Monday, September 19, 2016

In Praise of Canadian Wine, and Hip Culture

August was a bittersweet time to be Canadian.

On the sweet side, our country "showed up" to the Rio Olympics, winning 4 gold medals and a record high 22 overall medals-unheard of in previous summer games. Canada proved to the world that we are a force to be reckoned with in women's swimming, women's trampoline, and men's track and field, among other sports. But we also excel in winemaking, especially with Riesling and Chardonnay in the Niagara region of Ontario, and with the Bordeaux varietals in the Okanagan. The problem? The world has yet to realize it. Notorious Wine Spectator columnist Matt Kramer has noticed and has mentioned this in some of his monthly columns. Hopefully this will be the catalyst to put Canada on the worldwide wine radar. I decided to celebrate our Olympic gold medal wins by toasting the athletes with some of the Okanagan's fine red wines. 

Our first gold medal win was by Penny Oleksiak on August 11th in the women's 100m freestyle. Penny really did Canada proud by winning a total of 4 medals in the Rio games! To celebrate her gold medal win, I selected Nichol Vineyard's Nine Mile Red Blend.

Composed of Pinot Noir and St. Laurent, this unfiltered red opens with a bouquet of strawberries and forest floor that follows through to the palate, along with flavours of underripe cherries and a hint of cooked mushrooms on the finish. Surprisingly smooth for an unfiltered wine, with silky and focused tannins. The Pinot Noir really shines through on this wine! Drink now, or cellar for 3-5 years.

Our next gold medal in the games was won by Rosie MacLennan on the trampoline on August 12. Celebrating a back-to-back gold medal win was extra sweet for her as she suffered a concussion in 2015. Because of all the therapy she required to get her ready for Rio, I found it fitting to select Therapy Vineyard's 2009 Merlot to toast her with.

Deep garnet in colour, showing its age with aromas of pepper and musk on the nose. A lush, full body and mouthwatering acidity open the palate, alongside flavours of raspberries, pepper and asparagus. Tannins are muscular yet refined and there is a herbaceous hint on the finish. Drink now.

Derek Drouin was Canada's third gold medal winner in Rio, winning the men's high jump event on August 16. I selected Kettle Valley's 2009 Merlot to celebrate his victory. 

Image result for kettle valley 2009 merlot

A pronounced nose of red currants and cedar leads into a palate of fresh raspberries, cloves, and a hint of smoky cedar. The acidity is refreshing, and tannins are faint and soft. Cherry notes stand out on the long, smooth finish. A fantastic expression of Okanagan Merlot that pairs well with grilled red meat. 

Canada's fourth and final gold medal was won by Erica Wiebe in women's wrestling on August 19. Since I had to finish on a "punny" note, I selected the 2013 Cellar Hand Punch Down Red blend, created by Black Hills Estate for all the smackdowns that Erica laid upon all her opponents to become the Olympic champion!

 Image result for cellar hand punch down red 2013

A real gem of a wine! Bright ruby in colour, the wine will draw you in with a sweet bouquet of ripe cherries and orchids. Racy acidity and velvety tannins seduce on the opulent palate, along with flavours of raspberries, smoke, and a tiny whisper of fresh basil on the long finish. Extremely well structured and vivid. Opens up nicely now, or could age another 5 years in cellar.

Perhaps one day Canadian wines will be known around the world, but we still have a long way to go. As more global wine experts discover the region, and Kelowna tourism increases, BC Wine will slowly find their place in the worldwide spectrum. In the meantime, more for me!

And now for the bitter. Gord Downie, the lead singer of Canada's legendary band The Tragically Hip and our country's unofficial poet laureate, announced his diagnosis of terminal brain cancer. The band decided to tour one last time for all the Hip fans to say goodbye and enjoy one last concert (or more for the lucky ones). On August 20, the Tragically Hip took to the stage one final time and many hardcore fans stated that "Canada was closed" that evening as we celebrated our national music treasure and our culture. Gord and the Hip's songs make us all proud to be Canadian, while also reminding us of our own borrowed time through the song "Use it Up":

Use it up
Use it all up
Don't save a thing for later.

So go ahead and drink the wine. Don't save those bottles in the cellar for a special occasion for too long; no one knows how long any of us have left. Savour the sweet sips, as well as every moment in life and love. 

"No dress rehearsals, this is our life." - Gord Downie, Ahead by a Century

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Power Schist: Southern French Reds

At the very Southern edge of France, nestled between the Pyrenees mountains and the Mediterranean sea, lies a wine region of great potential. Once known for only Vin Doux Naturels and red "plonk", both the Cotes du Rousillon and Languedoc AOPs have garnered attention from elite winemakers including M. Chapoutier and Gerard Bertrand. Dry red wines found within these regions are showing incredible structure, depth and intensity that are comparable in quality to some of their Southern Rhone neighbors. I spent the month of May tasting wines from both Cotes du Rousillon, the Languedoc and Corbieres and I was not disappointed!

The Cotes du Rousillon AOP runs from just north of the town of Perpignan, France, to the Spanish border. A hot, dry climate is found here as the sun shines approximately 320 days of the year. Low yielding Grenache bush vines dominate the vineyards, along with plantings of Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan and Cinsault for the red wine blends. The black schist soil is one of the factors that has attracted the attention of winemakers around the world, creating age worthy red wines with power, complexity and structure.

M. Chapoutier's 2013 Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem, meaning "A Secret" in Latin, really reflects the complexity and power of the Cotes du Rousillon Villages with ever-evolving flavors of plum, black fruit, leather, tobacco leaf and licorice. Velvety tannins and mouthwatering acidity combine to create a well structured, expressive blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. This beauty is drinking well now, but could gain even more depth with 3-5 years of cellar aging.

The 2013 Tessellae Old Vine blend from Domaine Lafage (on page 27 of the link) casts a flavor profile of ripe red cherries, dried oregano and a lovely hint of baking spice on the finish. The high acidity establishes a strong backbone that the plush tannins are able to mesh with. This wine is extremely food friendly and would pair well with grilled meats and poultry. Composed of 40% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 20% Mourvedre.

East of Rousillon lies AOP Corbieres. Although the region is known for its extreme summers and rugged mountainous terrain, a wide variety of soil types are found here: limestone, schist, and clay among others. This helps to create full-bodied wines that marry well with foood. 

Chateau Trillol is located in Corbieres and is owned by the notable Sichel family of France. Their 2011 offering is deep ruby in colour with concentrated notes of raspberry, cherries, resin and black pepper on the palate. A well structured blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah, encompassing fine tannins and sharp acidity into the full body. A lovely pairing with cheddar cheese.

Finally, Gerard Bertrand's 2011 Grenache Syrah AOP Languedoc features racy acidity balanced to well integrated tannins amidst a flavour profile of strawberries, cranberries and charcoal. A bright, cherry medicinal finish rounds out the palate. Decant for 45 minutes before enjoying to allow the red fruit flavours to shine.

Each of these wines range in price from $20-$30 CDN, making them a great value. 

All four of these beauties reflected the intensity gained from the schist soil and favourable climate for Grenache, Syrah and other southern French varietals. Now that the Cotes du Rousillon and Languedoc regions are gaining attention from noticeable producers, it's time wine lovers taste these gems for themselves! Cheers! 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Unorthodox Without Oak? A Glimpse at (Mostly) Unoaked Okanagan Chardonnay

I used to think that wine snobs turned their noses up towards unoaked Chardonnays, that the general demand was for rich, buttery Californians that carried a lot of body and flavour intensity.

But then I googled unoaked Chardonnay, and I was wrong.

Wine writers are taking note of the unoaked, Chablis-style Chardonnays. In fact, a trend in California is now to age their chards in stainless steel vats, toning down the richness and allowing the varietal to show more of its primary flavours.

The Okanagan region is embracing the unoaked style of Chardonnay as well, and my mother-in-law and I spent some time sampling some of these wines to see how BC does it. We tasted three different unoaked Chardonnays from different areas of the Okanagan wine region.

Nk'Mip's 2011 Winemaker's Chardonnay is partially aged in French oak but the natural flavours of Chardonnay stand out with notes of grapefruit, lemon, green apple and zesty acidity. Hints of straw on the finish give the wine body and finesse. 

Blasted Church's 2013 Unorthodox Chardonnay opens with a lovely bouquet of orchard fresh peaches and honeycrisp apples due to small amounts of the aromatic varietals Ehrenfelser and Gewurztraminer blended in. The palate reflects flavours of honeydew melon and a steely minerality that leads into a citrus finish. Pairs well with scallops and lean white fish.

Gray Monk's 2014 Unwooded Chardonnay has a flavour profile that is consistent with the other two wines above, with notes of green apple, underripe peach and a hint of green banana on the palate. Fresh acidity with a zesty finish, this wine is ideal as an aperitif or on its own in pleasant warm weather!

It was interesting to note that none of these wines underwent malolactic fermentation during the winemaking process. The trend here is to showcase the natural fruit flavours that come with the varietal. 

Now that Spring is here, light white wines will surely be returning to the forefront of winelovers' minds when the sun is shining. Why not celebrate Spring with one of these fresh and lively wines? Your tastebuds will thank you.