Posts Tagged ‘oak’

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

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS – WITH WINE, LIKE IN LIFE

March 30, 2017

I opened a wine tonight and, as I did, I realized I had expectations – high expectations – for what was to come. And then – as my Twitter post said – it was just…okay. Not bad, but not great, but not what I had hoped.

Hence the title of this blog!

There are lots of leadership gurus out there these day who say that one of the keys to business and life success is managing expectations. And as I tasted the wine tonight, I realized it was the same with wine.

So what was going on tonight…and how to manage it?

First, tonight. The wine was from the Northern Rhone from a famous producer. Not one of his top wines – i.e. a Hermitage – but still a prominent name, from a very good vintage, and 8 years old. So that was one reason for high expectations.

Second, it was highly rated – 90 points by a reviewer I respect and have followed for over 25 years, one whose style of wines seems to match mine. So another reason for high expectations

Third, it was from my cellar…which are wines that are supposed to be special and get better with age. Another reason.

The final reason was what I expected from that style of wine. Now, I love Rhone wines from the North and the South. But I also know that the southern wines (like Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras) can be flashier, with the predominantly Grenache-based wines sometimes exploding with garrigue and ripe but not jammy red cherry fruit.

But I also know – and love – Syrah from the northern Rhone. Yes, it is leaner, but the peppery black cherries, touch of licorice and lack of any wood at all can be breathtakingly smooth, particularly as the wines age and develop secondary aromas and tastes. So that was my expectation.

And what did I get?

Well, the style was bang on, for sure. Black pepper, black cherries, and lean…for sure. But the flavour just never really went “kapow”…it just kind of started…then stopped. Good, but not great…that was it.

So that’s what happened tonight. But what did I learn…and what to do about it in the future?

Well, I’m not sure I have an answer for that, to be honest.

I am always going to expect great things from a wine that is supposed to be great. And I will try to manage them by remembering the style of the wine, so I don’t confuse those expectations.

One thing I can do differently is to enjoy what I have in my glass as much as I can. As long as it isn’t “off”, there is still some enjoyment to be had.

The other – a longer term thing – is to remember if it happens with the same kind of wine more than couple of times. That may indicate that my tastes are changing…and that I should change my cellar strategy in order to avoid more disappointments in the future!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

THANKSGIVING WINES

October 5, 2016

We are heading into our Thanksgiving Day long weekend up here in Canada, and every year I get questions about what wine to have with the big celebration dinner.

So here are some ideas!

First off, it always depends on what you are having to eat, particularly if the food – or significant components of the meal – is going to be sweet. That sugar can play havoc with both red and white wines, so it is important to plan accordingly.

If you are having a sweeter meal – ham with a sugar glaze, sweet yams or mashed potatoes, lots of cranberry sauce – then I would recommend two kinds of wines.

For whites, go with a Riesling. They are naturally on the sweet side (even the dry ones), so can stand up to just about any level of sweetness in your food. Also, they come in a wide range of price categories! You can get really nice ones from BC, Washington State and California for under $20, for example. Europe is the home to great Rieslings, of course – from France, in the Alsace region, and Germany – so you can also go there if you want a potentially great wine. One caveat, though – some of the best of those wines can get quite sweet, so if you or your guests don’t like sweet wines, that could be a problem.

For reds, that is tougher. Any kind of oak in the wine will not mix well with the sweetness in the food, potentially ruining the taste of both the wine and the food.

My “go to” red wine for sweeter or hotter foods is Zinfandel. It is chock full of sweet (ripe) fruit itself, doesn’t have oak or jamminess to it, and the alcohol level can help combat the sweetness in the food. California is the place, of course, to find it, and you can find options from $10 to $50++++.

It is easier to pair wines with more savoury dishes – turkey/lamb/chicken/beef with herbs, meat stuffing, that kind of thing.

My favourite red wine choice for these kind of meals is actually Grenache-based wines! Cotes du Rhone, Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras – all of these wines, even when young, have great herbal (called garrigue) component to them that pairs really well with herbal, meaty food. And they don’t have to be expensive! Basic Cotes du Rhone – solid wines – can be had for under $15.

As for whites, you do need to watch the oak. If you – or your guests – like it, then go for the big Chardonnay or Semillon/Sauvignon-based wines. They will be rich enough to stand up to the herbal meaty flavours. If oaked wines don’t work, you can try Pinot Gris or even Chenin Blanc – the best ones are full-bodied enough to handle the food without the oak.

That should give you enough to make Thanksgiving Dinner – here or in the US – enjoyable. But one last piece of advice.

If you really love wine and/or a certain type of wine, then have it! There are too few excuses to treat yourself, and not matter what the food is, you can still enjoy a fabulous bottle of wine.

Life is too short…so go for it!

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

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

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

BARBARESCO…THE “OTHER” PIEDMONT WINE

February 18, 2015

Now don’t get me wrong…I love Barolo. In fact, it is in my top five red wines, both because of the flavour profile, lack of oak, and the fact that it can age almost forever.

But it has never been cheap and, in the past few years…well, it has kind of gotten ridiculous! Most of the average wines are in the $70 range…the better wines $100+ and the really prestigious ones way more than that. It is to the point where I start to look at a $50 Barolo as a “good value” (and a very hard one to find at that).

Which brings me to Barbaresco.

Same grape (Nebbiolo), same flavour profile (dried cherries, earth, some herbs), and a better than average development period (8 – 10 years, although I have had 15 and 20 year wines that are gorgeous).

Not only that, Barbarescos can be less tannic when young, and you don’t need to wait as long to try your first bottle. With Barolo – from a good producer/vintage – I am really hesitant to try drinking the wine before it is 10 years old.

But Barbarescos can be nice at 8 years old, even 6.

Not that they can’t age as well! I had a 2005 Prunotto a few weeks back that was stunning, but still far from being fully mature. And some of the Riserva wines from Produttori del Barbaresco that I have had (Asili, Ovello, Ovello, Rabaja and Montestefano) have been amazing at both 15 and 20 years of age.

As for price?

Well, Barbaresco isn’t cheap either. But it can be $10 – $20 a bottle less than similar quality Barolos. The last vintages of the Riserva wines referenced above, for example, were $59 (for wines rated 93 – 95 by Robert Parker). And the “bargain” regular wine is still about $42 and – year in, year out – is rated 90 points or more. I have been drinking it since the 1986 vintage.

So if you like Nebbiolo-based wines (or Italian wines in general) and are looking for some reliable ones to put in your cellar for 8 – 15+ years, take a look at Barbaresco. I don’t think you will be disappointed!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

HOW TO KNOW WHEN YOUR WINE IS TOO OLD

August 20, 2014

I was struggling a bit this week, trying to figure what to write about. But then, inspiration!

While still lovely outside, it has cooled down enough to go back into my cellar for some older red wines. We were going to have barbecue leg of lamb (which turned out fabulous, by the way), so I thought…how about Cabernet Sauvignon? A peek at my cellar book showed an Aussie Cab was down for drinking this year – a 1999 Maxwell Lime Cave – so it seemed a match made in heaven!

Until I pulled the cork, that is…

First off, the cork was brittle, and almost broke off. But that isn’t necessarily unusual for a 15 year old wine. However, when I poured it and stuck my nose inside the glass…oh no!

Brown sugar, essence of tea…was it over the hill? And, hence, my topic for today (you have to wait to the end to hear if the wine was done, by the way!).

So how do you know if your wines are too old? Not “off” – meaning there wasn’t something wrong with the cork or the wine itself – but just past the date when they are enjoyable.

Well, a couple of simple tests will help you.

For white wines, it is easier. If they are oaked – meaning mostly Chardonnay – check out the colour first. If the golden yellow has deepened significantly, that is a bad sign. Worse, though, is if you smell it and…all you get is wood! That probably means the oak has completely overwhelmed the fruit, leaving you with a mouthful of toothpicks. Double check by tasting, of course, but if the wine tastes like it smells, it is probably done (unless you like chewing on wood).

Reds, though, can be a different matter altogether.

Colour may not be as good an indicator. Tonight’s wine, for example, was still a deep red at 15 years of age. So no hint there.

So now it is in your glass, dark red…what next?

Well, there are some telltale aromas that could indicated your wine as passed its “best before date”. Burnt leaves and tea are a couple of them – in my experience, that often shows that the wine has aged beyond its fruit. Sweetness on the nose might also be another indication. And the same with over woodiness (similar to the white wine example above).

But do taste it to confirm! Sometimes, older wines just get funky on the nose! It may blow off, but sometimes it doesn’t.

If you taste the wine and it is unpleasant – with the same kind of flavours as aromas – then it is probably done. But you may be surprised…

Which brings us back to my wine from tonight! A somewhat off-putting nose lead to a very nice vanilla/black currant wine! It was a bit dried out, but not woody at all. Turned out to be a great example or an old Cabernet Sauvignon, and way better than many Bordeaux of the same age!

So there you go…some tips on how to tell if your wine is too old.

But the last one is the most important one. If you still like the taste of the wine – white or red – then it doesn’t really matter. Drink it, for goodness sake! Your taste is the one that matters the most!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

The Annual “Cellar Beware” Blog (aka the ‘white Hermitage’ debacle)

June 4, 2014

Someone asked me the other day what wines to buy for a wine cellar, and that reminded me it was time for my annual blog on this topic, with some specific advice on pitfalls to avoid! It’s also called the white Hermitage debacle, for reasons which will shortly become clear…

So, first rule of cellaring wine? Only buy wines which actually will develop and or improve in the cellar. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Well, not really.

For one thing, over 90% of wines are meant for almost immediate consumption (that number is greater than 95% for white wines). Six to nine months won’t hurt them (much), but they probably won’t develop or get any better. Best candidates for dry red wines can be Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone wines from France; Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello di Montalcino from Italy. Rioja from Spain, old vine Shiraz from Aus, and California Cabernet Sauvignon. For dry whites, look to Alsace and Germany (although these can get sweet quickly!).

Next it is important to understand what the cellaring does to wine…and whether you will like it or not!

For reds, the harsh tannins will soften, but the ripe fruit will also stay to fade away, leaving you with a softer but more woody/herbal/earthy wine. For whites, the fruit will also slowly leave, being replaced with similar flavours as above, in particular oak (if the wine was aged in barrels).

So that’s a good thing, right? Well, not necessarily!

Wine is made from grapes, obviously, and the first attraction for most people (including me) is to ripe fruit aromas and flavours like currants, cherries, plums, blackberries and citrus. When those fade away – particularly if they are replaced by oak and cedar — the taste is strikingly different, and not necessarily to everyone’s tastes (including mine). This can be even more dramatic if there wasn’t a lot of fruit flavour to begin with (like in many Bordeaux).

So what to do? Well, the best thing is to try a wine young and the same kind of wine when it is older. The latter can be hard to find sometimes, but if you search for it — or look for a tasting of older wines — you can usually find something.

It can also be expensive, as older bottles increase in value/cost (as are tastings of them). But a little more money up front can save you a lot later on.

And that’s where the white Hermitage debacle comes in!

Red Hermitage — from the northern Cotes du Rhone — is made from Syrah, and early on I found I loved Syrah, both young and old. So when I was putting my cellar together, I looked at Hermitage (well, actually Crozes-Hermitage, which is more affordable). But then I saw the white versions. Some of them were getting great reviews, which also said they could age for decades (a rarity for white wines). So I bought a few over a number of vintages — without trying them young or old — and waited for them to age.

Which is when disaster struck!

Have you ever tasted Retsina, from Greece? With that resin smell and taste? Well, white Hermitage has it! I hoped it would go away with age, but it didn’t. So I am stuck with the remaining bottles (fortunately only three left).

But lesson learned since then! It has caused me to be more careful, and resulted in me not making large investments in a couple of wines (most notably, a number from Spain).

So heed my warning…and don’t make the same mistake that I did! Spend a little time and money now, to avoid your own wine cellar debacle in the future!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

PS For those interested in BC wines and/or travelling to BC wine country, I have just released for sale the first edition of “SB’s Guide to BC Wines”. It covers all of BC’s wine regions, with recommendations on what wineries to visit (and how to get there), what to taste and buy, tasting notes from my favourite wines (some of which go back 10 years) and even restaurants and wine stores where you can find some of these wines. All for $9.98 (including tax). Just got to my website (www.sbwinesite.com) and click on the SB Wine Guide button. You can pay via PayPal and I will send you a pdf copy, which you can either print off or keep on your smart phone.

WINE LABELS PART 2 – WHAT SHOULD BE ON THE BACK!

April 9, 2014

I wrote a blog a couple of weeks ago on wine labels, decrying the tendency towards ridiculous labels on wine bottles. Now, I want to follow up on what should be on the label on the back of the wine!

Traditionally, there is a bunch of bumpf about where the wine is made, commitment to quality, etc. But how about a novelty – actually tell people what the wine is going to taste like? Kind of like truth in advertising!

So, for example, you have a Cabernet Sauvignon or blend made in the Bordeaux style. Instead of saying something like “complex, sophisticated wine that goes great with food and will develop over many years”, why not say “this wine will taste little like the fruit it was made of; instead, you will find woody aromas and flavours, followed by astringent tannins that will be unpleasant now and probably never resolve.”

A more Californian style wine made from the same grapes would say “expect to smell vanilla covered black currants, followed by ripe currant fruit with only a touch of wood.”

The same could be done with Merlot – old world and new world. For the former, it would read “If you like coffee or chocolate rather than fruit, this is the wine for you; a touch bitter, with no obvious fruit”. Compare that to “look for an explosion of dark plummy fruit with just a touch of vanilla and mint.”

Starting to get the picture? The same thing could apply to the Syrah vs Shiraz argument. “Pepper, lean but ripe black cherries, licorice and earth” would be the former, whereas “if you like blackberry jam, this is the wine for you!”

And let’s not forget white wines! How about Chardonnay – oaked vs un-oaked. The former would be “Vanilla, butterscotch and almonds delicately covering citrus fruit that coats the mouth.” Whereas the latter would be “No wood here! Just super ripe citrus!”

Am I being a bit sarcastic? Perhaps. But I think you get the idea.

Many people buying wine don’t have the experience – or interest – to know much about it. They go by what they read.

So why not give them the facts?

SB

http://www.sbwinsite.com