Archive for June, 2014

DIFFERENT WAYS TO PUT “WINE” INTO YOUR HOLIDAYS!

June 25, 2014

I am going to try and take most of the next couple of weeks off, which got me thinking about all the ways I could make “wine” part of my holiday, especially since we won’t be spending a lot of time away from home.

The first and most obvious one – for those who have a wine cellar – is to drink more of those special wines during vacation! Usually that is reserved only for weekends, but if you have enough (or enough interest), then a special wine every night can really add to your time off. And, if you are not going away (like us, for the most part), it can even make you feel like you are somewhere else, especially if you pair the wine with a special meal.

Even if you don’t have a wine cellar, however, you can still make this part of your ‘staycation’. Take the time to go to your local wine store and buy a few wines that you wouldn’t normally purchase. Whether it is the price level, style or even quantity, just the purchase alone will make it feel like you are on holidays!

And what if you are going away somewhere?

Well, if you are eating in restaurants, you can apply the same principle as above. And it doesn’t have to be expensive, either! You can focus on wines from the place you are visiting, for example. We were in Seattle earlier this year, and found a restaurant which not only had great Washington wines, they were also 20% off by the bottle! Wines by the glass are another option (albeit with the caveats from last week’s blog). Have a white with your appetizer, a red with your main, maybe a sweet wine with dessert…you can probably do all of that for the price of a whole bottle!

Another way to treat yourself is to have a glass of wine at lunch! This is a great way to fit into the local culture – if you are in France or Spain, for example, everybody does it – and in the heat, there is nothing like a glass of cold Rose to quench the thirst. It can also be a great way to experience a highly rated restaurant economically. Often it is hard to get reservations, and too expensive, to eat in the best places for dinner. But lunch? Same food, cheaper prices, and same wine list. It can be a really luxurious way to spend part of an afternoon.

So there you go – lots of ways to make wine part of your vacation, whether you are staying home or going some place wonderful!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

When Your Wine by the Glass is Off…and How to Send it Back!

June 18, 2014

It happened again the other day. I was out for dinner with friends before a concert at a pub. The others were ordering beer (after all, it is a pub!), so a bottle of wine was out of the question. They had an okay Aussie Shiraz by the glass, so that’s what I went for.

And when it came…well, you can probably guess the punch line here from the title of the blog!

So what to do? Before that, though, the question is how to know if there is something wrong with your wine by the glass!

A little context first. Most establishments (whether pub, casual restaurant or fine dining establishment) do the same thing with the wine they serve by the glass. The bottle gets opened, and the cork put back in it. At the end of lunch service, it waits till dinner. At the end of the night, it either sits under the bar till the next day’s lunch, or gets put in the fridge (white wine goes there always, of course). Restaurants and bars need to do this in order to maximize revenue per bottle.

The problem for wine drinkers is that when air gets into a wine bottle, the wine starts to oxidize. Slowly at first for young wines, faster for older wines, fastest when it is hot out. The lunch to dinner time frame — if the bottle was opened at lunch — is usually okay for the wine, but overnight, particularly if the wine just sits behind the bar, can be a real problem.

What kind of problem?

Well, the first sign is on the nose. The impact ranges from a lack of aromas to a distinct tea/brown sugar smell. The latter is actually so recognizable that I almost don’t need to taste it to know it is oxidized!

But when I do, the result ranges from lack of fruit, woody/herbal flavours, and – in the worst case – a bitter, metallic aftertaste.

While wine in this condition can’t harm you, it is also not very enjoyable, especially if you are paying $12 – $15 a glass for it!

So what to do?

Well, in a nice restaurant (or even an average one serving good wine), I find the best thing to do is ask your server whether the wine has just been opened, or whether it has been sitting around for a while. He or she will usually take it back to the bar and quickly return with a new, freshly opened version (along with an apology).

This approach has always worked for me, with no one ever challenging my view that the wine is off. It can be a little uncomfortable to do — makes you look like a wine snob – but it’s better than drinking something that is off.

In a pub or more casual place, however, it can be tougher to do. Not because of the response to your question (which is inevitably the same), but because you may feel even more like a wine dweeb in the more casual environment. So it is up to you whether to put up with a poor glass of wine or the extra embarrassment!

There is a solution to all of this, albeit an expensive one. High end wine preservation systems are out there, and the fancy restaurants often have them, even using them to sell really expensive wine by the glass (one in town sells $100 Tignanello for $25 a glass!). So if you see one of those devices when you walk into the restaurant, you know it is safer — if more expensive — to order by the glass.

The other solution, at least in BC, is simpler — just order a bottle! Even if you just have two glasses, you can put the cork back in it and take it home with you. Assuming you get it in the fridge asap, it stands a good chance of being okay the next day (unless you finish it off later in the evening, of course!).

So there you go…some ideas for dealing with the issues around wine by the glass in restaurants. Remember…you don’t have to drink bad wine!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

Sauvignon Blanc – the “Other Other” White Grape!

June 11, 2014

With the warmer weather finally coming to the Lower Mainland of BC in the last couple of weeks, I have been drinking more white wines lately. And that has included a number of remarkable Sauvignon Blancs – so thought I would write about them!

Often, it seems, Sauvignon Blancs are ignored. Chardonnay gets the most attention – both good and bad – along with Pinot Gris and Riesling. Viognier is also becoming more and more popular.

But how many times do you hear people raving about Sauvignon Blanc?

And yet it has a fairly distinguished pedigree. In Bordeaux, it is a partner (with Semillon) of some great dry white wines. And it stands by itself in the Loire Valley, where it is the grape that makes Sancerre and Pouilly Fume. In the ‘new world’, as well, Sauvignon Blanc has made a name for itself, particularly in New Zealand.

But you rarely hear about ‘great’ Sauvignon Blanc wines! Why is that?

Part of the answer might be that is often a blended grape, not standing on its own, in the same way as Cabernet Franc or Petite Verdot. Many people also see it as a wine that needs food (particularly shellfish) and doesn’t drink well by itself.

Finally, there is a style of Sauvignon Blanc — usually from New Zealand — that can be not only quite herbal, but even smell like cat’s pee! Nothing “great” about that…

In my experience, however, there are some great ones, as long as you define ‘greatness’ to mean flavourful, fruity, reasonably priced and easy to drink.

Giesen from New Zealand is a perfect example. Year after year it provides ripe — but bone dry — white grapefruit, crisp and delicious, all for < $15.

'White grapefruit' is my common theme when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc, and two BC wineries are perfect examples. Howling Bluff – from Naramata in the Okanagan – is one, offering an explosion of grapefruit for a couple of bucks more ($18.95). Same with the wine from La Frenz (also from Naramata), which has a touch more finesse, making it at great wine for $22! Put either of these wines in a blind tasting and their foreign counterparts would be embarrassed!

So next time it is warm out and you are looking for a white wine option, try chilling a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. The grape on the bottle might not make it sound 'great', but you may be surprised about what you taste in your mouth!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

The Annual “Cellar Beware” Blog (aka the ‘white Hermitage’ debacle)

June 4, 2014

Someone asked me the other day what wines to buy for a wine cellar, and that reminded me it was time for my annual blog on this topic, with some specific advice on pitfalls to avoid! It’s also called the white Hermitage debacle, for reasons which will shortly become clear…

So, first rule of cellaring wine? Only buy wines which actually will develop and or improve in the cellar. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Well, not really.

For one thing, over 90% of wines are meant for almost immediate consumption (that number is greater than 95% for white wines). Six to nine months won’t hurt them (much), but they probably won’t develop or get any better. Best candidates for dry red wines can be Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone wines from France; Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello di Montalcino from Italy. Rioja from Spain, old vine Shiraz from Aus, and California Cabernet Sauvignon. For dry whites, look to Alsace and Germany (although these can get sweet quickly!).

Next it is important to understand what the cellaring does to wine…and whether you will like it or not!

For reds, the harsh tannins will soften, but the ripe fruit will also stay to fade away, leaving you with a softer but more woody/herbal/earthy wine. For whites, the fruit will also slowly leave, being replaced with similar flavours as above, in particular oak (if the wine was aged in barrels).

So that’s a good thing, right? Well, not necessarily!

Wine is made from grapes, obviously, and the first attraction for most people (including me) is to ripe fruit aromas and flavours like currants, cherries, plums, blackberries and citrus. When those fade away – particularly if they are replaced by oak and cedar — the taste is strikingly different, and not necessarily to everyone’s tastes (including mine). This can be even more dramatic if there wasn’t a lot of fruit flavour to begin with (like in many Bordeaux).

So what to do? Well, the best thing is to try a wine young and the same kind of wine when it is older. The latter can be hard to find sometimes, but if you search for it — or look for a tasting of older wines — you can usually find something.

It can also be expensive, as older bottles increase in value/cost (as are tastings of them). But a little more money up front can save you a lot later on.

And that’s where the white Hermitage debacle comes in!

Red Hermitage — from the northern Cotes du Rhone — is made from Syrah, and early on I found I loved Syrah, both young and old. So when I was putting my cellar together, I looked at Hermitage (well, actually Crozes-Hermitage, which is more affordable). But then I saw the white versions. Some of them were getting great reviews, which also said they could age for decades (a rarity for white wines). So I bought a few over a number of vintages — without trying them young or old — and waited for them to age.

Which is when disaster struck!

Have you ever tasted Retsina, from Greece? With that resin smell and taste? Well, white Hermitage has it! I hoped it would go away with age, but it didn’t. So I am stuck with the remaining bottles (fortunately only three left).

But lesson learned since then! It has caused me to be more careful, and resulted in me not making large investments in a couple of wines (most notably, a number from Spain).

So heed my warning…and don’t make the same mistake that I did! Spend a little time and money now, to avoid your own wine cellar debacle in the future!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

PS For those interested in BC wines and/or travelling to BC wine country, I have just released for sale the first edition of “SB’s Guide to BC Wines”. It covers all of BC’s wine regions, with recommendations on what wineries to visit (and how to get there), what to taste and buy, tasting notes from my favourite wines (some of which go back 10 years) and even restaurants and wine stores where you can find some of these wines. All for $9.98 (including tax). Just got to my website (www.sbwinesite.com) and click on the SB Wine Guide button. You can pay via PayPal and I will send you a pdf copy, which you can either print off or keep on your smart phone.