Posts Tagged ‘Restaurants’

CHANGING YOUR CELLAR STRATEGY AS YOU AGE

September 20, 2016

For all of you out there with any kind of a wine cellar, heads up – time to think about your buying strategy as you get older!

I’m 54, and that idea came to me when looking at recent Vintage Port ratings…many of the wines were not meant to be drunk for 30 – 40 years. That made me wonder whether I would be alive or not when they were ready!!

Seriously, though, everyone who buys wine to age should re-evaluate what they are doing on a regular basis. Most basic – will you be around when the wines are ready to drink? Do you like the “older” wine you are drinking? Are there new wines you want to try and age? How much wine do you want to have for your “retirement” (whatever that term means these days)?

All four of those questions have been on my mind not only recently, but over the past number of years.

The first question would seem like a no brainer, but the older I get the more I realize it isn’t. Do I want a bunch of Vintage Ports in my cellar that can’t be enjoyable consumed until I am in my 90s? Probably not. And it won’t be long before the table wines I love (see below) begin to fall into that category. So time to be more realistic about what I buy.

The second question came up over 10 years ago when I realized that the highly rated Bordeaux I was starting to drink weren’t giving me a whole lot of pleasure. Now don’t get me wrong – this wasn’t first (or even second or third) growth Bordeaux, as I can’t afford that. But they were highly rated regardless (all over 90 points). But what I found was the herbal/woody nature of the maturing wines just didn’t do it for me.

So what did I do? Stopped buying them…I now have only a few bottles left, and resist the temptation every year to buy more (despite the ratings).

The “flip side” to this question was that the more older Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Barolo, and Barbaresco I drank, the more I loved them! So that has become my new buying strategy – spend whatever I have on cellar wines on those which I am pretty sure will bring me great pleasure when they mature.

The third question is an interesting one for me. I have tried some newer wines to see how they age…Australia, Argentina, Spain, even my home province of BC. But, for the most part (with the exception of some Aussie Shiraz and Cab), the answer is “no” to wines that will age for over 8 years. So, given my age, I don’t see investing more time – and money – in trying new, ageable wines.

Finally, the last question – how big a cellar do you want to retire with? That one I have given a lot of thought to!

In an ideal world, I would drink old wine almost every night when I retired. But unless I win the lottery, that is just not realistic. So, instead, I have decided that what wine I do buy for the cellar from now on must be drinkable when I am over 60 years old. That way, while I won’t have great cellar wine every night, at least the wine I will have will be what I want.

So that has become my motto when I go to the wine store – “buy only cellar wine”. I’m hoping it will serve me well as I move on in life!

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

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

NATURAL WINE – REAL OR JUST A MARKETING PLOY?

June 10, 2015

I can’t resist this one! Just back from a week in New York, and I read in a couple of places (on the plane, on-line, in the Times Magazine and then even back in Vancouver) about this whole “natural wine” phenomena. And, frankly, it smells a bit to me!

Essentially – from what I can make out – the concept is that wines should be made to reflect where they are grown/made, with minimal intervention from the winemaker. The concept of “terroir” has been around for ages, but this takes it to another level completely.

Parts of it I get for sure. Make the wine from grapes that grow best in your area? Absolutely…no point trying to grow/make Cabernet in a region that won’t get enough sun to let the grapes get ripe.

Minimize your use of pesticides and fertilizers in the process, even make a wine that is “organic”? I can go for that too…major wineries like Chapoutier and Beaucastel in the Rhone have been taking that approach for years.

And avoid adding too much “stuff” to the wine as it is being made and/or filtering it? I’m good with that too…no sugar, unfiltered, let the grapes show what they are made of (so to speak).

But the next part…don’t add anything at all and just let the wine “be what it is’? Well, now we have problems, at least from my point of view.

Why? Well, all I had to do was look at the descriptions of some of the wines being promoted.

“Oxidized”, “funky”, “unpleasant”, “devoid of fruit”…and those were some of the nice descriptors! If that is what a wine tastes like, then either your grapes weren’t very good – or ripe – or you don’t know what you are doing!

And, of course, it all comes at an additional cost! Can you imagine…paying more for something that doesn’t taste as good?

I think wine critic Robert Parker’s response was bang on. I am paraphrasing, but essentially he was saying this was an excuse to make unripe, unfruity wine…something that Bordeaux and Burgundy used to get away with on a regular basis for years during “off vintages”.

Sorry…call me simplistic, but wine – like anything else you choose to put in your mouth – should taste good. The better it tastes, the more I am willing to pay for it. Full stop.

As a PR guy by profession, anything else just sounds like someone trying to sell you a load of you know what!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

How to Order Wine in a Fancy Restaurant

May 27, 2015

Okay, you are at a nice restaurant, sit down and, in addition to the menu, are presented with leather covered wine list the size of a bible.

What do you do?

Here are two approaches to try.

First, you can ask for help. It’s not an easy thing to do, and can be very intimidating, especially if the waiter/sommellier is a bit snotty.

Best way to handle that is to be as specific as possible! Tell the waiter the grape, style and price range – say a fruity Cabernet Sauvignon for around $50 or an buttery Chardonnay. With that much info, you should get back a couple of recommendations. Keep in mind bottle prices can be 2 – 3 times retail, so your options may be limited.

You can take the same approach ordering wine by the glass, by the way, if you don’t recognize any of the options. But watch out for wines that have been open too long! If it seems off, ask for a new bottle to be opened.

And if you want to go it on your own with the wine list?

Well, first off, scan the list for wines you may know and like. If you find one and can live with the price, that is an option.

If you want to try something new, think hard about the style of wine you like and try to match that with the prices they are charging!

Easiest matches are Cali style Cabs and Chardonnay, French Syrah amd Grenache and Aussie Shiraz…you can just about guarantee they will be the same style as the wines you know and like.

Ones to be careful of are Cabernet wines from other parts of the world (which can be woody and herbal) and Grenaches/Syrahs from Spain and Italy (which can be oaky). I am not saying those are bad, just different in style. You can ask if you like…the waiter/sommelier should be able to tell you the style.

A last piece of advice with respect to older wines. You will pay more, of course, but more important is understanding what they will taste like. If you are going to drop $100+ on a bottle and don’t have a lot of experience with mature wines, remember that the fruitiness will probably be gone, replaced by herbal, dried fruit. It can still be great…but very, very different!

So there you go! How to deal with a wine list at a nice restaurant.

So go, order…and enjoy!

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

TOP FIVE WINE WISHES FOR 2015

January 7, 2015

Happy New Year to all! As a first blog of 2015, I thought I would put out my top five wine wishes for the year:

1. The Rhone keeps it going

My favourite wine region has been on a roll for a number of years now, and after tasting many 2012s – and some early 2013s – it looks like the good times will continue! Whether it is Grenache dominated wines in the south or Syrah in the north, the fruit flavours are ripe and pure, the herbs beautifully integrated (love that garrigue!) and there is no wood or jamminess to the wines. Keep it going, Rhone!

2. Wine taxes get fixed

Everybody always complains about “wine prices”…but my beef is with the taxes, not the prices. When I see the values you can get just across the border in the US at places like Costco (and even regular supermarkets), I know that price really isn’t my issue – it’s the government taxes that drive up the price! I have absolutely no beef with the government getting its fair share…but come on! When a wine like Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon is $9.99 at Costco in Bellingham and $29.99 in Vancouver, well…you can see the problem.

3. Wine Competitions and Awards “Come Clean”

This is a particular pet peeve of mine. There are all of these competitions up here every year, and the same things always happen. The big wineries are the only ones that enter – or can afford to enter – so they win the awards. And then they (and the judges, media, etc.) talk all year about the “best wine in BC” or the “best wine in Canada”, even though the wine dweebs know it is a farce. Maybe I will have a competition for the best wines in BC that never enter (or are awarded) prizes…

4. Stupid and/or obnoxious wine labels disappear

As a PR person in my real life, I understand the marketing reasons for catchy wine labels. But it has really gotten out of hand for many countries. Do wine makers (or their marketing departments) really think that what sells a wine is what is on the outside of the bottle (instead of on the inside)? Like in anything, make a good product, build a good reputation, and results will come.

5. Fruit will finally triumph over wood

This final wish is purely a style preference, but I would love to see more fruit forward red wines that don’t rely on a thick coating of cedar and oak. It seems like people have been trying to copy Bordeaux forever, and – in my opinion – it just does it work. California and Australia have the right approach – since wine is made of fruit, it should also taste like fruit!

There you go; a start to 2015!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com