Posts Tagged ‘Riesling’

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

“HOT” SUMMER WINES

July 31, 2014

We are heading into the BC day long weekend up here in British Columbia, so I thought it appropriate to blog on holiday wine dinners (particularly since we are having folks over on both Saturday and Sunday nights!) and, in particular, “hot” summer wines.

It has been hot here – very hot for the Lower Mainland of BC – so all we have really been drinking is white and Rose. And, given that heat remains in the forecast for the weekend, that will be the focus of my recommendations.

So let’s start with Roses, shall we?

Without getting into specific wines, it really comes down to two options (assuming you throw out the sickly sweet White Zinfandels) – bone dry, or slightly off dry. Personally, I like both, although the hotter it gets, the more I favour the slightly off dry versions. Same if you are going to have spicy food, and we are planning BBQ tandoori chicken, so that applies to us.

Either way, however, you have lots of options. The south of France is famous for dry Roses, of course, although some of them are getting quite pricy (well over $25!). Personally, I don’t think Rose should be more than $20, and I certainly found lots of those in our last trip to France. You can also look for dry Roses from many other countries, including Spain and Argentina.

For the off dry Roses, you need to be a bit more careful (so you don’t end up with something too sweet). My “go to” place is actually our home province, which produces a number of wines rated “1” in sweetness.

And what about white wines?

Well, the options are virtually endless, although once again the hotter it gets, the more I find that a touch of sweetness actually makes things better. Think Riesling and Gewurztraminer here, which also match well with spicy or bbq food. Alsace and Germany are the most famous locations for these wines, although many of those can be too sweet. So also look to California, Washington, Australia (for Riesling) and – again – my home province of BC.

Other whites worth looking at are those that finish crisp and dry – Viognier, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and even Pinot Gris. B.C., California, Washington State, and Oregon are good places to go for these wines. You can try France but white Bordeaux (Sauvignon/Semillon blends) and Condrieu (for Viognier) get real expensive, real quick.

The only white wines I tend to stay away from in the heat are wooded Chardonnays. While I love them, their richness can be a bit much sometimes when the thermometer gets red!

Speaking of “red”, what if you need to serve a red wine in the heat?

Well, I would go for something you can actually chill a bit, which means Gamay. The classic is Beaujolais, but that is getting expensive as well. So look to the new world (BC and California) for other cheaper options. Put in an ice bucket for 15 minutes before serving and then take out. There will still be structure from the red grapes – and nice berry fruit – but it will be refreshing when cooler!

So there you go – some suggestions for “hot” wines to celebrate any summer holiday!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

THE 2014 SB WINE AWARDS – PART 1

July 16, 2014

I recently saw the winners of the 2014 Lieutenant Governor Awards for BC Wines and was once again…well, there are a bunch of descriptors for what I felt, some of which weren’t printable!

Rather than simply venting, like I usually do each year, I have decided to take a more positive approach – and do my own wine awards based on all the BC wines I tasted this year!

And mine won’t have some of the restrictions of the LG Awards either i.e. the wines don’t have to be designated VQA, and they won’t all be compared against each other (white/red/rose; sweet/dry; Cabernet/Merlot/Chardonnay, etc.).

Instead, I will do my awards by category. The only real criteria is that they have to be made in BC from BC grapes and have been released this year. And that I had tasted them, of course!

There ended up being quite a number of wines that made the cut, so I am going to break it down into two batches – whites first, and then reds next week.

So here it goes with the whites! I am simply listing the wine, producer, price, and where you can buy it. For tasting notes, you can either check out the tweets from my recent trip to the Okanagan (follow me @sbwinepage), or my new BC Wine Guide, which has tasting notes for past vintages of many of these wines as well (www.sbwinesite.com).

Chardonnay
• 2012 La Frenz Reserve ($29, available from the winery and select
private wine stores)
• 2011 Nk Mip Qwam Qmpt ($24.95, available from the winery, BC
Government Signature stores, and VQA stores)
• 2011 Quinta Ferreira ($19.90, available from the winery and at VQA
stores)
• 2012 Township 7 ($20.99, available from the winery and BC
Government Signature stores)
Gewurztraminer
• 2013 Desert Hills ($22.99, available from the winery and at VQA
stores)
Pinot Gris
• 2013 Moraine ($19.90, available from the winery and at VQA
stores)
Riesling
• 2013 La Frenz, ($29, available from the winery and select private
wine stores)
• 2013 Moraine ($19.90, available from the winery and at VQA
stores)
Sauvignon Blanc
• 2013 La Frenz ($22, available from the winery and select private
wine stores)
Semillon
• 2013 La Frenz ($22, available from the winery and select private
wine stores)
• 2013 Howling Bluff ($19, available from the winery and at VQA stores
Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon
• 2013 Howling Bluff ($19.90, available from the winery and at VQA
stores)
• 2012 La Frenz Ensemble ($29, available from the winery and select
private wine stores)
Viognier
• 2013 La Frenz ($22, available from the winery and select private
wine stores)
• 2013 Marichel ($19.90, available from the winery and at VQA stores)

There you go! Quite a shopping list…and it won’t break the bank either. Red wines, and maybe a couple of Roses, next week.

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

Sauvignon Blanc – the “Other Other” White Grape!

June 11, 2014

With the warmer weather finally coming to the Lower Mainland of BC in the last couple of weeks, I have been drinking more white wines lately. And that has included a number of remarkable Sauvignon Blancs – so thought I would write about them!

Often, it seems, Sauvignon Blancs are ignored. Chardonnay gets the most attention – both good and bad – along with Pinot Gris and Riesling. Viognier is also becoming more and more popular.

But how many times do you hear people raving about Sauvignon Blanc?

And yet it has a fairly distinguished pedigree. In Bordeaux, it is a partner (with Semillon) of some great dry white wines. And it stands by itself in the Loire Valley, where it is the grape that makes Sancerre and Pouilly Fume. In the ‘new world’, as well, Sauvignon Blanc has made a name for itself, particularly in New Zealand.

But you rarely hear about ‘great’ Sauvignon Blanc wines! Why is that?

Part of the answer might be that is often a blended grape, not standing on its own, in the same way as Cabernet Franc or Petite Verdot. Many people also see it as a wine that needs food (particularly shellfish) and doesn’t drink well by itself.

Finally, there is a style of Sauvignon Blanc — usually from New Zealand — that can be not only quite herbal, but even smell like cat’s pee! Nothing “great” about that…

In my experience, however, there are some great ones, as long as you define ‘greatness’ to mean flavourful, fruity, reasonably priced and easy to drink.

Giesen from New Zealand is a perfect example. Year after year it provides ripe — but bone dry — white grapefruit, crisp and delicious, all for < $15.

'White grapefruit' is my common theme when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc, and two BC wineries are perfect examples. Howling Bluff – from Naramata in the Okanagan – is one, offering an explosion of grapefruit for a couple of bucks more ($18.95). Same with the wine from La Frenz (also from Naramata), which has a touch more finesse, making it at great wine for $22! Put either of these wines in a blind tasting and their foreign counterparts would be embarrassed!

So next time it is warm out and you are looking for a white wine option, try chilling a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. The grape on the bottle might not make it sound 'great', but you may be surprised about what you taste in your mouth!

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.

EASTER WINES TO HAVE WITH HAM, LAMB…OR SPAM!

April 16, 2014

Easter this weekend, and many will be looking for a wine – or wines – serve to family at a holiday meal. Everyone knows that the food plays a big role in picking the wine, so I thought I would offer some ideas on what to serve with some of the favourite Easter foods – ham and lamb (the spam was just a marketing gimmick to get your attention).

With ham, it really depends on how you are going to serve it. It is usually on the sweet side, with maple or sugar or any of those kinds of coatings, I would actually go for a white wine that also is a touch sweet. Rieslings or Gewurztraminers are great choices, even if they have just a touch of residual sugar, because they have big enough body – and enough fruit – to handle both the sweetness of the glaze and the meatiness of the ham. Germany and Alsace (from France) make the best ones, but if you have/come across the Small Lots by La Frenz from BC go for it! It is an amazing wine and, at about $20, a ridiculous bargain!

Wines for lamb follow the same kind of strategy, although there are savoury options as well. If it is a very “English” mint jelly kind of lamb, stick with the Riesling. But if you are going with the more French version – with mustard, rosemary and other herbs – there are lots of great red wine options!

Pinot Noir is one, especially if you can find one that has earthy and mushroom undertones to match the flavours in the lamb. Burgundy is the traditional place to go, but that can be very expensive and, frankly, unreliable (if I had a dollar for every expensive but disappointing red Burgundy I have had, I would be a rich man!). California can also be a source of good Pinot Noir, but – ironically – the ripeness of many of the wines can work against the lamb combo, with the almost candied cherry flavours coming off as too sweet for the meat and the flavoring.

My recommendation is from BC again – for some very special wines! Kettle Valley makes two of them – the Hayman Vineyard and the Reserve. The former is very “Burgundian”, with ripe dark cherry fruit but nice earth and mushrooms to go with it. The latter is a little more Californian, but still works. The other option is from Blue Mountain. Their Reserve Pinot Noir is a great Burgundy/Cali cross, especially as it ages! All these wines can be tough to find because they aren’t made in big quantities, but worth looking for. Other options almost as good include Pinot Noirs from Eau Vivre, Howling Bluff, Averill Creek and NkMip.

If not Pinot Noir, though, go for a Grenache-based wine from the Cotes du Rhone. The inherent lavender/rosemary aromas – called “garrigue” – are perfectly suited for lamb, as are the ripe but dried cherry flavours. Chateauneuf du Pape with six to eight years of age is a great bet, especially if it is from a first rate producer like Beaucastel, Clos du Papes or Le Vieux Donjon. But a younger Cotes du Rhone from a great vintage like 2010 or 2012 also will work.

And if spam is the Easter meal of choice? Well, if you are not drinking beer…pick the best wine you can find! It will make you forget about the food you are eating.

Happy Easter!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

IT’S SPRING – WINES TO LOOK FORWARD TO!

April 2, 2014

A couple of sunny days and you can’t help but believe that Spring is actually here! For us wine dweebs, that means new wines are coming…and white wines at that!

So what to look forward to?

Well, in B.C. there are a number of flagship wineries – and wines – that I look forward to every year. And most of the come from the Naramata Bench above Okanagan Lake.

First and foremost are the white wines from La Frenz, B.C.’s premier winery. It makes three white wines that I and my wine club buy year in, year out, because of their quality and value.

The first – and perhaps best – is their Semillon. It is dry, but with ripe fruit, grassy aromas and just a touch of oak. Like a cross between Bordeaux, New Zealand and California (in the best possible way). It drinks very well on release but also has a surprising ability to age. And still around $22 a bottle!

Next up, and not far behind in quality, is their Small Lots Riesling. It is made in the classic German/Alsace style, with green apples, petrol aromas and slightly off dry fruit. Also a candidate for short term aging, although it is so delicious that I have a hard time resisting it – especially at about $20.

Last, but not least, is the Viognier. Definitely Cali style here, with a fruit cocktail assortment of aromas and flavours, surprisingly big body, and a dry finish. It is also around $22, a price that puts other versions to shame.

The other premier white wine maker on the Bench is Howling Bluff. In particular, I love their Pinot Gris, which smells and tastes like white grapefruit! It is dry, but so flavourful and – can you believe it – is around $18!

Their other wine is a Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend that is only a dollar more, but worth it. Like a white Graves but without as much oak, it is crisp, clean and bone dry as well.

And what about Chardonnay? Well, if you put aside the Reserve bottlings (which won’t be released to later in the year), I think Township 7 makes as nice a wine as you will find. It is my style of Chardonnay – vanilla, butter and ripe citrus, lush and full bodied from malolactic fermentation, and ready to drink. And do drink it up – the only downside of this wine is that the oak sneaks up on it within a year or so.

Finally, there is the Nichol Pinot Gris – a truly unique wine. Ross Hackworth makes the only true “Gris” wine in BC (that I know of), leaving the skins on the grapes long enough to impart an incredible colour to the wine. It ranges from a light pink to an almost deep orange! But don’t let the colour fool you – the wine is still bone dry, crisp and refreshing. I have a wine club member who buys it by the case every year!

So Spring – bring it on! The Naramata Bench Spring Releases are less than a month away, and I can’t wait.

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

NARAMATA BENCH WINERIES LOOK STRONG AGAIN THIS YEAR

May 3, 2013

I went to the annual Naramata Bench Spring Release last week (for trade and media folks) and was once again impressed with many of the wineries and their offerings. The best 2012 white wines are fully ripe and gorgeous; the 2012 Roses also ripe; and the 2010 reds released last year are progressing really well. Here are the highlights from my tasting notes:

1. La Frenz

As I tweeted at the end of the tasting, La Frenz is King of the Hill again, and it wasn’t even close, really. The 2012 versions of their regular whites – Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Viognier – are once again stunning in both ripeness and value ($19 – $22), making them the best in BC. A 2011 Reserve Chardonnay was also spectacular – “like a baby Beringer Private Preserve” – was what my notes said. And a new wine – a Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend – was a bang on copy of a French white Graves!

For reds, the new vintages won’t be released till summer, but the 2010s were in beautiful shape, especially the Cabernet Sauvignon (vanilla covered black currants), Merlot (black plums and vanilla) and Reserve Pinot Noir (a beautiful cross between Cali and Burgundy).

2. Kettle Valley

No 2010 Hayman Vineyard Pinot Noir to taste (no surprise, as they don’t make enough), but the 2010 Reserve Pinot Noir released a few months ago is amazing! Super complex red cherries and spice, ripe but not candied or jammy, and a bit of tannin to boot. It drinks fine now, but seems capable of 4 – 6 years aging.

3. Howling Bluff

Great showing for the 2012 whites here! The regular Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon is gorgeously ripe, full bodied and dry, and still under $20. And two new wines – a Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc – in the same style, but even less expensive. Well done! The 2010 Pinot Noir was really tight, but it was just bottled. I have enjoyed the 2008 and 2009 vintages of this wine, so expect it will open up and compete with those.

4. Hillside

The new Muscat Ottonel was beautiful – so many different kinds of fruit on the nose, big body, but bone dry finish. The 2012 Rose was also gorgeous, with ripe cranberries and just off dry. Finally, last year’s Syrah (the 2009) continues to progress with classic Rhone flavours of peppery black cherries.

5. Miscellaneous

I liked the 2012 Roses from Monster and Therapy, which were full of ripe cranberries. The new Chardonnays from Poplar Grove and Laughing Stock were also nice, made in that buttery Cali style. And Van Westen’s 2011 Viognier was full bodied and complex, very Rhone in style.

Overall, another great tasting! Congratulations to the Naramata Bench Wineries Association for putting it on and thanks to the Hyatt Hotel for hosting.

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

What’s in a wine label?

March 21, 2013

I saw an interesting column this week about what to look for on a wine label and thought I would “weigh in” as well.

I spend a fair amount of time in wine stores, and can’t believe how many times I see the same thing – someone looking at a bottle of wine, turning it over and over, trying to figure out whether to buy it or not! For me, the key – like anything in wine – is knowing what style you like and then building off of that to understand what is on the label (and therefore in the bottle).

What do I mean by that? Well let’s see…

Starting with white wines, a couple of key questions:
• Do you like your whites bone dry or a touch sweet?
• Do you like oaked wines or not?

For the first question, if the answer is “bone dry”, then you probably want to avoid the German/Alsace varietals – Riesling, Gewurtztraminer. Most of the best of these wines are finished at least a little bit sweet. They will usually be rated a (1) on the shelf marker. Really ripe white wines – like Viognier from North America – you might also want to avoid, as their incredible fruitiness can come off as sweet even when it isn’t.

For the oak question, if the answer is “yes”, then go for oak aged Chardonnays, Semillon/Sauvignon blends, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. The label will say there is oak aging on the back, so it is easy to find out. If the answer is ‘no’ to oak, then go for un-oaked versions of the above. Many – in particular Chardonnays – will say “un-oaked” right on the label, and/or talk about being aged in stainless steel (like Chablis from Burgundy).

And what about reds? There are three questions to consider about the style of wine that you like:
• Do you like oak or not?
• Do you like your reds more “fruit-forward” or with more herbs and wood flavours?
• What is the alcohol level?

The first question is the same as for whites, although maybe even more important for red wines! Oak impacts red grapes in vastly different ways, which can also really change the style of the wine. For Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Shiraz, it can give a wonderful vanilla overlay and/or a cedary, woody flavor. The same for Pinot Noir. Interestingly, the impact can be even greater on Malbec and Grenache, taking much of the overt fruitiness away from these wines. Almost all wine labels – on the back – will talk about how much oak is used, so that can be a guide for you.

If you don’t like oak, you either need to look for the few red wines without it…or those that don’t seem to show the influence very much. For the former, Malbec is a great bet (the unoaked kind, of course) and can be a great deal. For the latter, wines from the Cotes du Rhone (Syrah and Grenache-based), as well as many Italian wines (like Chiantis, Brunellos, Barolos, and Barbarescos) are good choices. Ironically, many of these are more expensive alternatives and/or quite tannic when young, so look for the lower end Chiantis and Cotes du Rhones.

Fruit forward or not? California, Australia and certain BC wines are more fruit forward, meaning the fruit should be more prominent than the wood influences (whether vanilla or cedar). For Cabernet Sauvignons, that can mean vanilla-covered blackcurrants; for Merlots, super ripe plums, and for Shiraz jammy blackberries. Bordeaux and Burgundy go to the other style, meaning you will get more wood and herbal flavours in your wine.

Finally, alcohol level. Assuming your wine isn’t sweet (like Port), the higher the alcohol, the fruitier the wine, as the ripe fruit has more sugar which is turned into more alcohol. Sometimes the wine can also seem unbalanced because of the alcohol, but if done right these are the epitome of what fruit-forward wine drinkers are looking for.

So there you go! Know your style, and then look for the clues on the label to tell you what is there. Do that, and you will have an easier time understanding the bottle you are looking at in the store.

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com