Archive for November, 2012


November 29, 2012

Okay, it’s close enough to the holiday season to start a series of wine “gift-giving” blogs! So let’s begin with gifts for the wine lover on your list.

A couple of rules to start. First, the wines have to be available to purchase (no Screaming Eagle Cabernets that no one can get even if they can afford them). And, second, nothing over $50. I will do a “value wine blog” next week, but for now, let’s see what you can get for $50 or less.

First, a couple of reds, and I go to what are probably the two most famous wine countries in the world — France and Italy!

My favourite French wines come from the Cotes du Rhone, and if you are looking for a gift, any wine lover would be thrilled to get a bottle of the 2010 Gigondas Les Hauts de Montmirail by Domaine Brusset. Made from Grenache, this is a fabulous wine! It has the characteristic ‘garrigue’ on the nose (french herbs like rosemary, lavender and sage), super ripe black cherry fruit (without being sweet or jammy) and big body. It will develop for a decade or more, but can be drunk now if opened/decanted for an hour or so before drinking. Brusset is one of the best Gigondas producers and 2010 a spectacular vintage. At $49.96 in B.C., it’s not cheap, but it is worth the price.

My recommendation from Italy is another classic – Barbaresco. The 2007 by Produttorri del Barbaresco is a perennial winner, and one I have been cellaring/drinking since the 1986 vintage. Look for a medium red colour, earthy dried cherries on the nose, and more earthy, herbal, dried cherries on the finish, along with some tannin. I like to start drinking my Barbarescos at about 8 yrs old, which is when they begin to soften up, and they will keep developing for 10 – 15 years. Price – $42.95.

So what about whites, then? Well, for gifts, you can’t go wrong with Chardonnay, and I have two completely different versions to recommend. The first is once again from France; Burgundy, in fact, and specifically Chablis. This is one for the ‘ABC’ crowd (‘Anything But Chardonnay), as Chablis is made in stainless steel and uses little or no oak. And what a beauty – the 2011 Montmains Premier Cru by Brocard. Look for really crisp, dry flavours, including minerals and a flintiness (a good thing). Drink it now or, a rarity among whites, cellar it for 5 – 8 years. $39.99

The other Chardonnay is from California and Ferrari-Carano. The ’10 has true ‘Cali style’, with vanilla/butter overtones and lush, ripe citrus fruit. I love this style of wine, and while it isn’t for aging, it is sumptuous for drinking now. $32.95

How about a sparkler and sweet wine to round out the shopping list?

For the former, it is hard to find real Champagne for <$50. But if you are looking for that toasty, yeasty, bone dry style, I recommend a BC winery — Blue Mountain! Known more for their fabulous Reserve Pinot Noir, they also make what may be the best champagne-style sparklers in BC. The non-vintage ones (Brut and Rose) are only $25! And if you are lucky, you might find some of their vintage wines, which are around $40. The only downside is you have to buy from the winery or at private stores.

Finally, sweet, which means Port. Usually the words 'Vintage Port' and 'under $50' don't appear in the same sentence…but there are half bottles of Dow's 1990 Quinta do Bomfim available for $34.95! At 22 years old, this wine is fully mature, offering classic chocolate berries and raisons. Drink it now, or keep it for 5 more years (make sure to decant, as it has lots of sediment).

So there you go — my Holiday Wine Gift List for the wine lover. None are cheap, but, relatively speaking, they offer great value and will be much appreciated by anyone who knows anything about wine.

Next week, the Holiday Gift List for the frugal. Good wines that won't break the bank!


November 22, 2012

I have now seen it twice in the past week, so have to ask the question…what does it mean – and why is it increasingly being seen as a problem – if a red wine is too ‘ripe’?

Now, by that I don’t mean sweet. Fortified wines like Port are a whole other ball game.

No, the focus seems to be all about the fruit in the grapes getting so ripe that causes the wines to become…something. Over-ripe, then? Or raiseny? How about unbalanced or one-dimensional?

Well, why don’t we deal with these one by one.

Over-ripe? Well, to me that would mean when something starts to go bad, like fruit that has been left on the counter too long. I find it hard to believe that the wines which have been getting this “too ripe” rap are in this category. They are expensive, from good producers…that doesn’t make sense.

Raiseny, then? Well, that implies dried out…and there is a style of wine where that is actually the goal. Amarone – from Italy – is made by the ripasso method, whereby the grapes are dried before the wine is made. That makes the wine have a raiseny tinge to it, but that is the style. Not for everyone, perhaps, but not a problem either. So strike two, in my books, against the “too ripe” argument.

So how about unbalanced? Personally, at least when it comes to fruit, I would argue the more fruit the better. For those people who promote “food wines” (which need food to taste good) or like herbal, woody wines without a lot of fruit, I guess this would be a concern. But not for me.

So that leaves one-dimensional i.e. too fruity! Well, that one just seems ridiculous. When we eat fruit (and vegetables, for that matter), don’t we want them to be as ripe as possible, so they will fully display their characteristics? Apples, pears, oranges, grapes, tomatoes…all taste best fully ripe. So why not wine?

What’s with the “too ripe” thing, then? Well, I have an idea.

There is a significant part of the wine industry (wineries and wine reviewers) who – for whatever reason – seem to have a vested interested in promoting old style ideas. Whether it is “better with food”, “give it a few years” or “more complex than fruity”, they seem to come from a perspective that needs to make wine more complicated than it should be. Ironically, that’s what turns so many people off wine in the first place.

But I think they are wrong. Even allowing for differences in style – which I fervently support – the bottom line should be that wine is made from fruit, so the riper the better. If it isn’t, beware of excuses for under ripe or overgrown grapes. A glass of wine should be something you can enjoy on its own, and on its own merits.



November 14, 2012

Back to another “pet peeve” of mine…the rapidly escalating price of many BC wines. The idea for this blog started with the “Best in BC” release a month or so ago, but came to a head when I saw today in one of our papers that someone in BC is putting out an $85 sparkling wine…are you kidding me?

To start, let me put few things out there.

First, I don’t see anything wrong – in principle – with high priced wines (even if I can’t afford to buy them). If the market dictates a Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon from California (at $750+) or Chateau Petrus from Bordeaux (for >$2000 a bottle) sells out regardless of price, then good for them.

But my assumption in saying that is two-fold:
• number one, the quality of those wines translates into the price; and
• number two, these wines sell out regardless of the price

And there, for me, is the nub of the problem in BC.

On the first one – quality – I readily admit that is a matter of personal taste. And that is as it should be, because if we all liked the same thing, then it would be a pretty boring world!

But, as Einstein would probably have said (if he was a wine lover), “quality is relative”! So if I am looking at a $45+ wine from BC, I automatically compare it to other options in that price range. And I think that any wine lover would find that a no-brainer.

South of France (Cotes du Rhone), Australia (oodles of Shiraz’s), Spain (everywhere, including the trendy Priorat region) and even our friends just south of us in Washington, Oregon and California…there are lots of incredible wines at that price level. So even regardless of different tastes, I find it hard to believe that the high end BC wines can compete from a quality perspective.

And, unfortunately for many of the wineries that sell these wines, I don’t think the sales of >$40 BC wines justify the price. Without naming names, just go into one of the BC government liquor stores and see how many of them are still sitting on the shelves (or check out the website; one of them still has 3475 bottles available!!!!). So the “quality justifies the price” argument obviously doesn’t work for many of them.

The question, then, is why do it? Why charge those kinds of prices?

If you take away the “gouging” argument (which, out of fairness, I won’t attribute to anyone), I don’t have any answer. It used to be said my some that it was because these wines were targeted at American tourists, who came up here on holiday and wanted to take something back with them. When the US dollar was $1.20 Canadian (or more), that was feasible. But in the past five years or so, that hasn’t been the case.

Cost of land/production could also be another reason. I have heard some people say that real estate in the Okanagan is approaching that of Napa Valley. And yet, down there, there are more wine bargains (relatively speaking), than up here.

So what is the answer to my question “how much is too much?” Being completely honest – I don’t know.

But this I will say. As a wine “dweeb” who spends considerable money on a regular basis on wine – and has over 100 bottles of BC wine in my cellar right now – I rarely buy BC wines when the get to the $35 – $40 level. I just don’t think they are worth it.

So if I am not the target audience…then who is?


To oak or not to oak…is that the question?

November 7, 2012

Oak, as even the most casual wine drinker knows, is what most wine is made and/or stored in before it is bottled. But what intrigues – and bugs – me is how the oak can affect different wines in different ways. And how controversial that is!

For whites, the classic example is Chardonnay. California developed a reputation for “big, oaky” Chardonnays, which meant (and often still means) lots of vanilla, butter and even butterscotch overtones to go along with citrus fruit. When you add in high alcohol levels, you have a recipe that drives many people crazy and led to the “ABC” craze of a few years ago (i.e. Anything But Chardonnay).

At the other end of the spectrum are Chardonnays made in stainless steel vats, like they do it for Chablis in Burgundy. With no oak, all you get is the citrus fruit, very dry and crisp, with mineral overtones.

Personally, I like both styles, but have to admit – the big fat Cali Chardonnays are my favourite, as long as they have enough fruit in them to match the oak. My classic example is Beringer’s Private Reserve Chardonnay. It is so rich and lovely in the mouth – wow! I don’t know how anyone wouldn’t like it.

For reds, the three grapes I like to talk about are Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Malbec. Cabernet is the classic oak aged wine, with Bordeaux as the reference point. But, for me, the way it is made there is way to lean, woody and herbal (unless you can afford the $200+ wines). Some call it “complex”; I just call it a mouth full of wood.

But in California – and Australia – they have a different style. With riper fruit, the oak adds a lovely coat of vanilla to the black currant fruit, which I love! My first experience with that was Robert Mondavi’s Napa Valley Cabs back in the mid 1980s. Back then, they were still in the $24 range and what an experience – the essence of ripe fruit and vanilla balanced together. Caymus and Beringer were others I used to be able to afford…and still remember with much fondness!

More recently, I have found that oak can have really different effects on Grenache. In the Cotes du Rhone – where it is the main grape of Chateauneuf du Pape – I can taste little or no impacts from it, even though many wines get oak aging. The same in Australia, where it is riper but still not oaky. But in Spain – where it is called – Garnacha; OMG, what a difference! Many of those wines, including some that are highly rated, just get all herbal and woody on me. It’s to the point that I stay away from it almost completely in Spain, sticking to Tempranillo (which seems to act more like Cali Cab).

And, finally, Argentinian Malbec, where the difference – at least for me – is even more dramatic. Without oak, it is a fabulously rich and fruity wine, a bit like Zinfandel but not quite as dramatic. But add “oak aging” and…well, it really doesn’t work for me, again going all woody.

So, getting back to my original question, it probably isn’t “to oak or not to oak?”. Instead, it should be “what do you oak and what does it taste like?” Then it is up to the individual to decide what tastes best for him or her!