Archive for September, 2014

The Annual Bordeaux Release Boondoggle

September 30, 2014

Okay, it’s that time of the year again! The annual Bordeaux release happens this Saturday up here in British Columbia, which also means it is time for me to do my annual rant about it!

For those of you who have seen it before – and don’t want to read it again – feel free to skip this blog and come back next week. But for those who haven’t seen it, or enjoy it, read on!

So, Bordeaux…what art thou?

Not my favourite wine, as readers know. While it is the most prestigious, popular and – most of the time – expensive grape-derived product in the world, it is disappointing to me on so many fronts.

First is style. Except for the ultra-premium first growths and “garagiste” wines (which cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars), there is often little fruit in these wines. The opposite of California and Australia, they are full of wood, herbs and other so-called secondary aromas and flavours (pencil box, tobacco, etc.) that do nothing for me. It’s not so much theses other tastes…well, I guess it is…no, really, it is more about the lack of fruit in the wines.

And that is perplexing to me. Because you read the reviews, and they are full of descriptions like “ripe blackcurrants…ripe plums…ripe cherries…” but, for the life of me, I can count on one hand how many times I have found those flavours, even in the young wines. I understand fruit mellowing over time – and love how that happens in Chateauneuf du Pape, Hermitage, Barolo, Barbaresco, even Aussie Shiraz – but if there isn’t obvious fruit to begin with, there is nothing to mellow from!

Which is the second reason for my disappointment…the tannin level. Of all wines, perhaps Bordeaux is the biggest culprit of the “big wine” syndrome. Huge, searing, mouth-puckering tannins are the norm for even the middling wines, so heavy that it would be hard to find the fruit…even if it was there. Combine the tannins with the lack of fruit, and by the time they resolve in 8 – 15 years…well, let’s just say you have to like drinking wood chips to enjoy most of the wines.

The price is another issue, although I am not that bothered by it. I recognize the market will dictate what people will pay for anything, and Bordeaux is no different. So good on the producers for getting what people will pay. What I do have an issue with, however, is the fact that the price only goes up, regardless of the vintage. Surely, the market should also be about quality…yet very rarely does this seem to happen.

Which brings us to my biggest pet peeve…the hoopla around the release.

Almost every year, I think, we hear the same marketing promotion…”vintage of the century”, “best ever”, “will last for generations”…Then in the so-called “light” vintages, it becomes “beautiful for drinking now” or “these are great food wines”.

As someone who does PR for a living, all of this just rankles me. If – and it is a big if – you truly love Bordeaux, know what it tastes like young or old, “light” or tannic, than fill your boots and spend your hard earned money.

But every year I see the same thing. People wandering through the open cases, clutching the offering guide, trying to pick out a bottle or two of wines that start at $50 and go way up from there. I feel like saying “do you know what those taste like?”, but always force myself to just shut up (and even stay away from the store on launch days).

So, a pox on the annual Bordeaux release!

Phew…that feels better! Now back to regular life…and more balanced blogs!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

Advertisements

How Important is Wine Tasting, Anyway?

September 24, 2014

We watched an interesting documentary last weekend on Sommeliers, specifically the process for gaining the highest level of certification (I know, I know…but it was the only thing on Netflix we wanted to watch).
The part I found most fascinating was the emphasis placed on wine tasting. For those who don’t know, there are three components in the Sommelier exams – wine knowledge/theory, wine service and blind tasting (the ability to tell what a wine is just from its colour). The first two didn’t get very much coverage at all (especially the last one, which had about one scene in 90 minutes! But it all seemed to be about the tasting portion.

By the end, that got me to thinking about why and, more importantly, whether that is – or isn’t – important.
Let’s look at it from two perspectives – what a sommelier needs to serve his or her customers, and what a customer needs.

The second one first! As a wine drinker anywhere – restaurant, home, etc. – how important is it for you to be able to correctly taste and identify the wine you are drinking?
Personally, I think not very important at all. Aside from being able to tell if a wine is “off” or oxidized (from being left open too long), why does it matter? All that really matters is if you enjoy it. If part of that enjoyment is being able to describe it to your friends or partner, great…but hardly a necessity. It tastes, good, pour me more!

And in terms of the advice you are looking for from the sommelier?

Well, if you haven’t had a wine or grape variety before, it would be nice to know – in general terms – what it will taste like. From the basic (sweet vs dry, oaky or not) to the specific (the kind of fruit, amount of herbal tastes), all can be helpful. But do you need to hear – and the therefore the sommelier have to know – the details i.e. wet dog fur, cat pee, fallen leaves, earth floor, etc.? I’m not sure.

Not only that, but is it really possible to smell and taste these flavours? Personally, I doubt it. There is only so much your nose and mouth can do…the rest, I think, is just good marketing.

Finally, regardless of whether you can or can’t “get” all these different smells and tastes, I think everyone does it differently. Aside from the basics, we all taste very differently. What are cherries to one person may be plums to another…even fruity can have a very different definition depending on the taster (see Bordeaux tasting as a good example).

I just don’t think that tasting is a science the way it is portrayed. So why should we put so much emphasis on it?

This was actually reinforced in the movie when some of the candidates were talking to each other about some of the wines they were tasting during training. One set of white wines was either white Hermitage (made from Roussanne and Marsanne) or barrel fermented California Chardonnay (make from…well, you know what!). Now, in my experience, those wines could not taste more different! The former has a flowery nose, but a distinct waxy, almost resiny taste…some would call it an acquired taste. The latter has vanilla, butterscotch and citrus. This is particularly the case for the actual wine they used, the Beringer Private Reserve, one of my favourite wines and almost instantly recognizable for this flavour profile.

But guess what…these professional tasters mixed up these wines, and couldn’t agree which was which! If this is possible for wines this different, then anybody can get it wrong…or right.
That, I guess, is my point. Whatever you smell and taste is personal to you…not right or wrong, just what you are experiencing. That experience will be different for the next person, just like it will be different for the sommelier.

And if it is different, then why put so much emphasis on it? Just enjoy what is in your glass!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

Vintage – Does it Really Matter?

September 18, 2014

Interesting article in the weekend paper regarding whether the vintage of a wine really matters all that much. The answer has always been a no brainer to me – duh, yes! – but after further thought…

Now don’t get me wrong. I think vintage can be critical in wine areas with big variations in climate. Sun, rain, temperature – the right mix is critical. If the fruit isn’t ripe, you just can’t make a great wine (and sometimes not even a good one).

Here in BC, we are coming off a string of good weather vintages, but 2011 did not have good weather, and you can taste it in many of the red wines. They are thin, a bit green, too tannic for the fruit.

Interestingly, though, my favourite producers fared way better! La Frenz, Blue Mountain, Kettle Valley, Nichol – all of their best wines were still very good. Is the fruit a bit lighter than usual? In some of them, perhaps. But it is still ripe, a real credit to the winemakers. And for some – like the La Frenz Merlot and Grand Total Reserve – the wines were amazing, and hard to distinguish from other vintages.

I put it down to winemaking, style and quality of grapes. If you have those, I think you can overcome almost anything (short of no sun or all rain, of course!).

I do have a beef with vintage variation in these kinds of areas, however, and that is around price! Bordeaux is the perfect example. While I am not a fan – in general – with that style of wine, what I get more vexed about is how in ‘lesser’ vintages the prices don’t change very much! Surely a lower quality wine should cost less…but that rarely happens.

What I respect much more is when some producers actually don’t make a wine, or else ‘declassify’ it into a less prestigious (and expensive) version. Now that makes sense!

Another vintage question I thought about was the regions with much more constant weather. Australia? Southern California? Even the south of France? One would think that it shouldn’t matter from year to year, at least as much?

In general, my experience is “yes”. But, again, my favourite wineries seem to always make better wines regardless, although lesser producers — or perhaps more producers – make more better wines in better years (if that is grammatically correct).

So, in the end, does vintage matter?

My answer is still ‘yes’, but with a big caveat. The best winemakers can still make good wine (at least) in a so called ‘bad’ year. So look for that. But the rest? Buyer beware!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

The 2014 BC Pinot Noir Celebration – Who was There…and Who Should Have Been!

September 11, 2014

I saw some recent coverage of the second BC Pinot Noir ‘showcase, and thought it would make an interesting blog topic. Not so much who was there, but who wasn’t!

But first a little background on the event itself. As per the Facebook page…”The celebration aims to bring together passionate Pinot Noir producers in the province in an interactive and fun atmosphere – giving guests an intimate experience with our winemakers and winery principals whilst building education and excitement about BC Pinot Noir.”

Hmm…kind of new age, but in general I think the concept is a great one! Pinot Noir is one of the greatest – and most controversial – red wine grapes there is – it isn’t called the ‘heartbreak grape’ for nothing! It is the grape of Burgundy, of course, where it is made into some of the most expensive wines in the world. Some Grand Crus from producers like Romani Conti and Leroy can easily approach $1000 a bottle! California also makes great Pinot, with cult producers like Marcassin and Kistler selling their small production wines for hundreds of dollars a bottle.

Style wise, Pinot can be range from quite herbal and tannic to being so fruity (in Oregon and California, for example) that it is almost candied. “Burgundian” is one descriptor, usually meaning black cherries mixed with herbs, earth and mushrooms. “Californian” is the opposite, emphasizing super-ripe red and black cherries with a touch of spice. That variation in style — as well price and quality – is how Pinot earned its reputation.

But I have digressed…what about BC’s Pinot and this year’s showcase?

Well, it was hosted by Tantalus Vineyards in Kelowna and also included Meyer Family, CedarCreek, Quail’s Gate, Howling Bluff, Blue Mountain, Liquidity, Black Cloud, Summerhill, Spierhead, Mission Hill, 50th Parallel, Averill Creek, Orofino, Lake Breeze and Carson.

A quick look at this list shows a number of things. First, the bigger wineries are there in force – Mission Hill, CedarCreek and Quail’s Gate. Of those, only Quail’s Gate has a strong reputation for Pinot, although Mission Hill’s Martin Lane bottling caused quite a stir last year when it won a bunch of rewards.

Second, there are others on the list I haven’t even heard of – like Black Cloud, Liquidity and Carson.

Finally, there are those who I consider established leaders in BC Pinot Noir. Blue Mountain tops that list, as their Striped Label/Reserve Pinot Noir has almost a cult following. And for good reason – it drinks beautifully on release, but can age for 8 – 10 years in good vintages. It is a great Burgundy/Cali cross, and arguably BC’s best Pinot.

Averill Creek is up in that stratosphere too. Andy Johnston makes amazing wine on the slopes of Duncan[s Mt Prevost – on Vancouver Island of all places! It, too, can age and develop, although for lightly less time, and is quite Burgundian in nature

Finally, Howling Bluff is the new kid on the block in this group. Luke Smith has had success and awards (including the 2006 Lieutenant Governor’s award) for his Burgundy style Pinot that starts out lean and tight but can blossom into a thing of beauty.

So who wasn’t there that should have been?

Well, the obvious one is Kettle Valley. Their Hayman Vineyard is the truest expression of Burgundy in BC, and vies with Blue Mountain for the best in BC. It can age for 8 – 10 years, at which time it is almost identical to a Premier Cru Burgundy. Their Reserve is no slouch either – a little more Cali in Style, but that isn’t a bad thing.

Eau Vivre, a Similkameen winery, is also missing. Back to back LG awards for their $20 Pinot Noir (yes, that price is correct) were justified given the earthy, spicy, black cherry infused wine.

I would also add two more to the mix. La Frenz gets press for its whites, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (as well as deserved recognition for being the best overall winery in BC), but the quality of their Reserve Pinot Noir has grown by leaps and bounds. The 2012 is stunning!

Finally, I would add in Nk Mip’s Qwam Qwmt Pinot Noir. I have had a number of vintages of this Cali clone and they are gorgeous.

So why aren’t they there?

Probably lots of good reasons. Not enough wine is one – there are less than 100 cases of the Hayman, only a few more of the Kettle Valley Reserve, and Eau Vivre’s is already sold out.

“Don’t need to be” is another. These wines sell out from the winery anyway, so why ‘give them away at a tasting?

And last, but not least…is maybe “don’t want to be”. The wine trade is full of politics and marketing, and competitions even more so. Words like “best” and “great” get thrown around very easily, too often fueled by who spends the most money on marketing.

The wineries I have identified as the best Pinot Noir makers are well known to wine dweebs like me and, given that, why show up – and put up – with all the bull#$%$%?

But don’t let that stop you from trying them…if you can get a hold of a bottle or two!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

Do You Have to Know About Wine…to Enjoy Wine?

September 3, 2014

The results of a big study about wine were released today, with much chagrin…it seems they surveyed people in France regarding how much knowledge they actually had about wine. And – zut alors! – over 60% didn’t know very much at all! The French were devastated by the news!

But after my chuckle, I thought…hold on…does it really matter how much you know about wine? Can’t you just enjoy it?

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized the answer was…you don’t need to know anything at all. Just what you like!

I mean, let’s think about it for a minute. Why does it matter?

“Enjoyment” doesn’t require knowledge…except of whether you are actually enjoying something or not, and that is an emotion.

Is it Cabernet or Merlot? Is it tannic or not? Will it age? Is it a Grand Cru or VQA? Really…who cares if you like it, or don’t like it?

And that is the case even if you want to talk about the wine you are drinking.

Sure, it is nice if you know what you are drinking. But that you can get from the label, and the receipt from where you purchased it.

But I think it is way more important to be able to describe why you like a wine, rather than all the details about it.

Fruity? What kind of fruit? Sweet or dry? Does it make your mouth pucker when you drink it? What happens when you eat something? Does the taste change…or does it change the food? Was it cheap? Do you think it was a good value?

The answers to all of those questions don’t require any technical knowledge of wine. Just an understanding of what you are tasting.

Just as important, that understanding will also help you find other wines like the one you are drinking…either to buy, or to avoid!

So my advice to the French wine drinkers? Don’t worry about the survey…and keep drinking your wine! Find out what you like and stick with it…that is what is important!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com