Archive for November, 2014

Does the Region on Your Wine Label Really Matter?

November 21, 2014

A bit of ‘wine buzz’ recently up here in BC around new or sub-regions in different parts of our Okanagan Valley, where the vast majority of our great wine is made. And that got me thinking – does this kind of identification really matter and, if so, why?

It’s certainly not new, of course! Bordeaux and Burgundy have led the way in this area for over a hundred years, breaking up their Crus — and even certain vineyards – based on differences that the French call terroir. And both Napa and Sonoma valleys in Cali have done it extensively over the past 40 – 50 years.

But back to my questions – does it matter, and if so, why?

There is no doubt that certain grapes grow differently in different soils and climates, producing different flavored wines. One has only to taste even a generic Bordeaux compared to a similarly priced Cali Cabernet Sauvignon to see that. So – from a consumer point of view – I can see the benefit if it is explained that way ie if you know the style of Cabernet or Chardonnay you like, that could help you pick out wine.

It could help winemakers too, of course. No use planting a varietal in soil/climate that won’t usually allow it to ripen fully on a regular basis. Hence the lack of Grenache in BC (which needs lots of sun and heat).

But there are two areas (no pun intended) where I get suspicious. The first is around sub, sub, sub regions. Does the wine really taste that different to justify that? Or is it just marketing and promotion…which brings me to my last concern.

If producers — or geographical areas, for that matter – are charging more because of a perceived quality difference, well…I’m not sure I agree. Even in Bordeaux and Burgundy you see Grand/Premier Cru wineries and vineyards in a range of different area. Promote the producer/wine as better – absolutely. But the region or sub-region?

The main reason for my argument comes back to the fact that everybody likes different styles of wine. The ones they like best they will think are the best…but that is for them. The opposite is also true. I have a friend who loves Bordeaux-style Cabernet as much as I dislike them, and actually traded me some Okanagan wines for them (which I love) for that reason.

So beware the wine region buzz! Focus instead on matching the style of wine you like with what is – or can – be made in whatever region you are in or tasting. That is a better way to help guarantee your enjoyment!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

WHEN THE GRAPES IN THE GROUND DON’T MATCH UP WITH THE BEST WINES

November 5, 2014

As a BC wine dweeb, I was a bit shocked this past week to see the annual update on grape acreage in BC. It wasn’t the amount – we jumped over the 10,000 acre mark, which is great!

No, it was the “top grapes in the ground” that left me shaking my head. They were – in descending order – merlot, pinot gris, pinot noir, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, gewürztraminer, cabernet franc, syrah, riesling, and sauvignon blanc.

For those who know even a little about BC, the first reason for my incredulity may be apparent. Our climate – while nice – is not as conducive to red grapes as to white, and certainly not to red grapes that ripen later – like merlot and cabernet sauvignon. So to see those as #1 and #5 seemed odd. Many of our wines made from these grapes are quite woody and herbal, as well as tannic, with little obvious fruit. Kinda like most Bordeaux, without the prestige! And cabernet franc? Come on…even in the Loire Valley – where it is famous – the wine is green and unripe. Only in California can they occasionally get it ripe enough to make it worth drinking.

The same kind of argument can be made for our white wines. Chardonnay needs to be ripe to be good…and very few producers here make good ones. Meanwhile, most of the pinot gris is hard to distinguish from the other white wines.

At the other end of the spectrum…how can riesling be second from the bottom? Of all the grapes on that list, it is the one that can have the highest acidity and doesn’t need to get super ripe to make great wines.

Not only that, we make arguably the best riesling in Canada (if not North America). Taste the wines from La Frenz or Tantalus…you will be blown away.

The same can be said for Syrah, which is maybe our most consistent – and maybe best – red wine. How can it finish second to last?

Pinot noir is about the only one that makes sense to me…we make some great pinot here, although a lot of thin, insipid stuff too.

So what’s up?

Well, I think I know the answer, and it is simple. Taste is relative, and reputation plays a big role. For the average wine drinker names like “Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay” are well known, so that is what they buy, whether it is good or not.

And…I guess…that is okay. Certainly, if that is what most people like, then they should get what they want.

But my heart actually aches for what people are missing. Some of our small producers make stunning wines for the “other varietals” – and even outstanding wines of the popular ones that taste nothing like the everyday Cabernets and Merlots – and few people will ever taste them. I know these producers probably don’t care, because they sell all of their wines to wine dweebs like me.

But I can’t help wish that everyone knew how good these wines were!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com