Posts Tagged ‘Zinfandel’

THANKSGIVING WINES

October 5, 2016

We are heading into our Thanksgiving Day long weekend up here in Canada, and every year I get questions about what wine to have with the big celebration dinner.

So here are some ideas!

First off, it always depends on what you are having to eat, particularly if the food – or significant components of the meal – is going to be sweet. That sugar can play havoc with both red and white wines, so it is important to plan accordingly.

If you are having a sweeter meal – ham with a sugar glaze, sweet yams or mashed potatoes, lots of cranberry sauce – then I would recommend two kinds of wines.

For whites, go with a Riesling. They are naturally on the sweet side (even the dry ones), so can stand up to just about any level of sweetness in your food. Also, they come in a wide range of price categories! You can get really nice ones from BC, Washington State and California for under $20, for example. Europe is the home to great Rieslings, of course – from France, in the Alsace region, and Germany – so you can also go there if you want a potentially great wine. One caveat, though – some of the best of those wines can get quite sweet, so if you or your guests don’t like sweet wines, that could be a problem.

For reds, that is tougher. Any kind of oak in the wine will not mix well with the sweetness in the food, potentially ruining the taste of both the wine and the food.

My “go to” red wine for sweeter or hotter foods is Zinfandel. It is chock full of sweet (ripe) fruit itself, doesn’t have oak or jamminess to it, and the alcohol level can help combat the sweetness in the food. California is the place, of course, to find it, and you can find options from $10 to $50++++.

It is easier to pair wines with more savoury dishes – turkey/lamb/chicken/beef with herbs, meat stuffing, that kind of thing.

My favourite red wine choice for these kind of meals is actually Grenache-based wines! Cotes du Rhone, Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras – all of these wines, even when young, have great herbal (called garrigue) component to them that pairs really well with herbal, meaty food. And they don’t have to be expensive! Basic Cotes du Rhone – solid wines – can be had for under $15.

As for whites, you do need to watch the oak. If you – or your guests – like it, then go for the big Chardonnay or Semillon/Sauvignon-based wines. They will be rich enough to stand up to the herbal meaty flavours. If oaked wines don’t work, you can try Pinot Gris or even Chenin Blanc – the best ones are full-bodied enough to handle the food without the oak.

That should give you enough to make Thanksgiving Dinner – here or in the US – enjoyable. But one last piece of advice.

If you really love wine and/or a certain type of wine, then have it! There are too few excuses to treat yourself, and not matter what the food is, you can still enjoy a fabulous bottle of wine.

Life is too short…so go for it!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

CALIFORNIA WINES MAKING A “VALUE” COME BACK IN BC?

October 29, 2015

Quick question for you – what do the ’13 Dancing Bull Zinfandel, ’12 Smoking Loon Syrah and ’12 Louis Martini Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon have in common?

Yes, they are all from California…and all solid wines. But more importantly, they are all under $20 in BC liquor stores, with the first two being less than $15! And I would bet that for our friends in the US, you can find them for around $10 in Costco or other grocery stores.

My question is…how do they make this kind of quality, at this price, for the BC market?

When I first started getting into wine back in the ‘80s, I drank a lot of California wines. And there were some amazing bargains back then.

But then the Canadian dollar tanked, and for a long time many – most? – California wines just became too expensive. Even four or five years ago when our dollar was at par with the US dollar, the prices just didn’t seem to come down very much, whether it was for the inexpensive wines or the premium ones.

But now, that seems to be changing…even though our dollar is once again falling!

So what gives?

I know the wines I mentioned above – and probably many others – are made in great quantities, which helps keep the per bottle cost down. But still…with our bizarre tax regime, the only way a California wine can sell for $15 is if it “landed” here at under $10, which I assume would be the price in the US (if not less given the exchange range).

Factor in the average price of BC wines now hovering close to $20 – for far lower quality – and it presents an interesting quandary.

And one I don’t have an answer to!

If you know, please pass on the reason. In the meantime, I guess I will be buying ore California wine to drink during the week!

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

“What’s a great red wine to take to a guys “foodie” dinner party featuring steak?”

February 11, 2015

A friend of mine asked me this question yesterday and, in developing an answer, it occurred to me the question would be a great blog topic. That’s because in order to get to the answer, I had to sift through a few important wine issues.

The first one to deal with was the fact this was not only a dinner party, but a “foodie” dinner party. From that, I took it that the participants are knowledgeable about at least about their food (and probably about their wine). That means whatever wines I recommended had to work with the food

And it was also a “guys” dinner party. So – at the risk of stereotyping – and assumed there would be a bit of competition going on here. So the wine not only had to be good, it had to be well known and probably not cheap. So probably no bargains wanted.

Next issue – the food! By steak, I assumed it wasn’t just chuck or sirloin and would be cooked on the barbecue. The potential cuts actually didn’t matter as much – T-bone, striploin, New York, Porterhouse, Ribeye – as it would be the barbecuing that would add much of the flavour. Grilling adds that wonderful charred flavour to meat, which can be powerful and overwhelm a more delicate read wine. A minor consideration was also if they were going to sauce the steak i.e. bbq sauce before, béarnaise after. Either way, those are some rich flavours that have to be accounted for in the wine selection.

The last issue was the word “great”. I needed not just any red wine, but a “great” red wine.

Now, that could mean a number of things, of course. “Great” tasting, “great” reputation, “great” rating…or some combination of all three. I doubt it meant “great” price i.e. cheap, given the other factors above. So, we are probably looking at $50+ in order to be in the game!

The toughest issue here, actually, is the “great tasting” one. It would be relatively easy to find a “big red wine” from Bordeaux, Piedmont, Tuscan, or even Spain. But if it is too young – and therefore too tannic – that might be a problem, even if those tannins are somewhat softened by the steak itself. Chances are the guests are going to start with a glass before eating the steak, and if all they get is a mouth of wood and lip-searing tannin, that’s not going to work.

So, with all that to consider…can you guess my recommendation(s)?

There were two, both from California.

The first was Cabernet Sauvignon from a “name” producer in a good, recent year. The style of Cali Cabs should be perfect for steak – big enough to take on the barbecue and any sauces, but also ripe enough even on release to enjoy on their own. And some of the “name” wineries make enough wine to have it available. I specifically recommended Caymus (the 40th Anniversary Vintage is very highly rated, although pricey at $72) as the wine that would be the best name. For about $30 less, I also recommended the Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet – not as big, but same style.

The other option was old vine Zinfandel. Again, big enough to take on the barbecue (it is actually my “go to” barbecue wine), nice on release, and available from some big name producers. Ridge Vineyards is my top pick, either the Lytton Spring, Geyserville (both $55 up her) or the Three Valleys (at $40). All are Zin blends, which adds even a little more complexity to the wine.

There you go…no over to my friend to see what he chooses…and how it works out!

SB

PS If you have a wine question you think would make a good blog topic, let me know!

http://www.sbwinesite.com

Holiday Blog #1 – Red Wines

December 4, 2014

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

1. Open Houses/Big Dinner Parties

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

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

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

2. Small Dinner Parties

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

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

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

3. Special Occasions

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

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

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

So there you go…some red wine options.

Next week, the whites!

Stephen

A Quick Guide to the 2013 Vancouver International Wine Festival

February 27, 2013

Hard to believe it is that time again, but the 2013 Vancouver International Wine Festival is on this week! With 176 wineries pouring over 600 wines, it can be a pretty intimidating evening of tasting, to be sure. So here is a quick guide to some of my recommended wineries and wines.

California

California was the only winery represented at the initial festivals, and it is great to see them back as the feature wine area! While prices have soared in the past years, the quality – and ripeness – of many wines continue to be very high. Here are five wineries to visit:

1) Antica Napa Valley – a venture by the Antinori family of Italy, this relatively new winery is producing fabulous Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays
2) Joseph Phelps – one of the most reputable and established wineries in California, Phelps is justifiable famous for its Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines, especially its Insignia blend
3) Paul Hobbs – another relatively new winery, but Paul Hobbs has been growing grapes/consulting for cult producers for years. Try his Cabernets, Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs
4) Ridge Vineyards – one of my favourite wineries, led by legend Paul Draper. A Zinfandel specialist – check out their Lytton Springs and Geyserville bottlings – Ridge also makes very nice Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay
5) Wagner Family of Wine – the new name for the winery that makes Caymus (among other wines), and go to taste the Caymus Cabernet Sauvignons. Year in, year out, they represent all that is great about California Cabernet – super ripe black currant fruit, just enough wood, and the structure to age well!

Argentina

Not as many wineries as in past years, but still a few that make really nice Malbec (the signature grape of Argentina). If you only go to one winery, visit Catena Zapata, which makes rich, ripe Malbecs in all price ranges, as well as some nice Cabernets and Chardonnays.

Australia

Disappointing to see so few Australian producers this year; not sure why (they are among my favourites). Of those attending, I would recommend visiting Gemtree Vineyards (nicely valued Shiraz), Inland Trading Company (they own Turkey Flat Vineyards, which can make great old-vine Shiraz) and Yalumbia, which makes the full range of wines (I particularly like their Grenaches).

British Columbia

By comparison, I was very happy to see so many BC wineries attending, including some of my favourites. That includes Averill Creek from Vancouver Island (Andy Johnson makes amazing Pinot Noir in Duncan), Blue Mountain (not sure if they will have their Reserve Pinot Noir, but it is one of the two best made in BC; also try their Gamay and Sparkling Wine), and NkMip Cellars (a First Nations winery making very good Pinot Noir and Syrah).

France

I am also disappointed by the low number of French wineries this year! Even so, there are a couple of very good ones from the Rhone Valley – Chateau de la Gardine and Les Halos de Jupiter (both of which make very nice Chateauneuf du Pape). And, of course, the Perrin Family, which makes perhaps my favourite wine – Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape – as well as great Gigondas, Cotes du Rhones Villages and others.

Italy

Italy has also sent a smaller than usual roster of wineries (am I sensing a trend here?). Worth checking out, however, are the Chianti Riservas from the likes of Antinori (as well as their Tignanello if they have it), Fontodi, Ruffino and Rocca della Macie.

Portugal

Finally, a great way to end the evening is with some Port! Three of the “biggies” are there – Taylor Fladgate, Fonseca and Croft – so it will be interesting to see if they bring any of their vintage wines.

So have a great time at the festival! My final advice, as is the case every year, is two-fold – spit if you can (to avoid getting drunk) and get out of the way once you’ve tasted (to avoid causing a line-up).

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

PS I will once again be “tweeting” my Festival experience, so feel free to follow me at @sbwinepage.