Each week I review two wines with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation. All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.
La Posta Tinto Malbec Blend, Mendoza, Argentina
LCBO #: 269860 | 750 mL bottle | $12.85
Wine Type: Red
A blend of Malbec (60%), Syrah (20%) and Bonarda (20%), this full-bodied, ruby red blend is a great budget buy. Fermented separately and aged for fourteen months in a combination of French and American oak, this wine is surprisingly and deliciously aromatic. On the nose, candied cherry, raspberry, cocoa and a nip of woodsy-mushrooms and forest floor harmoniously mingle. On the palate, this wine is well-balanced, with moderate tannins and a brightening acidity; red fruit, spice and hints of tobacco are prominent. The wine, though not complex, would be a cheery accompaniment to a weeknight takeout dinner.
Castillo de Monséran Garnacha, Carinena, Spain, 2014
LCBO #: 73395 | 750 mL bottle | $9.95
Wine Type: Red
I appear to be in a minority as most other wine bloggers seem to think this a fabulous “value driven” brand, but it’s really plonk. The wine is deep ruby-purple, medium- to full-bodied and the tannins are punch-you-in-the-face powerful. Mushroom, prune and fig aromas on the nose are matched by equally pronounced flavours of mint, smoke and spice on the palate, which I thought gave this wine a rather unfortunate finish. Despite decanting, little can help improve this cheap bottle.
Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.
- While international trade agreements may be opening new markets, it seems, domestically, Canadians still face numerous barriers when trying to purchase goods, including wine, from other provinces.
- So, Ontario – this might mean Niagara ice wines only, even as B.C.’s Okanagen Valley ice wine harvest is underway.
- San Diego’s inaugural Somm-Con, the “wine-geek version of Comic-Con,” drew an estimated 1,500 people. (I’m going next year dressed as my favourite superhero, the corkscrew!)
- Oregonians can’t seem to get over their Wine Spectator ranking. This year, the 2012 Evening Land Pinot Noir from Eola-Amity Hills Seven Springs Vineyard in Dundee took the third spot.
- Football fans may be trading in their Superbowl beers for wine as former New England Patriot quarterbacks Drew Bledsoe and Damon Huard are in the wine biz, producing their label, “Doubleback,” out of Washington State.
- Your favourite Malbec might just get a little cheaper, depending on the outcome of the upcoming Argentinian elections.
- But your Chilean Carmenere’s might be in trouble as winemakers struggle to adapt to the challenges of climate change…though this is doing little to stifle investment in what some call a “viticulture paradise.”
- Australia’s Barossa Valley and its prized vineyards narrowly escaped destruction by an encroaching bush fire this week.
- Following an outcry after pulling Israeli wine from its shelves, the Berlin-based luxury store KaDeWe is resuming sale of West Bank wines.
Wine world miscellanea – from varieties to regions, and from vine to bottle.
THIS WEEK: WINE TASTING TERM
Minerality: “My Wine Tastes Like a Wet Rock!”…Or Does It?
Let me be the first to admit that the wine world can be pretentious. In a niche that’s increasingly dominated by certification-chasing oenophiles and critics with a rockstar-following, it’s sometimes hard to escape the borderline silliness. Nowhere does this trend towards snobbery appear more ubiquitous than in the humble wine note.
It’s often hard to take a tasting note seriously, especially when it lists aromas and flavours that the average person isn’t familiar with. I recall reading a review of a Bordeaux once that mentioned hints of “pencil shavings” and “graphite,” which I absolutely couldn’t pick up when I tasted the wine (though I have since sniffed my L’Oréal eyebrow pencil when freshly sharpened).
Despite my best attempts to keep Sip It Or Skip It‘s tasking notes accessible, I know some of you have even asked whether or not I really taste and smell the things I write about each week. (Case and point, Mother to Daughter last weekend: “‘Oxidized green apple peel’? You aren’t serious!” Of course I am. I’ve made apple crisp often enough to know what peels left too long on a cutting board smell like!) I’m delighted to say, however, that I’m as authentic as I can be; that’s also one of the reasons why my tasting notes don’t vary as much as they should. I don’t know what elderberries smell like, I haven’t crunched on sun-baked Japanese maple tree leaves, and I haven’t gotten up close and personal with graphite, so that really limits my descriptive abilities. What I can tell you is my approach: I consult my trusty aroma wheel, give each sniff or sip the contemplation that it deserves, and then I render my verdict.
This very lengthy intro brings me to our topic this week: minerality. It’s a term that gets tossed about by everyone, myself included, and, in my opinion, is most often applied white wines like Chablis, for example, where the Kimmeridgian and Portlandlandian limestone soils are thought to contribute a flinty taste to one of France’s most beloved wines. But what is minerality? Is it a taste or, as I think of it, a texture?
According to Sarah Jane Evans, MW, writing for Decanter, minerality is a fairly recent term, entering the wine lexicon in the 1980s. However, unlike “acidity,” “tannins,” “red fruit” or “baking spices”–all terms that are commonly used in wine notes–“minerality” is a word without a consistent definition or application. To some, like me, it’s a textural quality. I can’t taste wet rocks and I have no idea what limestone imparts on a grape’s flavour when vinified. I don’t think it’s about the saltiness that some wines, like sherries made in close proximity to sea coasts, take on; for that, I think a perfectly acceptable descriptor could be “salinity,” or, heck, let’s reach for a $0.50 word instead: “salty.” To me, minerality is something that light, particularly white wines, like a Riesling from Alsace or Mosel, often have–a kind of crisp, bright, quasi-but-not-completely bubbliness on the palate. It’s a quality that adds depth and dimension and a pleasant mouthfeel; like layering accessories, minerality contributes to the layering inherent in the sensory experience.
Christophe Rolland, the former sommelier at the Bellagio in Las Vegas in an interview in Practical Winery & Vineyard Journal, argues that minerality is present in more northern climates with single grape varieties. However, a precondition for its expression is acidity, which is most prevalent in wines that are vivid and crisp and have not lost some of their sprightliness through lees stirring or lengthy barrel aging. In a Guild of Sommeliers’ podcast from last year focusing on the relationship between wine, soil and geology, a geologist argues that there’s no direct connection between the minerals present in local soil and the taste of the wine, and while he suggests that minerals themselves don’t have any particular odor, others, of course, disagree.
Charles M. Bear Dalton would happily stand up and challenge the scientists, arguing that some “minerals,” like flint and sulfur have distinct odors, especially the latter when struck. In fact, according to CMBD, “certain tastes in wine (which we group together under the umbrella of ‘minerality’) do correlate with minerals in, around, and over which some grape varieties are grown. Riesling goes with slate, quartz and sand. Chardonnay goes with limestone and chalk. […] Cabernet Sauvignon likes gravel and sand.” And so on. I’m still not convinced that this does much to the aroma of a wine. Tomatoes still taste like tomatoes, regardless of where they’re grown, with only slight nuanced differences on the palate. In fact, readers may recall one of the headlines from an earlier posting, where a New Zealand study showed that wine’s flavour may have a lot to do with the microbes responsible for its fermentation. Native yeasts, indigenous to Chablis or Champagne or Alsace or Mosel, could really be responsible for a wine’s “unique geographic signature.”
All this to say, you have my permission to roll your eyes at anyone this holiday season who goes on about the terroir and minerality present in that St. Julien Bordeaux they’re sipping at your dinner party. Armed with this knowledge, including the likely role microbes play in altering a wine’s taste profile, you know enough not to be taken in by the occasional puffery of self-proclaimed (or still-in-denial) wine snobs.
THE ONE-MINUTE WINE TUTOR
Curious about the best resources to learn about wine? Here I review books, videos, podcasts and other educational tools in under a minute.
***Faithful Readers, As promised, the second installment of my two-week Burgundy wine book series. I hope you’ll seek this little gem out on Amazon, too, to add to your budding collection.***
So, you’ve read Burgundy and Its Wines, loved the photos and the history the tightly woven narrative provides, and now you’re ready to really dig into the wine-making of the region. No more festivals, auctions and other annual traditions; no more tales of monastic orders and European royalty; and certainly no more glossy coloured pictures.
The Wines of Burgundy by Sylvain Pitiot and Jean-Charles Servant, and translated from the original French, is a textbook–the kind of tome you’d slip under your pillow overnight, hoping for cerebral osmosis if studying for a WSET or sommelier exam. It is thorough, technical, and entirely uninteresting to the weekend wine enthusiast. A chapter on geology through the Parisian Basin and Auxerrois district acquaints readers with “sedimentary strata,” tracing the different limestone alterations and the ages of soils, from the Jurassic to the Cretaceous periods. Need some great cocktail party conversation-starters? How about the vegetative cycle, beginning with débourrement, or bud burst? Or the principal pruning types in Burgundy, like the Goblet, Guyot and Cordon de Royat systems?
I’m not suggesting that this isn’t a valuable book. In fact, this is one of the most thorough texts I’ve yet read about winemaking in a specific region, from viticulture through to vinification. It discusses the AOC system at length, the bottling processes, scientific checks, possible changes affecting wines and even characteristics on the more noteworthy vintages. About fifty per cent of the book is focussed on the appellations themselves, listing the producing communes, grape varieties, areas under production, average annual production and even tasting notes. The book is also filled with a number of helpful maps, from specific grape-growing regions to individual communes.
But would I recommend this to a friend who just had a really awesome Beaujolais and wants to learn more before their next trip to France? Probably not. For that, stick with the book by Nicholas Faith reviewed last week. Only serious wine geeks need slog through this one.
The Wines of Burgundy by Sylvain Pitiot and Jean-Charles Servant
Publisher: Collection Pierre Poupon
Available on Amazon.ca