Posts Tagged ‘Shiraz’

Ripe, Jammy and Sweet – the Difference!

September 20, 2017

I have had some very nice wines in the past month or so, and from looking at my tweets   it occurred to me that there was enough for a blog!

A constant in many of my wine recordings and tweets is the word “ripe”. To me, that means the fruit in the wine is pure and really comes through – currants and cassis (for cabernet sauvignon), black and red cherries (for Syrah and Grenache), and so on.  It seems to me that the riper the fruit the more delicious the wine. Make sense? Wine is made from fruit, fruit needs to be ripe…and so on!

 

And then there is the word “jammy”. I use it mostly for Aussie Shiraz, and both in a positive and negative way. Done right (in my opinion, anyway), jammy blackberry fruit can also be super ripe and pure – like the preserves you put on toast in the morning. I love it in Old Vine Shiraz! But done wrong…it can be cloying and sweet…watch out for not only some of the “animal” label Aussie wines, but also some of the California wines that are becoming popular with some palates these day.

 

Finally, there is the word “sweet”. I reserve that term for a wine that is supposed to be sweet in the traditional sense. Usually that means a German Riesling or a dessert wine from Portugal, France or somewhere else. But it has to be balanced – not cloying or over the top, but with good acidity as well.

 

So three words…very similar, but very different…at least for me!

 

SB

 

www.sbwinesite.com

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Style or Terroir?

July 25, 2017

A bit of a “wine dweeb” blog tonight…I was trying a Syrah (one of my favourite grapes) from Greece (which I had never had). It was good, very good, tasting similar in style to the North Rhones I love so much.

But that got me thinking of a conversation I had last year with the owner of a wine shop in Tacoma. We had been talking about BC’s wines, and which were the best. I was making my case for Syrah (for reds), and one of the reasons was that the style was so similar to Northern Rhones. I was surprised when he disagreed – not with the wines, but the idea.

In his opinion, a wine region needs to find its own style based on its local attributes – something the French call terroir. So in BC, that mean finding our own style of Syrah, for example.

I was polite, nodded my head, bought some wine (which I was going to by anyway), but left thinking I didn’t really agree with him.

And after drinking the Greek Syrah, I still don’t agree with him!

For me, I know the style of wines that I like. I look for them, and if I can find that style made in different places, all the better!

Are there variations? Of course. Take Syrah…I find when it is grown in some parts of California and Washington State, the level of ripeness of the grapes is higher, meaning the wine tastes riper as well. Not jammy – it is not Shiraz. Just riper. Personally, I like that.

But some of the key elements are still there – pepper, black cherries, good acidity, little or no oak. Make a Syrah like that, and I will like it, no matter where it is made!

Compare that to Syrah from, say, some that are made in South America, South Africa, or even Italy. Some of those – some, mind you, not all – add elements which may represent local characteristics, but which I don’t enjoy. Herbs, brambles, and oak…the wines may still be good, but no longer in my style.

But does that make them better because they have their own style, perhaps unique to their area?

Some – including my wine shop friend – may say yes.

But for me, it is moot point. Because I don’t like them…because of that style.

I want wines – whether Syrah or anything else – that I like to drink.

So regardless of whether they are “unique”, I don’t care.

Just open the bottle and poor!

SB

www.sbwinesite.com

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

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

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

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

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

Vancouver Wine Festival 2015 – Four Wineries No One Has Told You About

February 25, 2015

It’s that time of year again, and I am excited to be going to the Vancouver International Wine Festival tomorrow night. But in reading the lead up to the Festival in the past week, it has struck me – yet again – that some of the best wineries are not being promoted.

Why? Well, that would be a blog of it’s own…

But given the short time frame, let’s focus on four wineries – and their wines – you may not have heard about, but certainly shouldn’t miss out on.

Let’s start with BC, my home province. Incredibly, La Frenz Winery – which wine dweebs like me know is the best overall winery not just in the province, but in Canada as well – has seen nary a peep of promotion.

If there is one winery you need to go to, it is La Frenz. According to the info, they are pouring four wines – 3 whites and 1 red. All are worth trying, but if you are limited for time the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc may be the best of its kind ever made in BC (it has won numerous awards) and the 2012 Reserve Chardonnay will make you think of Beringer’s Private Reserve for half the price. And the red? Well, if you want a Cali/Burgundy Pinot Noir cross, try the 2012 Pinot Noir Reserve – it is stunning, and a real bargain at $32.

Next up is one from Australia, the featured country this year. And I am still shaking my head that d’Arenberg hasn’t received any press, as – wine for wine – they are my favourite producer in Australia (and have been for many years). They are pouring two of their best wines as well! The first – the Galvo Garage – is a Bordeaux blend that tastes the way Bordeaux should. The fruit is super ripe, but not jammy, with just the right amount of wood and herbs. Nice young, it ages easily for 8 – 10 years. And their best wine is the Dead Arm Shiraz. More Syrah than Shiraz, it is classic black peppery, cherries, licorice and earth – tannic when young, but oh, so beautiful after 8 years or so.

The third winery to look for is Zenato, from Italy. Zenato specializes in Amarone and Valpolicella, both of which can be acquired tastes, although real red wine lovers will definitely appreciate them. The Amarone is high alcohol, almost overripe, and just amazing. The Valpolicella is made from dried grapes and has that nutty flavor to it…again, a beautiful wine.

Last winery? Giesen from New Zealand. They specialize in Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, both of which are amazing. Even the regular bottles are extremely ripe, but the Reserves (called “The Brothers”) can be mindblowing. All are being poured this week.

So there you go…four wineries that haven’t been promoted, that you may not have heard of. But if you go taste their wines, you will not be disappointed.

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

Holiday Blog #1 – Red Wines

December 4, 2014

Alright, three blogs left for 2014, so let’s focus on holiday wines. Today, we will start with red wines, with recommendations for all occasions. White wines next week, and we will finish with sparklers and sweet wines the week before Christmas.

1. Open Houses/Big Dinner Parties

In a lot of ways, this is the toughest category, because while you need to potentially serve wine to a lot of guests – and want it to be good – you also don’t want to break the bank. So you need to try and keep the wines to under $15 if possible.

My first “go to” region is the Cotes du Rhone in the south of France (and the regions around it). Even with the vagaries of exchange rates, there are lots of relative bargains out there. Most of these wines are blends – mainly Grenache and Syrah, with a smattering of Mourvedre and Carignan mixed in – but the big reason they are popular with many people is they lack oak. That means instead of cedary, woody aromas and flavours, you get cherries and berries, herbs, earth and pepper. Up here, my best pick is the Vin de Pays by Domaine la Bastide, a GSM mix that goes for $10.95 a bottle. The Ventoux by La Vieille Ferme is also a good bet for a few bucks more. And don’t worry about the vintage – the style is very consistent from year to year.

Spain is another obvious choice for value reds you are going to serve in quantity. My only caution here is that the main grape used in the cheaper wines – Garnacha (the Spanish version of Grenache) – is often oaked, which can take away fruitiness and add in woodiness. So be careful! A very consistent producer is Castano, which makes La Casona for $9.99 and Monastrell for $12.49. There is no oak in either that I can taste.

2. Small Dinner Parties

If you are having only a few friends over, you can afford to spend more per bottle (since you are going to serve few of them). If you want to keep the tab under $25 a bottle, I have a few suggestions.

Back to the Cotes du Rhone! The 2012 vintage is on the shelves and it is very good, better than the 2011 (if not as good as 2010). Most of the wines – again, made of Grenache and Syrah – are ripe, medium bodied, and have little evidence of oak aging. Cotes du Rhone and Cotes du Rhone Villages will cost anywhere from $18 – $25. Look for Famille Perrin (the makers of Chateau de Beaucastel), Chapoutier (including his Bila Haut wines from the Roussillon) and Delas Freres.

If you like Shiraz, this is also a good price point, because you can avoid the overly sweet, syrupy cheaper wines. Personally, I love the blackberry jam and licorice you find in the best wines. Vintage variation isn’t that big a deal (because of the climate consistency). Recommendations would be the wines from d’Arenberg, Shotfire Ridge, Kilikanoon, and Penfold’s.

3. Special Occasions

Last but not least, some special occasion red wines. Here you either want to enjoy a great bottle with someone, or perhaps just show off a bit! The price tag starts at $40 and can go up – way up! The other thing to consider, though, is the maturity of the wine. If you open up a young Bordeaux or Barolo that cost you $75 or more, you (and your guest) may be very disappointed by the harsh, tannic wine.

Instead, I look to California. Cabernet Sauvignon can be a good bet, as most of the wines are made in such a fruit forward style that they drink beautifully when young (as well as aging well). Beringer and Caymus are two famous names to look for… their “regular” Cabs start at about $45 (and their reserves are over $100). But they taste fabulous!

Another option can be old vine Zinfandel. Young wines almost explode with ripe blackberry fruit, but without the jam you get in Aussie Shiraz. Ridge Vineyards is my favourite (look for Geyserville and Lytton Spring blends for about $50), along with Ravenswood. If you want a real treat, try to find a Turley, a cult wine for sure, but can be worth the $60+++.

So there you go…some red wine options.

Next week, the whites!

Stephen