Category Archives: Light and Bubbly

Vancouver International Wine Festival Observations

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I LOVE Vancouver.  If I had to choose an international city to live in , it would be a toss up between Paris and Vancouver.  I also love talking about wine to people and the Vancouver International Wine Festival gave me the opportunity to do that in such great surroundings.  I learned several amazing things at the festival this past week.

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1) Robert Mondavi is credited with starting the festival.

Many people came up to me to let me know this fact.  He is very well respected here and one person even credited him with being the catalyst for Vancouver’s thriving wine and food scene that is has today. This further cements my belief that Mr. Mondavi was a force to be reckoned with and full of boundless energy and passion for sharing wine with people.  I only hope that I can live up to at least half of that for my career.

2) Canada has some startlingly good wines.

From the austere and crisp Benjamin Bridge sparkling wine (Light and Bubbly) to the ripe and luscious Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc (Spicy and Smoky) that we had with dinner last night, to the elegant and intense Inniskillin Ice Wine (Sweet and Luscious),  Canada has some amazing wines to offer and we rarely see them in the rest of the world. I find with most countries to which I travel the best wines are the ones that are found domestically and Canada is no different.

3) The Vancouver International Wine Festival is Fantastic!

It is well organized, well run, and has enough representation from all countries that you feel you have indeed sampled a large portion of the world of wine but not so large that one can easily be overwhelmed.  One of my MW study partners, Matt, and I had enough opportunities in between pouring to run around and work on our blind tasting skills with virtually every style of wine we would need in the room.  Ice was never too far away and rinse water was plentiful.  There were enough people emptying spittoons that they never were more than half full at any given time.  This year’s country of focus was Australia and admittedly, while I am not a huge Shiraz fan, the wineries really put on a good showing with lots of Rieslings, Chardonnays, Semillons, Cabernets, and Bordeaux blends to get a good sense of what is going on down under.

There were also non-wine related observations…

4) Leather pants appear to be back in style.

I counted no less than 15 individuals sporting leather pants.  You see one person and you assume they are quirky and perhaps a bit non-conformist.  You see two people, and you think vaguely wonder if it is protection from the still slightly chilly wind.  You see 6 people and you wonder if you missed a fashion article on how the new trend for spring is leather leggings.  You see 15 people and it is pretty certain that the leather pant/legging is here for the season.

5) There are many types of VIWF visitors.

There are those which are jaded and wander the rooms glancing above your heads at the signs, peering over the shoulders at the people currently being served at your table, with a non-interested aloof look that suggests they are wondering what they are doing among the rest of the rabble in the room.  There are the interested tasters who resolutely work the room picking and choosing from the different wines and occasionally asking questions.  There are the people with plans and are on a mission announcing at their arrival that they are ONLY tasting Pinot Noir today! There are the new to wine tasting visitors that don’t realize they are supposed to be spitting and within 20 minutes of the start of the tasting they are already weaving about and you end up spilling wine on them because they can’t hold their glass steady enough and you are trying to pour the smallest amount possible without looking like you are trying not to serve them.  There are other winery representatives, taking a break from their own booths to tour around the room. Then there are my personal favorites, the avid enthusiasts, that have great questions and generally will come with one to 3 other avid enthusiasts.  Once these types find out one is a winemaker, you’d best be on your top game! “How do you know when to pull a wine out of barrel?” “What is the meaning of neutral oak?” “What’s the difference between Napa Valley and Carneros?” “What process do you use to determine your blends?”  I love these folks.  It makes my time at the table very exciting.

I loved my time in Vancouver this week and it was a fitting finale to my time as the red winemaker for Robert Mondavi.  At the end of this week, my family, and I are driving out of Napa bound for New York.  I can’t believe it has gone by so quickly!  Don’t worry though.  I still have plenty of blogging left in me!  Stay tuned for next Monday!

Harvest 2011 – Week 5 – Things REALLY get moving…

This week we’ve started seeing far more grapes than the previous week.  Our Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc were joined by our first Chardonnay of the season!  Fruit quality looks really nice and acids are still staying put thanks to the more moderate day time temperatures as well as the cool nights.  The Alexander Valley reds are showing signs of the same incredible color that 2010 brought us and we should start seeing Lodi Cabernet and Merlot being harvested over the next two weeks.  For Asti it seems after a crazy end to last week, Week 6 will come in like a lion and go out like a lamb as we enter the first slump of the season.  This will give us a chance to catch our breath and take stock of how things are going.  The weather for week 6, however is forecasted to be a good deal warmer than week 5 with several days topping out around 100 degrees!  Hopefully they won’t go much above that so we can avoid the September heat spike that we saw last year. 

 

I’m playing with the first Alexander Valley fruit from this season which is a Gewurztraminer from a vineyard in Geyserville which was harvested last Wednesday.  It’s packed with flavor and did retain some acid which is fantastic for the variety that is famous for losing acid like a woman loses last season’s out of style shoes.  I’ve set it up for a long, cool fermentation so the yeast can form the beautiful terpene compounds that make up the fruit and spice notes in the final wine.  I’m also playing with some Pinot Gris from Lodi with a couple of different yeast strains so that should be interesting to see how it goes.

 

As promised here is the red variety group from Week 4’s interesting varietal tasting!

 

Latitude 50 N Sekt Trocken Rose  Germany  $14.99

Light and Bubbly

With amazing aromas of strawberries and cotton candy this wine offered fantastic quality for the price.  A medium- dry style balanced with crisp acid and intense citrus flavors.  It’s a blend of Portugeser, Dornfelder, and Pinot Noir.  A perfect bubbly for everyday drinking at a great price, all of us decided to go in on a case!

 

Studert- Prum Wehlener Nonnenberg 2008 Dornfelder  Germany ~$25.00

Elegant and Floral

I have a soft spot for this variety because it’s one of the first reds I ever worked with in Pennsylvania, of all places.  However this also showed to be the hardest variety to find in the tasting. It’s known for intense aromas of Strawberries and cherries and this wine did not disappoint.  It was dry with moderate acid, medium alcohol and smooth tannins.  It’s worth the search as this was one of the best Dornfelders that I’ve ever had!

 

E. Pira Chiara Boschis Dolcetto d’Alba 2009 Italy    $19.99    

Elegant and Floral

This variety makes a light and easy to drink red which is perfect for lighter fare.  Moderate aromas of cherries, bramble fruits, red plum, and figs introduce the wine which has a dry palate with medium + acid and moderate alcohol.  The tannins are firm and structured but ripe.  This is a great food wine. 

Umathum 2008 Zweigelt Burgenland Austria    $16.99

Spicy and Smoky

This was a dark brooding wine with smoky gamey notes complemented by black cherry and plum.  The palate is dry with medium + acid, moderate alcohol and strong structured tannins.  Zweigelt may be a good alternative to Merlot or Syrah for those seeking something different.  This one was really nice.

 

Montebuena Rioja 2009   $9.99

Power Punch

Made with 100% Tempranillo this wine is true to form with aromas of cherries, raisins, lemon zest and vanilla.  The palate is dry with medium acid, moderately high alcohol, and strong, textured tannins.  Right now Spain is offering some great value for the money.  Anywhere else this would easily be an $18-20 quality wine.

 

Quinta das Maias Tinto 2004 Dao   $11.99

Power Punch

Another value to be had currently is dry reds made from Port varieties.  This wine is a blend of 60% Jaen, 25% Touriga Nacional, 10% Alfrocheiro and 5% Tinta Roriz.  The nose is intense with aromas of coconut, almonds, vanilla, and cherries.  American oak is clearly a favorite with this producer.  The palate is dry with moderate acid, medium + alcohol, and a full body filled with flavors of cherries, dried dates and raisins.

The Best Bang for Your Buck!!!: Finding Value in Wine

One of the questions I was asked to answer a short time ago is how does one tell which wine brands offer the best values for my money?  This is a particularly challenging question because the answer often is “it depends”.  The perception of value highly depends on the end consumer…of course this means you!  You, the consumer, give the wine a value, whether you realize it or not, depending on how it makes you feel when you enjoy it (or don’t enjoy it), when you talk about it with your friends, or how it makes you feel to purchase it. 

Take Burgundy for example.  This is a fantastic region of France making some really wonderful Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  In an effort to really get to know the Crus (areas and well known vineyards of the region) some friends of mine from the WSET Diploma and I got together and pooled our resources to do a major tasting.  We ended up buying around $800 worth of wine equaling 12 bottles which we tasted blind to get our own thoughts down on paper before the big reveal of what they each were and how much they each cost. One of these bottles was $230 by itself.  I don’t remember what producer or where at this point (but it’s in my notes so I could look it up if someone is interested) but I remember being astounded by the price as I compared it to similar quality wines that I had tasted from other regions.  I couldn’t help but feel a bit cheated.  The wine was not bad in its own right, in fact I had estimated it to be around the $80 however when the real price was revealed I felt that it was significantly overvalued when some of the less expensive options offered equivalent quality for far less.  The point is not which producer made this wine or where it came from but how it made me feel as the person who had spent good money to purchase it.

That’s the problem with purely stating which brands offer the best “value” for the money.  It all depends on your definition of value.  Some people value the producer.  Others value the price they paid for the wine.  Even more value the experience of drinking the wine with friends or family at a memorable moment in their lives.  I’ve heard numerous stories of people who are out with friends and they order wine.  The atmosphere is fun, the conversation, invigorating, and someone suggests that this wine may just be the best they’ve had in a long time.  Everyone agrees and some note the variety, producer, and vintage.  These folks even go so far as to seek it out again to recreate the experience they had trying it the first time only to be disappointed that it didn’t seem as good.  This happens often and it is as much about who you’re enjoying the wine with, and where as it is about the quality of the wine itself. 

Price paid is another major factor in the perceived value of the wine.  Say you buy a wine from the grocery store.  You paid $25.  It’s a special occasion and you wanted something nice so you decide to splurge on a “Luxury” wine.  You get it home, prepare dinner, open the wine with absolute enthusiasm and take a taste.  Somehow the wine doesn’t live up to what you thought you’d get for $25 and you’re disappointed.  Now what if you had bought the same quality wine for $15 but you think it was as good as any $20 bottle you’ve had.  Now you’re excited with your purchase and think you’ve gotten a deal.  The quality didn’t change, just the price, but your entire experience just shifted from one of disappointment to one of complete satisfaction.  That satisfied feeling is, for all intents and purposes, why you wanted to know the answer to the question “Which wines offer the best value for the money” in the first place.  

Now that being said it should be clear that I want you to determine for yourself what you value most in a wine.  This will come from boundless and unbridled experimentation with different regions, price points, styles, and varieties.  In a way, it is the reason I design my tasting notes around wine’s personalities which makes it easier to explore new things if you understand that it will be similar to something you already know you like.  However I will give you a few suggestions to start your search off in the right direction…

For sparkling wines Champagne has been the king however there are brands of bubbly from the new and old worlds that are really doing great things.  New Zealand’s Cloudy Bay makes a fantastic sparkling wine that rivals the quality of vintage Champagne for a fraction of the price.  I highly recommend it if you like Light and Bubbly. 

 

For dry white wines, there are few regions in the world that compare with the quality of Burgundian Chardonnay however if you want a really nice Chardonnay from Burgundy look to the north in Chablis (Stone and Chalk).  For some reason this little area of the world isn’t in as high demand as their neighbors to the south and for me this is a great opportunity.  The good ones are expensive still by everyday drinking standards but you can get a really nice Grand Cru Chablis for around $35 as opposed to the dollars you’d spend for a similar quality white Burgundy.  It’s also a refreshingly light style that is generally unoaked which will age quite well if you want to cellar it for a bit.

For dry red wines it’s hard not to look directly at Argentina for the best values.  Their ideal climate and inexpensive labor costs are a recipe for great wines at even better values.  As people discover this, the wine imports from Argentina in to the US have risen dramatically over the past 5 years but they are still offering good quality overall.  Not all of it is stellar but it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re going to get a better wine than what you paid for.  Predominant reds are Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon (Power Punches).  Another little known value from Argentina on the white side is Torrontes (Zesty and Fruity).  If you like Muscato or Gewurztraminers then you’ll probably like Torrontes as it’s an extremely aromatic and floral variety.

Now go forth!  Try new things.  It’s ok to be disappointed once in a while because the benefits of learning what you value in a wine far outweigh the short term sighs of finding out you’ve bought a wine you don’t value.  A great way to start is by finding local wine shops that offer tastings of their wares.  That way you can “test drive” the wine before you buy and everyone goes home happy.  Remember, only you can decide how to get the best bang for your buck with wine!