Posts Tagged ‘tannins in wine’

CABERNET SAUVIGNON – THE REAL “HEARTBREAK GRAPE”

January 7, 2016

Happy New Year, everyone!

To kick off the year, I am going to do as series of blogs on the major grape varietals/the wines they make. And to start, the so-called “king of grapes” – Cabernet Sauvignon. Although, for me, you could also call it the “heartbreak grape” (with all due respect to Pinot Noir).

Most people know about “Cabs”…they are probably the first red wines they tried! Initially made famous because of their role in the great Bordeaux wines of France, they became arguably even more popular in the last 30 years because of how they are made in California.

And there-in – at least for me – lies the paradox (and the heartbreak).

I, too, started off on Bordeaux when I “got into wine”. With no other reference points, I though all red wine was supposed to be like the way Cab was made into wine in Bordeaux – cedary, woody, with only hints of fruit (mostly cherries). I enjoyed it…or so I thought!

And then came California! I will never forget the night…I had started to read the Wine Spectator, which favoured California wines, and they were hot on Robert Mondavi’s winery. I had my first real job out of university, so a little money, and bought the 1985 and 1985 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons (for about $23)…and was blown away!

Super pure and ripe blackcurrants exploded on my taste buds, delicately covered by vanilla. Big, rich, not tannic at all…wow! I couldn’t believe it!

From then on, I searched out for those wines, including on a subsequent trip to Napa and Sonoma with my bride to be. It was amazing to find so many wineries making what I would come to call the California style of Cabernet Sauvignon (and Merlot and Pinot Noir, as well, for that matter).

From there, it became hard to go back to Bordeaux, although by then my new cellar was fairly full of it. I kept trying the wines as they aged, but found very few with any semblance of that purity of fruit. By contrast, as I go older, I found that many of the California wines still kept a lot of their fruit even as they aged!

For over thirty years I have been searching for those wines in all kinds of places – Chile, Spain, Australia, Washington State and – more recently – here in BC, but don’t find them as often as I would like. If anything, Australia is the best place for that style now.

Which is where the heartbreak comes in…along with the price I have to pay to find really good ones in California these days.

But sometimes –particularly if there is something to celebrate – it is worth it! Last year, in recognition of my Junior Girls 27 – 6 record, I bought a couple of bottles of the Caymus Vineyards Napa Valley Anniversary bottling (2010, I believe). Highly rated (95+) and over $65 up here…but amazingly ripe! And it reminded me of the first great Mondavi wines I tasted so many years ago.

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

WHEN – AND WHY – TO DECANT YOUR WINE

September 9, 2015

I’m sure lots of you have seen it, and many done it as well – decanting! As portrayed in movies and television, it looks like a fairly pretentious undertaking. The same can be said about how it is treated in restaurants, with the option of using a candle, sterling silver funnel and even strange mechanical bottle holders!

But as I made my way through a Barolo tasting yesterday, it occurred to me that decanting is important as long as it is done at the right time (and for the right reasons).

But first – what is decanting anyway? Well, put simply, it is the process of pouring wine from a bottle into another (usually glass) container.

And why do it? Well, that’s where the problems begin!

There are lots of reasons for decanting, and far be it for me to judge which ones are right and which are wrong. But here are a few to think about.

First, if you have a nice looking decanter, it looks great on the table for your guests; and there is nothing wrong with that!

Next, from a more scientific point of view, the exposure of red wine (and it is only red wine you need to decant) to air can help with both the aroma and taste. The chemical reaction that occurs over time can “soften” young red wines, including those mouth-puckering tannins. An hour or two before dinner, and the wine can really start to come around!

But the main reason I decant red wine is if it is old enough to have deposited some sediment. Many red wines, as they age, do that, and it is often a sign of a good, well stored wine. Now, there is nothing wrong with the deposits, but they don’t look very nice in your glass or feel/taste very good in your mouth (kind of like getting a mouthful of sand).

So a decanter – along with a funnel or simply a very steady hand – can allow you to pour the wine until the deposit just starts to leave the bottle, at which point you stop. Done correctly (and it isn’t that hard), the result is a decanter full of wine that you can then pour for guests without the fear of giving them a big glop (a technical term) of tannin in their glass (and potentially in their mouth).

Which, getting back to the tasting last night, is what winery owner should have done at the Barolo tasting! The 2011 and 2010 vintages were ferociously tannic, and could easily have benefited from 2 – 3+ hours of airing in a decanter. But the 2001 and 1999 versions definitely needed the deposit removed (as I found out upon my first sip…it wasn’t a pleasant experience).

How do you know if you need to decant? Well, if the bottle has been stored on its side, check out the neck…if you see a deposit coating the inside, then decanting is probably a good idea.

And what to use? Anything really…from a simple glass jug to the most expensive crystal decanter. It doesn’t really matter.

So there you go…next time you are serving either very young – or very old, if you are lucky – red wine, think about decanting it first. You will be surprised how easy it is to do, and how much you will enjoy the results.

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST ROSE FOR YOU!

July 3, 2015

It has been hot for a while up here in BC, unseasonably hot for us. What that means from a wine perspective is lots of Rose…so a good time to blog about it!

So who do you choose the best Rose, which for my purposes means “the one you like the best”?

First off, what is Rose? It is simply a wine made from red grapes that the winemaker has left the skins on for a while…the longer they are on, the deeper the colour (and fuller the body).

Next, it is important to remember there are three general different kinds of Roses. The first category – which are generally to be avoided – are the “White Zinfandels” from California. While the right colour, they tend to be sickly sweet with not a lot of wine character. Cheap – for a reason – you should stay away from them unless you have a real sweet tooth when it comes to wine!

At the other end of the Rose spectrum (as well as the most popular) are the bone dry versions. They are most associated with the south of France, but are now made anywhere it is hot (like Spain, South America) or where people might buy them (just about everywhere else). These range in colour from a very light pink to a deep salmon colour, are very fruity on the nose, but very crisp on the finish, with no sugar. They are stunning in the heat, and pair amazingly well with food because some of them can be quite full-bodied.

That leaves the wines in the middle! They tend to have a touch of residual sugar to them (what is called “off dry”), in which the fruit on the nose carries through to the mouth. I have had some beauties from my home province, exploding with ripe grapefruit and strawberries…they can be incredibly refreshing and easy to drink on a very hot day (sometimes too easy to drink on the deck…in the sun…).

So that is style…very important…and you need to figure out which style you like and then stick with that. How will you know?

Well, the description on the back can help (“crisp” and “bone dry” are key words, as are “residual sugar/sweetness for the middle style). Another general way is by country, or at least some countries. If the Rose is from the south of France, it is just about guaranteed to be bone dry. I don’t think I have ever had a sweeter version from that country. Spain is almost as reliable. For other countries, though, you have to check a bit more on the label, or try to taste first.

Finally, though, there is the issue of cost. Rose was developed to be a cheap wine to drink in the hot summer/early fall months. And it still is in most of the south of France and Spain, so cheap that a pichet of Rose is often thrown in at no cost with prix fixe meals. Less than $10 a bottle is the price to shoot for “on the continent”…over here, under $20!

Some producers, however – like Tavel – make more expensive versions that cost over $10 more, and even claim that they age well. There are even celebrity bottlings (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie did one with Thomas Perrin). I have tried some, and they are okay but, for me, kind of defeat the purpose.

Rose – either bone dry or with touch of sweetness – should be quaffed with simple food in the summer time. Fruity, refreshing, it is a compliment to the season, not a wine to spend lots of time thinking about.
Buy, chill, drink up, repeat…that is what Rose is all about!

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

HOW TO CELLAR YOUR WINE WITHOUT SPENDING $$$$!

June 17, 2015

A popular wine topic is cellaring wine and, in particular, what you need to do it properly. Most people assume it takes a large amount of space – and money – to be able to have a wine cellar. But my experience over the past 25+ years is that is definitely not the case!

The basics of “wine cellaring” come down to four things – temperature control, humidity, light and vibrations. The last two are the easiest to deal with, so let’s talk about them first.

At the most basic, wine likes to be in a dark place that isn’t moving around! That can be a fancy wine cellar, but a closet or place in the basement works just as well. As long as it is dark most of the time and there isn’t a whole lot of shaking going on.

Humidity is the next easiest factor to deal with. Too little, and the corks will dry out, causing them to literally fall into the bottles (and the wines flow out the other way). Too much and – at a minimum – your labels will slip off, making it hard to figure out what your wines are!

Here on the west coast, humidity isn’t usually big a deal. Our temperatures can spike in the summer months, but we just don’t get the level of humidity that can occur on the east coast of Canada or the U.S. in the summer. Similarly, in the winter, even if it gets cold, we still have enough humidity to avoid things drying out.

But if you don’t live here (poor you!), then at a minimum by a cheap humidity meter or sensor and put it wherever you are planning to store your wine. The 75% level is often cited as the ideal, although it is flexible. Keep track of the levels in the winter/summer. If you notice readings significantly above or below that level, you need to find a different spot (or else invest in some kind of humidity controlled cellar). Personally, humidity has never been a problem for me.

That leaves us with temperature. The main thing people forget is that there are two parts to temperature – the actual reading, and how quickly it goes up or down. Aside from being way too hot or cold (above 75 and around freezing), the actual temperature is not that big a deal. You will hear from wine geeks that “55 degrees” is ideal cellar temperature. But I have never had that in my life, and still enjoyed 15 – 20+ year wines that were in perfect shape when I drank them. Could they have aged longer with a lower temperature? Perhaps. But they were stunning when I drank them!

In my experience it is the variation of temperature over time that is actually a much bigger factor. If the temperature rises too quickly, that could definitely hurt your wine (and vice versa). But if it is gradual (even 10 – 20 degrees over a few week period, like from late spring to early summer), my experience is there is little or no impact on the wines, even over a long period of time (i.e. a decade or more). That has been happening virtually every year in my cellar, with almost no problems.

So the answer to my initial question? Find a place dark, relatively cool place that is out of the way, and put your wine there. And it will be fine!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

STYLE 101 Part 2: That Damned Merlot!

April 23, 2015

Ah, Merlot…what a wine! Its popularity took a hit because of the movie Sideways a decade or so ago, as Myles continually expressed his hate for it. I’m not sure what the impact actually was on sales, as it still remains a popular pick for many people.

It is also another red wine that shows how important a particular wine-making style can be. Because while the name may be the same on the bottle, many Merlots could not be more different!

To start, the differences are similar to those of Cabernet Sauvignons. Fruity or more woody/herbal – that is a fair generalization. Similarly, California tends to produce more of the former style, while Bordeaux focuses on the latter, often at great expense (Chateau Petrus from Pomerol is one of the most famous – and expensive – wines in the world).

Now, I may be wrong about Petrus, because I have never tasted it, and probably never will. But that actually isn’t the style difference that if find most interesting and, in fact, frustrating, about Merlot.

My beef is with coffee, mocha…and chocolate!

Now, not the hot beverage (which I like) or the sweet (which I also like, but doesn’t like me very much, at least in terms of putting on weight). I mean the flavours.

Look at the wine reviews or descriptions of many Merlots and you will often see reference to coffee, mocha and/or chocolate aromas and flavours. For some, that may be a good thing. But for me, it is a big warning sign!

Because, at least to my palate, coffee + mocha + chocolate mean even less fruit flavour than your straight woody/herbal Merlot. Something just seems to happen when they all come together, and as a result I often cannot find any fruit at all!

Case in point, a BC winery (whose name I will keep to myself) that used to make maybe the best Merlot in the province (at a good price too). It was full of ripe – but not sweet or jammy – black plums, a touch of vanilla, and some licorice/mint. Never very tannic, it was just brilliant to drink.

And then the owners sold the winery, and the new proprietors started to make the Merlot (and all the red wines) in a more Bordeaux style. And that’s not my style. So my cellar – and recommendations – went from full to, now, almost non-existent.

Interestingly, most of the California Merlots I can afford to try (many are now out of my spice bracket) have kept to the fruity style. And there are a couple of others up here – La Frenz and Perseus – that still go in for the fruit-first style.

Since that is my style, that’s what I go for –at least in wine. Coffee, mocha and chocolate? That I will keep those for breakfast and dessert.

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

STYLE 101 – Cabernet Sauvignon

April 10, 2015

I always talk about how important it is to know the “style” of wine you like, so decided to expand on the concept in a series of blogs on different flavour styles for both red and white wines.

At the risk of simplifying things too much, style often comes down to two things – fruit and everything else (wood, herbs, etc.). And the best example of that are the red wines made from is perhaps red wine’s most famous grape – Cabernet Sauvignon.

When most people hear about Cabernet Sauvignon, they think of two places – Bordeaux, France, and Napa Valley, California. Interestingly, that is also a good way to start describing the differences in style of Cabernet Sauvignons made in these two different places.

Let’s start with Bordeaux, since it is the older, more established and – in the minds of many – more prestigious of the two wine regions. In general, the style of Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines here is less “fruit forward”, with more emphasis on the “other” aromas and flavours. Yes, you can find the classic black currants, but that isn’t what you usually first notice in most wines. Instead, you “smell” the wood – usually cedar – and then taste both that woodiness, along with herbs and a whole lot of non-fruit flavours. Overlaying all of this are tannins, sometimes quite firm, the purpose of which is to help the wine age over time. As that happens (anywhere from 8 – 20+ years for the more famous and expensive wines), the wine softens and becomes easier to drink, although the fruit also dries out and becomes even less evident.

In California, however, you find almost the exact opposite style in many of the Cabernet Sauvignons! The emphasis is instead on “fruit first”, which can mean an explosion of black currants on the nose and in the mouth, super ripe but not jammy (like you often find in Australian Shiraz). Layered over top is wood, but in this case in the form of vanilla from oak barrels. In the right proportions, the mix can be delicious! And the combination can be such that you may not even taste the tannins. But they are often still there, as many of the best California Cabernet Sauvignons can age for decades.

Same grape, but often completely different wines! I say “often” because, like all generalizations, the above characterizations are not always borne out. I have heard of — and, on a few special occasions, tasted – amazingly fruity wines from Bordeaux, but they have usually been the really expensive ones (which I can’t afford). Similarly, there are also California Cabernet Sauvignon producers – as well as others around the world – who try to emulate the Bordeaux style, and quite successfully!

In closing, I want to emphasize that this isn’t a case of one style being better than the other. It is about what style you like the best! And, most importantly, knowing what that style is, so when you go to spend your hard earned money on a Cabernet Sauvignon, you can know in advance what you are probably going to get!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

Oak, oak…and away?!?

April 1, 2015

It only took opening tonight’s wine to give me my blog topic – oak! The most frustrating part of wine – for me – because it can lead to the wines that I like the most, and the ones I just can’t stand!

Tonight was the latter. It was a Syrah from Chile. Not where I usually go for Syrah, but the review said all the right things – cool climate (like northern Rhone), pepper, meat, lean…should be my style, right? But then I saw that it had been aged in oak…A warning sign, but still, many northern Rhones get that, and still end up great (in my opinion).

But as soon as I popped the cork I could tell…not!!!!

It wasn’t bad, or even too woody. It just was devoid of fruit, replace instead by herbs, dirt and…I don’t know what else.

It reminded me of my other related pet peeves – oaked Argentine Malbecs, and most Spanish Garnachas. Same thing! Too many secondary aromas/flavours, and somehow the fruit has disappeared. So frustrating, especially with the Malbecs, which can be full of juicy blackberries! And don’t get me started on most Bordeaux, which you need a toothpick to drink with because of the woodiness.

But then there is the other side of the equation!

For reds, how about California (or some BC) Cabernet Sauvignons? If made in the Cali style, there is that amazing coating of vanilla from the oak barrels – absolutely gorgeous when done well, as the vanilla mixes with the black currants into a liqueur like flavour! The Caymus I had a few weeks ago was mind blowing. And the La Frenz and St. Francis excellent.

Same with Cali Chardonnays! I just had Mondavi’s latest Carneros Reserve and it was stunning, just as good as Beringer’s Private Reserve. Golden yellow, butterscotch, vanilla and ripe citrus – who couldn’t love that!

But what is with the dichotomy? How can I love one so much, and dislike the others just as much?

Deep breath…and opening a half bottle of 1989 Chateau Coutet to salve my wounds…what have I learned yet again?

Accept that wines have different styles, know what you like, and stick to it. Yeah, that’s it…

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

What Wines to Bring to Dinner Parties?

March 25, 2015

Here is a dilemma for all of us. You are invited to friends for dinner and say you will bring wine.

But what do you bring?

Well, before I answer that, you need to answer a couple of other questions first!

First off…how close are you? This is the most important question because if you are close friends, you may already know what they like or – more importantly – if they are “wine dweebs” or not (more on that below). If it is more casual, it can be less of an issue (although you never want to bring bad wine, of course!).

Second – are they wine dweebs? If not, see above. But if they are, you face a bigger challenge. Do you try to bring something that impresses them? Or something that you know they like (because you have had it there before)? I would go with the latter…many people say they don’t like to bring wine to our place because they know I am a wine dweeb and may judge them. But if they know what I like – Rhone wines, for example – they can’t go wrong, no matter how much they spend on the bottle.

The third question may seem a bit esoteric, but it is important if you are a wine dweeb like me. And it is – do you expect the wine you bring to be drunk that evening?

For me, this is often the toughest question! I have lots of great wine in my cellar, and I love the chance to share it with friends, even casual friends. But what can drive me crazy is bringing a wine that I was looking forward to tasting, only to have the friends say “wow, thanks!” and then put it away for use later.

I deal with this question in two ways. If they are close friends, I will actually ask what to bring! I couch it around “what is for dinner? What will go best?” That way, I find out right up front whether it will be drunk or not. If I don’t know them that well, I tend to shy away from really good wine – or mature wine – as I don’t know when it may be drunk.

Having answered these questions, then, back to the first one…what do you bring?

Well, I have a couple of safe bets for “casual” friends. For reds, try an un-oaked Argentine Malbec or Cotes du Rhone. They are almost always fruity but a little complex, not full of wood (from the oak) and you can find lots of choices in the $15 – $20 range. And for whites, try Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or B.C. They are fruity (but not too ripe), have just a bit of oak, and there are a fair number in the same price range as the reds above.

For special friends that you know well? Well, if you have a cellar, that is the time to bring something that is mature. A Chateauneuf du Pape or Chianti Classico Riserva that is 8 – 10 years old, for example. If they are really good friends, try a Barolo or Barbaresco that is 10 – 15 years old. If you don’t have a cellar, go for a California Cabernet Sauvignon. Mondavi, Beringer, Caymus…there are lots of big names that have wines in the $40 – $50 range, and the great thing is they drink well on release, so you don’t have to worry about tannins.

And for special whites? Chablis Premier Cru is a great choice, or Alsatian Rielsing or Gewurztraminer. These can be from your cellar (if you are lucky enough to have them) or right off the shelf, as they also drink well young and can be found in the $40 range. Cali Chardonnay is another great idea as long as you know they like oaky, buttery Chardonnays.

So the next time you are asked to bring wine to dinner, think about these simple rules. Follow them, and you can’t go wrong!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com