Posts Tagged ‘pepper’


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!


Syrah/Shiraz…France, Australia, North America…what’s the difference?

September 14, 2016

As usual, I have been drinking a lot of Syrah lately, and continue to be amazed at how different the style of the wine can be depending on where it is made/what winemakers want to do with it.

Most people are probably familiar with the Syrah/Shiraz differences…same grape, but made in a different way. Syrah is typically full of peppery black cherries, touch of earth, a bit lean (but not unripe) and no oak at all. Shiraz, on the other hand, is often a fruit bomb – blackberry jam, so ripe it almost appears sweet, and the oak appears as vanilla.

Syrah is most famous in France (northern Rhone, to be specific, where it makes such famous wines as Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas and Cote Rotie). And Shiraz, of course, is almost synonymous with Australia.

But both styles are also made elsewhere, and can be dead ringers for those made in these homelands. Washington State, for example, makes some great Rhone style Syrahs, and I am very proud to say that BC does as well! Cassini Cellars, Moraine, Quinta Ferreira, Moon Curser…all are very nice. And the best is by Nichol Vineyards, which at 8 yrs old is almost indistinguishable from a Crozes Hermitage.

Interestingly, when made elsewhere, Syrah can taste almost totally different!

One of my favourites is California, where many producers balance the Northern Rhone style with additional ripeness (but not the jamminess of Shiraz). Ojai is a good example. But this style also appears elsewhere, including in my home province, where Orofino makes a stunningly ripe wine!

I have also found that when Syrah is made in Italy, Chile and South Africa, it often takes on much more earthiness, and herbalness (if oak is used to age the wine). These wines aren’t my style, but some people swear by them, particularly because the latter examples can be great bargains.

In general, I find that oak — at least overt oak — doesn’t add to my enjoyment of Syrah, adding too much of the Bordeaux style herbs and woodiness.

But that is just me! The important thing is to know the different styles of Syrah, find out what you like, and then follow your style…it may appear in a whole bunch of places you never thought of!


Cali Syrah hits the “sweet spot”!

October 23, 2014

Now, don’t get me wrong – I love Syrah from the Rhone Valley and Aussie Shiraz. The former – in Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage and Cornas – may well be my favourite red wine (along with Chateauneuf du Pape and Barolo), given the peppery, meaty black fruit, ageability and lack of oak flavours.

And old vine Shiraz isn’t far behind! Yes, it is jammy, but the blackberry fruit is so ripe, and the licorice overtones so amazing, that I can’t help but loving it (and having lots in my cellar).

So what, then, is with the title of this blog?

Well, as I drank both a young and mature Cali Syrah this week, it struck me that this varietal – from first rate producers — really does give you the best of both.

On the one hand, you definitely get the peppery black cherries and lack of wood. But because the best wines are so ripe, you also get a sense of Aus, but without the full jamminess. In fact, the fruit was so pure and concentrated in the wine I had, it was almost like a liqueur!

And ageability? The wine I had was a 2005, and while that certainly doesn’t rival 20 – 30 year old Hermitage, it was nothing to sneeze at either, with classic secondary flavours of earth, meat and herbs.

Finally, there is the price. The reason I have so few Hermitage in my cellar – and, increasingly, the same for Crozes Hermitage and Cornas — is that the prices are very high, $70+ is pretty common for Hermitage, and the other two get over $50 more often than not. Now, these can be all-world wines, so I am not saying they aren’t worth it. But they are often too expensive for me.

The same can be said for the best old vine Syrah from Aus. Most of the best – even with our strong dollar vis a vis the Aussie dollar — are $35 or more (and often lots more). Again. No argument regarding quality, but affordability?

Great Cali Syrah, on the other hand, can come in at < $30 US! Yes, it is more expensive in Canada, but still competitive with Aussie wines (and less than the Rhones).

The only complaint I have with Cali Syrah is we don't see enough of them up here! Maybe 3 or 4 in the government stores, a half dozen more in the private stores (but really marked up most of the time).

So next time you want a treat, see if you can find a Cali Syrah and give it a try. It might just hit the 'sweet spot' for you!