Posts Tagged ‘Wine’

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

Summer Wine Musings

July 19, 2017

Back from holidays in Eastern Canada, so a few holiday wine musings (in no particular order):

Rose

We love it in summer! I’ve written in the past how I like a touch of sweetness in Rose, but we had a number of bone dry Provence versions while away, and they were outstanding in the heat!

Red wine in Summer

Most people stay away from reds in the summer, especially the ‘big ones’.  But we had some great, full bodies reds in restaurants! Chateauneuf, Languedoc, Brunello…they were amazing in an air conditioned environment. And they were great with some of the French food in Montreal and Quebec City.

Restaurant Wine

On average, the wine lists were just okay…not a broad selection, pretty expensive and the wine by the glass was pretty pedestrian. So I brought my own most of the time!

But at the Gypsy Tea Room in St. John’s, Newfoundland – what a list! Quality and price. They had the ’05 Cote Rotie Brune et Blonde by Guigal for $120…a 95 pt wine for cheaper (by half) than what you could by the ’14 in BC stores. Had to buy it…and it was stunning!

Riesling

What a great go to wine, even on the plane! Is it a touch sweet sometimes – yes. But refreshing, nice acidity, never worse than good!

Wine Across Canada

Finally, it was interesting to compare wine – selection, price, stores. In general, I was quite impressed with prices, as they were lower on average than in BC, even in the government stores. Selection was both different and surprising – not as many Chateauneufs and Barolos, for example, but the selection of Languedec and other South of France wines was very impressive! And hats off to the Vintages Store in Ottawa – downstairs from the regular store, and had more fine wine than I have seen anywhere in BC!

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

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

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 DO YOU KNOW WHEN A WINE IS TOO OLD?

July 15, 2015

I have blogged before about “how to know when a wine is off”…but a couple of experiences this week made me think that another good topic was how to tell if a wine is just too old!

The first? I was down in my cellar on Sunday…it was finally cool enough to open the door after weeks of scorching heat! I was moving bottles around, creating space, when I saw something…a 1994 Cotes du Rhone! Now, that made it 21 years old…and even for the producer – Coudoulet de Beaucastel – that is pushing it! What it really meant is that I had somehow forgotten about that wine. So I opened it and…

But wait! The second example. The ongoing white Hermitage debacle! Those who read my blog know about this conundrum…I bought a number of highly rated white Hermitage from the northern Rhone before ever having tasted them. Then, when I did…aack! More like Retsina than wine! So I just left them in the cellar…until now.

So what happened? Well, second example first (as I drink another glass…).

The white Hermitage – a 1990 Chante Alouette by Chapoutier – was so deep in colour it was almost orange! Did it have a resiny nose? Yes…but also nuts, wax…and in the mouth huge body, with no oak or obvious oxidation. Was it my favourite style of wine? No. But was it too old…certainly not (as today’s glass shows).

The ’94 Cotes du Rhone was an even better example. Still medium red, it had classic garrigue/dried cherries on the nose. And in the mouth? It could easily have been mistaken for a mature Chateauneuf du Pape – smooth, no tannin, dried fruit, herbs, but – again – no signs oxidation at all. Amazing!

So back to the question – how do you know if a wine is too old?

Well, if you take out wines that are just “off”, a big part of the answer depends on the style of wine you like.

If you like fresh, fruity wines the best, then any wine that is not like that will seem too old. That’s not a bad thing…just something to know. So don’t keep your wine too long, or drink wines that are more than 5 years old.

But if you do like mature wines, then look for some tell tale signs. Is there little or no fruit at all? Are there tea-like aromas on the nose? Is the wine dried out – meaning tannic and that is about it? Is there lots of wood and herbs…but that is it?

And, for white wines, has the oak completely overwhelmed the wine, leaving you with a mouthful of what tastes like sawdust?

If the answers to these questions are “yes”, then the wine is probably too old. Bad? Not necessarily. Not worth drinking? It depends on the style you like or can try to appreciate (says the man who is still sipping the ’90 Chante Alouette 2 days after it was opened).

So there is a bit of a guide for you on old wine. An acquired taste? Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean it is bad…you just have to be able to recognize it for what it is!

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

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

How to Avoid Being Biased in Your Wine Choices

May 12, 2015

Let’s face it…everybody has their favourite wines, and wineries! The more wine you taste – and drink – the more you develop preferences, particularly if you find wineries that make the style of wine you like on a consistent basis.

And the opposite is also true. Try a few vintages of the same wines/wineries, find them to be not your style – and the temptation is to write the winery (and its wines) off before you taste any more.

But that isn’t fair for a couple of reasons. First, we need to remember that it is about the style of wine that we like – that doesn’t make it bad, just different.

Second, wineries actually change winemakers – and wine styles – all the time. To completely write off a winery permanently may mean you are going to miss some wines you may really like.

So what do you do to avoid this?

Well, the first thing is, if you go to wine tastings, force yourself to try wines and wineries that you either don’t usually gravitate to or have almost given up on. In those situations – after you have paid the tasting fee – it is essentially “free” to try as many as you like. So do that! If you spit out the tastings (as you should) you literally have nothing to lose except the time it takes to do the tastings!

I did just this at a recent tasting of BC wines, focusing on white wines in particular. And I actually found some wines I would normally not have! It opened my mind to other possibilities.

If you don’t go to tastings, another approach is to try 1 or 2 wines a month that are different. You can choose the approach you want here – change wineries but stay with the grapes you like, changes grapes, whatever. The point is to try something different. As long as you keep the costs in line what you usually spend, the worst thing that will happen is you end up drinking a wine you don’t really like once or twice a month.

Even that isn’t so bad, if you like to cook! A number of times I will just take the rest of that bottle, put the cork back in, and decide it’s time to marinate something with it. In that case, no waste at all!

So there you go…some advice on how to make sure your wine wine preferendes don’t limit your wine options in the future!

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