Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Vacqueyras, by Xavier

Vacqueyras; a small place, off to the side of the giant known as Chateauneuf-du-Pape. It really is just up the road, perhaps a 30 minute drive, depending on who's driving...

With it's sleepy-town feel, and quiet way of life, one might never know the passion, the ardor, the fervor with which these Provencals work with their vineyards. Vineyards that until 1937 had no official recognition from the French government, and in 1971 were only classified as vins-du-table. Small glory for the cousins of the mighty wines down the road. Finally the time came when even the French must change their way of thinking, even about wine, and Vacqueyras was declared its own D.O.C. in 1990... only 500 years after the first records of wine cultivation in the area.

Enter the wine guru Xavier Vignon ( www.XavierVins.com ) who as you may remember from an earlier post was a brilliant blender of Champagne, was a consultant for wineries on 3 (or is it 4?) continents, and is intimately connected with a multitude of wineries in the southern Rhone. Which is where one finds the town on Vacqueyras and it's red wine blend (red wine is 97% of total production for the area) of 50% or more of Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre (at least 20%) and Carignan (no more then 10%). Well now you can't say I never learned you nothing.


2007 Vacqueyras, by Xavier Vignon
14.5%ABV, $25 CAN (BC)
  • visual: deep plummy garnet centre with cherry rim, slightest amount of brickishness
  • nose: fully intense nose of stewed figs, light anise, backbone of southern Rhone terroir and its rare roast beef qualities, slightly hot alcohol, candied blackberries
  • palate: moderate+ acids, moderate++ tannins, moderate++ intense palate; mimicking the nose well, but with slightly less finesse... fruit is driving the palate, with a solid undertone of oak. Honestly, at this point, the oak is overwhelming the terroir. Strong structure and moderate+ body.
  • PAIRING: tannins like this need meat, and I would serve it (and did!) with a classic bolognese. Any braised beef or lamb will do well, as this wine has power to spare (if little delicacy). Consider Spanish or Portuguese spices! Either would enhance notes in the wine and balance the wines aggressiveness.

A good wine, if you serve it with the right food. On its own, right now, the tannins overwhelm the palate (IMHO) - but then - I know guys who drool over wines like that. To each their own!


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Nugan Estate Shiraz, McLaren Vale, Australia

To my European cousins, it is challenging to understand settling a land; plowing, tilling, clearing, building, suffering. To my Australian friends and colleagues, it is simply a fundamental part of being Australian, much like being Canadian.

     McLaren Vale, Australia, was first surveyed by a European in 1839 by John McLaren. The men working for him were so impressed by the valley (so the story goes) that they instantly voted to name it for their intrepid leader. And so began the arduous journey to build a new home.

     As I said, I know people in Europe whose family homes are that old, or older.

     I find myself, now that I am about to move into my first home, having a greater respect and affinity for these brave souls who risked so much. It is easy, I think, to stay with what is safe and comfortable, even if the comfort is cold... but when I think of the new winemakers in BC, Oregon, Australia, who walk away from their "safe" worlds of banking and lawyering and restauranteuring, to till the soil, and bring a winery to life; I am inspired. As well I should be.

     And so I propose raising a glass, to bravery everywhere, in every action. Being polite when we are tired, to me, is a small bravery that makes the world a better place. How will I choose to be brave today?

2008 Nugan Estate Shiraz, McLaren Vale
McLaren Parish Vineyard, NSW, Australia
15%, $25 CAN (BCLB) Very Good Value
  • visual: deep plummy garnet centre with light cherry rim, no orange or brick tones, very viscous
  • nose: slightly hot alcohol opens the nose with bright red berries & fruit (cherries, currants) followed by old leathery oak & baked earth, the end notes are tinged with something floral I cannot name
  • palate: moderate+ (bright red berry) acids, moderate+ (slightly chalky) tannins, moderate++ intense flavors mimicking well the nose; red currants burst on the tongue, followed closely by the very heavy oak notes and finishing with a return to the currants and a slow release of what must be pure terroir (that baked earthy goodness) with the indefatigable pepper
  • PAIRING: acids like this demand fat of some kind, in my opinion, grilled meat is best. Use this wine for your ribeyes. The char from the grill will accentuate terroir notes, the pepper in the wine plays off of the beef and ribeyes have a great amount of fat (without gristle or sinew) which will soften the acids.
I would, of course, also reccomend decanting for an hour or longer. The first 5 minutes in the decanter barely allowed the wine time to stretch its legs, and by 30 minutes the wine was beginning to warm to the idea of being consumed. After an hour, the aroma was starting to stretch throughout the room, and my wife was asking for more pasta Bolognese.

Was this what the pioneers had in mind when they settled the McLaren Vale 170 years ago? Yes, I believe it was. When I talk with modern winemakers, about the joy they find in their work, the inevitably respond something like:

     "My greatest joy, in winemaking, is knowing that someone truly appreciates what I do... that for a few moments in someone's day, they sat with their wife, or husband, or their dog, or a good cigar/book/movie and they savored. They savored that moment, with my wine."

CIN CIN Vinificatore!!  SLAINTE Bean an ShilĂ©ir !!

Syrah, Desert Hills, 2007 Select (revisited)

A new year, a new vintage of Syrah from one of my favorite BC wineries, Desert Hills ( http://www.deserthills.ca/ ).

All the wine-world, it seems, is going through a period of unprecedented growth; in volume, in diversity, and most importantly in terms of quality. Desert Hills is no exception. To think that only 15 years ago, the very first vines were being planted there, and already they have become a fixture in the BC wine landscape.

     Did you know that over 100 restaurants in the Lower Mainland carry their wines?

     Did you know that they have a fortified wine in the works?

     Very exciting to be able to witness this transformative time in our industry, and then, be able to sip the rewards of this long and dedicated labor. Cheers to BC wine!

2007 Desert Hills Syrah, Black Sage Bench, Okanagan, BC
14.3%, $35 CAN (not listed by BCLB, only speciality wine stores)       Very Good Value!
2010 Canada's over all best red wine of the year,
Double Gold,  Gold International & Silver Tasters Guild International

  • visual: deep dark plummy blackcurrant color with the barest hint of orange-cherry rim
  • nose: moderate++ to fully intense dark fruit to start (baie noirs; think blackberry jam, stewed plums), followed by leathery oak and garrigue (savory herbs; wild thyme and hints of sage), roast beef, wild game
  • palate: moderate+ acids, moderate++ tannins (slightly chalky), moderate+ to full- intense palate mimicking the nose admirably... cherries come through on the palate that I didn't notice on the nose (and Saskatoons), mild peppercorns (pink) at the end
  • PAIRING: every Christmas my father, the intrepid at-home chef, and I make grilled venison steaks with a blueberry and thyme compote. That dish was made for a wine like this. Use rich beef flavors to compliment the almost Chateauneuf-du-Pape qualities, use berries, try a duck breast with cherry & be suprised at how the wine seems to lighten to compliment. In essence, I'm always trying to either compliment an existing note in the wine, or sharply contrast. For example, I may contrast the moderate+ acids here with cheese or cream: Morbier goat's cheese from France would work well, on grilled bread rather then fresh bread (my own preference)... but the true joy, I think, is discovering your own pairings.
Overall, what a wonderful wine for $35! Full of flavor, and nuanced in the bouquet, what I would say is please decant! I tried this wine within 2 minutes of opening, then after 30 minutes of decanting, then after an hour (+) of decanting, and it was a world of difference. Allow yourself this wine the time to show all of its splendor. Decant a minimum of (1) hour. Alternatively, I agree with the winemakers that this wine can be cellared for 5 years with ease, and will drink well for several years past that... IMHO, this can be enjoyed 2014-2020, and realistically, no one could buy a wine of this quality for $35 after its had the chance to cellar properly for another 2 or 3 years.


Saturday, 29th January, 2011

On a cold, wet, windy afternoon what better to do then re-visit an old friend? An here-in I have done just that; cracking open a bottle of the 2007 Desert Hills Syrah to see if it can't warm my old bones a little...

  • visual:     same as above; clean; deep garnet core with slight cherry rim
  • nose:     deep and fully intense bouquet showing signs of development with the blush of youth; dark berries (blackberry, black raspberry, saskatoon) appear first followed by some red berry (chery, raspberry, light red currant), moderate oaking, some small amount of savory herbs and more predominantly after sufficient decanting is a wonderfully rich florality of irises and hibiscus. Slightly spicy white pepper finish.
  • palate:   clean; dry, moderate+ (raspberry) acids, moderate (soft, velvety) tannins, moderate+ ABV, moderate+ body, moderate+ to fully intense youthful flavors showing some signs of development; red berries dominate (raspberry, cherry, cranberry) followed by some stewed blackberry and plum, leathery French oak, wild herbs are more noticable on the palate then the nose, lingering finish of floral notes and some mild vanilla. Excellent balance, beautiful structure, long finish.
  • conclusion:   What a beautiful wine and what a wonderful treat on a miserably wet Saturday in January... drinking well now, this wine will benefit from some further aging, and will drink well 2012-2015 with ease.
  • PAIRINGS:   same as above; duck, venison, pheasant if you're feeling "plucky" (pardon the pun)... try as a first course pumpernickle crostini rubbed with roast chives and chevre, topped with some duck carpaccio. The depth of the pumpernickle off the black berries, the chives do the same, the chevre off the acids and a mild game meat like duck off the milder tannins
     Thank you very much to http://www.deserthills.ca/ for giving me a bottle of this wonderful wine to try... it is as much a delight because it's from British Columbia as it is in and of itself. Always a marvel to me just how much BC winemaking has grown in the past decade... 10 years ago I was hard-pressed to find BC wines I truly enjoyed, and now I find it just as difficult to keep up!

CIN-CIN~!!!   SLAINTE~!!!   CHEERS~!!!