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!***
Château La Nerthe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, 2013 (Rhône, France)
Vintages #: 704429 | 750 mL bottle | $44.95
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.)
Patrick Lesec Galets Blond Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012, Grenache Blend (Rhône, France)
Vintages #: 78089 | 750 mL bottle | $56.95
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.
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.
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.
Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.
- Move over Napa! It looks like Canada might just be the best place in the world to grow Chardonnay.
- Congratulations to our friends in British Columbia – Wine Enthusiast Magazine ranked the Okanagen Valley as one of 2015’s ten best wine destinations, USA Today ranked it as the second best wine region to visit, and the Huffington Post named it as the best wine region in the world. Wow!
- Have you tried wine from Texas? You just might want to after their strong showing at the 2015 Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition.
- Chinese wine giant Changyu Grup has purchased Château Mirefleurs, a Bordeaux Supérieur estate owned by France’s Castel family, in a deal worth $4.86 million (CDN)…
- …Just in time, too, as China’s appetite for imported wines increases. In fact, China is expected to leapfrog the US and the UK in becoming Chile’s number-one foreign wine export destination.
- I haven’t seen the IPCC’s modelling for changes to the world’s grape-growing map, but it’s fitting that the World Climate Summit, COP 21, descended in Paris this week as wine-makers continue to worry about the impacts of climate change.
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: HOLIDAY EDITION
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!