Posts Tagged ‘Syrah’

Wine Festival 2020 – France!

February 20, 2020

So great to see that France is the feature country for this year’s Vancouver International Wine Festival!

Even better, it looks like the majority of the producers are from the south of France, my favourite part, as that means lots of Grenache and Syrah-based wines.

So here is a quick primer of wineries/wines to go check out based on what is on the website. We still don’t know the exact wines yet, but this will give you a good start.

For the northern Rhone – meaning Syrah for the reds – a couple jump out at me. Chapoutier is a world renowned wine maker and negotiant, so look for Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage, Cote Rotie and Cornas – all won’t be cheap, but will be fabulous to taste!

Paul Jaboulet is another famous northern Rhone producer. In fact, his Hermitage La Chapelle has a reputation as one of the greatest wines in the world! He also makes one of my favourite wines – the Crozes Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert.  And Jean Luc Colombo is a producer to look for as well, as he makes great single vineyard Cornas.

For the southern Rhone – where Grenache and blends are the focus – there are lots of choices!

Domaine Boutinot makes great Gigondas. And both Gabriel Meffre and Michel Gassier produce wonderful Chateauneuf du Pape (the latter under the Les Halos de Jupiter label). Gassier also  makes some interesting wines as a negotiant in other parts of the south.

And don’t forget the so-called lesser regions! Chateau Pesquie is there from the Cotes du Ventoux, and they make stunning reds like Terrasses and Quintessence. Gerard Bertrand is also in attendance and he makes some nice wines in the Languedoc, Roussillon and Corbieres.

That should give you a good start!

Next, I will look at wineries from other countries that are worth trying, including Italy, the USA and from right here in BC.

The Festival runs from Monday February 24 to Saturday February 29. Lots of events still have tickets available, as do the evening tastings on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Hope to see you there!

SB

www.sbwinesite.com

What’s up with Fraser Valley Wine in the Summer of 2019 – Part 2: The Old Guard  

September 12, 2019

Similar to what I did for Vancouver Island, I am grouping my wine tasting tour into two parts. The first I am calling “the old guard”, as these are wineries I have been going to for years now.

First stop was Domaine Chaberton in Langley, and for more than the wine – the restaurant Bacchus Bistro! One of the great secrets of the Valley, this is as good a French bistro as you will find anywhere, including in Vancouver. Duck confit, boeuf bourgignon, pate, French onion soup – they have it all, large portions, great quality and value. Plus most of their wines are by the glass!!

After “fueling up” there, I tasted the latest of their wines, and three continue to stand out for me. For whites, they make a great oaked Chardonnay – their Reserve – which is made in classic California style, with lovely vanilla and butter covered citrus. I also love their Rose – called “Pink” – which is a touch on the off-dry side, but wonderfully fruity and fresh. Last but not least, their Syrah. I think it is their best red wine, made in a Rhone style, which means pepper, earth, dried cherries – and no oak. It drinks well now, but also ages for up to 5 years.

From Chaberton, I circled back to Vista D’Oro, a somewhat eclectic winery and farm. I say “eclectic” because you never know what they will have available! In the past, I have had wonderful Pinot Noirs – made from Vancouver Island grapes – but this time there was only Marechal Foch. But that was fine! They make one of the best around – ripe, meaty, full of fruit and no oak. Not for keeping/aging, but what a joy to drink now!

The last of my “old guard” is out in Abbotsford – Mt. Lehman Winery. Verne has been making great wines for ridiculously low prices for years, and this visit was no different. The had almost ten different wines to taste!

Most impressive? For me, on the whites…it was their Reserve Chardonnay. I am a big “oaked” Chardonnay fan – I know, not a popular thing these days – and this is absolutely gorgeous! Light gold, classic Cali style with vanilla and butter covered citrus fruit, but not too much wood on the finish. And it is under $20 with tax included! That is stupid good!

 Following a similar theme…Verne’s Pinot Noirs! His regular is – get this – is $12.96 plus tax! You can’t find a better wine value from BC or anywhere for that price! Bright cherry fruit, a touch of vanilla and spice…it would blow away other Pinots at twice that price!

Except for his Reserve Pinot, of course! The 2014 is the same price as his Reserve Chardonnay…and even better! If Burgundy, or California or the Okanagan could make a wine like this for that price…simply amazing! Ripe cherries and tannins, just the right balance of wood and fruit…it is beautiful at almost 5 years old now, but I bought a few to see how they age…crazy good!

That is it for my old guard…some new finds next week!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

NEW ZEALAND WINE – IT’S MORE THAN SAUVIGNON BLANC

May 3, 2019

I had chance this week to attend New Zealand Wine’s “Pure Discovery” tasting in Vancouver and came away both impressed and with some different views on that country’s wine!

I always try to avoid bringing in pre-conceived ideas to wine tastings, so with this one the key word was Sauvignon Blanc. New Zealand has been famous for it for years, including from popular producers like Oyster Bay, Kim Crawford and Babich. Now, I like SB, but wanted to know if there was more to New Zealand!

So, for whites, I went Chardonnay hunting – and I was surprised for sure! I tasted about ten wines and came away with one common theme regarding the style. It was French – not Californian – but also the Chablis-style of French Burgundy. That meant not as much vanilla/butter/hazelnut on the nose (which usually comes from oak) and more fresh, crisp citrus fruit (from making and aging the wines in stainless steel instead of oak barrels). Even those producers that did say they used oak usually relied on previously used barrels to limit the influence. If you enjoy this style of Chardonnay, I would highly recommend New Zealand, especially from producers like Kumeu River Estate (a particular favourite of mine), Greywacke, Villa Maria and Sacred Hill. While none of the wines were cheap – ranging from $22 – $50+ – they are certainly cost-competitive compared to Chablis from France.

I went to Pinot Noirs next, as they have become the “go to” red wines for New Zealand. I really didn’t know what to expect, so was surprised to once again feel like I was in a Burgundy tasting! Medium red in colour, lean red cherry fruit, a mix of herbs and wood, and fine to medium tannins – that was a fairly consistent description of most of the wines. You would certainly never mistake them for fruit-forward, vanilla laced California wines, that is for sure! It would be interesting to see how they aged, which is something I have had mixed results with for Burgundy as there is not a lot of obvious fruit when they are young, and many can therefore dry out over the years. Leading producers at the tasting included Craggy Range, Luna Estate, Mud House and Sacred Hill.

Last but least I had to look for some Syrah, of course…and I found a couple of beauties! Te Awanga had two – an entry level for about $22 and a reserve for about $28, and they were lovely! 100% Syrah, slightly riper than the northern Rhone (but not jammy or oaky at all), I really liked them! And the best wine of the tasting – as well as the most expensive – was the Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah. It had some Viognier in it, and was a young Cote Rotie look alike. Although at $110, it was out of my snack bracket!

So “big picture” takeaways? There is a lot going on with New Zealand wine, well beyond Sauvignon Blanc and the big-name producers. Go check out some Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and – if you can find it – Syrah. You won’t be disappointed!

SB

www.sbwinesite.com

OKANAGAN FALLS SPRING RELEASES

March 27, 2019

Well, its that special time of year again…no, not Christmas, or even back to school…It is Spring, which means the wineries are starting to offer tastings of their new releases!

First one was today, from Okanagan Falls. Fourteen wineries and a total of 56 wines…not all new releases, but some very interesting wines indeed, and many that I can recommend.

For those not familiar with Okanagan Falls, it is the area northwards along the East Bench of Skaha Lake and across the water to Kalenden. From there, it is south over rolling hills above Vaseux Lake. Beautiful country, to be sure…and home to some very good wines!

I started with the new white wines. Among the most impressive for me was the 2013 Rousanne/ Marsanne/Viognier from Pentage Winery. At almost 6 years old, this hardly qualifies as a “new release”, but it was beautiful and still tasted very young. Dry and quite full bodied – as is usually the case with white Rhone wines – with crisp citrus flavours.

The other white wine I really enjoyed was the 2018 Albarino from Stag’s Hollow. This varietal – from Spain – is rare for BC, but showed great freshness, with dry citrus fruit and no oak at all. Great for summer sipping!

There weren’t as many new Rose’s as I would have thought, but I did find a couple I liked. The 2017 Nelly’s Rose from See Ya Later was one of them, and though now almost two years old, it still had fresh strawberry fruit and was just a touch off dry. Even better was the 2018 Syrah Rose from Stag’s Hollow. It was light pink and bone dry, crisp and refreshing – definitely a summer patio wine.

As for reds, the best were – no surprise – Pinot Noirs and Syrahs. The 2015 Reserve Pinot Noir from Nighthawk Vineyard was very nice – done in concrete vats, so no excessive oak to cover up the ripe, earthy red cherry fruit. Even better was the 2016 Pinot Noir Stag’s Hollow Vineyard from Stag’s Hollow. This was a beautiful, full-bodied wine with earthy cherries that have just a touch of vanilla and ripe tannins – at least 2 – 3 years aging here.

Finally, Syrah, my favourite varietal from BC! First a surprise – 2016 from Blasted Church, who I did not know made one. It is classic northern Rhone style, with peppery, earthy back cherries and no oak. Gorgeous for drinking now. The other one that really stood out was from Pentage – the 2014. It is two years older but a bigger wine, with the same flavour profile but still fine tannins, suggesting a few years in the cellar wouldn’t hurt.

Those are the highlights, then, at least for me. Lots to choose from this spring from Okanagan Falls!

SB

www.sbwinesite.com

 

WHAT IS THE “BEST” WINE?

October 18, 2018

I get the question a lot, and I’m sure we have all heard it – what’s the best wine? Seems simple…but its not…and the answer really goes to what wine is all about!

At the most basic, “best” is a relative term, whether in business, sports or wine. And that’s because it all depends on what you, the individual, value the most.

Wine is a great example. We just went through the annual Bordeaux release. Regardless of the quality of the vintage, there are some of the world’s most famous wineries involved, names that are legends – Lafite, Mouton-Rothschild, Latour, Petrus…but does that make them the best, or making the best wine?

This is an easy example for me, because – deep breath – I don’t like Bordeaux. So my answer would be “no”.

But the reason I don’t like it is actually the answer to the definition of “best”…I don’t like the Bordeaux style of wine. Herbaceous, woody, super tannic…and not a lot of fruit (at least in the cheaper wines, as I have never been able to afford the wines I mentioned above).

So for me, I would say the best wines come from the Cotes du Rhone – north or south, made from Grenache and Syrah – or the Piedmonte in Italy (Barolos and Barbaresco). The mix of ripe fruit and underlying herbs, lack of oak/wood, ageability…that is the recipe for “best” for me.

When I started getting into wine over 35 years ago, a wine educator said “the best wine is the wine you like the best”. That seemed simplistic to me at the time, but the more wine I have tasted and drunk over the years, the more I believe he was right.

So the next time someone asks you “what is the best wine”, answer it with another question…”what wine do you like the best”?

Because that’s the answer!

SB

www.sbwinesite.com

Reflections on Summer 2018

September 6, 2018

Well, I’m back…both from summer and from spring (judging from the last time I wrote a blog!).

Lets start out with some reflections from the summer of 2018!

  1. Rose is good, but it needs to be cheap – we were fortunate enough to spend some time in France in June, and while it wasn’t stinking hot yet, it was hot enough that Rose was the wine of choice! And that was fine, since it was available for cheap – like 3 – 4 euros a bottle in the store! So when we got back and I couldn’t find it for less than about $15 a bottle plus tax…ouch!

2. Rhone style whites are better than I remember – Over the years, I have been off Rhone white wines. My memory was a lot of acidic, resiny wines. But in the south of France I tasted some super fresh blends, and found that when I got home they were the same!

3. You can still drink red wine  in the heat – Also in France, I was tasting big reds – Hermitage, Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas – and even though the temperature was in the 80’s, I had no problem at all, including with having them at lunch and dinner!

4. Pinot Noir and Syrah are the best BC reds – I also got up to the Okanagan this summer, and tasted at some of my favourite wineries (as well as some new ones). And it confirmed what I already knew – Syrah and Pinot Noir are the best red wines in BC! Minimal oak, lots of fruit, great ageability! Oh, and by the way – La Frenz is still the best winery in BC by a country mile!

5. Wine prices are still too high at home – Last but not least – surprise – is that wine prices at home are still way to high. I was able to buy some Gigondas in Gigondas that was rated 95+ points for 14 euros…wine that when I can get it here is over $40 a bottle! That is crazy…if I lived in France, my cellar would be crazy good for half the price!

Here comes fall…stay tuned for more!

SB

 

http://www.sbwinesite.com

 

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

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

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

A “Wine” Road Trip!

May 18, 2017

Coming to you tonight from Revelstoke, BC on our way to Okotoks, Alberta for the 65th Wedding Anniversary of my father-in-law’s sister. Going for the right reason – taking my aging father-in-law – but also an opportunity for a “wine road trip” to Calgary (about 45 minutes north)!

As self proclaimed “cow-town” you wouldn’t think that Calgary is a great wine city, but you would be wrong! When the government privatized the liquor industry a couple of decades ago, they created a true open market, where the same wine can be a different price in two different places.

And with lots of oil money, the wine selection – and the private stores that sell it – exploded!

Twenty years ago, the price difference was so significant (compared to my home province), that the savings paid for the cost of a return flight from Vancouver and a rental car!

Alas, post-911 you can’t bring wine on board anymore, so that ended. But we are driving…and the almost empty trunk literally beckons for wine!

It looks like there are still at least a dozen high quality wine stores to look at during my one free day…and while I won’t be able to get to all of them, even a selection will be worth it from the look on their websites.

I’m looking for my “cellar retirement wines” – Southern Rhones (Chateauneuf, Gigondas, Vacqueyras), Northern Rhones (Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage, Cornas, Cote Rotie and St. Joseph), Piedmont wines (Barolo and Barberesco) and Tuscan treasures (Brunello’s and high end Chianti Riservas). Plus, maybe a smattering of Washington and Cali Syrah and Grenache.

What actual wines to buy? My rules are simple:
• be rated over 90 points by Parker;
• at least a decade of aging potential (meaning I drink them when I retire in my early 60s); and
• be a maximum of $60 a bottle

Also, I won’t forget to stop at Costco (which sells wine in Alberta) and the Real Canadian Superstore Liquor Store. The latter is hit and miss, but the prices can be ridiculously low – including on special Cognacs (up to $50 less than in BC).

So think of me on Saturday morning – the stores open at 10 am, and I will be there. Watch for my tweets…and next week’s blog for my purchases!

SB

http://www.sbwineblog.com