Archive for February, 2010

Who says Aussie Shiraz can’t age?

February 25, 2010

Tonight — as Canada’s women’s hockey team wins gold!!! — the 2001 Penny’s Hill Shiraz from Australia. Wow…nine years old, and in absolutely outstanding shape! Blackberry jam, licorice, full body but so smooth…a beautiful wine.

A lot of wine dweebs criticize Aussie Shirazes, saying that with all that ripe fruit there is no way they can age. Well, once again, an example of how that isn’t the case for the top level wines.

This is the third bottle of this wine I have tried, and it has gotten better every time!  When I first tried it, the wine was very typical for big Aussie Shiraz — almost overripe, not a lot of complextity but incredible concentration…you could tell there was a lot to this wine.

The next time — about four years later — the jamminess had begun to soften a bit, but the concentration was still there. And no evidence at all of wood.

And now…well, just beautiful! Still no wood, and the mix of licorice and blackberry is moving towards the port side of things, but in a good way.

So still great at 9 years old…I realize that is not “old” to a lot of wine folks, but it is by most wine standards (where over 99% of wine should be drunk within the first 18 months).

I have four or five other vintages of this wine in my cellar…this gives me confidence I can wait on them to enjoy the complexity that comes with patience!


Marechal Foch – the Canadian Zinfandel, eh?

February 24, 2010

From the cellar tonight — to enjoy with Canada’s win over Russia! — was the 2007 Marechal Foch from Lang Vineyards in the Okanagon Valley of B.C.  Wow…what an enjoyable wine! An obscure grape (see more later) that is perfectly ripe, with tell-tale Foch characteristics of meat, black fruits and a touch of earth; really smooth and full bodied with no rough edges at all.

Marechal Foch is an interesting story. A hybrid grape orginally from France, it is really only grown now in North America, particularly in Ontario and B.C.   It is actually a throw back to the “pre-free trade” days in Canada, when a lot of bulk wine grapes were grown and subsidized by the Canadian government, which allowed high quantity and low — very low — quality table wines. Most of the hybrids got ripped out when free trade came in and subsidies were eliminated, but Foch still remains.

And made well — as Lang does, and Quail’s Gate does best of all — it is a very interesting wine. I don’t know if I would ever call it “great”, in the way that a Cabernet or Syrah can be, because it is never tremendously complex.  But for sheer enjoyment, it is hard to beat. When the grapes are ripe, it is pure joy to drink…no greeness, and no wood or oak that I can every find.  It can be high in alcohol — over 15% for some — but usually handles that very well given how ripe the wines usually are.  You could say it is the Canadian version of Zinfandel, eh?

In addition, it is often a tremendous value. The Lang wine goes for under $20 and the Quail’s Gate for under $25…and they can age beautifully for 5 – 8 years.  The only downside is both wines are usually only found for sale at the winery.

Home grown, home made, and value to boot…way to go, Canada!


What? That’s no “90 point” wine!

February 23, 2010

I am like a lot of wine lovers, always looking for values to drink and cellar and — with limited budget — using wine “ratings” to help decide what to buy.  As I’ve talked about before in this blog, if you find a wine expert you can related to, this is usually a pretty safe bet. But sometimes event that doesn’t help, which is what happened last night.

The wine was another Malbec — 2008 from Maipe — and was rated “90” by the Wine Advocate, which for a $15 wine made it potentialy an outstanding buy.

So I opened it with confidence, expecting the classic Malbec aromas and flavours of blackberries and that smooth, lush texture without any jamminess.

Surprise, surprise — none of the above! The nose didn’t have a lot on it, and the taste was about the same, with more herbs than fruit and cedar/oak in the background. It wasn’t “off” or bad, just a completely different style than I expected when I bought it.

The result for me, at first, was disappointment. I was really looking forward to the kind of wine I wanted. 

But then I also thought more about “the rating” game, and it reminded me that everybody’s tastebuds — even so-called experts — are different. In the case of the Wine Advocate, Robert Parker now has 5 or 6 people reviewing wines with him, so there is bound to be variation in styles and preferences.

So I “sucked it up” and finished my glass…and had another.  The wine seemed to get better over the evening, never evolving into the style I was looking for, but still a nice wine (perhaps made even better by Canada’s spectacular Gold Medial in Ice Dancing!!!).

Lesson learned…again! Buyer beware when it comes to ratings…but don’t let that spoil your wine experience either!


Chianti – It doesn’t have to be that stuff in the wicker basket!!

February 19, 2010

Tonight, a wine that I can’t believe was still in my cellar!  The 1999 Chianti Classico Riserva from Villa Antinori.  If you can believe it, I bought this for under $15 over 8 years ago.  And it is still in impeccable shape.

Classic (no pun intended) Chianti Classico Riserva…dried cherries, tart acidity, herbs and smooth as silk…wow!

For most people, the word “Chianti” brings to mind those local Italian restaurants with checkered tableclothes and  those funny looking wine bottles in wicker baskets.

And for wine dweebs, Chianti has become overpriced (and over-hyped) wines with increasing amounts of international grapes (like Cabernet and Syrah), wines that taste nothing like traditional Chianti’s based mostly on Sangiovese.

Tonight’s wine is an example of the fact that Chianti can taste the way it is supposed to taste, without spending an exorbitant amount of money.  Sure, my $15  eight years ago is over $20 now. But for that money, you can get — in a good vintage — the kind of wine I had tonight. It will last for 5 – 8 years, and give tremendously complex pleasure when you drink it. Not jammy, not excessively fruity, but still beautiful wine.

So try some Chianti riservas…I think you will be surprised how different they are from what you have imagined!


A wine that tastes different…doesn’t mean it is a bad wine!

February 17, 2010

A couple of wines over the last few nights reminded me that just because a wine tastes different from what you expect or what you are used to, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything wrong with it!

First up was the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon by Next of Kin, an Australian wine I had never heard of. I expected the usual Aussie red wine…super ripe fruit, jammy berries, touch of oak, mouthcoating…instead, I got chocolate, less obvious fruit, and a leaner, more French style Cabernet.

Then tonight, the 2007 Ercavio from Spain, a Tempranillo that, in the past, has been a dead ringer for a big California Cabernet, with vanilla, blackcurrants and a touch of mint that was quite amazing.  Instead, for this vintage I got none of that; it was quite restrained, more chocolate/herbs, a bit tannic.

I have to admit, my first reaction in both case was “is there something wrong here?”. But then I remembered some advice I receive from my friend John — based on a book we both read on “the search for terroir” — that different doesn’t mean bad.

So in both cases I went back to the wines and tried to have more of an open mind. And when I did, I got different results.

Not in the smells or tastes…those were the same. But I tried to let myself appreciate them for what they were…and that seemed to work.

For the Aussie Cab, I started to appreciate the complexity of the chocolate flavours, something that you don’t always see with Aussie wines because they are so ripe.

And for the Ercavio, I was reminded of other Tempranillo’s I have had in the past, how the mix of oak and herbs can also add complexity. I didn’t end up liking it as much as the Aussie Cab, but it still was a good wine for under $15.

So the lesson here? Watch out for preconceptions going in to tasting, and always give yourself a second chance to like a wine based on what it actually tastes like. 

Take that approach, and you will have a chance to enjoy a wider variety of wines.


A Gold Medal Wine…to Go with Canada’s First Gold Medal!

February 14, 2010

So exciting today, with Canada winning its first gold medal at the Olympics!

To celebrate, my favourite wine — Chateauneuf du Pape — and tonight the 1995 from Clos des Papes. Amazing wine…15 years old, some maturity, but still seems young and fresh in a lot of ways. Excellent colour, absolutely stunning nose of ripe, herbal cherries and the taste…my wife said it was perfect, and she might be right. The fruit is completely ripe, but not jammy or grapey…not to herbal, but enough herbs to add complexity, and it just rolls over your tongue with the smoothness..outstanding!

So proud to be a Canadian today, and a Vancouverite to boot…Go, Canada, Go!


Old Shiraz – from Jam to Port

February 13, 2010

Tonight, the 2001 Shotfire Ridge Shiraz from Thorn-Clarke in Australia.  Beautiful purple colour,  a blackberry liqueur/port like aroma that is fulfilled in the mouth, along with some licorice.  Just about over the edge in terms of maturity, but still a beautiful wine (and my last bottle).

Tasting the wine tonight reminded me just how incredible it is the way that wines can change and evolve.  When I had my first bottle of this wine three years ago, it was classic Aussie Shiraz — pure blackberry jam, big body, smooth and rich, just gorgeous.

And now, just years later, a completely different wine. Still beautiful, but not at all the same.

It is important to remember that wine is a living thing.  Inside the bottle it is changing, impacted by its natural ingredients — the fermented grape juice — and the outside influences of air in the bottle and through the cork.

The joy, as a wine lover, is to follow the evolution of this living thing and enjoy it at its different stages. The challenge, of course, is not to wait to long…because once a wine has tipped over and begun to oxidize, it provides few, if any, pleasures any more.

The lesson for those with wine cellars is actually a simple one. Always buy at least two bottles of a wine for your  cellar. Then, take good notes on what the first one tastes like when you open it.  Finally, err on the side of caution when you drink your last bottle. It is far better to drink a wine with a few years left in it, than one that is over the hill.


What has everybody got against Malbec anyway?

February 8, 2010

Malbec tonight, the 2008 from a winery new to me — Punto Final out of Argentina. Wow…this was  a “90 pointer” from Parker and I can see why! Deep purple, amazing blackcurrant liqueur on the nose and in the mouth, round, smooth and no hard edges or jamminess (not Aussie for sure). And for under $16… a bargain and a half!

Interestingly, Malbec seems to be under seige lately in the same way that Merlot was a number of years ago.  But for the life of me, I can’t figure out why.

Made in Argentina, at least, it seems to offer the best of the new world while avoiding the things that some people hate. Very ripe and fruity, smooth and easy to drink right away, available in a range of prices (from under $10 to as much as you want to pay)…those are the positives. But it also is rarely “green and unripe” (even the cheaper ones) nor is it jammy like some Aussie Shiraz’s.  So what’s not to like?

Maybe it is just too popular…that in itself is enough for some people to criticize it. Or there are too many of them coming out of Argentina i.e. the old volume drives down quality argument, although that usually only applies if they try to produce too much wine from the vines themselves (leading to the greeness I mentioned earlier). And I have seen few examples of that.

Whatever the reason, I am not going for it. I love Malbec and recommend it on a regular basis, both in the under $12 category and even in the up to $30  (check out my wine lists at for examples). The latter wines, by the way, also age amazingly well for 5 + years without losing their fruit.

So it is a mystery to me why many wine writers are increasingly against them.  And until I find out, I will keep drinking, buying and recommending them!


Old wine — the good, the bad and the ugly

February 7, 2010

A beauty of an old wine tonight, but it also demonstrated all that is good — and bad — about old wines.

The wine — the 1990 York Creek Petite Sirah from Ridge Vineyards in California.  After more than a little anxiety (see below) it turned out to be great! Still amazingly dark in colour (almost black), it has smokey, peppery, earthy black fruit, no wood that I can detect, medium body and smooth, black cherry fruit.  Hard to believe it is almost twenty years old!

So the “good” of old wines is obvious from the above…you buy them many years before in the hope that that they will evolve, lose some of the mouth-puckering tannin that make them unenjoyable when young, and still have enough fruit to be nice to drink. When that happens it is a treat.

The bad? Well, the older a wine gets, the greater the risk that something has gone wrong with it, often something that is beyond your control. Is the cork leaking? Have the storage conditions been too variable? Has the wood just taken over from the fruit? You won’t know until you open it and smell/taste it. And when it is gone — for whatever reason — it is a real disappointment.

And what about the ugly? Well, that happened tonight as well. It has to do with the cork.  The older corks get, the more brittle they get.  And that makes them harder to get out. Right now, I have cork pieces all over my dining room table…little pieces, big pieces….It took two different cork screws to get the cork out, and even then some bits got into the wine. I had to double decant it — once into the decanter, and then back into the bottle (that had been rinsed out).  Fortunately, I could taste no impact of the cork. And, no guests for dinner…that would have been embarrassing!

But even though there is “good, bad and ugly” to old wine, the good far outweighs the other two when the wine is in good shape. The result can be a truly memorable experience.


Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon – A Benchmark in Wine

February 7, 2010

Last night’s wine from the cellar came from Robert Mondavi, who was one of my favourite producers. It was the ’96 Oakville Estate Cabernet and at almost 14 years old was still in beautiful shape! Fully mature, with that classic smell and taste of ripe blackcurrants and toasty oak…still a little tannin, and getting a bit woody, but a beautiful wine none-the-less.

Robert Mondavi Winery is, of course, an icon in the wine world.  Justifiably credited with almost single handedly putting California wine on the quality map, his multi-decade career (and that of his sons, who carry on his legacy) is truly amazing from so many perspectives.

For me, personally, Modavi’s wines also were responsible for getting me “hooked” on wine. I remember tasting his 1984 and 1985 regular Napa Valley Cabernets…they blew me away! I had actually started exploring wine from France, which tends to have less emphasis on fruit, but these wines were staggering. I didn’t even know what a blackcurrant was until I smelled and tasted them, but they were so full of that ripe fruit, I almost couldn’t believe it.

That led me, in turn, to explore their Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and Fume Blancs, all of which I came to love as well.

And then, in 1989, we made the trip to Napa and Sonoma and a pilgrimage to the Mondavi winery.  I was literally in heaven (which, as a non-religious person, is saying something).  I still have a picture of me doing a vertical tasting of older Mondavi wines, sitting outside in that beautifully designed winery…the look on my face is pure rapture!  And I brought back a sweatshirt with the 1978 Reserve Cabernet Label on it.  I still have it…it is worn and ratty, but I won’t throw it out…it brings back too many memories!

Unfortunately, over the years as prices went up and the Mondavi style changed, I drank fewer and fewer of these wines.  I still check out the Napa Valley Cab every year and do buy some of them, but that is about it.

But that doesn’t change the impact that Mondavi wines had on me the way they got — and kept — me involved in wine.