Posts Tagged ‘Napa’


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



November 21, 2013

Wine dweebs like me are famous – or infamous – for the words we use to describe wines. How they look, smell, taste – all have a seemingly unlimited range of potential descriptors.

I could do a blog about how realistic it is to smell and/or taste “acacia flowers” or “bacon fat”…but that is for another day. A simpler approach is to look at some common words or descriptions to watch out for, because they can mean different things than you would think!

1. Food wine

I have done this one before, so won’t go into any detail. Suffice to say if you see a wine described this way, I would stay away from it. A wine should taste good on its own. If it needs food to cover it up, why would you want to drink it?

2. Flavours of coffee, espresso, chocolate and mocha

This is a dangerous one for me, as it signals that the emphasis in the wine might be less about fruit and more about these so-called secondary characteristics. Can you smell/taste these? Yes you can. But will there also be fruit there to taste…that is a very big question. So buyer, beware!

3. Jammy

I use this one in a positive and negative way. It is an easy one to “get” – everybody has had jam, and knows how concentrated the fruit is, sometimes almost too sweet. You usually see it with two kinds of red wines: Shiraz and Zinfandel. Personally, I like it, particularly when the jam is blackberry and it is ripe but not sweet.

When do I use it as a negative? If I see a Syrah described that way. Same grape as Shiraz, but should be a different style altogether – more pepper, black cherry, and licorice, but not jam.

4. Lean

This is another word that should set your Spidey-senses off! Lean only means not a lot of fruit – end of story. Some try to use it as a positive descriptor (those “anti-fruit” supporters), but for me you just end up with a thin, often woody/herbal taste. So be careful with this one too.

5. Garrigue

This is a French word associated mostly with Grenache-based wines from the Cotes du Rhone. It is supposed to mean a melange of smells/tastes of French herbs – rosemary, oregano, lavender, thyme, etc. On the one hand, I know exactly what garrigue smells and tastes like, and love it! But can I pick out those herbs specifically? Probably not. It can be an acquired taste, so try a cheaper one first.

6. Lush and full bodied

Finally, words that can be applied to red and white wines. For the latter, it is easier to understand. Usually it means there has been oak used, and something called malolactic fermentation. The result is – at least for me – a gorgeous mouthful of wine, fruity but not sweet, with vanilla, butterscotch and even nuts. Think big California Chardonnays like Beringer Private Reserve.

It can mean the same kind of things for red wines, usually Cabernet Sauvignons or Merlots or Zinfandels, with black currants or plums or blackberries (respectively) replacing the citrus Chardonnay fruit. The warning, though – if the words “big” and/or “tannic” go along with description, then be careful. Too much tannin (that mouth puckering sensation you also get from tea that has sat around for too long), can overwhelm everything. It needs time to soften. So you might want to buy for your cellar, but not to drink tonight.

So there you are…a few “Wine Words”, and what to think about when you see them!


What is the “BC wine experience”?

June 28, 2013

We are heading into peak holiday season, and for many people that will — hopefully — mean a trip into BC’s wine country.

The so called ‘wine experience’ is different for everyone, as it should be. For general tourists with only a passing interest in wine, it may simply be enough to visit a few wineries, taste some wines and experience what it is like to be in wine country.

For regular wine consumers, you may have your favourite wineries to visit, new ones to check out, and look forward to the chance to buy a few wines you can’t get anywhere else except at the winery.

And for wine collectors/dweebs (like me), it is a very focused experience – on specific wines you ‘need’ to taste and/or buy, and potential new gems to be unearthed.

So with these different expectations, what should wineries do — and not do — to help ensure they are met, which hopefully will mean return customers!

Well, great customer service is obviously a no-brainer. Many people are intimidated by wine, so anything that makes it easier and more comfortable to taste will be helpful and make it more enjoyable.

Low costs is another. Most wineries charge $2 – $3 to taste, refundable with any purchase, and I think people see that as fair. It probably doesn’t come close to recovering the costs of the wine or staff, but is enough to dissuade any yahoos who might just be looking for ‘free drinks’ or to get drunk (think Miles at the end of Sideways…)!

A range of wine available to taste is another big draw — whether you are a tourist or oenophile. The latter group (i.e. me) may, in particular, want to taste your ‘best wines’, so if that is possible — even with an extra fee — it will be well received. When I was in Napa years ago, I paid extra to taste reserve wines at Beringer and Mondavi, and it was well worth it!

Having said that, if one or more of your wines is made in too small a quantity (or is sold out), just let people know, in advance if possible on your website. Then there will be no surprises during tasting.

One thing I don’t like are the wineries that want you to book your tasting in advance, often with a larger fee. Frankly, there are few wines I would do that for in BC, and it just comes across as snooty to me. If you have wines that you want people to taste, make it easy for them to do that — that’s what will bring more of them in!

Finally, watch out for how much pressure is put on to ‘buy’ wine. I know I feel a bit guilty when I taste but don’t buy, particularly when there is no tasting fee. But I also don’t want any hard selling!

What works better for me is hearing where the wines are available for sale. If it is only at the winery or online (and by the case), that is more likely to entice me to buy. Frankly, that is the main reason I make the trip to wine country, to buy what I want, in the quantities I want, without the markups from the private stores.

That’s my advice, then, on the ways to ensure the ‘wine experience’ is a positive one, regardless of why you are coming!



March 8, 2013

Another year, another Vancouver International Wine Festival! And, as usual, I have a few reflections on the event.

1. Boy, California still makes great, ripe, fruit-forward wine…

I didn’t have time to taste through all the California wineries (who were featured at this year’s Festival), but those that I did…what ripe, fruit forward wine! California certainly still “gets it” when it comes to bringing out the fruit in wine. If only their Bordeaux compatriots would take that lesson…

2. But California wines are also really expensive!

While I liked the quality, I was even more struck by prices of many California wines. It seemed like many of the “regular” Cabernet Sauvignons, for example, were in the $60 – $70 a bottle range, with Reserve bottlings at $100 or more! Now, I know that can be considered cheap compared to many French wines, but boy…they are out of my snack bracket!

3. And where are the newer “boutique” California wineries?

Aside from a small handful, I was also surprised how many of the participants were virtually the same as was the case 10 or even 20 years ago! Now, good for them…but what about the newer wineries? I’m not sure whether their production is too small to do Festivals or they weren’t approached/didn’t want to come, but every time I read the wine mags, I see all these wineries I have never heard of before getting really high ratings. It would be great to see them as well.

4. More evidence that the 2010 vintage in the Rhone was amazing…

Not as many French wineries this year, but the wineries from the Rhone that were pouring 2010 vintages showed really, really well. Many of these are on the shelf right now, but more are coming and judging from the quality, people should stock up! And with France the feature country next year, we could be in for a real treat.

5. More BC wineries…but even more would be better!

It was great to see Blue Mountain and NkMip there, as well as a number of others, but there are so many other BC wineries out there…it would be great to see them! I realize that the smaller wineries don’t have the marketing budgets (or quantity of wine) needed, but people are really not getting a good idea of what the “Best in BC” is all about.

That’s it for this year…congrats again to the Festival and I can’t wait for next year!



November 29, 2012

Okay, it’s close enough to the holiday season to start a series of wine “gift-giving” blogs! So let’s begin with gifts for the wine lover on your list.

A couple of rules to start. First, the wines have to be available to purchase (no Screaming Eagle Cabernets that no one can get even if they can afford them). And, second, nothing over $50. I will do a “value wine blog” next week, but for now, let’s see what you can get for $50 or less.

First, a couple of reds, and I go to what are probably the two most famous wine countries in the world — France and Italy!

My favourite French wines come from the Cotes du Rhone, and if you are looking for a gift, any wine lover would be thrilled to get a bottle of the 2010 Gigondas Les Hauts de Montmirail by Domaine Brusset. Made from Grenache, this is a fabulous wine! It has the characteristic ‘garrigue’ on the nose (french herbs like rosemary, lavender and sage), super ripe black cherry fruit (without being sweet or jammy) and big body. It will develop for a decade or more, but can be drunk now if opened/decanted for an hour or so before drinking. Brusset is one of the best Gigondas producers and 2010 a spectacular vintage. At $49.96 in B.C., it’s not cheap, but it is worth the price.

My recommendation from Italy is another classic – Barbaresco. The 2007 by Produttorri del Barbaresco is a perennial winner, and one I have been cellaring/drinking since the 1986 vintage. Look for a medium red colour, earthy dried cherries on the nose, and more earthy, herbal, dried cherries on the finish, along with some tannin. I like to start drinking my Barbarescos at about 8 yrs old, which is when they begin to soften up, and they will keep developing for 10 – 15 years. Price – $42.95.

So what about whites, then? Well, for gifts, you can’t go wrong with Chardonnay, and I have two completely different versions to recommend. The first is once again from France; Burgundy, in fact, and specifically Chablis. This is one for the ‘ABC’ crowd (‘Anything But Chardonnay), as Chablis is made in stainless steel and uses little or no oak. And what a beauty – the 2011 Montmains Premier Cru by Brocard. Look for really crisp, dry flavours, including minerals and a flintiness (a good thing). Drink it now or, a rarity among whites, cellar it for 5 – 8 years. $39.99

The other Chardonnay is from California and Ferrari-Carano. The ’10 has true ‘Cali style’, with vanilla/butter overtones and lush, ripe citrus fruit. I love this style of wine, and while it isn’t for aging, it is sumptuous for drinking now. $32.95

How about a sparkler and sweet wine to round out the shopping list?

For the former, it is hard to find real Champagne for <$50. But if you are looking for that toasty, yeasty, bone dry style, I recommend a BC winery — Blue Mountain! Known more for their fabulous Reserve Pinot Noir, they also make what may be the best champagne-style sparklers in BC. The non-vintage ones (Brut and Rose) are only $25! And if you are lucky, you might find some of their vintage wines, which are around $40. The only downside is you have to buy from the winery or at private stores.

Finally, sweet, which means Port. Usually the words 'Vintage Port' and 'under $50' don't appear in the same sentence…but there are half bottles of Dow's 1990 Quinta do Bomfim available for $34.95! At 22 years old, this wine is fully mature, offering classic chocolate berries and raisons. Drink it now, or keep it for 5 more years (make sure to decant, as it has lots of sediment).

So there you go — my Holiday Wine Gift List for the wine lover. None are cheap, but, relatively speaking, they offer great value and will be much appreciated by anyone who knows anything about wine.

Next week, the Holiday Gift List for the frugal. Good wines that won't break the bank!


November 14, 2012

Back to another “pet peeve” of mine…the rapidly escalating price of many BC wines. The idea for this blog started with the “Best in BC” release a month or so ago, but came to a head when I saw today in one of our papers that someone in BC is putting out an $85 sparkling wine…are you kidding me?

To start, let me put few things out there.

First, I don’t see anything wrong – in principle – with high priced wines (even if I can’t afford to buy them). If the market dictates a Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon from California (at $750+) or Chateau Petrus from Bordeaux (for >$2000 a bottle) sells out regardless of price, then good for them.

But my assumption in saying that is two-fold:
• number one, the quality of those wines translates into the price; and
• number two, these wines sell out regardless of the price

And there, for me, is the nub of the problem in BC.

On the first one – quality – I readily admit that is a matter of personal taste. And that is as it should be, because if we all liked the same thing, then it would be a pretty boring world!

But, as Einstein would probably have said (if he was a wine lover), “quality is relative”! So if I am looking at a $45+ wine from BC, I automatically compare it to other options in that price range. And I think that any wine lover would find that a no-brainer.

South of France (Cotes du Rhone), Australia (oodles of Shiraz’s), Spain (everywhere, including the trendy Priorat region) and even our friends just south of us in Washington, Oregon and California…there are lots of incredible wines at that price level. So even regardless of different tastes, I find it hard to believe that the high end BC wines can compete from a quality perspective.

And, unfortunately for many of the wineries that sell these wines, I don’t think the sales of >$40 BC wines justify the price. Without naming names, just go into one of the BC government liquor stores and see how many of them are still sitting on the shelves (or check out the website; one of them still has 3475 bottles available!!!!). So the “quality justifies the price” argument obviously doesn’t work for many of them.

The question, then, is why do it? Why charge those kinds of prices?

If you take away the “gouging” argument (which, out of fairness, I won’t attribute to anyone), I don’t have any answer. It used to be said my some that it was because these wines were targeted at American tourists, who came up here on holiday and wanted to take something back with them. When the US dollar was $1.20 Canadian (or more), that was feasible. But in the past five years or so, that hasn’t been the case.

Cost of land/production could also be another reason. I have heard some people say that real estate in the Okanagan is approaching that of Napa Valley. And yet, down there, there are more wine bargains (relatively speaking), than up here.

So what is the answer to my question “how much is too much?” Being completely honest – I don’t know.

But this I will say. As a wine “dweeb” who spends considerable money on a regular basis on wine – and has over 100 bottles of BC wine in my cellar right now – I rarely buy BC wines when the get to the $35 – $40 level. I just don’t think they are worth it.

So if I am not the target audience…then who is?



October 24, 2012

How many times have you seen the following expressions – “That wine will last for years”; “it will develop nicely in the cellar”; “after a few years, it will be much better”. I know I have. Heck, I use some of them myself in this blog!

They all, of course, refer to aging wine. But what does that really mean and – more importantly – is the end result going to be something you like?

But before we get to the answers to these questions, let me first emphasize that we are talking almost exclusively here about red wine, not white wine. Very few dry whites benefit from any aging at all (Sweet whites, and reds, are a whole other story). German and Alsace Rieslings and Gewurztraminers, white Hermitage from the northern Cotes du Rhone, and a few Burgundies (like Chablis) are the exceptions. But if you cellar the vast majority of white wines, you run the very real risk that the oak that most of them are originally made in will quickly overpower the fruit, leaving you with a mouthful of vanilla flavoured wood.

For red wines, the main reason for aging them is to mellow the tannins, which come from the grapes’ skins and stems. They are what can make a young red wine “pucker” your mouth, a sensation similar to when you drink tea that has been steeping too long. Over time, the tannins in wine break down and soften, combining with the fruit to produce secondary aromas and flavours, and increasing overall complexity.

Now, over 99 percent of red wine doesn’t have to worry about this. It doesn’t have a lot of tannin and is best drunk within a year of release.

But the big problem with the rest is that while they taste different as they get older, they doesn’t necessarily taste any better! The main reason for this is a tradeoff – as wines age, they may get softer, but they also lose their fruit. And many people – including yours truly – like the taste of fruit (currants, cherries, plums and the like) in wine. After all, it is made from grapes, which are fruit!

As a result, older, mature red wines can be a very different experience indeed! The fresh fruit is replaced by more herbal and woody characteristics, as well as mushrooms, earth, pepper and other spices. More complex, yes…but more enjoyable? Well, that depends on your tastes!

I will never forget a Burgundy event I went to years ago. We were tasting what were supposed to be some very good red wines from the 1969, 1970 and 1970 vintages, all of which were over ten years old. But as we went through them, one by one, it was obvious the crowd was growing restless. Finally, when it was time for questions, one guy boldly said “These don’t have any fruit in them at all; they taste like %$&^@!”

The poor host tried to explain, without being condescending, what older wines taste like, how complexity was a good thing, but with little success, as most of the audience seemed to share the questioner’s perspective.

Personally, I find this a particular problem with Cabernet (Sauvignon and Franc) and Merlot-based wines. The wood seems to really take over in many of them. My nemesis, of course, is Bordeaux, where this is seen as a positive quality by many (don’t get me started again about Bordeaux…). Offered wines from California and Australia made from the same grapes, I would take the latter every time, even when they age. The fruit just seems to stick around longer!

There are some dry red wines that I enjoy when they are older. The big ones form the northern and southern Rhone (Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas and Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas, respectively), as well as the “two B’s from Piedmont (Barolo and Barbaresco) and a few Chianti Classico Riservas, Interestingly, none of those show their wood even when older – the fruit is so powerful, you end up with complexity without “slivers”. I also enjoy Shirazes from Australia and Cabs from California as they age because – as I mentioned earlier – there seems to be more fruit and it sticks around longer.

But enough about me – what should you do when it comes to aging, or drinking, old wine?

Well, the best advice I have is taste some before you invest in more than a few bottles. Many liquor and wine stores carry older versions of some wines – you can often find 6 – 10 year old wines. They may be pricey, but better to buy one now and find out if you like it, rather than start collecting and then find in ten years that you don’t like what you end up with!

So, like so many times before, this isn’t a case of “good vs bad”. Instead, it’s a matter of taste. Find out if you like older wines. If you do, feel free to buy them young – and cheaper – and keep them a while. But if you don’t, there is lots of great wine out there that doesn’t need any longer than the trip from the store back to your home!