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.