Archive for April, 2015

Style 101: Syrah/Shiraz – Not Good or Bad, Just Different

April 29, 2015

I will come out and say it – I love both Syrah and Shiraz! Same grape, but made differently, which emphasizes how important style is to both wine, and one’s individual taste.

Syrah – particularly made in the style of the northern Cotes du Rhone – is full of peppery black cherries, sometimes meaty, always a bit lean (but still ripe). No wood, though – even with oak barrels, the fruit shines through!

Shiraz could not be more different! Just put your nose in a glass, and you will get that ripe (sometimes overripe) blackberry jam! So ripe, in fact, sometimes it seems almost sweet in the mouth. But made well, it can also have licorice and mint, and age almost as well as its French cousin.

Interesting, these two styles play out well regardless of where the wines are actually made. Rhone style Syrah, for example, tastes and smells just about the same whether it is made in California, Washington State, Chile or B.C.. Riper, perhaps, in some areas but still the same general flavour profile.

And it is the same with Shiraz. Yes, Australia makes it best. But there are other countries that make this same style of wine.

My point here? It is simple – understand the difference in style, figure out if you like, then go find it. Syrah/Shiraz…it is not an ‘either/or” thing. Nor is it good or bad.

Instead, it is recognize the differences, find the style you like, then go for it!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

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STYLE 101 Part 2: That Damned Merlot!

April 23, 2015

Ah, Merlot…what a wine! Its popularity took a hit because of the movie Sideways a decade or so ago, as Myles continually expressed his hate for it. I’m not sure what the impact actually was on sales, as it still remains a popular pick for many people.

It is also another red wine that shows how important a particular wine-making style can be. Because while the name may be the same on the bottle, many Merlots could not be more different!

To start, the differences are similar to those of Cabernet Sauvignons. Fruity or more woody/herbal – that is a fair generalization. Similarly, California tends to produce more of the former style, while Bordeaux focuses on the latter, often at great expense (Chateau Petrus from Pomerol is one of the most famous – and expensive – wines in the world).

Now, I may be wrong about Petrus, because I have never tasted it, and probably never will. But that actually isn’t the style difference that if find most interesting and, in fact, frustrating, about Merlot.

My beef is with coffee, mocha…and chocolate!

Now, not the hot beverage (which I like) or the sweet (which I also like, but doesn’t like me very much, at least in terms of putting on weight). I mean the flavours.

Look at the wine reviews or descriptions of many Merlots and you will often see reference to coffee, mocha and/or chocolate aromas and flavours. For some, that may be a good thing. But for me, it is a big warning sign!

Because, at least to my palate, coffee + mocha + chocolate mean even less fruit flavour than your straight woody/herbal Merlot. Something just seems to happen when they all come together, and as a result I often cannot find any fruit at all!

Case in point, a BC winery (whose name I will keep to myself) that used to make maybe the best Merlot in the province (at a good price too). It was full of ripe – but not sweet or jammy – black plums, a touch of vanilla, and some licorice/mint. Never very tannic, it was just brilliant to drink.

And then the owners sold the winery, and the new proprietors started to make the Merlot (and all the red wines) in a more Bordeaux style. And that’s not my style. So my cellar – and recommendations – went from full to, now, almost non-existent.

Interestingly, most of the California Merlots I can afford to try (many are now out of my spice bracket) have kept to the fruity style. And there are a couple of others up here – La Frenz and Perseus – that still go in for the fruit-first style.

Since that is my style, that’s what I go for –at least in wine. Coffee, mocha and chocolate? That I will keep those for breakfast and dessert.

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

What’s the Real Value of a Wine Label?

April 15, 2015

Wine labels are back in the news up here, with a story that one BC winery hired some branding/marketing firm to produce a whole series of provocative labels for new wines in the hope that would drive sales. Interestingly, the story said nothing about what the wines actually tasted like…just what they looked like!

That led me to thinking – what is the real value of a wine label?

Certainly many wineries – or their marketing people – think “lots”! It seems like ever since Yellow Tail came out with their colourfully labelled, low-priced wines about a decade ago, a whole range of wineries from around the world have followed suit. Some are funny, many – at least to me – are not. And some are just plain offensive.

The history of this actually goes way back, as the Bordeaux winery Chateau Mouton-Rothschild has had famous painters produce their labels for years. That included Picasso, who’s 1973 label ended up being worth way more than the wine itself (and not just because if was from a poor year).

The goal is obvious – to have the colourful/interesting/provocative labels make those wines stand out from the competition, in the hope that people will try them over other wines.

But don’t you still have to have a good wine to back it up? And if it is a good wine anyway, why the need for all the extra work on the label (which may also drive up the cost of actual wine)?

Now I have nothing against being clever in the name. d’Arenberg’s wines, for example, all have strange and interesting names (like Hermit Crab, Galvo Garage, Stump Jump, Dead Arm). But they are just printed on the label and then it is explained on the back. And, of course, many of them are outstanding wines!

Mollydooker goes further with its illustrations…but they also make amazing wine. And let’s not forget Bonny Doon in California…their Le Cigar Volant was bit of a shot at Chateauneuf du Pape…but it was also very nice wine.

I guess my point is if you make great wine, then people will buy it. Personally, I am at the point now where if I see a bizarre label or name, I just walk on by.

Call me old-fashioned, but I want what’s inside…not what is on the outside!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

STYLE 101 – Cabernet Sauvignon

April 10, 2015

I always talk about how important it is to know the “style” of wine you like, so decided to expand on the concept in a series of blogs on different flavour styles for both red and white wines.

At the risk of simplifying things too much, style often comes down to two things – fruit and everything else (wood, herbs, etc.). And the best example of that are the red wines made from is perhaps red wine’s most famous grape – Cabernet Sauvignon.

When most people hear about Cabernet Sauvignon, they think of two places – Bordeaux, France, and Napa Valley, California. Interestingly, that is also a good way to start describing the differences in style of Cabernet Sauvignons made in these two different places.

Let’s start with Bordeaux, since it is the older, more established and – in the minds of many – more prestigious of the two wine regions. In general, the style of Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines here is less “fruit forward”, with more emphasis on the “other” aromas and flavours. Yes, you can find the classic black currants, but that isn’t what you usually first notice in most wines. Instead, you “smell” the wood – usually cedar – and then taste both that woodiness, along with herbs and a whole lot of non-fruit flavours. Overlaying all of this are tannins, sometimes quite firm, the purpose of which is to help the wine age over time. As that happens (anywhere from 8 – 20+ years for the more famous and expensive wines), the wine softens and becomes easier to drink, although the fruit also dries out and becomes even less evident.

In California, however, you find almost the exact opposite style in many of the Cabernet Sauvignons! The emphasis is instead on “fruit first”, which can mean an explosion of black currants on the nose and in the mouth, super ripe but not jammy (like you often find in Australian Shiraz). Layered over top is wood, but in this case in the form of vanilla from oak barrels. In the right proportions, the mix can be delicious! And the combination can be such that you may not even taste the tannins. But they are often still there, as many of the best California Cabernet Sauvignons can age for decades.

Same grape, but often completely different wines! I say “often” because, like all generalizations, the above characterizations are not always borne out. I have heard of — and, on a few special occasions, tasted – amazingly fruity wines from Bordeaux, but they have usually been the really expensive ones (which I can’t afford). Similarly, there are also California Cabernet Sauvignon producers – as well as others around the world – who try to emulate the Bordeaux style, and quite successfully!

In closing, I want to emphasize that this isn’t a case of one style being better than the other. It is about what style you like the best! And, most importantly, knowing what that style is, so when you go to spend your hard earned money on a Cabernet Sauvignon, you can know in advance what you are probably going to get!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

Oak, oak…and away?!?

April 1, 2015

It only took opening tonight’s wine to give me my blog topic – oak! The most frustrating part of wine – for me – because it can lead to the wines that I like the most, and the ones I just can’t stand!

Tonight was the latter. It was a Syrah from Chile. Not where I usually go for Syrah, but the review said all the right things – cool climate (like northern Rhone), pepper, meat, lean…should be my style, right? But then I saw that it had been aged in oak…A warning sign, but still, many northern Rhones get that, and still end up great (in my opinion).

But as soon as I popped the cork I could tell…not!!!!

It wasn’t bad, or even too woody. It just was devoid of fruit, replace instead by herbs, dirt and…I don’t know what else.

It reminded me of my other related pet peeves – oaked Argentine Malbecs, and most Spanish Garnachas. Same thing! Too many secondary aromas/flavours, and somehow the fruit has disappeared. So frustrating, especially with the Malbecs, which can be full of juicy blackberries! And don’t get me started on most Bordeaux, which you need a toothpick to drink with because of the woodiness.

But then there is the other side of the equation!

For reds, how about California (or some BC) Cabernet Sauvignons? If made in the Cali style, there is that amazing coating of vanilla from the oak barrels – absolutely gorgeous when done well, as the vanilla mixes with the black currants into a liqueur like flavour! The Caymus I had a few weeks ago was mind blowing. And the La Frenz and St. Francis excellent.

Same with Cali Chardonnays! I just had Mondavi’s latest Carneros Reserve and it was stunning, just as good as Beringer’s Private Reserve. Golden yellow, butterscotch, vanilla and ripe citrus – who couldn’t love that!

But what is with the dichotomy? How can I love one so much, and dislike the others just as much?

Deep breath…and opening a half bottle of 1989 Chateau Coutet to salve my wounds…what have I learned yet again?

Accept that wines have different styles, know what you like, and stick to it. Yeah, that’s it…

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com