The New Rules of Wine

An exciting part of exploring the world of wine is that, despite some tried-and-truisms, it’s always evolving and changing. Here are some fresh ideas to shake up your sipping this year.

 By Charlene Rooke


It's easy to be intimidated by traditional wine rituals and rules instead of following your own intuition and palate to discover what you really enjoy. Fortunately, today almost anything goes, including many old myths, which are being busted by the modern wine industry. For instance, are you convinced that cork is better than cap? Unless you’re cellaring a wine for years, screw-tops and pop-off caps now preserve the product of many coveted wines, including countless Ontario VQAs. Still pairing only red wine with red meat and white wine with white meat? Sommeliers aren’t; most will now happily recommend white Burgundy or creamy Chardonnay with steak, or a Pinot Noir with poultry (or rosé with everything). If you’re drinking red wines at room temperature, the current consensus is that many of them are better served cool. Try putting your reds in the fridge for 30 minutes and, correspondingly, taking your whites out half an hour before serving to take off the big chill. There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy wine, but here are 10 new ideas to help you discover what’s new, exciting and worth trying.

1. Rethinking ABV

Popular “fruit-bomb” big red wines can be as high as 15% alcohol by volume (ABV). A new crop of complex, flavourful reds with slightly less alcohol are  emerging, among them South American wines like Trivento Fair Trade Malbec, with tons of black fruit and a touch of spice, at just 12.5%. Jackson-Triggs Merlot has fullbodied fruit and rings in at 12%. Though many white wines (including the cool-climate whites Ontario is known for) are naturally a touch lighter in alcohol, look for off-dry German Rieslings, Sauvignon Blancs such as 11.5% Remy Pannier Sauvignon Blanc IGP Val de Loire, calorie-reduced whites like Skinnygrape Chardonnay with just 7.5% ABV, or Italian bubblies such as Moscatos (typically under 10%) or 6.5% Viticolitori Acquesi Brachetto D’Acqui Sparkling.


2. Bring on the Funk

Savvy wine drinkers know that “noble rot” (describing the botrytis fungus that can destroy crops or produce coveted dessert wines) or “barnyard” (animal or vegetal wine aromas, courtesy of the Brettanomyces yeast that can be a virtue or a fault) can actually be desirable qualities. Likewise, unfiltered or slightly oxidized wines — once worthy of being returned — today might be just what the winemaker intended. Though so-called low-intervention or natural wines can be wildly unpredictable from year to year or batch to batch, these authentic and rustic-tasting wines are growing in popularity. Experiment with reliably consistent Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon and Bonterra Chardonnay from their organic California winery. The Mendocino County vineyard eschews pesticides for natural solutions, from using birds and sheep to control weeds and insects to planting diverse cover crops like crimson clover and lavender to attract bees and nourish the soil. Can you taste any traces of that care in the bottle?

3. The Return of Sweet

Once upon a time, sweet wine was taboo; today, sweetness can be a treasured quality in wines that have acidity, tannins or other balancing qualities. The ticket to finding them on LCBO.com or shelf labels: look for “MS” (medium-sweet) or “M” (medium) wines, and a style descriptor that includes “fruity.” Try trendy wine from the ancient region of Georgia: United Stars Alazanis Valley Off Dry from the Kakheti region is a red made with acidic Saperavi grapes. Tropical-smelling, just-tart-enough Ironstone Obsession Symphony California makes a mouth-watering break from minerally and dry whites.

4. Sustainability

From fewer chemicals and less water-intensive growing to environment-friendly packaging (the LCBO’s lighter-glass “Canada bottle” is a global game-changer), wine is going smaller-footprint. Get on board with Organic Chardonnay from carbon-neutral delivery Cono Sur or Ciao Sangiovese Organic in a light, recyclable Tetra Pak. Ontario’s Tawse and Southbrook make naturally grown organic and biodynamic wines — and, like most Ontario VQA wineries, are committed to the Sustainable Winemaking Ontario program.

5. Rosé with Everything

It’s not just for summer sipping anymore. Rosé’s wide range of drier styles has been discovered by wine lovers, and its versatility with every course is beloved by diners. Since colour or even the country of origin doesn’t always dictate the taste, read the label for clues about grape varietal. Grenache/Garnacha rosé will be off-dry, and great with big Mexican, Indian or Thai flavours. Pinot Noir grapes give an elegant acidic balance to dry rosés that complement many poultry and fish dishes. Sangiovese or Syrah rosés have spice that bounces well off fatty and creamy dishes, from meats to pasta. Many rosés are blends of a few  grapes — experiment to find your favourites.

6. A Cheat Sheet

Sometimes you need to parse the shelves or a wine list with a quick but savvy eye. Voilà! A shortcut guide to trendy regions and wine styles, and fresh rules-of-thumb for tasting without fear.


When in doubt choose whites (like Albariño) from Spain, rosés from France and reds from the U.S. (California for bolder varietals and blends, Oregon for Pinot Noir)—a highly simplified matrix that rarely disappoints.


Namecheck white wines from Portugal’s Douro region and look out for Aligoté, a staple grape in white Burgundy blends now in the varietal spotlight.


We all know German Riesling and Austrian Grüner Veltliner are a foodpairer’s friends: watch for Austrian Riesling as the next big thing.


The use of big, egg-shaped concrete ageing-vats rivals barrels and stainless tanks — labels and websites often “eggs-claim” it.


The Loire Valley in central France is a current wineworld darling for whites like Chenin Blanc and light reds and rosés featuring Gamay.


Vin de soif is a French (and sommelier) catchphrase for a light, quaffable wine that’s great with or without food.

7. Reading the Label

The pretty front label has everything you need to know — and now there’s often a wealth of new information on the back, too.


Ageing and barrel maturation information.


Serving and food-pairing suggestions.


Indication of the region or terroir where the wine was made.


Notes on the winery’s philosophy or practices.


Importer or distributor, which might share your taste in other wines.


Detailed information about the grape varietals.


 Contact information, from an e-mail or URL to a QR code.

8. High-Tech Wine

Winemakers use drones and tablet-controlled wind machines and watering in the vineyard: time to plug in to wine-tech at home. Apps like Vivino and Wine Ring expand your cellar memory, The Sonic Decanter and Ullo reportedly pour better-tasting wine and the Coravin revolutionizes singleglass pours without oxidation.

9. Everyday Bubbly

The time-and-labour intensive traditional method for bottle-ageing Champagne justifies its price.  Winemakers’ new embrace of the charmat tank-ageing method (long used for Prosecco) means Moderately priced bubbly can now help you toast a small work victory or Taco Tuesday. From Ontario, try Lily Sparkling Wine VQA from Colio Wine or Pelee Island Secco VQA.

10. Wine in Cocktails

Aromatized (vermouth) and fortified (like sherry) wines have long been essential ingredients in sophisticated drinks. Wine is now a full-fledged star of the cocktail bar, in sangria or Champagne cocktails, spritzes or Whisky Sours with a Red-Wine Float.