Archive for February, 2012

2012 Vancouver International Wine Festival – 7 Countries, 7 Wineries, 7 Wines

February 26, 2012

Tomorrow the 2012 Vancouver International Wine Festival begins with the usual great assortment of tastings and events. With 962 wines from 181 wineries and 15 countries, the Festival can be overwhelming. So here is a simple guide — if you need it — of 7 wines from 7 wineries in 7 countries.

1. Australia

Of the 18 wineries at this year’s Festival, there are at least a half dozen worth going to taste at, but if I had to pick one this year it would be the Inland Trading Company. If you haven’t heard of it, don’t be surprised — but you may have heard about some of its wineries. Think Turkey Flat, Charles Cimicky, Burge Family and Rolf Binder!

Look for old vine Shiraz and Cabernet Shiraz blends here, and in all price ranges. The wines under $20 can be incredible values and the more expensive ones can age for years in your cellar.

2. Canada/B.C.

There isn’t as great a contingent of BC wineries this year for some reason. But of the ones that are coming, I would go to Nk’Mip for a tasting. This First Nations winery from Osoyoos makes some beautiful, fruit forward wines that can also be great values. For whites, the Riesling is nice, as is the Chardonnay (both the regular and the reserve, which is called Qwam Qmt). The latter are made in a California style.

For reds, their best wines are the Pinot Noirs, again both the regular (for under $20) and the Qwam Qmpt for $30. These are a nice cross between Burgundy and California, ripe but not candied, and just enough oak. The Qwam Qmt Syrah is also very nice, although a bit pricey at $34.95.

3. France

Everyone knows my bias for Rhone wines and with the great 2009 vintage now hitting the shelves, it is nice to see more than a couple of producers at the festival. If I had to pick one of them to go to, it would once again be the Perrin family, which is famous for its Chateau de Beaucastel Chateuneuf du Pape. But they also make fabulous single vineyard Gigondas and Vacqueyras (for about $35 and $27 respectively). And for value, the Perrin Cotes du Rhone Reserve — white and red blends — are hard to beat at about $16!

4. Italy

An old favourite is my pick from Italy — Antinori! Their prices — like all Italian wines — are now very high, but the quality is still good at all levels. You might get a chance to taste one of the first “super Tuscans” in the Tignanello, which is expensive at about $100 but nice to taste! There will also be at least a couple of their famous Chiantis, so look for the Marchesi Antinori Tenute Marchesi and the Peppoli. Finally, even the Toscano Ross Villa Antinori is a good bet.

5. New Zealand

Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc — the two reasons to check out the few New Zealand wineries at the festival. One I found last year that was great and is back this year is Giesen. They make great regular and reserve versions of these wines (the latter called “Brother”), and while not cheap they are incredibly ripe and pure.

6. Spain

I have to be careful with Spain, personally, because I don’t like oaked Garnacha (which is what most of the wineries there do). But I do love Rioja, and this year one of my favourites is there — Bodegas Muga. Dark, brooding and long lived, these are “red wine lovers red wines”.

7. U.S.A./California

Last but not least, the Festival is a great chance to try many of the California wines that are now way to expensive to buy up here! Lots of different options, but one you may not have heard of is Paul Hobbs. A former winemaker for some of the great “Califoria cult cabs” he has his own winery that is turning out some amazing Cabernet Sauvignons, Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Unfortunately, they are all in the $50++ category, so enjoy the tastes unless you have a lot of disposable income!


2012 in the Fraser Valley – Part I

February 20, 2012

I know it is still early in the year, but I popped out to the Fraser Valley on Sunday to see what was new at a couple of wineries — Township 7 and Vista D’Oro –and found some very interesting discoveries.

I started at Township 7, specifically because they had just released their 2009 Syrah. This has traditionally been one of favourite BC Syrah’s, a classic Rhone style with pepper, meat and black cherries — I have been drinking it since the 2002 vintage with great joy!

But, alas, for my tastes, no longer. The 2009 has joined the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in a change of style. Like its Bordeaux cousins, there is now much more herbaceousness and less fruit – in fact, it didn’t taste much like a Syrah at all.

For the whites, the 2010 Sauvignon was solid. Grassy, crisp and lean, it would be nice on the deck this summer with seafood and at $18.99 is a fair value. The regular 2009 Chardonnay is not as buttery as past vintages and a bit leaner; not sure it is worth the $19.99 price tag. What I did like was the 2008 Reserve Chardonnay. It is made in the classic California style — golden yellow, vanilla/butter/nuts on the nose and mixed with ripe citrus fruit, lush and full bodied. Not cheap at $24.95, it is still equal to many similarly priced California wines. My only caution is don’t keep it too long — the 2007 vintage was quite volatile and mine went off after only two years.

The best news of the trip, however, was the tasting at Vista D’Oro. A small farmgate winery that also has fruit trees, makes jams and sells cheeses, it makes very good wine! I loved their Syrah last year and there were two new wines that I liked this time as well.

The 2010 Marechal Foch was quite amazing! Deep purple/black, it was superripe with meaty/black cherries and a touch of chocolate. Full bodied and lush, it will age for a couple of years, but is drinking well now. And at $22.50, it is a great deal.

As is the 2010 Pinot Noir. Made from North Okanagan fruit, it is a classic PN even from a wet year. Light red, beautiful earthy cherries, a bit light but ripe, earthy cherries and dusty tannins that suggest a couple of years in the cellar wouldn’t hurt. It is also a good deal at $23.50.

Finally, the 2009 reserve red — called Murphy’s Law and made from Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot — was still in the barrel, with release a few weeks away. I plan to go taste it as well, given how good these other reds were.

I didn’t get to Mt. Lehman, Domain de Chaberton, Neck of the Woods or Blackwood Lane, but this was good start for a Sunday in February!


Last Minute Valentine’s Day Wine Shopping!

February 13, 2012

If you are still looking for that perfect wine for tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day dinner — don’t despair! Read the rest of this blog and I guarantee you will at least have options (and the time to do something about them).

Traditionally, of course, the first choice is champagne! But that can be a problem for a couple of reasons. The first is cost – real champagne (from France) can be ridiculously expensive, with regular, non-vintage wines starting at around $50 and going up astronomically from there!

But the bigger issue is actually style. For those who haven’t tried it, the yeasty, toasty flavours can be quite unusual and even unpleasant!

If you want bubbles, I would go for a Spanish-style cava wine instead. A lot cheaper (<$20 for most) and the flavour profile is much more user friendly, with crisp, ripe green apples. A perennial best buy is the non-vintage Brut by Segura Viudas for about $15 and available in virtually all liquor stores.

But what if you want white wine? Well, I would go with a nice California style Chardonnay. Golden yellow, buttery citrus fruit, lush and mouth filling — it goes great with lobster or chicken in a rich sauce. There are also some great options out there. From B.C., Township 7 makes a nice one for <$20. And for few bucks more, Kendall Jackson offers the prototype in its Vintner's Reserve for $23.99. Both are available in good quantities in government specialty liquor stores.

Finally, if you are having lamb, duck or a nice tenderloin for dinner, give some thought to a Pinot Noir. Generally lighter and easier to drink than the other popular red – Cabernet Sauvignon – it can have wonderful red cherry, vanilla, earth, and spicy flavours that go well with most foods.

You have to more careful selecting Pinot Noir, as the style varies and the cost can be significant (some French Burgundies cost hundreds of dollars). But there are bargains out there. For about $12, South Africa's Two Oceans (2010 vintage) is light but very nice. And a truly great wine for the price is the 2009 Pinot Noir from NkMip in BC's Okanagan. The First Nation's winery does amazing things with Pinot, and at $19.99 this tastes like a$30 wine. Again, both are available in government specialty stores in BC.

So there you have it — good value, readily available options whether you want sparkling, white or red wine. Now get out there and put the finishing touches on a great Valentines Day dinner!


What is “value” wine anyway?

February 3, 2012

I do a “wine value” blog every year about this time, as people are still getting into the new year, recovering from the recent holiday’s expenses and looking for ways to save money on everything (including wine).

But when it comes to wine, value is a deceptively complicated term. I have seen it used for bottles under $10, vintage Bordeaux that cost more $75 and just about everything in between. So is there one definition of “value” that wine lovers can use when looking to buy wine for every day drinking or their cellars?

Well, the short answer, I think, is no. That’s because value can come at a wide range of price and quality levels. And it is also significantly affected by the style of wines you like (or don’t like) and, frankly, how much money you have!

The first reason I mentioned is probably pretty obvious to everyone, as it applies to more than just wine. For example, find any two products that are about the same price. If one tastes/looks/sounds/feels, etc. better, it is also a better value. More quality for the same amount of money.

The more interesting part of this, however, is when you factor in personal style and taste. That can significantly affect your definition of value. And nowhere is that more apparent than in wine.

Perfect example — for me — is Bordeaux-style red wines. Anybody who reads this blog knows I rarely, if ever, like them. That herbaceous, woody, non-fruit driven style just doesn’t do anything for me at all. Not because it is “bad”, but just because I don’t personally like it.

So how does that affect my view of value? Well, if I don’t like the Bordeaux style Cabernet/Merlots in general, it doesn’t matter to me whether they are $15 or $150 — I still don’t like the style. So I don’t see any value in either of those or other price ranges. There are undoubtedly wines that are better than others in that style, but for me — I don’t buy them anyway, so I see little or no value.

The opposite is true as well. I love fruit-forward Cabernet from California, Australia and BC. So it’s easy for me to recommend value wines in this style in different price ranges. Same with Rhone based red wines and Aussie Shirazs. I love’em, so it makes it easier for me to find and define value.

The last piece of the value argument, though, might be the toughest one. And that’s related to price. Specifically — is there a price level above which the word value can’t really be used?

Best example? I’m going to the Caymus Special Selection tasting at the upcoming Vancouver International Wine Festival. I love Caymus, but can’t afford to buy even the regular Cab at $60, let alone the Special Selection at $150+. So if you had me try a bunch of $150 Cabs, could I tell you which is the best value?

For me, the answer is no. There is a certain price for wine — for me, its around $50 — above which I think value goes out the window. I recognize that is may be relative to income (and my $$$ figure has risen over the years), but I can’t ever imagine a day when I could say “this $100 wine is a better value than that $100 wine.”

So what’s the moral to this story? Well, know your style and budget before you start looking for — believing — a wine is a “good value”. That’s the best way to ensure you can enjoy what you pick out.