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!