Posts Tagged ‘Chablis’


May 3, 2019

I had chance this week to attend New Zealand Wine’s “Pure Discovery” tasting in Vancouver and came away both impressed and with some different views on that country’s wine!

I always try to avoid bringing in pre-conceived ideas to wine tastings, so with this one the key word was Sauvignon Blanc. New Zealand has been famous for it for years, including from popular producers like Oyster Bay, Kim Crawford and Babich. Now, I like SB, but wanted to know if there was more to New Zealand!

So, for whites, I went Chardonnay hunting – and I was surprised for sure! I tasted about ten wines and came away with one common theme regarding the style. It was French – not Californian – but also the Chablis-style of French Burgundy. That meant not as much vanilla/butter/hazelnut on the nose (which usually comes from oak) and more fresh, crisp citrus fruit (from making and aging the wines in stainless steel instead of oak barrels). Even those producers that did say they used oak usually relied on previously used barrels to limit the influence. If you enjoy this style of Chardonnay, I would highly recommend New Zealand, especially from producers like Kumeu River Estate (a particular favourite of mine), Greywacke, Villa Maria and Sacred Hill. While none of the wines were cheap – ranging from $22 – $50+ – they are certainly cost-competitive compared to Chablis from France.

I went to Pinot Noirs next, as they have become the “go to” red wines for New Zealand. I really didn’t know what to expect, so was surprised to once again feel like I was in a Burgundy tasting! Medium red in colour, lean red cherry fruit, a mix of herbs and wood, and fine to medium tannins – that was a fairly consistent description of most of the wines. You would certainly never mistake them for fruit-forward, vanilla laced California wines, that is for sure! It would be interesting to see how they aged, which is something I have had mixed results with for Burgundy as there is not a lot of obvious fruit when they are young, and many can therefore dry out over the years. Leading producers at the tasting included Craggy Range, Luna Estate, Mud House and Sacred Hill.

Last but least I had to look for some Syrah, of course…and I found a couple of beauties! Te Awanga had two – an entry level for about $22 and a reserve for about $28, and they were lovely! 100% Syrah, slightly riper than the northern Rhone (but not jammy or oaky at all), I really liked them! And the best wine of the tasting – as well as the most expensive – was the Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah. It had some Viognier in it, and was a young Cote Rotie look alike. Although at $110, it was out of my snack bracket!

So “big picture” takeaways? There is a lot going on with New Zealand wine, well beyond Sauvignon Blanc and the big-name producers. Go check out some Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and – if you can find it – Syrah. You won’t be disappointed!



What Wines to Bring to Dinner Parties?

March 25, 2015

Here is a dilemma for all of us. You are invited to friends for dinner and say you will bring wine.

But what do you bring?

Well, before I answer that, you need to answer a couple of other questions first!

First off…how close are you? This is the most important question because if you are close friends, you may already know what they like or – more importantly – if they are “wine dweebs” or not (more on that below). If it is more casual, it can be less of an issue (although you never want to bring bad wine, of course!).

Second – are they wine dweebs? If not, see above. But if they are, you face a bigger challenge. Do you try to bring something that impresses them? Or something that you know they like (because you have had it there before)? I would go with the latter…many people say they don’t like to bring wine to our place because they know I am a wine dweeb and may judge them. But if they know what I like – Rhone wines, for example – they can’t go wrong, no matter how much they spend on the bottle.

The third question may seem a bit esoteric, but it is important if you are a wine dweeb like me. And it is – do you expect the wine you bring to be drunk that evening?

For me, this is often the toughest question! I have lots of great wine in my cellar, and I love the chance to share it with friends, even casual friends. But what can drive me crazy is bringing a wine that I was looking forward to tasting, only to have the friends say “wow, thanks!” and then put it away for use later.

I deal with this question in two ways. If they are close friends, I will actually ask what to bring! I couch it around “what is for dinner? What will go best?” That way, I find out right up front whether it will be drunk or not. If I don’t know them that well, I tend to shy away from really good wine – or mature wine – as I don’t know when it may be drunk.

Having answered these questions, then, back to the first one…what do you bring?

Well, I have a couple of safe bets for “casual” friends. For reds, try an un-oaked Argentine Malbec or Cotes du Rhone. They are almost always fruity but a little complex, not full of wood (from the oak) and you can find lots of choices in the $15 – $20 range. And for whites, try Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or B.C. They are fruity (but not too ripe), have just a bit of oak, and there are a fair number in the same price range as the reds above.

For special friends that you know well? Well, if you have a cellar, that is the time to bring something that is mature. A Chateauneuf du Pape or Chianti Classico Riserva that is 8 – 10 years old, for example. If they are really good friends, try a Barolo or Barbaresco that is 10 – 15 years old. If you don’t have a cellar, go for a California Cabernet Sauvignon. Mondavi, Beringer, Caymus…there are lots of big names that have wines in the $40 – $50 range, and the great thing is they drink well on release, so you don’t have to worry about tannins.

And for special whites? Chablis Premier Cru is a great choice, or Alsatian Rielsing or Gewurztraminer. These can be from your cellar (if you are lucky enough to have them) or right off the shelf, as they also drink well young and can be found in the $40 range. Cali Chardonnay is another great idea as long as you know they like oaky, buttery Chardonnays.

So the next time you are asked to bring wine to dinner, think about these simple rules. Follow them, and you can’t go wrong!



August 30, 2013

I decided to blog this week a great dinner we made for our friends last weekend. They are going to Paris for a month in late October, so I decided to use that as an excuse to cook some classic French dishes – and pull out some (hopefully) great French wines from my cellar.

We started off with goat cheese tartines, so I chose a French sparkling wine – a 2007 Blanc de Blanc Monmousseau by Cuvee JM from Touraine. At about $20, it is a good value substitute for Champagne, being dry, with toasty, yeasty citrus and tiny bubbles.

Next I made a Provencal classic – Soup Pistou. This French bean and vegetable soup is easy to make and, with a couple of dollops of basil pesto on top, a true rustic treat!

To try and give our friends a sense of the different kinds of wines they might experience, I pulled out two whites to have with the dish (neither from the south of France, as I am not a big fan of their white wines). The first was a 2006 Chablis 1er Cru Fourchaume by William Fevre. It was highly rated, with recommendations it would age well.

What a disappointment when the wine proved to be off – either corked or too old! Not sure, but we quickly moved on to the next wine.

It was from Alsace, the 2000 Tokay Pinot Gris Furstentum by Domaine Albert Mann and…wow! A beauty! Golden yellow, a beautiful nose of sweet ripe tropical fruit, big body and fruit that was so ripe that I seemed sweet, although the wine finished dry. Our guests were quite impressed.

Next on to the main course – slow roasted duck with lentils and haricots verts. The wines chosen were a 1990 Chateauneuf du Pape from Le Vieux Donjon (one of my favourite Chateauneuf producers, and the last bottle from this great vintage) and a 2001 Savigny-Les-Beaune Vieilles Vignes by Domaine Doudet-Naudin.

I was a bit worried about the Chateauneuf; it was very highly rated (95 by Parker), but nearing the end of its drinkability range, and with the experience of the Chablis…I even pulled out a 1999 of the same producer in case there was a problem. But it was the exact opposite! The wine was amazing, classic old CHP, one of the best I have ever had, with garrigue, dried cherries, even some soft tannins. It could easily have lasted another couple of years. Our guests were amazed at this one.

After trying it, I thought that the Burgundy would pale in comparison. Doudet-Naudin is one of my favourite producers, as they make good value (for Burgundy) wines that age well. But compared to the CHP…but what a great surprise! In addition to being in great shape itself, the Savigny more than held its own for its style, with the earthy, slightly spicy red cherries still there and balancing the wood.

We had some of both reds left over for dessert – a chocolate pate, along with a selection of cheeses – and I received another surprise. The Savigny went really well with the chocolate and the Roquefort! No need to open the Banyuls I had standing by!

We talked about their trip to come, ours from 2006 and – combined with the food and wine – it did feel a bit like being in Paris. I’m still jealous they are going, but at least we got to kind of share it for a little while!


What’s in a wine label?

March 21, 2013

I saw an interesting column this week about what to look for on a wine label and thought I would “weigh in” as well.

I spend a fair amount of time in wine stores, and can’t believe how many times I see the same thing – someone looking at a bottle of wine, turning it over and over, trying to figure out whether to buy it or not! For me, the key – like anything in wine – is knowing what style you like and then building off of that to understand what is on the label (and therefore in the bottle).

What do I mean by that? Well let’s see…

Starting with white wines, a couple of key questions:
• Do you like your whites bone dry or a touch sweet?
• Do you like oaked wines or not?

For the first question, if the answer is “bone dry”, then you probably want to avoid the German/Alsace varietals – Riesling, Gewurtztraminer. Most of the best of these wines are finished at least a little bit sweet. They will usually be rated a (1) on the shelf marker. Really ripe white wines – like Viognier from North America – you might also want to avoid, as their incredible fruitiness can come off as sweet even when it isn’t.

For the oak question, if the answer is “yes”, then go for oak aged Chardonnays, Semillon/Sauvignon blends, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. The label will say there is oak aging on the back, so it is easy to find out. If the answer is ‘no’ to oak, then go for un-oaked versions of the above. Many – in particular Chardonnays – will say “un-oaked” right on the label, and/or talk about being aged in stainless steel (like Chablis from Burgundy).

And what about reds? There are three questions to consider about the style of wine that you like:
• Do you like oak or not?
• Do you like your reds more “fruit-forward” or with more herbs and wood flavours?
• What is the alcohol level?

The first question is the same as for whites, although maybe even more important for red wines! Oak impacts red grapes in vastly different ways, which can also really change the style of the wine. For Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Shiraz, it can give a wonderful vanilla overlay and/or a cedary, woody flavor. The same for Pinot Noir. Interestingly, the impact can be even greater on Malbec and Grenache, taking much of the overt fruitiness away from these wines. Almost all wine labels – on the back – will talk about how much oak is used, so that can be a guide for you.

If you don’t like oak, you either need to look for the few red wines without it…or those that don’t seem to show the influence very much. For the former, Malbec is a great bet (the unoaked kind, of course) and can be a great deal. For the latter, wines from the Cotes du Rhone (Syrah and Grenache-based), as well as many Italian wines (like Chiantis, Brunellos, Barolos, and Barbarescos) are good choices. Ironically, many of these are more expensive alternatives and/or quite tannic when young, so look for the lower end Chiantis and Cotes du Rhones.

Fruit forward or not? California, Australia and certain BC wines are more fruit forward, meaning the fruit should be more prominent than the wood influences (whether vanilla or cedar). For Cabernet Sauvignons, that can mean vanilla-covered blackcurrants; for Merlots, super ripe plums, and for Shiraz jammy blackberries. Bordeaux and Burgundy go to the other style, meaning you will get more wood and herbal flavours in your wine.

Finally, alcohol level. Assuming your wine isn’t sweet (like Port), the higher the alcohol, the fruitier the wine, as the ripe fruit has more sugar which is turned into more alcohol. Sometimes the wine can also seem unbalanced because of the alcohol, but if done right these are the epitome of what fruit-forward wine drinkers are looking for.

So there you go! Know your style, and then look for the clues on the label to tell you what is there. Do that, and you will have an easier time understanding the bottle you are looking at in the store.



November 29, 2012

Okay, it’s close enough to the holiday season to start a series of wine “gift-giving” blogs! So let’s begin with gifts for the wine lover on your list.

A couple of rules to start. First, the wines have to be available to purchase (no Screaming Eagle Cabernets that no one can get even if they can afford them). And, second, nothing over $50. I will do a “value wine blog” next week, but for now, let’s see what you can get for $50 or less.

First, a couple of reds, and I go to what are probably the two most famous wine countries in the world — France and Italy!

My favourite French wines come from the Cotes du Rhone, and if you are looking for a gift, any wine lover would be thrilled to get a bottle of the 2010 Gigondas Les Hauts de Montmirail by Domaine Brusset. Made from Grenache, this is a fabulous wine! It has the characteristic ‘garrigue’ on the nose (french herbs like rosemary, lavender and sage), super ripe black cherry fruit (without being sweet or jammy) and big body. It will develop for a decade or more, but can be drunk now if opened/decanted for an hour or so before drinking. Brusset is one of the best Gigondas producers and 2010 a spectacular vintage. At $49.96 in B.C., it’s not cheap, but it is worth the price.

My recommendation from Italy is another classic – Barbaresco. The 2007 by Produttorri del Barbaresco is a perennial winner, and one I have been cellaring/drinking since the 1986 vintage. Look for a medium red colour, earthy dried cherries on the nose, and more earthy, herbal, dried cherries on the finish, along with some tannin. I like to start drinking my Barbarescos at about 8 yrs old, which is when they begin to soften up, and they will keep developing for 10 – 15 years. Price – $42.95.

So what about whites, then? Well, for gifts, you can’t go wrong with Chardonnay, and I have two completely different versions to recommend. The first is once again from France; Burgundy, in fact, and specifically Chablis. This is one for the ‘ABC’ crowd (‘Anything But Chardonnay), as Chablis is made in stainless steel and uses little or no oak. And what a beauty – the 2011 Montmains Premier Cru by Brocard. Look for really crisp, dry flavours, including minerals and a flintiness (a good thing). Drink it now or, a rarity among whites, cellar it for 5 – 8 years. $39.99

The other Chardonnay is from California and Ferrari-Carano. The ’10 has true ‘Cali style’, with vanilla/butter overtones and lush, ripe citrus fruit. I love this style of wine, and while it isn’t for aging, it is sumptuous for drinking now. $32.95

How about a sparkler and sweet wine to round out the shopping list?

For the former, it is hard to find real Champagne for <$50. But if you are looking for that toasty, yeasty, bone dry style, I recommend a BC winery — Blue Mountain! Known more for their fabulous Reserve Pinot Noir, they also make what may be the best champagne-style sparklers in BC. The non-vintage ones (Brut and Rose) are only $25! And if you are lucky, you might find some of their vintage wines, which are around $40. The only downside is you have to buy from the winery or at private stores.

Finally, sweet, which means Port. Usually the words 'Vintage Port' and 'under $50' don't appear in the same sentence…but there are half bottles of Dow's 1990 Quinta do Bomfim available for $34.95! At 22 years old, this wine is fully mature, offering classic chocolate berries and raisons. Drink it now, or keep it for 5 more years (make sure to decant, as it has lots of sediment).

So there you go — my Holiday Wine Gift List for the wine lover. None are cheap, but, relatively speaking, they offer great value and will be much appreciated by anyone who knows anything about wine.

Next week, the Holiday Gift List for the frugal. Good wines that won't break the bank!

To oak or not to oak…is that the question?

November 7, 2012

Oak, as even the most casual wine drinker knows, is what most wine is made and/or stored in before it is bottled. But what intrigues – and bugs – me is how the oak can affect different wines in different ways. And how controversial that is!

For whites, the classic example is Chardonnay. California developed a reputation for “big, oaky” Chardonnays, which meant (and often still means) lots of vanilla, butter and even butterscotch overtones to go along with citrus fruit. When you add in high alcohol levels, you have a recipe that drives many people crazy and led to the “ABC” craze of a few years ago (i.e. Anything But Chardonnay).

At the other end of the spectrum are Chardonnays made in stainless steel vats, like they do it for Chablis in Burgundy. With no oak, all you get is the citrus fruit, very dry and crisp, with mineral overtones.

Personally, I like both styles, but have to admit – the big fat Cali Chardonnays are my favourite, as long as they have enough fruit in them to match the oak. My classic example is Beringer’s Private Reserve Chardonnay. It is so rich and lovely in the mouth – wow! I don’t know how anyone wouldn’t like it.

For reds, the three grapes I like to talk about are Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Malbec. Cabernet is the classic oak aged wine, with Bordeaux as the reference point. But, for me, the way it is made there is way to lean, woody and herbal (unless you can afford the $200+ wines). Some call it “complex”; I just call it a mouth full of wood.

But in California – and Australia – they have a different style. With riper fruit, the oak adds a lovely coat of vanilla to the black currant fruit, which I love! My first experience with that was Robert Mondavi’s Napa Valley Cabs back in the mid 1980s. Back then, they were still in the $24 range and what an experience – the essence of ripe fruit and vanilla balanced together. Caymus and Beringer were others I used to be able to afford…and still remember with much fondness!

More recently, I have found that oak can have really different effects on Grenache. In the Cotes du Rhone – where it is the main grape of Chateauneuf du Pape – I can taste little or no impacts from it, even though many wines get oak aging. The same in Australia, where it is riper but still not oaky. But in Spain – where it is called – Garnacha; OMG, what a difference! Many of those wines, including some that are highly rated, just get all herbal and woody on me. It’s to the point that I stay away from it almost completely in Spain, sticking to Tempranillo (which seems to act more like Cali Cab).

And, finally, Argentinian Malbec, where the difference – at least for me – is even more dramatic. Without oak, it is a fabulously rich and fruity wine, a bit like Zinfandel but not quite as dramatic. But add “oak aging” and…well, it really doesn’t work for me, again going all woody.

So, getting back to my original question, it probably isn’t “to oak or not to oak?”. Instead, it should be “what do you oak and what does it taste like?” Then it is up to the individual to decide what tastes best for him or her!