Posts Tagged ‘Chardonnay’

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

Advertisements

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

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

Red, White, Sparkling, Sweet…How Do You Know?

June 24, 2015

Here’s a popular topic that I haven’t written about for a while…what is the best kind of wine to serve with food and/or at different occasions?

The short – very short – answer is so simple. Just serve what you and/or your guests like the best! Way too much is made out of “matching” wines with certain foods, what clashes or helps with what, etc.

Much of that is just marketing, designed to make you pay more and/or buy what you don’t like!

Are there food and wine matchups that don’t work? Sure. And do some kinds of wine work better when it is hot vs cold (and vice versa)? Of course.

But a lot of it is just common sense!

Let’s take weather, for example. When it is stinking hot outside, do you even feel like serving red wine? Probably not. So go for something cold – white or sparkling. It will be more refreshing and enjoyable regardless of what you serve.

The same goes with food. If you have a very spicy or hot dish, there is no point in serving a wine with flavours you want to enjoy (or even taste). The spices/heat will just overwhelm it! Go for beer instead. If you need to have wine, you can actually try wines with a bit of sweetness too them – Rieslings, Gewurztraminers, even late harvest wines. The sweetness can actually cut through some of the heat.

Same with barbequed meats with really flavourful sauces. Those same whites will work, as will big, juicy red wines like Zinfandel and Shiraz (as long as sauces aren’t too spicy).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you make a dish that is quite delicate – say with a cream sauce, or fish/seafood that is seasoned lightly to emphasis the product – stay away from almost all red wines, except maybe light Pinot Noir. They are just too strong flavoured, and you won’t be able to taste the food. For whites, you can go with light oak (Sauvignon Blanc or Semillon) or big oak (Cali style Chardonnay), which may actually enhance a rich cream sauce.

Anything with wine cooked in it (braises or stews, for example), can be good candidate for big red wines with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache, or Nebbiolo in them. Younger versions with tannin will cut through the rich fat than can be in these dishes, while older wines will actually mix well with the wine cooked in them.

What about sparkling? Well, I say serve it any time! Lighter wines (especially from California or Spain) are great before a meal or with seafood. If you like aged Champagne (which can be an acquired taste with its toasty yeastiness), it can actually be served with the meal itself, because it is so rich.

Finally, sweet wines? Dessert is obvious…but just make sure the dessert isn’t a lot sweeter than the wine (or vice versa) as you will only be able to taste one of the two. Cheese too, although be careful. Any oak in the wine will clash with many delicate cheeses… those are better with old cheddars, parmesans or blue cheeses. Same with older wines…don’t serve with cheeses that are too flavourful, or you won’t be able to taste the wine!

But the bottom line for me? Serve the wine you or your guests like the best! Then they will drink – and enjoy – it. While it may not be perfect for the food, I bet they will remember the wine…and want to come back for more!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

Oak, oak…and away?!?

April 1, 2015

It only took opening tonight’s wine to give me my blog topic – oak! The most frustrating part of wine – for me – because it can lead to the wines that I like the most, and the ones I just can’t stand!

Tonight was the latter. It was a Syrah from Chile. Not where I usually go for Syrah, but the review said all the right things – cool climate (like northern Rhone), pepper, meat, lean…should be my style, right? But then I saw that it had been aged in oak…A warning sign, but still, many northern Rhones get that, and still end up great (in my opinion).

But as soon as I popped the cork I could tell…not!!!!

It wasn’t bad, or even too woody. It just was devoid of fruit, replace instead by herbs, dirt and…I don’t know what else.

It reminded me of my other related pet peeves – oaked Argentine Malbecs, and most Spanish Garnachas. Same thing! Too many secondary aromas/flavours, and somehow the fruit has disappeared. So frustrating, especially with the Malbecs, which can be full of juicy blackberries! And don’t get me started on most Bordeaux, which you need a toothpick to drink with because of the woodiness.

But then there is the other side of the equation!

For reds, how about California (or some BC) Cabernet Sauvignons? If made in the Cali style, there is that amazing coating of vanilla from the oak barrels – absolutely gorgeous when done well, as the vanilla mixes with the black currants into a liqueur like flavour! The Caymus I had a few weeks ago was mind blowing. And the La Frenz and St. Francis excellent.

Same with Cali Chardonnays! I just had Mondavi’s latest Carneros Reserve and it was stunning, just as good as Beringer’s Private Reserve. Golden yellow, butterscotch, vanilla and ripe citrus – who couldn’t love that!

But what is with the dichotomy? How can I love one so much, and dislike the others just as much?

Deep breath…and opening a half bottle of 1989 Chateau Coutet to salve my wounds…what have I learned yet again?

Accept that wines have different styles, know what you like, and stick to it. Yeah, that’s it…

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

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!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

Does the Region on Your Wine Label Really Matter?

November 21, 2014

A bit of ‘wine buzz’ recently up here in BC around new or sub-regions in different parts of our Okanagan Valley, where the vast majority of our great wine is made. And that got me thinking – does this kind of identification really matter and, if so, why?

It’s certainly not new, of course! Bordeaux and Burgundy have led the way in this area for over a hundred years, breaking up their Crus — and even certain vineyards – based on differences that the French call terroir. And both Napa and Sonoma valleys in Cali have done it extensively over the past 40 – 50 years.

But back to my questions – does it matter, and if so, why?

There is no doubt that certain grapes grow differently in different soils and climates, producing different flavored wines. One has only to taste even a generic Bordeaux compared to a similarly priced Cali Cabernet Sauvignon to see that. So – from a consumer point of view – I can see the benefit if it is explained that way ie if you know the style of Cabernet or Chardonnay you like, that could help you pick out wine.

It could help winemakers too, of course. No use planting a varietal in soil/climate that won’t usually allow it to ripen fully on a regular basis. Hence the lack of Grenache in BC (which needs lots of sun and heat).

But there are two areas (no pun intended) where I get suspicious. The first is around sub, sub, sub regions. Does the wine really taste that different to justify that? Or is it just marketing and promotion…which brings me to my last concern.

If producers — or geographical areas, for that matter – are charging more because of a perceived quality difference, well…I’m not sure I agree. Even in Bordeaux and Burgundy you see Grand/Premier Cru wineries and vineyards in a range of different area. Promote the producer/wine as better – absolutely. But the region or sub-region?

The main reason for my argument comes back to the fact that everybody likes different styles of wine. The ones they like best they will think are the best…but that is for them. The opposite is also true. I have a friend who loves Bordeaux-style Cabernet as much as I dislike them, and actually traded me some Okanagan wines for them (which I love) for that reason.

So beware the wine region buzz! Focus instead on matching the style of wine you like with what is – or can – be made in whatever region you are in or tasting. That is a better way to help guarantee your enjoyment!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

WHEN THE GRAPES IN THE GROUND DON’T MATCH UP WITH THE BEST WINES

November 5, 2014

As a BC wine dweeb, I was a bit shocked this past week to see the annual update on grape acreage in BC. It wasn’t the amount – we jumped over the 10,000 acre mark, which is great!

No, it was the “top grapes in the ground” that left me shaking my head. They were – in descending order – merlot, pinot gris, pinot noir, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, gewürztraminer, cabernet franc, syrah, riesling, and sauvignon blanc.

For those who know even a little about BC, the first reason for my incredulity may be apparent. Our climate – while nice – is not as conducive to red grapes as to white, and certainly not to red grapes that ripen later – like merlot and cabernet sauvignon. So to see those as #1 and #5 seemed odd. Many of our wines made from these grapes are quite woody and herbal, as well as tannic, with little obvious fruit. Kinda like most Bordeaux, without the prestige! And cabernet franc? Come on…even in the Loire Valley – where it is famous – the wine is green and unripe. Only in California can they occasionally get it ripe enough to make it worth drinking.

The same kind of argument can be made for our white wines. Chardonnay needs to be ripe to be good…and very few producers here make good ones. Meanwhile, most of the pinot gris is hard to distinguish from the other white wines.

At the other end of the spectrum…how can riesling be second from the bottom? Of all the grapes on that list, it is the one that can have the highest acidity and doesn’t need to get super ripe to make great wines.

Not only that, we make arguably the best riesling in Canada (if not North America). Taste the wines from La Frenz or Tantalus…you will be blown away.

The same can be said for Syrah, which is maybe our most consistent – and maybe best – red wine. How can it finish second to last?

Pinot noir is about the only one that makes sense to me…we make some great pinot here, although a lot of thin, insipid stuff too.

So what’s up?

Well, I think I know the answer, and it is simple. Taste is relative, and reputation plays a big role. For the average wine drinker names like “Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay” are well known, so that is what they buy, whether it is good or not.

And…I guess…that is okay. Certainly, if that is what most people like, then they should get what they want.

But my heart actually aches for what people are missing. Some of our small producers make stunning wines for the “other varietals” – and even outstanding wines of the popular ones that taste nothing like the everyday Cabernets and Merlots – and few people will ever taste them. I know these producers probably don’t care, because they sell all of their wines to wine dweebs like me.

But I can’t help wish that everyone knew how good these wines were!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

How Important is Wine Tasting, Anyway?

September 24, 2014

We watched an interesting documentary last weekend on Sommeliers, specifically the process for gaining the highest level of certification (I know, I know…but it was the only thing on Netflix we wanted to watch).
The part I found most fascinating was the emphasis placed on wine tasting. For those who don’t know, there are three components in the Sommelier exams – wine knowledge/theory, wine service and blind tasting (the ability to tell what a wine is just from its colour). The first two didn’t get very much coverage at all (especially the last one, which had about one scene in 90 minutes! But it all seemed to be about the tasting portion.

By the end, that got me to thinking about why and, more importantly, whether that is – or isn’t – important.
Let’s look at it from two perspectives – what a sommelier needs to serve his or her customers, and what a customer needs.

The second one first! As a wine drinker anywhere – restaurant, home, etc. – how important is it for you to be able to correctly taste and identify the wine you are drinking?
Personally, I think not very important at all. Aside from being able to tell if a wine is “off” or oxidized (from being left open too long), why does it matter? All that really matters is if you enjoy it. If part of that enjoyment is being able to describe it to your friends or partner, great…but hardly a necessity. It tastes, good, pour me more!

And in terms of the advice you are looking for from the sommelier?

Well, if you haven’t had a wine or grape variety before, it would be nice to know – in general terms – what it will taste like. From the basic (sweet vs dry, oaky or not) to the specific (the kind of fruit, amount of herbal tastes), all can be helpful. But do you need to hear – and the therefore the sommelier have to know – the details i.e. wet dog fur, cat pee, fallen leaves, earth floor, etc.? I’m not sure.

Not only that, but is it really possible to smell and taste these flavours? Personally, I doubt it. There is only so much your nose and mouth can do…the rest, I think, is just good marketing.

Finally, regardless of whether you can or can’t “get” all these different smells and tastes, I think everyone does it differently. Aside from the basics, we all taste very differently. What are cherries to one person may be plums to another…even fruity can have a very different definition depending on the taster (see Bordeaux tasting as a good example).

I just don’t think that tasting is a science the way it is portrayed. So why should we put so much emphasis on it?

This was actually reinforced in the movie when some of the candidates were talking to each other about some of the wines they were tasting during training. One set of white wines was either white Hermitage (made from Roussanne and Marsanne) or barrel fermented California Chardonnay (make from…well, you know what!). Now, in my experience, those wines could not taste more different! The former has a flowery nose, but a distinct waxy, almost resiny taste…some would call it an acquired taste. The latter has vanilla, butterscotch and citrus. This is particularly the case for the actual wine they used, the Beringer Private Reserve, one of my favourite wines and almost instantly recognizable for this flavour profile.

But guess what…these professional tasters mixed up these wines, and couldn’t agree which was which! If this is possible for wines this different, then anybody can get it wrong…or right.
That, I guess, is my point. Whatever you smell and taste is personal to you…not right or wrong, just what you are experiencing. That experience will be different for the next person, just like it will be different for the sommelier.

And if it is different, then why put so much emphasis on it? Just enjoy what is in your glass!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

HOW TO KNOW WHEN YOUR WINE IS TOO OLD

August 20, 2014

I was struggling a bit this week, trying to figure what to write about. But then, inspiration!

While still lovely outside, it has cooled down enough to go back into my cellar for some older red wines. We were going to have barbecue leg of lamb (which turned out fabulous, by the way), so I thought…how about Cabernet Sauvignon? A peek at my cellar book showed an Aussie Cab was down for drinking this year – a 1999 Maxwell Lime Cave – so it seemed a match made in heaven!

Until I pulled the cork, that is…

First off, the cork was brittle, and almost broke off. But that isn’t necessarily unusual for a 15 year old wine. However, when I poured it and stuck my nose inside the glass…oh no!

Brown sugar, essence of tea…was it over the hill? And, hence, my topic for today (you have to wait to the end to hear if the wine was done, by the way!).

So how do you know if your wines are too old? Not “off” – meaning there wasn’t something wrong with the cork or the wine itself – but just past the date when they are enjoyable.

Well, a couple of simple tests will help you.

For white wines, it is easier. If they are oaked – meaning mostly Chardonnay – check out the colour first. If the golden yellow has deepened significantly, that is a bad sign. Worse, though, is if you smell it and…all you get is wood! That probably means the oak has completely overwhelmed the fruit, leaving you with a mouthful of toothpicks. Double check by tasting, of course, but if the wine tastes like it smells, it is probably done (unless you like chewing on wood).

Reds, though, can be a different matter altogether.

Colour may not be as good an indicator. Tonight’s wine, for example, was still a deep red at 15 years of age. So no hint there.

So now it is in your glass, dark red…what next?

Well, there are some telltale aromas that could indicated your wine as passed its “best before date”. Burnt leaves and tea are a couple of them – in my experience, that often shows that the wine has aged beyond its fruit. Sweetness on the nose might also be another indication. And the same with over woodiness (similar to the white wine example above).

But do taste it to confirm! Sometimes, older wines just get funky on the nose! It may blow off, but sometimes it doesn’t.

If you taste the wine and it is unpleasant – with the same kind of flavours as aromas – then it is probably done. But you may be surprised…

Which brings us back to my wine from tonight! A somewhat off-putting nose lead to a very nice vanilla/black currant wine! It was a bit dried out, but not woody at all. Turned out to be a great example or an old Cabernet Sauvignon, and way better than many Bordeaux of the same age!

So there you go…some tips on how to tell if your wine is too old.

But the last one is the most important one. If you still like the taste of the wine – white or red – then it doesn’t really matter. Drink it, for goodness sake! Your taste is the one that matters the most!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com