Posts Tagged ‘France’

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

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Summer Wine Musings

July 19, 2017

Back from holidays in Eastern Canada, so a few holiday wine musings (in no particular order):

Rose

We love it in summer! I’ve written in the past how I like a touch of sweetness in Rose, but we had a number of bone dry Provence versions while away, and they were outstanding in the heat!

Red wine in Summer

Most people stay away from reds in the summer, especially the ‘big ones’.  But we had some great, full bodies reds in restaurants! Chateauneuf, Languedoc, Brunello…they were amazing in an air conditioned environment. And they were great with some of the French food in Montreal and Quebec City.

Restaurant Wine

On average, the wine lists were just okay…not a broad selection, pretty expensive and the wine by the glass was pretty pedestrian. So I brought my own most of the time!

But at the Gypsy Tea Room in St. John’s, Newfoundland – what a list! Quality and price. They had the ’05 Cote Rotie Brune et Blonde by Guigal for $120…a 95 pt wine for cheaper (by half) than what you could by the ’14 in BC stores. Had to buy it…and it was stunning!

Riesling

What a great go to wine, even on the plane! Is it a touch sweet sometimes – yes. But refreshing, nice acidity, never worse than good!

Wine Across Canada

Finally, it was interesting to compare wine – selection, price, stores. In general, I was quite impressed with prices, as they were lower on average than in BC, even in the government stores. Selection was both different and surprising – not as many Chateauneufs and Barolos, for example, but the selection of Languedec and other South of France wines was very impressive! And hats off to the Vintages Store in Ottawa – downstairs from the regular store, and had more fine wine than I have seen anywhere in BC!

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

HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST ROSE FOR YOU!

July 3, 2015

It has been hot for a while up here in BC, unseasonably hot for us. What that means from a wine perspective is lots of Rose…so a good time to blog about it!

So who do you choose the best Rose, which for my purposes means “the one you like the best”?

First off, what is Rose? It is simply a wine made from red grapes that the winemaker has left the skins on for a while…the longer they are on, the deeper the colour (and fuller the body).

Next, it is important to remember there are three general different kinds of Roses. The first category – which are generally to be avoided – are the “White Zinfandels” from California. While the right colour, they tend to be sickly sweet with not a lot of wine character. Cheap – for a reason – you should stay away from them unless you have a real sweet tooth when it comes to wine!

At the other end of the Rose spectrum (as well as the most popular) are the bone dry versions. They are most associated with the south of France, but are now made anywhere it is hot (like Spain, South America) or where people might buy them (just about everywhere else). These range in colour from a very light pink to a deep salmon colour, are very fruity on the nose, but very crisp on the finish, with no sugar. They are stunning in the heat, and pair amazingly well with food because some of them can be quite full-bodied.

That leaves the wines in the middle! They tend to have a touch of residual sugar to them (what is called “off dry”), in which the fruit on the nose carries through to the mouth. I have had some beauties from my home province, exploding with ripe grapefruit and strawberries…they can be incredibly refreshing and easy to drink on a very hot day (sometimes too easy to drink on the deck…in the sun…).

So that is style…very important…and you need to figure out which style you like and then stick with that. How will you know?

Well, the description on the back can help (“crisp” and “bone dry” are key words, as are “residual sugar/sweetness for the middle style). Another general way is by country, or at least some countries. If the Rose is from the south of France, it is just about guaranteed to be bone dry. I don’t think I have ever had a sweeter version from that country. Spain is almost as reliable. For other countries, though, you have to check a bit more on the label, or try to taste first.

Finally, though, there is the issue of cost. Rose was developed to be a cheap wine to drink in the hot summer/early fall months. And it still is in most of the south of France and Spain, so cheap that a pichet of Rose is often thrown in at no cost with prix fixe meals. Less than $10 a bottle is the price to shoot for “on the continent”…over here, under $20!

Some producers, however – like Tavel – make more expensive versions that cost over $10 more, and even claim that they age well. There are even celebrity bottlings (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie did one with Thomas Perrin). I have tried some, and they are okay but, for me, kind of defeat the purpose.

Rose – either bone dry or with touch of sweetness – should be quaffed with simple food in the summer time. Fruity, refreshing, it is a compliment to the season, not a wine to spend lots of time thinking about.
Buy, chill, drink up, repeat…that is what Rose is all about!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

“HOT” SUMMER WINES

July 31, 2014

We are heading into the BC day long weekend up here in British Columbia, so I thought it appropriate to blog on holiday wine dinners (particularly since we are having folks over on both Saturday and Sunday nights!) and, in particular, “hot” summer wines.

It has been hot here – very hot for the Lower Mainland of BC – so all we have really been drinking is white and Rose. And, given that heat remains in the forecast for the weekend, that will be the focus of my recommendations.

So let’s start with Roses, shall we?

Without getting into specific wines, it really comes down to two options (assuming you throw out the sickly sweet White Zinfandels) – bone dry, or slightly off dry. Personally, I like both, although the hotter it gets, the more I favour the slightly off dry versions. Same if you are going to have spicy food, and we are planning BBQ tandoori chicken, so that applies to us.

Either way, however, you have lots of options. The south of France is famous for dry Roses, of course, although some of them are getting quite pricy (well over $25!). Personally, I don’t think Rose should be more than $20, and I certainly found lots of those in our last trip to France. You can also look for dry Roses from many other countries, including Spain and Argentina.

For the off dry Roses, you need to be a bit more careful (so you don’t end up with something too sweet). My “go to” place is actually our home province, which produces a number of wines rated “1” in sweetness.

And what about white wines?

Well, the options are virtually endless, although once again the hotter it gets, the more I find that a touch of sweetness actually makes things better. Think Riesling and Gewurztraminer here, which also match well with spicy or bbq food. Alsace and Germany are the most famous locations for these wines, although many of those can be too sweet. So also look to California, Washington, Australia (for Riesling) and – again – my home province of BC.

Other whites worth looking at are those that finish crisp and dry – Viognier, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and even Pinot Gris. B.C., California, Washington State, and Oregon are good places to go for these wines. You can try France but white Bordeaux (Sauvignon/Semillon blends) and Condrieu (for Viognier) get real expensive, real quick.

The only white wines I tend to stay away from in the heat are wooded Chardonnays. While I love them, their richness can be a bit much sometimes when the thermometer gets red!

Speaking of “red”, what if you need to serve a red wine in the heat?

Well, I would go for something you can actually chill a bit, which means Gamay. The classic is Beaujolais, but that is getting expensive as well. So look to the new world (BC and California) for other cheaper options. Put in an ice bucket for 15 minutes before serving and then take out. There will still be structure from the red grapes – and nice berry fruit – but it will be refreshing when cooler!

So there you go – some suggestions for “hot” wines to celebrate any summer holiday!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

DIFFERENT WAYS TO PUT “WINE” INTO YOUR HOLIDAYS!

June 25, 2014

I am going to try and take most of the next couple of weeks off, which got me thinking about all the ways I could make “wine” part of my holiday, especially since we won’t be spending a lot of time away from home.

The first and most obvious one – for those who have a wine cellar – is to drink more of those special wines during vacation! Usually that is reserved only for weekends, but if you have enough (or enough interest), then a special wine every night can really add to your time off. And, if you are not going away (like us, for the most part), it can even make you feel like you are somewhere else, especially if you pair the wine with a special meal.

Even if you don’t have a wine cellar, however, you can still make this part of your ‘staycation’. Take the time to go to your local wine store and buy a few wines that you wouldn’t normally purchase. Whether it is the price level, style or even quantity, just the purchase alone will make it feel like you are on holidays!

And what if you are going away somewhere?

Well, if you are eating in restaurants, you can apply the same principle as above. And it doesn’t have to be expensive, either! You can focus on wines from the place you are visiting, for example. We were in Seattle earlier this year, and found a restaurant which not only had great Washington wines, they were also 20% off by the bottle! Wines by the glass are another option (albeit with the caveats from last week’s blog). Have a white with your appetizer, a red with your main, maybe a sweet wine with dessert…you can probably do all of that for the price of a whole bottle!

Another way to treat yourself is to have a glass of wine at lunch! This is a great way to fit into the local culture – if you are in France or Spain, for example, everybody does it – and in the heat, there is nothing like a glass of cold Rose to quench the thirst. It can also be a great way to experience a highly rated restaurant economically. Often it is hard to get reservations, and too expensive, to eat in the best places for dinner. But lunch? Same food, cheaper prices, and same wine list. It can be a really luxurious way to spend part of an afternoon.

So there you go – lots of ways to make wine part of your vacation, whether you are staying home or going some place wonderful!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com