Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

Happy New Year everybody!  Crack out the bubbly and celebrate the start of 2011!  A new post will be up tomorrow.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Wine: Made From Genuine Water!

Merry Christmas!  Today millions of people will awake to find presents patiently  waiting to be unwrapped.  Children will laugh and smile as they play with their new toys, the spoiled ones will cry and sulk because they didn’t get the latest MP3 player.  The morning is loud and early and many are recovering from the parties that were held a night earlier: Christmas is a time of peace and celebration.  The shrills of excited children may be a bit much to handle in your hung-over sleep deprived state the best cure is the hair of the dog that bit you.  While pouring your morning coffee, don’t forget about that bottle of Bailey’s, Cointreau, amaretto, whiskey or whatever your preferred additive is.

The coffee pot will eventually run dry but before reaching for the grinder, so you may further indulge in the waking nectar, you should get some vitamins.  Hopefully you thought ahead and bought some bubbly to add to that glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.  Personally I would be tempted to go with a Prosecco rather than a traditional method sparkling wine; the crisp fruity flavours will complement the orange juice, but in a pinch either will do.

Soon dinner arrives which is always a spectacle.  I think before eating Christmas dinner it is important to take some time and reflect: What would Jesus drink?  Jesus, as the bible tells us, was big into wine.  Catholics still drink his blood in wine form to this day.  But before you go knocking on the priests door asking if you can borrow a bottle or two of communion wine take pause.  Jesus was almost definitely not drinking the wine that we drink today.  Very few grapes that are commonly used in wine production date back two millennia.

Syrah has been around since Jesus was busy doubling fish and bread and turning water into wine.  It was also widely believed that Syrah had it’s origins in the middle east, notice the operative was.  It is now known that Syrah is native to France, which isn’t that far from Israel.  There could have been trade in wine from France to Israel but the wine would most likely have spoiled, which wasn’t a huge issue for the Romans as they had the disgusting habit, that can really only have the effect of making your hangover ten time worse, of mixing their wine with salt water, which presumably would mask any spoilage.

Given that Jesus could turn water into wine I find it highly unlikely that he was sending for wine from France.  What was Jesus drinking?  If he was indeed turning water into wine and multiplying the bread and fish count, hopefully he was leaving some water as water for the next morning, and presumably the fish would have been some Mediterranean whit fish. Either way if he was eating fish he probably would have been pairing it with white wine.

Israel is pretty hot which would also influence Jesus’ choice of wine, there is nothing more refreshing than a high acid white on a hot Israeli day.  Hopefully the fish they were catching were nice and oily because that would pair well with a high acid white.  Jesus, at least whilst at the wedding where he did all this business of changing one liquid into another, was probably drinking Pinot Grigio*, or maybe a nice cool climate Sauvignon Blanc**.  I’m sure he was a man of diverse tastes and drank whatever was appropriate to the occasion, so why not follow suite and drink whatever tastes good!  Cin Cin, and Merry Christmas!

*To the best of my knowledge Pinot Grigio didn’t actually come into existence for about another 1000 + years but he was Jesus, if he could turn water to wine I’m sure time travel wasn’t a big issue either. 

**Sauvignon Blanc seems to be pretty ancient, but I don’t know if it was around that long ago, I’m on a plane and as such have a limited ability to do research, gimme a break.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Bacchus: Coolest Name for a Grape Ever! (Sperling, The Market White)

One of the perks of working in a liquor store is you have ample opportunity to try different wine.  Reps come through with wine, wine gets opened for staff to try, left over samples are shared with staff, this is what I like most about my job: the opportunity to try new wine without having to buy a bottle.  The one draw back to this is you don't fully get to taste the wine, as I have stated before I don't believe you can truly understand the character of a wine from a 1 or 2 oz. sample.

The other night a rep was sampling a couple wines from his portfolio to customers and staff.  While I do like the opportunity to try wine I always feel pressure to enjoy the wine when I am drinking it right in front of the rep who is serving it, reps are surprisingly touchy.  Luckily the other night I was not forced to extoll the virtues of the rep's wine with incredibly vague somewhat complimentary adjectives.  I really did like the wine that was being offered so much so that I picked up a bottle.

The wine was much as I remembered it but the flavours were slightly different than I remember from the 1 oz. sample.  In the end I like the wine just as much as when I first tried it, and now that I have had a few glasses I feel like I have gotten to know the character of this wine: we're buds...

Producer: Sperling
Wine: The Market White
Grapes: 52% Pinot Blanc, 39% Bacchus, 6% Riesling
Region: Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada
Vintage: 2009
Alc: 10.9%
Price: $16

Notes: This wine is a crowed pleaser it is sweet but well balanced, it has a light fizz to it and it's very tasty.  The aroma and flavours are pretty much identical with canned peaches, floral notes, green tea and hints of minerals.  The wine is charmingly simple with a luscious texture it is Very Nice!

Bacchus God of Wine and Grape
Bacchus is the Roman god of wine and drunken debauchery also it is a type of grape.  Bacchus the grape is a granddaughter of Riesling and the daughter of Muller-Thurgau.  It's not really an important grape variety.  Bacchus is native, well was bred in, Germany.  When the Germans came to Canada they were kind enough to bring Bacchus to BC.  It ripens early which is good for cooler climates such as Canada and Germany and... the U.K. (The U.K. does have a handful of wineries).  It's a fairly obscure grape, but hey sometimes obscure is good.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

More Lovely Bubbly! (Monmousseau, J.M. Cuvee)

Christmas is almost here, New Years will follow shortly thereafter.  With all this in mind it seems appropriate to drink the sparkling drink of celebrations.  Tonight I tried a bubbly from the Loire Valley in France.  The grape used to produce this wine is Chenin Blanc, a grape that is generally considered to be on the lighter side of flavour.  Even though the grape itself may not have all that much flavour the bubbly I am currently sipping on has quite a bit of flavour.

Grapes that are low in flavour can be quite useful for making distinct wine.  Most grapes will, once turned into wine, show predominantly fruit flavours, the beauty of a rather neutral flavoured grape is that the techniques employed during vinification can have a huge impact on the resulting wine.  The sparkler tonight was made in the traditional method which has a large impact on flavour especially if there is little flavour to begin with.  While the grape may lack flavour if fermented in a bland and drab way, it is full of complex bready flavours if the proper techniques are employed.  This wine is a good example of the results from proper vinification...

Producer: Monmousseau
Wine: Cuvee J.M. (Blanc de Blancs)
Region: Touraine AOC, Loire, France
Grape: Chenin Blanc
Vintage: 2006
Alc: 12%
Price: $20

Notes:  Drink this slightly warmer than you otherwise might.  The flavours are delicious but they are soft and if drunk too cold you won't taste much of anything.  The aromas and flavours are the exact same: bread, biscuits, red apple, citrus, stoney/salty minerality.  Very savoury in character with more body than you would typically expect from a sparkling wine, high acid.  Quite a treat this wine is Very Nice!

Blanc de Blancs: White of Whites
No this doesn't have anything to do with laundry detergent.  Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs are both types of sparkling wine.  In Champagne there are 3 grapes that are allowed for the production of wine: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (often shortened to Meunier).  Pinot Noir, as the name suggests, and Meunier are both black grapes.  Shockingly Champagne and other sparkers are often made from these three grape varieties despite the fact that most sparkling wine is white.

Even though a grape is black it doesn't mean it will produce a red wine or even a pink wine.  The juice from any grape is pretty much the same colour; some hue of yellow.  Red wines get their colour from contact with the grape skins, really any grape variety can be made into a white wine.  Blanc de Blancs means that the white sparkling wine has been made from white grapes, conversely Blanc de Noirs means the bubbly has been made from black grapes.  If there is no mention of either of these terms it's anyones game, the wine may have been made from white grapes, black grapes or a mix of the two.  Certain regions are more likely to indicate what grapes were used in the wine production, like Champagne*.

The grape or grapes used in the production of a wine will have a large impact on the characteristics of a wine.  There is no superior combination of grapes they can all be good when done properly.  If you do see Blanc de Blancs or Blanc de Noirs on a label you will be able to impress your friends, or alienate them depending on how you show off your knowledge, with the little tidbits of information you have just learned.  Remember wine has a pretentious vibe to it, be careful how you show off your knowledge. Most of all remember to enjoy.

*Champagnes are not going to actually tell you which grapes were used but there are only three that can be used: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier.  If a Champagne says Blanc de Blancs only Chardonnay has been used, Blanc de Noirs mean either Pinot Noir, Meunier or both.  No indication means that probably all three were used.  This does not apply to other sparkling wines.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Portugal: Beautiful Wine, Beautiful Women, Beautiful Owls (Altano)

As anyone who regularly follows my blog, or even someone seeing it for the first time and sees the quality links on the side, may notice, nice to awesome wines out number the decent to crap wines by about 5:1.  It's not that I am incredibly lucky when it comes to buying wine, although for the hundreds of bottles of wine I have bought over the past few years I have yet to come across a single corked wine which is incredibly lucky given that roughly 1 in every 50 bottle sealed with a cork is corked.  I drink more wine than I post.  I figure there aren't too many people interested in reading about decent or crappy wine, it doesn't really help you pick one at the store.

I will admit that most wine that I drink is somewhere in the nice to awesome range but this is no accident.  Most wine on the market, no matter how cheap, should be nice or else it shouldn't sell - unless it's dirt cheap and has a loyal following of hobos.  The real reason why I like most of the wine I drink is because I ask people.  The best thing you can possibly do for yourself when it comes to buying wine is ask for a suggestion from someone who has at least a little bit of experience drinking the stuff.  Not every suggestion is going to be good and some will flat out suck but I guarantee the number of good to bad wine you drink will be somewhere in the 5:1 ratio if not better.  It doesn't pay to blindly take a wine off the shelf because it has a pretty label, it does pay to ask.

This wine was suggested to me and I am very happy with my purchase...

Producer: Altano
Wine: Otus Scops (or thats the name of the owl, it's in very fine print above the owls head)
Region: Durou DOC, Portugal
Grapes: Tinta Roriz (tampranillo), Touriga Franca
Vintage: 2006
Alc: 13%
Price: $13

Notes:  The aroma is to die for it's a beautiful mix of blackberry, leather, tar, coffee, and tobacco, okay written down that sounds less appealing but trust me it's very nice.  Flavours are similar but there is a nice mix or red and black fruit with a little bit of herbaciousness, or what I called in my notes blackberry leaves, and some nice coffee and dark chocolate hints on the finish.  Medium bodied with nice acidity this wine is a must especially given the price!  The aroma is very nice, the wine itself is Nice!

Portugal and why I admire it
As I have mentioned previously Portugal grows a lot of pretty much unknown grapes and grows them in bizarre ways.  We live in a wine era where most countries grow the international varieties i.e. Syrah, Cab Sauv, Sauv Blanc, Chardonnay etc. basically anything you see and recognize on the shelf of a liquor store.  Almost all the international grapes are native to France, even malbec and carmenere, which are almost exclusively grown in South America these days are French by birthright.  We increasingly see countries that have their own native grapes traditionally used in local wine making switching over to the international varieties but Portugal stands strong.

I'm sure there are Portuguese vineyards growing international varieties but Portugal is one of the few countries that doesn't try and show off the grapes they use in their wine, they are confident in their product.  Altano listed the two grape varieties on the bottle one of which (touriga franca) is pretty much exclusive to Portugal and therefor unknown but the other grape, tinta roriz, is relatively common and well known in the world of wine when the spanish name is used - tampranillo, but Portugal feels no need to follow fashion so the local name is used.

It's hard to say whether Portugal and its' reluctance to use fashionable grapes or at least announce that it is using fashionable grapes will pay off.  Maybe the quirkiness of this delicious country will help its' global marketability, maybe more consumer interest in wine will mean more interest in Portuguese wine. All I hope is that enough people buy Portuguese wine made from native grapes so the wineries can make a profit and don't think about switching to the international varieties - we have enough of those already.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Scent of a Wine: Garrigue (Les Sauvageonne: Les Ruffes)

It's amazing how much your mood can affect how you perceive a wine.  I was rather tired all day because of some relatively heavy drinking the night earlier.  When I first opened the wine I was still tired, and that is pretty much how the wine tasted: tired and boring.  As I drank a little more and did a little bit of research on the wine my energy levels went up and the wine started to taste better and better.  Rather than just the one flavour of pepper the wine started to display a cornucopia of beautiful flavours.

I don't believe that a person can fully grasp the aroma and flavour of a wine with just a couple sips.  There is too much that can distort your view, to fully appreciate a wine at least one or two full glasses are needed. Unfortunately in the wine industry people tend to taste a wine in one or two sips and then move on.  One or two sips may be enough for the bold in your face wines but it leaves the rest behind.  Do movie critics judge a movie by the first 10 minutes?  Maybe, but hopefully they have the courtesy to go on watching till the end if they plan on reviewing it.

It is unfair to judge a wine in one or two sips and I assure you, to the protest of my liver, I always do my best to finish off the bottle to make sure my judgement is acute.  Don't let your mood get in the way of enjoying a good wine, if you are tired go for a cheap but decent wine, crack into the good stuff when you have the energy to appreciate it.  Luckily for me my energy levels improved, I went from drinking a mediocre wine to a fine wine indeed and here it is...

Producer: La Sauvageonne
Wine: Les Ruffes
Region: Coteaux du Languedoc, France
Grapes: Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault
Vintage: 2006
Alc: 13.5%
Price: $23

Notes:  The aroma of this wine is beautiful displaying: raspberry, blackberry, pepper, leather and garrigue(more on that below).  The flavours are pretty similar: raspberry, cherry, pepper, leather, garrigue, and a slight saltiness.  The wine is relatively light in body and the flavours are soft and delicate but quite pleasant this wine is Very Nice!  Be aware the pepper is very prominent in this wine, if you don't like peppery wine avoid this one.

Garrigue: a descriptor for pompous wine snobs.
Yes garrigue is a strange term most people aren't familiar with.  Garrigue refers to a quality in the air of the Languedoc region.  It's basically an easier way of saying a wine has a sort of earthy, flowery, herbyness to it.  Garrigue is a handy word when you know you smell or taste something along those lines but can't quite put your finger on it, sometimes vague words are important.  If you ever want to come off as pretentious as hell while drinking wine remember this word.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Wine That Smokes a Pack a Day (les fumees blanches)

Not every wine is going to capture the imagination.  Tonight I sat down with a bottle of les Fumees Blanches by Francois Lurton.  Fume blanc is not a type of grape the name is generally meant to signify a sauvignon blanc that has spent some time on oak giving it a fume or smokey quality.  While the wine doesn't actually claim to be a fume blanc the name strongly suggests that is the case.

Upon reading the back label it becomes clear at no time did this wine sit in or on oak.  The hills and mist apparently lend a smokey aroma to the wine.  While my imagination certainly wasn't captured it sure got working after reading the back label.  It would seem my imagination just isn't strong enough to convince me that there are any traces of smokey character to this wine, that being said it's not a bad wine.

Producer: Francois Latour
Wine: les fumees blanches
Region: France
Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc
Vintage: 2009
Alc: 12%
Price: $13

Notes:  There is no hint of smoke as far as I can tell.  There is peach, green apple, citrus and grass.  Fairly light bodied with high acid, this wine is simple but pleasant despite the deceptive name.  All and all this is pretty much bang on for what a simple sauvignon blanc should be, a fine example for its price range.  Les fummees blanches is Nice!

A wine that smokes?
Well not exactly.  Historically sauvignon blanc has been left unoaked and by and large still is today.  The idea to oak sauvignon blanc was an american invention. Back in the 1970's the famous Californian wine maker Robert Mondavi had a line of sauvignon blanc that wasn't selling very well.  Knowing americans aptitude for catchy marketing he hatched a plan.  He would partially capitalize on a well known region in France that specialized in growing sauv blanc and invent a new wine to go along with the slightly ripped off name.

The Loire valley in France grows quite a bit of sauvignon blanc, within the Loire there is a smaller appellation named Pouilly-Fume which specializes in sauvignon blanc.  Wine makers in Pouilly-Fume don't age their sauv blanc in oak but the soil does lend a slight smokiness to the wine.  The wine from Pouilly-Fume is sometimes refered to as blanc fume.  Mondavi's first stroke of genius was simply to reverse the order of the name blanc fume to fume blanc.

Fume blanc is suggestive of a Pouilly-Fume wine but the soils in California are not the same as they are in the French appellation of Pouilly-Fume.  Sauvignon Blanc does not typically have a naturally occuring smokiness to it when grown in California and without smokiness the name is just utter BS.  Mondavi decided the sauv blanc must be oaked in order for the name to be reflective of the wine.

With these new changes Mondavi's sauvignon blanc come fume blanc went from a poorly selling wine to the hottest libation on the market, the style was emulated the world over to a relatively small degree.  There are not a ton of fume blancs on the market these days but they can still be found, this was my first experience with one and it left me wondering where is the fume?

It should be noted that this account of the origin of fume blanc is pretty much accurate but I am not Robert Mondavi and as such have no actual insight into the order of events or how he actually came up with the idea of fume blanc.  Something to the effect of my retelling is the accepted version although all versions are a little murky. Mondavi, Pouilly-Fume, sauv blanc, oak are all generally agreed upon.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Portugal: Mmmmm (Cortes de Cima)

Other than Port and Vinho Verde I haven't had much success with Portuguese wine and for that reason I have largely avoided Portuguese wine.  Portugal tends to use bizarre grape varieties that are virtually unknown.  The vines in Portugal are often grown in a very different manner than the rest of the world.  Portugal goes against the grain which usually means the wine will not sell.  But despite their tendency to use strange grapes with odd growing techniques it is possible to find Portuguese wine in most liquor stores, which suggests Portuguese wine does sell.  The prevalence should have been enough to convince me that I was overlooking a very tasty country but it didn't, it took a recommendation from a friend.  Portugal I will ignore you no more.

Producer: Cortes De Cima
Wine: Cortes De Cima?  (I can't figure out why the name of the wine is the same as the name of the producer, maybe it's their flagship wine maybe they just like to be confusing)
Region: Vinho Regional Alentejano, Portugal
Grapes: Aragonez, Syrah, Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, Cabernet Sauvignon (see what I mean)
Vintage: 2002
Alc: 14%
Price: $20

Notes: Delicious! Beautiful fruit flavours of black cherry, raspberry, and black currant mixed with leather, pepper, tobacco, tar and some minerality.  Great complexity, long finish with a medium body.  Quite a find, should you happen across it get it cause this wine is Awesome!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Eden Valley: So Named for a Reason (Henschke Julias Riesling)

White wine is equally tasty as red, yet I seem to forget this every time I buy a wine.  I decided that I have been ignoring white, beyond sparkling, for too long.  Today I asked an Aussie co-worker for an Australian riesling suggestion.  If there is one thing I have learned about Aussies is they are fiercely proud of their nation's wine, and so they should be.  Ask any Aussie for an Australian wine suggestion and they will always steer you in the right direction. 

Riesling is, in my humble opinion, one of the noblest of noble grapes.  There are about six or seven noble grapes depending on who you consult.  I'm not going to give a list of them because every time I look into it there are different grapes on the list, but riesling seems to be consistent feature.  In a few words riesling is robust and complex it is equal parts delicious and smooth, sometimes sweet sometimes dry.  Riesling, when done well, will never disappoint no matter its style. 

Producer: Henschke
Wine: Julius Riesling 
Region: Eden Valley, Australia
Vintage: 2004
Alc: 12.5%
Price: $25

Notes:  Mmmm... I like this wine quite a bit.  It has a smooth creamy texture that will continually entice you to have one last glass.  Banana, peach, honey, floral notes, petrol, lime, and hints of walnut are present in both flavour and aroma.  Really good, inspired me to create a new ranking category, it is Very Nice!

Germans: the pioneers of efficiency!
Riesling can be a tricky wine to buy if you are looking specifically for a dry or sweet wine.  While, generally speaking, many white wines are done in a dry or sweet style dependent on the grape they are made from riesling can be bone dry to sugary sweet.

Australia tends to make dry riesling, buy from them and there is a very good chance you will not be getting a sweet wine.

Germany does their riesling in whatever sweetness level they so choose, luckily the label will usually give you some clues as to the sugar content of your wine.  Germany mandates, for their higher quality wines, that the producer specify the ripeness of the grapes upon harvest.  In order from least ripe to most ripe: Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein (ice wine).

The less ripe a grape is the less sugar content it has, the less sugar a grape has the less alcohol can be produced.  Knowing the level of ripeness along with the alcohol content can help you figure out if the wine is sweet or dry.  A wine marked Kabinett with an alcohol content of 11% is almost definitely dry, in the 7-8% range it is probably relatively sweet.  Spatlese will often indicate it is trocken if it is dry, trocken means dry, if not look for 7-10% alc range for something sweet to slightly sweet, 11% + for dry wines.  Auslese almost always has residual sugar and if not will almost definitely have trocken on the label.  Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein: if you find a dry wine in any of these levels alert the Gestapo. 

Alsace in France also produces riesling usually dry but France doesn't like to be too helpful with these sorts of things so there is an off chance there may be some residual sugar.  

Austria is also known for their riesling but good luck finding one in BC!  I will definitely do a write up if I can find one.  If you have tried one or more please let me know how it or they, was or were.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Where Bubbles Come From

Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, cremant de (insert regional here), no other wine goes by so many monikers.  While sparkling wine is the category all these wines fall into, much like Kleenex and facial tissue, Champagne has so fully  dominated the market many people associate all sparkling wine with Champagne.  Champagne is in fact a region in France, only wine that has been made in Champagne has the legal right to call itself Champagne. 

courtesy of
Champagne is emulated the world over however it is by no means the only style of sparkling wine that exists.  To create wine in the tradition method, the method that is legally required in Champagne,  is rather labour intensive but yields what must be desirable results considering the success of Champagne.  The traditional method involves two fermentations.  Like normal still wine the grape juice is collected and yeast is allowed to consume the sugars transforming them into alcohol and CO2.  The resulting wine is then bottled, sugar is added and again fermented but this time in the bottle. 

The second fermentation traps the CO2 that is produced in the wine, leading to the attractive fizziness we all love so much.  This second fermentation causes sediment, mostly made up of yeast poop and dead and living yeast cells, to form in the bottle.  Eventually all the sugar is eaten by the yeast and there is no food left to eat.  The yeast resorts to what the ill fated rugby team flying over the Andes resorted to: cannibalism.   This process is known as autolysis and adds complex bread like flavours and aromas to a wine.  The longer a wine sits on it’s lees (the dead yeast cells) the greater the effect becomes, and longer truly does mean longer, some sparkling wines sit for years.

Once the wine maker has decided he has been sufficiently cruel to the yeast the bottle is popped open, the sediment discarded, the wine is topped up and sealed with a cork.  If you have ever noticed that quite often sparkling wine has an opening similar to a beer bottle that is because it was, during this time of cannibalism, sealed with a beer cap… probably, it could also just be a result of the style of bottle.

The traditional method produces yeasty bready flavoured wine, not to say there isn’t fruit but that isn’t the aim, this lies in contrast to the charmat method.  While there are more than two methods of producing sparkling wine, the traditional method and the charmat method are, for simplicities sake, the two main categories.

The charmat method is the method that is responsible for producing lively fruity wine.   Prosecco is made by using the charmat method.  In this case the yeast is not forced into cannibalization instead the yeast does its secondary fermentation and than filtered out of the wine immediately.   Where the traditional method is meant to add savory notes to a wine, the charmat method is specifically designed to keep a wine fruity and fresh. 

There is a quick and easy way to tell how the bottle of sparkling wine in front of you was made and therefore what it will probably taste like.  If the bottle says something along the lines of traditional method, or method champagnois (a term which is now outlawed in the EU), or is labeled Cava, or Champagne than the flavours are probably going to be more savory and bready.  Any sparkling wine that is not labeled with any of these indicators is probably going to express more fresh fruit flavours.   Prosecco, to the best of my knowledge, is always made by the charmat method but there may be a couple exceptions.

Generally speaking the traditional method creates wines that are more highly regarded than the charmat method.  There is typically more complexity in wines that have undergone the traditional method, but complex or not sometimes you are just in the mood for fruit flavours rather than bread.

Interesting finishing note: sparkling wine corks are completely cylindrical before being put into the bottle.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Bubbles of the Boot (Pergolo Prosecco)

Champagne has become synonymous with celebrating.  Ringing in the new year, birthing a child or getting a big promotion would somehow lose their appeal were they not followed by the familiar sound of a cork rocketing out of a bottle filled with bubbly libation.  The success of Champagne's campaign to make all events worth marking on the calender close friends with the most explosive of wines has been somewhat to the detriment of sparkling wine as a whole.

Arriving at a dinner party the common question is red, white or beer?  Have we forgotten that fizz of the wine variety can be enjoyed year round?  Prosecco is the fruitier cousin to Champagne.  Different production techniques yield different flavours, and while the Champagnoise can remain proud of their method of production that has been emulated the world over, they is not the the sole share holder in the world of bubbly.  Prosecco can be just as tasty if somewhat less complex than it's spotlight stealing cousin.

Producer: Montello
Wine: Pergolo
Region: Prosecco DOC, Italy
Vintage: Non-vintage
Alc: 11%
Price: $15

Notes:  Mmmm, I like this wine.  It's easy to drink and very refreshing, perfect for the summer afternoon you will soon be longing for when we hit the depths of winter.  Come Christmas and new years this will make an excellent wine to celebrate with.

Look for pear, apple, banana, floral notes, accompanied by a nice zing of minerality.  Refreshing as can be this wine is very Nice!

What's the diff?
I have now mentioned Cava, Prosecco and Champagne a couple times without giving any real information as to what separates theses bubbly beverages.  Well I'm going to leave that for a future posting as it merits more than a tiny footnote of a paragraph.

I will say Cava and Champagne are siblings, Prosecco is their cousin.  Drink a few bottles and see if you can tell the differences.  More to come soon.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Barely Wine (Trainwreck Barley Wine)

Not a wine as such, but alcohol level similar to wine, flavours vaguely reminiscent of wine and the ability to age for years, barley wine is indeed a beer.  Barley wine and I had our first encounter in Victoria, British Colombia circa 2007 at a little and awesome brew pub called Swans.  Since then we've had a few more passionate encounters, although not as many as I would have liked.  A beer for the true beer lover, a cross over drink that wine-o's and beer geeks can both rejoice in.  Barley wine is the uniter.

For those living in the Victoria or Vancouver area Phillips has recently released their 'Trainwreck' barley wine.  Based on the amount that the store I work at received (2 cases or 24 bottles) and the fact that the rep who dropped them off said that was all we are getting I urge any lover of beer within close proximity to go out today and buy a bottle(or two, one for drinking one for aging).  If you don't live around Victoria or Vancouver panic not.  There are a multitude of microbreweries and brewpubs that make their own, probably equally delicious, barley wine.  It's typically a seasonal release and most probably do it sometime around the winter season.  Because of it's richness and high alcohol it doesn't make for a very refreshing summer drink.

Producer: Phillips Brewing Co.
Beer: Trainwreck
Region: Victoria, British Colombia, Canada
Grain: Barley
Vintage: 2010
Alc: 10%
Price: $6

Notes: Delicious aromas of... beer, let's be honest no one spends much time smelling their beer*.  Flavours are about as complex as you will find in a beer with toffee, orange peel, malt, and some nice hops on the finish.  This is an Awesome beer.

* I once had the unfortunate experience of smelling a beer that had the aroma of a dirty armpit.  It was a big national brand brew, and I assure you was discarded immediately.  Should this happen to you please toss the offending beverage!

Looks like I managed to survive the night, my throat did not swell and I didn't go into anaphylactic shock.  Half the bottle that tried to kill me remains in my fridge for preservation, I don't know if I dare go for a second round...

If I can resist temptation, or manage to avoid anaphylactic shock for a second time a holiday celebration Prosecco is on the list for tomorrow, stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Flavour Fist (Road 13 Cabernet Sauvignon)

Sometimes a wine will actively discourage you from drinking it, but don't relent wine is made to be drunk.  As I write this my face and body, to a certain extent, are flushing.  It's not the first time my face has flushed from drinking wine, but it is the quickest and most powerful flushing I have ever experienced from a wine. Flushing is not uncommon when imbibing red wine.

From a little bit a research it would seem that red wine has small amounts of histamines.  Histamines can cause allergic reactions.  The histamines in red wine are believed to come from malolactic fermentation.  Malolactic fermentation transforms malic acid, a very strong acid, into lactic acid, a much softer acid, this can also lend a buttery characteristic to wine.  However it is somewhat uncommon for their to be a buttery flavour in a red wine even though almost every single red wine goes through malolactic fermentation.  

My theory is that the cabernet sauvignon grapes that went into making this wine were particularily acidic due to their cool climate habitat (British Colombia).  With tons of malic acid to turn into lactic acid a bunch of histamines were produced.  This is just a theory.  But given my strange reaction and the obvious taste and smell of butter I think there is a good chance this theory is right.  If you are curious about the wine with such power that it can effect the blood flow to my face read on.

Producer: Road 13
Wine: Cabernet Sauvignon
Region: Okanagan, BC, Canada
Grapes: 87% cabernet sauvignon, 13% cabernet franc
Vintage: 2007
Price: $26

Notes: This wine is over-the-top big.  14.1% alcohol, tons of fruit flavour and oak flavour.  It breaks down as such: full body, aromas of oak, smoke, raspberry, butter, basil.  Flavours of raspberry, jammy, vanilla, butter, oak, eucalyptus.  I'm on the fence about this wine, while it has a lot of power it lacks subtly. It is nice to drink, it's also like being punched in the face with a flavour fist.  Its Nice! if you like huge wines you will love this wine.

This is not what you would call a food wine.  The flavours are so intense they will most likely overshadow the food you are eating.  While the fruity and vegetal flavours could go well with food the intense oakiness is unlikely to lend itself to any dish.  I tried this wine with olive and onion pizza, at first the flavours go nicely but then oak smacks your tongue destroying any other flavours.  Unless you're a beaver drink this one by itself.

If and when this posting starts to trail off you'll know my throat has swollen from the histamines and I've gone into full on anaphylactic shock, good bye cruel world...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Poppin my Cherry (Gres Saint Paul, Romanis)

Sometimes you get lucky.  Generally speaking I have a rather dim view of France's Languedoc region, it produces an ungodly amount of wine.  Languedoc, one of if not the biggest wine regions in the world, is mostly famous for making a lot of crappy wine.  There are some wine makers who are breaking the mold, daring to make beautiful voluptuous wines.  It would seem the producer of the wine I drank is one of the few who chose quality over quantity.  For the first time ever I drank a Languedoc wine that truly impressed me.

Producer: Gres Saint Paul
Wine: Romanis
Region: Languedoc, France
Grapes: 60% syrah, 30% grenache (although I prefer the spanish term garnacha), 10% Mourvedre
Vintage: 2007
Price: $25

Notes: They say the people you end up liking the most are the people you dislike at first encounter, maybe that applies to wine too.  At first I found the aroma of this wine odd and not good, after a while my opinion changed and I started to love this wine.

There is a lot going on here.  Aroma of lanolin (wet wool), acetone, leather, blackberry, pepper.  Flavours of jam, black cherry, blackberry, pepper, lanolin, black currant leaves.  Full bodied silky smooth texture amazing wine.  I think this wine is Awesome!  That being said it's definitely not for everybody make sure you like these types of flavours and aromas before buying this wine.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Fresh and Fruity, Now for Men! (Bouchard Aine & Fils Beaujolais)

I'm a man.  I am a man who likes light fruity wine, of course not to the exclusion of big and bold wine.  How did it come about that people started associating masculinity and femininity with wine?  I was in class the other day, the subject of the lecture was Italian wine.  We began discussing Barolo and Barbaresco, of which their wines were described as being quite similar but Barolo more masculine to the feminine Barbaresco.  Oh how 17th or maybe 18th (I can't remember the exact time period) century aristocrats would marvel at our gendered wines, not to say they weren't gendered back then.  Were you fortunate enough to be part of the rich elite, your more refined palate would favour the delicate and elegant white wines of France, that is assuming you were a man.  How things have changed.

In a world where we are pushing toward a bold new future of gender neutrality, or equality or whatever people are saying these days, a step in the right direction might be to start drinking whatever the hell tastes good, not what represents you as a man or a women.  Last time I checked both men and women alike savour tastes such as bananas, strawberries, and pepper all flavours associated with the 'effeminate' Beaujolais.

Producer: Bouchard Aine & Fils
Region: Beaujolais, Burgundy, France
Grape: Gamay Noir (usually just called gamay but apparently there are a whole bunch of other less common gamays)
Vintage: 2008
Alc: 12% (perfect for lunch)
Price: $13

Notes: I was introduced to this wine by my friend Anna who apparently has a most prodigious palate.  Look for strawberries, hints of red apple and pepper.  I didn't notice the pepper until reading Anna's tasting notes it's very subtle but she's very observant.  Light fruity easy drinking exactly as a Beaujolais should be.  This is a solid afternoon wine and deserves a big Nice!

Carbonic Maceration
If you are ever trapped on a desert island strangely devoid of yeast yet overrun with grapes you will be glad you read this.  Carbonic maceration is a process that turns sugar into alcohol without the help of yeast.  It is the process that gives Beaujolais its' distinctive light red fruit flavour and noticeable lack of tannin, oddities in the world of red wine.

When you eventually become overtaken by the insatiable desire for an alcoholic beverage on the island you now inhabit you will need to construct a vessel.  In this vessel you will have to remove all the oxygen and replace it with CO2.  In the CO2 rich environment place some of the native grapes, wait a few weeks and viola! Your thirst will be quenched.  Grapes, when put into a CO2 rich environment, will go through carbonic maceration turning the sugars into alcohol.  You will be most pleased you read this as you sip on the light and fruity fruits of your labour.

If you never find yourself stuck in the middle of the ocean you can still give thanks for the beautiful light flavour of the carbonically macerated gamay grape, try a Beaujolais...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Kay Syrah Syrah (Three Winds Syrah)

Syrah is the same as shiraz, just wanted to put that out there.  Shiraz is the name the Aussies gave to syrah for some reason.

Producer: Three Winds, Domaine Gayda if you want to get technical about it.
Region: Languedoc, France
Grape: Syrah
Vintage: 2009
Price: $13

Notes:  Not much to this wine.  Indistinguishable berry flavour and aroma with slight pepper.  This wine is simple with higher than normal sugar levels, only a little though you can't really notice it.  If you like Barefoot or Yellow Tail reds you'll love this.  It's a mass market wine made for mass market flavours, not that there is anything wrong with that, it's Decent.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bubbly for a Flat Wallet (Segura Vindas Sparkling Wine)

I don't obtain much sense of satisfaction from a brand.  I've never been too interested in who thinks what company makes the best.  Pragmatism is my game.  When it comes to bubbly pragmatism is not the game.  Krug and Dom Perignon are the bubblies of choice for those who can afford it.  Not being able to afford it and never having tried either I can't really comment on the respective quality of either of these vinous liquids fizzling and popping with C02, but I am willing to bet that a large source of these champagne houses' revenue is a result of image rather than preference and monetary pragmatism.

Just below France there is an oft ignored wine region called Spain.  Cava is to Spain as Champagne is to France (minus a few minute details).  You may not impress your friends as much as you would with a bottle of haut couture Champagne, but Cava will impress your taste buds enough to make up for the fact that your friends think you are fiscally reserved.  For the holiday season I present to you...

Producer: Segura Vindas
Region: Spain
Grape: 50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada, 15% Xarel-lo (yeah I've never heard of them either, the important point is that it's bubbly)
Vintage: Non-vintage
Price: $16

Notes: It's hard to know where to start, this Cava has a mix of savory and fruit flavours.  The aroma and palate are pretty much the same with notes of green apple, toast, bread, flowers and minerality that would make even the most pretentious Champagne snob blush.  It's got complexity, it's got delicious flavours, this wine gets an Awesome in my books.  Not to mention it's wickedly cheap, one of the best wines I've had in this price range.  Please buy this wine.

Should I hava Cava?
Short answer yes!  There are few differences between Cava and Champagne the most obvious and legitimate of which is that Cava is not from Champagne, in fact that's really the only definite distinction.  Champagne has slightly more strict rules of procedure but does it really justify paying $200-$300 more for a single bottle?

Cava is an oddity as far as the European wine appellation system goes.  Cava is a DO, a DO is a geographically defined area that has certain rules that a wine maker must follow if they wish to use the name of the DO on their label.  Bordeaux is a DO, well it's in France so technically it's an AOC (DO and AOC are essentially the same thing but different countries use different names and systems, but for all intents and purposes DO is the same as AOC), Champagne is an AOC as well.  Both Bordeaux and Champagne are geographically designated areas, in which, if you follow the rules, you can label your wine as such.  Cava is like a floating version of this.  There are rules, some of which pertain to geography(but not really, mostly it focuses on method), that control the procedural methods for making a Cava.  Cava by and large must be made the same way as Champagne however the rules are slightly more lenient, but only slightly.

Really what it comes down to is Cava is Spain's answer to Champagne but with less cache so it's way cheaper!  If you find a sparkling wine from Spain that says Cava, you can rest assured it has been made following rules that make it incredibly close to Champagne in nature.  There is a huge difference between sparkling wine and sparkling wine made by the 'methode traditionelle', Cava and Champagne both belong to the former category, more on that to come.  For now drink up, and drink regularly!

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Vertical Shuffle

Her lips were pursed ever so slightly, anticipating the silk-like liquid that would soon envelop her throat.  A raise of the elbow, with fingers firmly but gently gripping the stem, she swallows.  “I’ve never done this vertically,” she whispers.  I assure her vertical can be just as enjoyable as horizontal.  Her eyes flickered, I can tell which she enjoyed most.  The more recent while lacking in complexity and interest was fresher, more lively apparently that’s what she liked. 
“And…?” I question though I know the answer, “Which performed better?”


Several days earlier I was on my way to work.  The glory of a Vancouver fall was in full swing as small rain drops attempted to extinguish my cigarette.  My mind was scattered as usual; when do I get paid? When I get paid will I have enough to pay rent, eat and drink wine? If not should I cut out food or shelter? What difference does vintage make?  All these thoughts and more ran through my mind, my gait keeping pace with my thoughts.  An idea struck me.  I’d never compared vintages of the same wine.  What difference does vintage make?  I had heard differing opinions; some think vintage is of great importance, others thinks it matters only in certain climates.  I’d never thought to try the same wine twice from different years.

Apparently my thoughts dictate the composure of the universe.  I arrived at work only to find a new vintage of a wine I had bought no less than a week earlier.  It seemed I would be comparing a sauvignon blanc from ’05 and ’08.  The ’05 had performed fairly well a week earlier, it showed nice tropical fruit flavours along side a distinct and pronounced olive character.  Admittedly the olive component was odd, and most (including the producer) would probably agree that it is an undesirable trait, but I liked it, it made the wine interesting.  I had theorized that the oliviness was due to the excessive age of the wine, Sauv Blanc is not generally meant to be drunk 5 or 6 years after the vintage, this is when it starts to develop grey hair and requires the use of dentures.  With the arrival of the ’08 I would have a chance to test my theory.

I invited a lady friend over for an, admittedly small, vertical tasting.  Budget and availability were the only hindrance to the night.  To do a proper tasting, be it vertical or horizontal, there is generally a proper amount of cash that is needed.  If there is no rush years could be spent collecting new vintages of the same wine as it is released.  Waiting as the years go by will save you money and provide for a nice vertical tasting but may take half a decade or more to achieve a modest collection.  That half decade of work will eventually pay off with 5 vintages of the same wine and the opportunity to compare and contrast the merits of each vintage.  Failing extreme patience a little detective work may be required or in my case luck and and ability to feel satisfied with even the most modest of wine tastings.  Horizontal is somewhat easier, a comparison of different wines from the same year(vintage), all that is required is a half competent liquor store.

Two vintages of the same wine is not very vertical, it’s like a staircase with only two steps but I didn’t have time to search out other vintages nor did I have money to spend on more wine.  My lady friend clearly was less impressed with my tasting set up than she was with the wine.  While the ’05 was austere and olive like while maintaining some fruit flavour the ’08 was fresh and lively with almost nothing but fruit.  There was an ever so slight hint of olive to the ’08 which confirmed my suspicion that the ’05 had an extreme olive character because of its age, as the years had worn on the fruit slowly died out and the olives became king. 

It’s hard to say how much of a role vintage plays in creating a wine.  One problem with vertical tasting is that by definition all the wine being tasted will be at different stages of maturation.  Does the olive character come with age or with the particular weather the grapes saw that year?  In this case I’m going to have to argue that the olive character was due to age.  As far as the difference in vintage goes ’05 was, according to the legendary Robert Parker, a better year than ’08 for Chile.  Olive is not really a desirable quality in a sauvignon blanc by most peoples standards and while both had some the ’05 had a hell of a lot more.

If  ’05 was a better year one would assume it would produce a better wine(by traditional standards).  I’m willing to bet if time travel were possible and the ’08 was brought back in time to the year 2007 so both wines could be tasted at the same point in their maturation (2 years off the vintage) they would taste the same or very close to the same.   Chile with its warm consistent climate produces consistent wine.  For my money ’08 and ’05 were equally good.  I stashed a bottle of ’08 away so I could try it in 2013 and compare it to the ’05 I drank in 2010, I’ll let you know the results.


“I prefer the second” she grabbed the bottle with enthusiasm.  She poured me a couple ounces of the ’08, commented on the ‘pathetic’ wine tasting I had arranged, slid what remained of the bottle into her purse and slammed the door on the way out.  The night may not have ended where I would have liked but I was content with my mild buzz and the knowledge I had gained from my first attempt at doing it vertically.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Repeat offender (Cono Sur, Viognier)

Here she comes again.  The Chilean maiden has reared her tasty head once more.  I figured I needed to have a white tonight.  I tend to neglect white, I always think I like red more but when push comes to shove I do enjoy a finely crafted white wine just as much as a red.  I've always believed it's hard to find a truly crappy white, at the very least it is drinkable, but the sword cuts both ways it is equally difficult to find an awe inspiring white.  Unfortunately the wine tonight did not inspire any awe in me, but it was very nice and quite refreshing.  Although I was trying to avoid Chile for a little while a co-worker recommended this wine and my budget just happened to allow for it.

Producer: Cono Sur
Region: Valle de Calchagua, Chile
Grape: Viognier
Vintage: 2009
Price: $11

Notes: Nice wine displaying peach, melon, perfume and hints of green apple on the nose and palate.  I like this wine but there are two draw backs that made me rate it slightly lower than I otherwise would have.  There is a distinct sulphur smell, it's not crazy in your face, and leaving the wine sit for a few minutes before consuming will get rid of it but nonetheless it is there.  The finish also has a sort of asparagus grassy flavour to it, it's subtle and you probably wouldn't notice it unless you were analyzing the wine but it does detract from its appeal.  I would recommend this wine despite it's short comings, it's a good example of a viognier, at a super cheap price.  Trust me it's worth a go. Rating: Nice!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Siesta time! (Las Rocas Garnacha)

I've managed to escape from Chile, yet the language of the country still haunts me.  Tonight I went for a Spanish wine.  I've enjoyed a lot of the Spanish wine I have drank in the past, luckily tonight was no exception.

Producer: San Alejandro, Las Rocas
Region: Calatayud DO, Spain (The DO stands for Denominacion de Origen more on the below)
Grape: Garnacha a.k.a Grenache
Vintage: 2008
Price: $18

Note: Nice wine, medium in all respects: body, tannin, acid.  Aroma kicks ass: raspberry, wet wool, tar, dark chocolate.  Flavour is much more fruity with sour cherry, raspberry, red apple, sauerkraut, pepper, hints of mint, and chocolate.  All in all a respectable wine, if pairing with food go for something with decent acid maybe a tomato sauce pasta.  Las Rocas gets a B falling into the Nice! category.

DO what!?
A DO is a geographic region with set boundaries.  For a wine to put the name of a DO on it's label there are certain rules that must be followed in crafting the wine.  Often there are limits set on crop yield (a high yield means the wine will be diluted and poorer quality), there might be define minimum aging periods, rules concerning which grapes can be grown, basically they make rules to ensure a minimum level quality of wine.  Not all wineries within a DO must follow the regulation, they must do so only if they wish to use the name of the DO on the label of their wine.  Europe is littered with DO's, although the term varies by country, France uses AOC sometimes shortened to AC, Italy DOC and for even higher quality (supposedly) DOCG.

The entire idea was started by France, which happens to house the most famous AOC: Bordeaux.  If you see any of these terms on a bottle of wine it's supposed to be a guarantee of quality, although from my experience this is pure malarkey, but it will tell you a little about the wine.  If you buy a red Bordeaux you can rest assured that you are going to be drinking some sort of Cab Sauv/Merlot blend.  If you buy a red Burgundy you're getting a Pinot Noir if it's a white It's Chardonnay, unless it says Aligote on the label, then it's an Aligote.  The whole thing gets quite confusing to be honest, but a little bit of knowledge about these protected regions can greatly aid you in selecting European wine.

Friday, November 26, 2010

And now for something completely different (Errazuriz Merlot)

Based on my tasting note book it would seem that I have a very strong preference towards Chilean wine.  Over a third (just barely though) of the wine I have bought in the past month has been Chilean.  The next runner up is... nothing!  Almost every other country is represented equally, which if you're wondering is roughly a third (for each country not as a whole or we'd be missing one more third) of the Chilean wines I have bought.  It seems Chile beats every other country by a factor of three.  The only way I can explain this is, well... I love Chilean wine and it is priced so damn well for what it delivers.  So as to not break my streak I present to you...

Producer: Errazuriz Estate
Region: Valle de Curico, Chile!
Grape: Merlot
Vintage: 2008
Price: $15

Notes: The aromas on this wine are awesome, but they overshadow the flavour to a certain degree.  Look for: Blackberry, Dark Plum, Coffee, Leather, Rubber and Tar on the nose.  Complimented by flavours of Blackberry, Dark Chocolate, Coffee, and hints of spices.  Full bodied and well balanced this is a wine to try for sure.  It fits solidly into the B/B+ range I give it a 'Nice!'

Side note: You can get this wine if you live in BC, Ontario, or Quebec.  Maybe other places too!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Yay Australia! (Kangarilla Road Chardonnay)

My swill wine streak has finally been broken.  Upon the recommendation of a fellow employee and Aussie by birthright, I picked up a delicious Chardonnay from the Maclaren Vale in Australia.  Honestly I don't know why I even bother buying wine that I have heard nothing about.  It seems buying random wine off the shelves runs a 80% likelihood of it being a sub par wine.  Whenever someone recommends a wine I find it is almost 100% chance of it being a good wine, that is assuming the person knows something about wine.

Producer: Kangarilla Road
Region: McLaren Vale, Australia
Grape: Chardonnay
Vintage: 2007
Price: $17

Notes: The texture of this wine is mind blowing.  It is like drinking a mix of butter and silk, coating the mouth and throat with delicious Melon, Butter and Vegetal flavours with hints of Peach, Vanilla, and Green apple.  This wine delivers interesting flavours and aromas that aren't the exact same as one another.  I really liked it, but if you really love big Chardonnays I would probably avoid it, on the other hand if you don't drink a lot of Chardonnay and you want to try one that isn't over the top this would be a good starting point.  It's not a humongous Chardonnay, but it isn't meek either.  30% of the wine was fermented in new french barriques and the wine delicately displays the flavours of the oak.  My final verdict: A for Awesome well worth the price.

What is a barrique?
I'm glad you should ask.  A barrique is a barrel, a rather small and common barrel as far as wine barrels go.  It holds 225 L or 300 bottles of wine and was first developed in Bordeaux.  Size of an oak barrel has a big impact on the wine.  The larger a barrel the less contact the wine has with the oak meaning less flavour will be imparted.  Another factor  affecting oakyness of a wine is whether it is new or used oak.  New oak lends more flavour to a wine than used oak.  Just because a wine is oak aged does not mean it will have an oaky quality, it all depends on the barrels used.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Quails' Gate Pinot Noir

I've had a string of mediocre to bad wine recently.  One of which was a very disappointing Bordeaux, Chateau Roquetaillade La Grange 2005 (the red, not the white), that received 90 points from Wine Spectator and cost me $30, it was decent at best definitely not a 90. I don't want to post a whole bunch of reviews of wine that suck or are near sucking so I dug into my archives and found some wine from the past that I thoroughly enjoyed, here is one of them:

Producer: Quails' Gate
Region: Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Grape: Pinot Noir
Vintage: 2008
Price: $25

Notes: I expected a lot from this wine and it delivered.  Quails' Gate is probably one of the most highly regarded wineries in the Okanagan, with good reason.  This wine had a lot going on, the nose gave aromas of Cherry, Tobacco, Strawberry and hints of spices.  The palate offered Raspberry, vegetal notes, Strawberry, Liquorish and hints of coconut.  Lightish body with good acid and a medium to long finish.  This wine was thoroughly delightful, I didn't really grade it when I wrote my notes but as far as I can remember it would have been around the A- range and for the price probably the same as it was well worth the $25.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Vina Maipo

Producer: Vina Maipo
Region: Central Valley, Chile
Grapes: Carmenere - 85%, Cabernet Sauvignon - 15%
Vintage: 2009
Price: $8

Notes: If you want a cheap wine that doesn't really stack up even against it's peers then look no further.  It's hard to tell what the flavours and aromas are, they are very muted there is some cherry, green pepper.  Low acid, medium tannin, medium body, short finish.  I give this wine a C but for the price a C.

A gripe I have with this wine:
The name of this wine is Vina Maipo, actually it's the producer's name, one way or another it is the most prominent term on the label.  Maipo is a Valley in Chile a valley in which, the label would lead you to believe, the grapes are grown.  However if you look close enough you will find the grapes actually come from the Valle Central.

The Maipo Valley is technically part of the Valle Central but so are three other valleys.  To use a smaller region on a wine label usually indicates better quality.  If a label just says Chile the grapes could be and probably are from all over Chile, and generally such a broad region being named is an indication of an inferior wine. The Valle Central is a step up from just Chile, and Maipo is a step up from Valle Central, generally speaking.

To put the name of a valley in the name of you wine and then source grapes from a much larger region seems pretty dishonest to me.  Not only did I not particularly like this wine, although it didn't actively offend my palate, but I also think their label is dishonest.  I should point out they do have higher end wines that are actually from the Maipo Valley, but if they're not going to get their grapes from the Maipo for every wine they make they shouldn't use the name Vina Maipo for every wine they produce.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Montepulciano D'Abruzzo

Producer: Spenelli
Region: Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
Vintage: 2008
Price: $12
Description: This is a simple wine but it is tasty.  Look for blackberry, grassy notes with a little bit of mint mixed in.  It's medium in body, high in acid with a bunch of tannin.  Probably best if paired with food, maybe spaghetti and tomato sauce or something along though lines.  I'll give this wine a B- but B for the price.

A little extra:
If Italy as a wine making country were a person it would have a serious case of ADD.  There are so many different regions and grapes grown here that it is tempting to avoid the country all together.  Knowledge of the country can help a little, but it is still an outrageously confusing country.  Only in the past half century or so did Italy even decide to start exporting good quality wine: the bastards used to keep it all to themselves!  The wine I drank tonight is from Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.  Montepulciano is the grape, Abruzzo is the place.  Wine from this region is typically pretty good quality and relatively cheap.  This wine didn't dazzle my palate but for the price it was pretty good and easy drinking.  Pick up a bottle from this region next time you happen across one and chances are it will impress.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Nice Wine for the Night

Producer: Louis Latour
Wine: Pinot Noir
Region: Cote D'or, Burgundy France
Vintage: 2008
Price: $22
Notes: If you are looking for a nice, easy drinking, fruit forward wine this one is for you.  This light bodied red is well balanced with cherry, raspberry, red apple, red currant, mint and slight vanilla characteristics.  It's not terribly complex but that is part of its charm.  It pairs well with cheeses of the region specifically: Epoisses and Brillant Savarin.  It's not likely you will find either of these cheeses at your local supermarket you may have to go out of your way to find a cheese shop but the labour is well worth it.

Producer: Rodney Strong
Wine: Sauvignon Blanc
Region: Northern Sonoma, California
Vintage: 2009
Price: $20
Notes: Thank you Anna for introducing me to this wine.  This is a well made sauvignon blanc and has everything you would expect.  Delicious pear, green apple, citrus, green bell pepper hints of minerality, and floral notes all shine through.  It's dry with high acid leaving you wanting more with every sip.  A very nice wine at a good price.

Producer: Llama
Wine: Malbec
Region: Mendoza, Argentina
Vintage: 2008
Price: $18
Notes: This is a food wine.  Honestly I didn't like it that much on its own it's flavours are spicy and herbaceous with some fruit.  It's got a lot of everything; acid, tannin, long finish, medium body.  If you want a wine to go with a beef roast, or cured meats or something along those lines this is a good pick.  If you want something to drink without food I wouldn't recommend it.  But trust me with food this wine goes very well!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dry Wine: A Paradox?

I have always thought the use of the word dry to mean a wine that is not sweet was a rather odd choice. Dry can also be used to mean the absence of alcohol: the town has remained dry since prohibition. There is also the inescapable paradox that is born out of calling a liquid dry; not to mention the fact that said liquid has alcohol in it. Why did the person who first coined this word not content his or her self with the word that is used to signify a sugarless Champaign: brut? In brut there is no inherent paradox of connoting a liquid that is not liquid.  But I digress, given that wine is a liquid one would assume that the error of believing a wine to literally be dry should never present itself; this is not the case.
A customer, who was promptly told by the most senior staff member that she knew little of wine and a different staffer would be better suited to answer his questions, was about to present to me the most confounding misunderstanding of a word that I have ever encountered.  The fact that the staffer so quickly wiped her hands of this customer should have been a dead give away that the encounter was going to be problematic: she knows plenty about wine.

The entire meeting betwixt this customer and I could not have been more than a half hour or so.  He was looking for two wines: a white and a red.  He wanted a sweet white and a sweet red. I explained to him that there are very few reds that are actually sweet most are off-dry at best and even that is pretty rare.  He seemed to understand this and seemed to understand what sweet meant; he did not seem to understand that dry was an antonym of sweet.  He told me that it wasn’t too important whether the wine was sweet or not but he didn’t want a dry wine. There are really only two options concerning the matter of sweet and dry: a thing can either be sweet or dry there is no other option. I was unsure of how I could supply this paradoxical fellow with a wine that is both with and without sugar.

I don’t really think much of it when people are unsure of what a wine term means. The wine industry seems to go out of their way to make things confusing for the consuming public: it gives wine that extra bit of pretentious cache. But this man confused a term to a degree that I did not think was even possible. To him dry literally meant dry. Dry wine, he explained, dries out his throat at some point in the middle of the night. Most people would probably call this dehydration due to excessive drinking a.k.a. a hangover.

The only other possible explanation I can think of is that he was confusing the term dry with the feeling one gets from drinking a wine with a lot of tannin; which is actually a dry feeling in ones mouth. But since he was experiencing dryness in the middle of the night I’m going to have to assume he was actually just talking about a hangover. It is curious that the term dry was never appropriated by the drying sensation tannin causes, instead one just says a wine is tannic or high in tannin.

So where could this bizarre use of the term dry have come from?  Well a few minutes of research on google as well as searching through dictionaries and wine books has lead me to the following conclusions: it comes from Latin, or it refers to the drying feeling that is associated with drinking an astringent wine.

From the Latin word siccus we have the word sec in French, secco in Italian and seco in Spanish all of which mean dry in the wine sense (the normal sense too, well at least for French, I don’t know Italian or Spanish so I can’t really speak to that).  All of these countries are among the historic giants of wine production.  Siccus meant: dry, thirsty, sober, temperate.  Now this is pure speculation on my part but it seems possible that the word sec, secco or seco was appropriated for non-sweet wines because the acidity, having no counter-balance of sweetness, would have made the drinker of a wine thirsty for more while at the same time alleviating the drinkers thirst. 

A wine that is sweet balances out the acidity making the acidity less apparent which results in making the wine less mouth watering.  Maybe the word siccus which later came to be sec was actually being used in the sense of both producing and reducing thirst.  Highly acidic drinks tend to quench one’s thirst but also make one want to drink more, think of lemonade on a hot summer day.  This may be stretching the term siccus but maybe it was originally intended to mean a wine that would satisfy and/or produce thirst.  As such we can see why a wine that is high in acid but low in sugar may be called siccus, or sec ect… it both produces and quenches thirst. 

As far as I understand English has as at it’s root, at least partially, some version of French.  From here it seems that English just copied French term for a wine without sugar but with a completely different sounding word that means the exact same thing: dry, which is equivalent to sec in every way.

The other explanation I actually encountered rather than just came up with myself, although someone must have theorized it at one point too so who knows if it has anymore credibility than my theory.  The theory suggests dry was used to describe a wine without sugar because back in the day, when wine making was more crude, wine that was without sugar would have been perceptibly more astringent and this astringent feeling was associated with a dryness of the mouth.  A sweet wine would have relieved this astringency to a certain degree making a wine off-dry or sweet. I suppose this sounds slightly credible but given that sec, secco and seco are all derived from siccus which can mean thirsty this theory sounds less likely. But if this theory is true the customer may have been using the term dry in this sense, in which case he was just using a much older definition of dry then I had realized.

As for the term brut which refers to a dry Champagne there is good reason the no one copied its usage in meaning a sugarless wine.  Dry was used to describe a sugarless wine for hundreds of years before Champagne was even invented.  Presumably the creation of Champagne would have predated any term used to describe Champagne including brut.  Either way the Champagnois must have  realized the paradoxical nature of using the word dry to describe a liquid.  Those Champagnois sure are smart!

Desert picture from:

Champagne picture from: