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W(h)ining: Australia Learns by Rôtie with Shiraz-Viognier

13 Apr

Three Rhône wines, one from the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation, that are all blends of red and white grape varieties.

I remember the first time I stumbled across an Australian bottle brandishing the Shiraz-Viognier label, and in my youthful ignorance, I was thrilled to have discovered what I thought was a whimsical Aussie conception.  Mixing red and white wines?  This must be a new idea!  After the initial embarrassment of eagerly sharing my brilliant discovery with a wine-guru confidante, who informed me of my mistake, and then eventually acquiring some formal sommelier education of my own, I came to learn that blending red and white wines, and often cofermenting the different grapes,  is a French winemaking tradition.

For many wine neophytes, like myself some years ago, French wine is a bit of a mystery because it does not label grape varieties, although this is changing to meet demands of new world consumers.  The Rhône valley, in the South of France, produces many blends of both red and white varieties, including some familiar Côtes-du-Rhône wines, and the Côte-Rôtie is only one of several Rhône appellations renowned for them.  In fact, the Côte-Rôtie is the original Shiraz-Viognier producer; these two varieties are, indeed, the two grapes of the appellation, but here the red variety goes by its original moniker, Syrah.

Three wines from the Côte-Rôtie, all Syrah-Viognier blends. The Rostaing (center) is worth $140 and the two Guigal wines (right and left) are both over $450 each.

While there are many Côtes-du-Rhône bottles available at varying prices at most wine shops, Côte-Rôtie wines available in BC are not for everyday sipping.  Also bear in mind, reader, that only some wines from the South of France are blends of both red and white varieties, if this post has influenced your shopping list.

Most red and white blends, like Shiraz/Syrah-Viognier, contain only a small amount of white, and French wines follow strict regulations; AOC law permits only 5% of white wine in Côtes-du-Rhône red blends, for example, and Côte-Rôtie Syrah-Viognier wines can include as much as 20% of the white variety.  But just a touch of Viognier goes a long way.  This unique variety typically adds a delightful perfume of stewed apricot and floral notes and softer palate to red grape varieties… Read more…

W(h)ining: Aromatic Whites and a Toast to the Spring Season

25 Mar

I was delighted to pour a flight of three aromatic white wines on Sunday to celebrate the first day of spring.  I was a bit apprehensive, though, that many of my tasting-bar customers would be less than excited by the offering of all white, off-dry wines.  But the intense fragrance and vibrant, mouthwatering, palate of wines poured from unassuming, Alsatian bottles, pleasantly surprised many folks who might normally shy away from this style of wine.

I’ve noticed that a majority of consumers drink only red, or very little white, and almost everyone, it seems, is afraid of a touch of sweetness in their wine.  I’m not sure if it’s the memory of sugary, flavourless, mass-produced American White Zinfandel circa 1980, or the surprisingly explosive sweetness of that first sip of quality icewine, but it seems to me there is a general reluctance to try off-dry, or, as many people mistakenly call them, ‘sweet’ wines.  An off-dry wine, unlike a sweet wine such icewine, late harvest wine, or port, has just a touch of residual sugar, and, if made to my liking, a good amount of mouthwatering  acidity to balance the sweetness; indeed, this is precisely the difference between an exquisite off-dry Gewürztraminer, and an unpalatably cloying wine of the 80s blush variety.  Acidity in off-dry wine is kind of like a squeeze of lemon in a recipe; it brightens the flavours of the wine, adds a bit of tartness to balance the sweetness, and provides a clean finish to a round palate.

Now, to answer the obvious question I’ve neglected thus far:  What is an aromatic wine?  Wines that are considered ‘aromatic’ exhibit an intense nose, or fragrance, of flowers, fruit, and spices that come from the grape itself, Vinification, by contrast, or the winemaker’s tinkering, produces what we call the bouquet rather than the aroma of the wine.  The bouquet of a Syrah might exhibit characteristics of vanilla and smoke from the oak barrels it is aged in, for example, and its aroma might show luscious black fruit and white pepper.

Some wine varieties (or grapes) considered aromatic are Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Muscat, and Pinot Blanc, although wines from these grapes do not always exhibit the intense nose characteristic of an aromatic wine, and sometimes wines can be aromatic even if they’re not made from grapes that are typically considered ‘aromatic.’

The wines I poured on Sunday, however, were all exceptional examples of aromatic wines, and perfect for welcoming the spring season, with their bright aromas of fresh fruit and flowers. Continue reading