Thursday, February 17, 2011

Experiments in Alcohol (Mission Hill Reserve Shiraz)

Humans are adventures and experimenters, the realm of alcohol is no exception. Our natural inclination to drink meant that in the early days of civilization simply hoping to stumble across some fermented fruit or honey was no longer an acceptable means of attaining a buzz. Early alcohol makers didn’t want to leave anything to chance, they knew a little of what was required to make booze and they applied all of the knowledge they had into making one hodgepodge of a beverage. The first known brew was a mix of the more popular non-distilled libations you will find today. Recent analysis of pottery sherds (sherd refers to pottery shard refers to glass) from the yellow river region in China, dating back to roughly 7000 BC determined the first man made brew (we have evidence of) was a mix of grain, grapes and honey, essentially it was beer, wine and mead all put into one.* Over centuries of experimentation we eventually learned that beer, wine and mead are all quite tasty but are best served in separate glasses.

Much like the early days of experimentation in alcohol Canada is in an exciting phase of discovery with wine. Take a sample of the range of wine that is Canadian made and you will see that Canada grows almost every grape that anyone has ever heard of. There are certain grapes that crop up more than others, Bordeaux blends(some mixture of Merlot, Cab Sauv, Cab Franc and maybe a couple other grapes thrown in for good measure) are fairly common, Pinot Gris is another popular grape, but by and large Canada runs the gamut. Canada is in a very exciting stage of wine production, vintners have discovered the secret to making delicious wine yet there is no clear consensus as to which grapes are best suited to the climate and soil.

A recent article in Vines Magazine suggests that Cab Franc, one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon, might emerge as the grape of choice for many Canadian wine makers. If you’ve never tried a Cab Franc there are a handful of Canadian producers making varietal (varietal is a pretentious way of saying the wine is made from only one grape variety) Cab Franc such as Poplar Grove, Burrowing Owl, Tawse and more! Outside the borders of Canada venture to the Loire in France, Chinon is a sub-appellation well known for quality Cab Franc. In all honesty I don’t especially love Cab Franc it’s very fruity in youth and I tend to like more earthy wine, but I promise I will sample this rising star of a grape in the near future an let you know what I think.

Producers such as Mission Hill still have a relatively wide range of grapes that they grow however their high end wines tend to focus on a couple white and red varieties. The narrowing of varieties offered by Canadian wine producers is something we will see more of in the future. As grape growers and wine makers figure out what works best in their climate and on their soil they will discard the grapes that don’t deliver a delicious product.

Shiraz/Syrah has managed to become an incredibly successful grape world wide. Particularly well known regions are Australia and the Rhone Valley in France each with their distinctive characteristics. I recently tried a Okanagan produced Shiraz, I wasn’t sure what to expect, while there are a lot of Okanagan Shirazs on the shelf I haven’t heard many people talking about them. The Mission Hill Shiraz I tried was very satisfying and surprising in that I found it to have a mix of typical Rhone and Australian characteristic.

All the experimentation on the part of producers means we as consumers have a unique opportunity to experiment too. It won’t just be the producers who decide which grapes stay and which grapes go, it will be the people who spend their money on the best wine Canada has to offer. As wine drinkers we are presented with the unique opportunity to help decide what will become Canada’s signature grape.

Producer: Mission Hill
Wine: 2008 Reserve Shiraz
Region: Okanagan, BC 
Price: $20
Alc: 14%

Notes: Surprising mix of old world and new world style. The aromas and flavours were similar but slightly different, I found aromas of cherry raspberry, pepper, cedar, mineral, and eucalyptus. Flavours were cherry, raspberry, vanilla, mocha, green bell pepper, pepper, and blackberry with a long finish. I enjoyed this wine quite a bit especially with the shepherds pie I made. This wine is Very Nice!

*If you want to get all technical the analysis showed evidence of rice, grapes and or hawthorn fruit and honey. If you are a serious alcohol geek check out Uncorking the Past by Patrick E. McGrover.

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