Fumé Blanc is an approved term for Sauvignon Blanc that has been aged in oak.

Sauvignon Blanc Is the Parent of Cabernet Sauvignon 

Sauvignon Blanc always showed a surprising similarity to the red grape Cabernet Sauvignon, due to the aromatics in these wines. It was in the 1990s that geneticists discovered that Cabernet Sauvignon was, in fact, the offspring of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. This was most likely the result of a spontaneous field crossing. Sauvignon Blanc, in turn, is the offspring of Savagnin Blanc (Just like Chenin Blanc, which makes Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc half siblings!). 

Sauvignon Blanc Is Now Considered an “International Grape”

A grape is considered an “international grape variety” when it has gained widespread popularity among consumers. You’ll find it in all or many of the major wine producing regions throughout the world. They are usually a touchstone for upcoming and growing wine regions. (If you’re keen on learning more about these, check out our post on “international” versus “native” grapes.)

Sauvignon Blanc gained international recognition when it became widely planted across New Zealand throughout the 1980s. Around this time, French and American producers started to compete with New Zealand and add their own stylistic touches. 

Sauvignon Blanc Can Be Made into Sparkling, Still and Sweet Wines 

Sparkling Styles

Sauvignon Blanc knows a few sparkling renditions, either oaked or unoaked, with the best examples coming out of the Loire Valley and New Zealand. Because of its aromatic character, Sauvignon Blanc can produce beautiful fruit-forward styles of sparkling wine, similar to the style of Prosecco. Blended with Chardonnay, sometimes even lightly oaked, it results in a style more similar to Champagne.

Still Styles

Still versions of the grape variety come in many different styles, depending on their growing climate. A cool climate Sauvignon Blanc will show more citrus and minerality, whereas one from a warmer climate will develop floral and tropical fruit notes.

Most Sauvignon Blanc is bottled on its own, but in France, it is often blended with Sémillon (two grape varieties that happen to be genetically close). Sémillon is more clean and balanced, and lends some structure to the aromatic, acid-driven Sauvignon Blanc.

Sweet Styles

Sweet wines made from Sauvignon Blanc are typically touched by noble rot, or Botrytis cinerea. This is a fungus that shrivels the berries and helps concentrate the sugars in the grapes. There are only a few places in the world where climatic conditions are perfect for Botrytis. Sauternes in the Bordeaux region is the most famous example. For sweet, botrytized wines, Sauvignon Blanc is most often blended with Sémillon. 

Sauvignon Blanc Has an Appropriate Name

“Sauvignon” is derived from the French word “sauvage”, meaning “wild”. Most likely, this is because the shape of the leaves is similar to those of the wild grapevine. Sauvignon Blanc vines are indeed quite vigorous and can grow out of control if not held in check. Left to its own devices, the vine could survive despite abandon. 

“Untamed” and “wild” can also be used to describe Sauvignon Blanc’s flavours. They can range from a flinty minerality to crisp citrus notes, florals and even herbaceous vegetal notes. Poorly made Sauvignon Blancs will taste vegetal, a bit like canned asparagus. Vegetal qualities are typical if the wine is made from under-ripe grapes, or if the vines were allowed to grow out of control. These tasting notes can also occur if the grapes didn’t receive proper sunlight for photosynthesis. 

Taste Amazing Sauvignon Blancs with WineCollective

Fortunately, WineCollective members will never receive these vegetal Sauvignon Blancs in their packages. All wine that goes into our monthly deliveries is carefully curated by our team of wine experts. Each month, they taste hundreds of different bottles, so you don’t have to. Only the best renditions of famous and less famous grapes varieties make it through their strict selection process. Have a look at the Sauvignon Blancs in our store! Become a member today to receive these amazing wines on your doorstep each month, with an informative guide to boot. Plus, you’ll be get great discounts in our member store – so you can keep exploring the world of wine.

New World Wines: What’s Really Up?

What is New World Wine?

New World wines are those that are produced outside of the traditional winemaking areas in Europe. So if you’re drinking a wine from Italy or France, that’s an Old World wine. If instead, you’re indulging in a glass of wine from New Zealand, South Africa, the US, or even Argentina, you’re enjoying a New World wine. 

What is the Difference between Old World and New World Wines?

The differences between Old World and New World wines have been discussed and debated. Many people will pick Old World wines over New World wines and vice versa, but what is it that makes these two wine worlds so different? Here at WineCollective, we don’t think that one is better than the other! But understanding the differences between these two worlds and the wines they produce is the first step to understanding what wine styles you like and which ones to steer away from!

New World wines tend to be fuller-bodied, and higher in alcohol. They also tend to have lower acidity and are much riper on the palate. Old World wines, on the other hand, showcase a lighter body, they are lower in alcohol and higher in acidity. They show more earth-driven flavours and are less fruity than the New World ones. 

It is important to acknowledge that there are many exceptions to this. With climate change, and evolving winemaker preferences, it is not uncommon to come across a New World wine that is lighter in alcohol and higher in acidity or an Old World wine that is high in alcohol or has a riper flavour profile.

What are the Characteristics of New World Wines?

New World Wine Styles

As mentioned above, since New World vineyards are generally in hotter climates such as South Africa and Argentina, the fruit tends to mature and ripen much quicker than Old World vineyards. This means the grape, as it ripens, will have more sugar and less acid unlike grapes from vineyards with cooler growing climates.

As a result, these vineyards produce wines that are higher in alcohol, more fruit-forward, and have lower acidity than wines of central-northern Europe. New World wines tend to lend more “jammy” flavours, with more structure on the palate. 

New World Wine Labels 

Old World wines tend to use the region of origin to label their wines. Think Bordeaux, Chianti, or Rioja. This labelling style requires consumers to have some base knowledge of the grape varieties grown in that region… For example, Chianti is usually a Sangiovese-dominant blend, while Rioja is usually Tempranillo, but the label won’t tell you that!

In contrast, New World wines are named by the variety of the grape, such as Merlot, Shiraz, or Cabernet Sauvignon. This makes wine more accessible to everyone and gives less experienced wine lovers the opportunity and confidence to pick what they like and develop their wine palate. 

Selling New World Wine

With Old World Wines, geography tends to denote the style, along with the general taste and appeal of the wine. New World wines have steered away from this convention and are less dependent on geography and focus on varieties instead. They have placed more emphasis on branding when marketing. This is why you may have heard of Yellow Tail or Barefoot Cellars, but perhaps don’t know exactly what region it is from! 

Rules and Traditions 

Winemakers in the Old World usually have to adhere to tradition and complicated appellation rules in order to produce a wine that can be classified as specific to that region. Since New World wine countries aren’t bound by the same kind of tradition, they have more room to experiment. This doesn’t mean that anything goes, but there’s more freedom to experiment with grape varieties, and viticultural or vinification techniques, like using wine eggs or even employing a gravity-flow system

Where are New World Wines Made? 

Any region outside of Europe and the Middle East is classified as a New World wine region. There are so many regions in the New World that produce wine. Let’s explore some of these regions that you may or may not be familiar with! 

Vineyards along the mountain lines in Santiago, Chile. A New World wine region

Chilean Wines 

This New World wine region sits along the coastline of the Pacific Ocean, and due to the climate and terroir, it produces wines that are plush, fruit-forward and herbaceous. Chile produces wines that are similar in style to French wine! If you are a fan of French reds and want to explore the New World, try the Casa Viva Cabernet Sauvignon

Vineyards that overlook the mountain and a small waterbody in Mendoza, Argentina. A New World wine region

Argentinian Wines 

With a unique terroir and ideal growing conditions, Argentina, more specifically Mendoza, produces some of the world’s most renowned Malbecs. Looking to try a textbook Mendoza Malbec? Give the Mi Terruño Reserve Malbec a try.

Vineyards in Napa Valley, California. A New World wine region

American Wines

With its red and volcanic soil, along with its unique terroir, the United States, or more specifically California, is well known for its big and bold Cabernet Sauvignons. The wines produced here resemble Bordeaux style wines so much, that the 1985 Groth Cabernet sauvignon was awarded a perfect 100-point score by the well known Bordeaux critic, Robert Parker. A fruity and juicy example to try is the Aviary Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Vineyards along hills in Stellenbosch, South Africa. A New World wine region

South African Wines 

Did you know that South Africa is the oldest of all the New World wine countries since their vines were first planted in the 17th century? South Africa is known for their Cabernet Sauvignons, so if you’re a fan of Cabernet Sauvignon, you must get your hands on a South African one to try! They produce high alcohol wines that still remain fruity, juicy and approachable. If you’re looking to try a South African Cabernet Sauvignon, give the Boschkloof Cabernet Sauvignon a try. 

Vineyards across the coast of Tasmania, Australia. A New World wine region

Australian Wines 

You think Australia and you think heat! So isn’t it surprising that Australia’s climate and terroir allow them to produce well-rounded Chardonnays with a smooth butteriness – perfect to pair with popcorn at your next movie night! Tasmania has a cooler climate than the rest of Australia, so the Chardonnay grape thrives well in this climate. If you are a fan of French Chardonnay, particularly white Burgundy, you will love the Devil’s Corner Chardonnay from Tasmania.

It is safe to say that New World wines have allowed for variety and different characteristics to be produced within the same grape varieties. Different growing climates and conditions produce varying results of the same varieties, thus giving us more choices and options to pick and choose from. What do you think about the New and Old World wines? Do you prefer one over the other?

If you want to keep learning and exploring the world of wine, be sure to sign up for a WineCollective subscription for amazing wines from both the Old and New World. You’ll receive tasting notes, a 15-50% discount in the online store, and more fun content like this! We like learning – one sip at a time!

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.

Screen shot 2014-01-10 at 1.39.42 PM

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.