Posts Tagged ‘Leisure’

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

My Italian Holiday

September 7, 2016

Well, I’m back after a summer break, almost a month of which was spent in Italy! So, for the first blog back, a few musings on Italian wine…in Italy!

1. Wine is cheaper in Italy

No doubt about it – Italian wine is cheaper in Italy! Whether a glass of cold Rose at a restaurant (2 – 3 euros!) or a very nice Brunello or Barbaresco (either in a restaurant or a store), the price is definitely right! And it wasn’t just the currency difference, particularly in restaurants. They just seem to have a different attitude — and tax system — in Italy for their own wine.

2. Very good to great wine is cheaper as well!

I was amazed to be drinking Brunellos, Barbarescos and Vino Nobiles for 40 and 50 euros…wines that would cost well over $100 in Canadian restaurants!

3. Italian restaurants have wine figured out

It wasn’t just the price in restaurants. It was the selection — lots of Brunello in Montalcino, Vino Nobile in Montepulciano, Barolo/Barbaresco in Piedmont. And the wine by the glass selection was often incredible! Some restaurants offered all the wines by the glass!

4. “Regular” wines are often better than the Riservas in Tuscany

I tasted regular Brunellos and Vino Nobiles vs their Riserva versions and almost always liked the former best. It seemed like “Riserva” mean more oak (as well as more $$$), and that meant more tannin as well.

5. You have to reserve in advance at wineries

This was a surprise! Having been to many wine areas in North America — where you mostly just “walk in”, I was disappointed that you had to almost always reserve in advance to go to wineries all through Italy. It wasn’t hard to do (even with not speaking Italian), and they treated you well, but you also had to pay (staring at about 10 euros and up). So beware if you go!

6. Don’t expect to just “follow the signs” to get to wineries!

Another big difference from California, Oregon and here in BC was signage. Or, the lack of it! It was hard to find many wineries in both Tuscany and Piedmont, even for our GPS. So don’t expect to just follow the signs!

7. There are some amazing restaurants in “wine towns”!

While we ate very well in major cities like Florence and Siena, some of our best meals were in places like the village of Barbaresco (Restaurant Antica). I know it sounds so logical, but they have figured it out there – great wine all around, so why not add great, unpretentious, fairly priced food as well? Amazing!

8. Try the local wines even if you haven’t heard of them

We went to Cortona, as my wife wanted to see the place where “Under the Tuscan Sun” was written. We went for lunch, and I noticed wines from Cortona on the list…a Merlot and an Syrah. We tried by the glass, and I was blown away, especially by the Syrah. So take the chance!

9. Even in the heat of summer, you can drink “big” red wine.

Many of the restaurants didn’t have air conditioning or we were eating outside. But I was amazed how a glass and/or bottle of Brunello or Vino Nobile was still great even in 35 degree weather.

10. Wine and food, food and wine.

The food and the wine just went so well together…I was so impressed. You must go and try it!

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

NO FRENCH ONION SOUP – OR CABERNET FRANC – FOR YOU!

November 25, 2015

A little riff on Seinfeld for my blog title this evening…but it seemed appropriate after the experience we had in Seattle this past weekend.

First off, though, hats off to the two restaurants we went to for dinner – Café Campagne and Il Terrazzo Carmine! Both had great food, wine lists and a $25 corkage fee! Given the latter, I brought my own wine, and thoroughly enjoyed both the ’11 La Grola by Allegrini and the ’12 Cotes du Rhone les Garrigues from le Clos du Cailloux. I bought both for under $30, so with corkage they were less than the vast majority of the wines on the wine lists!

But now, the experience…that led to the title of the blog.

We are sitting at Café Campagne, when two couples come in and sit beside us. One of the women was a bit of a loud talker, but I thought “whatever”, enjoying my cassoulet and Cotes du Rhone. And then the first thing happened…

She was the one with the wine list, and when the waiter asked her for her selection, she said she didn’t know, but knew she really liked a 2009 Chateauneuf de Pape she had recently had. I thought “alright”! One of my favourite kinds of wine, a great year…and they had some CHPs on the list.

But then the waiter recommends a wine from the Loire Valley…a Cabernet Franc?! I almost said something (my wife had to stop me). I mean, come on…Cab Franc from France couldn’t be a more different style of wine, right? I’m not sure if it was on special or what, but really!

And then, she decides to shift to…Bordeaux?! And not just that, but a fairly generic Margaux?! Again, a completely different style of wine from CHP. And the waiter just nodded and brought it to her.

I shook my head, and went back to my wine (and food). But it didn’t stop there…

When it was time to order food, the same woman announced that she had a cold, so wanted the French Onion soup…but without the cheese or croutons! My wife actually had to grab me on that one.

I can imagine the chef in the kitchen…he must have just gone bug eyed!

Not because he couldn’t do it, of course. The caramelized onions/broth are cooked in one pot, and the cheese/croutons added at the end under the broiler. But still…isn’t the cheese – in particular – what the soup is all about?

But that is what she got – a bowl of broth with some onions in it! And as we were leaving, she seemed to be enjoying her soup and wine.

So the purpose of this blog? Well, I know that the “customer is always right”…so give them what they want. But please…at least give some advice that makes sense? Some alternatives, perhaps, for both the food and wine that make sense? That’s all I ask. Then if they still make a strange decision, it’s on them.

Or next time, maybe I will come over the table…

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

CALIFORNIA WINES MAKING A “VALUE” COME BACK IN BC?

October 29, 2015

Quick question for you – what do the ’13 Dancing Bull Zinfandel, ’12 Smoking Loon Syrah and ’12 Louis Martini Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon have in common?

Yes, they are all from California…and all solid wines. But more importantly, they are all under $20 in BC liquor stores, with the first two being less than $15! And I would bet that for our friends in the US, you can find them for around $10 in Costco or other grocery stores.

My question is…how do they make this kind of quality, at this price, for the BC market?

When I first started getting into wine back in the ‘80s, I drank a lot of California wines. And there were some amazing bargains back then.

But then the Canadian dollar tanked, and for a long time many – most? – California wines just became too expensive. Even four or five years ago when our dollar was at par with the US dollar, the prices just didn’t seem to come down very much, whether it was for the inexpensive wines or the premium ones.

But now, that seems to be changing…even though our dollar is once again falling!

So what gives?

I know the wines I mentioned above – and probably many others – are made in great quantities, which helps keep the per bottle cost down. But still…with our bizarre tax regime, the only way a California wine can sell for $15 is if it “landed” here at under $10, which I assume would be the price in the US (if not less given the exchange range).

Factor in the average price of BC wines now hovering close to $20 – for far lower quality – and it presents an interesting quandary.

And one I don’t have an answer to!

If you know, please pass on the reason. In the meantime, I guess I will be buying ore California wine to drink during the week!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

2015 Victoria Wine Festival

September 23, 2015

I’m looking forward to my first trip to the Victoria Wine Festival. With family on Vancouver Island, we get there fairly often, and I try to ‘do’ the wineries once a year as well. But to date, I have been to their Festival.

And after scanning the wineries/wines, I am looking forward to it even more!

First and foremost, what a delightful surprise to see so many small, but great BC Wineries are going to be there! My tasting list will certainly include:

• Quail’s Gate – their Old Vines Marechal Foch is perhaps the best in BC, with rich, meaty flavours
• Moraine – a relative newcomer, Moraine is making great Rhone style Syrah, full of peppery, earthy cherries
• Howling Bluff – rapidly becoming the standard barrier for value-priced white wines, Luke’s
Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend is amazing, and his more expensive Pinot Noir shows great potential as well
in a Burgundy/Cali cross style
• Gray Monk – I stumbled across their sparkling rose (Odyssey Brut Rose) and was amazed at the fresh
strawberries in this wine
• Marichel – Richard is a Rhone-specialist! His Syrah is richer and riper than almost all others in Naramata
(think Aussie Shiraz without the jam) and his Viognier is old-school – floral, dry, with none of the fruit
cocktail flavours you get from many new world wines
• Perseus – another newcomer making great value wines, including a non-oaked Merlot that fairly bursts with
cherries and berries
• Eau Vivre – last but not least, this Similkameen Winery goes from success to success with its multiple award
winning Pinot Noir, which remains a steal at about $20!

With that list, I could spend a good part of my evening!

But it looks like there are other great wines to try as well. From France, I see Perrin’s Vacqueyras Le Christin, a Grenache blend from the southern Rhone that is accessible young but ages beautifully; it is an annual Robert Parker favourite, and I have multiple vintages in my cellar.

Italy is well represented with Barolos from Damilano, Altesino’s Brunello di Montalcino, and Amarones by La Dama. These are expensive wines and it is great to get a chance to taste them in this format! The challenge is deciding if there is enough fruit to survive the tannin…but I am up for it!

Finally, don’t forget California! Ravenswood has a couple of Zinfandels, which are classic blackberry bombs! Belle Glos’ single vineyard Pinot Noir is also there, which I have never tasted but heard good things about. And Stag’s Leaps’s Petite Sirah, usually a brooding giant of a red wine with years of aging in it.

Sparkling, white and red…that will be my tasting strategy, and I will try to tweet out my tasting notes in real time!

So stay tuned, and if you want more info about the event, check out the website at http://www.vicwf.com.

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

WHEN – AND WHY – TO DECANT YOUR WINE

September 9, 2015

I’m sure lots of you have seen it, and many done it as well – decanting! As portrayed in movies and television, it looks like a fairly pretentious undertaking. The same can be said about how it is treated in restaurants, with the option of using a candle, sterling silver funnel and even strange mechanical bottle holders!

But as I made my way through a Barolo tasting yesterday, it occurred to me that decanting is important as long as it is done at the right time (and for the right reasons).

But first – what is decanting anyway? Well, put simply, it is the process of pouring wine from a bottle into another (usually glass) container.

And why do it? Well, that’s where the problems begin!

There are lots of reasons for decanting, and far be it for me to judge which ones are right and which are wrong. But here are a few to think about.

First, if you have a nice looking decanter, it looks great on the table for your guests; and there is nothing wrong with that!

Next, from a more scientific point of view, the exposure of red wine (and it is only red wine you need to decant) to air can help with both the aroma and taste. The chemical reaction that occurs over time can “soften” young red wines, including those mouth-puckering tannins. An hour or two before dinner, and the wine can really start to come around!

But the main reason I decant red wine is if it is old enough to have deposited some sediment. Many red wines, as they age, do that, and it is often a sign of a good, well stored wine. Now, there is nothing wrong with the deposits, but they don’t look very nice in your glass or feel/taste very good in your mouth (kind of like getting a mouthful of sand).

So a decanter – along with a funnel or simply a very steady hand – can allow you to pour the wine until the deposit just starts to leave the bottle, at which point you stop. Done correctly (and it isn’t that hard), the result is a decanter full of wine that you can then pour for guests without the fear of giving them a big glop (a technical term) of tannin in their glass (and potentially in their mouth).

Which, getting back to the tasting last night, is what winery owner should have done at the Barolo tasting! The 2011 and 2010 vintages were ferociously tannic, and could easily have benefited from 2 – 3+ hours of airing in a decanter. But the 2001 and 1999 versions definitely needed the deposit removed (as I found out upon my first sip…it wasn’t a pleasant experience).

How do you know if you need to decant? Well, if the bottle has been stored on its side, check out the neck…if you see a deposit coating the inside, then decanting is probably a good idea.

And what to use? Anything really…from a simple glass jug to the most expensive crystal decanter. It doesn’t really matter.

So there you go…next time you are serving either very young – or very old, if you are lucky – red wine, think about decanting it first. You will be surprised how easy it is to do, and how much you will enjoy the results.

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

HOW TO CELLAR YOUR WINE WITHOUT SPENDING $$$$!

June 17, 2015

A popular wine topic is cellaring wine and, in particular, what you need to do it properly. Most people assume it takes a large amount of space – and money – to be able to have a wine cellar. But my experience over the past 25+ years is that is definitely not the case!

The basics of “wine cellaring” come down to four things – temperature control, humidity, light and vibrations. The last two are the easiest to deal with, so let’s talk about them first.

At the most basic, wine likes to be in a dark place that isn’t moving around! That can be a fancy wine cellar, but a closet or place in the basement works just as well. As long as it is dark most of the time and there isn’t a whole lot of shaking going on.

Humidity is the next easiest factor to deal with. Too little, and the corks will dry out, causing them to literally fall into the bottles (and the wines flow out the other way). Too much and – at a minimum – your labels will slip off, making it hard to figure out what your wines are!

Here on the west coast, humidity isn’t usually big a deal. Our temperatures can spike in the summer months, but we just don’t get the level of humidity that can occur on the east coast of Canada or the U.S. in the summer. Similarly, in the winter, even if it gets cold, we still have enough humidity to avoid things drying out.

But if you don’t live here (poor you!), then at a minimum by a cheap humidity meter or sensor and put it wherever you are planning to store your wine. The 75% level is often cited as the ideal, although it is flexible. Keep track of the levels in the winter/summer. If you notice readings significantly above or below that level, you need to find a different spot (or else invest in some kind of humidity controlled cellar). Personally, humidity has never been a problem for me.

That leaves us with temperature. The main thing people forget is that there are two parts to temperature – the actual reading, and how quickly it goes up or down. Aside from being way too hot or cold (above 75 and around freezing), the actual temperature is not that big a deal. You will hear from wine geeks that “55 degrees” is ideal cellar temperature. But I have never had that in my life, and still enjoyed 15 – 20+ year wines that were in perfect shape when I drank them. Could they have aged longer with a lower temperature? Perhaps. But they were stunning when I drank them!

In my experience it is the variation of temperature over time that is actually a much bigger factor. If the temperature rises too quickly, that could definitely hurt your wine (and vice versa). But if it is gradual (even 10 – 20 degrees over a few week period, like from late spring to early summer), my experience is there is little or no impact on the wines, even over a long period of time (i.e. a decade or more). That has been happening virtually every year in my cellar, with almost no problems.

So the answer to my initial question? Find a place dark, relatively cool place that is out of the way, and put your wine there. And it will be fine!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com