The Annual Bordeaux Release Frenzy – and Why not to get sucked into it!

September 24, 2019

Okay, its that time of the year again, both for the annual release of the new Bordeaux…and my blog about how to avoid it!

Now, as I say every year, I know that Bordeaux makes probably the world’s most famous wines. And they are definitely what most wine lovers – and dweebs like me – covet. I admit it – when I started out in wine, these were the ones that I bought for my cellar.

But over the past 35 years, I have learned and evolved as a wine drinker…and learned a few things. So let me pass some of them on to you!

  1. If you haven’t tried Bordeaux before, do it before you invest the big bucks

This is the first thing I tell people who ask me about Bordeaux or any other wine. You need to try a wine before you buy it, particularly if you are going to spend a lot of money on it.

Red Bordeaux is a blend of four or five major grapes (mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc). But more importantly, it is made in a style that emphasizes wood and herbs over fruit. This is not a California wine, and it won’t get fruiter as it gets older. Try it first…if you like it, then go for it. But if you go “meh” …there are other options for you.

  1. 99% of the wines are overpriced and not worth it

Even if you do like the style, the vast majority of the wines are way overpriced, and not worth it. You really need $100+++ to get a decent wine…and, in my opinion, that is just too much money. I can give you lots of other wines that you can buy 2 bottles or more for that price that are better value.

  1. Except for the best, most expensive wines, they won’t get better as they age

This is perhaps the biggest myth of Bordeaux…buy it young and tannic, but after 15+ years it will evolve into something amazing.

Sorry, but that is a bunch of bull****!

If it is woody and herbal when young, chances are it will be like that when it is old too. Again, the most expensive wines may be different, but the vast majority will never get any different or better as they age.

  1. Don’t fall for they hype

I’m a PR guy, that’s what I do for a living. So believe me when I tell you…don’t fall for the “vintage of the century” stuff! There are good years and bad years, but it rarely ever gets amazing…and certainly not amazing enough to justify the price.

  1. Don’t buy the wine…but go get free boxes!

Finally, if you have or are building a wine cellar, I do recommend one thing about the annual Bordeaux release…go and get the beautiful wooden boxes that are left over after the wines are sold! Many chateaux pack their wines in gorgeous 12 bottle wooden boxes, and most stores just throw them out after the sale (since most people can’t afford to my more than a couple at a time). But the boxes – turn them on their side, and…voila, instant wine rack, and eminently stackable! Go grab a few (I know I will).

So, there you go…my annual Bordeaux blog…take it or leave it, but as they say in the business…buyer beware!

SB

www.sbwinesite.com

What’s up with Fraser Valley Wine in the Summer of 2019 – Part 2: The Old Guard  

September 12, 2019

Similar to what I did for Vancouver Island, I am grouping my wine tasting tour into two parts. The first I am calling “the old guard”, as these are wineries I have been going to for years now.

First stop was Domaine Chaberton in Langley, and for more than the wine – the restaurant Bacchus Bistro! One of the great secrets of the Valley, this is as good a French bistro as you will find anywhere, including in Vancouver. Duck confit, boeuf bourgignon, pate, French onion soup – they have it all, large portions, great quality and value. Plus most of their wines are by the glass!!

After “fueling up” there, I tasted the latest of their wines, and three continue to stand out for me. For whites, they make a great oaked Chardonnay – their Reserve – which is made in classic California style, with lovely vanilla and butter covered citrus. I also love their Rose – called “Pink” – which is a touch on the off-dry side, but wonderfully fruity and fresh. Last but not least, their Syrah. I think it is their best red wine, made in a Rhone style, which means pepper, earth, dried cherries – and no oak. It drinks well now, but also ages for up to 5 years.

From Chaberton, I circled back to Vista D’Oro, a somewhat eclectic winery and farm. I say “eclectic” because you never know what they will have available! In the past, I have had wonderful Pinot Noirs – made from Vancouver Island grapes – but this time there was only Marechal Foch. But that was fine! They make one of the best around – ripe, meaty, full of fruit and no oak. Not for keeping/aging, but what a joy to drink now!

The last of my “old guard” is out in Abbotsford – Mt. Lehman Winery. Verne has been making great wines for ridiculously low prices for years, and this visit was no different. The had almost ten different wines to taste!

Most impressive? For me, on the whites…it was their Reserve Chardonnay. I am a big “oaked” Chardonnay fan – I know, not a popular thing these days – and this is absolutely gorgeous! Light gold, classic Cali style with vanilla and butter covered citrus fruit, but not too much wood on the finish. And it is under $20 with tax included! That is stupid good!

 Following a similar theme…Verne’s Pinot Noirs! His regular is – get this – is $12.96 plus tax! You can’t find a better wine value from BC or anywhere for that price! Bright cherry fruit, a touch of vanilla and spice…it would blow away other Pinots at twice that price!

Except for his Reserve Pinot, of course! The 2014 is the same price as his Reserve Chardonnay…and even better! If Burgundy, or California or the Okanagan could make a wine like this for that price…simply amazing! Ripe cherries and tannins, just the right balance of wood and fruit…it is beautiful at almost 5 years old now, but I bought a few to see how they age…crazy good!

That is it for my old guard…some new finds next week!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

What’s up with Fraser Valley Wine in the Summer of 2019 – Part 1

August 29, 2019

What a treat to get a day to tour Fraser Valley wineries a week or so ago! Got a chance to see the old – and the new – and, similar to Vancouver Island wine, there was a nice mix of old guard and new.

There were also some similar trends at play…which is what this first blog focuses on.

On the downside? First and foremost, was price – at least at some of the wineries. Many, many wines in the $30++ category, and I’m not sure they were worth that, to be honest.

Second, a trend to making wines from grapes from outside of the Fraser Valley. Now, perhaps this isn’t a downside – after all, there are lots of negotiants in France that buy grapes from all over and make fabulous wines.

But sometimes it seems a bit ingenuous to buy a wine from a Fraser Valley winery that came from grapes far away.

On the plus side, there are some ridiculous bargains from a price perspective, particularly in two of the Abbotsford wineries! One of the proprietors told me they just couldn’t sell their wine or more than $20 – $30…there was no market. If that is true, I hope they are still making money on it, because some of it was amazing! And other wineries in the Valley (and across BC) should maybe take notice?

Also on the plus side was quality, particularly with some of the white wines. Pinot Gris, white blends with Ortega, even Chardonnay and Viognier…some were quite stunning. Reds were less successful from the area, which is more a reflection of climate, I think, than wine making.

Final plus…hospitality…and how busy many of the wineries were! There were bus tours at a number of them when I went through, and the tasting rooms were full, loud and happy sounding. What a great thing for Fraser Valley wine!

As for the wines themselves? Well, stay tuned…Part two is next week!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

 

 

 

Vancouver Island Blog Part 3 – The New Guard!

August 22, 2019

Last – but not least – on my trip to Vancouver Island were two new wineries. Well, one with new owners…and one that is only a couple of years old!

I started at Alderlea Vineyards (on the other side of the Island Highway from where you turn to go to Averill Creek). I have tried to find this winery a couple of times before but either couldn’t find it or it was closed. Well, this time I found it…it was open…and boy, was I impressed!

New owners is the reason, I think…Zac and Julie bought the winery a couple of years ago and were pouring the results of there efforts, both white and red.

For the whites, my favourite was one called 2018 Valerie, co-owner Julie’s wine made from a blend of Ortega and Viognier. It won a Gold medal at the recent Canadian Wine Championships and I can see why…explosively fruity but bone dry, just lovely!

But, as a “reds guy”, it was the Reserve Pinot Noir (2016) that really turned my head! Burgundian in style, but with very ripe fruit and tannins (most Burgundies would die for this level of fruit concentration). It also has tremendous potential (although beautiful to drink now as well). And at about $32 it represents amazing value!

Oh, and that Merlot I mentioned in Blog Part 1…Zac got this smile on his face as we were talking about fruit-forward wines…then he looked sideways and with a finger beckoned me back into the cellar…where he got me a sample of something from a barrel. “Merlot” he said…and when I stuck my nose in it…wow! Pure plums and blueberries…super ripe, no oak presence at all…if the wine stays that way when bottled, I will buy…a lot of it!

The other winery I “found” is called Emandare. It is the same side of the Island Highway as Alderlea, although a bit closer. I got to meet Mike, the co-owner/winemaker…he bought the site with vines a few years ago. Major emphasis on quality fruit, and it showed in the wines!

The 2018 Sauvignon Blanc was my favourite white…crisp, clean, no oak, lots of citrus…too bad it is already sold out! But, once again, it was a Pinot Noir that stole the show!

At first, when I saw the price – $45 – I paused…a lot for a BC wine…and not a reserve either. But when I stuck my nose in the glass…wow…it was pure berry Pinot Noir, very rich and ripe without being jammy and candied. It was even better in the mouth, with firm but ripe tannins wrapped around the cherry fruit. It is a few years away from being at its best…and I decided to buy a couple to see how it turns out!

That was all the time I had for the day, but if the future of Vancouver Island is represented by these two wineries, it is in very good hands indeed!

SB

www.sbwinesite.com

Vancouver Island Wine Blog Part 2 – The Old Guard is in Good Shape!

August 13, 2019

This is part two of the wine blog based on my recent visit to Vancouver Island wine country. And it focuses on three of the “old guard” – those wineries that have been there for a while. Some of them are my favourites and still making great wine!

Continuing to lead the pack is Averill Creek, just outside of Duncan near Mt. Prevost. Their wines were the first ones I ever tasted from Vancouver Island that were truly great – in fact, the 2006 Pinot Noir and 2007 Pinot Gris completely changed my mind about Vancouver Island wine!

Andy Johnson and his team continue to go from strength to strength, and I was pleased to see that they give people the chance to experience that in the tasting room. In addition to the “regular” tasting they offer a reserve tasting (for a slightly higher fee) and it is well worth the expense.

There were four wines, and all showed why Averill Creek continues to be the leader on Vancouver Island. First off, their 2010 Brut Reserve Sparkling Wine would give many Champagnes a run for their money. Still young at nine years old, it has just a tinge of yellow to it, and is filled with that classic toasty/yeasty/crisp flavour profile! Next up, their 2015 Reserve Pinot Gris. They oak this wine – something which can be controversial to some – but I loved it. It was light gold, with just the right amount of vanilla and butter to go with the citrus fruit. The final dry wine was the 2016 Reserve Pinot Noir. Just a baby, it was super tight, with tannin covering the cherry fruit, but you could sense the potential beneath it. I would give it at least 3 – 5 years before drinking. Last but not least was a Tawny Port style wine made from blackberries…and it was a dead ringer for Port!

Averill Creek is a Pinot Noir specialist, and while I didn’t taste their “regular” wine on the trip, I can highly recommend it (I have already bought four bottles). It is a great cross between Burgundy and California, with earthy, dark cherry fruit that is super ripe (but not candied). Year in, year out, it matches up with the best Pinots in BC.

The second of the old guard that is doing fine – thank you very much! – is Vigneti Zanatta, which is located west of Duncan. For years this winery has specialized in sparkling wines, sometimes from non-traditional grapes, and sold at very reasonable prices…and that continues to be the case.

I tasted three, all technically non-vintage, and can heartily recommend them all. The Brut Tradizionale is made in the Champagne style from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is crisp, clean, dry and relatively full-bodied with a touch of green apples – kind of like Spanish Cava crossed with Champagne. It would be great for any occasion.

Next, the Allegria Rose Brut is really something to look at – one of the darkest sparkling Roses I have ever seen! It is made from 100% Pinot Noir, and explodes with berry flavours. Again, bone dry…this one would be great really cold on a hot day.

Finally, my favourite of the trio is the Glenora Fantasia Brut. This used to be vintage designated…not sure why it isn’t any more…but I was told it is from the 2013 vintage…so almost 6 years old! This is definitely a Champagne style wine, loaded with aged flavours of yeasty and toasty bread. Made from the obscure Cayuga grape and aged on its lees for two years…wow!

Zanatta also makes still white and red wines, which are nice, but a surprise was one called Castel Nero, made from a clone of Cinsault and some grape I can’t remember. It would easily fit in at a Provence tasting…no oak, peppery dried berries and earth…I had a full glass at lunch, I loved it so much!

Speaking of lunch, if you are going to be a Zanatta around lunch, book a table – in advance – at their little restaurant. It has a beautiful patio, almost all the wines are available by the glass and the food is amazing (and well priced).

Final of the old guard I visited – the “newest old one” for me – is Rocky Creek. I had a great chat with the Assistant Winemaker (daughter of the owner/winemaker), who also took me through what continues to be a very solid lineup of white and red wines, as well as a sparkler. My favourites? The 2017 Pinot Gris has won all kinds of awards and is almost sold out. It is a fruity, dry, medium bodied beauty for drinking while it is fresh. For the reds, I will stick with the Pinot Noir – the wine that attracted me to Rocky Creek in the first place! It continues to be made in a California style, with lots of ripe cherries and just the right amount of vanilla, spice and cedar. It drinks well right now, but will keep for a few years if you want (although why wait?).

That’s it for the old guard I visited…stay tuned next week for the new kids on the block!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

VANCOUVER ISLAND WINE – THE OLD AND THE NEW (Part 1)

August 7, 2019

I managed to get a day to do some wine tasting on Vancouver Island this past weekend, first time in a few years (since I updated the last issue of my BC Wine Guide). It was a great day – beautiful weather, lovely drive up, down and back on the Malahat, and some pleasant surprises on the wine side of things as well!

I titled this piece “The Old and New” for two sets of reasons. This first is related to the wine region itself. The other has to do with the wineries…stay tuned for more on that next week.

On the “old” side of things, I encountered some of the same old issues that I see elsewhere in BC. The biggest is price – none of the wines I tasted were under $15, and most were in the $25 – $30 range (after tax). Now, some of that has to do with taxation…which wineries have no control over. And some is just overhead – land, equipment, salaries, etc. Again, not much you can do about that. And it didn’t look like people were making millions (just a living).

But the end result is that most of these wines have to compete in price with well established and – often – better wines from places like the south of France and Italy (as well as cheaper ones from South America and Spain). And that is a tough sell!

On the positive side of the price issue, thought, I didn’t see any trophy wines i.e. $60+ a bottle (except for library releases). Now, don’t get me wrong – I support the free market, and if you can get that for your wine, then go for it. But from a comparative quality point of view – not just on Vancouver Island but across BC – there is just no way that we can compete with similarly priced wines from areas like the Cotes du Rhone, Tuscany, and Piedmont.

Overall quality was up as well, and it was also nice to see  that the grapes which have historically done well on the Island – Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, in particular – continue to be the focus for most wineries, and still produce the best wines. I saw no Cabs or Chardonnays…probably because they just won’t get ripe enough there. There was also a nice mix of Marechal Foch and some Cabernet hybrids – on the red side – and various white wine grapes being used to make fruity, easy to drink whites. Oh, there was one Merlot…but more on that in a future blog…

Finally, perhaps the best of the “good” things was that sales of many of these wines on Vancouver Island are very good – many of the best were actually sold out! The purchasers are a mix of locals and tourists, with the former actually being a bigger market! That is great, as “buy local” should also include wine, and people are obviously willing to pay a bit of a premium to do that.

Overall, then, I was very impressed with the wine situation on Vancouver Island! As for the individual wineries – and their wines – stay tuned for next week!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

“Other” White Wines to Drink in the Summer

July 25, 2019

Summer is definitely here in Vancouver, and that means – because of the warmth – it is mostly white and Rose to drink (although the odd Gigondas does get opened…but that is another story…).

I have written about Rose already this summer, but what about whites? The usual choices are Chardonnay (oaked and unoaked), Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling (dry or off dry) and – if you are lucky – Viognier and Semillon (shout out to La Frenz on those ones!).

But there are others out there as well, and they won’t break the bank!

First, south of France. I mentioned Viognier already, but those are usually too expensive from France (Condrieu starts at $60 Canadian…). But there are blends out there, mixes of Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc, and they can be really refreshing! No oak (usually), crisp, clean, full bodied! One of my favourite producers in the South is Chapoutier and they make a great Cotes du Roussillon called Bila Haut that you can get here for about $17…I imagine it is under $10 in many other places without our taxes!

And how about Italy? Not known for its white wines usually, I have started to drink wines from the Falanghina grape, and they are very tasty! Again, super crisp and dry, no oak that I can see – although they are often a beautiful gold colour – and lots under $20. My favourite right now is Falanghina Sannio La Guardiense by a producer called Janare.

Last but not least my wine find of the year so far! Vinho Verde – literally “green wine” – is from Portugal and my past experiences have been that is not worth the bother. Then I saw one called Loureiro by Quinta do Ameal. What attracted me at first was the rating and review by the Wine Advocate for the 2017 vintage – 93 pts and a drinking window until 2030!

Now, that is ridiculous for a white wine (and even most reds), so I bought one – and it was crazy good! Again, no oak at all (notice the trend here), but beautiful gold colour, crisp, dry, citrus, quite big body. And it was $17!!! A bonus – I found a couple of older vintages in another store (2012 and 2013), same price, same kind of rating, and tried them – stunning! Super fresh, like they had just been bottled!

So there you go…some white wine options for the summer. If you can check them out!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

 

Rose…cold, dry and cheap…and in a box!

July 11, 2019

Okay, its summer…or supposed to be (still waiting on the weather)…but it is definitely Rose season!

And let’s keep it simple with Rose…it should be cold, dry and cheap…and you can even buy it in a box!

Let’s back track a bit…I just got back from Europe, and even though it was a June vacation, there was still lots of Rose available in restaurants in Belgium, Holland and Denmark! Only a couple of euros a glass in restaurants, and in the supermarkets? How about the same price…for a bottle!

Meanwhile, back in my home town…all these beautiful looking bottles of French Rose for over $25 and $30 a bottle, plus tax? And our local wines are still in the $18 – $20 range.

Sorry, but no way!

Fortunately, I have found the solution…or two solutions!

There are two 1 litre bottles available for $12.99…one from the south of France (Cotes Mas) and one from Chile (Cono Sur). Both are crisp and dry!

Even better? A box! La Vieille Ferme, a great value French producer, makes a 3 litre 2018 vintage Rose for $33.00!

I just bought a box, put it in the fridge…and it is great! Just like being in the south of France (although still twice the cost).

So don’t give in to the expensive wines! Buy Rose, but buy it dry and cheap!

SB

www.sbwinesite.com

 

Pacific Northwest Wine Tasting Surprises!

May 9, 2019

Just finished #dish2009 tasting by the BC Hospitality Foundation and – once again – lots of surprises!

The wines were from Washington State, Oregon and California, and there was a pretty broad representation – over two dozen wineries and close to 100 wines. I decided to focus on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and ‘big’ reds, as I only had about 90 minutes.

The Chardonnays were mostly what I call the ‘Cali’ style – fermented/aged in oak, with at least some degree of malolactic fermentation. That resulted in nice golden colours, lots of lovely buttery/vanilla citrus fruit. Only one completely unoaked wine, but a few a mix of stainless steel and oak. My favourites were from Deloach (2016 Russian River Valley), Ponzi (2015 Reserve), Ferrari-Carano (2016 Sonoma) and Walt Wines (2016 Sonoma Coast).

Pinot Noirs were next and they were my first surprise – and a good one! Sometimes North American Pinot can go off the rails in two ways – too much ripe fruit, making it taste like candy, or too much of trying to be Burgundy (which means not enough fruit and more wood/herbs).

But almost all of these wines were in the middle – lots of ripe fruit but very sophisticated indeed! And there were some truly stunning – if expensive – wines! Oregon Producer Ponzi had their ‘15 Reserve and it was dark but full of ripe, dark cherries and ripe tannins. My tweet said ‘a world class wine’, and it was! Only slightly behind was the ‘16 Russian River Valley by Paul Hobbes and the 2016 Sonoma Coast from Walt Wines – both were beautiful, rich, young wines with lots of life ahead of them. Finally, the 2017 Russian River Valley from Deloach was also very nice. A general observation was the wines from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma were the best, confirming its Pinot rep!

On to the ‘big’ reds from California, and my other surprise – and not a good one!

I tasted about a dozen Cabs, Cab blends and Zin/Syrah/Petit Syrahs and found – tannin. Super tannin, so much my cheeks were sucked in! And I couldn’t find the fruit!

What a disappointment! Similar to many wineries in BC, these seemed to going for Bordeaux style instead of taking advantage of the regional strength – ripe fruit! I will never forget my first Cali Cab wines in the mid ‘80s – they were stunning for their ripe black currant fruit. Even the Reserves were ripe and could be drunk young.

But not these ones! Maybe they will become smooth and elegant, but they will never be fruity. Too bad!

SB

www.sbwinesite.com

NEW ZEALAND WINE – IT’S MORE THAN SAUVIGNON BLANC

May 3, 2019

I had chance this week to attend New Zealand Wine’s “Pure Discovery” tasting in Vancouver and came away both impressed and with some different views on that country’s wine!

I always try to avoid bringing in pre-conceived ideas to wine tastings, so with this one the key word was Sauvignon Blanc. New Zealand has been famous for it for years, including from popular producers like Oyster Bay, Kim Crawford and Babich. Now, I like SB, but wanted to know if there was more to New Zealand!

So, for whites, I went Chardonnay hunting – and I was surprised for sure! I tasted about ten wines and came away with one common theme regarding the style. It was French – not Californian – but also the Chablis-style of French Burgundy. That meant not as much vanilla/butter/hazelnut on the nose (which usually comes from oak) and more fresh, crisp citrus fruit (from making and aging the wines in stainless steel instead of oak barrels). Even those producers that did say they used oak usually relied on previously used barrels to limit the influence. If you enjoy this style of Chardonnay, I would highly recommend New Zealand, especially from producers like Kumeu River Estate (a particular favourite of mine), Greywacke, Villa Maria and Sacred Hill. While none of the wines were cheap – ranging from $22 – $50+ – they are certainly cost-competitive compared to Chablis from France.

I went to Pinot Noirs next, as they have become the “go to” red wines for New Zealand. I really didn’t know what to expect, so was surprised to once again feel like I was in a Burgundy tasting! Medium red in colour, lean red cherry fruit, a mix of herbs and wood, and fine to medium tannins – that was a fairly consistent description of most of the wines. You would certainly never mistake them for fruit-forward, vanilla laced California wines, that is for sure! It would be interesting to see how they aged, which is something I have had mixed results with for Burgundy as there is not a lot of obvious fruit when they are young, and many can therefore dry out over the years. Leading producers at the tasting included Craggy Range, Luna Estate, Mud House and Sacred Hill.

Last but least I had to look for some Syrah, of course…and I found a couple of beauties! Te Awanga had two – an entry level for about $22 and a reserve for about $28, and they were lovely! 100% Syrah, slightly riper than the northern Rhone (but not jammy or oaky at all), I really liked them! And the best wine of the tasting – as well as the most expensive – was the Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah. It had some Viognier in it, and was a young Cote Rotie look alike. Although at $110, it was out of my snack bracket!

So “big picture” takeaways? There is a lot going on with New Zealand wine, well beyond Sauvignon Blanc and the big-name producers. Go check out some Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and – if you can find it – Syrah. You won’t be disappointed!

SB

www.sbwinesite.com