The Demystified Vine

Taking the mystery out of wine exploration!

“What you are looking at in front of you is the national team of Portugal.”

Paul Wagner, an instructor for over two decades for Napa Valley College’s Viticulture and Enology Department, began our journey into what Portugal has to offer in the glass.

A history lesson progressed at this Vancouver International Wine Festival seminar, with rich description of how wine came to be and how Portugal took on making this historical libation.


Historically speaking, “Port was the most important wine exported from Portugal,” Wagner informed us, and “Fifty years ago, Portugal was only making a couple wines that were [available] in our market. Wagner pressed on, “In the past 25 years, we’ve had people investing in wine quality in Portugal.”

Thank goodness the seasons are shifting towards accessibility, because Portugal’s wines are, at least in the aficionado’s territory, worth seeking out. That is honestly because there aren’t too many wine making countries offering the kind of value and quality for the price point that Portugal is.

Not holding on ceremony any longer, Wagner noted, “You’ve really got a treat in front of you.”


Cristiano Van Zeller, Proprietor for Quinta Vale D. Maria, opened the discussion with his VVV Valleys Douro Branco 2014. The winery has “been around for many centuries”, Zeller informed us, and I was engulfed by the buttery, biscuity, stone-fruit and beeswax nature of the Branco. The mineral driven finish was bold.

Diogo Reis, Proprietor & International Export Manager for Companhia Agricola Do Sanguinhal Lisbon, focused on the general sense of merriment that wine brings us. His words were not minced; he spoke of “the inspiration of drinking wine and enjoying life”, and that we must “have pleasure in drinking wine”. Many of us nodded in agreement as we tasted the Quinta de Cerejeiras Reserva Branco 2016.

And further down the panel of experts sat Luis Mira, Owner/President of Herdade das Servas, who presented the notion that, nowadays, terroir is a focus for Portugal’s winemakers. “The most important thing is to make a wine that tells terroir. […] To put the vision without perils [means] to drink and enjoy the wine.” Mira wanted guests of this seminar to extract that sense of place in the glass. The dark plum, black cherry, wine gum, and cola notes of the Sem Barrica Unoaked Red 2015 left me daydreaming about the summer heat of the Alentejo.


After tasting our way through Caves Messias Bairrada’s Classico Garrafeira 2013, which exuded the qualities of red & black fruits with a hint of root beer bark, we indulged in a lighter intensity wine from Famille JM Cazes out of the Douro Valley, whose Roquette & Cazes Douro DOC 2014 brought rose and raspberry, plum and toast to the … glass. I could not move on without mention of the Real Companhia Velha Douro’s Carvalhas Vinhas Velhas Tinto 2015 which knocked my socks off with its dusty mineral-driven bouquet and raspberry and wine gum notes.

As we began the finale of our voyage, we tasted through three lovely Ports, one of which was the Ramos Pinto Vintage Port 2000. Jorge Rosas educated the crowd on how perfect a pairing Port and cheese are together.


Anna Budarina, Sandeman Ambassador for Sogrape Vinhos Douro, spoke on the Sandeman Tawny 30 Year Old Port at an estimated $110.00 CAD per bottle. “It’s not a dusty wine,” Budarina said. “There’s a brightness in it […] and Tawny is an art of blending.” Budarina, the only woman on the entire panel of speakers during the seminar, held her stature during the discussion. “We don’t want it [Port] to be a dying drink,” Budarina flatly stated, and this 30 Year Old Tawny is a “great representation of [the] versatility of Ports.”

Symington Family Estates: Graham’s Douro also poured a Tawny, but this was their 40 Year Old Tawny. As if the bar wasn’t set high enough by Sandeman, the eyes on seminar-goers began to cross as they smelled and tasted through. Burnt sugar, caramel, white pepper, raisin, and other dried fruits burst forth. At an estimated $200 CAD per bottle, we had culminated our Voyage of Discovery, indeed.


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Many thanks to Festival Chair Mark Hicken, Executive Director Harry Hertscheg, and Event Coordinator & MC Paul Wagner for making this seminar possible. ‘Voyage of Discovery’ was a fundraising event for the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival made possible by the BC Liquor Distribution Branch, the Consulate General of Portugal, and the wineries themselves. You can find more information at



Terroir. This was the theme term in the Truth in Terroir seminar led by moderator Mark Shipway, DipWSET, during the Vancouver International Wine Festival held February 24-March 4, 2018.


The panel of terroir-driven wines.

Panelists at the seminar covered the wine world nicely; everyone from winemakers to proprietors to export market managers were ready to talk about the cause-and-effect of what happens in the vineyard to what ends up in the glass. At the heart of the discussion, panelists were trying to reveal what truth there is in our notion of “terroir” and how it plays out from growing grapes to bottling vino.

While at times the discussion went into the technicalities of the wines being poured, there was a sense by the end of the seminar that terroir is an important concept in the winemaking process – at least to these panelists. By this I mean that there are many who realize how important terroir is in the identification of a wine growing region, and there are those of the party who call hogwash.


Mark Shipway, moderator (left), and panelists

Quite clearly near the end of the seminar, Shipway made a bold statement – that “the notion of terroir [is] a moving target”.

Shipway wanted to confirm the notion of climate change with the panelists, and provided each an opportunity to discuss if they thought climate change was influencing the process of getting wine into the bottle.


A few of British Columbia’s terroir gems.

Matt Dumayne, Chief Winemaker at Haywire in the Okanagan, said he has seen “small temperature changes” but nothing major. Antonio Morescalchi, founder of Altos Los Hormigas, adamantly supported the notion that climate change is highly effecting grape growing. In recent years, Morescalchi has witnessed daily drizzle in a place which receives very little annual rainfall. Many vineyards have lost 50% of their crop to mildew. Joan Cusiné, proprietor of Gratavinum/Parés Baltà, called the last three years “terrible”, and sadly educated us on the fact that there has been a 30-60% decrease in crop due to dryness. In his beautiful accent, he said, “No water, no life”.

And that wasn’t the end of it, but Morescalchi expressed that the “concept of terroir is the concept of shared knowledge”. If that was food for thought, then I am hungry.


Some of the truest expressions of Malbec.

So, what exactly was Morescalchi getting at? To the average wine aficionado, terroir is the ground in which the grapes were grown and how the wine expresses itself post-vinification. I did not have a chance to ask him, but what I speculate Morescalchi was getting at was something deeper. We can only really understand one plot of land if we can understand the plot of land next door. Shared knowledge means we all win.

At the seminar, we were able to taste some fantastic wines that were uniquely terroir-driven. Haywire shared their Free Form White – a natural and unfiltered wine – which was one of the most aromatic British Columbia white wines that I have ever smelled.


Special wines from Leyda and Maule Valley.

Thomas Grootveldt, Export Manager for Cleto Chiarli (Italy), shared some terroir-influenced Lambrusco from the Emilia-Romagna region. Grootveldt noted that Lambrusco is an “old, traditional-style wine” which “leaves your mouth clean and washed”. Shipway added that Lambrusco is “a gastronomic wine for Emilio-Romagna”. I nodded my head in agreement, as I recalled the old saying, “if it grows with it, it goes with it”.

Joan Cusiné shared his Parés Baltà Amphora Roja Natural Wine which was made from 82 year old Xarelo bush vines, and his Gratavinum Silvestris DOQ Priorat 2016 which, was partially fermented in amphorae made from the iron-rich clay in their vineyards. How much more terroir-driven can you get?


Varying expressions of Lambrusco from the same region.

Matias Barros, North American Sales and Marketing Director for UNDURRAGA Chile, shared a Pinot Noir from T.H. (Terroir Hunter) out of the Leyda region and a Vigno Old Vines Dry-Farmed Carignan from the Maule Valley. Barros expressed that the “small plots” of grapes highly contributed to the “elegance” that these two wines showed. Shipway asked Barros, “Where do you see Leyda as an expression of place in the future?” to which Barros replied, “I think Leyda’s getting its own place, […] it’s gaining more attention because they have a developing sense of place.”

So, what of a “sense of place” if terroir is a “moving target”?


Amphora-influenced wines from Spain.

Undeniably, the concept of terroir is a global phenomenon; folks in the wine world are talking about how terroir effects wine and take it quite seriously. Though I think it boils back down to the fact that in the wine world, we will never know everything – even if we try to understand it all. And with the ever-changing climes on the globe, we must all band together to try to taste, document, experience, and remember the ephemeral spirit that is terroir as we know it today.

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Special thanks to Mark Shipway, moderator of Truth in Terroir, and to the Panelists:
Matt Dumayne, Chief Winemaker, Haywire
Matias Barros, North American Sales and Marketing Director, UNDURRAGA
Antonio Morescalchi, Founder, Altos Los Hormigas
Thomas Grootveldt, Export Manager, Cleto Chiarli
Joan Cusiné, Proprietor, Parés Baltà / Gratavinum

It was an honest pleasure to share this seminar and tasting experience with all of you.


There are a few yearly holidays out there that require some thoughtfulness on what wine(s) to pair with the meal. Thanksgiving and Christmas are two that spring to mind first, and both are usually very bird-focused. So, with the holidays fast approaching, I put together a few suggestions for what wines would pair the best with turkey dinner.

Basting a bird? Look no further for your wine pairing suggestions.


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Well folks, I don’t know about you, but here in the Pacific North West, it seems winter has hit already. Technically, we still have a few weeks to go until the official arrival of Mr. Cold & Bitter, but whatever, it’s not sunny.

As such, we need to be ahead of the game with our winter wonderland picks for those frigid evenings when all we want to do is cozy up by the fire. Oh wait, that’s just a dream for me. No fireplace pour moi.

Here are a few of my recommendations for “winter wines to swear by”. Hope you’ll try some (or all) of them, and let me know what you think!



If you’re a white wine drinker, and still enjoy sipping a chilled white on wintery evenings, may I suggest this wine. Vintage after vintage, it delivers for its price point. This Viognier always leaves a great impression on me; it is filled with floral and stone fruit notes, and its body can hold its own with a variety of foods including hard cheeses, Asian dishes, and soups. ~$13.00 CAD after tax


BENCH 1775 CABERNET FRANC clone 214 [2013]


This wine will keep you comforted as you discover its beauty. It has ageing potential, so feel free to keep it until late winter or very early spring (if you can wait that long)! It shows notes of black cherry, cassis, crushed raspberry, pepper, tobacco, and dark chocolate. The tannin structure is slightly grippy, but if you are a meat lover, be sure to try this with dinner. Pair with beef short ribs, hearty chilli, or some Tony Bennett. Has won various silver medals and accolades. ~$34.50 CAD winery price



This vino rosso is a blend of 12 different varieties, and not to worry, it will still tickle your tastebuds. This 12.5% abv wine is medium bodied and well suited for pairing with a good book. Fresh cracked, black pepper, dark fruit, eucalyptus, and wine gum are just a few notes you’ll discover in this bottle of dry vino. Cassis and plum are also evident on the palate. This wine is a journey to take. ~$32.00 CAD after tax




Cool climate Pinot Noir can be quite delish! This particular vintage carries all of the classic characteristics of the heartbreak grape though this is a “drink now” Pinot Noir. Tart cherry, cranberry, and hints of leather and spice are present. It is a light bodied wine, so enjoy on its own or with hummus, Greek salad, or chicken in a mushroom sauce. ~$20.00 CAD after tax




Feel like poppin’ some bub? I know many of you are on that #bubblequest. Cava is always a good choice if you are in the mood for a bit of something different. Cava is Spain’s sparkling wine, much like Champagne belongs to France. This particular kind of wine always delivers for the price, and won’t break the bank. Citrus, almond skin, dried apple, and a dusty minerality are all yummy notes you will find in this light intensity wine. ~$20.00 CAD after tax


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Negroamaro is a dark horse. It is one of those wines that tends to sit quietly on the shelf awaiting its next passerby. If you have had it before, then you likely think about buying it when you are standing in the Italian section of a wine store. If you haven’t, you uncomfortably look at it with a “side eye glance” wondering what the heck it is and shake in your boots at the thought of buying something with such a brooding name. [cue dun-dun-dun music]

…at least that is how I “experience” Negroamaro. [shrugs shoulders]

The name literally means “black bitter”,  and this wine hails from the region of Puglia in southern Italy, where it produces medium to full bodied wines with dark, black fruit and spice notes.

The Contrade Negroamaro showed itself with a rustic bitterness, dark fruit, dark chocolate, minerality, and some notes of crushed thyme. The palate was dry, with high acidity, medium bodied (think 2% milk), and was an extension of its bouquet characteristics with black tea notes in addition to cured meats and pepper. The finish was medium-long in length and hinted at black olives. A fantastic value wine! It over-delivers for the price.

I served this vino with sausage and spinach gnocchetti, and it paired really well with it! If you have not had a chance to try this red wine, I would encourage you to. For wine lovers who really enjoy Malbec, this will give you a new adventure in the dark-wine-that-is-spicy category. Then let me know what you think!

ABV: 13.5%
Grape: Negroamaro
Production: Unknown
Price: ~$20.00 CAD

Have you ever had Negroamaro? What did you think of it?


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