Thursday, December 30, 2010

Stuck in a Varietal

I've noticed a recurring theme over the last six months since I began taking the sommelier course. Some of my friends and relatives have been suggesting that I try their favorite wines. "Mark, have you tried this Shiraz, it's incredible or I really like this Chardonnay from Australia, what do you think?" As you know, I'm always willing to offer my opinion when asked and it may be a little long winded at times or it may seem never ending at other times but I'm always willing to listen as well. I'm intrigued by how and why people select their wines to drink. Do they see it in a newspaper, internet website, magazine, a recommendation from a friend or perhaps they make the final decision while browsing through the liquor store? One point that comes to mind almost immediately is that a certain portion of the wine drinking population seems to select wines based on a single grape variety that they are familar and comfortable with. I have one friend that only drinks Cabernet Sauvignon. She says that it's her favorite type of wine and there's enough Cabernet's from different regions around the world to sample so why should she switch to something else. Fair enough. You're the one drinking it so if you're happy with that wine then keep drinking it till you get bored of the taste. However, there are some people that are a little timid about changing. It's this group that I want to address and possibly help. When talking to this hesitant batch about wine, here's some of their comments I've collected
  • I don't know where to start. There's so many different wines from so many countries. It's overwhelming to try and find something I might like.
  • I won't go into the Vintages section at the LCBO because it's too intimidating. I've never heard of most of the wines.
  • Where do I start ? What's good, what's bad and what is overpriced ? 
There's no quick and easy answer for this but there are some things that you can do to help get "unstuck" from that one grape variety. To start, the next time you sit down to have a glass of your favourite vino really examine the wine. What is it about this wine that you like ? Is it the aromas of cherry and cedar, maybe citrus or pear or is it the taste of green apples in your mouth. Once you know what attributes of the wine appeal to, you can take that mental pictue with you when shopping for wine. A lot of wines have descriptions of their product on the back of the bottle. Look for wines which have similar characteristics to what you like and try it.
 Another thing that I like to do is sample wines at parties or dinners. If your host offers you a wine to try, ask for a small sample in a juice glass to try. You only need about an ounce to get a good idea of whether you'll love it or hate it. If you don't like it just pour the sample ounce down the drain (no harm done). Keep the sample glass and try a variety of wines through out the night. When I go to a friends house for dinner, it's not unusual to see me with 2 or 3 sample glasses of red and white wines in front of me at dinner. I like to match the wines with the meal to see what works and what doesn't.
 The important point here is to keep an open mind. Try not to compare the new wine with your favourite wine as it will probably lose most of the time. After all it is your favourte wine. Ask yourself, What do I like about the wine? Does it have a nice feel in your mouth or does it have a long pleasant fruit finish or maybe a nice smoky after taste? So keep on sampling and before you know it, you'll have a list of favourite wines instead of just one.

Here's my picks for this week.

Red Diamond - 2008 - Cabernet Sauvignon - Washington USA

Washington State you say ! That's right. This medium red Cabernet Sauvignon with a purple hue around the rim has aromas of strawberries, cedar, spice, tobacco and dark currants. The wine was has a medium to full bodied feel with flavours of berries, caramel and tobacco with a medium to long finish of berries on the palate.
Price - under $15.00 (LCBO)
I like this wine because it has tremendous value for the under $15 range. It pairs well with multiple dishes like roast beef, steak or something as simple a lasagna. It's not heavy like some Cabernet's but has a richness to it that should be pleasing to most wine drinkers.

Toasted Head - 2008 - Chardonnay - California

If you like your Chardonnay with a creamy rich texture, this is the wine for you. This pale yellow 99% Chardonnay and 1% Viognier is barrel fermented and aged sur lie (on the yeast) in toasted barrels to bring out the caramel and oak flavours. It has aromas of pear, pineapple, caramel with smoky burnt sugar (Wow !).  The mouth feel is a buttery full bodied wine with a predominant pear and caramel taste. You have to experience this wine to get the full impact of the barrel staves and head toasting. It's not your regular oaked Chardonnay.
Price - under $18 (LCBO)
I like this wine because the winemaker put a lot of effort into the toasted barrel fermenting with sur lie ageing and it shows in the wine. This wine should be chilled to get the full potential of the fruit flavours and can be served with poached salmon or at a corn roast. Delicious !

Cheers !!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Busy Busy Busy

First of all. I have to apologize to my readers/followers for my neglect of the markuncorked wine blog. What I thought was a stroke of genius turned out to be an enormous amount of work that has consumed all of my spare time for the last month. I decided in my infinite wisdom that I could easily handle 2 sommelier courses in a single semester while trying to do my regular job. After all, the vinification course was only 4 Saturdays in November. That was only a small commitment while I tackled the Grape Varieties course over the full semester. What I didn't realize was that the vinification course is a condensed version of a full course which required me to study and write an exam on each Saturday. Going to work, studying at night for vinification and preparing for the Grape varieties class meant that something had to give and unfortunately it was this blog. I have now finished (hopefully passed) the vinification course and am winding down to the final exam on Grape Varieties. I feel like life is back to a controlled and manageable chaos.
  So enough of my whining and let's talk wine. I recently attended a presentation by a representative from the AOC of the Cotes du Rhone region in France. Her presentation was excellent and I learned a lot about the various levels within the AOC, the grapes, wine making, soil types and climate of the northern and southern sections of the Rhone. During the presentation, we sampled various wines from the region and each of us gave an appraisal of the wine with a suggested food pairing. This where it gets interesting. While I'm sampling a wine, studying it's colour and aromas, my mind is running through a series of recipes that would compliment the Syrah. I'm thinking to myself, this is a full bodied dark fruit wine, rich, peppery with some smoke. This would go great with a nice hearty beef stew with some fresh homemade bread. I'm about to state my pairing when the guy next to me offers his suggestion of sliced glazed duck breast served inside a crepe with fresh cranberry chutney covered in a red wine reduction sauce. Wow ! That sounds fantastic and delicious but how many people eat that type of meal outside of a restaurant? How many of us would attempt cooking a meal like that in our own kitchens? We all have busy schedules these days and the household budget is certainly a factor. What point am I trying to make here you ask ? I'm glad you asked. There's always two sides to the wine pairing "coin". Always keep an open mind when pairing wines with meals. Think of the wine paired with a Sunday night dinner at home, or maybe a BBQ with friends, or how about some cheeses or that ultimate chef prepared feast you'd love to try some time at your favorite bistro.

Cheers !

Here's this weeks picks

Wolf Blass EagleHawk - 2009 - Shiraz

A dark ruby red Shiraz with an aroma of raspberry, pepper, blackberry and some menthol. It has a long cherry finish with chocolate and licorice. Tannins are moderate.
Price - $13.00 (LCBO)
I like this wine because of it's long smooth cherry and chocolate finish that doesn't have the heavy alcohol aroma of some Shiraz's. It could be paired nicely with spicy Italian BBQ sausages.

No99 Wayne Gretzky Estates - 2008 - Riesling

 A pale yellow Riesling with peaches, apples and citrus on the nose. Flavours of apple, honey and citrus really standout. It has a nice balance of fruit and acidity with a fresh crispness when chilled.
Price - under $15.00 (LCBO)
I like this wine paired with chicken or Asian dishes as it has a long tart citrus finish.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

To chill or not to chill

One of my readers (hopefully a fan) recently asked a good question. Why is it that you chill white wine but serve red wine at room temperature? Normally I would answer this type of question in an authoritative deep baritone voice with a slightly snobish accent like "Most full bodied red wines should be served at the 60 to 65 F range and light bodied white wines should be served at a temperature range of between 34 to 50F". While this fact is true, the reality is most us don't have wine cellars or wine storage units that keep our Syrahs and Chardonnays at a specific temperature until they are ready to be poured into a glass. We have an overcrowded refrigerator full of leftovers for our white wines and a kitchen counter for the red wines. Also, the bulk of wines sold at the LCBO and SAQ are purchased and consumed with in a 24 to 48 hour period so storage is really not an issue for the average consumer.
So let’s set the scene for the average consumer. Little Billy’s Mom and Dad are out for the day running errands, doing groceries and Dad decides to pick up a bottle of wine that he wants to have with that big hunk of meat he’s going to char (and claim that it’s Cajun style) on the BBQ tonight. They also pickup the latest copy of Land of the Lost 28 to keep Billy entertained while they sit down to enjoy a glass of wine before dinner. Now before Dad pops the cork on the wine, he needs to know 3 tidbits about wine and temperature.

1 Cold temperatures accentuate tannins in red wine
2 Cold temperatures accentuate fruit flavours and acidity in white wine
3 Wine does not like extreme swings in temperature so don’t leave your wine in the back seat of your car on   a 35C day until it’s the same temperature as your coffee

So if Dad put the Riesling in the fridge before dinner and let it chill for a couple of hours, the aromas and taste of fresh pear and apple fruit plus the mouthwatering feel of the acidity in the wine should standout. You will get a feeling of freshness and crispness in your mouth. On the other hand, putting a Cabernet Sauvignon in the fridge will increase the tannic feel or mouth drying sensation over power the taste of the fruit flavours, cedar and spice. Serving the Cabernet at room temperature allows the fruit and tannins to be more balanced in your mouth. Now before people start writing me and shouting that some red wines can be chilled. The answer is yes you can chill some light bodied red wines.

Here's this week's wine reviews

Pfaffenhein - 2008 - Pinot Blanc

There's something to be said about the way they make Alsace wines. This Pinot Blanc is pale yellow in colour with a bit of a greenish hue. It has a nice floral aroma with some pear and apples. The mouth feel is a light  blend of citrus, green apple, pear and honey with a long smooth finish.
Price - under $13 (LCBO)
I like this wine because of it's fresh crisp citrus flavour and dry finish. It could be paired with BBQ chicken breasts or fresh fish. A nice wine for a quiet evening at home.

Gnarly Head - 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon

If you like Gnarly Head's Zinfandel, you'll love this dark ruby red Cabernet Sauvignon with an aroma of dark cherries, cedar and smoke. Cherries are up front on the palate with some dark chocolate and oak flavours. This is a medium tannic wine with a medium finish
Price - under $15 (LCBO)
I like this wine because it's not that the big bold Cabernet Sauvignon's that can be overpowering. The tannins are there but they don't obscure the dark cherries. Serve it with that big BBQ steak


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Rehashing the past

Well, my mid term exam is done and my score was pretty well the class average. My wine tasting scores were slightly higher than the written exam portion so the lesson for this week is "more studying and less wine drinking" or maybe it should be study "as much" as you drink wine but don't study while you drink wine. Maybe that's where I went wrong? I went 1 for 3 on naming the varietal for each wine tasting which was a little disappointing. I had picked Viognier, Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon. The actual wine selection for the exam was Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. My identification of colour, aroma, taste, body and finish helped give me most of the points I needed which means I'm still having trouble matching the key aroma indicators and taste characteristics to the varietal. Some wines like Cabernet Sauvignon are a little easier because the intensity of the aromas and the vinification techniques make them stand out. Wines like Viognier and some Chardonnays are a little more difficult because of different vinification. Steel tanks instead of oak barrels and other techniques can make these wines similar in aroma and taste. Practice, practice, practice.
Enough said about my mid term. It's time to move on rather than rehash the past in an effort to figure out my wrong doing. It's like trying to figure out why we listen to politicians make campaign promises even though we know that they don't intend on keeping any of them. We just can't help ourselves.   

 Here's this weeks wine reviews

Cono Sur Viognier -2009 - Valle Du Colchagua, Chile

  A pale yellow medium body Viognier with a nice aroma of pineapple, apples, pears and honey. It has a slight effervescent feel with a taste of apples, honey, melon and a nice balance of acidity and fruits.
Price - under $10 (LCBO)
I like this wine because of it's crispness and fruit. It's an excellent alternative to a Chardonnay. It could be served with some BBQ pork chops and grilled asparagus.

Misterio Malbec - 2009 - Mapu Mendoza Argentina

 Wow ! This deep red Malbec has fruit up front with blackberries and a bit of a toasty aroma. It's a medium to full body wine rich in fruit, smoothness, a bit of vanilla and medium tannins. It's an excellent value at under $9 (LCBO) . There's something about bringing a Malbec like this one to a party. People immediately want to try it out once they smell the aroma. Good value for the price.

Cheers !

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Midterm Exam

Midterms are coming and that can mean only one thing. Multiple trips by my wife to the LCBO to pick up
different kinds of wine so that I can do a "fake" mid term blind tasting. It's probably better that she goes alone because watching me pick wines out is a slow and painful process. Much like watching a senior
citizen back her Crown Victoria out a mall parking spot. Also, with her holding the list of 7 white wines and 8
red wines for the blind tasting, it will make it more difficult for me to figure out which wine is in the glass.

 "Studying" as I like to call it involves pouring 3 wines into unmarked taster glasses. I have 30 minutes to
observe, smell and taste the 3 wines. Evaluate them based on colour, aroma, taste, body/mouthfeel, tannins/
acidity and finish. At the end, I give my review of the wines and attempt to identify the varietal for each. Now, you have to realize that there's nothing more deflating to a future sommelier's ego than to ramble on for 5 minutes about colour, floral notes, green apples, minerality, acidity and about a dozen other descriptors finally wrapping up the entire review with a monumental Sherlock Holmes mastery of deductive powers display and announcing with total confidence that the first wine is obviously a Chardonnay from the Niagara region. I sit back in my chair visualizing a Tiger Woods fist pump and waiting for my wifes nod of approval and amazement at my finely tuned olfactory skills. My ego begins slip and tumble down the steep "valley of doubt" when a smile starts to form on her face as she pulls the bottle out of the LCBO bag and announces that it's actually a Gruner Veltliner from Austria.

What ??? It can't be! How could I be so wrong?

The Tiger fist pump quickly turns into a hook drive directly into the middle of a water hazard. I repeat the same mistake on the next 2 wines for a total ego crushing 0 for 3. Ouch ! At this point, most people would be down and slightly depressed but when you're studying to be a sommelier you tend to see the glass as half full or more importantly.. there are 3 bottles of opened wine in the kitchen! Back to cramming for midterms.

 Here's todays wine review.

Fetzer Chardonnay - 2008 - Hopeland California

This light yellow medium to full body chardonnay has a nice aroma of peaches and apples. The fruit is also on the palate with some vanilla and a creamy texture finish with a moderate amount of acidity.
Price - under $14 (LCBO)
I like this wine because of it's rich creamy texture balanced with the fruit. This wine could be served with homemade turkey barley soup.
If you like this chardonnay, you may like a Pinot Blanc from the Alsace region - Pfaffenheim Pinot Blanc

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Getting Started

Well here it is. The bell has rung, the horn sounded and the clock is ticking. The blog is officially off the ground and this is the first posting of markuncorked. My wife actually came up with the idea of the "uncorked" name partly due to the notion that when I start yammering endlessly about wine she would like to put a cork in my mouth to give her ears a break. Now don't get the wrong impression about my fascination (obsession) with wine. I won't turn down a cold beer while sitting by the river on a hot summer day or a shot of Irish whiskey on a cold winter night relaxing by the fireplace but if someone pops a cork on a bottle of wine, I'll be the first one in line with my glass extended, a smile on my face, ready to talk about wine and when I say talk about wine, I mean everything about wine. Growing grapes, harvesting, vinification (making wine), storing, blending, bottling, tasting  and all points in between.
 The reasoning behind this blog is to give you, the reader, an inside look at the trials and tribulations of becoming a Sommelier. Along the way, I'll review wines, talk about vineyards I have visited, wine and food pairings, provide some tips for selecting wines, suggest some fun wine tastings for your friends and family plus a whole lot more. So lets get started.

Wine Reviews
The rules are simple. I won't use phrases like "a smack of sweaty leather", "hints of freshly buried truffles in a Slovakian countryside", or "reminds me of Christmas morning opening presents in my favorite wool sweater" (really?). It's an everyday, Joe's/Joanne's approach to wine. We'll talk about colour, aroma, taste, finish, price point, suggest wines you may like that are similar to the reviewed wine and I'll end every wine review with the comment "I like this wine because.."

Ogio Primitivo -2008 - Puglia Italy

This wine has a medium dark ruby red colour with an aroma of black cherries, spice and some pepper.
The flavour is predominantly cherries with a slight tea flavour and moderate tannins. It has a light to medium
body with a pleasant cherry finish.
Price - Under $10
I like this wine because it's a lighter drinking wine that's a great deal at under $10. Good for spaghetti and meatball dinner or sitting on your back porch with friends listening to music and swatting mosquitoes
If you like a Primitivo you may like it's cousin Zinfandel - try a Clos du Bois Zinfandel

Block 50 Chardonnay - 2007 - Central Ranges, Australia

A nice pale yellow chardonnay with an aroma of honey, apples citrus and vanilla. The flavour's of honey and apples are also on the palate and it has a nice balance of acidity and sweetness contained in a medium bodied wine.
Price - under $15
I like this wine because it's typical of the good chardonnays that come from Australia and could be served with roasted chicken.
If you like a Chardonnay, you may want to try a Viognier - Cono Sur Viognier from Chile

Cheers !!