Posts Tagged ‘herbs’

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

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

BURGUNDY vs PINOT NOIR

April 23, 2014

Okay…seems like an oxy-moron for a title, right? After all, Burgundy — at least red Burgundy — is made from Pinot Noir.

So what’s up?

Well, after drinking a 15 year old Premier Cru Burgundy with Easter dinner this past week (the ’99 Maranges ‘Clos Roussot ‘ by Doudet-Naudin), it left me wondering about the relationship between the grape and how it expresses itself.

I admit to not drinking a lot of Burgundy. It is expensive – sometimes frighteningly so – and can be extremely variable in quality. I have had a few great ones over my wine lifetime (the memories of an ’83 Echezeaux and ’83 Clos de la Roche still bring tears to my eyes), but also more than a few disappointments.

The flavours are also not always in my style. Earth, herbs and mushrooms often dominate the dark cherries, and cedar/oak can sneak in, along with strong tannins when the wines are young. If and when the tannins resolve and everything comes together, Burgundy can be amazing (as in the above wines), but it can also taste dried out to me.

Before I go further, I should say I enjoyed the Maranges! While still tannic and not on the fruit-forward side, it was complex and in amazing shape for 15 years old. It also went extremely well with the prosciutto, goat cheese and pesto stuffed leg of lamb I prepared!

But I couldn’t help compare it in my mind to the new world Pinot Noirs from California, Oregon and here in BC. Ripe red and black cherry fruit can explode out of the glass, along with tantalizing vanilla overtones (can you tell I like it?). True, some can be almost too ripe, taking on an almost candied taste. But the best – like Kettle Valley’s Hayman Vineyard and Blue Mountain’s Reserve – add in enough earthy/herbal and even mushroom flavours to make them very complex, particularly after 5 – 8 years.

I bet if you served a good Burgundy blind next to one of these wines, the average wine drinker would think they are made from completely different grapes.

I’m not saying one is better than the other (although my guess is more people would pick the new world version).

The point is how different they taste and what that means for what people expect when they buy ‘Pinot Noir’.

The wineries in Burgundy have been making that style for over a thousand years and — after Bordeaux – it might be the wine world’s most respected wine. So I am definitely not saying they should change!

But what does that mean for modern consumers, most of whom will never be able to taste the best wines from Burgundy, and instead may judge them based on average –or less than average — versions?

In their minds, I think the definition of ‘Pinot Noir’ will be what comes out of the new world. And that may have interesting consequences – including for Burgundy producers – should they then proceed to Burgundy in the future

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com