Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Grenache

This week, we'll be looking at a hot-climate grape that is also responsible for a large portion of Rosé wines: Grenache

As it feels that spring may have finally sprung, we thought it a perfect time to talk about rosé wines, which brings us to Grenache, a hot-climate grape that plays a major role in many of the world's rosé (or blush, if you prefer) wines. In particular, a great number of Spanish and French rosé wines have at least some Grenache in them, often blended with other grapes such as Cinsault, Shiraz, or Mourvedre. When used in rosé wines, Grenache adds fruity aromas and body to the wine, while red wines made with Grenache tend to be full-bodied and have powerful, earthy aromas.

Grenache grapes tend to ripen late in the year, which means that a hot, dry climate is necessary, lest early frost ruin the ripening process. This has made it a popular grape in Spain, where it is known as Granacha and is the third most-planted varietal after Tempranillo and Bobal. It is often seen as a 'workhorse' grape varietal, able to be blended or vinified on its own and useful for both red and rosé wines. In France, Grenache is particularly popular in the Cotes du Rhone region, where it is often blended with Syrah (Shiraz) and Mourvedre, creating the famous 'GSM' blend. It is also one of only four grapes allowed in the southern Tavel AOC, which produces a large number of the France's rosé wines. It is also popular in the prestigious Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation, where it is often blended with other grapes to make red wines, as well as in the hot climates of Languedoc and Roussillion, where it is used for both red and rosé blends.

As it is used in both red and rosé wines, food pairings for Grenache tend to vary wildly depending on how it has been vinified. If you're drinking a rosé made from Grenache, 
try it with some spicier dishes, such as stir fry, chilli chicken chow mein or spicy chutney. Grenache rosés also make or great wines to sip on the deck when the weather gets a little bit warmer. For Grenache reds, such as 'GSM' blends, red meats make for great companions to Grenache's full body and powerful aromas. Barbecue steaks, ribs, and lamb make for good accompaniments to this great wine! So, as you start to think about pulling out the barbecue and having a nice day in the sun, don't forget to bring a bottle of Grenache along -- it'll make the first barbecue of the season just that little bit better!

The Short Version

Names: Grenache, Garnacha, Aleante.
Flavour Profile (Rosé): Fruity nose, but dry, structured, and nicely bodied.  
Flavour Profile (Red): Earthy notes with hints of berries and herbs. Full-bodied and powerful wines.
Best-Known Regions: France (Cotes du Rhone), Spain, Australia
Price Range: $10-$50
Food Pairings (Rosé): Stir fry, spicy chilli chow mein, spicy chutney, or just serve chilled on its own. 
Food Pairings (Red): Barbecued ribs or steak, lamb, other red meats.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Pinot Meunier

This week in our Get to Know a Grape feature, we'll be looking at a lesser-known red grape varietal: Pinot Meunier.

There can be little doubt that Pinot Meunier is the poorer cousin of Pinot Noir. In fact, if grapes were to receive label royalties, Pinot Noir would probably be living in a Beverley Hills mansion, while Pinot Meunier would have to be content with a one-bedroom apartment in the outskirts of the city. Pinot Meunier accounts for about a third of the grapes planted in France's Champagne region, but it is afforded only minor billing on most Champagne labels (in fact, many Champagne houses don't mention Pinot Meunier at all!). Despite this, it plays a vital role in Champagne making, giving Champagnes body and richness and turning the pricey sparklers from party fizzlers into memorable wines that can stand on their own. It also contributes fruity aromas and flavours to wines, fleshing out the bouquets created by Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Outside of Champagne, Pinot Meunier is used to produce still red wines in Germany (where it goes under the names of Schwarzriesling ('Black Riesling'), Müllerrebe, or Müller-Traube. These wines can be light (in both flavour and colour) and fruity or rich, dark, and full. It has also recently been used to produce light and fruity white wines as well as making for a unique, pinkish and slightly smoky wine in Germany's southwestern Württemberg region -- quite a diverse grape, to say the least! Pinot Meunier is also used in California to make sparkling wines and Australia to make still red wines.

Pinot Meunier is also more apt to survive frosts than Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, making it a safer bet for Champagne winemakers. However, Champagnes made from a large proportion of Pinot Meunier are usually not very suitable for long aging, so best to drink them quickly! An exception to this is Krug Champagne, who use a large percentage of Pinot Meunier in even their highest-end and longest-aging wines.

So, the next time you're having a glass of Champagne, remember Pinot Meunier. It's likely responsible for making your glass -- and your evening -- that much more memorable! 

The Short Version:
Names: Pinot Meunier, Schwarzriesling, Müllerrebe and Müller-Traube
Flavour Profile (Sparkling): Rich, buttery, smoky flavours
Flavour Profile (Still): Light, fruity, although can also be made more intense. 
Best-Known Regions: Champagne, Germany, California, Australia
Price Range: $40+
Food Pairings (Sparkling): Strawberries (obviously), sushi, thai food
Food Pairings (Still): Pork, lamb, cold cuts

Friday, March 15, 2013

Weekly Wine Happenings for March 15, 2013

It's been a fairly slow news week for wine, although there have been some interesting stories as well. Keep up with the latest wine news with our weekly wine happenings roundup!

Some rather scandalous news to round off the week today, as the Drink Business reported that 2 men had been jailed over counts of wine-related fraud totalling £5 million.

In winery expansion news, Donald Trigg (former chief of Vincor) has launched a new winery in BC's Okanagan Valley.

Similarly, the Jackson Family (owners of Kendall-Jackson and numerous other Californian and Australian brands) are evidently close to closing a deal on some new wineries in Oregon, according to Wine Spectator.

Speaking of Australia, Decanter reports that a winery in Western Australia's Margaret River region have created Western Australia's first ice wine. It'll be interesting to see if the unique climate will make for a different wine than icewines from Niagara or Germany.

Moving to sunny Spain, Spanish winemaker Raventos I Blanc has unveiled a framework for a new Cava appellation with a goal of creating higher-quality Cava wines. We're always excited about the prospect of higher-quality wines, although the new appellation is still very much a work in progress.

The Telegraph reported that French wine consumption has hit a record low. Perhaps the iconic image of a French family sitting to dinner with a bottle of wine is changing? I suppose that leaves more for us, though!

Finally, in Vintages releases, the Domaine de Papolle Gros Manseng 2011 is being released this Saturday. It has received fantastic reviews from a variety of wine writers, and David Lawrason has made it one of his top Vintages picks this week!

We hope you have a fantastic week-end and visit us again next week for our roundup of the hottest wine news around the world!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Nebbiolo

In this week's 'Get to Know a Grape', we'll be looking at a nebulous Italian grape: Nebbiolo.

There's always something about cold winter evenings that make me crave a good Nebbiolo. This Piedmontese grape is really something special, and one of my personal favourites. Why? Well, for starters, there's the elegance of the wine it produces. A bit like Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo usually produces medium-bodied wines with notes of ripe fruits and a good amount of acidity and tannin. This makes them perfect for drinking on their own, or for pairing with a variety of foods. But pairing flexibility is not why I love Nebbiolo. Nor is it the beautiful Piedmontese hills -- an absolute winemaker's dream of sun, moisture, warm weather and elevation. No, the real reason I love Nebbiolo is for its ability to produce wonderfully smooth yet also amazingly complex wines. For me, Piedmontese Nebbiolos are much more approachable than Burgundian Pinot Noirs, yet they pack all of the elegance, structure and complexity of Pinot Noir -- all without requiring several years in the cellar. Getting a good Nebbiolo means being able to drink something tonight that is interesting as well as thoroughly enjoyable.

I suppose I'm getting a bit ahead of myself here. Let's go back to the basics for a moment. Nebbiolo is a red grape, primarily grown in the Northern Italian region of Piedmont, a region famous for its hills (see photo above), truffles, and wines. Together with Barbera, Nebbiolo is a landmark Piedmontese grape and is used in the prestigious appelations of Barolo and Barbaresco. Nebbiolo wines from these regions, such as those made by the super-prestigious Azienda Agricola Di Angelo Gaja, can easily go for several hundred dollars per bottle, but you don't need to shell out nearly as much to get an enjoyable wine. Indeed, many great Nebbiolos are available at the $15 to $50 range, and even the lower end of that range can offer some great wines.

In addition to Piedmont, Nebbiolo is grown in Lombardy (also in Italy), California, Washington State, and even parts of Australia. Nebbiolo grapes can be planted in cooler climates, but require a significant amount of warmth to develop the necessary sugar and fruit flavour that makes great wine. This 'Goldilocks-zone' requirement has led to several unsuccessful experiments with Nebbiolo. For instance, many Australian wineries found that the climate was too warm for good Nebbiolo, while those in other parts of Italy found the weather too cold to get Nebbiolo wines with fully-developed aromas. In short, if you want a classic Nebbiolo, it's best to stick to Piedmont.

Nebbiolo grapes can also be blended with other grapes, such as Barbera or Croatina, adding darker colours and more intense flavours to the wine.
As far as food pairings go, Nebbiolo wines are best paired with Italian dishes, such as gnocchi, Canneloni with tomato sauce, or pizza. Red meats, such as filet mignon, rabbit, or wild game are also good matches if you're up for some finer cuisine. Most good Nebbiolos are great sipping wines, as well, perfect for having with friends or family on a cold winter evening.

The Short Version:

Names: Nebbiolo, Brunenta, Spagna, Nebbiolin
Flavour Profile: Medium-bodied, elegant, and silky smooth
Best-Known Regions: Piedmont (Italy), California
Price Range: $15-$50, going into the hundreds for wines from prestigious producers in Barolo or Barbaresco.
Food Pairings: Pasta with tomato sauce, gnocchi, pizza, filet mignon. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Sauvignon Blanc

We've moved our regular Get to Know a Grape feature to Wednesdays this week to take a look at a dominant white grape: Sauvignon Blanc.

Together with Chardonnay and Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc is one of the best-known and most popular white wine grape varieties. Planted everywhere from Australia to France to California, this is a truly global grape. So what makes Sauvignon Blanc so appealing? For starters, its a very diverse and (like Chardonnay) "malleable" grape. This means that wine made from Sauvignon Blanc will taste different depending on the climate, soil type and vinification methods. For instance, Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire Valley and New Zealand tend to be crisp, acidic and refreshing. Conversely, those from California and British Columbia often have intense notes of tropical fruits, such as mango and passionfruit, and a more buttery taste.
For the winemaker, this means the chance to make a unique wine from a common grape. For the customer, it means that knowledge of region becomes that much more important, as you'll get a very different wine from a Californian Sauvignon Blanc than in a French one! Even within a region, Sauvignon Blanc wines can vary significantly. For example, wines from Pouilly Fumé in the Loire Valley region of France tend to be very dry and crisp, while those from Touraine (also in the Loire Valley region) tend to be fruitier and more floral.

Sauvignon blanc grapes tend to do well in sunny climates that have moderate heat. The recent rise in global temperatures has caused some issues for Sauvignon blanc producers in many warmer regions, such as Spain and Australia, as they must harvest the grapes earlier in order to avoid over-riping. Like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc is often aged in oak barrels before being bottled, especially in California. The oak aging softens the acidity of the wine, making it mellower while also adding a more buttery texture. Sauvignon blanc is also frequently used in dessert wines, such as those made in Sauternes or Barsac in France, making for deliciously sweet wines that pair well with cheesecakes and creamy dessert dishes.

Because of the effect of regional varieties, it is difficult to create a single list of food pairing suggestion for Sauvignon blanc. For light, crisp Sauvignon blanc, such as those from Sancerre or Pouilly Fume in France, light fare, such as salads, are a good, safe bet. Risotto and shellfish tend to pair well with New Zealand Sauvignon blancs and chicken and veal tend to go well with heavier, oaked Sauvignon blancs, such as those from California.

The regional variations of this popular grape can certainly be intimidating. but at the end of the day, no matter where the Sauvignon blanc is from or what style its made in, the most important thing is whether or not you like it! So if there's a flavour profile or food matching that you have in mind, ask around at wine stores, suppliers, or agencies (like ourselves) to see what sort of sauvignon blanc they can recommend to suit your preferences.

The Short Version:

Names: Sauvignon Blanc, Blanc Fume, Picabon, Savagnin
Flavour Profile (Oaked): Exotic fruits, peaches, and kiwi flavours.
Flavour Profile (Unoaked): Mineral, flint, thyme, and bell pepper notes and flavours. 
Best-Known Regions: Sancerre (France), Pouilly Fume (France), California, New Zealand, Margaret River (Australia),
Price Range: $10-$50
Food Pairings (Oaked): Chicken, veal, vegetables with buttery sauce
Food Pairings (Minerally/Crisp, Unoaked): Risotto, salad, grilled fish.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Weekly Wine Happenings for March 1, 2013

Staring March 1, we'll be doing a weekly round-up of the hottest wine news both online and in-print. See what the hottest wine-related stories are, with a bit of commentary from yours truly.

There has been quite a lot of exciting wine news and general buzz this week! From wine scams to the launching of the Nelson Mandela family winery,  it's certainly been a busy week for wine.

The Winnipeg Free Press reports that US wine exports were up in 2012, with strong showings in both the Canadian and Export markets. California still dominates US wine exports, but does this growth mean that we'll be seeing more wine from other regions, such as Oregon and Washington State in the LCBO?

Speaking of the LCBO, the Globe and Mail ran an interesting article about the still-murky prospect of importing wines from other provinces. While it seems theoretically possible to purchase wine from other provinces for personal consumption, it seems unclear as to which merchants would be willing to ship to other provinces. Could Ontarians start buying wine from the SAQ, for instance?

Moving away from the Canadian side of things, the Drinks Business reported that a Chinese winemaker is going to be exhibiting their wine at the London International Wine Fair this year. This is the first time that a Chinese winemaker will be presenting wine at LIWF and perhaps marks the beginning of exported Chinese wines?

Reuters also ran a story about the UK government selling off some of its wine cellar in an attempt to make the government's cellars self-sustainable. It certainly seems a necessary measure in tough economic times, but will it be enough to actually make the cellar economically self-sufficient?

Decanter published an article about con men pretending to be representatives of UK merchants Berry Bros. and Rudd in order to scam wineries out of 1.5 million pounds worth of wine. Certainly a poignant warning for wineries to be careful in who they do business with.

Also in the news, a post from the Wall Street Journal blog pages about the launch of the Nelson Mandela family winery. It'll be interesting to see what Mandela's name can do for the reputation of South African wine.

Finally, there's a new Vintages release this Saturday! Lots of interesting Australian and Italian wines, as well as our very own Sobro red 2010 from Herdade do Sobroso in Portugal! You can read a review of the Sobro 2010 as well as other wines in this Vintages release at Michael Pinkus' Grape Guy blog

Get to Know A Grape: Merlot

 In this week's Get to Know a Grape feature, we're taking a look at a dominant, powerful red: Merlot.

There are few red grapes bigger, bolder, and better-known than Merlot. Even Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir can't quite match up to the global reputation that Merlot enjoys as a dominant, fruity red. Merlot is generally medium bodied when vinified on its own, although it can be made into very full-bodied wine, as in Bordeaux, where it is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. When used in blends, Merlot's usually acts to soften the wine and add body to lighter grapes. Alternatively, when bottled on its own, Merlot makes for a fruity, medium-bodied wine with delicious hints of cherry and blackberries.

A little bit like Pinot Noir, Merlot is a thin-skinned grape, which makes it susceptible to early frosts and rot. The thin skin also means that Merlot grapes ripen earlier but also have a propensity to over-ripen very quickly (sometimes in a matter of days). This has led to some debate about the best time to pick Merlot, with some winemakers preferring to harvest their Merlot earlier to maximize acidity and avoid risking over-ripeness and others opting to harvest later in order to get more mature, sugar-rich fruit.

Merlot is perhaps most popular in Bordeaux, where it plays a major part in blended wines. However, it has also become increasingly popular in the cooler regions of Australia, California, Italy, Chile, and Argentina. It has also done well in Washington State, a region once considered too cold for red wines but now acknowledged as a good climate for cool-climate red grapes like Merlot. According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, 260,000 hectares of Merlot were planted globally as of 2004, making it one of the most popular grape varietals in the world.

Merlot wines often spend at least some time in new or old oak barrels. The oak adds additional flavour, structure and tannin, making Merlots great wines to age before opening. However, many Merlots spend only a fairly short amount of time in oak (6 months or less), and these make for an excellent introduction to red wine for new wine drinkers, as it allows them to experience a fruity, powerful grape without being overwhelmed by oak and tannin. When oak-aged, Merlot can be paired with a wide variety of food, including pizza, meatballs, pasta in tomato sauce, ribs, or Chinese food. In short, Merlot really is a perfect wine for both an everyday dinner and that special occasion event.

The Short Version:

Names: Merlot, Medoc Noir, Langon, Saint-Macaire
Flavour Profile (Oaked):  Medium-to-full-bodied, notes of leather, olives, and plums. 
Flavour Profile (Unoaked): Fruity, with notes of cherry, blackberry and cocoa
Best-Known Regions: Bordeaux, California, Australia, Chile, Argentina, Washington
Price Range: $10-$50, although no upper limit
Food Pairings (Oaked): Steak, pasta with tomato sauce, red meats, pizza

Food Pairings (Unoaked): Chicken, pasta with cream sauce,cold cuts.