Posts Tagged ‘cabernet sauvignon’

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

WHAT IS A BARGAIN, ANYWAY?

August 5, 2015

I was struggling a bit about a topic this week, but then my coaching buddy Jim inadvertently gave it to me at practice this afternoon!

He mentioned going into a local pub’s wine store looking for a red wine to drink with something on the barbecue…California Cab was his focus, and something that wouldn’t break the bank. He was looking around and saw a blend from Bennett Lane for under $25…and it was a 2006! He did a double take, checked the price, and bought a bottle to try.

He said it was – in a word – amazing! So I went there after practice, bought a bottle…and definitely confirmed his initial impression.

But does that make it a bargain?

Well, let’s think about that word…and what it really means!

For some people, it means something “cheap”. That is not a wrong answer, including when it comes to wine. If you can find a $10 wine these days that actually tastes like the grape it is made of, then you have definitely found yourself a bargain!

But it doesn’t have to mean “cheap” either.

At its most basic definition, a “bargain” means getting something at a lower price than you expect to pay. So, technically, that means the actual price doesn’t mean anything at all!

That works for me at the $20 – $30 range. While that is more than I usually pay for “everyday” drinking wine, I can somehow justify it if the wine tastes like it should cost twice as much!

I use the same philosophy with respect to the wines I buy for my cellar. Usually I won’t go over $50 a bottle, and the wine must be rated over 90 points by Parker.

But if I see a wine I love…like Chateauneuf du Pape, or Barolo, or Barbaresco…and it is rated over 95 points…I can justify paying 10 – 15 dollars more because I think it is a “bargain”!

However, I draw the line at wines priced much more than that. Personally, I can’t justify a wine that is $70 or more, no matter what the rating. Yes, it may be a bargain for that kind of wine (Bordeaux or Burgundy comes to mind). But for me…that is just too dear!

So after all that, what is the definition of a bargain? Well, like many things in life…it depends.
But in wine, it comes down to what you like, value…and are willing to pay for!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

NATURAL WINE – REAL OR JUST A MARKETING PLOY?

June 10, 2015

I can’t resist this one! Just back from a week in New York, and I read in a couple of places (on the plane, on-line, in the Times Magazine and then even back in Vancouver) about this whole “natural wine” phenomena. And, frankly, it smells a bit to me!

Essentially – from what I can make out – the concept is that wines should be made to reflect where they are grown/made, with minimal intervention from the winemaker. The concept of “terroir” has been around for ages, but this takes it to another level completely.

Parts of it I get for sure. Make the wine from grapes that grow best in your area? Absolutely…no point trying to grow/make Cabernet in a region that won’t get enough sun to let the grapes get ripe.

Minimize your use of pesticides and fertilizers in the process, even make a wine that is “organic”? I can go for that too…major wineries like Chapoutier and Beaucastel in the Rhone have been taking that approach for years.

And avoid adding too much “stuff” to the wine as it is being made and/or filtering it? I’m good with that too…no sugar, unfiltered, let the grapes show what they are made of (so to speak).

But the next part…don’t add anything at all and just let the wine “be what it is’? Well, now we have problems, at least from my point of view.

Why? Well, all I had to do was look at the descriptions of some of the wines being promoted.

“Oxidized”, “funky”, “unpleasant”, “devoid of fruit”…and those were some of the nice descriptors! If that is what a wine tastes like, then either your grapes weren’t very good – or ripe – or you don’t know what you are doing!

And, of course, it all comes at an additional cost! Can you imagine…paying more for something that doesn’t taste as good?

I think wine critic Robert Parker’s response was bang on. I am paraphrasing, but essentially he was saying this was an excuse to make unripe, unfruity wine…something that Bordeaux and Burgundy used to get away with on a regular basis for years during “off vintages”.

Sorry…call me simplistic, but wine – like anything else you choose to put in your mouth – should taste good. The better it tastes, the more I am willing to pay for it. Full stop.

As a PR guy by profession, anything else just sounds like someone trying to sell you a load of you know what!

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

“What’s a great red wine to take to a guys “foodie” dinner party featuring steak?”

February 11, 2015

A friend of mine asked me this question yesterday and, in developing an answer, it occurred to me the question would be a great blog topic. That’s because in order to get to the answer, I had to sift through a few important wine issues.

The first one to deal with was the fact this was not only a dinner party, but a “foodie” dinner party. From that, I took it that the participants are knowledgeable about at least about their food (and probably about their wine). That means whatever wines I recommended had to work with the food

And it was also a “guys” dinner party. So – at the risk of stereotyping – and assumed there would be a bit of competition going on here. So the wine not only had to be good, it had to be well known and probably not cheap. So probably no bargains wanted.

Next issue – the food! By steak, I assumed it wasn’t just chuck or sirloin and would be cooked on the barbecue. The potential cuts actually didn’t matter as much – T-bone, striploin, New York, Porterhouse, Ribeye – as it would be the barbecuing that would add much of the flavour. Grilling adds that wonderful charred flavour to meat, which can be powerful and overwhelm a more delicate read wine. A minor consideration was also if they were going to sauce the steak i.e. bbq sauce before, béarnaise after. Either way, those are some rich flavours that have to be accounted for in the wine selection.

The last issue was the word “great”. I needed not just any red wine, but a “great” red wine.

Now, that could mean a number of things, of course. “Great” tasting, “great” reputation, “great” rating…or some combination of all three. I doubt it meant “great” price i.e. cheap, given the other factors above. So, we are probably looking at $50+ in order to be in the game!

The toughest issue here, actually, is the “great tasting” one. It would be relatively easy to find a “big red wine” from Bordeaux, Piedmont, Tuscan, or even Spain. But if it is too young – and therefore too tannic – that might be a problem, even if those tannins are somewhat softened by the steak itself. Chances are the guests are going to start with a glass before eating the steak, and if all they get is a mouth of wood and lip-searing tannin, that’s not going to work.

So, with all that to consider…can you guess my recommendation(s)?

There were two, both from California.

The first was Cabernet Sauvignon from a “name” producer in a good, recent year. The style of Cali Cabs should be perfect for steak – big enough to take on the barbecue and any sauces, but also ripe enough even on release to enjoy on their own. And some of the “name” wineries make enough wine to have it available. I specifically recommended Caymus (the 40th Anniversary Vintage is very highly rated, although pricey at $72) as the wine that would be the best name. For about $30 less, I also recommended the Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet – not as big, but same style.

The other option was old vine Zinfandel. Again, big enough to take on the barbecue (it is actually my “go to” barbecue wine), nice on release, and available from some big name producers. Ridge Vineyards is my top pick, either the Lytton Spring, Geyserville (both $55 up her) or the Three Valleys (at $40). All are Zin blends, which adds even a little more complexity to the wine.

There you go…no over to my friend to see what he chooses…and how it works out!

SB

PS If you have a wine question you think would make a good blog topic, let me know!

http://www.sbwinesite.com