Archive for June, 2010

Nichol Syrah the Best “French” Wine in BC

June 10, 2010

Syrah has, over the last few years, become one of the darlings of the wine industry around the world, and for good reason. It can be made in a range of styles, qualities and price ranges.  It is, of course, called Shiraz in Oz, where it can range in taste and quality from almost sickly sweet blackberry jam to high alcohol, licorice infused monsters. In California, it is usually called Syrah and, while ripe and fruity, isn’t usually as jammy as its Australian cousin. Italy, Argentina, Chile — these and other countries all make their own styles of Syrah, and all have their merits.

But the style of Syrah I like best comes from the northern Cotes du Rhone, where it is made into full-bodied, potentially long lived and sometimes legendary wines like Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage and Cornas. Peppery, with a sometimes “wild” flavour of meat and earth, these are “red wine lovers red wines”. And, when made well, you can never taste the oak, because the fruit is so ripe and powerful.

B.C. has also become home to a number of  very good Syrahs and Shirazes in recent years, but the one closest in style to those from the Rhone is from Nichol Vineyards in Naramata.  I have been drinking this wine since the 1998 vintage and never ceased to be amazed at how much it tastes like a French Syrah.  And this has been the case regardless of vintage, and even through a change in ownership a few years ago.

Now, I am not saying that the Nichol Syrahs are as big or as long lasting as their Rhone counterparts, but the similarity in style is amazing.  And they do age well in good vintages; I had my last bottle of the 1998 when it was ten a couple of years ago and — aside from a crumbling cork that made opening it a challenge — it was fully mature and in perfect condition.

But don’t just take my word for it.  I saw an article recently that said renowned British wine writer Jancis Robinson had tasted one of the Nichol Syrahs and was very impressed.

The only downside, as usual with great wines like these, is that they are made in relatively small quantities and — except for a few speciality stores (that often have outrageous mark ups) — is only available at the winery.  But it is well worth the effort to find, and last time I checked, the 2006 was still available. 



When a Wine Breaks the Rules…in a Good Way!

June 1, 2010

One of the topics I have written on previously is how to tell when a wine has gone “off”, which mostly happens after it has been open and exposed to air for too long a period. For young red wines, one day (with the cork stuck back in or the cap put back on) is usually okay. But more than that, and there is a noticeable drop off in the wine. Older red wines (I find anything six years or older) can’t even stand that, as I find them oxidized even by the next morning. Opened white wines can last longer, three to four days in the fridge being a general rule of thumb.

 So what a surprise last week when I had not one but two experiences that were completely — and wonderfully — different!

The first was an Aussie Shiraz, the 2002 “Single Wire” from a winery called Tin Shed. I opened it on Friday night and — as is my custom on weekends with wine from the cellar — had about 2/3 of the bottle over dinner and the rest of the evening. But since my wife can’t drink red wine because of headaches, I just left the rest of the bottle on the counter, expecting to pour it out the next morning.

But the next morning before emptying it out, I took my customary sniff and, at least from the bottle, it seemed fine. I then poured a little in a glass and was amazed — the wine tasted exactly the same as the night before!! I knew it was a big wine, but it didn’t have that much tannin. So for 10 years old that is incredible! I have one bottle left in my cellar and may need to rethink when to drink it.

 Monday night of the long weekend was the 2006 Reserve Pinot Noir by La Frenz. I had never tried this wine before and didn’t know what to expect. And I was also going to be out the next couple nights, so wouldn’t be able to finish it before it went off.

So I tried an old trick my old buddy Wayne told me about. I poured half of it in an empty half bottle and stuck the cork on tight. Sometimes, with young wines, this can keep them quite fresh. But I didn’t really hold out much hope for the Pinot, as it wasn’t a huge wine and three days was really pushing it.

But lightning struck twice! Not only was the wine fine on Thursday night, it had actually gotten better, with more earthiness balancing the oak and dried cherry fruit.

So what did I learn from this experience? Well, it is tempting to just put it down to  fluke. But instead, I think I will try — on a more regular basis — to save some wine overnight in a half bottle and see how that works.