Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Pinot Noir Project: A Look at 2010 Vintages in California and BC

Despite all the different varieties of wine I drank this year, I wanted to finish 2013 with my favourite varietal, Pinot Noir. North American wine regions have been known to offer some excellent New World Pinots: Oregon and California are the most popular regions, and both Niagara and the Okanagan are also producing quality wines from this varietal. I decided to focus on the 2010 vintages of Californian and Okanagan Pinot Noirs, to see how rough growing seasons affect the wines. The comparison was done via a 4-wine flight: two Pinots from California to start, and two from BC to finish.

Both California and Okanagan producers were faced with a challenging growing season. Spring arrived late in both regions, with record low temperatures and exceptionally high rainfall in May (BC). Summer finally arrived in California in August, and extremely high temperatures frequently broke records. Winegrowers that chose to expose their grapes by trimming the canopy (leaves) when sunshine levels were low in the spring, were now dealing with opposite conditions and sun burnt grapes. The low temperatures in the Okanagan continued through the summer, and higher than normal rainfall amounts were recorded in the first half of September. The weather finally turned favorable at the end of the month, and a long, dry Autumn settled in to save the crop. Despite the challenging growing season, both California and the Okanagan were able to produce quality wines due to a more meticulous sorting process, ensuring only healthy grapes were fermented. These healthy grapes showed a surprising vibrancy in both colour and flavour profile that translated into the final wines, with elegant structure and earthy tones characteristic of a good Pinot Noir.

The Kendall Jackson Vintner's Reserve 2010 is surprisingly complex, featuring a vibrant bouquet of rhubarb, red fruit, damp earth and a subtly steely minerality. Well structured with refreshing acidity and fine tannins, this wine is food friendly but also easy drinking on it's own. An ideal match for a summer BBQ, pizza and fun nights with friends.

La Crema's 2010 Monterey Pinot Noir shows even more complexity with a flavour profile that includes strawberries, white pepper, wet leaves and black olives. There is more earthiness in this vintage than it's 2009 counterpart, which was more fruit-forward thanks to the excellent growing season that year. It also contained the same level of acidity and fine tannins that the Kendall Jackson had, with more intensity. This wine is great for a dinner party and for relaxing the mind after a long day!

The Thornhaven 2010 Pinot Noir showed the highest acidity level of the four wines: a crisp, mouth-watering bite that doesn't overpower the structure and lasts well into the long finish. It has a similar flavour profile to the Californians, with aromas of raspberries, white pepper and forest floor. Smooth and seductive with silky tannins, it will pair well with a fireplace on a cold winter's night and when romance is in the cards! This is also a food friendly wine that would make a fine match for pork dishes.

Lake Breeze's Seven Poplars Pinot Noir 2010 was the most fruit-forward of the flight, with juicy notes of strawberries and raspberries. There was a subtle earthiness in both the nose and palate, but not as apparent as in the other wines. The wine also contains light, silky tannins and a lower acidity level than the others, making this Pinot easy to drink in the Spring or Summer and would pair well with chicken and berry salads.

I found that all four Pinot Noirs in the flight contained higher acidity levels and more earthiness than other vintages, which may speak to the damp earth the grapes dealt with for much of the growing season. There was also a subtle minerality in some of these wines that I haven't seen in other Pinot vintages, adding complexity to the palate. Each wine showed a vibrancy in the flavour profile, reflecting the great care each winery took to ensure the best quality of wine despite the growing season's challenges. With all of that said, each wine shone individually and all 4 are approachable, versatile and food-friendly, all at the mid-priced range ($20-$40 CDN) making them great value.

Just because a growing season is labelled as challenging by winemakers and experts, does not mean the wine will necessarily suffer. As long as great care is taken in the vineyards and during the winemaking process, a good wine can still come out of the surviving grapes-just like the Phoenix rising from the ashes!


Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Tale of 2 Wine Regions: Part 3 and Conclusion

One of the most well-known white wine grapes in the world is Riesling. Although it is widely grown in many countries world-wide, it is synonymous with Germany, where the first known mention of it was found, and where it remains the most widely-planted varietal today. Other regions that are known for their Rieslings include the Clare Valley in Australia, Austria, Alsace, and Canada, both the Niagara and Okanagan regions.

With hard wood on it's trunk and hardy fruit, Riesling grapes can withstand frosts and cold temperatures, and are resistant to downy mildew. It ripens late, which make it ideal for late-harvest wines, botrytised sweet wines, and even Icewine. Riesling wines tend to be high in acidity and low in alcohol, with a wide flavour profile that includes blossom, stone fruits, citrus, and even petrol and kerosene with age. One of the most unique characteristics of Riesling is it's aging power; it can last for 20+ years in a cellar.

My husband and I compared Gray Monk's 2011 Riesling with Trimbach's 2010 Riesling. The style of the Trimbach Riesling is similar to the "kabinett" style of German Rieslings: light-bodied, with high acidity and more citrus flavours on the palate. Alsace Rieslings tend to have more body, are higher in alcohol, and show a distinct flinty note. The flavours my husband and I detected were blossom, green apple, honeydew melon and lime.

I found the Gray Monk showed similar characteristics on the nose and palate, but it also had the traditional peach flavour that attracts many to Riesling. It had a little more sweetness (off-dry) and the acidity was more mellow in the mouth. It seemed to be more balanced than the Trimbach, where the acidity in the Alsatian wine seemed to overpower the flavour intensity. This surprised me because the Alsatian was older by a year, and I thought it would have settled more than the Gray Monk, which comes from a colder climate. Both my husband and I preferred the Gray Monk over the Trimbach because of these reasons. In comparison to the standard characteristics of Riesling, the wines were on par with eachother, and we ranked both Rieslings as "good" using the WSET Advanced quality assessment. In fact, all 3 varietals were ranked the same quality throughout the project. And all wines retailed under $30 CDN.

The final "scores", based on personal preference:

Gewurztraminer: Tie. My husband preferred the Sumac Ridge, I preferred the Trimbach.
Pinot Gris: Pfaffenheim 2010
Riesling: Gray Monk 2011
Overall: Tie!

So are there differences between Alsace and Okanagan's noble varieties? I would argue yes. The differences we found were in acidity levels (in 2 of the 3 varietals), body, and flavour characteristics. If you like wines that have mouth-watering acidity and minerality with apple and citrus flavours, Okanagan white wines are a great bet. If you prefer a more mellow, fruit-forward white, Alsace wines are a must-try. These would all vary due to the climatic and soil differences between both regions. However, there really isn't a difference between the wines that were compared when assessing the quality. Try it yourself and see what you prefer, you just may be surprised like we were!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

World Holiday Wine Match-Please Vote!

Joy to the World! For the past few weeks I've been busy nominating and voting for World Holiday Wine Matches. One of the wines that I nominated, Santa Rita's 120 Sauvignon Blanc, has reached the finals for the best Collard Greens category! Please help me by clicking on the link below to vote for my wine, as well as voting for wines in the other categories!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Is My Dad a Wine Snob?

Wine Snob: "A person unwilling to try other types of wines, and will only drink the wine they think is so great." Urban Dictionary. This is one of the definitions the term "Wine Snob" carries.

The term seems to be used on a regular basis these days. Some wine afficionados throw it around like confetti at an 80's wedding, and some reject the term. I've personally used wine snob to describe the author of a blog I don't like, and one of my bosses has accused me of being one when I start rambling on about wine (but he's a beer guy).

I used to associate the term with my dad because he wouldn't drink South American reds. He tends to stick to Bordeaux Blends, Californian Cabs, and Italian Valpolicellas and Amarones. He also won't touch Australian wines, but that's for a special and unique reason. He's a survivor of tonsil cancer, and after multiple radiation treatments in his mouth, his palate can't handle the spiciness of a Shiraz. I didn't want to think of my dad as a wine snob, so I set out to see if he could tell the difference between the wines he loves and the wines he won't drink in a blind tasting. All four wines were blends, ranging in price and region. All listed prices are in Canadian dollars.

Wine #1: Le Sarget de Gruard-Larose 2001-Bordeaux, France. Retails around $85.

Wine #2: Casa Silva 2011 Cabernet Carmenere-Colchagua Valley, Chile. Retails at $14.

Wine #3: Chateau Beaumont 2008-Bordeaux, France. Retails at $30.

Wine #4: Sumac Ridge's Ridge Red - Okanagan, BC. Retails at $15.*I originally thought this wine was a Cab Sauv blend, but it turned out to be composed of Shiraz/Pinot Noir/Merlot. Surprise, Dad!

Below are my dad's short tasting notes for each of the 4 wines:

Wine #1 was very full-bodied, and had a complex palate. Licorice on the long finish. Harsh tannins that seemed to smooth out with time (I decanted the wine for 90 minutes before pouring, which wasn't long enough in the end). Not an every day wine.
His original guess was an Italian wine, but then he changed it to a Bordeaux and valued the wine at $35+.

Wine #2 was smoother and more fruit-forward than the first wine, with a lighter body. Less complex, but easier to drink. He would drink again, and could sip all night.
His original guess was an American Pinot Noir and valued the wine at around $20. He also guessed the alcohol percentage at 12%.

Wine #3 was mellow, and not as fruity as the second wine. It has some complexity, with a smoky note that appealed to his unique palate. Not as high in alcohol as wine #2. Shorter finish.
His original guess was an Italian Valpolicella, priced between $15 & $20.

Wine #4 was smooth, and a good every day wine. He valued the bottle at $20-$25 with no guess on region. At this point, all of our tasting notes were getting shorter!

When I revealed the wines to my dad, he seemed pleasantly surprised that Wine #2 was Chilean, and Wine #4 was priced the way it was. He was happy to know he got the first wine correct. He doesn't tend to show much emotion so his reactions were hard to read, but I definitely picked up on some surprise from him on Wine #2's identity, which I'm hoping may convince him to drink more South American wines in the future! So the answer to the question, is my dad a wine snob, is: No. He just knows his stuff, and he likes what he likes!

Despite all the talk of wine snobbery these days, I really don't think anyone is a wine snob. Wine is meant to be enjoyed and discussed, and if one prefers to stick to the wines they like, then drink what you like! Lots of us wine geeks like to share our knowledge, which can sometimes be perceived as wine snobbery. But if you listen around, other snob terms are becoming mainstream like Hockey Snob, Car Snob and of course, Food Snob. I think snob is just another way to express your passion in any subject, and ultimately we are all just knowledgeable geeks with preferences when it all comes down to it. Myself and my dad included!

This post is dedicated to my dad, who was a big part of my wine journey whether he knows it or not. He was given Andre Domine's Wine book as a gift from my uncle when he was diagnosed with cancer years ago. I found it in the basement by his leather chair when I was home for a visit and began to leaf through it. His book inspired me to learn more about wine, and later that year I bought the same book and still use it as reference to this day (even though it is an older edition). Thanks for all the knowledge, advice, and the good wine you've shared with me Cheeftain!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Vina Casa Silva: Harmony from Vineyard to Bottle

Last Wednesday night a girlfriend and I attended a wine tasting hosted by Vina Casa Silva, one of the more prestigious wineries in Chile. Although the Vina Casa Silva brand was founded in 1997 by Mario Pablo Silva, the family has been in Chile since 1892 when the first generation arrived from the St Emilion region of Bordeaux. Since then, five generations have been devoted to wine production and are considered pioneer winemakers of the Colchagua Valley.

Vina Casa Silva places high priority on sustainability, quality, and family. The winery strives to live life in harmony with the environment, and to produce the finest wines possible. They have achieved 100% vineyard certification under the Sustainability Code of Wines of Chile, one of only three wineries to do so. Their tasting panel consists of 3 Silva family members and two enologists that work closely together to ensure the best possible quality of the wine from vineyard to bottling. Vina Casa Silva also prides itself on using manual viticultural and vinification techniques in conjunction with modern technology. They were Wine and Spirits Winery of the Year in 2010 and the awards continue to roll in for their wines every year.

Vina Casa Silva was showcasing 5 different wines at this particular tasting:

-Dona Dominga Sauvignon Blanc/ Semillon 2012
-Sauvignon Gris 2011
-Dona Dominga Cabernet Carmenere 2011
-Carmenere Reserva 2009
-Quinta Generacion 2009

The 2012 Dona Dominga Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon is well balanced, with an intoxicating bouquet of passion fruit, pineapple and fresh cut grass. The refreshing acidity lasts well into the long finish. If you prefer a fruitier Sauvignon Blanc blend, this is a must try! Pairs well with salads and mild cheeses and is excellent on it's own as well.

The 2011 Sauvignon Gris has more minerality than the Sauvignon Blanc. With a flavour profile of ripe bananas, green apple and steel, this wine shows great intensity and is also well-balanced. It's surprising complexity makes it stand out compared to other white wines.

The 2011 Dona Dominga Cabernet Carmenere is a fun, juicy and fruity red with aromas of blackberries, spices and coffee. The ripe tannins are well integrated to the body and structure of the wine. This wine pairs well with more casual foods like pizza and burgers, as well as with meats like venison and prime rib. An easy drinking, mouth-pleasing red wine that is a steal at $14 CDN!

The 2009 Quinta Generacion is a blend of Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot. The wine is beautifully structured with elegant tannins, fresh acidity and a full-bodied mouthfeel. Complex aromas of cloves, black pepper, capsicum pepper, leather, and hazelnuts. Smooth, expressive and seductive. This wine can age another 5-7 years in the cellar, or can be opened and enjoyed today. Another great value wine at $31 CDN and is too beautiful not to try!

My personal favourite of the night was the 2009 Carmenere Reserva. Carmenere is a Chilean specialty, and Vina Casa Silva makes a beautiful representation that really shows it off! The perfumed bouquet reflects notes of cherries, leather and spice. Wonderfully balanced with soft tannins and a full mouthfeel. A hint of red bell pepper, a tell-tale sign of the Carmenere varietal, shows the expressiveness of the wine. Another fantastic deal at $18 CDN. I will likely be drinking this wine over and over again as it has become one of my favourite value reds!

The tasting was hosted by Marcelo Pino, Casa Silva's Sommelier Ambassador. He has been working with the winery for years, and is also certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers. What makes him stand out from others is that he won the Best Sommelier in Chile award in 2011! He is also a water expert and originally trained as a chef before studying wine. He allowed us to grab a picture with him after the tasting-I am on the left.
The Chilean wine region has plenty to offer it's fans; it is the only wine region in the world that is free of Phylloxera, and their use of modern viticultural and winemaking technology has raised the quality of their wines to be on par with some of the most well known wine making countries in the world. Vina Casa Silva takes Chilean wine to the next level with the great care they take in the vineyards, to the quality measures taken in the winemaking techniques they use. Their wines reflect the terroir of Chile and the Colchagua Valley and are well balanced and complex, making the wines a great value and must not be missed. 

For more information on Vina Casa Silva, click here to go to their website. 
They also have a great video on YouTube that provides an overview of the winery, available in both English and Spanish. Click here for the English version.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Bird is the Word: My First Turkey

It's so esteemed, yet so time consuming and technical in a way. People brag about having the opportunity to do it, and some are proud to avoid it year after year. Things can easily go wrong, leaving the cook/host embarrassed and apologetic throughout the feast. But when it's done right, the rave reviews and leftover carcass make the cook beam with pride, leaving bragging rights that linger for a year - sort of like pageantry. I`m talking about cooking a turkey. And for the first time in my 32 years on the planet, I decided to undertake the roasting of a 12lb bird, and without a recipe too.

I started defrosting the turkey 3 days prior. I wanted to brine my turkey the night before so it would be infused with a little flavour, and to give it a shot of moisture. Here's the recipe:

Brine for 12lb Turkey

1 Large Bucket
1L Chicken or Vegetable Stock (I used the latter as it was what we had on hand)
2 cups Apple Juice
1 package fresh Dill
3 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 red onion, sliced or rough dice
3-4 medium carrots, sliced
Water to fill

1. Mix the stock, apple juice, garlic, onions, half the salt and dill in a large bucket. Top with water to get the bucket to half full. Stir until well blended.
*Be careful not to overfill when the turkey goes in-you don't want a mess to clean up!
2. Add the turkey, legs up, and the rest of the salt and water. Cover the turkey with a plate if it's not fully submerged in the brine.
3. Leave overnight in a cool area for sanitation (I used the garage, which is like leaving it in a cold fridge this time of year). I left my turkey in the brine for 12 hours. After that time had passed, I removed the turkey from the brine and patted it dry with paper towels.

Then came time for the turkey to be massaged. I used a compound butter made by adding sage to a stick of unsalted, softened butter ahead of time.  Sage is pretty strong and can easily overpower other herbs and spices, and even ruin a dish if it's overused. It's best to start with a little, and taste as you go (even if it's just butter!) until the flavour is prominent but not overpowering. I used the full stick and buttered anywhere under the skin I could reach, pushed it farther down using the exterior skin, and gave the bird a good rubdown on top. I made the stuffing outside the bird this year but stuffed the cavity with any remaining veggies, the garlic cloves and the bay leaves from the brine.

I roasted the turkey on top of a bed of more carrots, celery and onions and under foil wrap for the first hour. When that finished, I mixed 1 part melted butter with 1 part white wine and used that to baste the chicken. From there, I basted the turkey every 30 minutes from there using the juices from the pan. I cooked the turkey until the internal temperature reached 185 degrees. After that I allowed the turkey to rest under foil for half an hour to allow the bird to rest and to retain the juices inside the bird when the time came for carving.

The turkey came out so moist and flavourful and I received rave reviews from our guests! And the leftovers disappeared within 3 days! Cooking a turkey wasn`t as scary as I thought it would be, and if I can do it so can you! Happy turkey roasting!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Playing with Pairings: The 2nd Annual Holyantle Anniversary Dinner

Last year my husband and I decided to make a new tradition out of our anniversary. Each year we are going to cook together and create a 3-4 course meal, complete with wine pairings. Last year’s 3 course meal started with an Avocado and Grapefruit salad, continued with Rack of Lamb Persillade and Asparagus with Hollandaise sauce paired with Veuve Clicquot  NV Champagne (which was my favourite food and wine pairing of 2012!) Neither my husband nor I can remember much after the bottle of Veuve and unfortunately, I wasn’t smart enough to blog about it then.
This year, we decided to continue with the French theme as it is also a way for us to pay homage to our trip to France in March 2011. My mother gave me a great food and wine book a few months ago, Wine & Food: A New Look at Flavour by Joshua Wesson. The book discusses all types of wines from light-bodied whites to full-bodied reds, sparkling and sweet wines; each section talks about the varietal flavour profiles and suggests ideal food pairings. The book also contains approximately 50 food recipes with 4 different wine pairing suggestions per recipe. The back of the book contains themed 4 course meals using recipes from the book, with wine pairings for each course. One of these was themed “Bistro-Style Supper" and features wines from around France for the pairings. I decided to run with this. The menu 2nd Annual “Holyantle” themed Anniversary Meal was:

Savoury Cheesecake
PEI Mussels in Wine & Herb Sauce
Grilled Lamb Chops with Blueberry & Portabello Mushroom Coulis
Maple Squash Puree
Roasted Buttered Beets
Tarte Tatin

I know, PEI is not in France. But I wanted to incorporate one highlight of our 5th year of wedded bliss, and our trip to PEI for my sister’s wedding was one such highlight. It therefore became the 2nd course.

In order to not overload ourselves with food right off the bat, I made the savoury cheesecake for dinner the night before, which includes ingredients such as blue cheese, cream cheese, roasted garlic, roasted red peppers and a parmesan crust. I paired it with Ruinart’s NV Rose Champagne. We also used the leftover champagne the following night to pair with the mussels. Unfortunately, the heavy fattiness of the cheesecake overwhelmed the delicate fruit flavours of the champagne, and I thought the higher acidity level of the champagne would cut through the fat component in the cheesecake. So we ate the cheesecake and then drank half of the Ruinart afterwards. We ate the leftover cheesecake for brunch the day of the big meal. When we paired the champagne with the mussels, the delicate flavours of both the food and wine married well and ended up becoming a nice, light course to start our dinner.

I paired the grilled lamb chops, beets and squash puree with M. Chapoutier’s 2010 Crozes-Hermitage. Full-bodied with chewy but well-integrated tannins, this red features notes of plums, animal hide and smoke.
My husband used some of the wine in the coulis. Adding the wine you plan to drink into your cooking enhances your food and wine pairing. In this case, the C-H paired well with all of the main items-the smokiness of the wine enhanced the barbecued lamb and added a flavour dimension to the sweetness of both the coulis and the beets.

The last course was Tarte Tatin, which is made by caramelizing apples in an ovenproof skillet and baked upside-down with the pastry on top. I paired it with Chateau Guiraud’s 2010 “Le Petit Guiraud”, a young, sweet wine from Sauternes with a complex flavour profile that includes honey, orange blossom, butterscotch and candied orange peel.
This pairing was easily the highlight of the meal, along with the tarte. When pairing wines with dessert, you must ensure the wine is sweeter than the food or the dessert will overpower the wine. This wine was my favourite pairing of the night: the wine was sweeter than the dish, and complimented without overpowering the dessert. Both have an excellent flavour concentration to complement eachother with subtle differences that contrast eachother, allowing both to stand out on their own! This is a must-try pairing!

To summarize, here is what I learned in pairing wines with these dishes:

-If you want a highly acidic wine to cut through the fat components in food, make sure you match the weight of the wine to the weight of the food. In the champagne/cheesecake pairing, the cheesecake was too heavy for the delicate champagne. The oysters and the lighter sauce were more delicately weighted, and that is why they worked better with the champagne.
-If you have a flavour compound in the wine (like the smoke in the Crozes-Hermitage) and a similar flavour exists in the food (the barbecued lamb), the two should complement eachother well, keeping in mind to match the weight of the wine with the weight of the food.
-Use the wine you are serving in your cooking-this helps guarantee a flavour match
-When pairing wine with dessert, make sure the wine is sweeter than the food!
-Have fun with it! Wine and food were made to go together, so try different things out and see what your palate prefers!

If you've read this far into the post, I will reward you with the recipe for Tarte Tatin! Enjoy!

Tarte Tatin: As found in Wine & Food: A New Look at Flavour

3 oz/90g unsalted butter
6 oz/180g sugar
Pinch of salt
3 lb golden delicious apples: peeled, cored and quartered
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed


1) Preheat the oven to 375F. Melt butter in a 10 inch ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add sugar and cook until the sugar turns light amber in colour, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add salt. Arrange apple wedges on their cut sides in the pan in a tight concentric circle, then fill the centre with the remaining wedges.

2) Return the pan to high heat and cook until the sugar and juices become deep amber in colour, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and with tongs, turn apple wedges to their other cut side. Return pan to high heat and cook for another 5 minutes or until this side of the cut apple wedges turns amber.

3) While the apples are cooking, roll out the puff pastry on parchment paper into a circle 11 inches in diameter, or an inch larger than the diameter of the skillet you are using. Using a 10 inch plate as your guide, trim the pastry into a 10 inch circle. Keep pastry cool in the refrigerator until ready to use.

4) When the apples are ready, remove the pan from the heat. Carefully flip the puff pastry onto the apples and lift off the paper. Gently tuck the pastry down around the edges of the apples. Cut 4 1 inch slits in the centre of the pastry to allow steam to release during baking.

5) Bake for 30 minutes or until the crust is puffed and golden brown. Remove the tart from the oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes. Gently place a large platter on top of the skillet and invert or flip over the pan while holding the platter strong. Lift off the pan; the tarte should release easily from the skillet. Serve warm with icing sugar or whipped cream as garnish.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Tale of Two Wine Regions, Part 2

Pinot Gris is likely one of the first of the four Alsatian noble grape varieties wine connoisseurs think of. Although it is the third most planted varietal in Alsace, many consider Alsace to be the benchmark of Pinot Gris wines. Can an Okanagan Pinot Gris hold up against a strong Alsatian contender? My husband and I put it to the test this week.

Also known as Pinot Grigio in Italy and Grauburgunder and Rulander in Germany and Austria, it was once known as Tokay-Pinot Gris in Alsace, but the Tokay part of the name was dropped for good in 2007. The grape was first documented in 1711 when it was found growing wild in a garden in Baden-Wurttemburg, Germany. Other legends suggest that the grape was brought to Hungary from France in the 1300s, and returned to Alsace from Hungary in the 1500s. What makes it unique is the colour of the grapes; the skins tend to be grayish-pink in colour unlike other white grapes. Some might say that what makes Pinot Gris unique is a musty, smoky aroma that complements the aromatic flavours of the wine. The grapes generally produce wines that are low in acidity and higher in alcoholic content with flavours of stone fruit, melon and even butter when aged. Pinot Gris is well known for making sweeter, late harvest wines when able to reach full ripeness.

(Photo Courtesy: The Wandering Palate)
I pitted a 2011 Laughingstock Pinot Gris against a bottle of 2011 Pfaffenehim Pinot Gris for this week's battle. We started with the BC wine, the Laughingstock PG. We purchased this bottle directly from the winery in 2012 and it spent the last year of it's life in our cool, humid cellar on it's side. The first thing we both noticed was the mouth-watering acidity of the Laughingstock, which lasts well into the long finish. Both intense and complex, the wine showcases a flavour profile that includes lemon, red apple, tangerine and a hint of honey. This wine seemed a little "angry" at us for not letting it sleep for longer, so I recommend this wine be cellared for 3 more years to mellow out the acidity a little bit. It is a youthful wine, but still of good quality.

The Pfaffenheim Pinot Gris is off-dry, full-bodied and smooth, with a unique and beautiful bouquet of tangerine, candied ginger, orange blossom and honey. Although not as intense as the Laughingstock, the Pfaffenheim is also complex, well balanced, and very expressive of what an Alsatian Pinot Gris is said to be. Both wines were excellent values at $21 CDN each.

I noticed that with both the Gewurz and Pinot Gris tastings, the Okanagan wines showed riper fruit flavours, more mouth-watering acidity and a hint of minerality. Both the Alsatian Gewurz and the Pinot Gris were smoother and a little sweeter. Will these trends follow in the Riesling battle? Stay tuned to find out!

Friday, August 30, 2013

A Tale of Two Wine Regions, Part 1

"So why do Okanagan wineries generally produce whites like Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris?" My husband asked me on our annual trip there this past month.

Good question. And coincidentally, those three varietals he mentioned also happen to be 3 of the four Noble Grape varieties of Alsace, France.

Let's face it, the Okanagan isn't known internationally as a major region with high-demand, high-priced wines. But Alsace is located in one of the most well-known wine regions of the world: France. If all three of these varietals produce the majority of the wines made in both regions, can Okanagan whites can be just as good in quality as Alsatian wines? I am hoping to find out, so I made it my late summer project of 2013.

The Purpose: To compare and contrast the flavours and structural elements of the Okanagan aromatic white wines with the quality of the same Alsatian Noble Varieties via 3 blind tastings of each varietal from both regions (6 wines total). Can my husband pick out which wine is from which region?
The Grapes: Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris
The blind-tasting "Guinea Pig": My Husband. I won't be tasting blindly (someone has to pour the wine!), but will be taking subjective notes as if I didn't know what each wine was
Timeline: 2-3 weeks, with 3-4 blog entries devoted to the project

Alsace and the Okanagan have a few terroir-related things in common. They are both classified as having continental climates, meaning there is a wide temperature range between the warmest and coldest months of the year (the Okanagan has a much wilder temperature swing). Both regions generally experience hot, dry summers and longer-lasting Autumns, ideal for ensuring the grapes have reached both full and physiological ripeness, and provides ideal conditions for late harvest wines. Both regions are also known to have arid, drier conditions; Alsace is protected from wind and rain thanks to the Vosges Mountains, and the Okanagan lies between 2 mountain ranges, creating an arid, semi-desert micro climate. The soils are extremely varied in Alsace, also due to the Vosges mountains. The Okanagan's vineyards are planted on sandy loam or alluvial gravel soils. This could reflect the differences in the wines between the two regions, as well as other factors like vineyard practices and vinification techniques, which can vary from winery to winery. But if the climate is fairly similar, do the regions produce similar wines?

We started with Gewurztraminer, a wine that enthusiasts tend to either love or hate. Wine snobs generally stick their noses up at Gewurz - the HoseMaster of Wine refers to it as "The first choice of sommeliers everywhere to be left off the by-the-glass list.", among other pretentious comments. However, women tend to love it for it's perfumed bouquet, slight sweetness and approachable, easy-to-drink nature.The German word for “spice", Gewurztraminer wines tend to be full-bodied, with an oily texture, low to medium acidity, and also can be high in alcohol, with aromatic notes of lychee, roses, and naturally, spice. Gewurz wines have proven to be a good match with turkey, spicy dishes like curry, and ladies' nights out. The 2 bottles we compared were Trimbach's 2010 wine (Alsace) against Sumac Ridge's 2012 Gewurz. Since I wasn't able to get both wines of the same vintage, I took into account the fact that Sumac's acidity may be higher and the flavours riper, whereas the Trimbach may be showing more signs of age (golden colour of the wine, smooth texture, etc). Both of the wines were bottled in the well-known "Flutes d'Alsace", a taller, thinner wine bottle with a long neck.

I found the Sumac Ridge Gewurz to have a complex and intense flavour profile of green apple, lychee, pineapple and blossom, along with well-balanced acidity. Although it needs a few years to settle a bit, it is drinkable now. My husband detected notes of nectarine & apple with a hint of minerality and crisp acidity.

The Trimbach Gewurz had the trademark oily texture with a rich, golden colour, smooth texture and flavours of pineapple, apricot and spice. My husband also found the Trimbach to be a thick and oily wine, with a bouquet consisting of green apple, blossom and honey.
We found that both wines had similar flavours; blossom, pineapple, the traditional lychee and green apple. Both wines also showed great body and flavour intensity, as well as intriguing complexity. The Sumac Ridge Gewurz showed a hint of minerality that the Trimbach did not have, and the Trimbach seemed to be more typical of a Gewurz wine with more aromatic flavours and the typical oiliness. When I asked my husband if he could pick out the Alsatian wine, he thought it was the Sumac Ridge.

All in all, my opinion is that Gewurztraminers from both regions have similar flavours and complexity and a few minor differences. But this is just my opinion. Despite the fact that some in the wine industry look the other way when it comes to this varietal, I recommend both of these wines for those who love Gewurz and the elements that make it what it is. Try it yourself and see what you think!

Up next: Trimbach vs Gray Monk: A Ries-slinging (like mud-slinging?) battle

Thursday, July 25, 2013

PEI Brewing Company: The Unfiltered Story

When you think of Prince Edward Island, what comes to mind? Is it Anne of Green Gables, with her straw hat and braided hair that tourists love to buy, or is it the abundance of fresh seafood, including the best lobster, oysters and mussels you will find anywhere? Perhaps you think of PEI potatoes, or the beautiful beaches full of unique red sand and inspiring vistas. There are many great things about "The Island in Bloom", but would beer be included in those thoughts? Have a Beach Chair Lager and you will think so!

The PEI Brewing Company is an up-and-coming microbrewery located in Charlottetown that is starting to make waves among Canada's craft beer market. Located at 96 Kensington Road, the brewery offers hourly tours of the facility starting at $10 per person. Two of my cousins and their wives took the tour and spoke so highly of it, my husband and I decided to check it out last day on the island.

The man behind the PEI Brewing Company is Kevin Murphy, who established his own brewery in 1997 at a different location. Two years later, he relocated his practice to a historical building in Olde Charlottetown called the Gahan House Brewery, and a smaller brewery and restaurant remain there today. Kevin teamed up with Jeff Squires in 2011 (currently the company's CEO) and formed the PEI Brewing Company, which absorbed the Gahan House Brewery but the name remains on some of their beers. The Beach Chair Lager was created in 2012 and has since gained a large maritime following.

There are four main ingredients in beer: water, barley, hops and yeast. Water is the main ingredient and needs to be of excellent quality. The watersheds in PEI generate pure water, which helps contribute to the high quality of PEI Brewing Company's beers. Malted barley is the starchy ingredient used here. Pilsner malt is used for Beach Chair Lager, barley is used for all the ales, and chocolate barley is used for the Iron Horse Ale (and this barley tastes delicious on it's own by the way!). The hops are used to enhance the flavour and aromas of the beer, and the yeast converts the sugars converted from the barley into alcohol during the fermentation process. Although some breweries will use preservatives and artificial flavours and colours to lengthen the shelf life and improve the flavours of their beers, the PEI Brewing Company only uses the four main ingredients listed above. This gives the beers a much cleaner, more crisp and classic taste, with a refreshing purity not seen in many other breweries.

The barley is stored in a silo until it is ready for use. It is then moved through a system of pipes as it takes it's journey to become delicious beer. The first stop is a mill, where the barley is crushed and cracked to make it easier to access the flavour. It is then held in a grist tank and moved when ready to the mash mixer, where it is mashed (the starch of the barley is converted to sugar in preparation for fermentation by the addition of wort, aka liquid) and then lautered (the spent grain is separated from the wort). The next stop is the kettle, where the wort is heated and all the impurities/bacteria are killed off. The hops are added here, which breaks down the proteins in the wort and decreases the pH level as well. The mixture is then fermented, where the addition of yeast converts the sugars into carbon dioxide and alcohol. Once fermentation starts to slow, the yeast pulled to the bottom of the tank and is filtered out. Some of the beer is then aged and bottled on-site.

While we were there we sampled the Beach Chair Lager, the Blueberry Ale, the Sir John A honey wheat beer and the Iron Horse dark ale. The Blueberry Ale comes unfiltered and real blueberries are used during the brewing process to add natural flavour. Although the ale is a little heavier than other blueberry beers I've had in the past, this one has much more natural flavour and is definitely worth a taste or two. The Beach Chair Lager is crisp and refreshing, with a mouthful of flavour that is perfect for a patio with friends or paired with food. I personally think wings and ribs are a perfect match with this beer! The Sir John A honey wheat is my new personal favourite of all the honey wheat ales I've had before, with the same density as the Beach Chair Lager and plenty of honey flavour without overpowering the beer. My standout favourite, however, was the Iron Horse Dark Ale (now labelled Iron Bridge). This is the perfect beer for anyone wanting to try dark ale but were too afraid. Full of chocolate and coffee flavour, this beer is still light enough to drink more than one of, with a refreshing long finish. I highly recommend this to the beer drinking ladies out there.

PEI Brewing Company is really starting to make a splash in the Canadian craft beer market. Click here to find their beer in the Maritime provinces. Lucky for us Calgarians, Willow Park Wines & Spirits has just received their first shipment and the beers were on the shelves as of last week, and Beach Chair Lager was featured in the weekly flyer as well. Needless to say, we stocked up! Look for PEI Brewing Company beers to be on the shelves in BC soon, as they have just placed their first order with the brewery.

There is a sign in the front area of the brewery that states their philosophy: Dream Big. Work Hard. Have A Beer. Kevin Murphy and Jeff Squires did just that and the result of their dreams and hard work are pure, natural, well flavoured craft beers that will be a tough act for other microbreweries to follow. If you ever find yourself in Charlottetown and you're looking for excellent local food and drink, it's definitely worth a trip to the PEI Brewing Company for the tour, the great local hospitality, and of course, the beer! Special thanks to Charlie, our knowledgeable and friendly tour guide on Monday, July 15. Make the beers a must-try on your list and I promise you won't be disappointed. Cheers!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Le G: The Other Wine of Guiraud

Chateau Guiraud is best known for it's Premier Grand Cru Classe sweet wines and it's gorgeous tree-lined entrance to the property, as pictured below:
(Photo courtesy of Matthew Mantle, taken March 2011 at Chateau Guiraud)
The grapes that Chateau Guiraud uses to make their intoxicatingly aromatic sweet wines are affected by Botrytis, also known as "Noble Rot". In viticulture, Botrytis is a fungal disease that attaches itself to grapes and removes the water in the pulp, leaving behind the sugars. It is caused in Sauternes naturally by foggy, damp mornings in the vineyard that give way to hot summer afternoons, but not all of the grapes end up afflicted with Noble Rot. So what happens to the healthy, ripe grapes that aren't able to be used for their prestigious sweet wine? The healthy grapes are used to make a Bordeaux Blanc Sec (or dry wine) that Chateau Guiraud calls Le G de Guiraud.

White wines made in Bordeaux are constantly overshadowed by their highly esteemed and popular red counterparts-and this trend will continue as long as Bordeaux is a worldwide staple in the red wine market, making some of the most highly sought-after wines in the world. However, producers are working to increase the quality of their white wines by reducing the amount of sulfur they use (used as an antioxidant and an antiseptic), using stainless steel vats and better temperature control for fermentation, and avoiding malolactic fermentation. These wines are more refreshing and fruit-forward with their flavors, and have a bit of aging potential. If you drink white wines, do not underestimate the quality of a Bordeaux Blanc Sec, especially Le G de Guiraud.

Le G de Guiraud is composed of 70% Sauvignon Blanc grapes, complemented by 30% Semillon grapes. The healthy, ripe grapes are hand-harvested at the peak of their ripeness, sometimes requiring a second passing through the vineyard to maximize yields. Once the grapes reach the winery, they are pressed and then fermented for 2 weeks in new oak barrels previously used for the sweet wines. Aging takes place in barriques for 6-9 months afterwards and the juice is left on the lees, which are regularly stirred for added body and flavor. The end result is a great value white wine full of flavor, costing about $35 CDN/bottle.

I had been storing two bottles of the 2008 vintage in our wine cellar and figured now would be a good time to drink one to see how developed the flavors had become. I found the 2008 G de Guiraud to be a fully developed, well-balanced white with grass and stone on the nose and palate, with just a hint of damp oak and gooseberry. The wine has a refreshing acidity that lasts well into the long finish. Subtle complexity with a great concentration of flavor. Best to drink now or within a year, but newer vintages could hold for 5 years.

Even though Bordeaux whites will never have the same reputation or  as their reds and sweet wines, they're still a great value with great flavor. If you like full-bodied whites, why not get one on your next visit to your local wine or liquor store? I promise you won't be disappointed. Cheers!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Challenge Accepted! Cherpumple Cake

My daughter's first birthday is coming up this weekend and even though she'll probably never remember it, I wanted to do something special for her first cake and avoid the store-bought route (not that there's anything wrong with that).

One of my most awesome friends found the idea for Cherpumple Cake online and sent it to me as an idea for the cake. I say to that, "Challenge Accepted!" (in the way that Barney from How I Met Your Mother would say it).

Cherpumple Cake is the turducken of desserts-3 layers of different types of cake with a pie baked in to each layer! Generally the bottom layer is a spice cake with apple pie inside it, the middle layer is a yellow cake with pumpkin pie inside, and the top layer is white cake with cherry pie inside. What I plan to do with mine is going to be only 2 layers: the spice cake with apple pie layer and cherry chip with cherry pie layer. I'm going to use my third layer to make a separate cake for my daughter to smash at will! I haven't decided if I'm going to put a pie in that or not, it would be wicked messy and a super sugar high if I do that!

Charles Phoenix does a great but slightly-annoying tutorial of how to make the Cherpumple Cake. Check it out here! And don't forget to stay tuned to see how mine turned out!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Getting to Know You...Gruner Veltliner

Once upon a time, the Traminer grape met an obscure grape called St. Georgener in a faraway land. The 2 grapes began a torrid "love affair" and the fruit of their passions became known as Gruner Veltliner, one of the defining grapes of Austrian wine.

Gruner Veltliner (or GV as it will be called for the rest of the post) has small greenish-yellow berries on the vine. It grows best along the Danube river in Austria, and the best quality wines come from regions named Kremstal, Kamptal, Wachau, Weinviertel and Donauland. It is also grown in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Germany. GV is known for it's peppery notes both in the bouquet and on the palate, with refreshing acidity and the ability to age for years in a cellar. It also boasts mineral, citrus and sometimes peachy flavors in the mouth.

The wine I tasted was the 2011 Rabl Gruner Veltliner Spiegel, based out of the Kamptal region. This was part of 3 bottles given to me for my 2013 cellaring project. 

Crisp with refreshing acidity and mineral, citrus and stone fruit notes, this wine is light, yet full-bodied. It coats the throat with a smooth, slightly sweet finish that will make you want to sip again and again! I did not pair this with any food, but some recommended pairings include asparagus, smoked salmon, potato pancakes and sashimi. 

What shocks me the most about this wine is it's reputation for aging, and not just for a year or two in the cellar. Some sommeliers and websites state that GV can age upwards of 20+ years. Here's a link to an article of GVs from 1960-1979 that were tasted in 2002, and beat out some notable Chardonnays and White Burgundies. Although I'm unsure of how long I plan to keep these in the cellar for now, you bet it will be a long time! Remember, a fine wine gets better with age!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Neverending Pinot Noir Project

Way back in September I said I would be finishing my Pinot Noir project. Three months later, I'm still drinking Pinot Noir! It turns out I liked it more than I thought I would! However, December 31st, 2012 marked the now-official end to the project. Although I'm unsure of the total number of Pinots I sampled, I became well acquainted with PNs from Canada, the USA, France, Italy, and New Zealand. Here is what I learned:
-Pinot Noir grapes are the divas of the vineyard. They flourish best in a temperate climate; too much heat and the berries can shrivel and get sun burnt. The grapes are also very susceptible to mildew, botrytis and virus diseases. This also explains why Pinot Noirs tend to cost more than other wines.
-Although the wines do have red and black fruit on the nose and in the palate, Pinot Noirs are full-bodied wines that are mostly earthy, with more mineral and herbaceous notes than fruit. I also found a subtle note of black or white pepper on a lot of the wines I tasted.
-There is a special glass to best taste Pinot Noirs with that has a slightly flared rim. A picture of it can be found in one of my previous posts.
-I found Pinot Noirs paired best with beef and lamb dishes. As mentioned, Pinots are full-bodied and hold up against the stronger flavors of the beef and lamb. The New Zealand Pinot I tasted paired really well with a smoked Gruyere cheese. Go for stronger flavors when pairing a Pinot, but feel free to drink it on it's own, especially a wine from California's 2009 standout vintage.

The Best Vintages By Region
Canada: 2007 hands down! If you can't find a 2007, a 2010 Canadian Pinot is a good 2nd choice
California: 2009 all the way! The climate conditions were perfect for growing Pinots. My "silver medal winner" is from this vintage!
Burgundy, France: 2005, 2009
Sadly, I found Italy on a whole to be a miss with Pinot Noir. They specialize in their own grapes for a reason, and I'll be sure to sample them soon, especially with my return to WSET Advanced in the Spring.

The "Medal Winners" (If I had medals to give out, ha ha)

Gold: Chateau des Charmes Old Vines PN 2007. There was a party in my mouth when I first tried this gem! Full-bodied, spicy, a little herbaceous but a beautiful long finish that doesn't leave a harsh aftertaste in the mouth. It made me want more, and more, and more...4 bottles are now in my cellar. I paired it with meat but could drink it on it's own as well!

Silver: La Crema Monterey PN 2009. I love this wine because it has more abundant red fruit on the bouquet and in the palate than in other Pinots. I found this one to be very easy-drinking, with all the characteristics of a Pinot Noir on the palate. My favorite to drink on it's own! 

Bronze: Louis Latour PN 2009. If you want a good benchmark Pinot from it's homeland of Burgundy, you can not go wrong with this one! I tasted notes of black pepper, bell pepper, eucalyptus, with hints of coffee and meat. Another full-bodied, long finish wine. A great choice!

Best Pairing: Veuve Clicquot with Rack of Lamb Persillade. Because Pinot Noir makes up only a part of the composition in Champagne, I was surprised that it stood out against the harsh, bitter flavors of the lamb! The delicate flavors of the Champagne complemented the lamb in such a way that I couldn't take a bite of meat without savoring a sip of wine in my mouth right after! 

So that's it. Although the blogging portion of the project is now complete, I don't expect to stop drinking Pinots altogether, which is why the project will never officially end in my life. Besides, I've only scratched the surface! Cheers to the Pinot Noirs I will continue to taste in the future!

So what's next for 2013? I will be taking on 2 projects; the first is a cellar-based project thanks to my darling husband. I will be tasting 4 wines, and then cellaring the bottles to see how they age. This one will take a few years (if not longer) to complete and will lead into the 2nd project, a research-based project on the wines of Penfold's. Stay tuned for the tasting notes!