Sunday, December 18, 2016

More Than Middle Class: The Cru Bourgeois of Bordeaux

Bourgeois Defined: Of or characteristic of the middle class, typically with reference to its perceived materialistic values or conventional attitudes. - Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Once upon a time in 1855, the organizers of the Paris Universal Exhibition requested a selection of Bordeaux's best wines to be put on display. A frantic list of the most expensive wines at the time was put together and submitted, along with bottles from the Chateaux that were fortunate enough to make the list. And so the famous -or infamous- 1855 classification was set. A total of 5 tiers were created, from the five renowned Chateaux of the First Growth, to Chateau Cantemerle, the final addition to the Fifth Growth. But what about the rest of the Chateaux not included in the classification? They banded together and created their own tier: The Cru Bourgeois of Bordeaux.

I was first introduced to the Cru Bourgeois tier back in 2013, while I was taking WSET Level 3.  It just so happened that the wine I liked most that evening was a Cru Bourgeois. When my teacher asked what we thought of the wines overall at the end of the tasting, I mentioned I was enamored with the Cru Bourgeois. She basically laughed at me and dismissed my opinion that a Cru Bourgeois could show well.

But wine doesn't have to be all stuffy and upper-class expensive. In today's economy, many Albertans can hardly afford to drink high priced wine. This is a great opportunity for the Cru Bourgeois to shine, reflecting the qualities of Bordeaux terroir and flavours at less than half the price. Here are some Cru Bourgeois recommendations for your enjoyment, all priced around $30-$35 CDN!

Located in the Haut-Medoc region of Bordeaux, Chateau Beaumont is considered to be one of the top wines in the Cru Bourgeois tier and multiple vintages are highly rated by Wine Spectator each year. The 2008 vintage boasts a fruit-forward bouquet of strawberries and cherries, following through to a palate inclusive of dried cranberries & a hint of tobacco leaf. Racy acidity and silky tannins bring refinement to the well-structured body. An excellent wine to bring to a holiday party or to cozy up with on a cold, wintry night!

Also located in the Haut-Medoc, Chateau La Lauzette Declercq 2010 boasts a more intense flavour profile of cassis, cigar box and an intriguing hint of eucalyptus. An intense body with firm tannins and razor sharp acidity that carries through the mouthwatering finish. Pairs extremely well with game meats like venison and elk tenderloin.

Across the Gironde river lies the lesser-known region of the Cotes de Bourg. Although the Crus Bourgeois moniker primarily is used on the Left Bank (Haut-Medoc, etc), Chateau Rousselle is labelled as a Premier Bourgeois, which is the highest classification level of its appellation. The 2012 vintage shows the Merlot-dominant blend with notes of black cherries, plum and bittersweet chocolate. Juicy acidity and muscular tannins round out the firm, plush body. Worthy of cellaring another 5-7 years to settle the tannins, but still shows well now if you like powerful reds!

For more information on all the Chateaux included in the Cru Bourgeois, the history and current news, visit the official website here.

And finally, I'd like to thank all of you who read my blog for allowing me to share my passion of wine with you. I truly appreciate all of the support you have given me, even if I don't get to post blog entries as much as I'd like. On behalf of my little girls and my husband, I'd like to wish you all the happiest of holidays, and a wine-derful 2017!


Sara M
The Wine Concubine

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. 


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Tale of Two Chenins

My blog post inspirations are coming to me as flukes so far this year. I wasn't expecting to focus on Italian reds last month, and I wasn't planning a post on Chenin Blancs in February either. But they say the best things happen by fluke!

A friend of mine journeyed to Perth, Australia during the first few weeks of the year. While he was "down under", he toured the Swan River wine region of Western Australia. He found a gem of a Chenin Blanc and brought a bottle back to share over dinner one night. 

Since I also had a bottle of Loire Valley Chenin Blanc in my cellar, I decided to see how both wines compare and contrast eachother from a new world vs old world perspective, and new release vs older vintage to see how the varietal progresses.

The 2014 Windy Creek Estate Chenin Blanc opens with a pronounced floral bouquet of white and orange blossom and hints of stone fruit. Intense flavours of apricot, yellow apples and lime envelope the palate, with fresh acidity and a lush mouthfeel. A youthful, wonderful warm weather sipper!

Chenin Blanc's homeland is in the Loire Valley and the Chateau de Targe 2008 "Les Frenettes" reflects a well-developed, well structured wine in its varietal's birthplace. Deep gold in colour, with notes of baked bananas, pineapple and gala apples on both the nose and the palate. Rich in body with a slight tang in the soft acidity.A hint of melon liqueur rounded out the finish.

I was surprised to detect more exotic fruits on the older Chenin Blanc as that can be a character trait of the young wines or wines from a more tropical climate. But since Chenin Blanc can express a wide variety of flavours this may come down to the ripeness of the grapes when they were picked.

You really can't go wrong with Chenin Blanc as it can be made into wines from dry and ripe in style to sweet and honeyed. The grape is also being cultivated in South Africa and California but it's great to see it can grow well in a region like Western Australia. I haven't yet had a Chenin Blanc that I didn't agree with, and I look forward to drinking more that will please my palate!

My next blog post will explore unoaked Chardonnays from the Okanagan. Is the crisp, clean style really as off-putting as wine snobs think it is? Stay tuned!  

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Bottle Journey Through the Boot...Tasting Italian Reds

January has been a whirlwind month for me. My baby girl arrived on December 29th at 5:45am!

Since then my life has been primarily focused on getting Cassie used to the world, navigating life with 2 kids, keeping the house in order, all on very little sleep. 

But thanks to the miracle of breast pumps, I've been able to start tasting wine again! My parents flew out to lend a helping hand mid-month, and my dad and I spent some time sampling Italian reds. It was a little tough for me at first-after all, I'd been out of practice for 9 months. What are all the secondary and tertiary flavours again? And descriptors for acidity, tannins and body? Thankfully, it all came back to me when I took my first post-partum sip of wine!

We started at "the heel of the boot" in Puglia, with Il Falcone's 2009 Castel del Monte DOC Riserva.

Focused tannins and angular acidity wrap around hints of plum, sour cherries and forest floor. Medium-bodied with a long, slightly jammy finish. Excellent for weeknight sipping or with mushroom pizza and pork loin.

Next, we travelled up to the Northeastern tip of Italy to taste Tedeschi's 2010 Corasco.

This beauty arouses pleasure with aromas of blueberry, cassis and mocha. Racy acidity and chocolate tannins add to the smooth body and sultry mouthfeel. A long, spicy finish will leave you wanting more! Easily one of the best wines I have ever had from the Venezie/Valpolicella region.

We finished with Paolo Conterno's 2011 Barbera d'Alba Bricco.

Notes of raspberries, red cherries and coffee grounds. Fine tannins and lively acidity create a concentrated, well-balanced body. This wine can handle spicy foods like salami and charcuterie, but is also excellent on it's own.

Finally, I started my Year of Champagne on December 31. I plan to drink various bottles of bubbly throughout the year with tasting notes showing up throughout the blog. First up was GH Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut NV Champagne.

Aromas of green apple, lemon and a hint of freshly baked buns. The mousse is creamy and slightly delicate, with invigorating acidity that arouses the tastebuds. Hints of underripe white peach and stony minerality round out the palate.

I plan to focus February on white wines from France and BC along with my Mother in Law's visit, along with another bottle of Champagne and maybe one or two more red wines.