Archive for October, 2013

Food and Wine or Wine and Food – Which is It?

October 31, 2013

With the colder weather and the holiday season almost upon us (I can’t believe its November!), many of us will turn our thoughts towards fancy dinners. So I thought it might be interesting to blog on an age old question – do you pick your wine first, the plan your meal around it, or come up with the menu and then pick the wines?

Well, the short answer — in my opinion — is either works. But I have learned a few things over the years that might be helpful, including a big myth I can ‘de-bunk’!

Personally, I don’t worry too much about matching food and wine. And when I do think about it, common sense usually prevails, particularly around how flavours may clash with each other.

If I have a delicately flavoured dish I’m making, for example, I’m not going to serve a big, tannic red wine that will completely overwhelm it. If I am barbecuing or serving a rich stew, then that kind of wine might make sense.

Same approach to a special wine — if it is older, with less fruit, then there is no point in serving a very spicy dish if I want to show the wine off.

But there are a couple of things I won’t do. Like serving a sweet wine that is sweeter than the dessert (as you won’t taste the dessert). Or serving oaked wines (red or white) with creamy cheeses. You will just get this metallic taste in your mouth.

Finally, a definite myth – the one about ‘food wines’. A wine should taste good on its own to start with. If food is needed, that will just ‘hide’ the taste of the wine. So don’t go for the old ‘this wine really needs food to shine” line.

Food and wine, wine and food – it’s up to you. I think you can enjoy things either way by using just a little common sense.



October 23, 2013

I saw a column on aging wine this past weekend and, frankly, couldn’t believe the advice that was given. Statements like “virtually all wines benefit from a few years aging”, “3 – 5 years is optimum for most red wines”, and “pay the extra money for a more expensive wine as it will pay off when it is ready”.

In my 30+ experience tasting, drinking and cellaring wine, the response to these statements is – BALDERDASH! And I will take on the fallacies one by one.

First, let’s be clear – over 90 per cent of red wines will not benefit from any aging at all. They may not deteriorate after a year or so, but they won’t get any better either. The vast majority of red wines – including a lot of frighteningly expensive ones – are best drunk right after you buy them. Stand them up for a few hours, then open and consume.

And white wines? Well make that number 99%! Except for sweet white wines, some German and Alsatian wines, and a smattering of white Rhones and Bordeaux, virtually all white wines need to be drunk within six months or a year of purchase. This is particularly the case if they are “oaked”, as the wood can rapidly take over and completely overwhelm the fruit.

Next question, then; for those red wines that can age, how long is best?

Well, for your Bordeaux, Burgundy, Cotes du Rhones (from France), big Piedmont and Tuscany reds from Italy (like Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello di Montalcino, and Chianti Classico Riserva), Spanish Rioja, California Cabernet Sauvignon and Australian Old Vine Shiraz, the answer is…it depends!

How much tannin a wine has – that mouth-puckering experience you get when you drink some of the big reds when they are young – is one determinant. The more tannin, the longer it will take to soften, the longer it can age.

But that doesn’t mean it will necessarily taste better five, ten or even twenty years later. Because – as I blogged a few weeks ago – as the tannin goes, so does the fruit. You could be left with a mouthful of wood and herbs; at best, it will be a very different tasting beverage. So if you like your wine to be fruity, don’t age it that long.

The final statement, though, is the one that gets me the most – “buy the most expensive one, as it benefit from aging the most”.

As someone who does PR as a business, I can tell you that is just marketing. Yes, there can be a correlation between price, quality and ageability. But not always. And very few people I know can tell the difference (in a positive way) between a $50 bottle, a $75 bottle and a $100+ bottle (not that I have tried many of the latter). Let alone ones that go way beyond those prices.

Instead, I would recommend a couple of things. First, know the style of wine you like best, including whether you like “old” wine at all. For me, I like – or love, actually – old Chateauneuf du Pape and Barolo. So I will buy those wines to age in my cellar.

But how much I will pay is always a question. Frankly, I can’t find any reason to spend more than $75 a bottle (and rarely go above $50). Maybe if I was rich that would change, although I can’t believe I would ever buy $100 bottles of wine.

To sum it up, buy what you like – and what you think is good value – and drink most of it up young, saving special bottles to age (if you like that style).

I’ll conclude with a story to illustrate all these points. I have a friend who is (or was) a wine dweeb like me. Years ago, the got some new neighbours and the man said he was into wine. They got to chatting and my friend soon got invited over (with his wife) for dinner.

Once there, it didn’t take long to get down to the wine cellar – a converted room, with temperature control, wooden shelves, locked door, etc. Apparently it was very impressive. But then my friend looked at the wines.

All red, but all from Chile…and in the $12 – $15 range! Many of them were also 5+ years old!

I can’t remember if they drank any that night (or what they tasted like if they did). And it may well be that the guy just liked old, inexpensive Chilean wines.

But it might also be he believed in some of the marketing about aging red wines. If so, that was a very unsatisfying – and expensive – mistake.


How Much Should Certain Wines Cost?

October 17, 2013

I was walking through a wine store the other day (what a surprise, eh?), and found myself shaking my head at the prices — but only in certain sections. So that got me to thinking about my perceptions of what certain wines should cost and how that effects whether I buy them or not.

Let’s start with South America, and Chile first. My first experience with Chilean wines was with the cheap/good value wines of the late ’80s, and I found that was still my expectation. Under $15 is what comes to mind…as well as lots of ripe fruit. But now? Try finding a fruity Chilean red wine for under $20.

Staying in South America, what about Malbec? I love that grape, which can make super ripe wines with lots of black fruit, almost like Zinfandel. I’m not thrilled with the oaked varieties, but the ones without it can be really nice. But price? Again, should be around $15. And yet you look at $25, $30, even $50 Malbecs…I won’t even try them for my cellar!

Next – and just so you know it has nothing to do with the “newer” wine regions – is Beaujolais from France. When I first got into wine, Beaujolais was one of my “go to” wines. Not the “Nouveau” stuff, but the 13 Crus (like Morgon, Moulin a Vent, etc). They were wonderful wines, many almost Burgundy like, and none of them over $22 or $23. But now? There are $40+ Beaujolais!! Fuggetaboutit!

Last, but not least, is BC wine (like you didn’t know this was coming). Now, anybody who reads this blog knows that I am one of the biggest boosters of wine from my home province. But some of the prices – ridiculous! There is definitely quality here, particularly among some of the smaller producers. But, really, there are very few BC wines that are worth more than $30 a bottle (Kettle Valley’s Reserve and Hayman Pinot Noirs, Nichol’s Syrahs, Marichel’s Syrah, Blue Mountain’s Reserve Pinot Noir), but most of the rest – nope! Sorry, but if La Frenz can make the quality red – and white – wines it does for $20 – $30, and wineries like Cassini Cellars, Howling Bluff, Eau Vivre, Moon Curser and Mt. Lehman can make outstanding wines for even less than that, there just is no reason for BC wines to be expensive.

To conclude, I want to be clear – if wines show they are “worth it”, I don’t have a problem if they charge more. And California is the perfect example of wine regions that have evolved over the past 30 years to demonstrate they are as good as any in the world, and therefore are able to justify world class prices.

But the rest? Give your head a shake. It may only be perception, but perception is also reality. And some wines just shouldn’t be expensive.


An Evening with Thomas Perrin – the Greatness of Beaucastel

October 9, 2013

What a fabulous experience tonight, so much so that I changed my planned blog for this week!

Marquis Wine Cellars, Vancouver’s premier private wine store, sent out an invite last week announcing the Thomas Perrin, the head of the legendary Chateauneuf du Pape producer Chateau de Beaucastel, was going to be in town and would be hosting a tasting of some of his wines. From the original message, it didn’t look like that big a deal – but with Beaucastel being my favourite wine, I arranged my work schedule to attend.

Before I go further, a few words about Perrin and Beaucastel for those not familiar with them. I won’t try and repeat the accolades lauded on them from the likes of Robert Parker, the Wine Spectator, etc. Arguably, they are the greatest Chateauneuf du Pape producer in the world, and one of the leading Rhone wine negotiants (making Gigondas, Vacqueyras and other fabulous wines). Their regular Chateauneuf du Pape is one of the few that uses all 13 allowed grape varieties, and it regularly gets scores of 90+ points. The reserve wine – the Hommage de Jacques Perrin, named after the legendary proprietor – is generally accepted as one of the greatest red wines in the world, often rated at 100 points and costing over $400 a bottle.

I have only tasted the Hommage once (at the Vancouver International Wine Festival; it was almost a religious experience), but have had the chance to collect and drink many vintages of the regular Chateauneuf du Pape, mainly by buying them in half bottles in Calgary at ridiculously low prices. They are stunning examples of Chateauneuf du Pape, capable of lasting 15 – 20 years in good vintages.

So that’s the set up for the tasting…why I went, regardless of what it was going to be like.

Then I walk in, and…there were 10 different wines to taste, including 8 vintages of Chateauneuf du Pape and one of the Hommage! Most of the older bottles were brought by Monsieur Perrin.

I was stunned…the quantity, quality, and hospitality…and it was FREE!!!

Below are my tweet reviews of the wines:

2010 Perrin Cotes du Rhone Villages – “50/50 blend of Syrah and Grenache, the former dominates with ripe black cherries, pepper, earth, no wood. Good deal for $21.”

2010 Coudoulet de Beaucastel Cotes du Rhone – “A serious wine! Similar blend to the Chateauneuf (mostly Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre/Carignan): really taste the Mourvedre with its earthiness. Tannic; years away, 5+”.

1995 Chateauneuf du Pape – “Still seems young! Medium red, garrigue on the nose, classic Grenache dried cherry fruit, still firm tannins. Still 5 years in it.”

1998 Chateauneuf du Pape – “Looks older/tastes more mature than the 1995. Still tannic, but fruit is drier/more mellow. Drink now after decanting for 30 minutes.”

2005 Chateauneuf du Pape – “Maybe a bit riper than the ’06, but same Grenache fruit. Tannins still there, and another 5+ year wine.”

2006 Chateauneuf du Pape – “With the ’05, maybe the best of the older wines? Good colour, garrigue, dried cherries, earth, pepper, tannin; still 5+ years.”

2008 Chateauneuf du Pape – “Surprisingly young and ripe¸ sweet (ripe) cherries. Quite tannic – 8 – 10 years?”

2009 Chateauneuf du Pape – “Best wine of the night? Super, super ripe dark cherry fruit, very tannic still, but lots years left in it.”

2010 Chateauneuf du Pape – “So young it is hard to judge; really tannic, but a core of ripe dark fruit underneath. 15+ years?”

2011 Chateauneuf du Pape – “Can you taste the vintage? Less sun, more rain…and the grapes don’t seem as ripe.”

2011 Chateauneuf du Pape Hommage de Jacques Perrin – “Even the Hommage can’t escape the vintage ! Unbelievable nose, and the fruit is ripe, but it is lighter than you would expect.”

There you have it – an unbelievable evening! Thanks and kudos to both Marquis Wine Cellars and Thomas Perrin!


How I Avoided the Annual Bordeaux Temptation

October 3, 2013

Well, I’m quite proud of myself this week on the old wine front. And that’s because, once again, I managed to pass up the temptation to participate in the annual Bordeaux release frenzy!

For newcomers to this blog, that may seem a strange — and even stupid — thing to be proud of. After all, isn’t Bordeaux the most important fine wine region in the world, with many wines capable of aging and developing for decades in one’s cellar? And wasn’t the 2010 release the ‘vintage of the century’?

My accomplishment may even seem ridiculous to those who follow this blog, as they know I don’t like the Bordeaux-style of wine. So aren’t I just following my own advice by not buying anymore?

Well, the answer to all of these questions is – yes! But with an explanation.

And that is all about the word temptation, and in this case wine temptation. The first part is around the reputation of Bordeaux and the frenzy of the annual release. As a wine lover, a part of me just wants to be involved!

Another part is the reviews and scores for the wines. So many received high scores from Parker (my reviewer of choice), and there were even some relative bargains in there. So shouldn’t I get in on some?

Then there were the descriptions of some of these wines — they appeared to be chock full of ripe fruit, which I love (but which I have never been able to find in Bordeaux). So maybe these wines actually had this kind of fruit! Should I buy some?

Well, in the end the answer was the line from that famous Amy Winehouse song…no, no, no!!!

I did it! I survived, stayed true to my values! Sheer willpower. Except…

Truthfully, the main reason was…I was too busy to get to the store! I did stop in at one of the lesser stores the day after the release, but even their small allocation was gone.

So I was safe for another year! And free to look for the wines that I actually like.

The lesson here? Well, maybe when it comes to wine temptation – like any temptation – the answer is to stay out of harm’s way!