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Sunday, 6 January 2013

Ode to the Malbec

I'm not sure I'm actually using the word "ode" in the right context, however, I chose this title based on the current popularity of the Malbec grape.  If a grape could be trendy, this one's it!  It is the most readily available grape being served at popular restaurants these days.  Being served, as in, the "house wine".  And when I say Malbec, it's from Argentina.  No other alternatives exist. When they're serving the Malbec in a restaurant, it's almost ALWAYS gauranteed to be from Argentina
But what if I were to tell you that this post is about a Malbec from Australia?  Whoa...when we talk about grapes from Australia, don't we mean Shiraz?  Let me tell you, this particular Australian Malbec put the Argentinians to shame!  I kid you not.  This was not your "typical" Malbec!  And I'm glad!  Because to be honest, all Argentinian Malbecs were beginning to taste the same to me.  Enter the Paracombe Malbec from the Adelaide Hills in Southern Australia.  Even better to have it poured in my glass by the winemakers son.  Makes it even more special, don't you think?

At 14.5% alcohol, one might think that its typical Australian; high alcohol with no real flavours.  This Malbec is incredibly balanced with the tannins and acidity blending in nicely to minimize the high alcohol content.  It has a beautiful nose of mulberries, cinnamon, allspice and a hint of anise. The palate is full of violets and is full bodied, well balanced with a good long finish.  And at $26 on the shelf, it's not going to break the bank either.

An ode is defined as "a lyrical verse in praise of, or dedicated to someone or something which captures the poet's interest or serves as an inspiration for the ode."  No, I'm not a poet, and this is definately not lyrical, but it IS something that certainly captured my interest, and will continue to capture my interest for many years to come.

And now, I hope it's piqued yours enough to try it.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Aged to Perfection.

Not all wines are created equal...I suppose that's a pretty obvious statement.  But those with an experienced palate can start to tell the difference between a $20 wine and a $60 wine, or in some cases, a $100 wine. Or, from an aged wine vs. a young wine.  Anytime I get a chance to taste an aged wine, I take note and pay attention.

And not all country's wines are created equal either.  Old world wine (wines from France, Italy, Spain and Germany) tend to have deeper, earthier, more "aged" flavours, than a New world wine. (Wines from Australia, New Zealand, North and South America, and South Africa).  That being said, I had the opportunity to try (& pour) a LOT of Italian wines this past Friday.  As a volunteer at this event, I had a chance to go around and try as many of the wines as I wanted, then take my turn at one of the tables actually pouring some of this wine.  What a great way to try different wines and find those that appeal to your personal tastes, and to your food pairing endeavours!  And guess what?  There were wines there that I liked, some not so much, and some that I REALLY liked. Apparently, my tastes are getting more expensive, as one of my all time favourite wines was an Amarone worth $200!  But that's another story...for another posting...

As volunteers, we all received a bottle of wine for helping out that evening. The hosts, Barb & Susan from WineQuest (who put on this event, donating all wines from their personal portfolio) also gave their volunteers the "heels". These are the bottles that were opened for the tasting, but that have some left in the bottle at the end of the night.  And the bottles that I got?  Well, let's just say..I was pretty excited, and a hint of jealousy was expressed by my buddy James, who was standing right beside me...

Not about this wine, but this one WAS good!  And the idea here is to compare young and old.  Most of the wines that "age" are reds.  Most aged whites you hear about, come from Germany, or France's Bordeaux and Burgundy regions. This 2011Santa Maria La Palma "Blu" is made on the island of Sardinia from 100% Vermentino. This grape loves the sea and craves the Mediterranean heat.  This wine was fresh and fruity.  Lots of apples, crisp acidity, and hints of mineralty!  The beauty of this wine, was I never got to taste this in the evening, so was pleasantly surprised to have been able to take this home to enjoy! A young wine, but enjoyable right now! And for $20 retail, totally affordable.

"Brick-ish" colour of red wine is indicative of age.
As red wines age, they become lighter.  As white
wines age, they become darker.  This almost looks
like Coca-Cola in my glass!  Aged to perfection! 

Wow...THIS was the wine that caused the jealousy...As you can see, this is an "aged" wine.  It IS afterall, 14 years old...Early in the evening, I was told that this wine was drinking "beautifully". What does that tell me?  It tells me that it was the right time to open it, but it also had some life left on it.  This is a $100 wine that was "not available for purchase". To have been given this bottle to take home, I felt extremely blessed.

Barbaresco is located in the Piedmont region in Northwestern Italy.  It is sometimes said to be the "queen" next to the "king", which is Barolo (region).  Both regions grow the Nebbiolo grape, and both are well known for producing oustanding wines.  I poured myself a glass of this last night to finish off the bottle, and I made it last about 3 hours.  Even in my glass, the wine continued to evolve.  The tannins were silky, and I could still detect some fruit up front, so from both, tells me that it could be aged even longer.  Still a lot of raspberries, cherries, but mushrooms too.  The Nebbiolo grape is naturally very tannic, so it's aging potential is HUGE. And it's been around since the 1st century AD, so I trust it.  I'm telling you, it did NOT disappoint.  I know I've already said it, but I was blessed to receive this wine, and now, blessed to talk about it....

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Viva Italia!

I had the opportunity to try some distinctive varietals the other night with my wine peeps.  As Italy has over 800 different grape varietals, you're bound to taste something you've never tasted before.  Enter the Lacrima Di Morro D'Alba. Every one of us in that room was astounded by this wine. D'arci couldn't stop smelling it, and James...well let's just say...his comment couldn't have come from anyone else BUT James!  (And I wouldn't want to misquote him, so I choose not to repeat it... :)
From Marotti Campi in the province of  Ancona in Marche, Italy, this grape is rarely found outside the town of Morro D'Alba.  So literally, this is the Lacrima grape FROM Morro D'Alba. Lacrima means "tear" in Italian.  It's name was either derived from it's "teardrop" shape or alternatively, it's thin skin that allows tear-like drops of juice to drip from the grape.

And I... have never had anything like this.  First of all, I also couldn't keep my nose out of the glass!  Distinctive notes of violets, rosewater and green cardamom.  For me, all blending into...wait for it...Chanel No.5!  What??  Thank goodness it didn't TASTE like Chanel No.5, although what was in my nose, was very much on the palate! The rosewater, violets and spice continued!

At 38 bucks, you better know this is what you want!  And pairings?  With such a complex grape/wine, I believe simple is better.  The key is to have either your wine shine, or your food shine.  This wine is worth shining, so keep your food simple like a beef or pork tenderloin with good old salt and pepper!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Oh! Wine from Canada?

I recently returned from the library.  I went to pick up a wine book I had on order.  No, I may not be in school anymore, but I still love to read and learn more about this thing called wine....

And while I was leaving the library, I became entranced with the number of fallen leaves.  Not because they had fallen off the tree, but because they were maple leaves.  It didn't matter the size or the colour, it was the symmetry of the leaf itself, and the fact that every time I see one, I see the country where I was born, raised, and live my life.  That's Canada, and that same maple leaf is on our flag.

Canada is a bit behind as far as making wine.  We are a cold continental climate after all.  Not overly conducive to growing grapes and making wine.  There are a few pockets in this vast country though that make some outstanding wine. 

Even though we've been producing for over 200 years, it wasn't the Vitis vinifera that was being planted.  Other native species like the Vitis labrusa and Vitus riparia were being used, along with various hybrids. This didn't seem to be what worked for Canadians.

Later, there came a demand for sweet, fortified wines, followed by a shift to drier, low alcohol table wines. At the same time, there were significant improvements in wine-making technology; including access to better grape varieties and disease-resistant clones, and systematic research into viticulture. It was found that Vitis vinifera could indeed be successfully grown in Canada.

Now that you've had your history lesson, let me tell you this:  I wish, I wish, I wish...that Canadian wines were more affordable.  I think we are one of the few countries who pays a LOT of money for wine from their own back yard.  Of course, there are factors involved in WHY we pay so much, but I won't get into that in this posting.

If I lived in Spain or Italy, or even Chile and Argentina, I can guarantee you, I'd be drinking some fantastic wines for prices lower than dirt.  That being said, there are more than a few Canadian wines I recommend to people when they come to buy.  And they're not opposed to spending $30 (or more).  Considering that some fabulous wines from Spain run about $15-$17, I wonder why they choose to spend that much.  I think it's because they've been to that back yard...they've taken the time to visit the vineyards in the Okanagan Valley (or perhaps the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario).  They've taken the time to taste them, to savour them, and to bring a little piece (or a bottle :)) back with them.

In the end, it's come down to this:  folks love their Canadian wine, and they choose to spend the money and buy it because it's from Canada.

Here are some of my favourite Canadian wines:

Grey Monk Pinot Gris - fresh and fruity with balanced acidity
Mt. Boucherie Pinot Noir - easy drinking and soft tannins
Burrowing Owl Syrah - beautiful and full bodied with lots of black fruit and pepper
Black Hills Summit Reserve - Bordeaux blend made in the style of French Bordeaux
Therapy Vineyards Pink Freud Roset - clever labelling; fresh strawberries!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Art of Blind Tasting

Lately, I've been learning the art of blind tasting.  In preparation for my exam in 2 weeks, I'm doing as much as I can so as to train my senses to pick which varietal I'm seeing, smelling and tasting.  It's not easy.  A few weeks ago, we had a blind tasting in class.  Sure, you get points for describing what you see, smell and taste.  And you could pass with only that!  But there's something about being able to "Name that Grape".  Like a good game show, you only win if you guess it successfully.  On that particular day, with one wine, you either get 0 or 100.  I got 100.  Last week, we tried again with four wines.  I'm sorry to say that I only got a mere 25%.  Only one correct guess out of four.  But, I'm ok with that, because now I know attributes of those grapes even better than I did BEFORE that tasting.

On my last day off, I went in search of cheap, single varietals to test myself with.  When you're blind tasting to help yourself study, getting $50 bottles of wine is really not a good idea.  Get some wines between $8-$15 and you're good to go!  Try to get a sampling from various countries as well, as each country's terroir and climate plays into the scents and flavours of the wines.

The idea of blind tasting is so one would not be prejudiced in choosing one country's wine over anothers. This came into play during the famous Paris Tasting of 1976.  As seen in the movie Bottleshock, I learned how the Old World met the New World in this battle of reds and whites from France, vs. reds and whites from the New World.  Specifically, the United States.  Many aficionados, wine scholars and sommeliers thought nothing could beat the beauty and prestige of their French wines.  So as not to prejudice them in choosing their own country's wines, they did the tastings blind.  Meaning, they had no idea what was in their glasses.  It was either French wine or American wine.  Based on their senses, they had to rate these wines in different categories, giving points for each.  Lo and behold, to the surprise of an entire country, these small time, up and coming vineyards from Napa Valley, USA, won overall for both reds and whites. It's been a battle ever since.

And blind tasting, becomes increasingly important for the Wine Student to master.

On Friday, my husband gave me my own blind tasting here at home.  I scored 100%.  Again, with four wines, I was able to indentify all four.  I asked him to repeat this exercise for me this evening as well, using the existing wines, and perhaps adding some others.  He completely fooled me, pouring two of the same wines.  So really, I didn't have seven varietals, as the picture shows.  Rather, I had only FIVE different varietals, with doubles being given to me!  And I should've trusted my senses.  But, I didn't, and failed miserably, only to get three right of the seven poured.  Did I get the same varietal for the doubles?  No, I didn't.  In my mind, I thought they were the same.  But how COULD they be? I doubted myself, and I shouldn't have.

What's my point in all this?  It's an art.  An art I have yet to master.  But I'm getting there.  And for anyone out there struggling with blind tasting, don't worry!  You're not alone!  It IS difficult, but the more you do it, the better you will become at identifying varietals. 

I'll try again in a couple of days....

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Finding a Passion

I'm a Rider fan.  Yes, I'm one of those crazy people you see with all the green and white paraphenalia in the form of clothing, household items, and in general..."swag". I've been a fan since I was nine years old.  Through thick and thin, good times and bad, even living in another province, I am STILL... a fan.  This is a Canadian Football Team that in its 100+ years has only won 4 Grey Cups.  Now, for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, don't worry about it.  The details are not the point, it's about the love of the game. And, it's about passion.

Why am I telling you this on a wine blog? Because I love this team.  I love watching them play football.  Admittedly, sometimes it's painful.  But, like many others who are fans, we are passionate about this small time team in a small time league called the CFL.  As much passion as I have for this team, I also have passion for wine and learning about wine.

I am almost at the end of Level 2 of the International Sommelier Guild.  And If I complete all sections, I will be granted the title of Certified Wine Steward.  First, let me get there.  And once I do, I'll let you know what's in store next!  I also recently picked up a part time gig at a Fine Wine store.  Nothing like stocking and perusing the shelves to get even more knowledge on the subject! And as tough as it is some days..I love it.'s increasing my passion.

With my first cheque, I chose a country, and with a budget of $40-$45, this is what I got:

Red - 2009 Altos de La Hoya- Olivares, Seville, SPAIN
Jumilla DOC
100% Monastrell

Rose - 2011 Olivares, Seville, SPAIN
Jumilla DOC
70% Monastrell/30% Syrah

White - 2010 Herederos del Marques de Riscal
100% Verdejo

Monastrell (known as Mouvedre in France) is most well known for being in blends, such as the "GSM" that has been made popular in Australia, and the Chateauneuf-de-pape appellation in the Rhone valley. Here in the Jumilla region, it grows well with hot days and cool nights to give it the ripe berry flavours, yet keep some of the acidity in the grapes.  My husband and I tasted this last night, and it was outstanding!  Very impressed with this grape in a great value wine of $15!  Lots of sweet, spicy flavours all blended together with a nice balance of acidity and tannin.  I haven't tasted the Roset yet, but I expect it to have notes of strawberries in it, along with that spice from the Monastrell grape.  And because it's also from the Jumilla region, I expect it to be stunning as well.  The white, from the Rueda region in Spain is made from 100% Verdejo, where the grapes are harvested at night in September, when the temperature is 10-15C as opposed to the daytime temperatures of 28-30C. Again, I have not tasted this, but after it's chilled, I expect a beautiful wine with lots of crisp acidity, stony and herbaceous flavours. Maybe even some floral accents as well.

All I can say is, I was completely excited to find these three fine wines for under $45.  That's right, for $44 and change, I think I got some great value, and THAT my SO exciting, and ignites my passion even further!  If you are reading this, I say thank you, because when I see stats that you are reading my posts, I know my passion is real...

Saturday, 28 July 2012

This Business Called Wine...

"Wait a minute", I hear you say.  "Is she really here writing a blog?  And where are the photos?" I've been writing several posts in my mind, but unfortunately, I've been unable to get them on paper...until now.  I'm on vacation.  Yes, a break from not one, but two jobs,  a few family stressors and school. Next week I don't have class, so I've used this window of opportunity to get away with my husband and kids.  

Today I want to tell you something serious.  When I tell folks what I'm studying in school, I often get laughed at.  They wonder how tasting wine can possibly be serious...or, how can tasting a particular wine be a learning experience?  When most people have a glass of wine, do they think about much more than what the colour is in their glass, or whether or not they may be getting a slight buzz?  For the majority, I doubt it. This business of wine is much more difficult and more complicated than one might think.

But how many of you know what the difference is between a Chardonnay from Chablis versus a Chardonnay from Cote de Beaune?  Did you know that they are both from the region of Burgundy?  Did you know that one District uses oak, but the other doesn't?  What about Beaujolias?  Does anyone know what that means when you are drinking that?  How about a Sancerre, or a Chateaux about a Chateaux Petrus or a Romanee-Conti?  Anyone, anyone?

There's this business of types of soils, grape varietals, appelations, wine laws, wine styles, levels of sweetness or dryness, levels of acidity and tannin, fortified wines, Ripasso and Amarone, Left Bank and Right Bank, Pouilly Fume vs. Pouilly-Fuisse, Qualitatswein, Spatlese, Auslese, Kabinett...I could keep going, but I don't want to overwhelm you.

Yes, overwhelming.  Didn't think it possible did you? Well, if YOU think it's overwhelming, this is what I feel on an almost weekly basis, as more knowledge gets added to the bank that is already overflowing.

But, I'm here to tell you that I won't give up.  I will continue to learn and understand this business called wine.  Mostly for myself, and a potential career change, but also for you.  I hope I can continue to pass along what I've learned to you. My motto of "drink what you like", has not changed.  My goal is to just continue to make suggestions...I wouldn't want you to purchase a wine you don't like :)