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.

2015-12-09 14.30.01
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!

 

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