Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

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

Advertisements

My Italian Holiday

September 7, 2016

Well, I’m back after a summer break, almost a month of which was spent in Italy! So, for the first blog back, a few musings on Italian wine…in Italy!

1. Wine is cheaper in Italy

No doubt about it – Italian wine is cheaper in Italy! Whether a glass of cold Rose at a restaurant (2 – 3 euros!) or a very nice Brunello or Barbaresco (either in a restaurant or a store), the price is definitely right! And it wasn’t just the currency difference, particularly in restaurants. They just seem to have a different attitude — and tax system — in Italy for their own wine.

2. Very good to great wine is cheaper as well!

I was amazed to be drinking Brunellos, Barbarescos and Vino Nobiles for 40 and 50 euros…wines that would cost well over $100 in Canadian restaurants!

3. Italian restaurants have wine figured out

It wasn’t just the price in restaurants. It was the selection — lots of Brunello in Montalcino, Vino Nobile in Montepulciano, Barolo/Barbaresco in Piedmont. And the wine by the glass selection was often incredible! Some restaurants offered all the wines by the glass!

4. “Regular” wines are often better than the Riservas in Tuscany

I tasted regular Brunellos and Vino Nobiles vs their Riserva versions and almost always liked the former best. It seemed like “Riserva” mean more oak (as well as more $$$), and that meant more tannin as well.

5. You have to reserve in advance at wineries

This was a surprise! Having been to many wine areas in North America — where you mostly just “walk in”, I was disappointed that you had to almost always reserve in advance to go to wineries all through Italy. It wasn’t hard to do (even with not speaking Italian), and they treated you well, but you also had to pay (staring at about 10 euros and up). So beware if you go!

6. Don’t expect to just “follow the signs” to get to wineries!

Another big difference from California, Oregon and here in BC was signage. Or, the lack of it! It was hard to find many wineries in both Tuscany and Piedmont, even for our GPS. So don’t expect to just follow the signs!

7. There are some amazing restaurants in “wine towns”!

While we ate very well in major cities like Florence and Siena, some of our best meals were in places like the village of Barbaresco (Restaurant Antica). I know it sounds so logical, but they have figured it out there – great wine all around, so why not add great, unpretentious, fairly priced food as well? Amazing!

8. Try the local wines even if you haven’t heard of them

We went to Cortona, as my wife wanted to see the place where “Under the Tuscan Sun” was written. We went for lunch, and I noticed wines from Cortona on the list…a Merlot and an Syrah. We tried by the glass, and I was blown away, especially by the Syrah. So take the chance!

9. Even in the heat of summer, you can drink “big” red wine.

Many of the restaurants didn’t have air conditioning or we were eating outside. But I was amazed how a glass and/or bottle of Brunello or Vino Nobile was still great even in 35 degree weather.

10. Wine and food, food and wine.

The food and the wine just went so well together…I was so impressed. You must go and try it!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

NO FRENCH ONION SOUP – OR CABERNET FRANC – FOR YOU!

November 25, 2015

A little riff on Seinfeld for my blog title this evening…but it seemed appropriate after the experience we had in Seattle this past weekend.

First off, though, hats off to the two restaurants we went to for dinner – Café Campagne and Il Terrazzo Carmine! Both had great food, wine lists and a $25 corkage fee! Given the latter, I brought my own wine, and thoroughly enjoyed both the ’11 La Grola by Allegrini and the ’12 Cotes du Rhone les Garrigues from le Clos du Cailloux. I bought both for under $30, so with corkage they were less than the vast majority of the wines on the wine lists!

But now, the experience…that led to the title of the blog.

We are sitting at Café Campagne, when two couples come in and sit beside us. One of the women was a bit of a loud talker, but I thought “whatever”, enjoying my cassoulet and Cotes du Rhone. And then the first thing happened…

She was the one with the wine list, and when the waiter asked her for her selection, she said she didn’t know, but knew she really liked a 2009 Chateauneuf de Pape she had recently had. I thought “alright”! One of my favourite kinds of wine, a great year…and they had some CHPs on the list.

But then the waiter recommends a wine from the Loire Valley…a Cabernet Franc?! I almost said something (my wife had to stop me). I mean, come on…Cab Franc from France couldn’t be a more different style of wine, right? I’m not sure if it was on special or what, but really!

And then, she decides to shift to…Bordeaux?! And not just that, but a fairly generic Margaux?! Again, a completely different style of wine from CHP. And the waiter just nodded and brought it to her.

I shook my head, and went back to my wine (and food). But it didn’t stop there…

When it was time to order food, the same woman announced that she had a cold, so wanted the French Onion soup…but without the cheese or croutons! My wife actually had to grab me on that one.

I can imagine the chef in the kitchen…he must have just gone bug eyed!

Not because he couldn’t do it, of course. The caramelized onions/broth are cooked in one pot, and the cheese/croutons added at the end under the broiler. But still…isn’t the cheese – in particular – what the soup is all about?

But that is what she got – a bowl of broth with some onions in it! And as we were leaving, she seemed to be enjoying her soup and wine.

So the purpose of this blog? Well, I know that the “customer is always right”…so give them what they want. But please…at least give some advice that makes sense? Some alternatives, perhaps, for both the food and wine that make sense? That’s all I ask. Then if they still make a strange decision, it’s on them.

Or next time, maybe I will come over the table…

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

So who are they making $50+++ BC wines for any way?

October 14, 2015

So I read in the local paper recently that one of BC’s biggest, highest profile wine producers has decided to launch a new brand. It will only be available on-line or at restaurants and be priced — I assume for the on-line purchases – from $85 – $120. I expect restaurants would at least double that price.

When I saw this, I was flabbergasted! It adds to a growing number of BC wine producers who are making wine for sale at $50 or more (sometimes a lot more).

Now, I have ranted about BC wine prices before. But after another cup of coffee (and a few deep breaths), I thought of another question – who exactly are these wines being made for any way (regardless of whether they are worth the price or not)?

The ‘casual’ wine drinker? I don’t think so. Few would go over $20 for a bottle of wine (let alone $50++).

The average wine dweeb like me? Again, I don’t think so. When I get to the $50 level – which isn’t very often for my cellar – I think about wines I know are great and will age well. Like northern Rhones (Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage, Cornas, Cote Rotie), southern Rhones (Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas), Barolos, Barbarescos, Brunellos…All of these have proven histories. The BC wines in question…not so much (if at all). So I am supposed to trust my money on that?

As gifts, perhaps, to wine dweebs like me? Perhaps…although if you know the wine dweeb well, you probably also know the kind of wine they value…and it wouldn’t be these wines.

For restaurant diners, then? Well, at 250 % average markup…I doubt it. If I am going to spend $150 or more a bottle (and that is a big if), I am going to buy one of the wines I mention above!

That leaves me with…tourists particularly those from countries with favourable currency exchanges and/or who want to bring a ‘special’ gift home.

And there it was – bingo! That must be the market!

If that is the case, so be it…and I wish the producers all the best. But I would also offer a warning, and a concern.

The warning? I see lots of those $50+ wines languishing on Liquor store shelves, and assume that is also the case at the wineries themselves. But if the wineries want to take that risk, it is their money!
My concern, however, is bigger.
There are more and more amazing BC wines being made for $20 – $40. Even in a restaurant, they represent good value for money. My hope is that flashy marketing campaigns for more expensive – but not necessarily better – wines won’t mean residents and tourists miss out on what is really the ‘best in BC’!

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 DEAL WITH A WINE SNOB!

July 23, 2015

Okay, I admit it…I am a wine snob! I have strong opinions, I don’t like home-made wine, and won’t stand for people putting ice in their red wine…among other things!

But I also try to not to inflict my wine snobbery on people as much as possible. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, as long as they don’t force them on me (and vice versa). And being nice is a good policy…period!

Having said that, I have encountered enough wine snobs in my time to know how painful they can be!

So what is the best way to deal with them?

Well, the easiest thing to do – like with any unpleasant person (or person who is behaving unpleasantly) – is to simply walk away. If you can, do it…what follows is often not worth the effort, and life is too short!

But if you are stuck with a wine snob, at a dinner party or in a conversation you can’t get out of, there are ways to deal with him (or her) that can help “manage the pain”.

Note the word “manage”! I use it because you can’t usually change the behavior – or views – of a wine snob. But there are ways to manage him or her to minimize the impact.

The first strategy is to simply go along with what the person is saying. If he or she is pontificating on Bordeaux, or Riedel glasses, or natural wines…just nod your head, look interested, and perhaps ask for more information. Snobs love this kind or behavior! The problem, of course, is they will just keep talking…to you!

Another approach is to change the wine subject. Ask, perhaps, what the person things about another kind of wine. Or a certain vintage. Or even his or her favourite wine reviewer. Any wine snob will jump at the chance to keep talking about something new! But while that means the topic will change, you still end up listening to the bore!

A more tricky approach is to transition the conversation, just slightly. For example, if the wine snob is talking about French wine, ask whether he or she has been to France and if so, where. If they haven’t – and you have – you may actually be able to jump in and take over the conversation! If you haven’t, at least that may lead to a different discussion (around travelling, perhaps, which the snob may not be quite as opinionated about).

The last – and most daring, but dangerous, approach – is to actually disagree with the wine snob. This takes a combination of guts and wine knowledge (although more of the former than the latter). On the subject of Bordeaux, for example, if you don’t like it, think it is too expensive, too woody, etc….just tell him or her. Just the look of shock on his or her face is often worth it! But that may be followed by more bluster –which you must endure – or perhaps he or she may just walk away (which can be a triumph). This does take more effort, however…and it is up to you if want to exert it!

So there you have it…some wine snob strategies! Try one, try all…and let me know how it goes!

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

NATURAL WINE – REAL OR JUST A MARKETING PLOY?

June 10, 2015

I can’t resist this one! Just back from a week in New York, and I read in a couple of places (on the plane, on-line, in the Times Magazine and then even back in Vancouver) about this whole “natural wine” phenomena. And, frankly, it smells a bit to me!

Essentially – from what I can make out – the concept is that wines should be made to reflect where they are grown/made, with minimal intervention from the winemaker. The concept of “terroir” has been around for ages, but this takes it to another level completely.

Parts of it I get for sure. Make the wine from grapes that grow best in your area? Absolutely…no point trying to grow/make Cabernet in a region that won’t get enough sun to let the grapes get ripe.

Minimize your use of pesticides and fertilizers in the process, even make a wine that is “organic”? I can go for that too…major wineries like Chapoutier and Beaucastel in the Rhone have been taking that approach for years.

And avoid adding too much “stuff” to the wine as it is being made and/or filtering it? I’m good with that too…no sugar, unfiltered, let the grapes show what they are made of (so to speak).

But the next part…don’t add anything at all and just let the wine “be what it is’? Well, now we have problems, at least from my point of view.

Why? Well, all I had to do was look at the descriptions of some of the wines being promoted.

“Oxidized”, “funky”, “unpleasant”, “devoid of fruit”…and those were some of the nice descriptors! If that is what a wine tastes like, then either your grapes weren’t very good – or ripe – or you don’t know what you are doing!

And, of course, it all comes at an additional cost! Can you imagine…paying more for something that doesn’t taste as good?

I think wine critic Robert Parker’s response was bang on. I am paraphrasing, but essentially he was saying this was an excuse to make unripe, unfruity wine…something that Bordeaux and Burgundy used to get away with on a regular basis for years during “off vintages”.

Sorry…call me simplistic, but wine – like anything else you choose to put in your mouth – should taste good. The better it tastes, the more I am willing to pay for it. Full stop.

As a PR guy by profession, anything else just sounds like someone trying to sell you a load of you know what!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

How to Order Wine in a Fancy Restaurant

May 27, 2015

Okay, you are at a nice restaurant, sit down and, in addition to the menu, are presented with leather covered wine list the size of a bible.

What do you do?

Here are two approaches to try.

First, you can ask for help. It’s not an easy thing to do, and can be very intimidating, especially if the waiter/sommellier is a bit snotty.

Best way to handle that is to be as specific as possible! Tell the waiter the grape, style and price range – say a fruity Cabernet Sauvignon for around $50 or an buttery Chardonnay. With that much info, you should get back a couple of recommendations. Keep in mind bottle prices can be 2 – 3 times retail, so your options may be limited.

You can take the same approach ordering wine by the glass, by the way, if you don’t recognize any of the options. But watch out for wines that have been open too long! If it seems off, ask for a new bottle to be opened.

And if you want to go it on your own with the wine list?

Well, first off, scan the list for wines you may know and like. If you find one and can live with the price, that is an option.

If you want to try something new, think hard about the style of wine you like and try to match that with the prices they are charging!

Easiest matches are Cali style Cabs and Chardonnay, French Syrah amd Grenache and Aussie Shiraz…you can just about guarantee they will be the same style as the wines you know and like.

Ones to be careful of are Cabernet wines from other parts of the world (which can be woody and herbal) and Grenaches/Syrahs from Spain and Italy (which can be oaky). I am not saying those are bad, just different in style. You can ask if you like…the waiter/sommelier should be able to tell you the style.

A last piece of advice with respect to older wines. You will pay more, of course, but more important is understanding what they will taste like. If you are going to drop $100+ on a bottle and don’t have a lot of experience with mature wines, remember that the fruitiness will probably be gone, replaced by herbal, dried fruit. It can still be great…but very, very different!

So there you go! How to deal with a wine list at a nice restaurant.

So go, order…and enjoy!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com