Posts Tagged ‘aging wine’

OAK – WHEN, WHY AND WHY NOT?

August 3, 2017

Is there a more controversial topic in wine – at least for wine dweebs like me – than oak?

 

I have written about it a number of times, and it is tough to try and stay balanced. Most people know what they like when it comes to oak, and they tend to really like it…or really hate it. But this week’s experience with a couple of wines made me think of another potential angle to this controversy.

 

First, though, let’s back up a bit. What is oak used for anyway?

 

Well, at the most basic it is what many wines are aged in. That as been the case for hundreds if not thousands of years. A whole area of France  – Limousin – built up an industry producing wood for wine barrels. And others followed in other countries

Why? Well, oak barrels can impart some very specific, and popular, flavours, textures and colours to wines as they age. Wood flavours to begin with – cedar – as well as herbs. But also vanilla, butter, butterscotch and even caramel notes from the wood, depending on how new the oak barrels are and how long the wine is kept in them. Colour too – golden yellow in white wines can be a sign of oak aging. And texture, especially in reds – the oak can help soften the harsh tannins that sometimes dominate in “big” red wines.

 

So what’s the problem, then? Its the fact that some people believe certain wines should taste a certain way based on history, style, personal preference. Red Bordeaux, for example, is supposed to have cedar, herbs and led pencil overtones. California Chardonnay has a reputation for vanilla, butter and even caramel flavours.

 

And that is what got me thinking when I had two different BC wines from the same producer this week. Both were recommended by a reviewer that I respected, so I thought I would give them a try.

 

The first was a Syarh/Mourvedre blend. Now, Syrah from France typically does not show very much oak influence at all (regardless of whether it is aged in oak or not), particularly in the Northern Rhone. Either does Mourvedre, a blending grape from the Southern Rhone often mixed with Syrah and Grenache in Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas and other wines.

 

So it was with surprise, and disappointment, that I opened the wine and, upon smelling it, picked up the vanilla notes right away! That followed in the mouth – smooth, vanilla covered cherries. It was lovely to drink – my wine loved it – but it didn’t taste at all like what I thought Syrah/Mourvedre should taste like!

 

Fast forward to tonight, same winery, but a wine that was 100% Syrah. Open it up and – boom! All pepper, black cherries, earth – a Northern Rhone clone! I loved it!

 

So that got me thinking…with oak, like a lot of things in life, it is about expectations and familiarity. I know what I like in different wine styles – give me a butter California Chardonnay any day, a Spanish Rioja with vanilla covered cherries, or a Cali Cab with vanilla and cassis. But Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache…nope…I want the style from France that I like, because that’s what I like!

 

The lesson here? I’m still note sure…but it has something to do with expectations, and managing them!

 

SB

 

www.sbwinesite.com

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HOW OLD IS TOO OLD…AND HOW DO YOU KNOW?

April 19, 2017

Age and wine…it is a big issue, both for wine dweebs like me and even the average wine drinker. For the former, it is all about trying to find the optimum time to drink a wine – not too young and tannic, not old and dried out, but just right! And for the latter – I want to drink it right away, is that okay?

I am generalizing, of course, and apologies to all – in both camps – who are offended! But the basic question is the same – how old should a wine be before I can enjoy it at its best?

I decided to write about this topic after my buddy Jim texted me to come over and taste a 2004 La Frenz Merlot the other day. At almost 13 years old, any Merlot from BC (and most from anywhere) should be dead…dried out, no fruit. But this one (I of course raced right over!) was stunning – still lots of fruit, interesting touch of vanilla and licorice and mint…simply stunning!

Back to the questions, then…but before I answer (and add some additional considerations), a few qualifications.

First, we are talking about red wines here, not whites. While a few white wines can age (sweet, Rieslings, some Burgundies), the vast majority don’t age well and should be consumed within a year or so of purchase.

Second, even with reds, over 90% are good to go on release. That way you get the freshness of the fruit, which is what wine is (or should be) all about.

So what about it, then? How old should it be…and what is too old?

The first question? That is a matter of taste, for the most part.

Young red wines have more fruit to them – some would say “obvious” fruit, but there is nothing the matter with that. They also can have a lot of tannin, which makes them mouth puckering and difficult to unpleasant to drink. So it depends on what style you like the best.

Interestingly, because more and more wine drinkers won’t wait to age a wine these days, even the most expensive wines can drink very well upon release.

But what about the other question – how do you know if it is too old?

This, of course, excludes wines that are oxidized and/or spoiled. Aromas and flavours of vinegar, tea, etc. mean the wine is bad, and should be avoided.

But aside from that, it turns out the answer to the question is almost the same as the first time – it depends on the style you like the best!

Most people like their older wines to still have some fruit in them. It may be more dried fruit – dried cherries, cassis, and plums in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone wines, Barolo, Barbaresco, etc – but still recognizable as fruit, none-the-less.

However, there are folks that actually like their wine almost completely dried out – oak, cedar, other kinds of wood! The stereotype is “the English”, who apparently had a tradition of aging their Bordeaux and Burgundy so long that it literally had no fruit left in it. Not my style, but if that’s what you like…

So, as usual, it all depends on your taste.

But make sure you know what you like in advance! The last thing you want to do is wait for a wine to age…and find out that you don’t like that style.

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH…FOR A BC WINE?

April 5, 2017

A slightly different approach to my yearly rant against the rising prices of BC wine…this time, I want to talk about “how much is too much” for a bottle of BC wine.

As usual, I want to emphasize that I have no problem with a wine’s price if it sells. I may not be able to afford it – see California Cult wines, most Barolos, Hermitages, etc – and I may not like its style (see Bordeaux), but if the market will bear the price – then go for it!

But I remain curious about the logic around the prices of some of the recently released BC wines. One winery, in particular, has its new “artisanal” wines priced at…wait for it…$90, $115 and $125! And they were being promoted by a local BC wine writer.

Sorry, but that just doesn’t compute with me.

First off, it is a brand new winery, with no track record…who in their right mind would spend that kind of money when there is no history of what the wine will taste like?

Second, assuming that the wines are meant to age…there is also no track record of that either! What if in 3, 5, 8 or more years, you open them up and your “investment” tastes like a glass of toothpicks!

Third, if you really want to spend that kind of money on wine (and, to be clear, I don’t), a quick check of the BCLB website shows you have a lot more reputable options. How about the 2014 Saint Joseph le Clos by Chapoutier for $119 (97 points by Parker)? Or the 2010 Barbaresco Sori Paitin for $105 (also 97 points by Parker)? Even the 2014 regular Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon at $115 (and 94 points). All of these wines have years (if not decades) of pedigree, so if you like the style, there is virtually no risk.

Fourth, who exactly is going to buy these wines? Not your average wine drinker, of course…and not even wine dweebs like me. Not restauranteurs, as they have to mark them up 2 – 3 times. So is it tourists, wanting to take something back with them? But how many of them will spend that much money on a BC bottle of wine?

Finally – and I realize this is the toughest, most subjective argument – how can these wines be good enough to charge that kind of price? Personally, I won’t spend that kind of money on any wine, let alone a BC wine (except in a restaurant, of course, where the cost has been at least doubled). And that’s because I just don’t think wine is worth that much money.

Okay, enough ranting by me for this year! But one last dig…I bet if you go looking for those wines a few months from now, they will still be available…and there will be lots of them!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS – WITH WINE, LIKE IN LIFE

March 30, 2017

I opened a wine tonight and, as I did, I realized I had expectations – high expectations – for what was to come. And then – as my Twitter post said – it was just…okay. Not bad, but not great, but not what I had hoped.

Hence the title of this blog!

There are lots of leadership gurus out there these day who say that one of the keys to business and life success is managing expectations. And as I tasted the wine tonight, I realized it was the same with wine.

So what was going on tonight…and how to manage it?

First, tonight. The wine was from the Northern Rhone from a famous producer. Not one of his top wines – i.e. a Hermitage – but still a prominent name, from a very good vintage, and 8 years old. So that was one reason for high expectations.

Second, it was highly rated – 90 points by a reviewer I respect and have followed for over 25 years, one whose style of wines seems to match mine. So another reason for high expectations

Third, it was from my cellar…which are wines that are supposed to be special and get better with age. Another reason.

The final reason was what I expected from that style of wine. Now, I love Rhone wines from the North and the South. But I also know that the southern wines (like Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras) can be flashier, with the predominantly Grenache-based wines sometimes exploding with garrigue and ripe but not jammy red cherry fruit.

But I also know – and love – Syrah from the northern Rhone. Yes, it is leaner, but the peppery black cherries, touch of licorice and lack of any wood at all can be breathtakingly smooth, particularly as the wines age and develop secondary aromas and tastes. So that was my expectation.

And what did I get?

Well, the style was bang on, for sure. Black pepper, black cherries, and lean…for sure. But the flavour just never really went “kapow”…it just kind of started…then stopped. Good, but not great…that was it.

So that’s what happened tonight. But what did I learn…and what to do about it in the future?

Well, I’m not sure I have an answer for that, to be honest.

I am always going to expect great things from a wine that is supposed to be great. And I will try to manage them by remembering the style of the wine, so I don’t confuse those expectations.

One thing I can do differently is to enjoy what I have in my glass as much as I can. As long as it isn’t “off”, there is still some enjoyment to be had.

The other – a longer term thing – is to remember if it happens with the same kind of wine more than couple of times. That may indicate that my tastes are changing…and that I should change my cellar strategy in order to avoid more disappointments in the future!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

CHANGING YOUR CELLAR STRATEGY AS YOU AGE

September 20, 2016

For all of you out there with any kind of a wine cellar, heads up – time to think about your buying strategy as you get older!

I’m 54, and that idea came to me when looking at recent Vintage Port ratings…many of the wines were not meant to be drunk for 30 – 40 years. That made me wonder whether I would be alive or not when they were ready!!

Seriously, though, everyone who buys wine to age should re-evaluate what they are doing on a regular basis. Most basic – will you be around when the wines are ready to drink? Do you like the “older” wine you are drinking? Are there new wines you want to try and age? How much wine do you want to have for your “retirement” (whatever that term means these days)?

All four of those questions have been on my mind not only recently, but over the past number of years.

The first question would seem like a no brainer, but the older I get the more I realize it isn’t. Do I want a bunch of Vintage Ports in my cellar that can’t be enjoyable consumed until I am in my 90s? Probably not. And it won’t be long before the table wines I love (see below) begin to fall into that category. So time to be more realistic about what I buy.

The second question came up over 10 years ago when I realized that the highly rated Bordeaux I was starting to drink weren’t giving me a whole lot of pleasure. Now don’t get me wrong – this wasn’t first (or even second or third) growth Bordeaux, as I can’t afford that. But they were highly rated regardless (all over 90 points). But what I found was the herbal/woody nature of the maturing wines just didn’t do it for me.

So what did I do? Stopped buying them…I now have only a few bottles left, and resist the temptation every year to buy more (despite the ratings).

The “flip side” to this question was that the more older Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Barolo, and Barbaresco I drank, the more I loved them! So that has become my new buying strategy – spend whatever I have on cellar wines on those which I am pretty sure will bring me great pleasure when they mature.

The third question is an interesting one for me. I have tried some newer wines to see how they age…Australia, Argentina, Spain, even my home province of BC. But, for the most part (with the exception of some Aussie Shiraz and Cab), the answer is “no” to wines that will age for over 8 years. So, given my age, I don’t see investing more time – and money – in trying new, ageable wines.

Finally, the last question – how big a cellar do you want to retire with? That one I have given a lot of thought to!

In an ideal world, I would drink old wine almost every night when I retired. But unless I win the lottery, that is just not realistic. So, instead, I have decided that what wine I do buy for the cellar from now on must be drinkable when I am over 60 years old. That way, while I won’t have great cellar wine every night, at least the wine I will have will be what I want.

So that has become my motto when I go to the wine store – “buy only cellar wine”. I’m hoping it will serve me well as I move on in life!

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

WHEN – AND WHY – TO DECANT YOUR WINE

September 9, 2015

I’m sure lots of you have seen it, and many done it as well – decanting! As portrayed in movies and television, it looks like a fairly pretentious undertaking. The same can be said about how it is treated in restaurants, with the option of using a candle, sterling silver funnel and even strange mechanical bottle holders!

But as I made my way through a Barolo tasting yesterday, it occurred to me that decanting is important as long as it is done at the right time (and for the right reasons).

But first – what is decanting anyway? Well, put simply, it is the process of pouring wine from a bottle into another (usually glass) container.

And why do it? Well, that’s where the problems begin!

There are lots of reasons for decanting, and far be it for me to judge which ones are right and which are wrong. But here are a few to think about.

First, if you have a nice looking decanter, it looks great on the table for your guests; and there is nothing wrong with that!

Next, from a more scientific point of view, the exposure of red wine (and it is only red wine you need to decant) to air can help with both the aroma and taste. The chemical reaction that occurs over time can “soften” young red wines, including those mouth-puckering tannins. An hour or two before dinner, and the wine can really start to come around!

But the main reason I decant red wine is if it is old enough to have deposited some sediment. Many red wines, as they age, do that, and it is often a sign of a good, well stored wine. Now, there is nothing wrong with the deposits, but they don’t look very nice in your glass or feel/taste very good in your mouth (kind of like getting a mouthful of sand).

So a decanter – along with a funnel or simply a very steady hand – can allow you to pour the wine until the deposit just starts to leave the bottle, at which point you stop. Done correctly (and it isn’t that hard), the result is a decanter full of wine that you can then pour for guests without the fear of giving them a big glop (a technical term) of tannin in their glass (and potentially in their mouth).

Which, getting back to the tasting last night, is what winery owner should have done at the Barolo tasting! The 2011 and 2010 vintages were ferociously tannic, and could easily have benefited from 2 – 3+ hours of airing in a decanter. But the 2001 and 1999 versions definitely needed the deposit removed (as I found out upon my first sip…it wasn’t a pleasant experience).

How do you know if you need to decant? Well, if the bottle has been stored on its side, check out the neck…if you see a deposit coating the inside, then decanting is probably a good idea.

And what to use? Anything really…from a simple glass jug to the most expensive crystal decanter. It doesn’t really matter.

So there you go…next time you are serving either very young – or very old, if you are lucky – red wine, think about decanting it first. You will be surprised how easy it is to do, and how much you will enjoy the results.

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

Goodbye Summer Wine…but Hello Fall!

September 2, 2015

Mixed emotions tonight, as the calendar has turned along with the weather…summer is gone, and with it the summer wine!

What did I enjoy most this summer from a wine perspective? Well, it was hot here in BC…very hot. So that mean a lot of Roses and white wines.

Interestingly, we didn’t find as many Roses that really jumped out at us. Quails Gate was its usually solid self…as was Joie (although a bit pricey). Chaberton’s Valley Pink might now be the best of the BC Roses, and we drank a bunch of that.

Still, nothing replaced the La Frenz (which Jeff and Niva don’t make anymore) or the style that Township 7 used to make. Ah, well…

Whites, however, were great this summer! Howling Bluff again lead the way, both with their Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon and their straight Sauvignon Blanc. Both super pure, no wood, luscious grapefruit. La Frenz’s new whites were also great – Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Riesling. And Chardonnay from Quinta Ferreira – a beautiful Cali style.

We even snuck in some Pinot Noirs when the temp went down a bit. Both new ones (like Kalala, Nk Mip and Averill Creek) and older versions from the cellar (Blue Mountain Reserve, Kettle Valley Reserve and Hayman).

Pinot Noir will stick around for the fall and winter, of course, but I now look forward to bigger red wines as the weather cools!

Back to the Rhone Valley for Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras and even good old Cotes du Rhone. Australia – for Shiraz, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and blenew – and Italy, as I have some older Barolos, Barbarescos and Brunellos in my cellar that are ready to drink. How about some Rioja? I have a bunch of ‘85s ready to go. And Syrah? Well, back to BC…Nichol and Marichel wines are aging nicely in my cellar. And don’t forget Cabernet-based wines, mostly from California and Washington, although a few from BC and Australia as well.

Finally, Port…the real vintage stuff from Portugal, as well as similar style wines from d’Arenberg in Australia and La Frenz here at home.

Hmm…I am getting thirsty already…bring on the rain, and break out the decanter!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN A WINE IS TOO OLD?

July 15, 2015

I have blogged before about “how to know when a wine is off”…but a couple of experiences this week made me think that another good topic was how to tell if a wine is just too old!

The first? I was down in my cellar on Sunday…it was finally cool enough to open the door after weeks of scorching heat! I was moving bottles around, creating space, when I saw something…a 1994 Cotes du Rhone! Now, that made it 21 years old…and even for the producer – Coudoulet de Beaucastel – that is pushing it! What it really meant is that I had somehow forgotten about that wine. So I opened it and…

But wait! The second example. The ongoing white Hermitage debacle! Those who read my blog know about this conundrum…I bought a number of highly rated white Hermitage from the northern Rhone before ever having tasted them. Then, when I did…aack! More like Retsina than wine! So I just left them in the cellar…until now.

So what happened? Well, second example first (as I drink another glass…).

The white Hermitage – a 1990 Chante Alouette by Chapoutier – was so deep in colour it was almost orange! Did it have a resiny nose? Yes…but also nuts, wax…and in the mouth huge body, with no oak or obvious oxidation. Was it my favourite style of wine? No. But was it too old…certainly not (as today’s glass shows).

The ’94 Cotes du Rhone was an even better example. Still medium red, it had classic garrigue/dried cherries on the nose. And in the mouth? It could easily have been mistaken for a mature Chateauneuf du Pape – smooth, no tannin, dried fruit, herbs, but – again – no signs oxidation at all. Amazing!

So back to the question – how do you know if a wine is too old?

Well, if you take out wines that are just “off”, a big part of the answer depends on the style of wine you like.

If you like fresh, fruity wines the best, then any wine that is not like that will seem too old. That’s not a bad thing…just something to know. So don’t keep your wine too long, or drink wines that are more than 5 years old.

But if you do like mature wines, then look for some tell tale signs. Is there little or no fruit at all? Are there tea-like aromas on the nose? Is the wine dried out – meaning tannic and that is about it? Is there lots of wood and herbs…but that is it?

And, for white wines, has the oak completely overwhelmed the wine, leaving you with a mouthful of what tastes like sawdust?

If the answers to these questions are “yes”, then the wine is probably too old. Bad? Not necessarily. Not worth drinking? It depends on the style you like or can try to appreciate (says the man who is still sipping the ’90 Chante Alouette 2 days after it was opened).

So there is a bit of a guide for you on old wine. An acquired taste? Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean it is bad…you just have to be able to recognize it for what it is!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST ROSE FOR YOU!

July 3, 2015

It has been hot for a while up here in BC, unseasonably hot for us. What that means from a wine perspective is lots of Rose…so a good time to blog about it!

So who do you choose the best Rose, which for my purposes means “the one you like the best”?

First off, what is Rose? It is simply a wine made from red grapes that the winemaker has left the skins on for a while…the longer they are on, the deeper the colour (and fuller the body).

Next, it is important to remember there are three general different kinds of Roses. The first category – which are generally to be avoided – are the “White Zinfandels” from California. While the right colour, they tend to be sickly sweet with not a lot of wine character. Cheap – for a reason – you should stay away from them unless you have a real sweet tooth when it comes to wine!

At the other end of the Rose spectrum (as well as the most popular) are the bone dry versions. They are most associated with the south of France, but are now made anywhere it is hot (like Spain, South America) or where people might buy them (just about everywhere else). These range in colour from a very light pink to a deep salmon colour, are very fruity on the nose, but very crisp on the finish, with no sugar. They are stunning in the heat, and pair amazingly well with food because some of them can be quite full-bodied.

That leaves the wines in the middle! They tend to have a touch of residual sugar to them (what is called “off dry”), in which the fruit on the nose carries through to the mouth. I have had some beauties from my home province, exploding with ripe grapefruit and strawberries…they can be incredibly refreshing and easy to drink on a very hot day (sometimes too easy to drink on the deck…in the sun…).

So that is style…very important…and you need to figure out which style you like and then stick with that. How will you know?

Well, the description on the back can help (“crisp” and “bone dry” are key words, as are “residual sugar/sweetness for the middle style). Another general way is by country, or at least some countries. If the Rose is from the south of France, it is just about guaranteed to be bone dry. I don’t think I have ever had a sweeter version from that country. Spain is almost as reliable. For other countries, though, you have to check a bit more on the label, or try to taste first.

Finally, though, there is the issue of cost. Rose was developed to be a cheap wine to drink in the hot summer/early fall months. And it still is in most of the south of France and Spain, so cheap that a pichet of Rose is often thrown in at no cost with prix fixe meals. Less than $10 a bottle is the price to shoot for “on the continent”…over here, under $20!

Some producers, however – like Tavel – make more expensive versions that cost over $10 more, and even claim that they age well. There are even celebrity bottlings (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie did one with Thomas Perrin). I have tried some, and they are okay but, for me, kind of defeat the purpose.

Rose – either bone dry or with touch of sweetness – should be quaffed with simple food in the summer time. Fruity, refreshing, it is a compliment to the season, not a wine to spend lots of time thinking about.
Buy, chill, drink up, repeat…that is what Rose is all about!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com