Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Une Martini Monsieur

Recently I read an article on cocktails.  I’m not much of a cocktail drinker myself, sure I like the occasional vodka water (mostly because water is the most abundant mixer you can find and I don’t like pop) but other than that I tend to stick to beer or wine.  Generally if I’m drinking hard alcohol it’s in shot form or the occasional scotch or whiskey on the rocks.  The article peaked my interest because it made an interesting claim about martinis.  Apparently we have strayed significantly from the “three martini lunch” paradigm and moved into a new world order where three martinis at lunch will leave you bombed and in need of a short nap in the washroom stall at work.  Martinis used to be smaller and weaker alcohol.  It is now kosher to serve several ounces of gin with just a splash of vermouth; such was not always the case.

Our forefathers before us used to like a little afternoon nip on their lunch break.  These were the days of cocktails and sexual harassment at the workplace.  A martini, as I just recently learned, is delicious and less intoxicating with just a slight adjustment of mixology.    The 50/50 martini used to be a staple of every business mans lunch and I think it is unfair that the glory of the 50/50 was reserved for businessmen, lets bring it back so the business women of the world may indulge with their male counterparts.

Admittedly I was skeptical of this concoction.  If you have ever tried vermouth on it’s own then I’m sure you’ve done so only once.  It used to be the case that to any martini I would add only a splash of vermouth, but the article on cocktails in Wine & Spirits magazine has forever changed my martini habits.  I tried two different concoctions one dirty the other not so much.  For those of you who are not in the know a dirty martini is one that has olive juice added to it.  My recipes were as follows:

Non dirty:
1 oz. gin
1 oz. white vermouth
3 olives
3-4 ice cubes

Pour the gin and vermouth into a mixing glass, drop in 3-4 ice cubes and stir.  Stir until the drink is nice and cold, anywhere from 15-30 seconds.  Strain out the ice and pour into a martini glass.  Put three olives on some sort of stick, preferably a clean one, and insert into the glass.  For a dirty add about 1/3 oz. olive juice to the mix, unless you're like my friend Cat then go ahead and add 3 oz, eww.

A martini is a nice little aperitif so you might want to sip on one or two as you make your dinner.  Enjoy!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Warmer Weather and Higher Alcohol. (Longue-Dog)

Taking a look around your local liquor store you may notice an interesting new trend in wine; high alcohol content.  A little over a decade ago the alcohol content of a wine would often be around 12 – 13%.  These days it seems there are more and more wines on the shelves with knock out levels of 14 – 15% and sometimes even higher.  A recent article in Wine & Spirits notes figures from the American TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) to back up this observation.  In 1995 the amount of wine with 14% alcohol and higher was about 6% of total wine, now in 2010 the figure sits at just under 10%.

There are a plethora of reasons cited for the increasing alcohol content of wine: changing tastes in the market, different grape growing techniques, big high alcohol wines consistently scoring higher points, and global warming.  While all of these may be a factor in the recent prevalence of high alcohol wines, none seem more exciting for the Canadian wine industry than global warming.  While global warming is set to wreak a lot of havoc on the planet it just might come in handy for the Canadian wine industry.  According to Gregory V. Jones, who I, like Wine & Spirits magazine, would like to point out has a PhD, the growing seasons in wine regions around the world have seen a 1.3°C increase in temperature over the last 50 years.

The increase in temperature causes grapes to become more fully ripe.  A more ripe grape has more sugar.  The more sugar a grape has at harvest directly translates into the amount of alcohol that can be produced during fermentation.

The increase in temperature has seen many wine regions producing very high alcohol wine.  Bordeaux has seen a huge increase; many of the 2009’s tip the scales at 14.5% or higher.  For tax reasons you may not actually see many wines that say they’re over 14.5% as taxes increase when a wine surpasses this bracket, so forgive the producers if they take certain liberties with labeling, just be careful if you have to work the next day.   While Australia often serves up such strong wine, historically it is uncommon for Bordeaux to see such strength.  It would seem Bordeaux is in the running for the new Australia.

What does this mean for Canada?  Well if Bordeaux is the new Australia that means there is an opening for the new Bordeaux.  Ontario is a cool climate wine region, BC is amongst the most northerly in the world, and Nova Scotia is not generally regarded as a fair weather province to put it gently, but all this may be changing as we continue to drive SUV’s.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing to be known as the cold place that grapes grown, but given the weather is it any surprise the only internationally known wine to come out of Canada is icewine?

Global warming may ultimately prove to be un-enjoyable however the Canadian wine industry may see some delicious benefits.  I certainly know what I will be drinking to make the warm weather a little more palatable, and it ain’t gonna be icewine.


Given the previous article it seems a little ironic that I am not going to post a review of a Canadian wine.  The thing is my wine cellar (closet) is relatively small and the only Canadian wine I have in it is relatively expensive and I was a little tired tonight; I didn't feel like cracking out the ritzy stuff.  Here's France:

Wine: Longue-Dog

Grape: Grenache and Syrah (shiraz)

Region: Languedoc, France

Year: 2009

Alcohol: 13.5% 

Price:  $11.99

Aroma: Pepper, raspberry, vanilla

Taste: Pepper, raspberry, floral, chocolate, vanilla

Notes: Nice fairly light bodied wine with a soft and silky texture.  The texture is a very nice feature of this wine.

Final Verdict: A nice soft round wine with enjoyable flavours and a very nice texture.  Overall this wine gets a B+ for the its price range A.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Buttery Goodness. (Chardonnay)

Chardonnay is the red of whites.  Its colour may suggest it’s white, however the way it is treated is often as a red.  Chardonnay is often oaked unlike most whites, and much like most reds.  However there is an increasing trend to leave chardonnay un-oaked.  Amongst the chardonnays that I have tried, which is a fairly modest amount, the un-oaked variety is often more appealing.   Oaked chardonnays tend to be put through a secondary fermentation, changing the characteristics from what one might describe as inherently white tasting to more red in nature.

Oaked chardonnay might be subjected to malolactic fermentation: the runner up in the fermentation beauty pageant.  All wine must be fermented, without fermentation wine is just grape juice.  Lucky for us humans, and as a quick youtube search will reveal animals (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSm7BcQHWXk), yeast has the enjoyable habit of hanging out with grapes and other fruits.  Yeast is the awesome single celled organism responsible for bread rising, CO2 production (as such we are free to blame yeast for global warming), and the creation of alcohol.  When yeast finds sugar it goes on a feeding and breeding frenzy.  First it breeds then it feeds.  The breeding process mostly just involves yeast replicating itself until the medium (grape juice) is saturated and cannot support anymore yeast.  Upon saturation yeast eats and, to put it bluntly, poops out alcohol and CO2.  Yeast converts sugar into CO2 and alcohol.  This form of fermentation is by far the most important; it’s what allows us to enjoy wine.

The second most important type of fermentation is malolactic.  While there is still CO2 being produced during malolactic fermentation there is no alcohol production.  During malolactic fermentation malic acid is converted to lactic acid and CO2.  This is a lot less of an exciting fermentation but an important one nonetheless.  Chardonnay and some red wine benefit from this conversion.  You may have noticed that chardonnay is often significantly less mouth puckering than some other whites, such a pinot grigio (pinot gris in France), sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc etc… this is because malic acid is significantly more tart than lactic acid.  If you ever want to experience the difference between malic and lactic acid try comparing a sour key (almost malic acid) to sour milk (lactic acid).  While both may be sour the sour key is substantially sourer.  And sour key’s don’t even come close to the sourness of eating pure malic acid, I know from first hand experience; I have a chemical burn on my tongue to prove it. (The chemical burn is temporary but it’s still not worth eating malic acid to find out)

The wonders of malolactic fermentation don’t stop at converting one acid to another it also adds a buttery component.  During the course of malolactic fermentation diacetyl is produced.  Diacetyl has the peculiar characteristic of tasting and smelling like cooked butter or butterscotch.  This too lends itself to the smooth texture and flavour of chardonnay.  Next time you smell a wine and think of butter or taste a wine and think of a nice Sunday breakfast (which for some reason only includes buttered toast) you will know, or at least have a sneaking suspicion that that wine has gone through the second most popular fermentation process. 

Wine: Penfolds Koonunga Hill Chardonnay

Grape: Chardonnay

Region: South Australia


Year:  2007

Alcohol: 13.5%

Price: $16

Aroma:  Pineapple, honey, yoghurt, oak

Taste: Green tea, butterscotch, pear, vanilla

Notes: Nice body, fairly rich but subtle at the same time.  The acidity is fairly low and mellow a wine that should not be drank right out of the fridge, probably want it around 15 degrees celsius. 

Final Verdict:  This wine kind of grew on me as it warmed up.  At first I had it too cold and couldn't taste it well enough.  I can't really decided what to give this wine, I'll have to give it a B/B+ it gets the same mark for its price range.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Blind Tasting. (Melini Chianti)

Sometimes it’s hard to know if you’re fooling yourself.  It always gives me a great deal more confidence when I find my tasting notes are closely aligned to someone else’s tasting notes.  Tasting wine is hard; there are a lot of subtle nuances that you have to pay attention to.  When I am trying a wine for the first time I try to avoid reading any description of the flavours or aromas.  I smell the wine I taste the wine and I write down all the flavours and aromas I can detect.  Once I have agreed with myself about the aroma and flavour of the wine then and only then do I read descriptions of the wine, be it on the back of the bottle, in a magazine or some other source.  These days I tend to only buy wine for which I have seen a positive review.  This ensures that I will either get a good wine or I will have license to write a nasty letter to the editor, almost as satisfying as a good wine.  It also means there will a description of the wine.  Even if the wine turns out to be sub par at least I can compare my tasting notes.  It is a big confidence booster when your tasting notes align themselves with those of a professional sommelier.  If your notes are not the exact same don’t worry it’s to be expected.  Consulting multiple sources for tasting notes of a given wine will reveal that while on the whole the flavours and aromas described are often similar between reviewers but there are usually some differences.  One person may describe a chocolate aroma while another may describe a tobacco or vanilla aroma.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe people are really responding so positively to the taste of the wine rather than just the name and the perceived prestige of a wine.  I’ve seen it before, a bottle with a poor reputation produces sour scolding faces upon quaffing even though I think the wine is perfectly fine.  An expensive wine that tastes like a poor blend of gasoline and coffee grinds which everyone in the room is more than happy to drink.  Some people are bound to react based on the bottle and the name rather than the flavour.  That being said you can be sure not everyone drinking wine is BSing you with a simple test.

A few years ago a few of my friend and I had decided to have a wine night.  Everybody had to bring a bottle or two and we would sit around and drink.  I, being the malicious person that I am, and knowing my friend Carole’s honest assessment of the Nova Scotia wine industry, decided to bring a bottle of Blomidon Estates Baco Noir (from Nova Scotia).   I wasn’t just trying to bring a wine in hopes that Carole wouldn’t like it so I could drink it all myself.  I was trying to see if her assessment was a result of her own experience or just things she had heard. I poured 3 glasses, for me, Chris and Carole.  I wouldn’t let them see what the wine was, I told them nothing about the wine, all they had to rely on in judging the wine was their palate’s.  Both of them agreed there were nice flavours to the wine but the wine was lacking something, not enough backbone, the wine appeared flabby.  To both Chris and Carole’s credit they were right when the guessed it to be a Nova Scotian wine.  That is how you can tell someone actually knows what they are talking about, when they back up their opinions with accuracy when tasting blind.

I feel the need to mention that while the Nova Scotia wine industry is still young, and many of their wines cannot yet compete with Ontario, BC, Washington or Oregon, the industry is improving.  Most recently I tried an amazing NS wine: Benjamin Bridge’s Nova 7.  Nova 7 is a beautiful example of what Nova Scotia can accomplish.  It is a semi-sweet semi-sparkling white wine.  If you ever have a chance to try this wine you will not be disappointed.  One thing to keep in mind though is Nova 7 has yet to be officially released, they are still working out some kinks.  Hopefully the official launch will prove successful. 

Wine: Melini Chianti, Pian Del Masso (or in english Floor of the Rock, There is a big rock at the vineyard, hence the name.)

Grape: 85% Sangiovese, 15% other including Merlot, the data sheet didn't really specify though.

Region: Chianti, Tuscany, Italy (Map shows Tuscany)


Year: 2008

Alcohol: 12.5% by vol.

Price: 13.99

Aroma: Cherry, Vanilla, Black Pepper, Tobacco

Taste: Raspberry, Raisin, Black Pepper, Chocolate

Notes: This wine is available in almost every province across Canada!  I don't know about its availability elsewhere.  It's a nice wine with a nice price tag, I recommend you pick it up and drink it while eating spaghetti and meat sauce as I did.  It's medium bodied, fruit forward but balanced with spicy earthy flavours, the tannins were a little higher than I would have liked otherwise it was very smooth.

Final Verdict: Good wine, good price overall rating B+ for its price range A-.  Pick up a bottle now!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Evil Bugs, Saintly Science (Santa Rita 120 Sauv Blanc)

Always bring a long list of potentials to the liquor store.  I learned this is an important policy when you have specific wine(s) in mind for the evening.  I was going to write about an ’07 Tormaresca Chardonnay from Italy, or an ’08 Pink Elephant from Portugal but due to a list of potentials that was too short I had to resort to a bottle at the back of my fridge.  This taught me a valuable lesson; two wines on a wine list are not enough: go for five. 

The wine hiding at the back of my fridge was a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.  As it turns out a short wine list and a lack of availability resulted in a delicious evening.  The Sauvignon Blanc was made with grapes grown in Chile’s Valle Central.  Chile has always been a wine country that has fascinated me.  Chilean wines are consistently good and their price is often much cheaper than their French, Californian or Australian counter parts.  Chile is definitely one of the most underrated wine regions in the world which is good news for us wine drinkers.  If you don’t drink much Chilean wine I suggest you stop reading this and run to your nearest liquor store.  If you are a white drinker look for a Sauvignon Blanc from the Casablanca region, if you’re into reds look no further than a Syrah (Shiraz) from the Elqui Valley.  If you manage to find a Syrah from the Elqui Valley please tell me as I have been looking for some time now.  For an easier find try a Carmenere.  What you will almost certainly find is that you’ve paid barely any money for a wine that is wholly delicious!

Besides having inexpensive good wine Chile is known for being one of the only areas that managed to go unaffected by the phylloxera outbreak in the mid to late 1800’s.  Phylloxera, a demon of a bug, is an aphid like insect that attaches itself to the roots of grape vines.  Once affixed to its host, phylloxera sucks the life out of the vine more specifically it takes the nutrients disrupting the fruits ability to grow well.  This leaves grapes that can barely produce any juice and therefore no wine!  Phylloxera devastated vineyards around the world.  There were a few areas that managed to keep the bug at bay due to their conveniently inaccessible geography.  Parts of Australia, Argentina, and Chile were unreachable as well as the islands of Crete, Cyprus and Rhodes. 

You may have noticed that while you can get wine from phylloxera-free areas there are a lot more regions you can get wine from too.  Thanks to some wine loving scientists we still have wine from all over the world.  The phylloxera pest is native to North America where the native Vitis aestivalis grape vines are largely resistant to it’s nutrient sucking.  The solution to replenishing the world wine stocks lay in grafting Vitis aestivalis (not so good wine making grape vines) roots on to Vitis vinifera (good wine making grape vines) effectively immunizing wine grapes!  Were it not for science Chile would be one of only a handful of regions with the ability to grow tasty wine, which based on the wine I tried tonight might not have been such a horrible thing.

Wine: Santa Rita 120 Sauvignon Blanc

Grape: Sauvignon Blanc

Region: Valle Central, Chile (Valle Central consists of Maipo, Rapel, Curico, and Maule.  However it seems to vary depending on who you consult, one way or another its approximately around there.)

Year: 2009

Alcohol: 13.5% by vol.

Price: $11.99

Sweetness: Dry (none)

Aroma: Strong mineral, Peach, Citrus, Slight floral

Taste: Mineral (like licking metal, but in a good way), white peach, slight tangerine, hints of floral (yes it tastes almost exactly as it smells)

Notes: Very nice wine, don't drink it too cold though it has really nice flavours and the cold will just mask that.  It's got nice acidity but not overwhelming, a very well balanced wine.  Even my roommate Matt who doesn't especially like whites asked for a refill.

Final Verdict: This wine is awesome the mouth feel is slightly off which is why I'm only giving it an A however for its price bracket it gets an A+ this could probably beat or tie a lot of wines in the $20 range.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Local Beer, Foreign Wine. (Zinfatuation)

Beer!  Beer was the theme of the weekend.  When old friends visit it seems beer is usually the first and last listing on the menu for any given night.  We start early and finish early, mostly as a result of starting to early.  The palate’s of this particular group of friends has always impressed me.  Where as I often have friends who reach for the big names in beer: Canadian, Bud, Coors, etc…  this particular group of friends would mock such a choice.  When I told my friend Connor that I often order Canadian at bars his jaw dropped.  I explained to him that I have a very good reason for doing so; Canadian is always the cheapest beer at a bar, generally this means it’s the only beer I can afford.  Connor remained unimpressed.

Connor is the foremost beer aficionado of the group.  His tastes tend to steer him in the direction of well-hopped IPA’s.  He goes for local, which could be because there is limited, if any, selection of national or international IPA’s available at most liquor stores around BC, or maybe he just likes local.  Connor’s top three picks for finely crafted IPAs include Tree Brew Hop Head, Phillips Hop Circle, and Hopwork IPA.  His picks are all beers that I will have to get my hands on sooner rather than later.

Over the weekend Connor introduced me to a particularly tasty ale.  The beer: Phillips Surly Blonde.  This beer is a heavy hitter.  Packed with delicious malty flavours, with some nice hoppy notes that add a bubble gum type character.  Surly Blonde tips the scales at 9.1% alc.  Drink with caution!

Zinfandel! (I later learned the exclamation mark is unwarranted)  I picked up Zin·fat·u·a·tion from the liquor store a few days ago, it ran me about $16 and it came with a free wine tote bag.  I had never seen nor heard of Zinfatuation before: it was a gamble.  The wine is by and large made from the Zinfandel grape, which until recently was exclusively grown in California.  There is a slight exception to this Italy grows a grape that is called Primativo, which was recently discovered to be genetically identical to Zinfandel.  To me that would seem that they are the same grape, to the store owner that was explaining this to me it means no such thing.  One way or another Primativo and Zinfandel are very similar grapes, if not the same.  Depending on how you look at it and how much you know about genetics Italy may or may not be growing Zinfandel.  California and for the sake of argument Italy, until recently, had a monopoly on the Zinfandel grape.  I have in the last month heard of, or seen 2 Zinfandels grown in different regions: Kangarilla Road Black St Peters Zinfandel from the McLaren Vale, Australia, and Inniskillin Zinfandel from the Okanagan Valley, BC.  The possibility of Zinfandel moving outside of California is an exciting proposition.  If you know of any others please let me know!

Zinfatuation is grown in Amador County, home to California’s oldest vineyard according to www.winexmagazine.com, dating back to 1856.  Until I picked up this wine I had never heard of Amador County.  As it turns out Zinfandel is the most widely grown grape in Amador.  Being a huge Zin enthusiast I was surprised I had never heard of this County. Strolling through a vineyard in the Amador, located in the picturesque Sierra Foothills, it would not be surprising to encounter Syrah (Shiraz), Grenache, and Viognier Grapes.  Excluding Zinfandel Amador tends to grow grapes that are traditionally grown in Rhone, France.  Might be interesting to compare a few wines from the two regions and see how California can stack up against the mighty Rhone.  If someone endeavours on such a project please let me know, if not I suppose I could take up this task myself!

Wine: Zin·fat·u·a·tion

Grape: Zinfandel 83%, Barbera 10%, Syrah 7%

Region: Amador County, California.

Year: 2008

Alcohol: 13.8% by vol.

Price: $15.99

Aroma: Blackberry, Oak, Pepper

Taste: Blackberry, Clove, Nutmeg, Vanilla, Chocolate

Notes: I found there was a little too much tannin for the rest of the wine to support.  The body was medium however i still found it a little thin.  Overall it was not a terribly interesting wine but it was decent.  

Final Verdict: The price is a little high for its quality.  For five or six dollars less I would consider getting this wine again.  I'm moving to a letter grading system this post, and I will give this wine a B- it wasn't terrible but wasn't great either.

Friday, September 10, 2010

New City, New Cuisine, New WINE! (Castano)

The trek to my new city of residence started with a road trip.  I packed my bags, stuffed them in to my buddy Chris's car and we hit the road.  Our goal: Halifax to Montreal in one day.  Driving Chris' "old women car", as several of our friends have remarked (which fits Chris' temperament surprisingly well), we make it to Montreal without a hitch.

From Montreal we meandered our way to my Ontario, Land O' Lakes cottage.  The cottage promised, and delivered, the ability to relax and chill. In this case relaxing and chilling meant drinking excessive amounts of micro-brews.  This journey was the second time the micro-brews have seen Ontario, they had kept Chris company on his initial drive from Ottawa to Halifax.  Somehow they managed to spend the entire month that Chris was in Halifax sitting in the back of his trunk; For Shame! We also managed to drink a few bottles of wine during our time at the cottage: a Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon and a Fuzion Syrah Rose.  Both wines were quite nice.  I was especially impressed with the Fuzion, it was surprisingly good considering it's $7.50 price tag, worth a try for sure.

Chris drove me into Ottawa after a couple days of relaxing at the cottage.  We parted ways; I drank more wine and made my way down to London, Ontario (my home town).  More wine and some visits with family and friends and then one very early flight from London, through Calgary, and finally I arrived in Vancouver.

This is my second day as an east coast ex-pat and a west coast resident.  I have been pleasantly surprised with the diversity of food and wine available in my neighbourhood.  There is a Vietnams grocer right across the street.  I didn't (and still don't) completely understand the food I bought there, especially the meat labeled Shabu Shabu.  At the very least I determined that contra to my initial impression it is not already cooked.  Hopefully I don't get sick tomorrow as a result of determining this fact.  

There is a provincial liquor store a stone’s throw away from my place; thankfully it has a diverse selection of wine and beer.  Today, at the suggestion of WineAccess magazine, I picked up a bottle of Spanish wine.  Before I release my tasting notes I think it is important to mention: this was the worst possible wine I could have picked to begin blogging about.  Not that I didn't like the wine, on the contrary I quite enjoyed it.  The problem is I had an incredibly difficult time picking out any specific flavours or aromas (mostly flavours though, aromas were relatively distinctive).  The wine is quite subtle, and due to my difficulty in picking out flavours, I am not entirely sure I would agree with my own tasting notes on a different occasion.  This wine definitely merits a second go, and I look forward to it.

Wine: Castano

Grape: Monastrell a.k.a. Mourvedre (a fact which I learned about ten minutes ago)

Region: Spain, specifically Yecla (south easterly)

Year: 2008

Alcohol: 13.5% by vol.

Price: $10.99

Aroma:  Ethanol, Herbs (kind of a very light mix of basil and thyme, or something along those lines), with obvious black pepper notes.

Taste: Very subtle, the body is medium to light with good tannins (tannins are what give you that mouth drying effect after drinking certain wines or eating certain fruits, steep a tea for too long and you will know what I am talking about). The flavour is reminiscent of eating a flower petal, immediately followed by an extremely watered down shot of an oaky whiskey. The review of this wine that I read kept bringing up chocolate, and while the vintages were different (magazine 2007, mine 2008) I could not find any hint of chocolate.  If you come across this wine pick up a bottle and let me know what you think.

Side notes: Wow tartaric crystal central!  The final glass from the bottle revealed a mass of tartar.  Tartaric acid, also known as potassium bitartrate is a naturally occurring compound in fruits, grapes have an especially high level of tartaric acid.  During the fermentation and aging of wine tartaric crystals may drop out, meaning they are no longer dissolved in it and become visible.  You can collect these crystals, purify them and use them for all your reduction of colour loss while boiling vegetables needs!

Final verdict: I like it, definitely worth another try.  While I am unfamiliar with rating systems for wine and have yet to create my own, I am going to give the wine a B+ because that's what my gut is telling me.