Archive for April, 2014

Rose – Sweet, Dry…or Both?

April 30, 2014

Okay, the sun is out, it feels like summer, and I saw the first wine column on Rose today. So that means I need to do my annual blog as well!

The subject – as always – is whether Rose should be dry or sweet. But, for me, this isn’t an “either/or” question. Instead, if the wine is made well, the answer is – both!

But first a quick reminder about what Rose is. Almost always, Rose starts as a red wine and is made by leaving the skins on for just a little while. The contact with the skins provides the colour, which can range from a light salmon to a deep pink colour. As well, because the wine is made from red grapes, it tends to have more body and flavour than most white wines.

Now, back to the issue – sweet or dry.

The main problem with sweet Rose is its legacy. Most people growing up have, unfortunately, tried bad sweet red wine. White Zinfandel, Mateus, Baby Duck – there are lots of other examples. Sickly sweet to the point of almost being cloying, it is hard to drink more than a glass (if that). And that is what many people think of when they hear the word Rose.

At the opposite end or the spectrum – particularly for people who have been to the south of France – is dry Rose. The same colour as its sweet cousin, but a very different animal once you taste it! Dry, sometimes very dry, with far less fruit, although no wood to speak off.

In between is the off-dry version which – interestingly – is increasingly being made, and made well, in British Columbia. Once again, the same colours, but explosively fruity on the nose and in the mouth, and very balanced in the mouth, but finishing just a touch off dry. On a hot summer afternoon, there are few things that are better.

So which is the right choice?

Well, I certainly agree that the sickly sweet versions are to be avoided at all costs. So we have no arguments there.

The dry ones? Well, when we were in the south of France a number of years ago, that was all we drank, and we loved them. It was summer, so very hot, and they are incredibly refreshing! As well, with no sweetness, but lots of body, they go great with a wide range of food, from seafood to cassoulet and duck confit.

The problem, though, can be the cost. Dry Rose has become trendy, which means that some of the “name brands” are getting very pricey, even approaching – and exceeding – the $40 mark! Tavel is one that has always been up there, but recently Brad Pitt and Anjolina Jolie also made one that was a bit less than that. It was good, but not worth the extra bucks.

In my view, Rose is like Beaujolais – it should be simple, easy to drink, and less (hopefully far less) than $20. In France, there are lots of examples of that for far less. In fact, it is often thrown in as part of dinner in many restaurants!
As for the off-dry versions, I love the best of them – in the summer. In BC, La Frenz makes the best one (for around $18) – it is bursting with ripe grapefruit! Quails Gate makes another, as does Chaberton in Langley, both of which are a few bucks cheaper. Sitting on the deck, with or without food – there are few things better!

So the answer, then, is dry and sweet, or at least off dry. Summer is short enough, so why not enjoy both?

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

BURGUNDY vs PINOT NOIR

April 23, 2014

Okay…seems like an oxy-moron for a title, right? After all, Burgundy — at least red Burgundy — is made from Pinot Noir.

So what’s up?

Well, after drinking a 15 year old Premier Cru Burgundy with Easter dinner this past week (the ’99 Maranges ‘Clos Roussot ‘ by Doudet-Naudin), it left me wondering about the relationship between the grape and how it expresses itself.

I admit to not drinking a lot of Burgundy. It is expensive – sometimes frighteningly so – and can be extremely variable in quality. I have had a few great ones over my wine lifetime (the memories of an ’83 Echezeaux and ’83 Clos de la Roche still bring tears to my eyes), but also more than a few disappointments.

The flavours are also not always in my style. Earth, herbs and mushrooms often dominate the dark cherries, and cedar/oak can sneak in, along with strong tannins when the wines are young. If and when the tannins resolve and everything comes together, Burgundy can be amazing (as in the above wines), but it can also taste dried out to me.

Before I go further, I should say I enjoyed the Maranges! While still tannic and not on the fruit-forward side, it was complex and in amazing shape for 15 years old. It also went extremely well with the prosciutto, goat cheese and pesto stuffed leg of lamb I prepared!

But I couldn’t help compare it in my mind to the new world Pinot Noirs from California, Oregon and here in BC. Ripe red and black cherry fruit can explode out of the glass, along with tantalizing vanilla overtones (can you tell I like it?). True, some can be almost too ripe, taking on an almost candied taste. But the best – like Kettle Valley’s Hayman Vineyard and Blue Mountain’s Reserve – add in enough earthy/herbal and even mushroom flavours to make them very complex, particularly after 5 – 8 years.

I bet if you served a good Burgundy blind next to one of these wines, the average wine drinker would think they are made from completely different grapes.

I’m not saying one is better than the other (although my guess is more people would pick the new world version).

The point is how different they taste and what that means for what people expect when they buy ‘Pinot Noir’.

The wineries in Burgundy have been making that style for over a thousand years and — after Bordeaux – it might be the wine world’s most respected wine. So I am definitely not saying they should change!

But what does that mean for modern consumers, most of whom will never be able to taste the best wines from Burgundy, and instead may judge them based on average –or less than average — versions?

In their minds, I think the definition of ‘Pinot Noir’ will be what comes out of the new world. And that may have interesting consequences – including for Burgundy producers – should they then proceed to Burgundy in the future

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

EASTER WINES TO HAVE WITH HAM, LAMB…OR SPAM!

April 16, 2014

Easter this weekend, and many will be looking for a wine – or wines – serve to family at a holiday meal. Everyone knows that the food plays a big role in picking the wine, so I thought I would offer some ideas on what to serve with some of the favourite Easter foods – ham and lamb (the spam was just a marketing gimmick to get your attention).

With ham, it really depends on how you are going to serve it. It is usually on the sweet side, with maple or sugar or any of those kinds of coatings, I would actually go for a white wine that also is a touch sweet. Rieslings or Gewurztraminers are great choices, even if they have just a touch of residual sugar, because they have big enough body – and enough fruit – to handle both the sweetness of the glaze and the meatiness of the ham. Germany and Alsace (from France) make the best ones, but if you have/come across the Small Lots by La Frenz from BC go for it! It is an amazing wine and, at about $20, a ridiculous bargain!

Wines for lamb follow the same kind of strategy, although there are savoury options as well. If it is a very “English” mint jelly kind of lamb, stick with the Riesling. But if you are going with the more French version – with mustard, rosemary and other herbs – there are lots of great red wine options!

Pinot Noir is one, especially if you can find one that has earthy and mushroom undertones to match the flavours in the lamb. Burgundy is the traditional place to go, but that can be very expensive and, frankly, unreliable (if I had a dollar for every expensive but disappointing red Burgundy I have had, I would be a rich man!). California can also be a source of good Pinot Noir, but – ironically – the ripeness of many of the wines can work against the lamb combo, with the almost candied cherry flavours coming off as too sweet for the meat and the flavoring.

My recommendation is from BC again – for some very special wines! Kettle Valley makes two of them – the Hayman Vineyard and the Reserve. The former is very “Burgundian”, with ripe dark cherry fruit but nice earth and mushrooms to go with it. The latter is a little more Californian, but still works. The other option is from Blue Mountain. Their Reserve Pinot Noir is a great Burgundy/Cali cross, especially as it ages! All these wines can be tough to find because they aren’t made in big quantities, but worth looking for. Other options almost as good include Pinot Noirs from Eau Vivre, Howling Bluff, Averill Creek and NkMip.

If not Pinot Noir, though, go for a Grenache-based wine from the Cotes du Rhone. The inherent lavender/rosemary aromas – called “garrigue” – are perfectly suited for lamb, as are the ripe but dried cherry flavours. Chateauneuf du Pape with six to eight years of age is a great bet, especially if it is from a first rate producer like Beaucastel, Clos du Papes or Le Vieux Donjon. But a younger Cotes du Rhone from a great vintage like 2010 or 2012 also will work.

And if spam is the Easter meal of choice? Well, if you are not drinking beer…pick the best wine you can find! It will make you forget about the food you are eating.

Happy Easter!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

WINE LABELS PART 2 – WHAT SHOULD BE ON THE BACK!

April 9, 2014

I wrote a blog a couple of weeks ago on wine labels, decrying the tendency towards ridiculous labels on wine bottles. Now, I want to follow up on what should be on the label on the back of the wine!

Traditionally, there is a bunch of bumpf about where the wine is made, commitment to quality, etc. But how about a novelty – actually tell people what the wine is going to taste like? Kind of like truth in advertising!

So, for example, you have a Cabernet Sauvignon or blend made in the Bordeaux style. Instead of saying something like “complex, sophisticated wine that goes great with food and will develop over many years”, why not say “this wine will taste little like the fruit it was made of; instead, you will find woody aromas and flavours, followed by astringent tannins that will be unpleasant now and probably never resolve.”

A more Californian style wine made from the same grapes would say “expect to smell vanilla covered black currants, followed by ripe currant fruit with only a touch of wood.”

The same could be done with Merlot – old world and new world. For the former, it would read “If you like coffee or chocolate rather than fruit, this is the wine for you; a touch bitter, with no obvious fruit”. Compare that to “look for an explosion of dark plummy fruit with just a touch of vanilla and mint.”

Starting to get the picture? The same thing could apply to the Syrah vs Shiraz argument. “Pepper, lean but ripe black cherries, licorice and earth” would be the former, whereas “if you like blackberry jam, this is the wine for you!”

And let’s not forget white wines! How about Chardonnay – oaked vs un-oaked. The former would be “Vanilla, butterscotch and almonds delicately covering citrus fruit that coats the mouth.” Whereas the latter would be “No wood here! Just super ripe citrus!”

Am I being a bit sarcastic? Perhaps. But I think you get the idea.

Many people buying wine don’t have the experience – or interest – to know much about it. They go by what they read.

So why not give them the facts?

SB

http://www.sbwinsite.com

IT’S SPRING – WINES TO LOOK FORWARD TO!

April 2, 2014

A couple of sunny days and you can’t help but believe that Spring is actually here! For us wine dweebs, that means new wines are coming…and white wines at that!

So what to look forward to?

Well, in B.C. there are a number of flagship wineries – and wines – that I look forward to every year. And most of the come from the Naramata Bench above Okanagan Lake.

First and foremost are the white wines from La Frenz, B.C.’s premier winery. It makes three white wines that I and my wine club buy year in, year out, because of their quality and value.

The first – and perhaps best – is their Semillon. It is dry, but with ripe fruit, grassy aromas and just a touch of oak. Like a cross between Bordeaux, New Zealand and California (in the best possible way). It drinks very well on release but also has a surprising ability to age. And still around $22 a bottle!

Next up, and not far behind in quality, is their Small Lots Riesling. It is made in the classic German/Alsace style, with green apples, petrol aromas and slightly off dry fruit. Also a candidate for short term aging, although it is so delicious that I have a hard time resisting it – especially at about $20.

Last, but not least, is the Viognier. Definitely Cali style here, with a fruit cocktail assortment of aromas and flavours, surprisingly big body, and a dry finish. It is also around $22, a price that puts other versions to shame.

The other premier white wine maker on the Bench is Howling Bluff. In particular, I love their Pinot Gris, which smells and tastes like white grapefruit! It is dry, but so flavourful and – can you believe it – is around $18!

Their other wine is a Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend that is only a dollar more, but worth it. Like a white Graves but without as much oak, it is crisp, clean and bone dry as well.

And what about Chardonnay? Well, if you put aside the Reserve bottlings (which won’t be released to later in the year), I think Township 7 makes as nice a wine as you will find. It is my style of Chardonnay – vanilla, butter and ripe citrus, lush and full bodied from malolactic fermentation, and ready to drink. And do drink it up – the only downside of this wine is that the oak sneaks up on it within a year or so.

Finally, there is the Nichol Pinot Gris – a truly unique wine. Ross Hackworth makes the only true “Gris” wine in BC (that I know of), leaving the skins on the grapes long enough to impart an incredible colour to the wine. It ranges from a light pink to an almost deep orange! But don’t let the colour fool you – the wine is still bone dry, crisp and refreshing. I have a wine club member who buys it by the case every year!

So Spring – bring it on! The Naramata Bench Spring Releases are less than a month away, and I can’t wait.

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com