Archive for January, 2012

What is a Wine Supposed to Taste Like Anyway?

January 25, 2012

I saw an intere!sting wine description last week that gave me the idea for this week’s blog. Someone was reviewing a Syrah and said something to the effect of “it doesn’t taste like a Syrah”. Hence the title of this blog!

Before I start, though, let me emphasize — if you like what you are drinking, it shouldn’t matter what it tastes like! As I have said so many times, the best wine is the wine you like the best!

Having said that, however, certain wines are expected to taste a certain way. And perhaps the best example is Cabernet Sauvignon.

Historically, the most famous example of Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines are those from Bordeaux in France. There it can make long lived, famous and very expensive wines like Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Margaux and Chateau Haut Brion.

In terms of flavour profile, the emphasis tends to be more on the herbaceous/non-fruit side of things. There is talk of cherries and sometimes black currants, but also aromas and flavours that have become almost completely attached to some of these wines (such as pencil lead, which is supposed to be a fragrance in Chateau Latour).

Move to California, however, and you get a completely different result! Due to generally warmer temperatures (and therefore riper fruit), you get much more emphasis on the fruit itself, and particularly black currants (or cassis as the French like to call it). I can distinctly remember the first time I tasted one of Robert Mondavi’s Napa Valley Cabs in the mid 1980s — wow, what an experience after the more austere French versions! Up until then, I didn’t even know what a black currant was, but the explosion of ripe fruit in my mouth, covered with toasty oak, changed my wine view forever!

Those are just two parts of the Cabernet Sauvignon taste spectrum. In Australia, you tend to get more of a Cali style, but even jammier because of the heat. Chile and the rest of South America lean more to Bordeaux in style. And in Italy it can be completely different again, taking on an earthy, sometimes peppery overtone that tastes nothing like Cab from anywhere else. BC, by the way, has both French and Cali versions. La Frenz makes a great version of both, with its regular Cabernet being Cali in style and its Reserve Red more Bordeaux-like (although much riper — and nicer — than most Bordeaux I have ever tasted).

So what’s the lesson here? Well, it’s not about “good and bad”, that’s for sure; or about what “it’s supposed to taste like”. Rather, it is all about style. Figure out the style of Cabernet you like, and then if you know what country makes that kind of style, you know where to find it! Then it’s up to you how much you want to spend on that style (althought that is a whole other blog topic!).


Syrah or Shiraz…or How About Both?

January 18, 2012

One of my favourite wine grapes is Syrah. And one of the reasons for that is it can make two completely different — but equally enjoyable — wines from the same grape. But not everyone likes both Shiraz and Syrah…read on and find out why that’s too bad!

The Syrah grape is indigenous to France in the Rhone Valley, where for hundreds of years it has made inky black, peppery, black cherry-flavoured wines. They tend to be leaner in style, a bit acidic, but when they are ripe they can age for years to produce wonderfully complex wines like Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage and Cornas.

Shiraz — which is more familiar to most folks — is made in Australia, but because of warmer temperatures getting the grapes riper (plus more oak barrels), it tastes completely different! Think blackberry jam, with a streak of licorice in a luscious, mouth filling package…yum!

I find it interesting that some people don’t like Syrah because it doesn’t have enough fruit in it, and some don’t like Shiraz because it is too fruity and jammy! But for me, it can be the best of both worlds if you choose carefully!

On example is the Syrah by Nichol Vineyards from right here on BC’s Naramata Bench. Ross Hackworth makes what most would say is the best French-styled Syrah in Canada, with incredibly ripe, peppery black fruit that ages so well that by 8 years old in a good vintage it is a dead ringer for a good French Crozes-Hermitage! I just tried the 2008 and it is a beautiful young wine; last year, the 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006 all showed they were in great shape. And at about $35, it is a great value compared to $50+ French versions!

For Shiraz, I recently had a couple of high end Aussie versions that blew me away. The first was the 2004 G.A.M. from Mitolo, a wine rated 97 points by Parker that was a serious revelation. Like a concentrated blackberry liquor without the sweetness, it had a finish that lasted 30+ seconds. Still young, it was amazing! Just as good — but different — was d’Arenberg’s 2002 Dead Arm Shiraz. This is a huge wine and more like a Syrah than a Shiraz, as not as jammy and more tannic, but still mind boggling in its fruit concentration. Neither of these wines is cheap ($50 and $60 when I bought them a few years ago), but boy were they good…and easily justified their high ratings.

In all three cases, these are wines that benefit from a few years in the bottle, so that may be a detraction for some people. But if you can wait…wow, what a payoff!

So here is some advice. Go by a bottle of Syrah (from France or California or BC) and Shiraz (from Australia). Invite a few friends over and grill a couple of steaks on the barbie and open both bottles a few hours in advance to let them breathe. My bet is if they are good examples of each style, you — and your guests — will leave liking both versions of this increasingly popular grape!


Quit the wining (pun intended) about high alcohol wines!

January 12, 2012

I have to weigh in on this one — it’s not even mid-January and I have already seen three articles about people complaining about high alcohol wines. But my opinion – quit your whining!

The fact is that the alcohol level in table wines is directly related to how ripe the grapes are. The riper the fruit, the more sugar there is, the more alcohol can be produced.

And doesn’t that make sense? Don’t we want the ripest fruit possible to avoid those “green” flavours?

Apparently, not for some people. One argument is that these wines don’t go well with food. Well, that may be true for some delicately flavoured foods. But just don’t serve these wines with them! Serve a white wine or a light red like Gamay or Dolcetto. But the whole “food wine” thing — as I have harped on before — is a big game. If a wine doesn’t taste good by itself, it isn’t a good wine — period. It shouldn’t take food to “hide it”.

Another argument is that these high alcohol wines taste “hot”, meaning you can taste the alcohol and that hurts the overall flavour. Now that may be the case with some lower quality wines, but the higher alcohol ones I drink — from Shiraz to Zinfandel, Cabernet and even Chateauneuf du Pape — are gorgeous and very balanced, making it hard to find the alcohol (at least for me).

The final — and, in my opinion, most ridiculous argument — is that high alcohol wines mean you can’t drink as much without getting drunk. Well, duh!!! So what’s the problem with that? You are not supposed to have more than two glasses of wine a day (for a man) anyway. A 14% vs 12.5% wine shouldn’t change that. And even if you are more sensitive to alcohol — just have one glass! You shouldn’t be drinking it for the buzz anyway.

Bottom line for me is that wine is made of fruit, you should be able to taste the fruit, and that fruit should be as ripe as possible. If that means higher alcohol levels, I can handle it.

It’s certainly far better than herbaceous, woody, “green” red wines that are supposed to have character but really are just made from unripe fruit.


What I Would Like to See in BC Wine During 2012

January 5, 2012

Well, another year in wine has begun! I thought it appropriate to start it off with my personal “BC Wine Wish List’:

1. No new BC wines over $40

There are already way too many over priced wines from this province. And while I can’t do much about those (except not buy or recommend them), it would sure be nice if we didn’t get any more. Personally, I can see no justification for it. Its not about quality, as La Frenz, Kettle Valley, Blue Mountain and Nichol all make the best wines in the land for less than that. And most of the over $40 wines don’t sell that well anyway. So why?

2. More quality BC Wines for under $20.

Come on! Most of the BC wines under $20 are not very good. But Mt. Lehman, Blue Mountain, Nk Mip and La Frenz have shown you can make quality wine at that price point. So where is everyone else?

3. Better — and better priced – BC wine lists in restaurants.

Now I know restaurants need to make money off wine sales. That means living with a 100 – 150 percent markup per bottle. But even at that, there are enough good BC wines that restaurants — and diners — should be able to have their wine and drink it too! Almost all the La Frenz whites, for example, could sell for $40 – $45 a bottle (and do; check out Tapenade restaurant in Steveston for proof). The same could happen for the regular Pinot Noirs from Kettle Valley, Blue Mountain and Nk Mip, and the Syrahs from Moon Curser, Church and State and Mt Lehman. So why not? Trust me – they would sell.

4. Better wine preservation for wines by the glass in restaurants.

If I had a dollar for every glass of red wine I’ve had to send back because it had gone off, I would be a wealthy man! There should be no excuse today, with all the technologies available, to serve an oxidized glass of wine — especially at the prices being charged!

5. A Canadian/BC wine competition/tasting that actually features the best BC wines.

I know that some of my favourite wineries/wines stay out of competitions and big tastings on purpose. They sell everything they make, so who needs the expense? But it still irks me to see the same old ‘big’ wineries and wines win these things every year!

So how about this for a wish – a tasting/competiton featuring the following:

* Pinot Noir – Kettle Valley Hayman Vineyard, Kettle Valley Reserve, Blue Mountain Reserve, Averill Creek, Eau Vivre

Syrah – Nichol, Mt Lehman, Vista d’Oro, Moon Curser, Township 7, Burrowing Owl, Church & State

* Cabernet/Blends – La Frenz, Moon Curser, Church & State, Nota Bene

* Chardonnay – Blue Mountain, La Frenz, Township 7, Quinta Ferreira, Kettle Valley

* Riesling – La Frenz, Tantalus, Nk Mip

Now that I would pay to see!

So there — wine hopes and wishes for 2012. I’m not optimistic they will come true, but as a famous Ranger once said…’Dare to Dream!’.