Thursday, April 25, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Pinotage

Join us this week as we take a look at a controversial grape popular in South Africa: Pinotage.

Pinotage has certainly had a bit of a checkered past. Created from a cross-breeding of Pinot Noir and Cinsualt (also known as 'Hermitage', thus the name 'Pinotage' for the new grape), the grape has gained some notoriety as winemaking and wine-drinking trends have changed over the years. Pinotage is primarily planted in South Africa, form where it originates. In fact, for better or worse, Pinotage remains synonymous with South African wine for most people. Massively popular in South African wine-making from the 1960s to the 1990s, Pinotage popularity took a hit when South African winemakers began to experiment with global varieties (such as Shiraz and Merlot) after the end of apartheid. The tendency for Pinotage wines to develop a pungent sweet aroma and distinctly 'un-European' wines also didn't help its reputation as the general public began to turn away from mass-produced 'New World' wines in the 2000s.

Pinotage vines tend to be relatively easy to cultivate. Having inherited some of the characteristics of Cinsault, they are resistant to disease, and yield small grapes and large leaves. The grape ripens early and has high sugar levels, which makes for strong tannins. The tannins are often softened by long periods of fermentation under cool temperatures.Separating the skin from the grape early on in the fermentation period can also help reduce the tannin content, but can also result in the wine losing its flavours and aromas.

Pinotage wines tend to be rustic in character and have earthy and smoky notes in both taste and smell. This makes them good pairings for red meats, such as game, steak, burgers, or barbecue ribs. Pinotage is often blended with other grapes, suchas Shiraz, Merlot, or Cabernet Sauvignon) to make a variety of different styles of wine, from intense reds to easy-drinking rosés and almost everything in between. There are over a dozen different single-varietal (ie 100%) Pinotage wines available at the LCBO now, as well as dozens more that contain Pinotage as part of a blend, so pick up a bottle today!

The Short Version
Name: Pinotage
Flavour Profile: Smoky, Earthy, with notes of berries.
Best-Known Regions: South Africa, with some plantings in New Zealand, California, and Virginia
Price Range: $20-$40
Food Pairings: Steak, game, burgers, BBQ ribs

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Koshu

Apologies for the late post this week folks. To make it up to you, this week we'll be looking at a highly unusual grape from a highly unusual region: Koshu.

Source: Wikipedia
We reported last week that the Japan Times ran an article about a new wine (not sake) being produced in Japan from Koshu, a grape grown on the foothills of Mount Fuji. Once used to make unappealingly sweet wines, modern-day Koshu wines have a nice level of acidity, a pleasant fruity bouquet with a hint of smokiness, and a touch of astringency that makes them perfect for pairing with sushi, sashimi, and other Japanese cuisine. Perhaps most alluring, however, is the colour of the grapes: a beautiful light-pink hue, unlike anything seen elsewhere in the wine-making world.

Koshu is well-suited to Japan's wet climate. When other grapevines begin to rot due to continued rain and high humidity, Koshu's thick skin allows it to remain healthy. It ripens late and harvests are typically in late October or early November (compared to August or September in most European vineyards). Despite this, it typically has a low alcohol content and is meant to be consumed young, much like vinho verde. Some wineries are experimenting with oak aging to add body and fullness to the wine, although most Koshu wine is stored only in stainless steel tanks prior to bottling. Koshu received a slight boost in popularity when Robert Parker tasted the wine in Japan in 2004, giving it a 88/100 rating. However, it remains a largely unknown grape to most wine producers and drinkers. So if you're looking for a gift for a wine lover who has seemingly tried it all, perhaps it's time to seek out a bottle of Koshu!

The Short Version:
Names: Koshu
Flavour Profile: Light, fruity, clean, with a touch of smokiness/astringency.
Best-Known Regions: Japan (Yamanashi Prefecture)
Price Range: $20-50
Food Pairings: Sushi, sashimi, other Japanese cuisine

Friday, April 12, 2013

Weekly Wine Happenings for April 12, 2013

Some interesting news in the world of wine this week. Perhaps most interesting (and most alarming) for Ontario wine drinkers is a National Post article stating that LCBO workers have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action if an agreement cannot be reached between the union and retail giant. As the article points out, no strike action is yet confirmed, but it is possible that the LCBO will shut down if an agreement is not reached soon.

In less pressing news, the Globe and Mail printed a piece on Faugères, a lesser-known appellation in the Languedoc-Rousillion region of France, which produces some great, largely unkown wines. The author labelled Faugères as 'wine for hipsters', which is true if Bordeaux and Burgundy are your benchmarks, but if you want something really obscure, we suggest taking a look at Koshu, a Japanese wine that really is quite unique.

The Telegraph also ran an interesting story on the evolution Rosé wines, tracing the shift from rosé as 'swimming pool wine' to something that is taken seriously by wine writers and everyday drinkers alike.

Finally, the New York Times printed an article on retirement of Jacques Lardière, the former head of Burgundy giant Louis Jadot. The article offered an interesting look at Mr. Lardière's time with Louis Jadot and his legacy.

That's it for us this week. We hope you have a fantastic weekend with good wine and even better company!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Get to Know A Grape: Shiraz (Syrah)

This week, we're looking at one of the world's most popular red varietals, Shiraz.

Ah, Shiraz, the red grape that seems to be planted just about everywhere. From the smoky red of Australia, to the fruit-forward Shirazes of Califronia, to the intensely earthy and structured Syrah/Grenache blends of the Cotes du Rhone in France, there seem to be few wineries who don't produce at least some form of Shiraz. As a grape, Shiraz is relatively easy to work with -- it ripens early, is resistant to mildew and rot, and can be used to produce a variety of wines. As a wine, Shiraz tends to have high tannin content and intense flavours and aromas, particularly of blackberries and dark chocolate. Many Shiraz wines from California have 'jammy' notes and are intensely fruity. Conversely, in the Cotes du Rhone, it is usually blended with Grenache and Mourvedre to make 'GSM' wine. Shiraz also has a lengthy history 'down under', serving as one of Australia's oldest and most popular grape varietals. Australian Shirazes tend to be medium-bodied with hints of both fruit and pepper and a nice touch of tannin. They can also be intensely smoky or, like Californian reds, 'jammy'. Conversely, 'GSM' wines from the Cotes du Rhone in France tend to be full-bodied with rich but smooth tannins. In terms of food pairings, Shiraz tends to pair well with red meats, pastas with tomato sauce (such as pasta arrabiata), and chili con carne. Shirazes from Australia or California also pair well with some spicier dishes, such as chicken vindaloo, lamb madras, Thai beef curry, or spicy chutney.

The Short Version
Names: Shiraz, Syrah,  Antourenein Noir, Candive, Marsanne Noir.
Flavour Profile (New World):  Jammy, Fruity, with notes of pepper
Flavour Profile (Old World): Earthy, full-bodied, with rich, smooth tannins.
Best-Known Regions: France (Cotes du Rhone), Australia, California 
Price Range: $15-$50
Food Pairings (New World): Thai curry with beef, pizza, chicken vindaloo
Food Pairings (Old World): Steak, red meats, game, pasta with tomato sauce

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Get to Know a Grape: Touriga Nacional

Given the recent weather, it seems my confidence in spring, patio parties and rosé may have been slightly premature. Still, we soldier on and hope for better weather to come! This week,  we'll be looking at a popular Portuguese red grape, Touriga Nacional.

Touriga Nacional is extensively used in port wines, with it's acidity and strong tannins acting as a 'backbone' of sorts to ground the sweetness and intensity of port. In addition to port, however, the grape is also used throughout Portugal to make still, dry red wines. It is particularly popular in the Duoro and Dao regions -- two of Portugal's hotbeds (in both a literal and figurative sense) of wine production. Touriga Nacional vines yield small clusters of grapes (or 'berries') with thick skin. Although small berries means lower yields, the grape is able to survive the searing summer heat of Portugal's Duoro region. When vinified on its own, it produces wine with intense aromas of berries, violets and floral notes, as well as strong tannins. It can also be blended with other grapes, such as Touriga Franca (aka Touriga Francesca) in order to add finesse to the wine and making it slightly lighter. It is also sometimes blended with  Tempranillo (which is usually called 'Tinta Roriz' in Portugal).

In addition to Portugal, Touriga Nacional is also grown in Australia (where it is usually just called 'Touriga') as well as parts of Chile and Argentina. No matter what region, the grape tends to produce wines that are powerful, intensely purfumed and have strong tannins. This makes them perfect for pairing with steaks and other robust meats, as well as heavy cheeses, such as double- (or even triple-)cream brie and camambert. It's also a great barbecue red, pairing well with sausages and grilled veggies. In short, it's a relatively little-known powerhouse grape that is sure to please with a good meal!

The Short Version
Names: Touriga Nacional, Touriga, Mortágua, Tourigo Antigo.
Flavour Profile: Intense floral and berry notes with strong tannins. 
Best-Known Regions: Portugal (Dao and Duoro in particular), Australia.
Price Range: $12-$50
Food Pairings: Steak, red meats, soft cheese, grilled vegetables