Thursday, December 15, 2011

2011 Holiday Wine Picks

It's the holiday season !!!

Which means someone's emailing you a weird video of a dog in a Santa hat on a toboggan, you're digging through the closet to find that ugly Christmas sweater to wear at the neighbours party and of course it's time to go over your holiday party checklist.

So lets go through it.
Cleaned yourself up and plucked those nasty hairs from your ears - Check
Put on a fresh coat of deodorant - Check
A little splash of cologne in case the deodorant fails - Check
Snappy outfit that came from this decade - Check
Party gift for the host - Check
A wine that says you walked into the LCBO, spent less than 60 seconds looking and finally decided on a mainstream selection because you really don't know what's good and will probably feel like a schmuck when you see what the neighbour has plunked down next to your wine - Unfortunately... Check

This time of year means lots of parties, turkey dinners, some belt loosening, appetizers, desserts, more belt loosening and a good supply of wines for each occasion. To avoid becoming that social outcast due to your wine selections, I've put together my annual list of wines for the holiday season. These are reasonably priced wines that won't have you pawning some of the kids gifts to fund for your wine budget. These vinos are a little off the beaten path but sure to be crowd pleasers. You might even find the host trying to squirrel away your wine selection for themselves.

Let's start with sparkling wines. These effervescent wines are good for year end celebrations or with some soft cheeses like goat or brie (some even like it with potato chips). A nice alternative to the more traditional champagne.
Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava Sparkling (Spain) - $14.55 (LCBO)
Grapefruit and citrus flavours in a nice bright sparkling wine done in the traditional champagne method
JipJip Rock Sparkling Shiraz (Australia) - $17.55 (LCBO)
A different style of sparkling wine using the Shiraz grape. Not your usual sparkling wine.

White wine can be a good multi purpose wine as it goes well with most seafood like shrimp and a lot of appetizers as well as turkey. Keep a good variety of whites like Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Chardonnay on hand for tree decorating parties and turkey dinners.
Cave Springs Riesling VQA 2009 (Niagara, Ontario) - $13.95 (LCBO) 
This Riesling rates consistently high and pairs well with turkey and seasoned dressing
Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough NZ) - $13.95 (LCBO)
Very Aromatic and typical of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. This wine really needs to be chilled in order to enjoy it's crispness. Excellent with appetizers like shrimp or goat cheese.

Red wines from the lighter Pinot Noir and Gamay varieties through to the fuller bodied Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz's which can be used for main dishes like pork and tourtieres plus some sharp cheese plates.
Montecillo Crianza 2005 (Rioja Spain) -$14.95 (LCBO)
Dark, rich with a smooth tannic finish
Red Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon  2008 (Washington USA) $14.55 (LCBO)
Nice balance of fruit and smooth tannins in this dark ruby red Cab.

Dessert and Fortified wines are nice post dinner treats or with cheese plates.
Jackson Triggs Proprieters Grand Reserve Cabernet Franc Icewine (Niagara) $24.95 (LCBO)
Really impressive Cabernet Franc icewine. Great with sweet desserts
Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage Port 2002 (Portugal) $16.95 (LCBO)
If you like port. This is a really nice port at a great price.

Enjoy the Holiday Season with friends and family.

Cheers and Happy Holidays from markuncorked !!! 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Wine Tastings - DIY

For the last couple of years I have been hosting a wine tasting party at my brothers cottage during one of our yearly family get togethers. Between golf, eating and drinking wine we manage to squeeze in a couple of hours where I do a blind tasting.

 We usually gather around the coffee table, put out some wine glasses, pens and sheets of paper (to write down our thoughts), a few different cheeses (who doesn’t like cheese) and then go through each of the wines studying colour, aroma, taste, mouthfeel and a food pairing.  The fun and laughter starts when some individuals who have secret aspirations of becoming a chef describe extravagant full course meals to be enjoyed with the wine. There's a lot of "au gratins and red wine reductions" phrases thrown around.

Now you have to know that at our age we have sampled a lot of wines over the years...really… a lot of wines... so I have to be very selective of the wines that I put into the tasting so that they are not easily guessed. I also try to make a point about wine when I do the tasting. For example, last year I did a blind tasting of 3 chardonnays. I picked a Inox chardonnay, a regular oak aged chardonnay and a barrel fermented, sur lies and oak aged chardonnay for the tasting. As predicted, everyone guessed the first 2 wines as either a Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Viognier or Torrontes. It wasn’t until we got to the last wine with it’s heavily oaked flavours that people began associating it with Chardonnay. 

The point I was trying to make was that even though it was the same grape, the vinification process plays a major role in how the wine turns out. Don’t think that all Chardonnays or Shiraz/Syrahs or Cabernet Sauvignons will taste the same.

Here’s some examples of wines I have selected for blind tastings or try your own variation. You don’t have to be a wine expert to experience the difference.

Primitivo and a Zinfandel. Same grape DNA but two totally different wines.

Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc blends from Niagara/BC and a french Bordeaux. Compare old world versus new world wines

Ice Wine and Sauterne. Demonstrate different harvest methods to get a sweet wine. Combine this with a food pairing of desserts. Yum !

Similarities – Different Shirazs from the Barrossa valley or Gewurtztraminers from Ontario – similar wines from the same region but try different vineyards to see how the vintner puts his own special brand on the wine.

Food pairing – Pick an appetizer and wine to go with it. The fun starts when you mix and match wines with different appetizers.  Trust me, you don’t need dinner after this one.

The combinations are endless so don’t be shy about trying different wines. The whole point is to explore wines and have fun.

Here’s my picks for this week.

Enzo Vincenzo - Valpolicella Ripasso - 2008 - Veneto Italy

Don't you like the way the name rolls off your tongue and I'm not even Italian. The 3 grape blend that goes into the famous Valpolicella red, Ripasso and Amarone wines is remarkable in flavours and aroma. This particular dark ruby red Ripasso from the Veneto region in northern Italy has aromas of dark fruit, raspberry and some spice. A nice balance of fruit, acidity and tannins with flavours of cherry, dark fruits and some earthiness to it. It also has a nice crisp finish. 
Price - under $15 at the LCBO
I like this wine because it pairs well with most Italian pasta and pizza dishes without the big bold and sometimes overpowering flavours of an Amarone. 

Errazuriz Estate Reserva Chardonnay - 2010 - Valle de Aconcagua Chile

This 100% Chardonnay is mostly fermented in stainless steel tanks with 12% reserved for fermenting in french oak barrels. The final blends yields a wine that is nicely balanced between fruit and acidity. The oak brings flavours of vanilla to the melon and tropical flavours of the grape. 
Price - under $12 at the LCBO
I like this wine because it combines a crisp tropical flavours with some smoothness on the finish. Another good value Chardonnay from Chile. 

Cheers !

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Friends Picks

This may be hard to believe but with so much variety of wines, sherries, ports, etc on the market, it's sometimes difficult to find one that I want to write about on my blog. It's easy to go for the low hanging fruit of a mass produced Aussie or Chilean red wine but I promised myself that I would really try to find exceptional wines at a good value. There's no sense in reviewing an incredible Bordeaux if it's financially repugnant to most of my readers or a mass produced Australian Shiraz that virtually everyone has tried. I spend a lot of my time in the LCBO looking for special wines that I think would appeal to most of the wine drinking population and at a good value.
Occasionally, one of my friends asks me to try a wine that they recently purchased or brought back from another country. So as a change of pace, this weeks blog is not about the wine I selected. It's about wines referred to me by a friend .... and no ... it's not about me being too cheap to buy wine this week.

 A friend down the street invited me to a bonfire in his backyard a couple of weeks ago. Dave has a penchant for good wine like myself is always looking for that great undiscovered wine. He was raving about a Shiraz that he had recently purchased and liked it so much that he bought an entire case. Dave declared that this would be the wine of the summer for 2011 and he may be right. Dave you definitely picked a winner!

Dave's pick is a 2009 Shiraz called Dandelion Vineyards Lionheart of the Barossa.

 The Shiraz is definitely fruit forward with flavours of blackberry with some spice and dark chocolate. I was expecting those big bold Aussie tannin's but these were more rounded and refined. Not the grippy texture I'm used to and it was a welcome surprise. It's a dark red wine with a bit of a purple hue around the water line. An impressive Shiraz from the Barossa region of Australia. This full bodied Shiraz has a 14% alcohol level which means the long fruit finish doesn't leave you with a hot sensation like some powerful Shiraz's. The vintner used a combination of new (25%) and old french oak which explains some of the more refined tannin levels. They also racked the wine without any filtration or fining agents to preserve the complexity of the wine.

Total Acidity - 6.4g/l
Residual sugar - 2.1 g/l
Ph - 3.48

I tried to find this in the LCBO or Vintages but unfortunately there is no listing for it at this time.

The second recommendation is from my old high school buddy Paul who recently made a trip to the central coast region of California with his wife to visit friends and a few vineyards in the Paso Robles area. Before I start talking about the port, I have to give Paul credit for his diligence and out of pocket expense in bringing this port back to Canada. The airline made him jump through some hoops in order to get the additional "luggage" through customs and on the plane. In this case perseverance paid off nicely.

Paul's pick is a Zinfandel Port from Alapay Cellars, Paso Robles California

 I'm a bit of a Zinfandel fan so when I saw him bring out a bottle of Zinfandel port, I knew it was going to be a special evening. As luck would have it, my wife had prepared a blueberry cheesecake for dessert which paired nicely with the port.
 From the aroma and first taste you could easily tell that this port was from the Zinfandel family. Dark fruit, sweet spice and a slight peppery taste gave the port a rich full bodied flavour that was not too hot considering it had 19.5% alcohol. The finish was long and smooth with raspberry and spice on the palate. Well done Paul !

This port is only available through US shipping or in the Paso Robles area of California.

There you have it. If you have a wine you'd like me to try, send me an email and I'll review it.  If I like it as much as you do, I'll put it down as your recommendation on my blog.

Cheers !!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The wine cellar - Part 2

As my wife so profoundly and eloquently put it after she saw my plastering job on the wine cellar walls, "Don't quit your day job". OK...I admit it. Construction is not my strong suit but I have finished other home renovations with some success and I'm pretty proud of this little project. Granted, there are some defects but the walls, ceiling and trim are finished, painted and the wine rack secured to the studs to prevent any accidental tipping which would result in tears and possible heart stoppage. I also installed a thermometer and hygrometer (measures humidity) to monitor the room environment. The door has insulated trim around the seams to prevent warm/cold air outside of the cellar from going into the room and causing a temperature fluctuation. The lighting fixture has a 20W bulb to provide lighting but not high enough wattage to generate any incandescent heat which would raise the temperature in the room. There are no windows or external lighting that can affect the cellar other than when the door is open when you enter.

 The room essentially stays dark and cool all of the time. The temperature over the first month has been 17C (+/- 1C) with a relative humidity of about 65%. Not perfect but close to what I need. The real test is to see if the temperature and humidity can remain constant over a 12 month period. I will update this blog as the year progresses.

I've begun stocking it with wine but have so far resisted going out and buying a huge amount of wine so that it looks full. I want to stock it with hand pick wines that I purchased for the purpose of aging and look forward to tasting it in the future. I'm also stocking some wines that I  received as gifts from friends and relatives with the purpose of opening them at a later date when they return and we can enjoy them together.

Here's a list of my current stock
2009 Cotes du Rhone Villages Rasteau (2)
2008 Seven Deadly Zins Zinfandel
2008 Smoking Loon Zinfandel
2008 Bergeron Estates Winery Cabernet Franc
2008 Chateau de Fontenille Bordeaux
2007 Rosso Del Volcano
2006 Castiglion Del Bosco Rosso
2006 Perrin & Fils Chateauneuf du Pape

Here's this weeks picks

Liberty School - 2008 - Chardonnay - California

A really nice medium yellow chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey County in California. Aromas of caramel, melon and tropical fruits are crisp and refreshing. A blend of 50% american and french oak gives this chardonnay some nice crisp fruit flavours with a hint of caramel in the background.
This chardonnay has a medium smooth finish of tropical fruits.
Price - under $18 (LCBO)
I tried this wine because I really like their Cabernet Sauvignon and I'm pleased to report that this wine is also in the same class. It would pair well with honey garlic chicken wings and a greek salad

Carvalhais - 2008 - Duque De Viseu - Portugal

This is well balanced deep red wine made from the Tinto Roriz grape from Portugal has aromas of dark fruits, raisin, spice and mint with a nice medium finish of cherry, blackberry and dark fruits. It has a  medium to full bodied mouth feel with mild tannins
Price - not currently available at LCBO
I've tried this wine twice and it has been great both times. This wine would pair well with most red meats and stews or is great on it's own.

Cheers !

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wine and Food Pairing

Burger and fries ... Steak, mushrooms and a baked potato with sour cream ... Macaroni and cheese.

Am I making you hungry?

Everyone has a favourite food combination or comfort food that has a special place in their psyche or stomach. I don't think that a burger and broccoli or a cheeseburger with mashed potatoes is as appetizing as a big juicy BBQ'd burger with all the fixin's and some golden brown french fries on the side. It's interesting how we can easily pair our favourite foods but when it comes to pairing a wine with a meal, some people have a really difficult time. They will usually default to the old standard rules of red wine with red meat and white wine with chicken or fish.
 I recently finished a wine and food pairing course in my Sommelier program which really opened my eyes and taste buds to new ideas about pairing food and wine. Now I certainly can't do justice to the course by trying to capture all of the pairing information in this blog but I can give out some worth while information to help people get started with wine pairing. So here's a few of my "markucorked" rules to follow when you are pairing food and wine.

markuncorked Rule #1 - Everyone is different when it comes to food and wine tastes. Some people like a Shiraz and some people don't so if you whip up a dish of spicy Tandori chicken, pair it with a peppery Aussie Shiraz and a few of your dinner guests turn there nose up at the taste, don't take it personal. Not everyone likes the same food or the same wine as you do.

markuncorked Rule #2 - There are 2 ways to pair food. You can pair similar textures and tastes like a buttery flavoured Chardonnay with lobster and butter or you can contrast them like a sweet port and Stilton cheese (sweet and salty). There's no right or wrong here. It's all about what you like but don't be afraid to mix and match different wines with foods that have different tastes, textures and flavours. You're looking for a magical pairing that leaves you with a feeling like you've discovered a new element on the periodic table.

markuncorked Rule #3 - If you can, take a wine and food pairing dinner or course. Reading a bunch of  books about wine and food pairing is no substitute for actually sitting down and sampling a variety of wines and dishes prepared by a professional. There are a number of local restaurants that offer wine and food pairing dinner packages. Go with a few friends and make it a fun night out. You won't regret it.

Now that you have a couple of basic rules, here's some tidbits you should know about your taste buds.
  • Sweetness in food makes your wine taste less sweet or more tart so watch out for foods that have a natural sweetness to them. Remember that the wine must always be sweeter than the paired food. This is particularly true for desserts which have high sugar levels. Pinot Grigio's and Chardonnays will taste like vinegar if they are paired with a dessert like creme brule.
  • Tannins in wine makes bitter foods taste even more bitter. This is really apparent when a tannic wine like a Cabernet Sauvignon is paired with a salad. The bitterness of an endive, lettuce or radicchio is accentuated by the tannins. Not a pleasant taste in your mouth.
  • Foods like chicken, white fish or pork don't really have their own flavour. They rely on the sauce, spice or way the chef prepares the food so when you are picking a wine to pair with chicken, fish or pork think less about the meat and more about how it's cooked. Thai chicken is a completely different from Coq au Vin so you don't try to pair it with the same type of wine. 
I always laugh when I look on the back of a wine bottle and the tasting note says "pairs well with chicken". It's like the note on the back of a first aid kit "Use in case of an emergency". That's a little obvious! I will talk more about food pairings in future blogs but this should help some of those people who wander the LCBO aisles endlessly looking for a wine to match with dinner.

Here's my picks for this week

Darting - 2008 - Riesling Kabinett - Pfalz Germany

This is a medium sweet wine with a light golden yellow colour in the glass. There's aromas of pear and stone fruit and it's also a bit floral. There's a substantial amount of residual sugar to balance the acidity and with a ABV of 9.7%, it is a sipping wine. I tried pairing this wine with a port flavoured pate but I found that it didn't quite work. It might work better with a spicy dish like BBQ Italian sausages.
Price - under $16 (LCBO)
I tried this wine as an experiment in food pairing. While it didn't work out for what I tried, there are certainly other spicy dishes that this wine would work well with. 

Cline - 2009 - Ancient Vine Zinfandel - Oakley California

I have tried Cline Zinfandel before and it was nice but it didn't impress me. However, this Ancient Vine Zinfandel is really quite nice. It's dark rich red colour with jammy aromas and flavours of dark berries, vanilla and a bit of chocolate really standout. It has a nice long dark berry finish with some vanilla at the end. Very impressive.
Price - under $18 (LCBO)
I like this wine because it shows that while some mainstream wineries continue to push out products in mass quantities with less quality there are still some people in the wine industry that put in the extra effort for a quality wine.

Cheers ! 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The wine cellar - Part 1

 I actually planned to put a wine cellar in my house years ago but debated on whether to buy a refrigerated cabinet that could be put in the kitchen or convert an area of my basement to a wine cellar equipped with an environmental control unit for humidity and temperature. I waffled back and forth looking at prices, models, floor plans and magazines try to come up with my ideal wine cellar and the best place to put it. Refrigerated units capable of holding up to 200 bottles are attractive, low maintenance and reasonably priced but the thought of having another refrigerator dependent on power and the cabinet location in my house did not not appeal to me. The size of the cellar was probably the most important factor on my mind. I wanted something that could hold an adequate amount of wine (approx 100 to 400 bottles) plus room for expansion if it was needed at a later date so I ruled out buying a refrigerated cabinet. Some of the wine magazine articles I read showed cellars that could hold up to 5000 bottles but the cost of construction was well beyond my budget. I was looking for something a little smaller, manageable, visually appealing and did not require a 2nd mortgage to finish.
  Functionally speaking, a wine cellar needs a location where sunlight is at a minimum, humidity is in the 50% to 75% range and the temperature is between 5C and 18C. The consistency of the temperature is more important than the actual temperature of the room as wine does not like big fluctuations in heat or cold. So a wine cellar that goes between 5C and 18C on a daily basis is not desirable even though it's within the temperature range. You need a constant temperature that does not vary by more than a few degrees so that the wine stays stable year after year. This is why underground cellars in European countries have done such a good job over the centuries and long before refrigeration was invented. The ground temperature below the frost level is very consistent and varies by only a couple of degrees during the year. It was looking more like the basement wine cellar was the way to go so I surfed the web and flipped through more magazines for wine cellar articles.
  About a year ago, I came across an article in a wine magazine talking about a "passive wine cellar". The theory behind a passive wine cellar is that you build a room insulated from the rest of the house and use the outside basement walls and floor to keep the room at a constant cool temperature. Sounds interesting, relatively inexpensive and an environmental control unit would not be required so I looked at some more plans, read some more articles and finally decided to draw up my own version of a passive wine cellar and build it. Now before people start flooding me with nasty emails like disgruntled Justin Bieber fans after the Grammy's. I'm going to put a disclaimer/warning in here about the hazards and pit falls of doing your own home construction.
"Anyone attempting to build a wine cellar in their house should hire a qualified home construction contractor who will get all of the required permits and arrange for an inspection by the appropriate municipal and provincial agencies thereby insuring that everyone pays their fare share of over inflated fees and taxes."
 So after selecting a suitable space which had one outside wall and an open concrete floor area, I mapped out a floor plan using masking tape and walked through it to get a feel for the space. Luckily, the area I had selected was off of a bigger storage area and had it's own light source. It would only require putting up 2 insulated walls and finishing some drywall on another unfinished wall.

 I managed to find an unfinished 144 bottle wine rack on sale for $130 at one of the local home improvement stores. This would be a good start towards my 400 bottle wine cellar. I also picked up a can of pecan wood stain that would give the rack a nice rich looking colour to make it stand out in the cellar.

The walls went up with relative ease and drywalling became an adventure in applying multiple coats on plaster  followed by sanding until my hair looked like Albert Einstein's but the room was beginning to take shape and look like the wine cellar I planned.

The next phase of construction is to insulate the inside walls to keep the temperature of the wine cellar unaffected by temperature changes taking place in the rest of the house and construction of a ceiling should also be completed. I should have the room finished in a couple of months (pending permits and inspection) with some wines to go in it and of course another blog posting to show the final product.

Here's my picks for this week.

Les Vignerons Du Castelas - 2007 - Cotes du Rhone Villages - France

A nice blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mouvedre grapes comes together in this dark ruby red Cotes Du Rhone Villages. Aromas of dark berries, spice, floral and alcohol combine with flavours of sour cherry, oak and pepper with a nice finish of full tannins.
Price - Under $14 (LCBO)
I like this wine because it represents the really good wines that you expect from the Rhone region.  It can be paired nicely with grilled steak or ribs.

Robert Mondavi Woodbridge - Sauvignon Blanc - 2009 - California 

A light pale yellow Sauvignon Blanc with aromas of pear, grapefruit and stone fruits. Grapefruit pith, pear and tropical flavours blend well with the long tart finish and a lingering grapefruit taste.
Price - $12 (LCBO)
I like this wine because it pairs really well with BBQ chicken and summer salads.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Taste Ontario Wine !

 I recently got an invite to a media and trade show event for Taste Ontario! wine tasting at the NAC in Ottawa. I was really looking forward to the event as there would be a good selection of wineries from the Niagara area, North Shore Lake Erie, Pelee Island and Prince Edward Counties and they would undoubtedly bring a great sampling of wines from their vineyards. Sampling a large amount of wine over a 2 hour period and then jumping in my car and trying to negotiate my way through downtown Ottawa rush hour traffic would not be a sensible decision so I opted for the 15 window limo and road with the masses to downtown Ottawa and then walked a couple of blocks to the NAC. While riding in the bus, I had time to do a little brain math to calculate how long it would take me to cover all of the boothes. Assuming that each booth had 4 wines and it would take me about 2 minutes to sample each wine plus discussion with the representative would be mean I could spend no more than 9 minutes at each booth. Multiply that by 36 booths and I would only need about 6 hours to cover the whole event. Hmmm ? Unfortunately, the media and trade event was only 2 hours long so I had to change my strategy and be more selective in which wineries to visit. With a master plan in the back of my mind, I arrived at the greeting desk in the Panorama room of the NAC. The event was well very organized as they had lots of staff at the front desk processing invitees and I was into the event in only a few minutes with my name tag hanging around my neck, a Taste Ontario program in one hand and a tasting glass in the other. Prince Edward County was first on the list and I sampled some really wonderful Pinot Noir wines from Rosehall Run and The Grange of Prince Edward County plus a 2008 South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay from Huff Estates was very good. A new winery called Casa Dea also had some interesting wines and a really enjoyed talking to the winemaker Paul Battilana about his vineyard.
 The clock was ticking so I had to move onto the Niagara region where I sampled wines from 13th Street Winery, Henry of Pelham, Southbrook, Calamus, CaveSprings, Creekside Estates, Featherstone Estates, Fielding Estates, Flat Rock Cellars, Hidden Bench Vineyards, Le Clos Jordanne, Malivoire, Vineland Estates,  Wayne Gretzky Estates and Peninsula Ridge Estate wineries. All of these wineries produce excellent wines and to list them all would not highlight the effort of the winemakers who obviously have a real passion for producing high quality wine products. I would like to spotlights some of the wines which I thought were exceptional vintages.

  • The Henry of Pelham 2008 Reserve Baco Noir was rich with earthy flavours and well balanced
  • The Clos Jordanne 2008 Village Reserve Chardonnay had nice pear and tropical fruit flavours 
  • The 13th Street Winery 2008 Gamay Noir with strawberry fruit and some pepper on the finish.
I continued to move around the room as fast as I could knowing time was fading quickly. As expected, the Taste Ontario! organizers flashed the lights like parents at a teenage party when the kids have consumed too much pop and sugar and are flying off the walls. The 2 hours had flown by and I was only half way around the room. My master plan to conquer the room in 120 minutes had been defeated by a lack of time management and a need to talk endlessly about wine. The good news was I sampled a lot of great Ontario wines and met some really interesting people passionate about making exceptional wines.

Here's my picks for this week.

Long Flat - 2008 - Shiraz - Australia

A dark ruby red Shiraz with aromas of dark fruits (plum) and a little smoke. Dark fruits again on the palate with some cherry and tobacco. The wine is well balanced with medium tannins and a long smooth dark fruit finish of plums.
Price - under $12 (LCBO)
I like this wine because it pairs well with sharp cheeses or a nice Sunday roast beef with roasted potatoes.

Little Yering - 2008 - Chardonnay - Australia

A nice "little" 100% chardonnay wine that is barrel fermented in French oak and has pale yellow straw like colour with aromas of peach, melon, citrus and vanilla.. Flavours of melon, vanilla and apples standout and the mouthfeel is a buttery texture. This medium bodied Chardonnay has a long smooth fruit finish with a slight taste of residual sugar.
Price - under $15 (LCBO)
I like this wine because it pairs well with creamy pasta dishes or just sipping on it's own on a cool summer evening.

Cheers !

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cap or Cork

Is the traditional cork dead ?

To be replaced by an easy open metal cap that removes all of the romance and elegance of uncorking your favourite varietal or is it simply giving us a less complicated way of enjoying wine. I've certainly heard a lot from both sides of the cork versus screw cap debate and each camp has put up a significant collection of pros and cons to support their argument.
 One of the assertions from those in favour of the screw cap technology propose that the number of cork tainted bottles would be virtually eliminated by screw caps. Cork taint is the result of a chemical called TCA that naturally occurs in cork and is responsible for approximately 1 to 2 % bottle spoilage each year. The odour of cork taint or TCA resembles wet mouldy newspaper and causes the person tasting the wine to scrunch up their face and utter the words "Yikes ! This doesn't smell very nice." The actual concentration of TCA can be quite small (parts per trillion) but our sensitive noses are able to pick it up quite easily. It's not a rewarding experience when you open a $20 bottle of wine only to discover that it smells like someone used it to mop the floor and then put it back in the bottle. Those on the pro cork side would argue that while TCA is still a problem, the wine industry is using better cork cleansing technologies and the use of plastic corks and cork compounds is significantly reducing this problem and that more bottles are dropped and broken during transport from the winery to the glass than TCA spoilage. True enough
Another point put forward by the screw cap side is the reduction of dried out corks that disintegrate on older bottles of wine. Anyone that's opened an older bottle of wine and has struggled with a cork that comes apart like a cheap suit on a hot day knows what I'm talking about. Sometimes it can take a little McGyvering to figure out how to get the cork out without pushing it into the bottle. You end up with more tools in front of you than a heart surgeon on a busy day. Your face contorted as you delicately insert the corkscrew into the crumbling cork like physicist inserting a uranium rod into a reactor all the while reassuring your spouse with that repetitive phrase "I think I've got it this time". Metal screw caps are significantly easier to open, provide a good seal over time and can be recycled when finished. Hold on ! The corkers doth protest. Screw cap technology is relatively new and the long term effects on wine and seal stability can't be assumed. Corks have been used for over five hundreds years. Screw caps have not been tested as long or under the same conditions and corks can be recycled to make make neat little gifts and crafts.
I could go on and on with pros and cons for both sides but it won't bring us any closer to solving the question of whether cork or cap is better.

Whether you're a "save the cork protester" or part of the "screw cap revolution", you as the consumer can choose the type of wine enclosure you prefer. However, the choice of cap or cork resides with the winery owner as they select the bottling technology and the cost of cork or cap is certainly a deciding factor in that choice. So you may get the enclosure you prefer but not necessarily the wine you like. Personally, cork or screw cap, it makes no difference to me. I take great pride in flawlessly opening a bottle of Primitivo. Carefully removing the foil around the rim and then uncork it with a slight pop while not spilling a drop but when I take a Chardonnay out to my guests on the deck and realize that I left the corkscrew on the kitchen counter ... I really wish that it was a screw cap.

Here's my picks for this week

Red Knot - 2008 - Cabernet Sauvignon - Australia

A beautiful deep red cabernet sauvignon with a purple hue around the rim with aromas of blackberries, cherry, tobacco and a little menthol. The 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Shiraz has flavours of dark berries and vanilla with light tannins and a slightly sweet finish.
Price - under $18 (LCBO)
I like this wine because it has nice jammy taste with a intense dark red colour. It has a nice smooth finish and is nicely balanced between tannins and acidity.

Famiglia Bianchi - 2008 - Chardonnay - Argentina

This light yellow chardonnay has aromas of tropical fruit, vanilla and spice. The 8 months of oak aging gives it a creamy flavour of vanilla and apples. It has a long smooth vanilla finish with a moderate acidity level.
Price - only available in the US
I like this wine because it pairs well with most chicken dishes or simply on it's own. A nice easy going chardonnay that shows it's oak and sur lie aging very well.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pickin' and Sippin' at Bergeron Estate Winery -Travel

This weeks blog is a little different from my regular wine discussion as I'm going to talk about travelling to a vineyard to pick grapes. What a great experience! If you have been following my blog you already know that I love everything about wine from growing grapes to tasting the final fermented product so when I had an opportunity to participate in a grape harvest at a winery in Prince Edward County, I literally jumped at the chance to get in on the action. I met Dave Bergeron, the owner of Bergeron Estate winery at my first wine tasting course and found out that he takes volunteers to pick grapes during the fall harvest. The grape pickers supply a days labour of harvesting grapes in the sushine and fresh air of the Lake Ontario shoreline and Dave and Mary Bergeron supply refreshments, a nice lunch with wine samples and a bottle of Bergeron Estates wine for volunteer pickers. Sounds like a good deal to me so my wife and I signed up.

 Fall grape harvest is primarily dependent on the BRIX level (sugar content of the grape juice) so weekends dedicated for picking are not fully realized until the temperature, sunshine, rainfall and grape maturity factors meet at a specific point on the calendar. Leading up to harvest, It's pins and needles for the winery owners as they constantly watch the weather and the grapes, waiting for the little fella's to hit the correct BRIX level. If you have more than one grape variety to be picked like Bergeron Estates which has Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Gewurztraminer then you are juggling a few balls at once. Pick to early and you don't get the full potential of the grape. Pick too late and you risk losing part of the crop to rot so choosing the perfect time to pick is an art in it's self.

After a few emails with Dave to line up the grape picking date, we had our weekend reserved to experience the "grape harvest". There was a slight hint of concern in my wife's voice when I signed us up as I'm not exactly in the best physical condition and have put on a "few" pounds over the years which might make picking a little more challenging. I tried to sell the idea as some sort of aerobic exercise followed by wine drinking but there was still some skepticism in my wife's voice. After a bit of discussion over wine, some used car salesman pitches by me, we finally decided to go through with it by making it a weekend mini-vacation. We booked the cottage at the winery which Dave offers at a discounted rate to picking volunteers. Our suitcases packed and the anticipation of standing in the sunshine picking Pinot Noir grapes, we rolled down the 401 towards Prince Edward County with a Tim Horton's coffee in our hand on a bleary-eyed early Saturday morning.

 It wasn't long after we arrived at the winery that Dave had us outfitted with pruners, buckets, some more coffee and a couple of delicious apple donuts made fresh locally. A brief introduction to the winery staff, his son Nick, a 2 minute "how to pick Pinot Noir grapes" demonstration and we were off and running. My wife and I were on opposite sides of the row so we could chat back and forth through the vines as we picked. A couple of times I had to stand up and have a look around to enjoy the view of perfectly aligned rows of full grape vines stretching towards the lake and also to relieve some of the lower back pain I was beginning to feel due to the way I was stooped over picking. I also noticed that my wife was no longer opposite me but about 10 vines down picking away with her bucket almost full again. When she mentioned that my picking pace was a little slow I had to remind her that I was also here to study viticulture and soak up the experience so it was important to stop every once in awhile to study some of the grape clusters and wait till my wheezing and back pain had stopped.

 Halfway through the afternoon, I learned my first lesson about picking grapes. Wear gloves! Pinot Noir grapes are thin skinned and very juicy. Wasps like grape juice so they tend to hang around the grape clusters that are close to the ground and broken. As I found out, wasps hiding on grape clusters you are about to pick don't like to be squeezed with the grapes. Rather than fly away or get out of the way they react in a negative manner by stinging you which you respond to by saying ..Son a bitch that hurts!! Luckily, I remembered what my son in law told me about wasp stings and that they can be removed if you don't scratch the bite area first. The second lesson I learned about picking grapes and wearing gloves is if you squeeze to hard when picking the grapes, they explode in your hands and you end up covered in grape juice. By lunch time, my watch and hands up to my wrists were coated in juice. Lesson learned

  Mary and Dave Bergeron had a great chili lunch organized for the pickers as well as a tasting of the winery's newest addition, Cole Point apple cider. After a relaxing lunch in the sun chatting with our fellow pickers, sipping wine and cider we were back at it filling buckets full of Pinot Noir grapes and getting the hang of picking with some efficency. The day came to a close and we loaded up the final buckets of Pinot Noir to be taken for processing which was good timing as my back was beginning to feel the pain and stiffness of being bent over most of the day.

 After the picking was done and I was able to stand in the semi erect position, Dave invited us back to watch the grapes being de-stemmed, crushed and pumped into tanks. It's a beautiful sight seeing the buckets of grapes being dumped into the destemmer, the thick purple juice containing the skins and juice flowing down a pipe into the holding tank and the stems falling out the end of the destemmer machine to be recycled as compost. I don't want to sound corny but this is satisfying work as you literally see the fruits of your labour at the end of the day. The vines picked clean, grapes macerating in the tanks and the stems heading for compost. The days picking is done !

Day 2 started at the cottage with some groaning, coffee, breakfast and a couple of Advil for my back. With a day of picking experience under our belts, we were back at it picking away with some efficency and productivity. Dave's son Nick joined us for picking and kept us entertained with his ability to be a picker, motivational speaker, story teller, grape sampler and foreman. Sunday's volunteer grape harvesters were a local minor hockey team supervised by some of their parents plus a few pickers from the previous day. Combining the energy level of teenage hockey players hyped up on apple donuts with the other pickers, it didn't take long to finish picking the rest of the Pinot Noir and the afternoon was spent harvesting some the Gewurztraminer rows. We finished up a little early on Sunday, headed back to the cottage to clean up and my wife and I finished the day off with another wine sampling in the tasting room. Dave gave us a tour of the tasting room and showed us the planned 2011 expansion to include a cider tasting bar which should be very impressive when finished. The weekend closed with Dave Bergeron, my wife and I sitting by a campfire drinking a bottle of wine looking out on to Lake Ontario enjoying the view and talking about what else but wine. Volunteering to pick grapes at a winery is a lot of fun and if your looking for a weekend adventure that's a little different and rewarding at the same time, I highly recommend it. A special thanks to Dave, Mary and Nick Bergeron for an entertaining weekend.

By the way, I'm getting in better shape for the 2011 harvest

If you would like to contact Dave Bergeron or visit the winery, here's the details

Bergeron Estate Winery
9656 Loyalist Parkway
Adolphustown, Ontario



Here's my pick for this week.

Bergeron Estate Winery - 2009 - Gamay Noir

We picked their grapes so we might as well review the wine. Their Gamay is light red in colour with an aroma of strawberries, pepper, earthiness, spice and cotton candy in the background. Flavours of cherry, spice, cedar with a smokey medium tannic finish of dark cherries and pepper.
Price - only available at the Bergeron Estate winery or some local PEC restaurants
I like this wine for a couple of reasons. First, the winery is relatively new and to be producing a quality Gamay like their 2009 is no small feat. Second, like most Gamay's this wine is a light/medium bodied wine so it's not heavy or overpowering which makes it a very pleasant and easy going wine with lots of flavour.

Cheers !