Archive for July, 2013


July 25, 2013

I talk a lot in this blog about knowing your individual taste in wine as a way help make sure you can find the kinds of wine you like to drink.

But those tastes can change over time — and that can present some interesting challenges!

The first time that happened to me was with red Bordeaux. Like many wine dweebs, I began my wine hobby with Bordeaux, because it was (and probably still is) the most prestigious wine around.

I liked it (I think) and — given its reputation for aging — promptly started filling my cellar up with well-reviewed Bordeaux that I could afford.

Then, while I waited for them to mature, I “discovered” California Cabernet Sauvignons. The ’85 and ’86 vintages were on the shelves which — combined with a trip to Napa and Sonoma — got me hooked on that super ripe, vanilla laced black currant style!

In hindsight, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that when I started to drink the maturing Bordeaux, I was in for a shock.

Cedar, herbs, dried fruit — what was going on here? It took me a couple of years (and about a dozen different bottles) to figure out that my tastes had changed. The Bordeaux wasn’t bad — it was just no longer my style!

The same thing kind of happened with white Hermitage. I say “kind of” because this one actually was my fault for not finding out what the style of the wine was in the first place! My thought process was something like — I like red Rhone wines, so I must like white ones, right? It had worked for Bordeaux (ironically, I like white Bordeaux more now).

The ’89/’90 vintages were available, receiving incredibly high scores, and — relative to those scores — were good values. And they were supposed to age well, a challenge for white wines!!

You can probably guess what happened. Yep — when I started tasting them after 8 years or so, it was — Yuk!! They had a resiny/waxy character which I subsequently found out is supposed to be part of their appeal. Well, not for me!

So what did I do?

Well, first off, I stopped buying both of them for my cellar. That was the easy part (although I sometimes strayed back to Bordeaux when I saw good reviews/reasonable prices!).

The harder part was what to do with the wine I already had there in the cellar! I wasn’t enjoying it…but what to do?

My “Bordeaux” problem was resolved by an idea from a friend who read my blog and liked Bordeaux. John suggested a trade – some of his more fruity BC wines that he had bought (through my wine club) for some of my older Bordeaux. That worked out great for both of us!

But the white Hermitage…well, it’s still there. So if anyone wants to trade for it…


Wine, Cheese and Fruit – What Works and What Doesn’t

July 17, 2013

In summer (or any time of the year, for that matter), there is this great food and wine tableau.

A platter of fresh fruit — perhaps grapes, and assorted berries — along with a selection of delicious cheeses. To serve with them, of course, are both red and white wines. Glasses are poured, samples of cheese and fruit sampled — everything is perfect!

Or is it?

How many of us have instead had a different tasting experience? You eat a few pieces of that ripe fruit, for example, but when you then take a sip of your oak aged Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc –yuck! The wine tastes all woody or metallic!

Same thing with that fabulous piece of runny Brie or soft goat cheese. Both dry red and white wines lose all their fruit and instead become dried up and tannic.

So what’s going on here?

Well, I will leave it to the scientists to give you the technical explanation. But, to put it simply:
* any wines aged in oak (which is most reds and whites) just don’t ‘like” the sweetness of fruit or fattiness of rich cheeses; and
* if the fruit you are eating is sweeter than the fruit in the wine you are drinking (which is almost always the case), the wine doesn’t react well to that either.

So does that mean we have to throw out the whole romantic “wine, cheese and fruit picture’?

Fortunately, the answer is — no! You just need to adjust things a bit.

One option is to serve sweet wines like Port, Sauternes or late harvest wines. This isn’t hard to do if it is at (or as) dessert. And they can really be matches made in heaven. In these cases, the fruit in the wine is riper than the grapes or berries, and they don’t clash. And, amazingly, the sweetness of the wines also cuts through the richness of cheeses in the same way they do with the fat in fois gras.

For dry wines, you can do two things. Either go for wines with no oak, or else adjust the kind of cheeses you serve. Aged Cheddar, Parmesan, Manchego — all go very well with full bodied, dry red wines that have a little age to them. Examples include Bordeaux, Burgundy and Syrah/Grenache based wines from the Cotes du Rhone; Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo and Barbaresco from Italy, and Rioja Riservas from Spain.

A final option is to serve dry sparkling wines with fruit (a la Champagne and strawberries!). To be honest, I’m not sure why this works — maybe the lack of oak in the wine. But it tastes great!

So there you have it — wine, fruit and cheese. While it doesn’t work as well as the movies or commercials would have you believe, you can certainly make it a pleasurable experience!



July 10, 2013

There was an interesting article this past weekend in one of our national newspapers – front page, no less – about wine experts, and if they actually know anything. It called into question everything from wine ratings (what makes a 90 point wine vs an 80 point wine) to whether the average person can actually tell “good wine from average wine” in blind tastings.

Now, I don’t know if I would call myself a wine expert. It is definitely a hobby, one that I have been passionately engaged in for over 25 years. And I do give advice and reviews. But I have no formal training – aside from a few courses and membership in some wine associations – and wouldn’t even think to try and explain any of the technical details relating to winemaking.

But, from my perspective, I think this all misses the point. And that’s because taste in wine – like in so many other things in life – is personal. It’s not good or bad, right or wrong (aside from wines that are actually “off”, of course). Echoing the words of a teacher I once had “the best wine is the wine you like the best”.

And that is always the approach I take in reviewing or recommending wines. For the former, I make sure people know what my personal likes are – fruit forward reds, buttery Chardonnays, slightly off-dry Rieslings and Roses, etc. That way, if I say a particular wine is “great”, people will know that statement has some context to it.

I try to do the same thing when people ask me for a wine recommendation. Inevitably, my first question is “What style of wine do you like?” Dry or sweet? Fruity or woody? The answers to those questions are what guide my recommendation. I also ask for a wine they already know they like. If I know it – and its style – I can then probably make recommendations for others (the same price, more expensive and even cheaper) that person will probably like.

I take the same approach (in reverse) when picking wines for my cellar – which I will keep for 5 – 15+ years to develop and mature. Many times these wines cost $40 or more and I can’t afford to just “taste before I buy”. So I need some help.

So I have looked for a reviewer who seems to like the same style of wines as I do. For me, Robert Parker and his associates at the Wine Advocate meet that criterion, particularly when it comes to wines from the Rhone Valley, Italy, California, Oregon and Washington State. I know if they “like” a wine from these areas, it will probably have a lot of fruit in it, and enough of that fruit to age well. So the chances are I will like it too. And that has been my experience since I began relying on the Wine Advocate over 20 years ago.

Interestingly, I don’t go by their reviews for all wines. That’s because I know there are wines and wine regions – Bordeaux, for example, or Spanish Garnachas or most Chilean reds – that I just don’t enjoy, regardless of how “good” they apparently are. I have learned the hard way to just stay away from those wines, even if they get 90+++ scores from the Wine Advocate.

So does all this mean that wine critics are of any use? Well, I think they can be, as long as they think about it from the perspective of the consumer and the style of wine they like. If that’s how they give advice, then they can provide a very useful service in a world of increasingly expensive and – unfortunately – average wine.



July 3, 2013

With the weather in most parts of B.C. in the 30C range this week – and projected to stay that way for the next while – there can be no better topic for my blog than Rosé! Ever since we went to France in the summer of 2006, we have been enamored by this pink wine, and can’t wait for the warmth of the sun to give us an excuse to start drinking it.

But beware, Rosé! There are three general kinds, and not all of them are to everyone’s liking!

The first kind, which just about everyone agrees should be avoided, is the super-sweet kind. Often labeled “white zinfandel”, it bears little resemblance to the other two kinds (and to wine at all, for that matter). While it is light pink, it is also sickly sweet and should be avoided at all costs.

The other two kinds, however, are much more enjoyable. One is bone dry – in the true Provence style – and the other just a touch sweet on the finish, which in the heat can be incredibly refreshing.

But let me first digress – what is Rosé, anyway? Well, put simply, it starts off as a red wine, but the skins are only allowed to stay on for brief period at the beginning of the fermentation process. That’s what gives it the pink colour; the longer you leave on the skins, the deeper the shade of pink.

Rosés have been a tradition in the south of France for hundreds of years, usually for drinking during the hot summer months. Bigger and more flavourful than white wines, they can stand being chilled almost completely while still retaining their flavor. In addition to being incredibly refreshing in the heat – and fairly cheap, less than $10 in France and often thrown in with the meal in restaurants – they also go well with all kinds of foods.

They can also be made from just about any kind of red grape! The Rhone grapes are the most popular in France (Grenache mostly, although Syrah, Cinsault and others as well), but in North and South America I have also seen then made from just about everything – Cabernet (Sauvignon and Franc), Pinot Noir, Merlot and even Malbec. Some red grapes tend to work better than others, and the riper the better, but you have your choice.

In terms of styles, the bone dry one features fresh, ripe berries – usually strawberries – that are crisp, surprisingly full bodied and, as per its definition, bone dry. They are great with food and just seem to go with the heat.

The other version is just slightly sweet on the finish and, I have to admit, it is a guilty pleasure in our household. Made well, it can be bursting with pink grapefruit, strawberries and raspberries, and incredibly refreshing. In fact, there may be nothing better than a bottle on the deck or patio on a hot day!

What about recommendations?

Well, for the dry versions, look for the youngest available and keep it cheap. That means 2012 for France, and definitely no more than $20. There are specialty bottles from producers like Tavel and others that go for more than that but, for me, that defeats the purpose of what Rosé should be all about. If you stick to the youngest available and under $20, it is hard to go wrong with wines from Provence or the Cotes du Rhone.

For the slightly sweeter versions, B.C. actually leads the way! The best, year in, year out, is from La Frenz (now there is a surprise if you read this blog on a regular basis!). It has been made from Syrah in the past and is, literally, an explosion of pink grapefruit – truly amazing! And it is under $20. The only problems are it is only available at the winery and isn’t released until mid-July – so we have to consume as much as possible in the remaining six weeks of summer!

Another option, released earlier and cheaper, is from Quail’s Gate. At $15.95, it is almost as good as La Frenz and there is lots of it (as it is widely available in our government liquor stores). You can check it out now!

If you haven’t had the Rosé experience in the summer yet, you really should try it. There is nothing better in the summer!