Posts Tagged ‘California’

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

VANCOUVER WINE FESTIVAL PRIMER #1: CABERNET SAUVIGNON AND PINOT NOIR

February 1, 2017

Okay, been a while, but I am back…and with the Vancouver International Wine Festival just a couple of weeks away, how about a primer on two of the most popular grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir – and what you can expect from their wines.

While the grapes are very different in terms of where they are grown and their flavour profiles, they are somewhat similar in terms of the two primary styles of wine.

The more traditional style for both grape varieties is what is usually called old world. For Cabernet Sauvignon, that tends to mean from Bordeaux (where it is usually the main player in a blend of grapes) and Burgundy (where Pinot Noir stands alone, except for the Beaujolais region). Both are from France.

What are the characteristics of that style? Well, in my experience and taste, the emphasis is more on wood – usually oak and cedar – and herbs. Tannins, too, tend to dominate, particularly when the wines are young. As they subside, the result can be smooth, but the amount of fruit that is still there? Except for the great wines – which are way too expensive for me – it is usually long gone.

You can probably tell, these are not my style of wines. I have had a small number of mind boggling older Burgundies and Bordeaux, but that is more than offset by the number of woody, herbal and dried out Bordeaux and Burgundy wines (young and old). Having said that, they are the most popular red wines in the world!

But there is another style of wine which I really like…some call it new world, but it has one key word to describe it – fruit!

Luscious black currants and cassis for Cabernet Sauvignons, and cherries (black and red) for Pinot Noir. Lovely vanilla and spice can overlay but not dominate this fruit.

You probably already know where the best of these kinds of wines come from! The USA – California, Oregon (for Pinot Noirs) and Washington (for Cabernet Sauvignons). But also from Australia and my home province of British Columbia (especially for Pinot Noir).

And don’t think that “fruity” means they can’t age. Some of the Cali Cabs can easily go for 15 – 20 years without losing their fruit.

Ironically, the best ones can also be almost as expensive as their French cousins (as anyone who has heard of so-called “cult wines” like Screaming Eagle or Harlan Estates).

What does this mean for the VIWF? Well, in looking at the list of wineries, I would recommend trying the following wineries in each of the styles:
• Old World Cabernet – Baron Phillipe de Rothschild, Dourthe, Borie Manoux (France), Mission Hill, Osoyoos Larose, Jackson Triggs (B.C.)
• New World Cabernet – Kendall Jackson, Robert Mondavi (California), Columbia Crest (Washington), La Frenz (B.C.)
• New World Pinot Noir – Etude (California), Whitehaven (New Zealand), La Frenz, Howling Bluff, Averill Creek, NkMip (B.C.)

Enjoy!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

THANKSGIVING WINES

October 5, 2016

We are heading into our Thanksgiving Day long weekend up here in Canada, and every year I get questions about what wine to have with the big celebration dinner.

So here are some ideas!

First off, it always depends on what you are having to eat, particularly if the food – or significant components of the meal – is going to be sweet. That sugar can play havoc with both red and white wines, so it is important to plan accordingly.

If you are having a sweeter meal – ham with a sugar glaze, sweet yams or mashed potatoes, lots of cranberry sauce – then I would recommend two kinds of wines.

For whites, go with a Riesling. They are naturally on the sweet side (even the dry ones), so can stand up to just about any level of sweetness in your food. Also, they come in a wide range of price categories! You can get really nice ones from BC, Washington State and California for under $20, for example. Europe is the home to great Rieslings, of course – from France, in the Alsace region, and Germany – so you can also go there if you want a potentially great wine. One caveat, though – some of the best of those wines can get quite sweet, so if you or your guests don’t like sweet wines, that could be a problem.

For reds, that is tougher. Any kind of oak in the wine will not mix well with the sweetness in the food, potentially ruining the taste of both the wine and the food.

My “go to” red wine for sweeter or hotter foods is Zinfandel. It is chock full of sweet (ripe) fruit itself, doesn’t have oak or jamminess to it, and the alcohol level can help combat the sweetness in the food. California is the place, of course, to find it, and you can find options from $10 to $50++++.

It is easier to pair wines with more savoury dishes – turkey/lamb/chicken/beef with herbs, meat stuffing, that kind of thing.

My favourite red wine choice for these kind of meals is actually Grenache-based wines! Cotes du Rhone, Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras – all of these wines, even when young, have great herbal (called garrigue) component to them that pairs really well with herbal, meaty food. And they don’t have to be expensive! Basic Cotes du Rhone – solid wines – can be had for under $15.

As for whites, you do need to watch the oak. If you – or your guests – like it, then go for the big Chardonnay or Semillon/Sauvignon-based wines. They will be rich enough to stand up to the herbal meaty flavours. If oaked wines don’t work, you can try Pinot Gris or even Chenin Blanc – the best ones are full-bodied enough to handle the food without the oak.

That should give you enough to make Thanksgiving Dinner – here or in the US – enjoyable. But one last piece of advice.

If you really love wine and/or a certain type of wine, then have it! There are too few excuses to treat yourself, and not matter what the food is, you can still enjoy a fabulous bottle of wine.

Life is too short…so go for it!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

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

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

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

2015 Victoria Wine Festival

September 23, 2015

I’m looking forward to my first trip to the Victoria Wine Festival. With family on Vancouver Island, we get there fairly often, and I try to ‘do’ the wineries once a year as well. But to date, I have been to their Festival.

And after scanning the wineries/wines, I am looking forward to it even more!

First and foremost, what a delightful surprise to see so many small, but great BC Wineries are going to be there! My tasting list will certainly include:

• Quail’s Gate – their Old Vines Marechal Foch is perhaps the best in BC, with rich, meaty flavours
• Moraine – a relative newcomer, Moraine is making great Rhone style Syrah, full of peppery, earthy cherries
• Howling Bluff – rapidly becoming the standard barrier for value-priced white wines, Luke’s
Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend is amazing, and his more expensive Pinot Noir shows great potential as well
in a Burgundy/Cali cross style
• Gray Monk – I stumbled across their sparkling rose (Odyssey Brut Rose) and was amazed at the fresh
strawberries in this wine
• Marichel – Richard is a Rhone-specialist! His Syrah is richer and riper than almost all others in Naramata
(think Aussie Shiraz without the jam) and his Viognier is old-school – floral, dry, with none of the fruit
cocktail flavours you get from many new world wines
• Perseus – another newcomer making great value wines, including a non-oaked Merlot that fairly bursts with
cherries and berries
• Eau Vivre – last but not least, this Similkameen Winery goes from success to success with its multiple award
winning Pinot Noir, which remains a steal at about $20!

With that list, I could spend a good part of my evening!

But it looks like there are other great wines to try as well. From France, I see Perrin’s Vacqueyras Le Christin, a Grenache blend from the southern Rhone that is accessible young but ages beautifully; it is an annual Robert Parker favourite, and I have multiple vintages in my cellar.

Italy is well represented with Barolos from Damilano, Altesino’s Brunello di Montalcino, and Amarones by La Dama. These are expensive wines and it is great to get a chance to taste them in this format! The challenge is deciding if there is enough fruit to survive the tannin…but I am up for it!

Finally, don’t forget California! Ravenswood has a couple of Zinfandels, which are classic blackberry bombs! Belle Glos’ single vineyard Pinot Noir is also there, which I have never tasted but heard good things about. And Stag’s Leaps’s Petite Sirah, usually a brooding giant of a red wine with years of aging in it.

Sparkling, white and red…that will be my tasting strategy, and I will try to tweet out my tasting notes in real time!

So stay tuned, and if you want more info about the event, check out the website at http://www.vicwf.com.

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

Handicapping the 2015 BC Pinot Noir Celebration

August 19, 2015

Okay, back from holidays, and I can’t resist being a bit cheeky with my first blog!

It relates the the 2015 BC Pinot Noir Celebration scheduled for this weekend in Kaleden (in BC’s beautiful Similkameen Valley). For those not familiar with the event, it was started last year by a number of BC wineries to celebrate the so-called ‘heartbreak grape’. Billed purposely as a ‘celebration’ and not a ‘competition’, it never-the-less has entry requirements and features tastings that can’t help but lend themselves to comparisons! And with international wine celebrity Steven Spurrier the host this year (he of Bottle Shock fame), there may be more competition references than ever!

So given that – and my interest in being cheeky – I am going to handicap the event similar to the way film critics do with potential Academy Award winners!

My categories will be three:
* best overall Pinot Noir Winery
* best Reserve Pinot Noir (5 + years old)
* best regular Pinot Noir.

In doing this, I will also reference wineries/wines that aren’t there if that is relevant.

So here we go!

Best Pinot Noir Winery

My Nominees: Kettle Valley, Blue Mountain, Quail’s Gate, Meyer

a) Should win – Kettle Valley (not there)

BC Pinot Noir dweebs like me know that the Kettle Valley Hayman Vineyard is the only true Burgundian Pinot in BC, as well as one of the best. The more Cali-style Reserve is not far behind, and even the regular Pinot Noir is beautiful. This award would be an easy choice for me!

b) Would win – Quail’s Gate or Meyer Family

Quail’s Gate has been making reserve and regular Pinot Noirs since the beginning of the BC wine industry and while the former are a bit pricey, they are definitely good. Plus they are VQA. Meyer is a relative newcomer, but gets good press for its pricey wines. And according to the media, are the only BC Pinots that Spurrier has followed in England. Neither make better Pinot Noirs than Kettle Valley, but…Take your pick!

Best Reserve/High End Pinot Noir (5+ years old)

My Nominees: Kettle Valley Hayman, Kettle Valley Reserve, Blue Mountain Reserve, La Frenz Reserve, Averill Creek Reserve, Howling Bluff, Meyer (Mclean Creek or Reimer), Foxtrot, Quail’s Gate Family Reserve, Cedarcreek Platinum

a) Should win – Kettle Valley Hayman (not there) and Blue Mountain Reserve

Boy, this would be a great tasting…and one I would pay just to attend! I have cellared half of these wines for a decade or more, and tasted the rest a number of times.

Based on my experience, after 5 years in a better than average vintage, you would actually have to pick two wines because of different styles. The Hayman starts tasting/smelling like Burgundy at that age, and there is nothing else in BC like it. Meanwhile, the Blue Mountain Reserve has evolved as well, into a Burgundy/Cali clone. Different, but just as delicious.

By the way, a couple of wines would be sleepers, if only because I haven’t seen them age yet. Both Howling Bluff and La Frenz have stepped up big time in this category…it will be interesting to watch their wines as they age!

b) Would win – Quails Gate Family Reserve or Cedarcreek Platinum or Meyer (either)

Both Quail’s Gate and Cedarcreek are long time darlings of the industry. They do make good (if often expensive) wine, but not as good as either the Blue Mountain Reserve of Kettle Valley Hayman (or the Kettle Valley Reserve, La Frenz Reserve, Howling Bluff and Averill Creek Reserve). Same for Meyer.

Best Regular Pinot Noir

My Nominees: Averill Creek, La Frenz, Eau Vivre, Moraine, Blue Mountain, Quail’s Gate, Cedarcreek, Meyer, Okanagan Crush Pad, Tantalus

a) Should win – Eau Vivre (not there) or Averill Creek

Eau Vivre is a back to back Lieutenant Governor Award winner and still about $20…’nuff said! A great wine, year in, year out. And Averill Creek’s regular Pinot Noir is a stunning achievement, not just for Vancouver Island, but for anywhere.

Others to watch? La Frenz’s new regular Pinot Noir, and Moraine (a new kind on the block).

b) Would win – Okanogan Crush Pad, Tantalus

The former is the latest media darling – a spot for winemakers to come make their wines. A good idea, but I haven’t tasted great Pinot yet. And Tantalus? They are one of the founders of this event…
Now, let’s wait for the media to report out this weekend!

SB

http://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