Posts Tagged ‘fruit’

A MERLOT “PRIMER” – KNOW BEFORE YOU DRINK!

March 22, 2017

Of all red wine grapes, Merlot seems to have become the most controversial.

A number of years ago, it became the “fashionable” red wine to drink…leading to many people campaigning against it (similar to what happened to Chardonnay). Then there came the movie Sideways, and lead character Myles’ absolute reversion to the grape (and the wine). After that film, Merlot consumption dropped significantly in the United States! And then, in our local paper last week here in Vancouver, there was a wine critic extolling Merlot’s virtues!

But, like any other kind of wine, it isn’t really about “good or bad”…it is all about style and, in particular, knowing – or finding out – the style that you like. So here is a bit of a “Merlot primer”!

Until Merlot started to be made as a stand-alone wine in California, it was primarily a blending grape in Bordeaux. There, it could be a relatively small component of Cabernet-based wines or – in regions like Pomerol – the main attraction, including in Chateau Petrus, which is almost 100% Merlot, and considered by many one of the greatest wines in the world (as well as one of the most expensive).

Now, I have never been rich enough to taste Petrus or even some of the other Merlot-based Pomerols. So I can’t comment personally on their style profile.

But I have tried many Bordeaux that have Merlot as a smaller component – which is probably what most people will get a chance to experience – and those flavours are usually a mix of wood (cedar/oak), herbs and (if you are lucky) cherry/plum fruits. The overall impression is not “fruit forward”. That flavour profile is consistent with Bordeaux-style Merlots in other countries, including in my home province of BC, as well as Chile and Italy.

The opposite end of the style spectrum comes from California. There, possibly because of the ripeness (and no doubt the winemaking style), fruit is more important. Cherries and plums, laced with vanilla (from oak aging) are what you get in the best wines, with wood, herbs and tannins in the background. Shafer Vineyards makes a couple of great (but now very expensive) Merlots that are – for my taste – pure heaven! And I am proud to say that La Frenz in my home province makes a wonderfully fruity, but complex Merlot, with bits of mint and licorice mixed in.

An in between flavour in some Merlots is mocha or coffee. For me, this doesn’t work very well – takes away from the fruit, adding to the herbalness. You see that in many wines from Italy, Chile, Washington State and BC. But some people love it.

So next time you see – or want to taste – Merlot, just remember the different styles of that wine. Go with what you like, or at least go in knowing what you are probably going to experience!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

MANAGING WINE EXPECTATIONS

March 16, 2016

I wrote last week a bit about expectations in the context of the Vancouver International Wine Festival…but then I experienced the same phenomenon this past weekend with some wines from my cellar!

Friday/Saturday/Sunday are “cellar wines” in our house, and the ones I chose were, at least in my mind, potentially a mixed bag. We were having a Portuguese clams and chorizo dish on Friday, so I brought up a 2004 Quinta de Crasto Old Vines Reserva for that…I have had that in the past and, frankly, been a bit disappointed, as it was more Bordeaux in style than I like. But I thought, what the heck, match the wine with the food!

At the same time, I was thinking Spain for Saturday – Tournedos Rossini – and saw a 2008 Pesquera, one of my favourite wines, so jumped at pulling that out. And then for Saturday, a bbq of some kind, and there was a bottle of 2009 Tellus Syrah from Italy, so I took that as well.

Based on my expectations, then, the Pesquera was going to be the star of the weekend, followed by the Syrah (which I had really liked in a restaurant a few years ago) and then the Portuguese wine.

And the result? Well, you have probably guessed by now…

The Quinta de Crasto was beautiful! Somehow, some fruit had come back into the wine, and while not a “fruit bomb” by any means, it was a very nice balance of cherries and cedar. Perfect with the dish, and a pleasing to drink by itself. Alright!

And now I had the Pesquera to look forward to! I have been drinking that wine since the early 1990s, and the Tempranillo based wine has been a California Cab look a like, full of ripe black currants and vanilla. I couldn’t wait!

But then I opened it and…oh boy…not off, but a completely different style! Way more Bordeaux than Cali…even after an hour or so. I was disappointed, but at least the Tournedos Rossin was great (although I didn’t have the fois gras or the truffles).

At least I had the Syrah to look forward to! And then…yep, you guessed it…not as good as before. Some previously unforeseen wood had come in and, while not bad, it certainly wasn’t what I remembered.

So the lessens here? Well, expectations are going to be there…nothing you can do about that. And when they pay off – or are exceeded – that is great!

But if they aren’t met, it shouldn’t put too much of a damper on your wine experience. As long as the wine isn’t bad, you should try to enjoy it for what it is.

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

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

NATURAL WINE – REAL OR JUST A MARKETING PLOY?

June 10, 2015

I can’t resist this one! Just back from a week in New York, and I read in a couple of places (on the plane, on-line, in the Times Magazine and then even back in Vancouver) about this whole “natural wine” phenomena. And, frankly, it smells a bit to me!

Essentially – from what I can make out – the concept is that wines should be made to reflect where they are grown/made, with minimal intervention from the winemaker. The concept of “terroir” has been around for ages, but this takes it to another level completely.

Parts of it I get for sure. Make the wine from grapes that grow best in your area? Absolutely…no point trying to grow/make Cabernet in a region that won’t get enough sun to let the grapes get ripe.

Minimize your use of pesticides and fertilizers in the process, even make a wine that is “organic”? I can go for that too…major wineries like Chapoutier and Beaucastel in the Rhone have been taking that approach for years.

And avoid adding too much “stuff” to the wine as it is being made and/or filtering it? I’m good with that too…no sugar, unfiltered, let the grapes show what they are made of (so to speak).

But the next part…don’t add anything at all and just let the wine “be what it is’? Well, now we have problems, at least from my point of view.

Why? Well, all I had to do was look at the descriptions of some of the wines being promoted.

“Oxidized”, “funky”, “unpleasant”, “devoid of fruit”…and those were some of the nice descriptors! If that is what a wine tastes like, then either your grapes weren’t very good – or ripe – or you don’t know what you are doing!

And, of course, it all comes at an additional cost! Can you imagine…paying more for something that doesn’t taste as good?

I think wine critic Robert Parker’s response was bang on. I am paraphrasing, but essentially he was saying this was an excuse to make unripe, unfruity wine…something that Bordeaux and Burgundy used to get away with on a regular basis for years during “off vintages”.

Sorry…call me simplistic, but wine – like anything else you choose to put in your mouth – should taste good. The better it tastes, the more I am willing to pay for it. Full stop.

As a PR guy by profession, anything else just sounds like someone trying to sell you a load of you know what!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

How to Order Wine in a Fancy Restaurant

May 27, 2015

Okay, you are at a nice restaurant, sit down and, in addition to the menu, are presented with leather covered wine list the size of a bible.

What do you do?

Here are two approaches to try.

First, you can ask for help. It’s not an easy thing to do, and can be very intimidating, especially if the waiter/sommellier is a bit snotty.

Best way to handle that is to be as specific as possible! Tell the waiter the grape, style and price range – say a fruity Cabernet Sauvignon for around $50 or an buttery Chardonnay. With that much info, you should get back a couple of recommendations. Keep in mind bottle prices can be 2 – 3 times retail, so your options may be limited.

You can take the same approach ordering wine by the glass, by the way, if you don’t recognize any of the options. But watch out for wines that have been open too long! If it seems off, ask for a new bottle to be opened.

And if you want to go it on your own with the wine list?

Well, first off, scan the list for wines you may know and like. If you find one and can live with the price, that is an option.

If you want to try something new, think hard about the style of wine you like and try to match that with the prices they are charging!

Easiest matches are Cali style Cabs and Chardonnay, French Syrah amd Grenache and Aussie Shiraz…you can just about guarantee they will be the same style as the wines you know and like.

Ones to be careful of are Cabernet wines from other parts of the world (which can be woody and herbal) and Grenaches/Syrahs from Spain and Italy (which can be oaky). I am not saying those are bad, just different in style. You can ask if you like…the waiter/sommelier should be able to tell you the style.

A last piece of advice with respect to older wines. You will pay more, of course, but more important is understanding what they will taste like. If you are going to drop $100+ on a bottle and don’t have a lot of experience with mature wines, remember that the fruitiness will probably be gone, replaced by herbal, dried fruit. It can still be great…but very, very different!

So there you go! How to deal with a wine list at a nice restaurant.

So go, order…and enjoy!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

STYLE 101 – Cabernet Sauvignon

April 10, 2015

I always talk about how important it is to know the “style” of wine you like, so decided to expand on the concept in a series of blogs on different flavour styles for both red and white wines.

At the risk of simplifying things too much, style often comes down to two things – fruit and everything else (wood, herbs, etc.). And the best example of that are the red wines made from is perhaps red wine’s most famous grape – Cabernet Sauvignon.

When most people hear about Cabernet Sauvignon, they think of two places – Bordeaux, France, and Napa Valley, California. Interestingly, that is also a good way to start describing the differences in style of Cabernet Sauvignons made in these two different places.

Let’s start with Bordeaux, since it is the older, more established and – in the minds of many – more prestigious of the two wine regions. In general, the style of Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines here is less “fruit forward”, with more emphasis on the “other” aromas and flavours. Yes, you can find the classic black currants, but that isn’t what you usually first notice in most wines. Instead, you “smell” the wood – usually cedar – and then taste both that woodiness, along with herbs and a whole lot of non-fruit flavours. Overlaying all of this are tannins, sometimes quite firm, the purpose of which is to help the wine age over time. As that happens (anywhere from 8 – 20+ years for the more famous and expensive wines), the wine softens and becomes easier to drink, although the fruit also dries out and becomes even less evident.

In California, however, you find almost the exact opposite style in many of the Cabernet Sauvignons! The emphasis is instead on “fruit first”, which can mean an explosion of black currants on the nose and in the mouth, super ripe but not jammy (like you often find in Australian Shiraz). Layered over top is wood, but in this case in the form of vanilla from oak barrels. In the right proportions, the mix can be delicious! And the combination can be such that you may not even taste the tannins. But they are often still there, as many of the best California Cabernet Sauvignons can age for decades.

Same grape, but often completely different wines! I say “often” because, like all generalizations, the above characterizations are not always borne out. I have heard of — and, on a few special occasions, tasted – amazingly fruity wines from Bordeaux, but they have usually been the really expensive ones (which I can’t afford). Similarly, there are also California Cabernet Sauvignon producers – as well as others around the world – who try to emulate the Bordeaux style, and quite successfully!

In closing, I want to emphasize that this isn’t a case of one style being better than the other. It is about what style you like the best! And, most importantly, knowing what that style is, so when you go to spend your hard earned money on a Cabernet Sauvignon, you can know in advance what you are probably going to get!

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

When to Drink Your Chateauneuf du Pape

January 30, 2015

I love Chateauneuf du Pape…it is one of my favourite wines, for a whole bunch of reasons. Grenache-based, little or no influence by wood, can age for 10 – 20+ years in good vintages and – for a wine of high caliber – is still affordable for most people’s cellars (at $40 – $60 a bottle).

But when to drink it? An important question, because while it can be drinkable young, it is also exquisite when it reaches full maturity.

Before we get to “when”, though, a little about “why” to age it.

As I have written before, the vast majority of wines (over 90%) are not only ready to drink on release, but will get no better with age. The fruit is (hopefully) ripe and fresh, so why wait!

But a small number do benefit from age. Why? Well, a few reasons.

“Big” red wines often have strong tannins, which can make a wine taste harsh when young. Age will soften those tannins, making for more enjoyable drinking.

The other reason for aging is the way a wine can develop complexity over time. The primary aromas and flavours can evolve into secondary ones – herbs, licorice, earth, meat. As long as they don’t overwhelm the fruit (or get overwhelmed by wood), that can be great!

So back to the main question…when to drink your Chateauneuf!

Well, in my experience, try your first bottle at 8 – 10 years old. The tannins should be softened, but the fruit still very apparent. You will want to decant the wine just in case it is still too tannic, as that can soften things up over the course of a meal.

Try your second bottle (and remember, always try to buy at least 2 bottles of a cellar wine so you can follow its development) at 15. For most Chateauneufs, that should be full maturity. Again, decant – there will be sediment – and check out the fruit component. It will be drier than the last time for sure…but if it is still very present, and not overwhelmed by the secondary flavours, you are in good shape.

Finally, if you are lucky enough to have a third bottle – and the second was in really good shape – try it at 20. Stored well, from a good vintage, this can almost be a religious experience! Almost port-like flavours can develop, not sweet, but so complex and smooth.

So there you go…a bit of a road map for Chateauneuf du Pape!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com