December 27 Roundup: Bubbly Edition

***Faithful Readers, As 2015 draws to a close and I not only prepare to ring in the New Year, but also celebrate over a dozen weekly blog posts, I’d like to thank my regular readers and hard-core subscribers, particularly those from the far reaches of globe (B.C. and Pennsylvania, I mean you!), as well as my loyal fan following in Toronto and Sudbury. This is the last post of the year and also of this format; I’m contemplating a few changes for January that include a reduction of the regular number of wine reviews and an enhancement to some of the educational content. I hope you enjoy this final post for 2015, and I’d like to wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous 2016. Cheers!***


TASTING NOTES
Each week I review two wines with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation. All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.

Skip It!
Tarlant Brut Reserve Champagne
LCBO #: 325167 | 750 mL bottle | $44.15 (but I didn’t buy it!)
Alcohol: 12.0%
Sweetness: (Extra?) Dry
Wine Type: Sparkling (white)
At a recent champagne reception I attended, Tarlant was the bubbly of choice, flowing liberally alongside a minimalist’s take on appetizers. With excessively dry champagnes like this Tarlant Brut Reserve, my poor, untrained palate struggles to discern the fruit flavours I’ve come to appreciate with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes picked at their peak. Tarlant–a wine-making family with an impressive lineage dating back to the seventeenth century–is regarded as a “cult” producer, and this champagne in particular has met with favourable reviews from critics, describing it as creamy and complex, yet still light and refreshing. I found it borderline austere, with a salinity that struck me as overpowering. While there are supposed to be apple and pear notes, with hints of cinnamon, I only picked up on the brioche-toast, though the bubbles were pleasantly and persistently perky.
Rating:  

Sip It!
Bailly Lapierre Crémant de Bourgogne Brut – Blanc de Noir
Vintages #: 420984 | 750 mL bottle | $23.95
Alcohol: 12.0%

Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: White
Like the Tarlant, this sparkling wine is dry, but it’s got about twice the residual sugar, making it an easier sipper. The village of Bailly in Burgundy is the “birthplace” of AOC Crémant de Bourgogne–you can practically taste the history as you sip it! This sparkler, made from Pinot Noir grapes (but yeah, it’s a white), undergoes a period of extended aging (approximately 16 to 18 months on average), yielding a lively wine, with bright fruity aromas of under-ripe pear, mandarin orange, honey and dried apricot. Where I criticized the dryness of the Tarlant, I’d say that the Lapierre balances its salinity with a playful minerality and a slightly sweet finish. On the palate, I found the toasty notes and creamy mouthfeel a hair too heavy,
 matched by a somewhat unusual taste of wild flowers, but it wasn’t at all unpleasant. Definitely crisp, I wouldn’t hesitate to serve this on New Year’s Eve.
Rating: 


WINE LINES
Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.

Canada

U.S.

International



GRAPE POURRI
Wine world miscellanea – from varieties to regions, and from vine to bottle. 

THIS WEEK: SPARKLING WINES (Surprise!!)

Ringing in the New Year with Champagne and Sparkling Wine

Faithful Readers, as you know, my wine knowledge has increased exponentially this year, propelled in large part by my Level 1 WSET success late this fall and countless trips to the LCBO. As I begin to tally my New Year’s resolutions and goals, among them a desired ten-pound weight loss (not to be achieved by cutting the weekly wine drinking) and the pursuit of WSET 2, I find my blogs to be an exciting vehicle for sharing my newly acquired knowledge with neophytes, dilettantes and those generally uninterested in wine, but forced to subscribe to my blog because I’ve appallingly played the friend card to keep subscription numbers climbing. 🙂

As I strive to improve the timeliness of some of my posts in the coming year (guess who completely missed Beaujolais Nouveau reviews the third week in November because they couldn’t get to the LCBO in time?), it seemed germane to offer folks a bit of a primer on sparkling wines from around the world this week as many of you prepare to head to the liquor store on Thursday in search of the perfect toasting tipple.

A Sparking Wine By Any Other Name…

Everyone knows that all Champagnes are sparkling wines but not all sparkling wines are Champagne. That’s right, if it isn’t made from one of the five wine-producing sub-regions in Northeast France, you can’t call it Champagne (and you probably shouldn’t try, since Gallic litigiousness is rumoured to be quite dogged). Global Champagne consumption reached its peak in 2007, but experienced a considerable and arguably precipitous decline after the ’08 financial crisis. The market hasn’t quite recovered, and while I’m no expert I’d wager we might be entering a new era of sparkling wine consumption: an era in which consumers are shifting their taste preferences to sometimes tastier wines at more accessible price points. Just look at the surging popularity of Prosecco, which in the U.K. has replaced Champagne as the country’s “favourite fizz,” and Spain’s sparkling Cava’s increasing popularity in France. I’m not suggesting you skip the splurge on Veuve Clicquot or the magnum of Moët & Chandon this New Year’s Eve if your budget allows, but you might find a trip to Italy, Spain or even staying right here in Canada equally gratifying. So, what are your options before heading to the liquor store?

Spain:

Catalonia produces some of the country’s signature sparkling wine, Cava, which will be making an appearance at my New Year’s Eve Spanish-themed tapas and Sherry party (read: movie night with a big plate of Machego, Iberian ham and olives). Made as both white and rosé wine from such exotic grape varieties as macabeau, parellada, xarel·lo (yes! there’s a dot in there!), Cavas retail from as low as $11.45 at the LCBO, depending on the label, but be warned, these are generally dry to extra-dry wines.

Italy:

While Prosecco might be entering a period of increasing popularity, I was initiated into the world of New Year’s Eve sparkling wine consumption with Asti, a sparkling-sweet wine made in the Piedmont region from Moscato Bianco grapes. Like France, Italy boasts a range of sparkling wine options, including Lambrusco from Lombardy and Emilia Romagna; Bracchetto, a ruby-red sparkler from native grape varieties; Franciacorta, hailing from southern Lombardy, and made from Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero grapes; and sparklers from the Trento appellation, which use the méthode champenoise (called metodo classico in Italian) to make predominantly dry sparklers with similar varieties to Franciacorta. The LCBO has a few options, including an affordable $9.95 Lambrusco and a slightly pricier $29.95 Franciacorta.

Canada:

From coast to coast, Canada is making some excellent sparkling wine, whether it’s from Nova Scotia’s acclaimed Annapolis Valley or British Columbia’s Okanagen Valley. The LCBO carries a meagre selection of non-Ontario sparklers, though, so if you’re looking for something that isn’t local, your options are limited. You could try the Benjamin Bridge Brut 2009 Sparkling–which, in 2012, was beat out a $250 of Louis Roeder 2004 Cristal in a blind tasting–though the almost-$50 price tag is a bit rich for my blood, or B.C.’s Blue Mountain Gold Label Brut, a 91-pointer according to winealign.com, which will do a little less damage to your wallet at $28.95. If you’re looking for an under-$20 find, why not try 2015 Ontario Wine Award bronze winner Konzelmann Estate N/V Methode Cuve Close Rosé, which retails for $12.65?

France:

If you find it hard to break with tradition, or you’d like to stick with something geographically proximate, France’s sparkling wines are rich and varied. The Crémant de Bourgogne reviewed above is a great buy, or, a try a Crémant d’Alsace or a Crémant de Loire for a just-under-$20 option. Pickings start to get slim the further south we go, with a small selection of sparklers from Midi, the Rhône Valley and Jura of varying price points on a limited number of LCBO shelves.



THE ONE-MINUTE WINE TUTOR: HOLIDAEDITION

This month we trade in our usual wine education-focus with tips for flawless holiday party hosting.

Sabrage: A Napoleonic Legend

I’ll leave the YouTube video searches to those infinitely bolder than I who would like to try their hand at opening a champagne bottle with a butter knife of spoon–both techniques I recommend leaving to the experienced sommelier or a crazy cousin. Instead, I offer a nugget of information this week to impress your party guests as you boast new knowledge of one of the most famous traditions in the wine world.

Champagne has its immortal imbibers. Take Winston Churchill, for instance, loyal drinker of Pol Roger, who indulged almost daily just before lunch. “A single glass of champagne,” he is quoted as saying, “Imparts a feeling of exhilaration. The nerves are headed, the imagination stirred, the word become more nimble” (Jane Peyton, Drink: A Tippler’s Miscellany, 2015). Then there’s Napoleon Bonaparte, our star of today’s champagne story, who once remarked (about champagne): “In victory one deserves it; in defeat one needs it.”

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Sabrage is the proper name given to the sabering of a bottle of bubbly. The ceremonial tradition (considerably more elegant than smashing the bottle on the side of a ship) is said to have its origins in the early nineteenth century. Using a heavy knife or the specially created sabre à champagne, the top of the bottle, with cork intact, is severed from the neck of the bottle. The process, when correctly executed, leaves the bottle open and ready to pour.

By no means a documented historical fact, a popular origin story for the tradition of sabrage stars a five-foot-seven-inch thunderball and a young widow (French word: “veuve”) who inherited her husband’s small champagne house. In order to protect her recent acquisition in the heady days after the French Revolution, Madame Clicquot frequently provided Napoleon and his hussars with champagne (I guess this plays the role of currency when it comes to keeping cavalrymen off your property). On horseback and yet thirsty, the cavalrymen allegedly ditched the glasses Madame “Veuve” Clicquot provided and opened the bottles they were offered using their swords instead.

For the rest of us, the usual method of peeling off the foil, unwinding the cage, holding it steady while turning the bottle seems the safest, though perhaps least impressive, way to partake in our New Year’s bevvie. At any rate, I hope you all enjoy whatever fizzy drink you select, and do report back if your guests are impressed with this wee tale of champagne splendor!

 

 

 

December 20 Round-Up: From Languedoc to Stellenbosch, Bins gone Bad(?), and a Crash Course on Decanting

TASTING NOTES
Each week I review two wines with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation. All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.

Sip It!
François Lurton Domaine Les Salices – Limited Edition, 2011  (Pays d’Oc, France)
LCBO #: 319764 | 750 mL bottle | $11.45
Alcohol: 12.0%

Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: White
Get it while it lasts – this Sauvignon Blanc has been discontinued, and what a shame, too, as it’s quite a find at a fantastic price point. Water white, with a pale-staw tint, the bouquet is aromatic, with strong vegetal aromas of green pepper, asparagus and lemongrass, balanced by sweet floral notes. On the palate, the wine is light-bodied, brightly acidic, with a nice, clean minerality. Strong flavours of citrus peel are balanced by a sweet finish. 

Rating:      

Sip It!
Gérard Bertrand Grand Terroir, La Clape, 2011 (Languedoc, France)
Vintages #: 370262 | 750 mL bottle | $18.95 (but purchased for $2.00 off)
Alcohol: 14.0%
Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: Red
Wine Spectator gave this 91 points – definitely warranted. This blend of Carignan and Mourvèdre yields a deep ruby wine, clear around the meniscus, with warm baking spice notes of clove and allspice on the nose, enhanced by aromas of vanilla, fig and candied cherries. The taste is deliciously complex, with pronounced red licorice, red fruit, anise and subtle oakiness. Although it’s missing a bit of acidic balance for me, the tannins are gentle. I served this to a bunch of red-wine haters, who claimed that the wine was not “offensive” to their palate. 
Rating:    

Too hip for French wine? Try this other favourite of mine from the past year…

RED: La Posta Tinto Malbec Blend (Mendoza, Argentina)
LCBO #: 269860 | 750 mL bottle | $12.85
A fair budget wine with enough body and complexity to please the fussiest wine snob, I called this wine “cheery.” ‘Tis the season for under-$20 finds, and this “tastes” way above its price point!
Rating:  


WINE LINES
Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.

Canada

International


GRAPE POURRI
Wine world miscellanea – from varieties to regions, and from vine to bottle. 

THIS WEEK: WINE REGION

Stellenbosch, South Africa

Getting a jump on my New Year’s resolution to blog way less about Franch wines and wine regions, it seemed apropos to get as far away from the Old World and Northern Hemisphere as possible. Hence our trip to South Africa this week, and our brief overview of one of the country’s most famous wine-producing areas.

Located in South Africa’s Western Cape coastal region, the area is known for its rolling hills, scenic landscape and Bordeaux-style blends. The ubiquitous Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot make single-varietal or blended wines, under such labels as Rudera and Rustenberg. Pinotage, the grape almost synonymous with South Africa itself, also features prominently in Stellenbosch, alongside Shiraz, Chenin Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc. Look for Ken Forrester, Oldenburg and Lanzerac when next at the LCBO.

A combination of arid climate and ideal soils–namely, clay and dark alluvium–help make Stellenbosch an optimal area for agriculture and viticulture. Settlement in the area dates back to the 17th century, but it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that seminaries, formal schools and universities began opening. The area now boasts South Africa’s oldest wine route, established in 1971, and based on the French Route du Vin and German wine routes.

Like all wines, the vino coming out of Stellenbosch needs to be navigated carefully. With over 60 regional producers, the market is saturated with options at a range of price points (read: “as much plonk as good stuff”). Though not always a guarantee, according to The Oxford Companion to Wine, the sub-regions of Banghoek,  Bottelary, the Devon Valley, the Jonkershoek Valley, Papegaaiberg, the Polkadraai Hills and Simonsberg-Stellenbosch “all yield wines capable of displaying distinctive differences. Vineyards on the Helderberg (which runs from Stellenbosch to False Bay at Somerset West) enjoy a considerable reputation” (Jancis Robinson, et al, The Oxford Companion to Wine, Oxford University Press, 2015: 704). I know this doesn’t help narrow the options down, but based on the LCBO’s stock, Oldenburg from Banghoek and Ken Forrester from the Helderberg Mountains could be a good place to start.


THE ONE-MINUTE WINE TUTOR: HOLIDAEDITION

This month we trade in our usual wine education-focus with tips for flawless holiday party hosting.

Decanting? Aerating? What’s the Deal? 

Faithful Readers, if you also follow me on Twitter, you will have no doubt seen me boast about my recent acquisition: a wine aeration system for 90 per cent off. At the steep price tag of $12 (reduced from $124), I gleefully tweeted photographs of the happy shopping expedition.

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A wine aerator, many of you must be asking. Do you really need that gadget? Although it claims to reduce sulfites by up to 56 per cent–a bonus for those of us who have allergic reactions to their presence in wine–I bought it more for the promise of expeditiously introducing air to those overly tannic young wines that, with a little oxygen, soften: your precocious Syrahs and upstart Chianti Classicos, for instance. (I know – there are arguments that any interaction with air outside the bottle does absolutely nothing to the tannic profile. Whatever. I find aeration helps!)

But when do you want to aerate versus decant your wine, and is it even necessary? In short, decanting can help older wines breathe, like that 1947 Petrus you’ve tucked behind your furnace (kidding!). The slow process of trickling wine into a vessel with considerable surface area aids the wine in slowly releasing flavour molecules that have been jam-packed into a constricting bottle for decades. Often, you might see someone hold a candle (or cell phone light in today’s day and age) under the shoulder of the bottle; this helps the pourer determine when to stop, since, in theory, the resulting sediment from the wine’s ageing should accumulate here. If you’re planning to decant, take that properly cellared wine that’s been resting on its side, and turn it upright for a few days to allow for the sediment to settle at the bottom of the bottle before you pour it into a decanter. As for how long you should let wines decant – it all depends. Some wines can take as little as 10 or 20 minutes, others “bloom” after 90 or more. Just promise me not to aerate your expensive Bordeaux or Burgundy; these are wines that fare better from a less aggressive form of “oxygen introduction.”

Another (possibly?) popular method I’ve seen is referenced on the InterWeb is called “hyperdecanting.” I don’t think I’ve come across it on any sommelier or wine-expert blogs, but that doesn’t mean it might not work – I just probably wouldn’t try it. According to former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold who is credited with coining this term and approach, frappé the wine for 30 to 60 seconds in the blender, then “allow the froth to subside (which happens quickly) before serving.” Myhrvold maintains that this approach, much like decanting, improves the flavours of both young and mature wines–even that 1982 Château Margaux!

Before you dismiss this entirely, McLaren Vale wine label Mollydooker recommends a slightly unorthodox approach to preparing their wines for drinking. In order to reduce the amount of sulphites in their wines, Mollydooker’s wine-makers use nitrogen, wherever possible, which, they say, “compresses the flavour.” In order to restore the bright fruity flavours their wines are known for, they recommend shaking the wine, and, in fact state that aerating or decanting the wine does not have the same effect.

With so much information out there, I’d still be inclined to stick with more traditional approaches: aerating young reds in a pinch, decanting older ones, and just generally treating wine delicately. I’d have serious problems with sticking a $200 bottle in a NutriBullet and giving it a whiz.

 

December 13 Round-Up: More Holiday Wine Recommendations, Grand Cru Classé Action(?) and the Cheese-ivore’s Dilemma

TASTING NOTES
Each week I review two wines with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation. All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.

Sip It!
Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau, Georges DuBoeuf, 2015 (France)
Vintages #: 932780 | 750 mL bottle | $15.95
Alcohol: 12.2%

Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: Red
This review should begin with the words, “While supplies last,” since Beaujolais Nouveau is an annual thing the third week of November. (I’m obviously appallingly late in my commentary.) After picking up a few bottles on a trip to the LCBO (…to pick up another few bottles on order from the Vintages Online Black Friday sale), I couldn’t help but uncork this immediately. What a delight! On the nose, the aromas are vibrant–my assistant (read: mother) remarked that the wine reminded her of Easter. Sticky, sugar-coated, syrupy stewed cherry and raspberry notes are accented by dark vanilla and molasses. The opaque, deep purple-tinted wine is remarkably light bodied, not overly acidic, and surprisingly textured, leaving your mouth with that comforting cottony-astringent feel of gentle tannins. The smooth, slightly sweet flavours make this a great holiday party sipper if you can get your hands on it. (Since the LCBO website doesn’t have a picture, I snapped one – it’s the bottle on the left. Isn’t the label cute?)

Rating:      

2015-12-09 20.12.55

Sip It!
Cheval-Quancard Reserve Bordeaux Blanc (France)
LCBO #: 401604 | 750 mL bottle | $13.90
Alcohol: 12%
Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: White
Another French wine, you groan. What’s the name of this blog? LE Sip it or Skip it? I know I need to get over this bias. New Year’s Resolution: fewer wines from France. Anyway, this is a fantastic budget find. Dry, medium-bodied and brilliant white-gold in colour, this Bordeaux’s aroma is chock full of melon, honey, apricot, lime and honesuckle notes. On the palate a pleasant minerality is matched by zesty citrus and the balancing effects of subtle vanilla and floral flavours. A crowd-pleaser for sure!
Rating:    

Too hip for French wine? Try these other favourites of mine from the past year…

WHITE: Clos de l’Epinay Cuvée Marcus Vouvray 2012 (Chenin Blanc, Loire Valley)
LCBO #: 408252 | 750 mL bottle | $20.95
Merde! This one’s French, too! OK, so I didn’t drink as many whites this year that had my seal of approval, but this one, though it’s a bit pricier and not the most out-of-this-world wine, is light, minerally and pleasantly quaffable. I could see it pairing well with the humble holiday cheese ball, mini-quiches or chicken liver pâté.
Rating:     

RED: Koyle Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (Chile)
LCBO #: 256073 | 750 mL bottle | $14.95
Ignore the critics (I’ve seen this rated at around 88 points) – Koyle’s 2012 Cab is a great buy at a great price. Full-bodied and robust, with black fruit flavours and just the right amount of oakiness makes for a delicious winter wine. I’d suggest picking up a bottle for a quick hostess gift or uncorking it alongside your slowcooker meatballs, pigs-in-a-blanket or cheese platter.
Rating:  


WINE LINES
Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.

Canada

U.S.

International


GRAPE POURRI
Wine world miscellanea – from varieties to regions, and from vine to bottle. 

THIS WEEK: VITICULTURE APPROACHES

Can I get a gobelet with that? An introduction to vine training systems from around the world

Growing grapes is a serious business. It’s more than planting vines, pruning them, and praying for a favourable vintage. Vine training is a critical component influencing the flavour and yield of specific grape varieties. Two basic vine training systems have given rise to hundreds of different styles used in wine-making regions across the globe.  This week, I try my hand at a crash course in pruning, trellising and training.

Cane Versus Spur

Stylistic variations are all based on either cane training or spur training. The difference is what results in the annual growth. According to The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia: A Comprehensive Reference Guide to the World of Wine by Tom Stevenson (I’m still using a 1997 edition, purchased for me one Christmas), cane training does not depend on a permanent cordon, or branch, used year after year. Rather, “all but one of the strongest canes (which will be kept for next season’s main branch) are pruned back each year to provide a vine consisting of almost entirely new growth.” The Guyot system–used in Burgundy, adapted elsewhere and discussed below, for instance–is an example of cane training. With spur training, the main canes are all permanent and “will only be replaced if they are damaged” (Stevenson, 1997). An example of spur training is the Gobelet or Chablis systems, employed again, in areas of Burgundy, Champagne and Provence. With copyrights being what they are, I’ve done a crude sketch of the distinction to help you understand the difference as I couldn’t find an online image with the appropriate permissions.

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Adapted from Tom Stevenson’s The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia: A Comprehensive Reference Guide to Wines of the World (1997).

 Around the World in Eighty Canes

Well…not quite. As this is just a primer, I thought it would be helpful to give you a taste of some of the preferred vine training systems from selected wine regions across the globe. Not intended to be exhaustive, I’m sure you’ll appreciate the highlights below–a few Old and New World examples should suffice.

Ah, Franceje t’aime pour le blogging. Here several styles are employed. The Gobelet (picture a vine shaped like a withered hand tearing through the soil) is most typically employed in Burgundy, Guyot (a branch with several vertical canes growing off of it) is widely used in Burgundy and Bordeaux (where a variant, the Double Guyot is also employed), and Cordon de Royat (a spur-training system, where the main branch stretches out horizontally, and wee little branches grow upwards) is prevalent, again, in areas of Burgundy and Champagne, particularly for growing Pinot Noir. The Rhône Valley and South of France most often employ the Gobelet; the Taille Chablis, another spur-training system, is, interestingly enough, the preferred method in Champagne and not Chablis, as the name suggests.

In the land of pasta and Prosecco, we see a range of styles employed by Italian wine-makers, like the Cazenave (a modification of the Guyot style); the Tendone  system of trellising, used particularly in Sicily, in which vines are extended over the head of a pergola; and cordone speronato, a system of row training requiring less pruning than the Guyot style.

On the island of Santorini, Greece, vines are trained to grow in the formation of a basket. This is, hands-down, my favourite, as it resembles a little bird’s nest. The vines are trained in this fashion to protect them from local winds.

Canada’s Niagara Peninsula employs a variety of training systems, such as the Pendelbogen, or “European Loop” (a cane-training system), and the Kniffen. The Pendelbogen is often preferred as it offers higher yields and bears more fruit than other training approaches. Pendelbogen is also a fan favourite in Switzerland and areas of Germany and Alsace, though it has also been used in Mâcon (Burgundy), British Columbia and Oregon. Oregon also uses the Scott Henry style of cane-training, which provides for larger crops of ripe quality fruit due to the split canopy style, while our beloved Californians favour both cane and spur training, like the Guyot and the Geneva Double Curtain. (Doesn’t that last one sound like a magic trick?)

In a world where grapes don’t wear SPF, a trellising system known as el parral, is employed throughout parts of South America, like in Argentina‘s Salta region, where over 60 per cent of vineyards train their vines onto pergolas two metres in height. (Mike Desimone and Jeff Jenssen, Wines of the Southern Hemisphere, 2012, 14.)

In Australia, the bush vine style, a variation of spur-training, is most typically used in old vineyards, and, most often, in those planted with Grenache, though this style is also used in Beaujolais and some areas of the Mediterranean. (Stevenson, 25).

So, What Does All This Have to Do With the Taste of Grapes?

It is generally acknowledged that pruning, in addition to assisting with cultivation, disease-control and harvesting, helps distribute the fruit-bearing wood evenly over the vine, contributing to the overall quality. Aiding in canopy management, the system of pruning and vine training employed also has a bearing on the amount of leaf cover (which aids in photosynthesis) and access to sunlight to facilitate grape ripening. According to Winepros.org, “too much [pruning] will cause small, uneconomical crops” while too little will lead to “over-cropping and low-quality fruits.” Thus, as in all things, balance and moderation is required–including in the consumption of our favourite libation. 


THE ONE-MINUTE WINE TUTOR: HOLIDAEDITION

This month we trade in our usual wine education-focus with tips for flawless holiday party hosting.

For me, the hardest part of my WSET studies has been wine and food pairing. What goes with foods high in acidity, fat, umami and heat? Can I match a light-bodied red with Indian curry, even though the classic pairing is a light white? And seafood – are Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs and the occasional rosé really all that will match?

That’s why I was left scratching my head when I read this piece in The Globe and Mail: “Why you shouldn’t pair red wine with cheese.” Excuse me, you say, what now? That’s right – the pedants…er, wine experts have spoken and railed against “classic” pairings, like old Cheddars and Camembert with Cabernet Sauvignon, or Gouda and Port Salut with Pinot. So, why is the pairing verboten?

Well, for one thing, the critics argue (and cite scientific evidence — and the G & M article invokes the Winey Trinity of Hugh, Robert and Jancis!) that cheese obscures the natural expression of tannin, fruit and other flavours in wine. Then there’s the fat content, begging for something higher in acidity, like a white, to help “cut through” it. Now, I’m no expert, but I have had thoroughly pleasant experiences matching a red with cheese. Granted, I usually sniff, sip and appreciate the wine before putting anything else on my palate, but I don’t think it’s been a disastrous combination. And it’s certainly not enough to nix cheese platters at your holiday party if you’re serving a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon or a B.C. Pinot.

So, what is the best pairing if you’re serving wine and cheese this season? The internet is replete with charts and handy infographics that demystify the matching process if you just search Google images. I really like this cheese-and-wine wheel from Toddysknoxville.com, which takes you both through “mainstream” varieties (Cab, Merlot, Riesling, etc.) and more “exotic” ones (Nebbiolo, Gewürtz, Tempranillo, etc.). Consulting this before you hit the grocery store will not necessarily help you adhere to the not-so-strict letter of the (wine) law, but it will ensure you avoid making horrible mistakes that will leave your guests spitting in their napkins. 

In our final installment of the “Holiday Wine Tutor” next week, we’ll tackle the age-old question, as posed by the Bard himself, To decant or not to decant? So be sure to check back next week, Faithful Readers – and don’t ditch the cheese!

 

December 6 Roundup: Châteauneuf-de-Perfection, See B.C., and Holiday Entertaining Tips

TASTING NOTES
Each week I review two wines with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation. All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.

***Faithful Readers, With the holiday season upon us, this month will be Skip-It-Free! That’s right – throughout the month of December, I’ll be offering four- and five-cork recommendations only to help you make the best decisions at the liquor store. While this week is all about Châteauneuf-du-Pape–and certainly not the cheap stuff!–be sure to check out my under-$20 recommendations, drawn from my favourite wines sipped this year, at the end of this section!***

Sip It!
Château La Nerthe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, 2013 (Rhône, France)
Vintages #: 704429 | 750 mL bottle | $44.95
Alcohol: 13.5%

Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: White
Drink now or cellar for the balance of the decade, this blend of Roussane (38%), Grenache blanc (31%) and Clairette/Bourboulenc (31%) is exciting. Pale yellow in colour with a greenish tint–still a comparatively young wine–the nose is ripe with stone fruit, citrus and toasty notes. On the palate, the wine is medium- to full-bodied, creamy and delicately punctuated by a slight spice rounded out by the mellowing effect of vanilla. Overall, an exceptional buy for the price point and one that I’ll be adding to my modest cellar. (But hurry! There are about three bottles left at LCBO locations across this city.)
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Sip It!
Patrick Lesec Galets Blond Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012, Grenache Blend (Rhône, France)
Vintages #: 78089 | 750 mL bottle | $56.95
Alcohol: 14.0%
Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: Red
Don’t let the name fool you: this Châteauneuf is definitely not a white wine. Rich garnet colour, dry, full-bodied and full of exciting flavours like pepper, cloves, strawberries and cherry, the LCBO calls this wine “perfumed” and “sexy,” and they’re not exactly wrong. Well-balanced acidity and tannins are met with a long, elegant finish, underpinned by a slight woodiness and even subtle hints of vanilla from oaking. I realize the price point is a bit extravagant, but this would definitely be a great Christmas dinner wine that would impress your guests.
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Save It!
I get it – the Chateâuneuf-du-Pape is a bit pricey: your boss deserves coal (or, in wine terms, a $10 California White Zinfandel), your Christmas “block party” will see a preponderance of beer drinkers descend on your 680-square-foot downtown condo, and your in-laws only know about Jacob’s Creek from the ubiquitous marketing (those posters in Toronto subway stations are hard to miss!). If you don’t want to go for the Longchamp handbag of wine–and heck, you’re not even thinking about Hermes!–what else would I recommend? Try these:

WHITE: Open Riesling-Gewürtztraminer VQA Ontario
LCBO #: 134965 | 750 mL bottle | $11.95
Sure to be a crowd-pleaser, this blend of two aromatic grape varieties is chock full of delightful stone fruit and citrus notes. Be sure to serve it chilled so it’s at its crispest, brightest expression.
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RED: Santa Rita Reserva Carmenere, Rapel Valley, Chile (2013)
LCBO #: 177774 | 750 mL bottle | $13.95
I called this one a “value-for-money” purchase. Prune, black fruit jam, herbaceous and spicy – nobody would guess you got this bottle for under $20.
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WINE LINES
Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.

Canada

U.S.

International


GRAPE POURRI
Wine world miscellanea – from varieties to regions, and from vine to bottle. 

THIS WEEK: WINE APPELLATION

Wine that’s Fit for a Pope: Châteauneuf-du-Pape

The Rhône Valley can make some accessible wines at competitive price points, but Châteauneuf-du-Pape is no longer among the offerings–at least not the good stuff. For those fortunate to have bought up Beaucastel in the ’90s, you’re probably sitting on a small fortune. Now, of course, the “village”-style wine is barely available at entry-level price points; to get exceptional quality, well-blended, well-made and well worth the price tag, you’ll have to spend around $50 or more.

Robert Parker Jr., rock-star wine critic and renowned the world over for his unbeatable palate, has had a “crush” on Châteauneuf-du-Pape for decades, due in large part to its easy drinkability. He writes this about France’s first AOC: “Although Châteauneuf-du-Pape…may never possess the elegance and longevity of a great Bordeaux, the mystique and prestige of a wine from the famous vineyards of Burgundy or the perfume or rarity of a top-notch Barolo or Barbaresco, what it does offer is immediate gratification both intellectual and hedonistic in nature. Its wide array of aromas and flavors are reminiscent of a Provençal marketplace while its texture—rich and round, sumptuous and opulent—is virtually unmatched by most of the wines of the world.” (Faithful Readers, I bet you don’t doubt my recommendations now!)

The village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is located in the south of France, approximately three kilometres east of the Rhône River and twelve kilometres north of the historic city of Avignon. The area is associated with the iconic medieval castle that sits atop a steep hill, overlooking the Provençal landscape. Built in the fourteenth century for Pope Jon XXII, the vines, though first planted by the Romans, were tended and further cultivated by the Catholic Church, particularly after the papacy migrated from Rome in 1309. Despite a short stay of less than seventy years, the impact on regional wine-making was profound.

While Pope Clement V (1305-1314) took an interest in wine and vineyard management, his passion was more for Burgundy, which he worked tirelessly to help promote. It was not until Pope Jon XXII  (1316-1334) that improvements in viticulture practices and wine-making occurred in the area around Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  According to Wine Cellar Insider, under John XXII’s watchful eye, the Vin du Pape expanded production, improving in scale and quality. By 1344, forty-five per cent of Châteauneuf-du-Pape grape growing was devoted to wine production at a time when “many of Europe’s future famous vineyards were still planting cereal crops.”

Today, Châteauneuf-du-Pape has about 3,200 hectares under vine and approximately 80 growers. According to Berry Bros. & Rudd, the region produces more wine than the whole of the northeastern Rhone combined. In total, around fourteen grape varieties, including Grenache, Cinsault, Picpoul, Bourboulenc, Mourvèdre and others, are permitted, and though the region is most acclaimed for its reds, its whites–a blend of five permitted grape varieties–are increasingly gaining in popularity. The soils, which range from limestone to sand to stone and clay, lend the wines a “Grand Cru quality,” and the rounded “galets,” or river rocks, that pepper the landscape help the grapes mature, keeping them warm at night after absorbing the sun’s heat during the day. Add the cooling air of the northwestern Mistral winds and low annual rainfall and the exclusively hand-harvested grapes are grown in near-perfect conditions. Chateâuneuf-du-Pape has the highest minimum strength of any French wine at around twelve per cent, though, according to the World Atlas of Wine, in the era of global warming, the alcohol content more commonly climbs to fourteen

Why pick up a bottle this holiday season? Aside from the fact that you can, no doubt, impress your friends with your newly acquired knowledge of wines from this blog (don’t forget to mention it and encourage them to become subscribers!), these wines will always deliver, regardless of the food you pair them with. The oakiness is subtle, the tannins mild, and the acidity level just right to match with a wide range of dishes–perhaps not quite as light as a Beaujolais, but definitely not as heavy as an oaky Cabernet Sauvignon. I think committed red or white wine drinkers would be equally pleased by the region’s selection in both wine styles. So, snap to it and pick up a bottle at the LCBO today!


THE ONE-MINUTE WINE TUTOR: HOLIDAEDITION

This month we trade in our usual wine education-focus with tips for flawless holiday party hosting.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, with raucous parties, civilized dinners and everything in between. For those of us steering clear of the spiked eggnog, drawn instead to the gentility of name cards and place settings, we may wonder, exactly how many bottles should we buy for our dinner parties this month?

The Globe and Mail has a helpful video answering this very question. (Hint: It’s less than a bottle a head.) Of course, this depends entirely on how heavy a hand you pour with and even the stemware you choose.

Few of us probably have the perfectly suited glasses. We might pour our Bordeaux into a Pinot Noir glass or our Riesling into a Chardonnay or Viognier glass. No biggie. What’s more important is how many ounces you divvy out; after all, you don’t want your guests imbibing too much over the course of your evening, and, it goes without saying, you always want to drink responsibly.

Free pouring can be tough, though, so what do you do? First off, don’t fill the glass all the way. Even if you or your friends don’t swirl and sniff, room should technically be left for this purpose with wines of both colours. In total, you should get about five to six glasses per bottle, which is approximately a 4 oz. or 125mL serving. But, how do you eyeball? I’d suggest pouring the wines as follows if you’ve got basic red and white wine stemware:

  • White wines: around 1/3 full
  • Red wines: closer to 1/2 full
  • Sparkling wines:around 3/4 full, since, presumably, most people use flutes (though, to really appreciate the bouquet of the wine, I’d still stick with your average white wine glass)

I hope folks found this tip helpful. Next week, we’ll be bringing you another, so happy holiday party’ing ’til then!