Posts Tagged ‘red wines’

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

Advertisements

HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN A WINE IS TOO OLD?

July 15, 2015

I have blogged before about “how to know when a wine is off”…but a couple of experiences this week made me think that another good topic was how to tell if a wine is just too old!

The first? I was down in my cellar on Sunday…it was finally cool enough to open the door after weeks of scorching heat! I was moving bottles around, creating space, when I saw something…a 1994 Cotes du Rhone! Now, that made it 21 years old…and even for the producer – Coudoulet de Beaucastel – that is pushing it! What it really meant is that I had somehow forgotten about that wine. So I opened it and…

But wait! The second example. The ongoing white Hermitage debacle! Those who read my blog know about this conundrum…I bought a number of highly rated white Hermitage from the northern Rhone before ever having tasted them. Then, when I did…aack! More like Retsina than wine! So I just left them in the cellar…until now.

So what happened? Well, second example first (as I drink another glass…).

The white Hermitage – a 1990 Chante Alouette by Chapoutier – was so deep in colour it was almost orange! Did it have a resiny nose? Yes…but also nuts, wax…and in the mouth huge body, with no oak or obvious oxidation. Was it my favourite style of wine? No. But was it too old…certainly not (as today’s glass shows).

The ’94 Cotes du Rhone was an even better example. Still medium red, it had classic garrigue/dried cherries on the nose. And in the mouth? It could easily have been mistaken for a mature Chateauneuf du Pape – smooth, no tannin, dried fruit, herbs, but – again – no signs oxidation at all. Amazing!

So back to the question – how do you know if a wine is too old?

Well, if you take out wines that are just “off”, a big part of the answer depends on the style of wine you like.

If you like fresh, fruity wines the best, then any wine that is not like that will seem too old. That’s not a bad thing…just something to know. So don’t keep your wine too long, or drink wines that are more than 5 years old.

But if you do like mature wines, then look for some tell tale signs. Is there little or no fruit at all? Are there tea-like aromas on the nose? Is the wine dried out – meaning tannic and that is about it? Is there lots of wood and herbs…but that is it?

And, for white wines, has the oak completely overwhelmed the wine, leaving you with a mouthful of what tastes like sawdust?

If the answers to these questions are “yes”, then the wine is probably too old. Bad? Not necessarily. Not worth drinking? It depends on the style you like or can try to appreciate (says the man who is still sipping the ’90 Chante Alouette 2 days after it was opened).

So there is a bit of a guide for you on old wine. An acquired taste? Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean it is bad…you just have to be able to recognize it for what it is!

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

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

What Wines to Bring to Dinner Parties?

March 25, 2015

Here is a dilemma for all of us. You are invited to friends for dinner and say you will bring wine.

But what do you bring?

Well, before I answer that, you need to answer a couple of other questions first!

First off…how close are you? This is the most important question because if you are close friends, you may already know what they like or – more importantly – if they are “wine dweebs” or not (more on that below). If it is more casual, it can be less of an issue (although you never want to bring bad wine, of course!).

Second – are they wine dweebs? If not, see above. But if they are, you face a bigger challenge. Do you try to bring something that impresses them? Or something that you know they like (because you have had it there before)? I would go with the latter…many people say they don’t like to bring wine to our place because they know I am a wine dweeb and may judge them. But if they know what I like – Rhone wines, for example – they can’t go wrong, no matter how much they spend on the bottle.

The third question may seem a bit esoteric, but it is important if you are a wine dweeb like me. And it is – do you expect the wine you bring to be drunk that evening?

For me, this is often the toughest question! I have lots of great wine in my cellar, and I love the chance to share it with friends, even casual friends. But what can drive me crazy is bringing a wine that I was looking forward to tasting, only to have the friends say “wow, thanks!” and then put it away for use later.

I deal with this question in two ways. If they are close friends, I will actually ask what to bring! I couch it around “what is for dinner? What will go best?” That way, I find out right up front whether it will be drunk or not. If I don’t know them that well, I tend to shy away from really good wine – or mature wine – as I don’t know when it may be drunk.

Having answered these questions, then, back to the first one…what do you bring?

Well, I have a couple of safe bets for “casual” friends. For reds, try an un-oaked Argentine Malbec or Cotes du Rhone. They are almost always fruity but a little complex, not full of wood (from the oak) and you can find lots of choices in the $15 – $20 range. And for whites, try Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or B.C. They are fruity (but not too ripe), have just a bit of oak, and there are a fair number in the same price range as the reds above.

For special friends that you know well? Well, if you have a cellar, that is the time to bring something that is mature. A Chateauneuf du Pape or Chianti Classico Riserva that is 8 – 10 years old, for example. If they are really good friends, try a Barolo or Barbaresco that is 10 – 15 years old. If you don’t have a cellar, go for a California Cabernet Sauvignon. Mondavi, Beringer, Caymus…there are lots of big names that have wines in the $40 – $50 range, and the great thing is they drink well on release, so you don’t have to worry about tannins.

And for special whites? Chablis Premier Cru is a great choice, or Alsatian Rielsing or Gewurztraminer. These can be from your cellar (if you are lucky enough to have them) or right off the shelf, as they also drink well young and can be found in the $40 range. Cali Chardonnay is another great idea as long as you know they like oaky, buttery Chardonnays.

So the next time you are asked to bring wine to dinner, think about these simple rules. Follow them, and you can’t go wrong!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

In Praise of Younger Wines

March 20, 2015

Okay, back after basketball, a bad cold and Spring Break…so what to write about? How about something I have never touched on before, and which I haven’t traditionally supported.

And that’s drinking your “cellar wines” when they are young?

As most know, the rationale for not doing this is that so-called “big red wines” can be tannic and harsh when young. Age – anywhere from 5 – 15+ years – can deal with this issue, as well as lead to the development of so-called secondary aromas and flavours.

But I had an amazing experience a couple of weeks ago that challenged this traditional approach!

I was looking to buy some special wine to celebrate an amazing accomplishment, wines that would mature over the years so could remember that event far into the future. In scanning the options at the wine store, I saw a candidate – the ’12 Cabernet Sauvignon 40th Anniversary by Caymus. Not cheap ($72), but rated 96 by Parker, a 20+ year development profile, and the fact that the wine itself was commemorating something! Then – intriguingly – some comments that suggested it was drinking very well now. Add in the fact I had recommended it to a client a while back for a dinner party (it was the star wine), and I decided to go for it. Two for the cellar, one to drink now.

The result? Well, I was gobsmacked!

As the review said, the wine was the essence of black currant liqueur – super ripe, but not sweet or jammy, super long finish, and any tannins were buried in the fruit. It was as good a wine — young or old – as I have ever had!

That’s what got me thinking – should I do this more often? The fruit was so tempting…

But the price! One of my rationalizations for buying cellar wine is I will pay more than my day to day wines (I try to stick to around $15) in order to enjoy them years later while mature and – if I could find them – when they would be two to three times the price. Without that rationalization in place, my whole wine strategy was kinda blown to pieces.

So what to do?

I still haven’t come up with a permanent answer to that question. One solution might be to ‘splurge’ once in a while on an everyday wine. Another might be to buy an extra bottle of cellar wine to try/drink right away.

Both obviously have financial implications. But they have ‘enjoyment’ implications as well!

Maybe something to keep thinking about?

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

“What’s a great red wine to take to a guys “foodie” dinner party featuring steak?”

February 11, 2015

A friend of mine asked me this question yesterday and, in developing an answer, it occurred to me the question would be a great blog topic. That’s because in order to get to the answer, I had to sift through a few important wine issues.

The first one to deal with was the fact this was not only a dinner party, but a “foodie” dinner party. From that, I took it that the participants are knowledgeable about at least about their food (and probably about their wine). That means whatever wines I recommended had to work with the food

And it was also a “guys” dinner party. So – at the risk of stereotyping – and assumed there would be a bit of competition going on here. So the wine not only had to be good, it had to be well known and probably not cheap. So probably no bargains wanted.

Next issue – the food! By steak, I assumed it wasn’t just chuck or sirloin and would be cooked on the barbecue. The potential cuts actually didn’t matter as much – T-bone, striploin, New York, Porterhouse, Ribeye – as it would be the barbecuing that would add much of the flavour. Grilling adds that wonderful charred flavour to meat, which can be powerful and overwhelm a more delicate read wine. A minor consideration was also if they were going to sauce the steak i.e. bbq sauce before, béarnaise after. Either way, those are some rich flavours that have to be accounted for in the wine selection.

The last issue was the word “great”. I needed not just any red wine, but a “great” red wine.

Now, that could mean a number of things, of course. “Great” tasting, “great” reputation, “great” rating…or some combination of all three. I doubt it meant “great” price i.e. cheap, given the other factors above. So, we are probably looking at $50+ in order to be in the game!

The toughest issue here, actually, is the “great tasting” one. It would be relatively easy to find a “big red wine” from Bordeaux, Piedmont, Tuscan, or even Spain. But if it is too young – and therefore too tannic – that might be a problem, even if those tannins are somewhat softened by the steak itself. Chances are the guests are going to start with a glass before eating the steak, and if all they get is a mouth of wood and lip-searing tannin, that’s not going to work.

So, with all that to consider…can you guess my recommendation(s)?

There were two, both from California.

The first was Cabernet Sauvignon from a “name” producer in a good, recent year. The style of Cali Cabs should be perfect for steak – big enough to take on the barbecue and any sauces, but also ripe enough even on release to enjoy on their own. And some of the “name” wineries make enough wine to have it available. I specifically recommended Caymus (the 40th Anniversary Vintage is very highly rated, although pricey at $72) as the wine that would be the best name. For about $30 less, I also recommended the Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet – not as big, but same style.

The other option was old vine Zinfandel. Again, big enough to take on the barbecue (it is actually my “go to” barbecue wine), nice on release, and available from some big name producers. Ridge Vineyards is my top pick, either the Lytton Spring, Geyserville (both $55 up her) or the Three Valleys (at $40). All are Zin blends, which adds even a little more complexity to the wine.

There you go…no over to my friend to see what he chooses…and how it works out!

SB

PS If you have a wine question you think would make a good blog topic, let me know!

http://www.sbwinesite.com

WHAT KIND OF WINE TO BRING TO A RESTAURANT

February 4, 2015

We had “Dine Out” Vancouver up here the last couple of weeks, and took advantage of it by going to Cibo Trattoria for dinner. It is a nice Italian restaurant, and the meal was very good.

So was the wine – because I brought my own, from my cellar! A 2005 Barbaresco by Prunotto that was in fabulous shape. And with corkage only $25, I saved myself a whack of money (good, but young, Barbarescos were over $100 on the wine list!).

That got me to thinking…what is the best kind of wine to bring to a restaurant?

Well, I think there are two kinds of answers – one if you have a wine cellar, and one if you don’t (but want to bring a bottle anyway to save money, celebrate, etc).

Let’s start with the second one first. How do you decide what – or, in fact, if – to bring if you don’t have a wine cellar?

Well, first step is look at the wine list for the restaurant on line, and check out not just the prices of the bottles, but of the wines by the glass as well. At most nice restaurants, the bottles of wine usually start at $40…and given there is at least 100% markup, that means you are getting a $15 – $20 wine for that price. As for wines by the glass, well, unfortunately $12 and up is pretty standard (for a 4 ounce pour). Finally, call and ask what the corkage charge is – it can range from $15 to $35.

Then, do the math!

For cheaper wine, it may not make sense i.e. if you want to bring a $15 wine, you are probably not going to save any money. And, frankly, it is kind of an insult to the restaurant! But if you want to bring something special to celebrate…that may be different! A $40 or $50 bottle, plus corkage, I still about $65 – $75. Not cheap, but probably less than on the list (if you can find it there at all).

And you get to choose a wine you (hopefully) know about and like! Pick a wine – probably red so you don’t have to worry about keeping it cold – that drinks well young. Good prospects are California Cabernets or Australian Shiraz…for $50 you can find some amazing wines out there!

If you have a cellar, the decision should be a no brainer! Any wine you bring will probably be more mature than what is on the wine list, and way cheaper, even with the corkage fee, for a couple of reasons.

First, very few restaurants have aged wine on their list. For mostly cost reasons (i.e. avoiding the overhead of keeping wines without selling them), they put the most recent vintages on the list and hope people will buy them, even if they are not really drinking all that well.

And they do have older vintages, you will pay for it! Take a look at some older Bordeaux for example…$200+ is pretty standard for anything more than 5 – 10 years old! I expect that is what my Barbaresco would have cost if it had been on the list at Cibo.

Also, don’t worry about your wine needing decanting! They will do it for you as part of the corkage fee. All you have to care about there is getting it to the restaurant without shaking it up too much.

One last piece of advice…if you do bring a wine, feel free to offer a taste to the waiter/sommelier. They are wine lovers and often appreciate the opportunity to taste a great wine.

So there you go…a long answer to a short question about what kind of wine to bring to a restaurant!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com