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Something new every day

29 Oct

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This lovely Montsant wine taught me something new today. One of its main components (40%) is Mazuelo. What’s Mazuelo? I had to look it up, myself. Turns out Mazuelo is a synonym of Carignan. So there you go. Something new.

Bula 2009, Montsant D.O.
Mazuelo, Grenache, Syrah
available in BC early 2012, ~$20

BC Pinot Blanc

26 Oct

20111026-233412.jpgPeller Estates Family Series Pinot Blanc 2009
VQA Okanagan Valley, BC

BC makes good Pinot Blanc. Many Okanagan Valley Pinot Blanc wines are of very good quality and well-priced, relative to other white wines from BC and elsewhere. I would like to see greater focus and emphasis on this variety. Winemakers should aim for ripe fruit, balanced acidity and moderate alcohol. Tonight’s example, Peller Estates Family Series Pinot Blanc 2009, displays decent fruit-acid balance, but with pronounced (14%) alcohol. There are better examples, but at $12.99, this should be a popular choice.

Lingerings of VPIWF: More Malbec wines you should try

24 May

Malbec: VPIWF left me somewhat smitten with the grape.

Malbec, also known as Auxerrois, Côt, and about 1,000 other synonyms, is a black grape variety that tends to produce inky, violet-black, tannic wines. The thick-skinned variety traditionally used to add colour and tannic structure to Bordeuax wines has found a home in Mendoza, Argentina, where it is used for everything from rosé wine, to simple, mass-produced red table wine to supremely rich and concentrated luxury wines of world-class calibre.

The main aromas of Malbec include cherry, raspberry and plum, dried fruits, blue flowers like violets, coffee and chocolate, leather and balsamic. Ageing in oak contributes vanilla aromas and flavours.

Doña Paula ‘Paula’ Malbec 2008, Mendoza, Argentina $16.99
Lighter-bodied than expected. Varietally correct nose of plum, dark berries, violets, tar and spice.  Satisfying fruit, well-balanced acid & tannins. Excellent value.

Bleasdale Second Innings Malbec 2007, Langhorne Creek, Australia $17.99
Expected a full-force plush Aussie fruit bomb, but this wine is actually quite elegant and well-structured for the price. A food wine, to be sure, with acid and tannin for red meat and subtle Langhorne-esque herbal notes.Bodega Sottano Malbec 2008, Mendoza, Argentina $19.99
Big nose on this one: all the requisite dark berries and fruits, plus licorice, root beer, tar, violets, earth and cracked pepper, all of it distinct and concentrated, but perfectly balanced.  The fruit is mouth-filling, the tannins soft and long, and the acidity provides just enough zing to invite the next sip. Serious Malbec for $20.

Luis Felipe Edwards Family Reserve Malbec 2008, Colchagua, Chile $19.99
The lone Chilean offering stands up to the Argentine competitors without denying its origins.  Chile’s Malbec wines offer fruit, spice and aromatics in a leaner, meaner package. The LFE Family Reserve has an intense, Cabernet-like nose of dark fruits, brambleberry tart, black currant black licorice, tar, toffee, mint, dill and subtle floral notes. The palate is a super-concentrated melange of sticky-sweet fruits like blackberry preserve, a bright berry acidity on the mid-palate and grippy bittersweet chocolate tannins on the finish. Dispite its weight and dense black fruits it remains more austere, less ‘obvious’ than most Malbecs. One step left from Argentina on the Old World:New World spectrum. *My value-for-money pick. I’ll buy this again!

Finca Decero Remolina Vineyard Malbec 2008, Mendoza, Argentina $25.99
Talk about “Old World meets New World”, this is one solid Malbec that shows its feminine side with swirling floral notes and lifted aromatics.  The structure is sound, yet delicate; the fruit big, yet soft. From a young vineyard (Decero means “from scratch”) high in Mendoza, this producer shows real promise.

Mapema Malbec 2008, Mendoza, Argentina $26.99
After 34 years as chief winemaker at Catena, Jose “Pepe” Gallante is now making world-class (and well-priced) Malbec for his new venture “Mapema”. The high altitude, fresh air and intense sun of the vineyard in Consulta, Mendoza have contributed to the formation of a profound Malbec.  Twelve months in new French oak has produced a wine with aromas of black cherry, combined harmoniously with fine notes of chocolate and tobacco, a rich fruit character, and smooth tannins.

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

What Joe’s Digging: Aussie Grenache

6 Feb

Grenache Noir grapes

Every so often I get on these kicks where I get a bit obsessive about a particular grape or region or producer.  These days I can’t get enough Grenache. More specifically, I’ve been sipping a number of Australian Grenache wines – and enjoying them quite a bit.

While not considered a “Noble” variety, Grenache is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world and an integral part of wines from the Southern Rhone, especially Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas.  Grenache is also widely planted in Spain, where its known both as Garnacha and as Alicante, and also pops up in Italy as Cannonau.  Australia is the only New World wine region where Grenache has taken a serious hold, and where some of the world’s best examples are now produced.

In the glass, Aussie Grenache wines often take the appearance of Pinot Noir: pale strawberry-red with subtle violet hues.  Aromas, too, lean towards the light, and delicate.  Bright red berry, floral notes and hard candy are common.  The palate, however, is another story: big, rich mouthfeel is commonplace, and alcohol contents above 14% is the rule.  This dichotomy is what currently attracts me to these wines.  Light, bright and elegant for summer barbeques, but with enough fullness and complexity to stand up to grilled meats and the hardcore red-wine drinkers that eat the grilled meats. Continue reading

Tahbilk Marsanne (2007)

20 May

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Tablas Creek Vineyard has given Marsanne a new home in Paso Robles, California

Marsanne, the most widely planted white grape of the northern Rhone Valley, has a long history– not in single varietal bottlings, but rather as a blending grape. In Hermitage, Marsanne is blended with Roussane to produce the white wine of the appellation; in our opinion, white Hermitage is one of the most overlooked great wines of the world. Incidentally, along with Roussane, up to 15% of Marsanne can be added to the red wines of Hermitage under AOC regulations. For a stellar example of white Hermitage, try Chave’s Hermitage Blanc.

Apart from these origins in the Rhone, Marsanne plantings have expanded in Australia, so much that now 80% of the world’s Marsanne is grown there. The grape was first planted in Australia in 1860, and while most of these original vines are gone, the wines in the vineyard of Chateau Tahbilk, in Victoria, are among the oldest in the world, dating to 1927.

A number of challenges in viticulture stand in the way of single varietal Marsanne exploding in popularity. The grape is highly sensitive to extreme temperatures: when the climate is too warm, Marsanne is short on acidity, limiting its ability to age well; when climate is too cool, the wines tend to be neutral and uninteresting. One strategy employed by winemakers is to harvest Marsanne just before it hits full ripeness, in order to retain some acidity.

from http://www.wineaccess.com/

Tahbilk Marsanne 2007tahbilk marsanne
Central Victoria, Australia
$17.99 Everything Wine

This unusual variety is rarely seen outside of blended whites from the Rhone Valley, and it’s even more unusual to find it without any of its typical partners like Rousanne, Viognier or Grenache Blanc. The Marsanne grape typically offers bright aromas of citrus, quince and honeysuckle with mineral, almond and a rich, slightly oily mouthfeel. Tahbilk specializes in Rhone varieties, and its 2007 Marsanne offers those expected elements, plus tropical pineapple and lime aromas, white peach and apricot flavours and crisp acidity. The palate is rich and full, but not from barrel fermentation. A great unoaked white for the brave or curious or as a good alternative to Viognier. 88 points

Bunnell Family Cellar Boushey-McPherson Vineyard Syrah (2006)

17 May


Rattlesnake Mountain, Yakima Valey AVA

Rattlesnake Mountain, Yakima Valley AVA

Yakima Valley Syrah
The first Syrah grapes in Washington were planted in the Yakima Valley in 1986. National recognition for Yakima Valley Syrah, together with wide consumer appeal has lead to a substantial increase in Syrah plantings in the past few years. Syrah is just one of the Rhône varieties sparking new interest in Washington State. A spicy, rich, complex varietal, Syrah grapes turn into big, dark, intensely concentrated wines with aromas and flavors of blackberries, black currants, roasted coffee and leather.

Boushey Vineyards
Boushey Vineyards, owned by Richard (Dick) and Luanne Boushey, are located in the Yakima Valley five miles north of the town of Grandview on the southern slopes of the Rattlesnake Mountains. The vineyards are planted on several sites within a two mile radius; generally south facing slopes varying from 700 to 1200 ft. elevation. The first blocks of grapes were planted in 1980 and the youngest were recently planted in 2003. Dick’s philosophy of grape growing is to compliment mother nature. Occasionally he tries to fool her into thinking she is in control but most of time it is the other way around. Varietals currently grown include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Sangiovese.

thanks to Wine Yakima Valley

The Bunnell Family Cellar
Boushey-McPherson Vineyard Syrah 2006

Yakima Valley, Washington
$42.00 (USD) Winery direct

After stints at Beringer, Kendall-Jackson and Chateau St. Michelle, Ron Bunnell, along with his wife Susan, created Bunnel Family Cellar, specializing in small bunnellBousheyMcPSyrahhandmade lots of wine from Rhône Valley grape varieties. The Boushey-McPherson Vineyard, at 1200 ft. elevation, is one of the highest in the Yakima Valley. It is farmed by Dick Boushey, whose reputation for producing world-class Syrah is already well established. Dick’s expert water management produces uncommonly small berries for Syrah, concentrating the flavor and colour in the wine. This fruit is usually the last Syrah harvested for Bunnell. Extended hang time produces a wine of exceptional complexity, depth and substance. The ’06 offering boasts intense aromas of blackberry, blueberry smoke and cured meat, with pickling spice, licorice and mineral notes. The palate is silky smooth, with creamy vanilla oak framing crème de cassis, cherry cola, peppery spice, rose petal, tar and perfectly integrated tannins and acid. 94 points