Archive for November, 2013

Value – What it Means and Where to Find It

November 28, 2013

Of all the ‘wine words’ out there, there is perhaps none that is harder to define than ‘value’.

Does it mean, for example, the best cheap wine? Or can you find value wines in all price categories? At the extreme, does that mean for Bordeaux – perhaps the most expensive of wines – can have value wines that cost $80, $90 or even a $100+++?

Well, a few thoughts on what value means to me. Personally, I associate the word mostly with mid-priced wines, say in the $15 – $20 range. Cheaper than that – and I drink lots that are cheaper than that on a regular basis — I tend to call them ‘cheap but good’.

The $20 – $30 category is a tricky one for me. For everyday drinking, I have a hard time thinking that there are any value wines here. Maybe it is the $20 barrier, or I don’t make enough money, or I am cheap…I don’t know! For my cellar, though, that is a whole different story. Wines that can age and develop over an 8 – 10 year period that cost less than $30 — I definitely see those as value cellar wines!

Over $30, I feel there are no everyday values. But the same rule as above applies to my cellar. I rarely spend more than $50 a bottle, so if I can find a highly rated Rhone, Italian, Californian or Australian wine with 10+ years ageability for $30 – $40, I see that as another cellar value.

Also starting at this price range, there are wines that I just don’t see as cellar values, regardless of the rating. Beaujolais, for example, or Malbec. Many BC wines fall into this category as well.

In the $40 – $60 range, all of the above applies, and value for me is tied very closely to a review. I follow Parker and have had good experience with his reviews. And I know that many 90+ rated wines cost from $50 – $100+++. So if I see a highly rated wine of a type that I like and know is usually expensive (and I can’t usually afford it), then I do consider that a cellar value.

Examples? Well, how about Barolo or Barbaresco or Brunello di Montalcino from Italy? Or Hermitage from the northern Cotes du Rhone? Or a reserve bottling from Chateauneuf du Pape or Gigondas? If I can get these wines for under $60 and their scores are 94 or 95+, then I also consider them values.

And over $60? Well, that doesn’t seem like value to me. I guess if I could find a 100 pt wine for $60 or $70 I might buy it, but I wouldn’t call it a value wine.

So that’s my view on value. In the weeks to come, I will give some actual examples — red and white — that fall into these categories.




November 21, 2013

Wine dweebs like me are famous – or infamous – for the words we use to describe wines. How they look, smell, taste – all have a seemingly unlimited range of potential descriptors.

I could do a blog about how realistic it is to smell and/or taste “acacia flowers” or “bacon fat”…but that is for another day. A simpler approach is to look at some common words or descriptions to watch out for, because they can mean different things than you would think!

1. Food wine

I have done this one before, so won’t go into any detail. Suffice to say if you see a wine described this way, I would stay away from it. A wine should taste good on its own. If it needs food to cover it up, why would you want to drink it?

2. Flavours of coffee, espresso, chocolate and mocha

This is a dangerous one for me, as it signals that the emphasis in the wine might be less about fruit and more about these so-called secondary characteristics. Can you smell/taste these? Yes you can. But will there also be fruit there to taste…that is a very big question. So buyer, beware!

3. Jammy

I use this one in a positive and negative way. It is an easy one to “get” – everybody has had jam, and knows how concentrated the fruit is, sometimes almost too sweet. You usually see it with two kinds of red wines: Shiraz and Zinfandel. Personally, I like it, particularly when the jam is blackberry and it is ripe but not sweet.

When do I use it as a negative? If I see a Syrah described that way. Same grape as Shiraz, but should be a different style altogether – more pepper, black cherry, and licorice, but not jam.

4. Lean

This is another word that should set your Spidey-senses off! Lean only means not a lot of fruit – end of story. Some try to use it as a positive descriptor (those “anti-fruit” supporters), but for me you just end up with a thin, often woody/herbal taste. So be careful with this one too.

5. Garrigue

This is a French word associated mostly with Grenache-based wines from the Cotes du Rhone. It is supposed to mean a melange of smells/tastes of French herbs – rosemary, oregano, lavender, thyme, etc. On the one hand, I know exactly what garrigue smells and tastes like, and love it! But can I pick out those herbs specifically? Probably not. It can be an acquired taste, so try a cheaper one first.

6. Lush and full bodied

Finally, words that can be applied to red and white wines. For the latter, it is easier to understand. Usually it means there has been oak used, and something called malolactic fermentation. The result is – at least for me – a gorgeous mouthful of wine, fruity but not sweet, with vanilla, butterscotch and even nuts. Think big California Chardonnays like Beringer Private Reserve.

It can mean the same kind of things for red wines, usually Cabernet Sauvignons or Merlots or Zinfandels, with black currants or plums or blackberries (respectively) replacing the citrus Chardonnay fruit. The warning, though – if the words “big” and/or “tannic” go along with description, then be careful. Too much tannin (that mouth puckering sensation you also get from tea that has sat around for too long), can overwhelm everything. It needs time to soften. So you might want to buy for your cellar, but not to drink tonight.

So there you are…a few “Wine Words”, and what to think about when you see them!


Iconic BC Red Wine Tasting? Should be Pinot Noir, not Cabernet Sauvignon!

November 15, 2013

I have read a couple of times in the last while about “Iconic BC Red Wine” tastings. And all of them feature Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines from the usual big wineries.

Well, I’m not against the concept. But let me show you why I think it should feature BC Pinot Noir instead (and who should be there).

The first reason has to do with how I define what an “iconic red wine” is. To some, it’s all about reputation, size and — seemingly — price. But that seems to leave out few key components, like style, value and quality.

All of these subjective qualifiers are, of course, relative to one’s own personal tastes. But when I look at them, I also see more than that.

For style, the so-called Cabernet ‘icons’ in BC go for Bordeaux – tannic, herbal and woody. Not much fruit there when young, or when the tannins subside either.

Value? Well, many of these wines are over $40 (with some well over that). Sorry, but that just doesn’t fly in my mind for BC wines.

And quality? That’s the most subjective one, of course. And it’s hard for me to objective given I don’t like this style much. But it seems to me that there is often so much tannin and wood, relative to the fruit, that the quality has to be questioned as well.

Because of all these factors, I don’t think you can really have a BC Iconic Red Wine tasting with Cabernets. Personally, I can only name one wine that fits the bill – La Frenz’s Grand Total Reserve!

But Pinot Noir – that’s a different story!

There are a number of very good to great Pinots being made in BC, and most wine dweebs like me agree on enough of them to hold this kind of tasting. My even would include:
* Kettle Valley Hayman Vineyard
* Kettle Valley Reserve
* Blue Mountain Stripe Label Reserve
* Eau Vivre
* Howling Bluff
* La Frenz Reserve
* NkMip Qwam Qmpt
* Averill Creek (regular bottling)

All of these wines meet the three criteria above – $40 or less, classic style (mostly Cali, although a couple of Burgundies in there), and undisputed quality. You could even throw in a few older vintages to reinforce this, as the Haymen and Blue Mountain develop beautifully over 5+ years.

I also know some of these were in the recent Pinot Noir festival tasting up in the Okanagan, so others must also agree with me!

So…who wants to put this on? I will MC it for free!!


What’s the Matter with Red Wines Having Lots of Fruit?

November 7, 2013

This has almost become an annual blog topic, but after reading yet another wine column on the trend towards less fruity/more “balanced and complex” wines, I felt the need to ask, yet again – what is wrong with red wines that emphasize fruit?

To start, ask yourself what wine is made of – grapes, which are a fruit. So shouldn’t the taste of the wine reflect that? And when you eat fruit, do you want it ripe or unripe (picture a hard pear or peach…). Again, a no brainer – ripe, of course. So what’s going on here?

Well, let’s take the criticisms one by one – and debunk them!

The first is that fruit-forward red wines are somehow one-dimensional and simple. Well, there are those, of course. But the good ones – and they come in all price categories – are far from that. The purity of fruit, for example, can be striking – the blackcurrants in Cabernet Sauvignon, the dark plums in Merlot, the black cherries in Pinot Noir. Then add in the wood and herbal overlays, such as oak/vanilla, pepper, earth and even meat; the result is anything but simple and one dimensional.

I would make this same argument even with “jammy” red wines, like some Shiraz and Zinfandel. If anything, the depth of fruit and flavor – and the ease of drinking – make the best ones even more enjoyable, including for those who haven’t tried red wines before or think they don’t like them. Yes, some of these wines can go too far and come off as unbalanced, syrupy or overripe. But the best ones (again, in many price categories) are a joy to drink.

Another argument is that more fruit forward red wines are more alcoholic. That can be true – the riper the fruit, the more sugar, the more that is turned to alcohol. But for me, the amount of alcohol isn’t an issue unless the wine is unbalanced because of it (or “hot” as wine dweebs like to say). Most red wines I drink these days are in the 14 – 14.5% range, and I can’t taste the alcohol. That is the case even for some old vine Shiraz and Zins that get into the 15 – 16% range. So to generalize about alcohol being bad is wrong, in my opinion. And if your complaint is you can’t drink as much because of the alcohol – then don’t! You aren’t drinking wine to get drunk, after all.

A third claim is that wines with too much fruit don’t go well with food, and aren’t “food wines”. Well, that is a pile of you know what as well. Can a really fruity, powerful red wine overwhelm a delicate sauce or fish dish? Of course it can. But why would you serve it then? Why not save it for your barbecue ribs or steak, and have a lighter Pinot Noir instead. And don’t give me this “food wine” garbage. As I have said so many times before, if a wine needs food to taste good, then I think there is something wrong with that wine in first place.

Finally, there is the argument that fruity red wines can’t age. For many that may be true, but it is more because 90+ % of all red wines are meant to be drunk in the first few years of their lives anyway. They just dry out and become woody after that. But, just have a taste – if you are ever lucky enough – to some of the outstanding California Cabernets out there and you will see how that is not true. I have had some, for great producers in great years, that at 10, 15 and even 20 years of age are still in fabulous shape. The fruit may have mellowed a bit, but it is still in balance with any wood and secondary flavours. The same can be said, although to lesser extent, for Aussie Cabs and Old Vine Shiraz. If anything, some of the latter become more “Syrah-like” as they age!

So my conclusion? Well, as if you haven’t guessed – I will take fruit in my red wine, please! And leave the so-called more “sophisticated wines” for those who like a different sort of beverage.