Archive for January, 2015

When to Drink Your Chateauneuf du Pape

January 30, 2015

I love Chateauneuf du Pape…it is one of my favourite wines, for a whole bunch of reasons. Grenache-based, little or no influence by wood, can age for 10 – 20+ years in good vintages and – for a wine of high caliber – is still affordable for most people’s cellars (at $40 – $60 a bottle).

But when to drink it? An important question, because while it can be drinkable young, it is also exquisite when it reaches full maturity.

Before we get to “when”, though, a little about “why” to age it.

As I have written before, the vast majority of wines (over 90%) are not only ready to drink on release, but will get no better with age. The fruit is (hopefully) ripe and fresh, so why wait!

But a small number do benefit from age. Why? Well, a few reasons.

“Big” red wines often have strong tannins, which can make a wine taste harsh when young. Age will soften those tannins, making for more enjoyable drinking.

The other reason for aging is the way a wine can develop complexity over time. The primary aromas and flavours can evolve into secondary ones – herbs, licorice, earth, meat. As long as they don’t overwhelm the fruit (or get overwhelmed by wood), that can be great!

So back to the main question…when to drink your Chateauneuf!

Well, in my experience, try your first bottle at 8 – 10 years old. The tannins should be softened, but the fruit still very apparent. You will want to decant the wine just in case it is still too tannic, as that can soften things up over the course of a meal.

Try your second bottle (and remember, always try to buy at least 2 bottles of a cellar wine so you can follow its development) at 15. For most Chateauneufs, that should be full maturity. Again, decant – there will be sediment – and check out the fruit component. It will be drier than the last time for sure…but if it is still very present, and not overwhelmed by the secondary flavours, you are in good shape.

Finally, if you are lucky enough to have a third bottle – and the second was in really good shape – try it at 20. Stored well, from a good vintage, this can almost be a religious experience! Almost port-like flavours can develop, not sweet, but so complex and smooth.

So there you go…a bit of a road map for Chateauneuf du Pape!


Why Don’t I Like Spanish Reds as Much Anymore?

January 14, 2015

Okay, it happened again last night. I opened up a Spanish wine from my cellar – highly rated (95 points) – and the description by the reviewer was full of “fruit” references (which I love).

But then when I opened it…not much on the nose, more wood than fruit in the mouth. Reminded me of Bordeaux. Not my style!

And I know it isn’t a bad bottle…because these things have been happening for a couple of years now.

So what’s up?

Only a few years ago, Spanish wines were a key part of my cellar. Riojas took the lead, as they could age beautifully and the oak would never really overpower the fruit. Tempranillo based wines from other regions were there as well (Pesquera is still one of my favourite wines), as well as Mencia based wines (very Zinfandel like). Lots of fruit, not jammy, nice mix of herbs and earth.

But since then, everything seems to have changed.

It started with Garnacha (the Spanish version of Grenache). I quickly learned that one of my favourite grapes from the Rhone tasted way different when made into wine in Spain! Oak was part of the reason (made the wines too woody), but even the un-oaked ones seemed to lack fruit/have too much herbs and wood.

Then I started to notice a similar trend in some of the Rioja Reserva wines. After 5 or so years (when I normally start drinking them), there seemed to be less fruit than before, and – again – -more wood.

And then it seems to have been extended to just about all other Spanish reds (although I haven’t tasted a new Pesquera recently).

So what gives?

Probably two – related – answers.

First, the style of wine making may very well have changed overall. Bordeaux remains the reference point for many in the wine world, which means less fruit focus and more emphasis on wood, herbs and other flavours. So it could well be that Spanish winemakers are going more in that direction

The other reason is that my tastes – and maybe even my taste buds – have probably changed! Age does many things to people, and it should be no surprise that both what I taste (and what I like) has changed as I have gotten older.

The one thing that I am pretty sure it isn’t is that Spain is making bad red wine. Too many reviewers that I respect continue rate many of the wines highly for that to be the case.

But it shows, once again, how important individual style and taste is, and how those can change over time. The good news is there is lots of other wine out there for you – and I – to enjoy!



January 7, 2015

Happy New Year to all! As a first blog of 2015, I thought I would put out my top five wine wishes for the year:

1. The Rhone keeps it going

My favourite wine region has been on a roll for a number of years now, and after tasting many 2012s – and some early 2013s – it looks like the good times will continue! Whether it is Grenache dominated wines in the south or Syrah in the north, the fruit flavours are ripe and pure, the herbs beautifully integrated (love that garrigue!) and there is no wood or jamminess to the wines. Keep it going, Rhone!

2. Wine taxes get fixed

Everybody always complains about “wine prices”…but my beef is with the taxes, not the prices. When I see the values you can get just across the border in the US at places like Costco (and even regular supermarkets), I know that price really isn’t my issue – it’s the government taxes that drive up the price! I have absolutely no beef with the government getting its fair share…but come on! When a wine like Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon is $9.99 at Costco in Bellingham and $29.99 in Vancouver, well…you can see the problem.

3. Wine Competitions and Awards “Come Clean”

This is a particular pet peeve of mine. There are all of these competitions up here every year, and the same things always happen. The big wineries are the only ones that enter – or can afford to enter – so they win the awards. And then they (and the judges, media, etc.) talk all year about the “best wine in BC” or the “best wine in Canada”, even though the wine dweebs know it is a farce. Maybe I will have a competition for the best wines in BC that never enter (or are awarded) prizes…

4. Stupid and/or obnoxious wine labels disappear

As a PR person in my real life, I understand the marketing reasons for catchy wine labels. But it has really gotten out of hand for many countries. Do wine makers (or their marketing departments) really think that what sells a wine is what is on the outside of the bottle (instead of on the inside)? Like in anything, make a good product, build a good reputation, and results will come.

5. Fruit will finally triumph over wood

This final wish is purely a style preference, but I would love to see more fruit forward red wines that don’t rely on a thick coating of cedar and oak. It seems like people have been trying to copy Bordeaux forever, and – in my opinion – it just does it work. California and Australia have the right approach – since wine is made of fruit, it should also taste like fruit!

There you go; a start to 2015!