Posts Tagged ‘Rhone’

VIWF PRIMER #2: RHONE AROUND THE WORLD

February 8, 2017

Okay, the Vancouver International Wine Festival is now less than a week away, so my second primer – what to expect from wines made from two of my favourite red grapes, Syrah and Grenache!

I called this blog “Rhone around the World” because the Rhone Valley is the home of these grapes, and where they have become justifiably famous. Syrah is associated with the northern Rhone, where it makes some of the greatest and most long lived wines in the world – Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage and Cornas are the leaders. Look for pepper, dark cherries, earth, and licorice. No wood, lean but ripe, these wines can be amazing!

Grenache is from the southern Rhone and usually associated with Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras and a range of other appelations. The nose is the give away here – lots of dried French herbs (called garrigue), followed by rich red and black fruit, almost kirsh-like in concentration. Again, no wood, and almost as long an age profile as their norther cousins.

But when these two grapes are made elsewhere, the flavour profiles can be both the same – and different!

For Syrah, I am pleased to say that my home province of BC makes some beautiful Rhone-like versions! In Washington State and California, the wines can be riper – not jammy (see what follows), but not as lean, although still with no wood. In Chile, Italy and South Africa, there is way more earthiness and less fruit – not my favourite style.

But the biggest difference is when Syrah is made in a different style – as Shiraz! Famous in Australia, these wines show jammy, super-ripe blackberry and licorice fruit, almost sweet sometimes. I love the best of these wines, but they couldn’t be more different than the ones from France.

And Grenache? Well, I find it fascinating, because while southern Rhones from this grape are among my favourite wines, when they are made in Spain – I literally hate them! And I know why – oak!

When Garnacha (as it is called in Spain) is made, the oak seems to take almost all of the fruit of the wine, leaving herbs and wood behind. No thank you!

Interestingly, in Australia, they find a balance – more wood, but in the form of vanilla covered cherry fruit – and that I like.

What about the festival, then, in terms of wineries to look for?

For northern Rhone style Syrah, we have Jean Luc Columbo, Chapoutier and Ferraton. But don’t overlook a number of BC wineries as well, including Burrowing Owl, Cassini, Moon Curser, Moraine and NkMip. For the Shiraz style, check out Inland Trading (Cimicky, d’Arenberg, Kilikanoon, Penfold’s) from Australia, and La Frenz from BC.

As for Grenache? Aussie winery Yalumba makes some beautiful wines in the riper style. For the traditional southern Rhone style, check out Chapoutier – their Chateauneufs and Cote du Rhones are beautiful wines.

Enjoy!

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

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

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!

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

So who are they making $50+++ BC wines for any way?

October 14, 2015

So I read in the local paper recently that one of BC’s biggest, highest profile wine producers has decided to launch a new brand. It will only be available on-line or at restaurants and be priced — I assume for the on-line purchases – from $85 – $120. I expect restaurants would at least double that price.

When I saw this, I was flabbergasted! It adds to a growing number of BC wine producers who are making wine for sale at $50 or more (sometimes a lot more).

Now, I have ranted about BC wine prices before. But after another cup of coffee (and a few deep breaths), I thought of another question – who exactly are these wines being made for any way (regardless of whether they are worth the price or not)?

The ‘casual’ wine drinker? I don’t think so. Few would go over $20 for a bottle of wine (let alone $50++).

The average wine dweeb like me? Again, I don’t think so. When I get to the $50 level – which isn’t very often for my cellar – I think about wines I know are great and will age well. Like northern Rhones (Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage, Cornas, Cote Rotie), southern Rhones (Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas), Barolos, Barbarescos, Brunellos…All of these have proven histories. The BC wines in question…not so much (if at all). So I am supposed to trust my money on that?

As gifts, perhaps, to wine dweebs like me? Perhaps…although if you know the wine dweeb well, you probably also know the kind of wine they value…and it wouldn’t be these wines.

For restaurant diners, then? Well, at 250 % average markup…I doubt it. If I am going to spend $150 or more a bottle (and that is a big if), I am going to buy one of the wines I mention above!

That leaves me with…tourists particularly those from countries with favourable currency exchanges and/or who want to bring a ‘special’ gift home.

And there it was – bingo! That must be the market!

If that is the case, so be it…and I wish the producers all the best. But I would also offer a warning, and a concern.

The warning? I see lots of those $50+ wines languishing on Liquor store shelves, and assume that is also the case at the wineries themselves. But if the wineries want to take that risk, it is their money!
My concern, however, is bigger.
There are more and more amazing BC wines being made for $20 – $40. Even in a restaurant, they represent good value for money. My hope is that flashy marketing campaigns for more expensive – but not necessarily better – wines won’t mean residents and tourists miss out on what is really the ‘best in BC’!

SB
http://www.sbwinesite.com

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

Goodbye Summer Wine…but Hello Fall!

September 2, 2015

Mixed emotions tonight, as the calendar has turned along with the weather…summer is gone, and with it the summer wine!

What did I enjoy most this summer from a wine perspective? Well, it was hot here in BC…very hot. So that mean a lot of Roses and white wines.

Interestingly, we didn’t find as many Roses that really jumped out at us. Quails Gate was its usually solid self…as was Joie (although a bit pricey). Chaberton’s Valley Pink might now be the best of the BC Roses, and we drank a bunch of that.

Still, nothing replaced the La Frenz (which Jeff and Niva don’t make anymore) or the style that Township 7 used to make. Ah, well…

Whites, however, were great this summer! Howling Bluff again lead the way, both with their Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon and their straight Sauvignon Blanc. Both super pure, no wood, luscious grapefruit. La Frenz’s new whites were also great – Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Riesling. And Chardonnay from Quinta Ferreira – a beautiful Cali style.

We even snuck in some Pinot Noirs when the temp went down a bit. Both new ones (like Kalala, Nk Mip and Averill Creek) and older versions from the cellar (Blue Mountain Reserve, Kettle Valley Reserve and Hayman).

Pinot Noir will stick around for the fall and winter, of course, but I now look forward to bigger red wines as the weather cools!

Back to the Rhone Valley for Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras and even good old Cotes du Rhone. Australia – for Shiraz, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and blenew – and Italy, as I have some older Barolos, Barbarescos and Brunellos in my cellar that are ready to drink. How about some Rioja? I have a bunch of ‘85s ready to go. And Syrah? Well, back to BC…Nichol and Marichel wines are aging nicely in my cellar. And don’t forget Cabernet-based wines, mostly from California and Washington, although a few from BC and Australia as well.

Finally, Port…the real vintage stuff from Portugal, as well as similar style wines from d’Arenberg in Australia and La Frenz here at home.

Hmm…I am getting thirsty already…bring on the rain, and break out the decanter!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

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

Style 101: Syrah/Shiraz – Not Good or Bad, Just Different

April 29, 2015

I will come out and say it – I love both Syrah and Shiraz! Same grape, but made differently, which emphasizes how important style is to both wine, and one’s individual taste.

Syrah – particularly made in the style of the northern Cotes du Rhone – is full of peppery black cherries, sometimes meaty, always a bit lean (but still ripe). No wood, though – even with oak barrels, the fruit shines through!

Shiraz could not be more different! Just put your nose in a glass, and you will get that ripe (sometimes overripe) blackberry jam! So ripe, in fact, sometimes it seems almost sweet in the mouth. But made well, it can also have licorice and mint, and age almost as well as its French cousin.

Interesting, these two styles play out well regardless of where the wines are actually made. Rhone style Syrah, for example, tastes and smells just about the same whether it is made in California, Washington State, Chile or B.C.. Riper, perhaps, in some areas but still the same general flavour profile.

And it is the same with Shiraz. Yes, Australia makes it best. But there are other countries that make this same style of wine.

My point here? It is simple – understand the difference in style, figure out if you like, then go find it. Syrah/Shiraz…it is not an ‘either/or” thing. Nor is it good or bad.

Instead, it is recognize the differences, find the style you like, then go for it!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com