Posts Tagged ‘Chardonnay’

What’s up with Fraser Valley Wine in the Summer of 2019 – Part 2: The Old Guard  

September 12, 2019

Similar to what I did for Vancouver Island, I am grouping my wine tasting tour into two parts. The first I am calling “the old guard”, as these are wineries I have been going to for years now.

First stop was Domaine Chaberton in Langley, and for more than the wine – the restaurant Bacchus Bistro! One of the great secrets of the Valley, this is as good a French bistro as you will find anywhere, including in Vancouver. Duck confit, boeuf bourgignon, pate, French onion soup – they have it all, large portions, great quality and value. Plus most of their wines are by the glass!!

After “fueling up” there, I tasted the latest of their wines, and three continue to stand out for me. For whites, they make a great oaked Chardonnay – their Reserve – which is made in classic California style, with lovely vanilla and butter covered citrus. I also love their Rose – called “Pink” – which is a touch on the off-dry side, but wonderfully fruity and fresh. Last but not least, their Syrah. I think it is their best red wine, made in a Rhone style, which means pepper, earth, dried cherries – and no oak. It drinks well now, but also ages for up to 5 years.

From Chaberton, I circled back to Vista D’Oro, a somewhat eclectic winery and farm. I say “eclectic” because you never know what they will have available! In the past, I have had wonderful Pinot Noirs – made from Vancouver Island grapes – but this time there was only Marechal Foch. But that was fine! They make one of the best around – ripe, meaty, full of fruit and no oak. Not for keeping/aging, but what a joy to drink now!

The last of my “old guard” is out in Abbotsford – Mt. Lehman Winery. Verne has been making great wines for ridiculously low prices for years, and this visit was no different. The had almost ten different wines to taste!

Most impressive? For me, on the whites…it was their Reserve Chardonnay. I am a big “oaked” Chardonnay fan – I know, not a popular thing these days – and this is absolutely gorgeous! Light gold, classic Cali style with vanilla and butter covered citrus fruit, but not too much wood on the finish. And it is under $20 with tax included! That is stupid good!

 Following a similar theme…Verne’s Pinot Noirs! His regular is – get this – is $12.96 plus tax! You can’t find a better wine value from BC or anywhere for that price! Bright cherry fruit, a touch of vanilla and spice…it would blow away other Pinots at twice that price!

Except for his Reserve Pinot, of course! The 2014 is the same price as his Reserve Chardonnay…and even better! If Burgundy, or California or the Okanagan could make a wine like this for that price…simply amazing! Ripe cherries and tannins, just the right balance of wood and fruit…it is beautiful at almost 5 years old now, but I bought a few to see how they age…crazy good!

That is it for my old guard…some new finds next week!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

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What’s up with Fraser Valley Wine in the Summer of 2019 – Part 1

August 29, 2019

What a treat to get a day to tour Fraser Valley wineries a week or so ago! Got a chance to see the old – and the new – and, similar to Vancouver Island wine, there was a nice mix of old guard and new.

There were also some similar trends at play…which is what this first blog focuses on.

On the downside? First and foremost, was price – at least at some of the wineries. Many, many wines in the $30++ category, and I’m not sure they were worth that, to be honest.

Second, a trend to making wines from grapes from outside of the Fraser Valley. Now, perhaps this isn’t a downside – after all, there are lots of negotiants in France that buy grapes from all over and make fabulous wines.

But sometimes it seems a bit ingenuous to buy a wine from a Fraser Valley winery that came from grapes far away.

On the plus side, there are some ridiculous bargains from a price perspective, particularly in two of the Abbotsford wineries! One of the proprietors told me they just couldn’t sell their wine or more than $20 – $30…there was no market. If that is true, I hope they are still making money on it, because some of it was amazing! And other wineries in the Valley (and across BC) should maybe take notice?

Also on the plus side was quality, particularly with some of the white wines. Pinot Gris, white blends with Ortega, even Chardonnay and Viognier…some were quite stunning. Reds were less successful from the area, which is more a reflection of climate, I think, than wine making.

Final plus…hospitality…and how busy many of the wineries were! There were bus tours at a number of them when I went through, and the tasting rooms were full, loud and happy sounding. What a great thing for Fraser Valley wine!

As for the wines themselves? Well, stay tuned…Part two is next week!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

 

 

 

“Other” White Wines to Drink in the Summer

July 25, 2019

Summer is definitely here in Vancouver, and that means – because of the warmth – it is mostly white and Rose to drink (although the odd Gigondas does get opened…but that is another story…).

I have written about Rose already this summer, but what about whites? The usual choices are Chardonnay (oaked and unoaked), Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling (dry or off dry) and – if you are lucky – Viognier and Semillon (shout out to La Frenz on those ones!).

But there are others out there as well, and they won’t break the bank!

First, south of France. I mentioned Viognier already, but those are usually too expensive from France (Condrieu starts at $60 Canadian…). But there are blends out there, mixes of Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc, and they can be really refreshing! No oak (usually), crisp, clean, full bodied! One of my favourite producers in the South is Chapoutier and they make a great Cotes du Roussillon called Bila Haut that you can get here for about $17…I imagine it is under $10 in many other places without our taxes!

And how about Italy? Not known for its white wines usually, I have started to drink wines from the Falanghina grape, and they are very tasty! Again, super crisp and dry, no oak that I can see – although they are often a beautiful gold colour – and lots under $20. My favourite right now is Falanghina Sannio La Guardiense by a producer called Janare.

Last but not least my wine find of the year so far! Vinho Verde – literally “green wine” – is from Portugal and my past experiences have been that is not worth the bother. Then I saw one called Loureiro by Quinta do Ameal. What attracted me at first was the rating and review by the Wine Advocate for the 2017 vintage – 93 pts and a drinking window until 2030!

Now, that is ridiculous for a white wine (and even most reds), so I bought one – and it was crazy good! Again, no oak at all (notice the trend here), but beautiful gold colour, crisp, dry, citrus, quite big body. And it was $17!!! A bonus – I found a couple of older vintages in another store (2012 and 2013), same price, same kind of rating, and tried them – stunning! Super fresh, like they had just been bottled!

So there you go…some white wine options for the summer. If you can check them out!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

 

Pacific Northwest Wine Tasting Surprises!

May 9, 2019

Just finished #dish2009 tasting by the BC Hospitality Foundation and – once again – lots of surprises!

The wines were from Washington State, Oregon and California, and there was a pretty broad representation – over two dozen wineries and close to 100 wines. I decided to focus on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and ‘big’ reds, as I only had about 90 minutes.

The Chardonnays were mostly what I call the ‘Cali’ style – fermented/aged in oak, with at least some degree of malolactic fermentation. That resulted in nice golden colours, lots of lovely buttery/vanilla citrus fruit. Only one completely unoaked wine, but a few a mix of stainless steel and oak. My favourites were from Deloach (2016 Russian River Valley), Ponzi (2015 Reserve), Ferrari-Carano (2016 Sonoma) and Walt Wines (2016 Sonoma Coast).

Pinot Noirs were next and they were my first surprise – and a good one! Sometimes North American Pinot can go off the rails in two ways – too much ripe fruit, making it taste like candy, or too much of trying to be Burgundy (which means not enough fruit and more wood/herbs).

But almost all of these wines were in the middle – lots of ripe fruit but very sophisticated indeed! And there were some truly stunning – if expensive – wines! Oregon Producer Ponzi had their ‘15 Reserve and it was dark but full of ripe, dark cherries and ripe tannins. My tweet said ‘a world class wine’, and it was! Only slightly behind was the ‘16 Russian River Valley by Paul Hobbes and the 2016 Sonoma Coast from Walt Wines – both were beautiful, rich, young wines with lots of life ahead of them. Finally, the 2017 Russian River Valley from Deloach was also very nice. A general observation was the wines from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma were the best, confirming its Pinot rep!

On to the ‘big’ reds from California, and my other surprise – and not a good one!

I tasted about a dozen Cabs, Cab blends and Zin/Syrah/Petit Syrahs and found – tannin. Super tannin, so much my cheeks were sucked in! And I couldn’t find the fruit!

What a disappointment! Similar to many wineries in BC, these seemed to going for Bordeaux style instead of taking advantage of the regional strength – ripe fruit! I will never forget my first Cali Cab wines in the mid ‘80s – they were stunning for their ripe black currant fruit. Even the Reserves were ripe and could be drunk young.

But not these ones! Maybe they will become smooth and elegant, but they will never be fruity. Too bad!

SB

www.sbwinesite.com

NEW ZEALAND WINE – IT’S MORE THAN SAUVIGNON BLANC

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!

SB

www.sbwinesite.com

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

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