Archive for October, 2014


October 29, 2014

When you think about wine from an Australia perspective – good or bad – it is Shiraz most people talk about. But having just had a series of amazing Aussie Cabernet Sauvignons, I think many people are missing the boat.

Now, I am not talking about the super cheap versions here. In my experience, Aussie red wines in the $10 – $15 range kinda all taste the same – super fruity and jammy, a touch sweet, but not very complicated. Now that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but even for someone like me who likes Aussie wines, it is hard to tell them apart at that price/quality level.

However, when you get into the $25+ range, things can change dramatically for Aussie Cabs – and for the better!

At that level, Aussie Cabernet Sauvignon can take on both Bordeaux and California and compete very favourably.

For Bordeaux lovers, you get some of the same secondary, non-fruit aromas and flavours. Herbs, earth, lead pencil – all can be on the nose, and cedary/wood flavours can also be tasted in the wine.

For those who like Cali Cabs, there is also the pure fruit – cassis, cherry, plum and sometimes even blackberry. Ripe, rich and delicious!

Put them together – and keep the price reasonable – and you can often have something very special here.

Plus, the best of them age beautifully without losing their fruit. I have had a couple of 2004’s in the last few weeks that were stunning at age 10 – youthfully fruity, but not jammy at all, with overtones of cedar, oak and herbs. As I tweeted out at the time “Bordeaux would be jealous”!

Want some names? How about Kilikanoon, Kaesler, d’Arenberg, Maxwell…all make Cabernet Sauvignons in the $25 – $40 range that are simply amazing.

So next time you think Aus…don’t just think Shiraz. Try a Cab as well!


Cali Syrah hits the “sweet spot”!

October 23, 2014

Now, don’t get me wrong – I love Syrah from the Rhone Valley and Aussie Shiraz. The former – in Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage and Cornas – may well be my favourite red wine (along with Chateauneuf du Pape and Barolo), given the peppery, meaty black fruit, ageability and lack of oak flavours.

And old vine Shiraz isn’t far behind! Yes, it is jammy, but the blackberry fruit is so ripe, and the licorice overtones so amazing, that I can’t help but loving it (and having lots in my cellar).

So what, then, is with the title of this blog?

Well, as I drank both a young and mature Cali Syrah this week, it struck me that this varietal – from first rate producers — really does give you the best of both.

On the one hand, you definitely get the peppery black cherries and lack of wood. But because the best wines are so ripe, you also get a sense of Aus, but without the full jamminess. In fact, the fruit was so pure and concentrated in the wine I had, it was almost like a liqueur!

And ageability? The wine I had was a 2005, and while that certainly doesn’t rival 20 – 30 year old Hermitage, it was nothing to sneeze at either, with classic secondary flavours of earth, meat and herbs.

Finally, there is the price. The reason I have so few Hermitage in my cellar – and, increasingly, the same for Crozes Hermitage and Cornas — is that the prices are very high, $70+ is pretty common for Hermitage, and the other two get over $50 more often than not. Now, these can be all-world wines, so I am not saying they aren’t worth it. But they are often too expensive for me.

The same can be said for the best old vine Syrah from Aus. Most of the best – even with our strong dollar vis a vis the Aussie dollar — are $35 or more (and often lots more). Again. No argument regarding quality, but affordability?

Great Cali Syrah, on the other hand, can come in at < $30 US! Yes, it is more expensive in Canada, but still competitive with Aussie wines (and less than the Rhones).

The only complaint I have with Cali Syrah is we don't see enough of them up here! Maybe 3 or 4 in the government stores, a half dozen more in the private stores (but really marked up most of the time).

So next time you want a treat, see if you can find a Cali Syrah and give it a try. It might just hit the 'sweet spot' for you!



October 16, 2014

I was asked a couple of weeks ago by Dave Vallee, a local realtor and friend, to select wines for a customer appreciation event he was having at the Fraser River Discovery Centre in New Westminster, and then be available to talk about the wines to the 150+ attendees. It was a great event – more on that in a moment – but what struck me most was that, once again, the definition of “good wine” is definitely a personal one!

My parameters for the wines were pretty specific. They had to be from BC and reasonably priced – whites around $20, reds about $25. And, of course, they had to be good!

Based on those guidelines – and what was still available in stores and from the wineries themselves – I chose the following wines:
• 2013 Semillon – La Frenz (Naramata/$22)
• 2013 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon – Howling Bluff (Naramata/$20)
• 2011 Syrah/Viognier – Marichel Vineyards (Naramata/$20)
• 2012 Merlot – La Frenz (Naramata/$26)
• 2010 Pinot Noir – Averill Creek (Vancouver Island/$26)

Not bad, eh? All of these wines I have been drinking/cellaring for years, and buying for my wine club as well. They are also award winners, including the Howling Bluff wine (which won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award this year).

So there is definitely “no bad wine” here! But what would people think?

Most of the people I met I would say were wine drinkers, but there were probably only a couple of “wine dweebs” like me. So a fairly knowledgeable audience, if not so-called experts.

But the results still blew me away on a number of fronts.

First, the whites. Of everyone is spoke with, there seemed to be an almost equal split. Some liked the La Frenz, some the Howling Bluff. But that wasn’t the fascinating part. There were people – on both sides – who said they loved one, but…wait for it…hated the other! Yes, hated it!

I was gobsmacked! Resisting the temptation to disagree, I forced myself to ask them why? Not a lot of details were forthcoming…mostly a gut reaction (no pun intended). But a passionate one, none-the-less.

Now, if any of you out there have tried these wines, you will understand my incredulity. The La Frenz is the best Semillon not only in BC, but perhaps in North America – hands down. And the Howling Bluff wine is the essence of white grapefruit…incredible! So how could you “hate” either one?

The reds saw a similar kind of reaction, although this one was a bit easier to understand.

The favourite was the Marichel Syrah/Viognier, hands down…and after tasting all three, I could understand why. Closer in style to a Shiraz than a Syrah, it is super fruity (without being too jammy), with no tannin and no hard edges. How anyone couldn’t like that wine, I don’t know. It is easy to drink…for everyone, including the average wine drinker. So it made sense that it won.
The other two reds had more mixed reactions. Some liked them, a few loved them, and a few hated both of them. Again, I disagree with the latter reviews – they are both amazing wines. But they are also young. Andy’s Pinot Noir is a stunning Burgundy look-a-like, but still has some tannin to shed. And the Jeff’s Merlot – easily the best Merlot in BC – has more than just simple fruit in it. The earth and licorice are almost savoury, but it is also a bit young.

Now don’t get me wrong, I did find people who loved both of these wines. But far fewer than the Syrah/Viognier.

So the “lesson learned”?

Well, I couldn’t help thinking back to something a wine educator told me in one of the few formal wine courses I have ever taken. When asked “what is the best wine”, he replied by saying “the wine you like the best”. In a roomful of great BC wines, that was definitely the case!