Syrah/Shiraz…France, Australia, North America…what’s the difference?

September 14, 2016

As usual, I have been drinking a lot of Syrah lately, and continue to be amazed at how different the style of the wine can be depending on where it is made/what winemakers want to do with it.

Most people are probably familiar with the Syrah/Shiraz differences…same grape, but made in a different way. Syrah is typically full of peppery black cherries, touch of earth, a bit lean (but not unripe) and no oak at all. Shiraz, on the other hand, is often a fruit bomb – blackberry jam, so ripe it almost appears sweet, and the oak appears as vanilla.

Syrah is most famous in France (northern Rhone, to be specific, where it makes such famous wines as Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas and Cote Rotie). And Shiraz, of course, is almost synonymous with Australia.

But both styles are also made elsewhere, and can be dead ringers for those made in these homelands. Washington State, for example, makes some great Rhone style Syrahs, and I am very proud to say that BC does as well! Cassini Cellars, Moraine, Quinta Ferreira, Moon Curser…all are very nice. And the best is by Nichol Vineyards, which at 8 yrs old is almost indistinguishable from a Crozes Hermitage.

Interestingly, when made elsewhere, Syrah can taste almost totally different!

One of my favourites is California, where many producers balance the Northern Rhone style with additional ripeness (but not the jamminess of Shiraz). Ojai is a good example. But this style also appears elsewhere, including in my home province, where Orofino makes a stunningly ripe wine!

I have also found that when Syrah is made in Italy, Chile and South Africa, it often takes on much more earthiness, and herbalness (if oak is used to age the wine). These wines aren’t my style, but some people swear by them, particularly because the latter examples can be great bargains.

In general, I find that oak — at least overt oak — doesn’t add to my enjoyment of Syrah, adding too much of the Bordeaux style herbs and woodiness.

But that is just me! The important thing is to know the different styles of Syrah, find out what you like, and then follow your style…it may appear in a whole bunch of places you never thought of!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

My Italian Holiday

September 7, 2016

Well, I’m back after a summer break, almost a month of which was spent in Italy! So, for the first blog back, a few musings on Italian wine…in Italy!

1. Wine is cheaper in Italy

No doubt about it – Italian wine is cheaper in Italy! Whether a glass of cold Rose at a restaurant (2 – 3 euros!) or a very nice Brunello or Barbaresco (either in a restaurant or a store), the price is definitely right! And it wasn’t just the currency difference, particularly in restaurants. They just seem to have a different attitude — and tax system — in Italy for their own wine.

2. Very good to great wine is cheaper as well!

I was amazed to be drinking Brunellos, Barbarescos and Vino Nobiles for 40 and 50 euros…wines that would cost well over $100 in Canadian restaurants!

3. Italian restaurants have wine figured out

It wasn’t just the price in restaurants. It was the selection — lots of Brunello in Montalcino, Vino Nobile in Montepulciano, Barolo/Barbaresco in Piedmont. And the wine by the glass selection was often incredible! Some restaurants offered all the wines by the glass!

4. “Regular” wines are often better than the Riservas in Tuscany

I tasted regular Brunellos and Vino Nobiles vs their Riserva versions and almost always liked the former best. It seemed like “Riserva” mean more oak (as well as more $$$), and that meant more tannin as well.

5. You have to reserve in advance at wineries

This was a surprise! Having been to many wine areas in North America — where you mostly just “walk in”, I was disappointed that you had to almost always reserve in advance to go to wineries all through Italy. It wasn’t hard to do (even with not speaking Italian), and they treated you well, but you also had to pay (staring at about 10 euros and up). So beware if you go!

6. Don’t expect to just “follow the signs” to get to wineries!

Another big difference from California, Oregon and here in BC was signage. Or, the lack of it! It was hard to find many wineries in both Tuscany and Piedmont, even for our GPS. So don’t expect to just follow the signs!

7. There are some amazing restaurants in “wine towns”!

While we ate very well in major cities like Florence and Siena, some of our best meals were in places like the village of Barbaresco (Restaurant Antica). I know it sounds so logical, but they have figured it out there – great wine all around, so why not add great, unpretentious, fairly priced food as well? Amazing!

8. Try the local wines even if you haven’t heard of them

We went to Cortona, as my wife wanted to see the place where “Under the Tuscan Sun” was written. We went for lunch, and I noticed wines from Cortona on the list…a Merlot and an Syrah. We tried by the glass, and I was blown away, especially by the Syrah. So take the chance!

9. Even in the heat of summer, you can drink “big” red wine.

Many of the restaurants didn’t have air conditioning or we were eating outside. But I was amazed how a glass and/or bottle of Brunello or Vino Nobile was still great even in 35 degree weather.

10. Wine and food, food and wine.

The food and the wine just went so well together…I was so impressed. You must go and try it!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

WHY DO I KEEP BUYING THE WINES I DON’T LIKE?

April 20, 2016

Well, I did it again…decided to buy a wine that I have historically not enjoyed. And when I tried it tonight – surprise! I still didn’t like it!

So why do I do it? Why do I keep buying wines that I just know I won’t like?

Before I answer – or try to answer – the question, let me tell you the wines I am talking about.

For everyday drinking? It is Chilean Syrah (which is what I had tonight). Once again, there was oak in it – not needed for Syrah – and a strange dirtiness (not earthiness) – that I just don’t enjoy.

Other everyday wines that fall into this category for me include Spanish Garnacha. Again, it seems to be the oak in those wines, which in their case just rips the fruit right out of them.

The same thing still happens for my cellar wines as well. Case in point – Spanish wines! Maybe because most of them are Garnacha (see note above), but even for Tempranillo-based wines, they just don’t develop like I would like.

At least I have broken my addiction to Bordeaux! After too many wines that ended up woody and devoid of fruit – despite lofty, fruity reviews from wine reviewers that I trust.

So back to the question – why do I keep going back? I know the style of wine that I like, I know my tastes, and yet…

Part of the answer, I know, is ratings. Like almost everyone else, I can be seduced by wines that score 90 pts or more, particularly if they are reasonably priced (like a lot of the Spanish wines are).

But it isn’t just the rating itself…it is also the review! When I see references to ripe fruit, that really draws me in. And yet, for some of the wines I reference above, those flavours don’t seem to be there.

At the end of the day, though, I think what gets me is my optimism! The thought that maybe things have changed, maybe I will like it now, maybe this is a new find! Those ideas get me every time.

But now that I know, will I change? Yes…until next time!

http://www.sbwinesite.com

The Okanagan Wineries you REALLY Want to Visit

April 13, 2016

Okay, that time of the year again. Spring, which means wineries are putting out new releases and opening up their tasting rooms!

It also means the so called wine experts are starting to write about “where to go” to taste wine. And, as usual in BC, for some reason some of the best wineries are getting left off that list!

So here you go…based on my experience tasting BC wines since the breakthrough 1998 vintage, these are the Okanagan wineries that you want to go to, and the wines you want to taste there!

1. Naramata

Start here or finish here, doesn’t matter…this is the best wine region not only in the Okanagan, but in BC. Once there, you should check out:
* La Frenz (for all wines, as it is the best winery in Canada)
* Kettle Valley (for Pinot Noirs)
* Nichol (for Syrah)
* Marichel (for Syrah)
* Moraine (for Syrah, Pinot Noir and Riesling)
* Howling Bluff (for Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir)

2. Similkameen

Still a bit unknown, and not a lot of wineries, but do check out Eau Vivre (world class Pinot Noir, plus Malbec) and Orofino (amazing Cali style Syrah, plus Pinot Noir and Riesling).

3. South Okanagan

The Osoyoos/Oliver region is the area most well known, and the one the big critics like. But it doesn’t have the best wineries. There are some very good ones, however, so check out:
* Blue Mountain (actually in Okanagan Falls, but worth the trip, as with Kettle Valley, the best Pinot Noirs in BC)
* Church and State (Syrah, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay)
* Burrowing Owl (Syrah)
* Moon Curser (Syrah, Bordeaux blend)
* Cassini Cellars (Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay)
* Nk Mip (Pinot Noir, Syrah)

There you go…you can do these wineries in 2 days if you like. My wine guide can show you how!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

MANAGING WINE EXPECTATIONS

March 16, 2016

I wrote last week a bit about expectations in the context of the Vancouver International Wine Festival…but then I experienced the same phenomenon this past weekend with some wines from my cellar!

Friday/Saturday/Sunday are “cellar wines” in our house, and the ones I chose were, at least in my mind, potentially a mixed bag. We were having a Portuguese clams and chorizo dish on Friday, so I brought up a 2004 Quinta de Crasto Old Vines Reserva for that…I have had that in the past and, frankly, been a bit disappointed, as it was more Bordeaux in style than I like. But I thought, what the heck, match the wine with the food!

At the same time, I was thinking Spain for Saturday – Tournedos Rossini – and saw a 2008 Pesquera, one of my favourite wines, so jumped at pulling that out. And then for Saturday, a bbq of some kind, and there was a bottle of 2009 Tellus Syrah from Italy, so I took that as well.

Based on my expectations, then, the Pesquera was going to be the star of the weekend, followed by the Syrah (which I had really liked in a restaurant a few years ago) and then the Portuguese wine.

And the result? Well, you have probably guessed by now…

The Quinta de Crasto was beautiful! Somehow, some fruit had come back into the wine, and while not a “fruit bomb” by any means, it was a very nice balance of cherries and cedar. Perfect with the dish, and a pleasing to drink by itself. Alright!

And now I had the Pesquera to look forward to! I have been drinking that wine since the early 1990s, and the Tempranillo based wine has been a California Cab look a like, full of ripe black currants and vanilla. I couldn’t wait!

But then I opened it and…oh boy…not off, but a completely different style! Way more Bordeaux than Cali…even after an hour or so. I was disappointed, but at least the Tournedos Rossin was great (although I didn’t have the fois gras or the truffles).

At least I had the Syrah to look forward to! And then…yep, you guessed it…not as good as before. Some previously unforeseen wood had come in and, while not bad, it certainly wasn’t what I remembered.

So the lessens here? Well, expectations are going to be there…nothing you can do about that. And when they pay off – or are exceeded – that is great!

But if they aren’t met, it shouldn’t put too much of a damper on your wine experience. As long as the wine isn’t bad, you should try to enjoy it for what it is.

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

Learnings from the 2016 Vancouver International Wine Festival

March 9, 2016

A week late, but here are 5 things I learned from this year’s Vancouver International Wine Festival:

1. The VIWF remains one of the best wine events anywhere

Year in, year out, regardless of the feature country/grape, the VIWF is outstanding and can compete with any festival in the world. It gets great producers, and they actually pour some of their best wines, which this year mean lots of Barolos, Barbarescos, Brunellos and Chianti Classico Riservas!

2. Young Barolo doesn’t have to be tannic

What a nice surprise! I love Barolo, but find it hard to taste/evaluate young…after 10+ years it is amazing, but young…except this year! I tasted a number of 2010’s and 2011’s that were really ripe…still with tannin, but way fruitier than usual. A much more enjoyable experience!

3. My favourite producers continue to be…my favourite producers!

Call it bias if you want, but it was great to see that some of my favourite producers once again made some of my favourite wines! Case in point? Averill Creek and their Pinot Noir…Andy continues to make unbelievably good wine on Vancouver Island, a gorgeous cross between Cali and Burgundy. The same goes for Famille Perrin and their Chateauneuf du Pape Chateau de Beaucastel. Yes, it is expensive at about $90. But simply stunning, and having been drinking this wine since the 1981 vintage, I can tell you it is almost guaranteed to produce an orgasmic experience after 10 – 15+ years.

4. Its nice when expectations are exceeded

Argentina hasn’t been a big focus of mine for a while when it comes to fine wine, with too many producers using too much oak in their red wines (particularly their Malbecs). But Decero and Colome had beautiful wines, including a 100% Cabernet Franc that was as good as I have had in many years.

5. Its too bad when low expectations are met

Have to say it…sorry…but when I saw Mission Hill had some new single vineyard wines with fancy names (and price tags), I bet myself they wouldn’t be anything to write home about. Tasted them and…no surprise, I was right!

There you go…short but sweet for a rainy Wednesday night!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

5 Things to Focus on at 2016 Vancouver International Wine Festival

February 23, 2016

Can’t believe it is here again…the 2016 Vancouver International Wine Festival!

Italy is the host country this year, and they have pulled out all the stops. But with so many wines available to taste, what should your focus be? Here are 5 ideas (both Italy and beyond):

1. Barolo

I love Piedmont’s biggest wine, but it has become stupidly expensive, with most bottles over $60 (and I mean well over). But the Wine Festival provides a relatively cheap way to taste a dozen or more Barolos! Look for great producers like Damilano, Cesare, Conterno, Vietti. The only caveat — they are all young and will probably be very tannic…so watch out for a bad case of purple tongue!

2. Brunello di Montalcino

Same advice regarding Tuscany’s big red wine! There are numerous producers pouring 10 or more wines, and you can look for wineries like Argiano, Marchesi and San Polino. Brunellos tend to be not quite as tannic, so a little easier to enjoy young!

3. BC Wineries

I can’t leave out my homies…at least a couple of BC wineries warrant some attention, with Averill Creek leading the way! Andy is famous for his Pinot Noirs, but don’t miss his Pinot Gris as well. Burrowing Owl doesn’t have their Syrah, but try their Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc…a bit “Bordeaux like” for me, but nice wines. Finally,
Quails Gate makes nice — if expensive — Cali style Pinot Noir.

4. California

Not a lot of wineries this year, but some of the biggies are here. Mondavi, Beringer, Signorello, Seghesio…all are worth checking out.

5. France

Even fewer from France, but one of my favourite wineries is back…Famille Perrin, which makes Chateau de Beaucastel (which they are pouring, along with their Coudoulet and Vacqueyras). Definitely worth a trip!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

CABERNET SAUVIGNON – THE REAL “HEARTBREAK GRAPE”

January 7, 2016

Happy New Year, everyone!

To kick off the year, I am going to do as series of blogs on the major grape varietals/the wines they make. And to start, the so-called “king of grapes” – Cabernet Sauvignon. Although, for me, you could also call it the “heartbreak grape” (with all due respect to Pinot Noir).

Most people know about “Cabs”…they are probably the first red wines they tried! Initially made famous because of their role in the great Bordeaux wines of France, they became arguably even more popular in the last 30 years because of how they are made in California.

And there-in – at least for me – lies the paradox (and the heartbreak).

I, too, started off on Bordeaux when I “got into wine”. With no other reference points, I though all red wine was supposed to be like the way Cab was made into wine in Bordeaux – cedary, woody, with only hints of fruit (mostly cherries). I enjoyed it…or so I thought!

And then came California! I will never forget the night…I had started to read the Wine Spectator, which favoured California wines, and they were hot on Robert Mondavi’s winery. I had my first real job out of university, so a little money, and bought the 1985 and 1985 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons (for about $23)…and was blown away!

Super pure and ripe blackcurrants exploded on my taste buds, delicately covered by vanilla. Big, rich, not tannic at all…wow! I couldn’t believe it!

From then on, I searched out for those wines, including on a subsequent trip to Napa and Sonoma with my bride to be. It was amazing to find so many wineries making what I would come to call the California style of Cabernet Sauvignon (and Merlot and Pinot Noir, as well, for that matter).

From there, it became hard to go back to Bordeaux, although by then my new cellar was fairly full of it. I kept trying the wines as they aged, but found very few with any semblance of that purity of fruit. By contrast, as I go older, I found that many of the California wines still kept a lot of their fruit even as they aged!

For over thirty years I have been searching for those wines in all kinds of places – Chile, Spain, Australia, Washington State and – more recently – here in BC, but don’t find them as often as I would like. If anything, Australia is the best place for that style now.

Which is where the heartbreak comes in…along with the price I have to pay to find really good ones in California these days.

But sometimes –particularly if there is something to celebrate – it is worth it! Last year, in recognition of my Junior Girls 27 – 6 record, I bought a couple of bottles of the Caymus Vineyards Napa Valley Anniversary bottling (2010, I believe). Highly rated (95+) and over $65 up here…but amazingly ripe! And it reminded me of the first great Mondavi wines I tasted so many years ago.

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

NO FRENCH ONION SOUP – OR CABERNET FRANC – FOR YOU!

November 25, 2015

A little riff on Seinfeld for my blog title this evening…but it seemed appropriate after the experience we had in Seattle this past weekend.

First off, though, hats off to the two restaurants we went to for dinner – Café Campagne and Il Terrazzo Carmine! Both had great food, wine lists and a $25 corkage fee! Given the latter, I brought my own wine, and thoroughly enjoyed both the ’11 La Grola by Allegrini and the ’12 Cotes du Rhone les Garrigues from le Clos du Cailloux. I bought both for under $30, so with corkage they were less than the vast majority of the wines on the wine lists!

But now, the experience…that led to the title of the blog.

We are sitting at Café Campagne, when two couples come in and sit beside us. One of the women was a bit of a loud talker, but I thought “whatever”, enjoying my cassoulet and Cotes du Rhone. And then the first thing happened…

She was the one with the wine list, and when the waiter asked her for her selection, she said she didn’t know, but knew she really liked a 2009 Chateauneuf de Pape she had recently had. I thought “alright”! One of my favourite kinds of wine, a great year…and they had some CHPs on the list.

But then the waiter recommends a wine from the Loire Valley…a Cabernet Franc?! I almost said something (my wife had to stop me). I mean, come on…Cab Franc from France couldn’t be a more different style of wine, right? I’m not sure if it was on special or what, but really!

And then, she decides to shift to…Bordeaux?! And not just that, but a fairly generic Margaux?! Again, a completely different style of wine from CHP. And the waiter just nodded and brought it to her.

I shook my head, and went back to my wine (and food). But it didn’t stop there…

When it was time to order food, the same woman announced that she had a cold, so wanted the French Onion soup…but without the cheese or croutons! My wife actually had to grab me on that one.

I can imagine the chef in the kitchen…he must have just gone bug eyed!

Not because he couldn’t do it, of course. The caramelized onions/broth are cooked in one pot, and the cheese/croutons added at the end under the broiler. But still…isn’t the cheese – in particular – what the soup is all about?

But that is what she got – a bowl of broth with some onions in it! And as we were leaving, she seemed to be enjoying her soup and wine.

So the purpose of this blog? Well, I know that the “customer is always right”…so give them what they want. But please…at least give some advice that makes sense? Some alternatives, perhaps, for both the food and wine that make sense? That’s all I ask. Then if they still make a strange decision, it’s on them.

Or next time, maybe I will come over the table…

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

CALIFORNIA WINES MAKING A “VALUE” COME BACK IN BC?

October 29, 2015

Quick question for you – what do the ’13 Dancing Bull Zinfandel, ’12 Smoking Loon Syrah and ’12 Louis Martini Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon have in common?

Yes, they are all from California…and all solid wines. But more importantly, they are all under $20 in BC liquor stores, with the first two being less than $15! And I would bet that for our friends in the US, you can find them for around $10 in Costco or other grocery stores.

My question is…how do they make this kind of quality, at this price, for the BC market?

When I first started getting into wine back in the ‘80s, I drank a lot of California wines. And there were some amazing bargains back then.

But then the Canadian dollar tanked, and for a long time many – most? – California wines just became too expensive. Even four or five years ago when our dollar was at par with the US dollar, the prices just didn’t seem to come down very much, whether it was for the inexpensive wines or the premium ones.

But now, that seems to be changing…even though our dollar is once again falling!

So what gives?

I know the wines I mentioned above – and probably many others – are made in great quantities, which helps keep the per bottle cost down. But still…with our bizarre tax regime, the only way a California wine can sell for $15 is if it “landed” here at under $10, which I assume would be the price in the US (if not less given the exchange range).

Factor in the average price of BC wines now hovering close to $20 – for far lower quality – and it presents an interesting quandary.

And one I don’t have an answer to!

If you know, please pass on the reason. In the meantime, I guess I will be buying ore California wine to drink during the week!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com