Posts Tagged ‘La Frenz’

HOW OLD IS TOO OLD…AND HOW DO YOU KNOW?

April 19, 2017

Age and wine…it is a big issue, both for wine dweebs like me and even the average wine drinker. For the former, it is all about trying to find the optimum time to drink a wine – not too young and tannic, not old and dried out, but just right! And for the latter – I want to drink it right away, is that okay?

I am generalizing, of course, and apologies to all – in both camps – who are offended! But the basic question is the same – how old should a wine be before I can enjoy it at its best?

I decided to write about this topic after my buddy Jim texted me to come over and taste a 2004 La Frenz Merlot the other day. At almost 13 years old, any Merlot from BC (and most from anywhere) should be dead…dried out, no fruit. But this one (I of course raced right over!) was stunning – still lots of fruit, interesting touch of vanilla and licorice and mint…simply stunning!

Back to the questions, then…but before I answer (and add some additional considerations), a few qualifications.

First, we are talking about red wines here, not whites. While a few white wines can age (sweet, Rieslings, some Burgundies), the vast majority don’t age well and should be consumed within a year or so of purchase.

Second, even with reds, over 90% are good to go on release. That way you get the freshness of the fruit, which is what wine is (or should be) all about.

So what about it, then? How old should it be…and what is too old?

The first question? That is a matter of taste, for the most part.

Young red wines have more fruit to them – some would say “obvious” fruit, but there is nothing the matter with that. They also can have a lot of tannin, which makes them mouth puckering and difficult to unpleasant to drink. So it depends on what style you like the best.

Interestingly, because more and more wine drinkers won’t wait to age a wine these days, even the most expensive wines can drink very well upon release.

But what about the other question – how do you know if it is too old?

This, of course, excludes wines that are oxidized and/or spoiled. Aromas and flavours of vinegar, tea, etc. mean the wine is bad, and should be avoided.

But aside from that, it turns out the answer to the question is almost the same as the first time – it depends on the style you like the best!

Most people like their older wines to still have some fruit in them. It may be more dried fruit – dried cherries, cassis, and plums in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone wines, Barolo, Barbaresco, etc – but still recognizable as fruit, none-the-less.

However, there are folks that actually like their wine almost completely dried out – oak, cedar, other kinds of wood! The stereotype is “the English”, who apparently had a tradition of aging their Bordeaux and Burgundy so long that it literally had no fruit left in it. Not my style, but if that’s what you like…

So, as usual, it all depends on your taste.

But make sure you know what you like in advance! The last thing you want to do is wait for a wine to age…and find out that you don’t like that style.

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

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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

Wineries and Wines to Checkout at the 2017 VIWF

February 15, 2017

Okay, my annual “where to go/what to taste” at the Vancouver International Wine Festival evening tastings Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

The “theme country” is Canada, so let’s start with us! All of these wineries are from my home province of BC:

• Averill Creek – great Pinot Noir from Vancouver Island winemaker Andy Johnston, and also check out their new sparkling wine
• Church & State – Coyote Bowl Syrah here, as well as their Bordeaux blend Quintessential
• Howling Bluff – Pinot Noir and the Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend
• La Frenz – best winery in Canada pouring great Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and outstanding red blend Grand Total Reserve
• Moon Curser – Bordeaux blend Border Vines and very nice Syrah
• Moraine – Pinot Noir, Syrah and Riesling
• NkMip – First Nations winery makes very nice Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

As for the rest of the world:

• Argentina – Zuccardi for Malbec/Malbec blends
• Australia – Inland Trading Company represents Cimicky, Kalleske and Massena reds
• France:
o J.M. Cazes makes nice Chateauneuf du Pape
o Chapoutier – world leader in Chateauneuf du Pape, Crozes Hermitage and a “cult” wine called Occultum
o Ferraton Pere – northern Rhone wines, including St. Joseph, Cornas and Crozes Hermitage
o Jean Luc Columbo – northern Rhone wines, particularly Cornas
o Louis Bernard – Chateauneuf du Pape, Vacqueyras
• Italy – Allegrini for red Veneto wines; Carpineto for Chianti and Vino Nobile; Rocca della Macie for Chianti and super- Tuscan Roccato
• Portugal – vintage ports from Fonseca and Taylor Fladgate
• California – Kendall Jackson Cabernet and Chardonnay; Signorello for Cabernet, Chardonnay and white blend Seta

That should keep you busy!

Enjoy, and don’t forget to spit…or this is way too much wine.

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

VIWF PRIMER #2: RHONE AROUND THE WORLD

February 8, 2017

Okay, the Vancouver International Wine Festival is now less than a week away, so my second primer – what to expect from wines made from two of my favourite red grapes, Syrah and Grenache!

I called this blog “Rhone around the World” because the Rhone Valley is the home of these grapes, and where they have become justifiably famous. Syrah is associated with the northern Rhone, where it makes some of the greatest and most long lived wines in the world – Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage and Cornas are the leaders. Look for pepper, dark cherries, earth, and licorice. No wood, lean but ripe, these wines can be amazing!

Grenache is from the southern Rhone and usually associated with Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras and a range of other appelations. The nose is the give away here – lots of dried French herbs (called garrigue), followed by rich red and black fruit, almost kirsh-like in concentration. Again, no wood, and almost as long an age profile as their norther cousins.

But when these two grapes are made elsewhere, the flavour profiles can be both the same – and different!

For Syrah, I am pleased to say that my home province of BC makes some beautiful Rhone-like versions! In Washington State and California, the wines can be riper – not jammy (see what follows), but not as lean, although still with no wood. In Chile, Italy and South Africa, there is way more earthiness and less fruit – not my favourite style.

But the biggest difference is when Syrah is made in a different style – as Shiraz! Famous in Australia, these wines show jammy, super-ripe blackberry and licorice fruit, almost sweet sometimes. I love the best of these wines, but they couldn’t be more different than the ones from France.

And Grenache? Well, I find it fascinating, because while southern Rhones from this grape are among my favourite wines, when they are made in Spain – I literally hate them! And I know why – oak!

When Garnacha (as it is called in Spain) is made, the oak seems to take almost all of the fruit of the wine, leaving herbs and wood behind. No thank you!

Interestingly, in Australia, they find a balance – more wood, but in the form of vanilla covered cherry fruit – and that I like.

What about the festival, then, in terms of wineries to look for?

For northern Rhone style Syrah, we have Jean Luc Columbo, Chapoutier and Ferraton. But don’t overlook a number of BC wineries as well, including Burrowing Owl, Cassini, Moon Curser, Moraine and NkMip. For the Shiraz style, check out Inland Trading (Cimicky, d’Arenberg, Kilikanoon, Penfold’s) from Australia, and La Frenz from BC.

As for Grenache? Aussie winery Yalumba makes some beautiful wines in the riper style. For the traditional southern Rhone style, check out Chapoutier – their Chateauneufs and Cote du Rhones are beautiful wines.

Enjoy!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

VANCOUVER WINE FESTIVAL PRIMER #1: CABERNET SAUVIGNON AND PINOT NOIR

February 1, 2017

Okay, been a while, but I am back…and with the Vancouver International Wine Festival just a couple of weeks away, how about a primer on two of the most popular grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir – and what you can expect from their wines.

While the grapes are very different in terms of where they are grown and their flavour profiles, they are somewhat similar in terms of the two primary styles of wine.

The more traditional style for both grape varieties is what is usually called old world. For Cabernet Sauvignon, that tends to mean from Bordeaux (where it is usually the main player in a blend of grapes) and Burgundy (where Pinot Noir stands alone, except for the Beaujolais region). Both are from France.

What are the characteristics of that style? Well, in my experience and taste, the emphasis is more on wood – usually oak and cedar – and herbs. Tannins, too, tend to dominate, particularly when the wines are young. As they subside, the result can be smooth, but the amount of fruit that is still there? Except for the great wines – which are way too expensive for me – it is usually long gone.

You can probably tell, these are not my style of wines. I have had a small number of mind boggling older Burgundies and Bordeaux, but that is more than offset by the number of woody, herbal and dried out Bordeaux and Burgundy wines (young and old). Having said that, they are the most popular red wines in the world!

But there is another style of wine which I really like…some call it new world, but it has one key word to describe it – fruit!

Luscious black currants and cassis for Cabernet Sauvignons, and cherries (black and red) for Pinot Noir. Lovely vanilla and spice can overlay but not dominate this fruit.

You probably already know where the best of these kinds of wines come from! The USA – California, Oregon (for Pinot Noirs) and Washington (for Cabernet Sauvignons). But also from Australia and my home province of British Columbia (especially for Pinot Noir).

And don’t think that “fruity” means they can’t age. Some of the Cali Cabs can easily go for 15 – 20 years without losing their fruit.

Ironically, the best ones can also be almost as expensive as their French cousins (as anyone who has heard of so-called “cult wines” like Screaming Eagle or Harlan Estates).

What does this mean for the VIWF? Well, in looking at the list of wineries, I would recommend trying the following wineries in each of the styles:
• Old World Cabernet – Baron Phillipe de Rothschild, Dourthe, Borie Manoux (France), Mission Hill, Osoyoos Larose, Jackson Triggs (B.C.)
• New World Cabernet – Kendall Jackson, Robert Mondavi (California), Columbia Crest (Washington), La Frenz (B.C.)
• New World Pinot Noir – Etude (California), Whitehaven (New Zealand), La Frenz, Howling Bluff, Averill Creek, NkMip (B.C.)

Enjoy!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

SOME TIPS ON VISITING WINERIES DURING HARVEST SEASON

September 28, 2016

It’s Fall, and many people will be visiting wine country for festivals and to taste wines! So here are a few tips before you go…and some recommendations on where to go if you are visiting wineries in BC.

1. Remember it is harvest season – seems simple, but it is important…as much as wineries welcome you at this time of year, they are also getting ready – or even starting – to harvest this year’s vintage! That makes it very busy and stressful at all wineries. Keep that in mind if you get the sense your hosts have other things on their minds!

2. Fewer is better – whether it is the number of wineries or wines (or both), go for quality, not quality. No matter how good a taster you are, “palate fatigue” can set in pretty quickly. So pick the wineries you want to see in advance, and even the specific wines you want to taste. That will lead to a better experience.

3. Spit if you can – I know some people think it is gross, but spitting will really help you taste better – and more – wines. All wineries will have spittoons, and those leading tastings will actually be thankful if you spit.

4. Only buy if you really want to – unless you have unlimited resources, it’s okay to be choosey what you buy (if anything). Wineries won’t be insulted, particularly these days as most of them charge a tasting fee anyway. If you like it and can afford it, then buy it. Otherwise, don’t worry about it!

5. Taste and move on – finally, whether you are visiting wineries or going to a big tasting, don’t linger in the tasting line! Taste, maybe ask a question, but then move…you can always come back to taste more wines. One of the things that drives me and many “winos” crazy is people who just stand there for 10 or more minutes talking to the host or each other. That just backs up the line and gets people mad. So move it!

And as for tasting here in BC? Here is a short list of wineries to visit (or whose wines to taste) from our main regions:

1. Penticton/Naramata – La Frenz, Howling Bluff, Nichol, Marichel, Kettle Valley, Moraine
2. Similkameen – Eau Vivre, Orofino
3. Okanagan Falls – Blue Mountain
4. Southern Okanagan – Burrowing Owl, Nk Mip, Quinta Ferreira, Church & State, Moon Curser
5. Vancouver Island – Averill Creek, Rocky Creek, Vignetti Zanatta
6. Fraser Valley – Mt. Lehman, Vista d’Oro, Domaine de Chaberton

Enjoy the Fall!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

Handicapping the 2015 BC Pinot Noir Celebration

August 19, 2015

Okay, back from holidays, and I can’t resist being a bit cheeky with my first blog!

It relates the the 2015 BC Pinot Noir Celebration scheduled for this weekend in Kaleden (in BC’s beautiful Similkameen Valley). For those not familiar with the event, it was started last year by a number of BC wineries to celebrate the so-called ‘heartbreak grape’. Billed purposely as a ‘celebration’ and not a ‘competition’, it never-the-less has entry requirements and features tastings that can’t help but lend themselves to comparisons! And with international wine celebrity Steven Spurrier the host this year (he of Bottle Shock fame), there may be more competition references than ever!

So given that – and my interest in being cheeky – I am going to handicap the event similar to the way film critics do with potential Academy Award winners!

My categories will be three:
* best overall Pinot Noir Winery
* best Reserve Pinot Noir (5 + years old)
* best regular Pinot Noir.

In doing this, I will also reference wineries/wines that aren’t there if that is relevant.

So here we go!

Best Pinot Noir Winery

My Nominees: Kettle Valley, Blue Mountain, Quail’s Gate, Meyer

a) Should win – Kettle Valley (not there)

BC Pinot Noir dweebs like me know that the Kettle Valley Hayman Vineyard is the only true Burgundian Pinot in BC, as well as one of the best. The more Cali-style Reserve is not far behind, and even the regular Pinot Noir is beautiful. This award would be an easy choice for me!

b) Would win – Quail’s Gate or Meyer Family

Quail’s Gate has been making reserve and regular Pinot Noirs since the beginning of the BC wine industry and while the former are a bit pricey, they are definitely good. Plus they are VQA. Meyer is a relative newcomer, but gets good press for its pricey wines. And according to the media, are the only BC Pinots that Spurrier has followed in England. Neither make better Pinot Noirs than Kettle Valley, but…Take your pick!

Best Reserve/High End Pinot Noir (5+ years old)

My Nominees: Kettle Valley Hayman, Kettle Valley Reserve, Blue Mountain Reserve, La Frenz Reserve, Averill Creek Reserve, Howling Bluff, Meyer (Mclean Creek or Reimer), Foxtrot, Quail’s Gate Family Reserve, Cedarcreek Platinum

a) Should win – Kettle Valley Hayman (not there) and Blue Mountain Reserve

Boy, this would be a great tasting…and one I would pay just to attend! I have cellared half of these wines for a decade or more, and tasted the rest a number of times.

Based on my experience, after 5 years in a better than average vintage, you would actually have to pick two wines because of different styles. The Hayman starts tasting/smelling like Burgundy at that age, and there is nothing else in BC like it. Meanwhile, the Blue Mountain Reserve has evolved as well, into a Burgundy/Cali clone. Different, but just as delicious.

By the way, a couple of wines would be sleepers, if only because I haven’t seen them age yet. Both Howling Bluff and La Frenz have stepped up big time in this category…it will be interesting to watch their wines as they age!

b) Would win – Quails Gate Family Reserve or Cedarcreek Platinum or Meyer (either)

Both Quail’s Gate and Cedarcreek are long time darlings of the industry. They do make good (if often expensive) wine, but not as good as either the Blue Mountain Reserve of Kettle Valley Hayman (or the Kettle Valley Reserve, La Frenz Reserve, Howling Bluff and Averill Creek Reserve). Same for Meyer.

Best Regular Pinot Noir

My Nominees: Averill Creek, La Frenz, Eau Vivre, Moraine, Blue Mountain, Quail’s Gate, Cedarcreek, Meyer, Okanagan Crush Pad, Tantalus

a) Should win – Eau Vivre (not there) or Averill Creek

Eau Vivre is a back to back Lieutenant Governor Award winner and still about $20…’nuff said! A great wine, year in, year out. And Averill Creek’s regular Pinot Noir is a stunning achievement, not just for Vancouver Island, but for anywhere.

Others to watch? La Frenz’s new regular Pinot Noir, and Moraine (a new kind on the block).

b) Would win – Okanogan Crush Pad, Tantalus

The former is the latest media darling – a spot for winemakers to come make their wines. A good idea, but I haven’t tasted great Pinot yet. And Tantalus? They are one of the founders of this event…
Now, let’s wait for the media to report out this weekend!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

Can You Have a Wine Competition…Without the Best Wines?

July 8, 2015

Those who follow my blog know that I have a problem with wine competitions in general. But today I saw something that almost put me over the edge! So I had to blog about it.

The third – I think it is the third – BC Pinot Noir Celebration is occurring in August. Not only that, they have coaxed international wine celebrity Steven Spurrier (he of “Bottle Shock” fame) to come. The purpose is to bring together great Pinot Noirs from BC and other parts of the world to “compare” – not compete – and discuss.

The problem? The list of BC Pinot Noirs that the judges have decided to have don’t include the best producers in BC!

Anybody who knows anything about BC Pinot Noir knows that two producers have historically made the best wine – Blue Mountain (with their Reserve Pinot Noir) and Kettle Valley (with their Hayman and Reserve bottlings). I have personal tasting notes from these wines going back over 10 years…they are not only stunning young, but can age for 8+ years.

And then there are the newcomers. La Frenz from Naramata? Averill Creek from Vancouver Island? Both make outstanding wines, capable of at least near term aging…but they aren’t there either.

That got me to thinking…why?

The simplest answer might be that these wineries declined to participate. And if that is the case, you can stop reading right now.

But if they did want to…submitted wines to the “judging panel”…and weren’t accepted, what does that say about the panel and those who are promoting BC wines?

And even if they didn’t submit wines, what will the general public think? The event has the opportunity to get huge publicity…but if the best wines aren’t there?

Perhaps the wineries in question don’t need to care. Blue Mountain and Kettle Valley don’t make a lot of their wine, so it won’t affect sales. La Frenz and Averill Creek? Probably the same.

But as a wine dweeb…it pisses me off! The wines that are missing can be outstanding …world class! And they miss out?

Makes me want to send some to Robert Parker…hey, now that is an idea!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

STYLE 101 Part 2: That Damned Merlot!

April 23, 2015

Ah, Merlot…what a wine! Its popularity took a hit because of the movie Sideways a decade or so ago, as Myles continually expressed his hate for it. I’m not sure what the impact actually was on sales, as it still remains a popular pick for many people.

It is also another red wine that shows how important a particular wine-making style can be. Because while the name may be the same on the bottle, many Merlots could not be more different!

To start, the differences are similar to those of Cabernet Sauvignons. Fruity or more woody/herbal – that is a fair generalization. Similarly, California tends to produce more of the former style, while Bordeaux focuses on the latter, often at great expense (Chateau Petrus from Pomerol is one of the most famous – and expensive – wines in the world).

Now, I may be wrong about Petrus, because I have never tasted it, and probably never will. But that actually isn’t the style difference that if find most interesting and, in fact, frustrating, about Merlot.

My beef is with coffee, mocha…and chocolate!

Now, not the hot beverage (which I like) or the sweet (which I also like, but doesn’t like me very much, at least in terms of putting on weight). I mean the flavours.

Look at the wine reviews or descriptions of many Merlots and you will often see reference to coffee, mocha and/or chocolate aromas and flavours. For some, that may be a good thing. But for me, it is a big warning sign!

Because, at least to my palate, coffee + mocha + chocolate mean even less fruit flavour than your straight woody/herbal Merlot. Something just seems to happen when they all come together, and as a result I often cannot find any fruit at all!

Case in point, a BC winery (whose name I will keep to myself) that used to make maybe the best Merlot in the province (at a good price too). It was full of ripe – but not sweet or jammy – black plums, a touch of vanilla, and some licorice/mint. Never very tannic, it was just brilliant to drink.

And then the owners sold the winery, and the new proprietors started to make the Merlot (and all the red wines) in a more Bordeaux style. And that’s not my style. So my cellar – and recommendations – went from full to, now, almost non-existent.

Interestingly, most of the California Merlots I can afford to try (many are now out of my spice bracket) have kept to the fruity style. And there are a couple of others up here – La Frenz and Perseus – that still go in for the fruit-first style.

Since that is my style, that’s what I go for –at least in wine. Coffee, mocha and chocolate? That I will keep those for breakfast and dessert.

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