Sunday, March 16, 2014

How to Add Some Green to your Glass for St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick's Day is celebrated on March 17 to commemorate the patron saint of Ireland, and the country's culture and customs. Because it is also known as a Christian feast day, food and drink tend to be at the forefront of the celebration; especially drink. St. Patrick's Day falls under the season of Lent, which means no meat on Fridays, sacrificing a luxury in the name of the Lord, and in some cases, no drinking. However, these restrictions are lifted on March 17, allowing everyone to participate, which may encourage some views that this day represents heavy drinking. Traditionally, pubs fill up quickly and green beer flows like the water cascading down Niagara Falls. Other traditional drinks include Irish Whiskey (i.e. Bushmills), Irish Cream Liqueur (mmm, Bailey's!), and for those who don't want food colouring in their beer, Ireland's trademark Guinness does the trick.

But what about us wine drinkers? Is there a way we can celebrate with wine? Yes! Here are some ways us wine lovers can add some green to our glass, without the food colouring:

1. Drink "Green Wine"

Vinho Verde is a Portuguese semi-sparkling white wine that translates into English as "green wine". This translation is meant to describe the wine as young, and not in reference to the colour. Vinho Verde wines are full of citrus flavour, with mouth-watering acidity and low alcohol. They can also show notes of tropical fruit, lighter stone fruits like apples, and in some cases a bit of a barnyard aroma. Vinho Verde wines are great values and many are found in Canada under $20. They also pair well with fish and chips!

Vinhos I recommend: Twin Vines, Gazela, any Vinho Verde made exclusively with the grape Alvarinho.

2. Wines that Think Green

Many wineries throughout the world highly value sustainability in the vineyards. Organic and biodynamic wineries are on the rise as environmental concerns become mainstream. No chemical treatments are used in organic viticulture, and all wines have to be registered with a certification body in order to be classified as organic. Biodynamic wineries base their vineyard management on planet and star cycles, and winegrowers use holistic concoctions to mitigate pests & diseases. Organic wines range in prices from inexpensive to premium, but there are many good quality wines on the market that do their part for Mother Nature without costing you a lot of greenbacks!

I recommend: Villa Teresa DOC Prosecco-why not add a little bubbly to the celebration?

3. Wines that Taste Green

This is where the red wine drinkers come in. There are many varietals in the wine world that pack a vegetal punch with hints of asparagus, peas, and grass to name a few. Some of the most common varietals include:

-Cabernet Franc
-Sauvignon Blanc
-Cabernet Sauvignon
-Pinot Noir
-Gruner Veltliner

Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon would both pair well with Irish stew, and Gruner Veltliner marries well with potatoes. Bonus points for finding bottles that have Irish names, places or language on the label!



You don't have to be a beer drinker or a whiskey lover to participate in St. Patrick's Day. The day is for celebrating Ireland's customs, culture and St. Patrick's contribution to Christianity. Everyone is welcome to celebrate no matter what they drink as the day is meant to be fun and friendly. And as an Irish toast once said:

"May friendship, like wine, improve as time advances.
And may we always have old wine, old friends, and young cares."

Happy St. Patrick's Day!


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Petite Sirah: A Star of California's Vineyards

You've heard the trademark Hollywood rags to riches stories about the girl next door leaving home and moving to California to try their hand at acting, getting their first major role in a movie after some bit parts and becoming a blockbuster star. A similar story can be found in the wine world. Petite Sirah has made a name for itself in Napa, Sonoma, San Luis Obispo and San Joaquin Valley; currently starring in it's own bottles, which is a big change from the tiny roles it used to play in blends. Here is the rags to riches story of Petite Sirah, one of California's boldest grapes with an almost cult-like following.

Originally named Durif, the grape was born by experimentally crossing Peloursin in an eastern French lab around 1868. For a long while, Durif had no idea who it's father was, but many years later found out it was likely Syrah. The grape did quite well in France in it's early years, proving to be strong enough to resist the the downy mildew epidemic running rampant through the vineyards at that time. However, Durif did not do well in frost and was also sensitive to the scorching summer sun. The grape needed a change of terroir to really flourish and show it's true potential.

In a typical Hollywood story the star is "discovered" by an influential person who can see their "star power". For Amy Adams it was Stacy O'Neil. For Durif it was Charles McIver of California's Linda Vista Winery, who imported the grape as Petite Sirah, possibly misspelled from Petite Syrah. Fortunately the name caught on, and Petite Sirah adapted well to the more temperate climate. It didn't take long for other wineries to notice the grape, and by the turn of the century Petite Sirah was one of the most widely planted varietals in the state. However, the grape was so powerful and tannic only small amounts were used in blends to add structure and colour. This would continue for decades until 1961, when Concannon vineyards made the first bottle of 100% Petite Sirah. This turned out to be the grape's "big break" as other wineries followed suit, and Petite Sirah gained many devoted fans thanks to this trend. Although other varietals have found their way into the limelight from the 1970s to today, many wineries continue to produce bottles made exclusively of Petite Sirah, and websites like psiloveyou.org/ advocate the awareness and support of these wines. Petite Sirah has found a true home in California, and plantings have also been recorded in Mexico, Brazil, Australia and South Africa. Cellar owners would love P.S. as the wines tend to age very well, upwards of 10 years. Patience is rewarded when aging this varietal.


Stag's Leap Winery's 2010 Petite Sirah shows the powerful tannins, inky dark colouring and juicy palate that are trademark to the varietal. Full-bodied and complex, the bouquet contains notes of black fruit, tobacco and cedar. This wine was best after decanting for 4 hours. Pairs well with grilled lamb or roast beef, and will age beautifully in the next 7-10 years.


Stargroves 2008 Petite Sirah is approachable now, with an elegance and refined structure consistent with the Best Actress nominees on Oscar night. Supple tannins are harmoniously balanced with refreshing acidity. Notes of cherries, tobacco and rubber linger on the palate through to the long and lively finish. Surprisingly drinkable on it's own, and also pairs well with red meats and hard cheeses. Decant for 1-2 hours.

Petite Sirah has come a long way from it's humble beginnings in Eastern France to thriving in the California limelight. If you enjoy dark, bold, tannic reds, this varietal will not disappoint! So treat yourself like the star you are and try a bottle today!



    


Saturday, January 4, 2014

My Favourite Wines Tasted in 2013

Happy New Years!

This past year was a busy one on my wine journey. From Gruner Veltliner to Gaja, I was able to taste wines from many different regions. There were some surprises on the way; the biggest one being my new-found appreciation of Chilean wines. Traditions were also continued, like The Pinot Noir Project and a return visit to the Okanagan in the summer. My experience with WSET Advanced classes gave me a ton to learn and taste. Here are some of my favourites from 2013 , with the country and region of origin for each wine also listed. Anything with a (v) means the wine is a great value at under $20 CDN:

Top Whites
It seems like 2011 was a good year for white wine producers all around. The Pfaffenheim is priced at just over $20 CDN, making all four of these wines an excellent value.
1. Santa Rita 120 Sauvignon Blanc 2011-Chile (v)
2. Rabl Gruner Veltliner 2011-Austria (v)
3. Pfaffenheim Pinot Gris 2011-Alsace, France
Honourable Mention: St Urbans-Hof Old Vines Riesling 2011-Mosel, Germany (v)

Top Reds
There wasn't any consistent red wine trend for me this year; however, I did develop a fondness for Italy's southern reds like Nero d'Avola and blends using the grape. With the exception of the Tedeschi Amarone (a beautiful splurge at $50), these wines are priced between $22-$33 CDN.
1. Chateau Beaumont 2008-Bordeaux, France
2. Tedeschi Amarone della Valpolicella 2005-Italy
3. Donnafugata Sedara 2010-Sicily, Italy
Honourable Mention: Concha y Toro Terrunyo Cabernet Sauvignon DO Pirque 2008-Chile

Top Sparkling Wines
Those who know me know that I will always splurge on Champagne when I can. This year I was fortunate enough to taste some premium Champagne thanks to the WSET Advanced classes. There are plenty of excellent value sparkling wine options in the world, and Martini & Rossi's Asti fits the bill at $15 CDN.
1. Dom Ruinart 1998
2. Pol Roger 2000
Honourable Mention: Martini & Rossi Asti (v)

Top Sweet Wines
Once again, I was fortunate enough to try a premium Tokaji thanks to the WSET classes. Chateau Guiraud's Petit Guiraud retails at $30 CDN for a 375ml bottle and the Rutherglen Muscat is an excellent value at just under $30 as well.
1. Hetszolo Tokaji 6 Puttonyos 2001-Hungary
2. Chateau Guiraud Petit Guiraud 2010-Sauternes, France 
3. Rutherglen Muscat-Australia

Top Rose Wines
There are plenty of good quality sparkling rose wines that are good values because they do not come from the Champagne region. The Louis Bouillot is made using the same grapes and method as Rose Champagne, and priced just over $20 CDN! 
Still: Quail's Gate 2012 Rose-Okanagan, Canada (v)
Sparkling: Veuve Clicquot Brut Rose N/V-France
Honourable Mention, Sparkling: Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Brut Rose N/V-Burgundy, France

Top Value Wines (under $20 CDN)
This year's value hot-spots are California and Chile. Both regions are producing some powerful, yet smooth and silky wines that rival their Old World counterparts, and are available at a fraction of the price!
1. Ravenswood Old Vines Zinfandel 2011-California, USA
2. The Dreaming Tree Chardonnay 2010-California, USA
3. Vina Casa Silva Carmenere Reserva 2009-Chile

My Top Food & Wine Pairings
Interesting note: Kendall Jackson shared the photo of their Pinot and burger pairing on both their twitter and Facebook pages!
1. Tarte Tatin with Le Petit Guiraud 2010
2. Pork, Mushroom & Blue Cheese Burgers with Kendall Jackson's 2010 Vintner's Reserve Pinot Noir (v)
3. Grilled Lamb Chops with M. Chapoutier 2010 Crozes-Hermitage

Hopefully you'll find this list useful-maybe there's a wine here that you've been wanting to try, or one that piques your interest. I would drink any of these again, and likely will in 2014. Enjoy!







Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Pinot Noir Project: A Look at 2010 Vintages in California and BC

Despite all the different varieties of wine I drank this year, I wanted to finish 2013 with my favourite varietal, Pinot Noir. North American wine regions have been known to offer some excellent New World Pinots: Oregon and California are the most popular regions, and both Niagara and the Okanagan are also producing quality wines from this varietal. I decided to focus on the 2010 vintages of Californian and Okanagan Pinot Noirs, to see how rough growing seasons affect the wines. The comparison was done via a 4-wine flight: two Pinots from California to start, and two from BC to finish.

Both California and Okanagan producers were faced with a challenging growing season. Spring arrived late in both regions, with record low temperatures and exceptionally high rainfall in May (BC). Summer finally arrived in California in August, and extremely high temperatures frequently broke records. Winegrowers that chose to expose their grapes by trimming the canopy (leaves) when sunshine levels were low in the spring, were now dealing with opposite conditions and sun burnt grapes. The low temperatures in the Okanagan continued through the summer, and higher than normal rainfall amounts were recorded in the first half of September. The weather finally turned favorable at the end of the month, and a long, dry Autumn settled in to save the crop. Despite the challenging growing season, both California and the Okanagan were able to produce quality wines due to a more meticulous sorting process, ensuring only healthy grapes were fermented. These healthy grapes showed a surprising vibrancy in both colour and flavour profile that translated into the final wines, with elegant structure and earthy tones characteristic of a good Pinot Noir.

The Kendall Jackson Vintner's Reserve 2010 is surprisingly complex, featuring a vibrant bouquet of rhubarb, red fruit, damp earth and a subtly steely minerality. Well structured with refreshing acidity and fine tannins, this wine is food friendly but also easy drinking on it's own. An ideal match for a summer BBQ, pizza and fun nights with friends.

La Crema's 2010 Monterey Pinot Noir shows even more complexity with a flavour profile that includes strawberries, white pepper, wet leaves and black olives. There is more earthiness in this vintage than it's 2009 counterpart, which was more fruit-forward thanks to the excellent growing season that year. It also contained the same level of acidity and fine tannins that the Kendall Jackson had, with more intensity. This wine is great for a dinner party and for relaxing the mind after a long day!

The Thornhaven 2010 Pinot Noir showed the highest acidity level of the four wines: a crisp, mouth-watering bite that doesn't overpower the structure and lasts well into the long finish. It has a similar flavour profile to the Californians, with aromas of raspberries, white pepper and forest floor. Smooth and seductive with silky tannins, it will pair well with a fireplace on a cold winter's night and when romance is in the cards! This is also a food friendly wine that would make a fine match for pork dishes.

Lake Breeze's Seven Poplars Pinot Noir 2010 was the most fruit-forward of the flight, with juicy notes of strawberries and raspberries. There was a subtle earthiness in both the nose and palate, but not as apparent as in the other wines. The wine also contains light, silky tannins and a lower acidity level than the others, making this Pinot easy to drink in the Spring or Summer and would pair well with chicken and berry salads.

I found that all four Pinot Noirs in the flight contained higher acidity levels and more earthiness than other vintages, which may speak to the damp earth the grapes dealt with for much of the growing season. There was also a subtle minerality in some of these wines that I haven't seen in other Pinot vintages, adding complexity to the palate. Each wine showed a vibrancy in the flavour profile, reflecting the great care each winery took to ensure the best quality of wine despite the growing season's challenges. With all of that said, each wine shone individually and all 4 are approachable, versatile and food-friendly, all at the mid-priced range ($20-$40 CDN) making them great value.

Just because a growing season is labelled as challenging by winemakers and experts, does not mean the wine will necessarily suffer. As long as great care is taken in the vineyards and during the winemaking process, a good wine can still come out of the surviving grapes-just like the Phoenix rising from the ashes!

  

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Tale of 2 Wine Regions: Part 3 and Conclusion

One of the most well-known white wine grapes in the world is Riesling. Although it is widely grown in many countries world-wide, it is synonymous with Germany, where the first known mention of it was found, and where it remains the most widely-planted varietal today. Other regions that are known for their Rieslings include the Clare Valley in Australia, Austria, Alsace, and Canada, both the Niagara and Okanagan regions.

With hard wood on it's trunk and hardy fruit, Riesling grapes can withstand frosts and cold temperatures, and are resistant to downy mildew. It ripens late, which make it ideal for late-harvest wines, botrytised sweet wines, and even Icewine. Riesling wines tend to be high in acidity and low in alcohol, with a wide flavour profile that includes blossom, stone fruits, citrus, and even petrol and kerosene with age. One of the most unique characteristics of Riesling is it's aging power; it can last for 20+ years in a cellar.

My husband and I compared Gray Monk's 2011 Riesling with Trimbach's 2010 Riesling. The style of the Trimbach Riesling is similar to the "kabinett" style of German Rieslings: light-bodied, with high acidity and more citrus flavours on the palate. Alsace Rieslings tend to have more body, are higher in alcohol, and show a distinct flinty note. The flavours my husband and I detected were blossom, green apple, honeydew melon and lime.

I found the Gray Monk showed similar characteristics on the nose and palate, but it also had the traditional peach flavour that attracts many to Riesling. It had a little more sweetness (off-dry) and the acidity was more mellow in the mouth. It seemed to be more balanced than the Trimbach, where the acidity in the Alsatian wine seemed to overpower the flavour intensity. This surprised me because the Alsatian was older by a year, and I thought it would have settled more than the Gray Monk, which comes from a colder climate. Both my husband and I preferred the Gray Monk over the Trimbach because of these reasons. In comparison to the standard characteristics of Riesling, the wines were on par with eachother, and we ranked both Rieslings as "good" using the WSET Advanced quality assessment. In fact, all 3 varietals were ranked the same quality throughout the project. And all wines retailed under $30 CDN.

The final "scores", based on personal preference:

Gewurztraminer: Tie. My husband preferred the Sumac Ridge, I preferred the Trimbach.
Pinot Gris: Pfaffenheim 2010
Riesling: Gray Monk 2011
Overall: Tie!

So are there differences between Alsace and Okanagan's noble varieties? I would argue yes. The differences we found were in acidity levels (in 2 of the 3 varietals), body, and flavour characteristics. If you like wines that have mouth-watering acidity and minerality with apple and citrus flavours, Okanagan white wines are a great bet. If you prefer a more mellow, fruit-forward white, Alsace wines are a must-try. These would all vary due to the climatic and soil differences between both regions. However, there really isn't a difference between the wines that were compared when assessing the quality. Try it yourself and see what you prefer, you just may be surprised like we were!


Thursday, November 21, 2013

World Holiday Wine Match-Please Vote!

Joy to the World! For the past few weeks I've been busy nominating and voting for World Holiday Wine Matches. One of the wines that I nominated, Santa Rita's 120 Sauvignon Blanc, has reached the finals for the best Collard Greens category! Please help me by clicking on the link below to vote for my wine, as well as voting for wines in the other categories!




Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Is My Dad a Wine Snob?

Wine Snob: "A person unwilling to try other types of wines, and will only drink the wine they think is so great." Urban Dictionary. This is one of the definitions the term "Wine Snob" carries.

The term seems to be used on a regular basis these days. Some wine afficionados throw it around like confetti at an 80's wedding, and some reject the term. I've personally used wine snob to describe the author of a blog I don't like, and one of my bosses has accused me of being one when I start rambling on about wine (but he's a beer guy).

I used to associate the term with my dad because he wouldn't drink South American reds. He tends to stick to Bordeaux Blends, Californian Cabs, and Italian Valpolicellas and Amarones. He also won't touch Australian wines, but that's for a special and unique reason. He's a survivor of tonsil cancer, and after multiple radiation treatments in his mouth, his palate can't handle the spiciness of a Shiraz. I didn't want to think of my dad as a wine snob, so I set out to see if he could tell the difference between the wines he loves and the wines he won't drink in a blind tasting. All four wines were blends, ranging in price and region. All listed prices are in Canadian dollars.

Wine #1: Le Sarget de Gruard-Larose 2001-Bordeaux, France. Retails around $85.

Wine #2: Casa Silva 2011 Cabernet Carmenere-Colchagua Valley, Chile. Retails at $14.

Wine #3: Chateau Beaumont 2008-Bordeaux, France. Retails at $30.

Wine #4: Sumac Ridge's Ridge Red - Okanagan, BC. Retails at $15.*I originally thought this wine was a Cab Sauv blend, but it turned out to be composed of Shiraz/Pinot Noir/Merlot. Surprise, Dad!



Below are my dad's short tasting notes for each of the 4 wines:

Wine #1 was very full-bodied, and had a complex palate. Licorice on the long finish. Harsh tannins that seemed to smooth out with time (I decanted the wine for 90 minutes before pouring, which wasn't long enough in the end). Not an every day wine.
His original guess was an Italian wine, but then he changed it to a Bordeaux and valued the wine at $35+.

Wine #2 was smoother and more fruit-forward than the first wine, with a lighter body. Less complex, but easier to drink. He would drink again, and could sip all night.
His original guess was an American Pinot Noir and valued the wine at around $20. He also guessed the alcohol percentage at 12%.

Wine #3 was mellow, and not as fruity as the second wine. It has some complexity, with a smoky note that appealed to his unique palate. Not as high in alcohol as wine #2. Shorter finish.
His original guess was an Italian Valpolicella, priced between $15 & $20.

Wine #4 was smooth, and a good every day wine. He valued the bottle at $20-$25 with no guess on region. At this point, all of our tasting notes were getting shorter!

When I revealed the wines to my dad, he seemed pleasantly surprised that Wine #2 was Chilean, and Wine #4 was priced the way it was. He was happy to know he got the first wine correct. He doesn't tend to show much emotion so his reactions were hard to read, but I definitely picked up on some surprise from him on Wine #2's identity, which I'm hoping may convince him to drink more South American wines in the future! So the answer to the question, is my dad a wine snob, is: No. He just knows his stuff, and he likes what he likes!

Despite all the talk of wine snobbery these days, I really don't think anyone is a wine snob. Wine is meant to be enjoyed and discussed, and if one prefers to stick to the wines they like, then drink what you like! Lots of us wine geeks like to share our knowledge, which can sometimes be perceived as wine snobbery. But if you listen around, other snob terms are becoming mainstream like Hockey Snob, Car Snob and of course, Food Snob. I think snob is just another way to express your passion in any subject, and ultimately we are all just knowledgeable geeks with preferences when it all comes down to it. Myself and my dad included!

This post is dedicated to my dad, who was a big part of my wine journey whether he knows it or not. He was given Andre Domine's Wine book as a gift from my uncle when he was diagnosed with cancer years ago. I found it in the basement by his leather chair when I was home for a visit and began to leaf through it. His book inspired me to learn more about wine, and later that year I bought the same book and still use it as reference to this day (even though it is an older edition). Thanks for all the knowledge, advice, and the good wine you've shared with me Cheeftain!