Posts Tagged ‘Rioja’

OAK – WHEN, WHY AND WHY NOT?

August 3, 2017

Is there a more controversial topic in wine – at least for wine dweebs like me – than oak?

 

I have written about it a number of times, and it is tough to try and stay balanced. Most people know what they like when it comes to oak, and they tend to really like it…or really hate it. But this week’s experience with a couple of wines made me think of another potential angle to this controversy.

 

First, though, let’s back up a bit. What is oak used for anyway?

 

Well, at the most basic it is what many wines are aged in. That as been the case for hundreds if not thousands of years. A whole area of France  – Limousin – built up an industry producing wood for wine barrels. And others followed in other countries

Why? Well, oak barrels can impart some very specific, and popular, flavours, textures and colours to wines as they age. Wood flavours to begin with – cedar – as well as herbs. But also vanilla, butter, butterscotch and even caramel notes from the wood, depending on how new the oak barrels are and how long the wine is kept in them. Colour too – golden yellow in white wines can be a sign of oak aging. And texture, especially in reds – the oak can help soften the harsh tannins that sometimes dominate in “big” red wines.

 

So what’s the problem, then? Its the fact that some people believe certain wines should taste a certain way based on history, style, personal preference. Red Bordeaux, for example, is supposed to have cedar, herbs and led pencil overtones. California Chardonnay has a reputation for vanilla, butter and even caramel flavours.

 

And that is what got me thinking when I had two different BC wines from the same producer this week. Both were recommended by a reviewer that I respected, so I thought I would give them a try.

 

The first was a Syarh/Mourvedre blend. Now, Syrah from France typically does not show very much oak influence at all (regardless of whether it is aged in oak or not), particularly in the Northern Rhone. Either does Mourvedre, a blending grape from the Southern Rhone often mixed with Syrah and Grenache in Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas and other wines.

 

So it was with surprise, and disappointment, that I opened the wine and, upon smelling it, picked up the vanilla notes right away! That followed in the mouth – smooth, vanilla covered cherries. It was lovely to drink – my wine loved it – but it didn’t taste at all like what I thought Syrah/Mourvedre should taste like!

 

Fast forward to tonight, same winery, but a wine that was 100% Syrah. Open it up and – boom! All pepper, black cherries, earth – a Northern Rhone clone! I loved it!

 

So that got me thinking…with oak, like a lot of things in life, it is about expectations and familiarity. I know what I like in different wine styles – give me a butter California Chardonnay any day, a Spanish Rioja with vanilla covered cherries, or a Cali Cab with vanilla and cassis. But Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache…nope…I want the style from France that I like, because that’s what I like!

 

The lesson here? I’m still note sure…but it has something to do with expectations, and managing them!

 

SB

 

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

Why Don’t I Like Spanish Reds as Much Anymore?

January 14, 2015

Okay, it happened again last night. I opened up a Spanish wine from my cellar – highly rated (95 points) – and the description by the reviewer was full of “fruit” references (which I love).

But then when I opened it…not much on the nose, more wood than fruit in the mouth. Reminded me of Bordeaux. Not my style!

And I know it isn’t a bad bottle…because these things have been happening for a couple of years now.

So what’s up?

Only a few years ago, Spanish wines were a key part of my cellar. Riojas took the lead, as they could age beautifully and the oak would never really overpower the fruit. Tempranillo based wines from other regions were there as well (Pesquera is still one of my favourite wines), as well as Mencia based wines (very Zinfandel like). Lots of fruit, not jammy, nice mix of herbs and earth.

But since then, everything seems to have changed.

It started with Garnacha (the Spanish version of Grenache). I quickly learned that one of my favourite grapes from the Rhone tasted way different when made into wine in Spain! Oak was part of the reason (made the wines too woody), but even the un-oaked ones seemed to lack fruit/have too much herbs and wood.

Then I started to notice a similar trend in some of the Rioja Reserva wines. After 5 or so years (when I normally start drinking them), there seemed to be less fruit than before, and – again – -more wood.

And then it seems to have been extended to just about all other Spanish reds (although I haven’t tasted a new Pesquera recently).

So what gives?

Probably two – related – answers.

First, the style of wine making may very well have changed overall. Bordeaux remains the reference point for many in the wine world, which means less fruit focus and more emphasis on wood, herbs and other flavours. So it could well be that Spanish winemakers are going more in that direction

The other reason is that my tastes – and maybe even my taste buds – have probably changed! Age does many things to people, and it should be no surprise that both what I taste (and what I like) has changed as I have gotten older.

The one thing that I am pretty sure it isn’t is that Spain is making bad red wine. Too many reviewers that I respect continue rate many of the wines highly for that to be the case.

But it shows, once again, how important individual style and taste is, and how those can change over time. The good news is there is lots of other wine out there for you – and I – to enjoy!

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.

Spain Makes a Come Back at Hart House Restaurant Dinner!

August 23, 2013

It’s nice to get a pleasant wine surprise, especially when you really weren’t expecting much!

In my case it was Spanish wines. Anyone who reads this blog or my Twitter feed knows that I have been increasingly disappointed by Spain over the last few years. Whether it is a change in style or my tastes (or both), most Spanish wines have been coming off as too woody and herbal for me — even the Rioja Reservas I used to love so much. As a result, I rarely buy them to drink or put in my cellar anymore, and the ‘Spanish’ space in the cellar is getting smaller and smaller.

But that may have all changed as of a dinner at Hart House Restaurant in Burnaby, BC on Wednesday. The theme was ‘Spain’, and we (my wife and I) were going more for the food than the wine, based on our recent experience at a Provence dinner (although the wine there was also very good).

The format of these dinners is a wine tasting from 6 – 7, followed by a gourmet buffet dinner from 7 onward — all for $55 a head (plus any wine you want with dinner). It is an amazing deal and, no, ‘gourmet buffet’ is not an oxymoron – how do options like gazpacho, mackerel, paella and roast leg of lamb sound? The food was very good, served family style outside in a beautiful setting.

So we were going for the food…as for the wine, well, I thought a few glasses of Cava (which my wife loves), maybe a half decent Rioja…and that would be it.

Boy was I wrong!

The two Cavas were basic but good values — the NV Segura Viudas Brut Rose and Codorniu Classico Brut. Nice bubbles to get the night started, and meeting expectations.

Then there were a few Roses, very dry, a bit tart, certainly no challenge to Provence or even BC.

Next up were the whites and, as expected, they were nothing to write home about. A couple of Ruedas were okay, especially the ’11 Basa by Rodriguez, but at about $20 retail ($42 on the wine list), I couldn’t say it was worth it.

All that was left was reds…so I took a deep breath and headed over to the first table. And…wow!!!

First up was a 2005 Rioja Reserva from Lopez de Haro. I sniffed — hmm, nice vanilla and currants! But I expected wood and herbs to follow in the mouth — but nope! More vanilla covered ripe black currants, with dusty tannins! It could have been a mid-level California Cabernet! And about $25 retail ($46 on the list). A really nice wine!

They had another red wine, so I tried that too… it tasted younger, but maybe even better! When the guy told me it was Garnacha, I just about fell over…it tasted like a Cotes du Rhone! Which, when he showed me where it came from (the northeast corner of Spain, almost on the French border), made sense. The wine, by the way, was the 2011 Proyecto Garnachas Moncayo (from Ribera del Queiles). And it retails for about $25 as well.

And so it went! Another very nice Rioja Reserva (2005 from Beronia), a toned down version of the Los Rocas Garnacha…and then the star of the night! A 2010 named Pasion del Bobal from Utiel-Requena. It was amazing – big, ripe and smooth! Afterwards I found out Parker gave a previous vintage 91 Points, and I can see why! We both had a glass at dinner.

As we were heading home, I was trying to decide what the night’s wine experience meant.

That I should go back to tasting Spanish reds was the obvious learning. But perhaps more importantly, the lesson might be never to give up completely on a wine!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com