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Saturday, 31 March 2012

Celebration Wines

Gray Monk Pinot Gris
Okanagan Valley
British Columbia, Canada
Lately, I've been pondering the idea of "celebratory wine".  Or, some sort of wine that evokes feelings of remembrance, most often of a wonderful occasion or time in life.  Because our sense of smell is our greatest form of remembrance, it's only reasonable that a bottle of wine would do this.  After all, one of the most important aspects in the tasting exercise is the aroma itself.  Getting all those smells in your memory before the wine is tasted.

I have a few such wines.  One I even posted about. Now granted, it wasn't meant to be initially, but I will always remember the 1884 Reservado Malbec because it was poured and enjoyed on the night of my niece's birth.

This particular wine reminds me of friendship.  This couple is one of the most dynamic, loving people you could ever have the pleasure to meet and interact with. I remember exactly where I was when this wine was served to me.  Danny is one of the most fun loving people I know.  A collector of friends, and a lover of life, he knows nothing of the word selfishness and is constantly sharing what he has with other people. His wife Marita is one of my best friends.  A beautiful, soulful woman who is also just as giving.  In fact, those of us that were in the room at the time, I consider some of the most important people in my life.

Now, this was a few years ago, so I'm not sure if we were tasting the '08 or the '09.  Doesn't much matter.  All I know was that this particular wine was also the catalyst to me really starting to appreciate wine.  This wine was fruity, crispy and vibrant - much like the spring day that we were viewing out the window. And if my memory serves me, beautiful aromas of  green apples, pears, grapefruit and maybe even a hint of honey.  A wonderful tasting wine too, easily drunk on its own, crisp and refreshing.

I have a favourite wine store I like to visit.  They always have this wine in stock, and even if I'm not buying it, I always go to the Canadian wine section, find this wine, pick up the bottle, and just....remember.  I think it's awesome to have wines like this, and I hope to "collect" many more celebratory wines throughout my lifetime.  What about you?  Any wines out there that evoke a lot of great memories for you?  Would love to hear about it...

Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Art of Tasting

I've had some comments from folks wondering what this whole tasting thing is about.  Rather than focus on a particular wine for this post, I thought I'd get into the science of it a little.  Now I know that some of you out there don't really care..."just give me a glass of wine," you say!  Well, that's the point I guess!  To truly enjoy the wine in your glass, you must enjoy what you are tasting!

I'm going to make it really simple.  I'll get a bit more technical later on in this post.  For now, the 4 basic steps to tasting are:

Spit (or, if you REALLY like it...Swallow!)

All start with the letter "S" for easy recall! (I'm really trying to keep it simple!)
1.  Sight.   When the wine is poured in your glass, you want to look at it.  What colour is it?  How intense is that colour?  Are there bubbles or sediment present? Is it clear, or is it cloudy?  Tilt the glass away from you to get a sense of the color in the centre of glass vs. the colour at the rim. What is the colour of the wine touching the glass?  Is it darker, or lighter than the colour in the core? And just as an FYI...the colour of the wine may be an early indicator of its age.  As red wines age, they become lighter.  As white wines age, they become darker.

2.  Smell.  To smell the wine, first give it a swirl.  The swirling will release the oxygen and all the aromas of the wine.  This is probably the most important step of the process.  One can come back to the wine and smell new things that were not there at first.  And don't just take a cursory sniff!  Stick your nose right in the glass!  And don't do it just once, do it several times!  Swirl, smell, swirl, get the idea!  And this just in:  each of your nostrils smell things differently, so try plugging one, taking a sniff, then plugging the other and taking a sniff.  Do you smell anything different?  And here's another little factoid:  aroma is usually associated with a young wine, often more of the fruit is evident.  Bouquet is usually associated with more mature wines.  That is, smells that have developed over time.  These might include adjectives such as 'earthy' or 'woody' or perhaps even 'herbaceous'.

You have often heard me describe a wine with "on the nose", which means "what I smelled was..."

3.  Sample (Sip or Taste). You will see my reference to "on the palate" here, which essentially means, "what am I tasting."  This is where some will slurp, suck and roll the wine in the mouth.  Seems crude and unusual, but it does serve a purpose!  The intention is to get the wine to touch all the tastebuds in your mouth.  Sweetness at the front, bitterness at the back, sourness at the sides, and saltiness at the upper rear.  Not that there is much use for the 'saltiness' in wine, it's just another tidbit of information I just KNOW you were all waiting to learn about!  By letting the wine take a complete tour in our mouths, only then can we get a true sense of the various elements in the wine.  This is also when we we will experience "acidity", which is the mouthwatering effect wine has on us, and "tannins", which is the astringency, or "drying out" we might feel coat our mouths and teeth.

All wine contains alcohol.  Some more than others.  That being said, the amount of alcohol might also determine the body that wine will have in your mouth.  We will almost always experience the alcohol towards the back of the mouth as a 'hot' or 'burning' sensation.  Is it a light wine or full bodied wine? Can it be drunk on its own, or does it need food?
Finally, we want to judge the finish of the wine.  Everyone loves something that lasts!  Like that savoury piece of steak that melts in your mouth, such is the finish of a good wine.  Is it short or long?  Does is disappear into the mist immediately after you swallow it, or does the taste linger in your mouth long after you swallow it?

4.  Spit.  Now, I'm sure you noticed that I just asked if you swallowed your taste of wine!  A professional taster will often have to sample over 100 wines in a day.  In order not to become completely plastered with no opinion at all, (they would ALL be REALLY good wines at this point!) it is important that the wine be spit out, wait for the flavours to go or stay, then write, or recall any comments you have on the wine. Don't be afraid to sip and spit  more than once!

Finally, let's talk about the balance of the wine.  In the whole tasting proess, we have talked about what it looks like, what it smells like, what it tastes like; how much acidity, tannins and alcohol are present.  In the ideal wine, all of these parts combine flawlessly together to create a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts.  It's like the symphony:  all the pieces of the orchestra go together perfectly.  One doesn't outshine the other.  They just blend together to create this beautiful melody.  Intricate harmonies overlapping each other, yet sounding as one in our ears.  So it is with that perfect bottle of wine.  It is this balance that measures the overall quality of a wine, its potential longevity, as well as potential food pairings at the dinner table.

If you've been reading my blogs on a regular basis, remember what I said in my very first blog:  drink what you like. What the wine SAYS it smells or tastes like, may not be what YOU smell or taste.  Always be true to yourself in what you smell or taste!  There is no right or wrong answer!  Clever marketing should never be the one to tell you WHAT is in that wine!  Trust your senses!  YOU are your own best critic when it comes to which wine you will like at dinner, on your patio, or what might sit in your cellar for a few years!

Next time you sit down to enjoy your next glass of wine, try this exercise, and then tell me about it!  I'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

The Pinot Noir Mission

I'm on a mission....

I've never been a Pinot Noir fan.  I don't know why.  Maybe it was the name, or the preconceived notion that it was pretentious.  Or maybe...just maybe, it was the taste.  I've learned quite a bit about this grape that is so difficult to grow, and I've gained more respect for this thin skinned grape. My mission is this:  Find a great drinking Pinot Noir for under 25 bucks....which so far, has YET to happen!  Any Pinot Noir worth its salt is gonna cost you...somewhere between $65-$80 for sure. (at least that's what I have found...)

The Burgundy region of France is considered the creme de la creme of the Pinot Noir world.  And now, Oregon is holding their own with this grape and is becoming the Burgundy of the United States.  A bold statement to be sure, but Oregon has proved that they can grow this grape, and I can attest to this.  I've tasted some pretty outstanding Oregon Pinot Noirs from the Willamette Valley.  And they weren't under 25 bucks either...

Quail's Gate Winery
Okanagan Valley, BC
2010 Pinot Noir,
$20.99- Costco
My latest Pinot Noir tasting came in the form of a Canadian from the Okanagan Valley. Quail's Gate Winery to be exact, which, according to the website, is one of the leading producers of Pinot Noir in Canada.  This is their "flagship wine", believing that this region (in Canada) is the most ideally suited to growing the grape. The description of their wine is really quite enticing. "...we ensure that our wines exhibit rich complex fruit flavours that are reminiscent of classic Burgundy wines while showcasing the added elegance of New World wine making techniques. Made to be elegant with grace and finesse, this wine is made for wine lovers who desire a sophisticated style of Pinot Noir."  And I paid $21 for this wine!  How excited am I?

Visually, this wine looked great!  Garnet in colour with a watery edge, I expected an easy drinking wine to be sure. Oh, by the way, Pinot Noirs are one of those nice wines that you don't need to pair with food necessarily, they can be fantastic on their own, if they are good!  That is what I mean by an "easy drinking wine".  However, the classic pairings for this fine grape include West Coast salmon and grilled lamb with rosemary.

On the nose, I got some of that Pinot Noir fruit such as blueberries and strawberries, but I also got the classic "deli" smells of the French oak that it is aged in for up to 11 months.  Wonderful tastes of blueberries, acai berries, and cassis with soft, medium tannins. I thought this wine was just "ok", not outstanding or stellar.  Lyndsey, my husband didn't like it at all!   This was the 2008 vintage, which according the website, can be aged nicely. And since it was opened in 2012, it WAS aged a bit, although probably not as much as it could've been.  I'll know for next time and buy two bottles!

Maybe when I go visit my parents at Easter on the west coast, I'll insist on the salmon...shouldn't be too difficult to get there! And I just may have to splurge on a bottle of Pinot Noir.  I am after all, on a mission...

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Cheers to the Malbec!

Alamos Malbec 2010
Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina
$8.99  Costco Wholesale
 Ahh..the long awaited Malbec...I've drunk a lot of Malbecs in my life, and I have to say this one was most enjoyable! Although grown widely around the world, it is perhaps most well known and 25,000 hectares worth of growth, in the Argentinian region of Mendoza.  The grape was first introduced into the region in the mid 19th century, when the then governor ordered cuttings to be brought over from France.  Those cuttings that were planted produced the country's first Malbecs. Since then, Argentina has clearly usurped the French in the production of this varietal.

The Alamos Malbec (from the Catena Family Winery) is from the Mendoza region mentioned above, from a vineyard of the Uco Valley. It is the Wine of the Andes, the label paying homage to the mountains for which it is grown.  The bright sunshine during the day and the cool nights make for a balanced wine.  It's aged for 6-9 months in both French and American oak, so there may also be hints of oak either on the nose or the palate. (I didn't get a lot myself).

This is an absolutely beautiful shade of violet with lots of cherries, blackberries, and even an herbaceous hint (basil maybe?) on the nose.  The black fruits continued in my mouth with a hint of chocolate on the finish. The tannins were smooth (at 13.5% alcohol, I wouldn't expect them to knock my socks off), the acidity was medium, making it well rounded in my mouth. And really, isn't that what you want in a wine?

And look at the price!  For the price of this wine, the quality is astounding!  Might be a good idea to have a few of these on hand for when you might have unexpected guests.  I see they also have a roset Malbec.  For those turkey loving roset wine fans, might be worth a try.  At least you know your purchase won't break the bank!  And who wouldn't want to drink a wine from a region as beautiful as this? :)

Mendoza Region

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Tuesday Night Wine Tasting - Spain

Ok folks...

I know some of you are requesting certain varietals for me to blog about.  First of all, I actually have to taste those specific varietals, and secondly, I need to purchase them!  The good news is, my Malbec friend will have her fill next month when my classmates and I focus on wines from South America, specifically Chili and Argentina...lots of Malbecs there!  Not to mention that I just bought a Malbec today:  blog will be forthcoming...

But for now, let's look at Spain..a bit of an undervalued country from my perspective.  They consistently make excellent quality wines, for a fraction of the price of French wines, yet as Rodney Dangerfield would eloquently put it, "they get no respect!"

Although we tasted six wines this evening, I am only going to talk about four of them.

Let's start with the Cava:  a sparkling wine that used to be called Spanish champagne, but under French law, only those wines produced in the region of Champagne are allowed to be referred to as Champagne.  Still produced using the traditional method (that is a blog in and of itself..perhaps when I profile an actual French Champagne, I will discuss further) these sparklings have excellent flavour, have varying levels of dryness, and have long finishes. This particular one had a mouthful of green apple and lime, was refreshing and clean on the palate, and stayed in my mouth for that long finish!  Well priced too!  Look here for more information on this gorgeous Cava!
Vina Esmerelda Torres 2006
Cataluyna, Spain
Let's move onto the white of the evening.  A blend of Moscatel (85%) and Gewurtztraminer (15%) this wine certainly had a unique flavour.  It smelled of petrol and flint, and tasted that way too, with that "unctuous" feeling in my mouth.  A short finish, it left me feeling that I'd missed something.   Bring in the 7-layer dip. Now we had something going! Full of cheese, and sour cream, re-fried beans and guacamole, my friend and I agreed that food was necessary to bring out the flavour of this wine, and we found ourselves both pouring another serving into our glasses!

Manium Bierzo Crianza 2007
Bierzo, Spain

So, you might be wondering...what grape is this?  It's 100% Mencia...which to be honest, I've never heard of before this tasting.  And it's a Crianza.  In Spain, there are "categories" of the quality of wine, based on how long it's aged even before it hits the shelves in your local liquor store. It's starts with Crianza; aged for 2 years with at least 6 months in oak.  Next is Reserva, aged for at least 3 years with at least 1 year in oak.  And finally (but most definately NOT least) the Gran Reserva typically appear in above average vintages with the red wines requiring at least 5 years ageing, 18 months in oak and a minimum of 36 months in the bottle. And with that, a greater price tag as well!  That being said, you can still find some great tasting Crianza wines out there.  On this one, my immediate reaction to the nose was a "deli counter".  My classmates and I seemed to all put this one to our noses at the same time.  All of us exclaiming with an "oh!"  As soon as I mentioned "deli counter", they all agreed!  Scents of salami, proscuitto and bacon assaulted our noses.  On the palate, this wine had medium acidity and had the tast of plums and cranberries.  Quite different from the nose to be sure!  At 14.5% acohol, one can expect quite a bit of tannins, which indeed there was, but not to the point where it made it difficult to drink on its own.
1996 Prado Enea
Gran Reserva Muga Rioja
100% Tempranillo
This was to be the wine of the evening.  At $67 a bottle for what my friend James paid for it, we left it until last.  And to be honest...I expected more.  But that's just me. Let's just think about this for a minute:  This wine is 16 years old...older than my daughter!  The color indicates that, as it is beginning to turn a little brickish from age.  Tempranillo wines can be consumed young, but the most expensive ones are aged for several years in oak barrels. The wines are ruby red in colour, with aromas and flavors of berries, plum, tobacco, vanilla, leather and herb.  This is what I'm supposed to smell.  What I DID smell was silage, forest floor, and mushrooms.  All typical for an older wine, but I wanted to be blown away by this wine, and I just wasn't.  But (and if you're reading this James - I'm sorry...) I didn't get all those wonderful aromas and tastes.  Maybe we should've had this one first...Hmmm...the things I'm learning...

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Mt. Boucherie Family Estate Winery

Mt. Boucherie- Estate Collection
2010 Pinot Gris
Okanagan Valley, BC CANADA
I think this is the first Canadian wine I've blogged about.  Don't get me wrong, I've had plenty of opportunity, but this seemed like the time to actually get it out on "paper", so to speak.  Funny story:  An email arrived at my work for wine at "discounted prices".  Apparently, some of the labels on these wines were not quite right, perhaps a bit crooked? (personally, I couldn't tell...can you?) so they were being sold at a discount.  A co-worker of mine has family involved in this estate winery, so she had the opportunity to offer these wines at discount prices.   I chose four from the list and here is my review on one of them!

I've had opportunity to try many Pinot gris, (from other countries) but quite frankly, none of them seem to really impress me.  The Canadians seem to have gotten it right because of all the Pinot gris wines I've tried, I like this country's wines the best.  Now, I 'm not biased...just because I'm a Canadian!  It just seems to be that way.  Or....maybe it's just my palate?!

The history of Pinot gris is actually quite fascinating.  Did you know that it was a grape found by accident? It is actually a mutation of the Pinot noir grape.  Pinot noir grapes are a dark purplish-blue, whereas the Pinot gris grapes are more of a pinkish-blue-gray, hence the name Gris (which means "grey" in French).
Researchers determined that Pinot gris has a remarkably similar DNA profile to Pinot noir and that the colour difference is derived from a genetic mutation that occurred centuries ago. The leaves and the vines of both grapes are so similar that the coloration is the only aspect that differentiates the two.  Sometimes, you may see this in the stores as Pinot Grigio, the name for the grape in Italy.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Gris



I really enjoyed this wine!  It was light and fruity; not overly acidic, with lots of baked pear on the nose. When I tasted, I continued to get all that pear in my mouth along with a hint of spice.  Think a pear pie with cinnamon!  How could anyone not like that? It drank well on its own, but it was also stellar with my baked salmon with dill sauce, accompanied by penne pasta and sauteed green beans. 

As I said earlier, I've enjoyed the Canadian Pinot gris' I have tasted.  If you have a chance, pick up ANY of the Okanagan Valley Pinot gris, and give them a try! I'd love to hear what you think!

Thursday, 1 March 2012


Rhone Valley
The complicated, sophisticated, chic, merveilleux French wine....

In case you haven't noticed, this is the first French wine I've blogged about.  Truth be told, they scare me to death!  A good French wine aficionado talks about Bordeaux and Burgundy, Beaujolais and Chablis. Although that is not wrong, for someone who is choosing wines based on varietal (i.e. type of grape) it can be very confusing.  For me, it still is!

So before I get into the wine of the hour, let me just explain what I was referring to above:  Bordeaux, Burgundy, Beaujolais and Chablis, are actually regions of France.  And in these particular regions, only certain grapes can be grown.  For those of us that are looking for varietal (like myself), this information is important in my decision to buy.

I will be brief:

Bordeaux = Cabernet Sauvignon (also Merlot and Cabernet France, sometimes all three blended together.
Burgundy = Pinot Noir
Beaujolais = Gamay
Chablis = Chardonnay (Chablis is actually located within Burgundy)

And now, I'm going to mix it up a little bit more!  Chateauneuf-du-pape is actually in the Rhone Valley, which is known for two major grape varietals: Grenache and Syrah.   However, there can be up to 13 different grape varietals used in the making of Chateauneuf-du-pape!  The more expensive ones will have a greater percentage of the varietals mentioned above, whereas the cheaper versions will have more of the lesser known grapes. In my mind, this particular bottle is towards the higher end, as the percentages of the grapes used are as follows:  80% Grenache, 7% Syrah, 7% Mouvedre, 6% Cinsault.  I bought it at Costco, so I know I paid significantly less.

Chateuneuf-du-pape means "New castle of the Pope". So named for the palace in the Rhone city of Avignon, in which Pope Clement V (first French pope) resided in the 14th century.  You might also notice that there is no vintage listed.  I was most curious about this, and according to my research, this particular bottle is a blend of the the best "cuvees" from different vintages -grapes harvested in different years.

Hopefully, I haven't bored you with the trivia!  Onto the tasting notes!!

Garnet in colour, on the nose, I got some mushrooms and dried strawberries....which seems a bit opposing.  Mushrooms indicate more of an aged wine, yet strawberries indicate aromas of a younger wine.  My husband agreed.  This WAS a nice wine.  When we tasted, we got all kinds of things!  Mushrooms, spice, dried fruit, wood and venison.  It had nice acidity and the tannins didn't knock you out.  Well rounded with a smooth finish.  We didn't pair it with anything either, so we probably didn't get the full benefit of this wine.

Bottom line:  French wines STILL intimidate me.  I am deep into learning about labeling, so choosing a wine that is right, for not only what I want to pair it with, but also within my budget, is extremely important...I want to get it right.

And just for fun....A friend of mine did a GREAT version of the pronunciation of this wine!  I cannot, however, attach it, so this is the next best thing. This is not HOW you say Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but it sure tickles the funny bone! Chateauneuf-du-pape