March 20 Roundup: Que Syrah, Syrah; London to Bordeaux Direct; and a Treat from the Archives

Each week I review a wine with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation. All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.
***Vacation Alert: Faithful Readers, next week I’ll be taking a much-deserved break to celebrate Easter. So, expect some content from the archives (we’ve also had to pull something out of our files for this week’s essay – sorry). We’ll be back to regular posting in April.***

Sip It!

Les Montgolfiers Reserve Syrah 2012

LCBO #: 341479 | 750 mL bottle | $11.50 (purchased for $6.95)
Alcohol: 12.5%
Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: Red

Deep ruby-purple and bursting with ripe red fruit flavours of tart cherry and raspberry, this medium-bodied wine is richly textured for a low-end table wine. On the palate, it exudes oak, mushrooms, smokiness, and touches of herbaceous greenery. A brightening acidity lifts this wine on the finish, which lingers on the tongue. Notes of cloves and tobacco help round out this surprising buy for under $10.

About the Wine: Made by Thierry Boudinaud, this Syrah comes from the south of France. The wine’s name is a tribute to Boudinaud’s anscetors, Etienne and Joseph–the famous pair behind the hot-air balloon.

Skip It!

Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2014

Vintages #: 595280   | 750 mL bottle | $14.95
Alcohol: 13.5%
Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: White

This is one of those deceptive wines that sets you up for profound disappointment. An inky, opaque purple, this wine boasts an intense bouquet of stewed plums, dark cherries, seared meat, licorice, and forest floor, which suggested to me a wine that would be deliciously fruit-forward, full-bodied, and complex. One sip, and I knew this wasn’t for me. The assertive tannins and mouth-puckering acidity were mildly off-putting. Flavours of mint, tobacco, and oak were offset by a sweeter vanilla, but I would definitely pass this by again because of the lack of balance. Upside: cute label.

About the Wine: According to the producer, “the Syrah is solely sourced from Swartland, renowned for its small berries and un-irrigated vineyards.” The wine is matured in older French oak barriques, and “reflects the sunny climate and warm shale soils of the Swartland region.”

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


United States

  • President Obama slams Donald Trump’s wine this week, saying, “Has anybody bought that wine? I want to know what that wine tastes like. I mean, come on. You know that’s like some $5 wine. They slap a label on it. They charge you $50 and say it’s the greatest wine ever.”



Let’s get “toasty”…with wood, of course!

I’m a history nut. What attracts me to wine isn’t just the tasting and appreciation of the grapes, the wine-making processes and the terroir — it’s also the evolution of wine-making over centuries, and how vintners arrived at the processes they’re using today.

One of the most ubiquitous images associated with wine production is the barrel. Most Google image searches will at least pull up a dozen photographs of cellars lined with the pride and joy of talented coopers practicing a craft honed over millenia. But how far back does the use of barrels in fermentation and aging of wine actually go?

I assume it’s quite well known that most Old World wine-making and the vitis vinifera that enables it owes its thanks to the Romans, who not only consumed wine in excess, but as an alternative to water, which was often unsafe, particularly for travelling armies. Unlike the ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians who used palm wood barrels to store and ferment wine, despite it being notoriously difficult to bend, the Romans favoured storage in clay amphorae (bet that didn’t impart those luscious flavours of vanilla and spice!). It wasn’t until the Romans encountered the Gauls, with their use of wooden barrels in the storage and transport of beer, that the vessel we all know and associate with wine production was adopted.

Barrels can be used in wine-making to impart flavour and colour, as well as help mellow tannins and vary texture, and the type of wood use matters immensely to the end product. Whether it’s proper barrels or wood chips floating in stainless steel tanks, wood has its own phenolic compounds and characteristics that can encourage evaporation and oxygenation, as well as alter the taste profile of a wine.

The length of time spent in a barrel depends on several factors, including the varietal, the winemaker’s preference, and rules surrounding a region or country’s wine-making. Take for instance Spanish wine laws that dictate barrel time: for example, a Crianza, depending on where it is made, can spend as little as 12 months in the barrel, while a Gran Reserva can spend upwards of three years. (I kind of love this animated video explaining wine aging. The cartoon barrel cracks me up!)

Depending on the species of oak, flavour intensity imparted can also vary tremendously. French oak has long been the preferred wood for barrel aging as it imparts flavours of spice and textures of satin and silk (like Pouilly-Fuisse), whereas American oak can produce more intense wines with creamier textures (think oaked California Chardonnay). Italian winemakers often use Slavonian oak, which lends subtler flavours and softer tannins, while lower-end French and Hungarian winemakers source oak from a region proximate to the Black Sea, which is known for its “more elegant and sweeter aromas.”

What else can I possibly say on barrels, except that sizes vary, too, with Bordeaux barrique and Burgundy styles leading the charge with holding 225 L (59 gallons) and 228 L (60 gallons) respectively.

So, the next time you taste a wine, look for the hints of oak and how the wine’s tannins, flavours and texture might be coming through based on the time it spent inside this venerated vessel.


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