Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Amazing holiday wines - for anytime!

Holidays are the time to bring out the big guns in terms of wine.

Now that things have settled down, it's time to reflect on the past couple of weeks and think about the wonderful wines that I drank. There were many, many excellent wines but three definitely stood out.

California Dreaming

I had my retirement bash at the end of June and, what a number of my friends and colleagues did was, give me a bottle of wine that was special to them.

Fast forward to just before Christmas - our anniversary. After (mumble mumble) years of wedded bliss, we thought we'd stay in downtown Vancouver (the Four Seasons, no less, but we got a killer deal). We decided to go to the Absinthe Bistro on Commercial Drive for, what turned out to be, a spectacular - and I mean spectacular - French meal.

When I was booking our reservation, I had asked if it was OK to bring our own bottle of wine and what the corkage fee was (corkage means the price charged by the restaurant to serve your wine - to basically to take the cork out and pour it). The cost was $24 so I figured it would have to be a pretty darn good bottle of wine. Then I thought of the special wine my friends Dale and Jodi gave to us.

The wine was a 2014 Emmolo Merlot from Oak Knoll in the Napa Valley ($64). We had the server decant it and could only wait about 20 minutes before we had to have some. It was a superb wine - much better than any other Merlot I've ever had. On the nose there were plenty of black fruits, a fig or raisin scent as well as definite leather and smoke. These were also apparent on the palate with chocolate, liquorice and toast adding to the experience. This medium tannin, medium minus acidity wine was Outstanding - it was balanced, had a long finish, was super intense with its fruit flavours and was definitely a complex wine. 

What did we accompany it with? We had a couple different appetizers and it went fine with those but the real winner was the main course. We ordered cassoulet - which is a wonderful French stew with sausages,. duck, white beans and a bunch of other stuff. Every restaurant has a slightly different version and Absinthe did not disappoint. The fruitiness of the wine combined with the elegant structure was a great complement to the salt and fat of the meats. 

A postscript on this wine - I am not usually such a big fan of Merlot but I liked this one so much that, just before Christmas, I bought another bottle. It currently resides in my cellar.

Happy New Year

My son-in-law, Dan, is a big wine lover - and actually completed his WSET level 3 a couple of years ago. For Christmas, his parents gave him a nice bankroll of money to buy wine. I was lucky enough to come along to the BC Signature Liquor Store and see what he was picking.

That night was New Year's Eve and we spent it with my daughter and Dan. We drank champagne, watched some of the festivities on TV, played Settlers of Catan, drank some more wine, and played a movie version of Cards Against Humanity. At one point, Dan opened up one of the wines he had bought - and it was excellent!

The wine was a 2000 Chateau Clarke Baron Edmond de Rothschild Listrac-Medoc Bordeaux ($70). First of all, after it was opened, I thought to myself - wow - 19 years old! Incredible! And it was another Outstanding wine! This medium plus tannin, medium plus acid wine had mellowed over time and would probably be good to drink for a few more years. This wine had aromas and tastes of black currant, black berry, leather, liquorice, toast, and a host of spices. Although the tannins were still in evidence, I still thought it was a wonderful wine and not too strong. It was balanced, had incredibly intense flavours, was complex and had a nice long finish. 

We probably should have had it with beef bourguignon but ended up having it with a charcuterie board which was still a good match. I sipped and smelled and savoured this wine and it happily took me a lot longer to drink than it would usually. This wine was decanted but we probably should have left it for an hour or so. I may have to pick me up a bottle of this one! The grapes in this wine were Cab Sauv, Merlot, and Cab Franc. 

Local hero

The three kings of the holiday were crowned with a wine made from a grape that my wife and I have always enjoyed - even before I started studying wine in earnest. Syrah is a grape that I love as it makes wines that are so drinkable and have character, in my humble opinion. 


The one we discovered was a 2016 Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Violette ($40) made from mostly Syrah with a little bit of Viognier. This wine, from our own Okanagan, had aromas and tastes of blueberry, blackberry, pepper, raspberry, leather, and, yes, violets. This is a fairly fruity wine with medium tannins and medium acid. I think it has the capacity to age for several years - my problem is that it tastes so wonderful now, I don't want to lay it down! This is another Outstanding wine from Le Vieux Pin as it has everything you would want in a great wine - balance, complexity, length and intensity.

I became aware of this wine when listening to a blog or reading a wine column in the newspaper. It sounded like a good fit so I searched on the BC Liqour Store app - nothing,. Then I went to Everything Wine - nothing. I checked the winery - sold out. Then I thought - well, Save On sells wine - what are the chances? Rather good, it seems, as the Lakeshore Save On in Kelowna had some. As part of our stay over New Years, I picked up a few bottles of this wine. Now, to cellar or not to cellar?

All three of these wines were fantastic. They are certainly priced higher than most wines I drink but their exceptional quality makes them well worth the money.

Have a happy and wine filled new year!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

WSET Celebration Dinner - with a Brilliant Bordeaux!

wine celebration

My WSET 3 exam is done - and now it's time to celebrate!

It's been an exciting 15 weeks - I've learned so much about wine making, grape growing and wine regions, I've tasted a whole variety of exceptional wines and I've met and befriended some wonderful people.

I've also studied harder than I ever have before and I've written a test that is as tricky as they come.

On the weekend, I decided to get a really nice wine to celebrate as well as a tasty meal. Off I went to Everything Wine and I picked up a Bordeaux wine and then went to a reputable butcher to get a couple of New York steaks.

I realize that some people would have a bottle of Champagne to celebrate and others would have a Burgundy or a pricey Napa Cab, but I love Bordeaux blends.

wine map of Bordeaux
Courtesy AllFranceInfo

The Left Bank is famous for its Cabernet Sauvignon driven blends which have grippy tannins and include some Merlot for smoothness and Cabernet Franc for fruitiness. The Right Bank wines are predominantly Merlot with some Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Cabernet Franc added in. In all of Bordeaux, there can be three other grapes added in by law - Petit Verdot, which is only added in during warmer years as it needs a lot of heat to ripen, Malbec, which is not used a lot, and Carmenere, which is rarely used anymore.

In between the Left and Right Banks is an area called Entre Deux Mers - literally, Between Two Seas (although it's actually between two rivers - oh, those French!). The particular wine that I bought was from this area which would make it Merlot driven and a lot cheaper than the Left or Right Banks.

Tasty wine from Bordeaux

The wine was a 2011 Chateau de Reignac Grand Vin Cuvée Special ($50 from Everything Wine). I thought that it was a pretty fair price for a seven year old wine from Bordeaux. I opened it and decanted it for about 40 minutes, leaving the small amount of sediment that I saw behind.

The aroma of this amazing wine was complex with wonderful black fruits like cassis and blackberry with black plum, tobacco, and vanilla as well as some savoury notes of leather. This wine was still developing. On the palate, it was not overly dry with balanced acidity, silky smooth tannins, tastes of leather again as well as the other flavours mentioned for aroma, full body, with a glorious long finish. It could age for a few more years but was definitely great to drink now. I rated this wine as Outstanding.

Wine from Bordeaux

It was even better with the food pairing! A grilled steak with a simple rub and baked potatoes were the perfect complement for this wine as the acid and tannins of the wine did a great job of cutting through the fat and saltiness of the steak. The pre-dinner glass, though, was pretty damned good as well!

I'll be honest - I wasn't sure where in Bordeaux this wine was from and might have passed it up if I'd known it was in the Entre Deux Mers region. Now that I've tried it, though, that region is going to be on my radar for (relatively) reasonably priced Bordeaux wines.

Oh, and I got an email from Fine Vintage today - I only have to wait 12 weeks for my exam results! Twelve weeks!

I think I need a glass of wine....

Thursday, December 13, 2018

WSET 3 Exam - The Day of Reckoning

Celebrating the end of the WSET 3 course and exam

I really do believe that it is all about the journey rather than the destination. But yesterday was a BIG destination.

It was the day of my WSET 3 Exam and I was appropriately stressed out. Our teacher, Lynn, had done an excellent job of making sure that we were taking this completely seriously. The tasting guru from our tasting group, Andrew, had taken his WSET 3 a couple weeks ago and said it was really difficult. I have spent the last three weeks studying pretty hard and lamenting the fact that I don't have an eidetic memory. I was s t r e s s e d!

I arrived in Vancouver super early - I did not want to be late and miss out. I had my final dinner at Pokerrito (which I have done most nights through both courses) and then went to the BCIT building to - well - study some more.

It's amazing to be thrust into this kind of exam stress after so many years. Yes, my WSET 2 did require me to study but I ended up with 96% and felt very confident going into it. This exam was different.

There is so much material, so many grape varietals, so many geographical and environmental and winemaking and vine growing things to know that there is no way that I could remember every bit of information. I was very worried that some of the parts that I didn't study that much (Southern France, Argentina) would have major questions but I had to focus somewhere.

I really think that I haven't studied this hard since I was in university - so... 35 years ago! Hell, most of the people in the photo above are much younger than that! I have written my fair share of tests as a teacher and it was rather humbling to be on the other side.

It's a different kind of test than I would ever give - as a teacher I have been moving towards projects and in class assessments where students can access the information they need but how they present it and process it is what gets assessed. That's because there is so much information out there that it is crazy to get students to memorize scads of information. Students of today need to know how to manage the giant repositories of data that are out there.

However, there are still lots of tests like the WSET where you are required to memorize a lot of facts. And memorize is what I tried to do.

Before the test, members of the class gathered together. We were all anxious about the coming test and sort of resigned ourselves to the fact that it might be extremely hard.

Then, it was time.

The first part was the blind tasting. I'm not sure what the wines were and I wanted to blog about this before I find out. The white wine started off smelling like peaches and stone fruit to me, then become citrus, and then came back to peaches. I always struggle with white wines and if I fail the blind tasting, it will be because of the white.

The red was more in my bailiwick. I could pick out the black fruits in it quite easily and I am confident I nailed most of the components - although it's hard to know if, for example, a wine has medium plus body or medium.

If  I do, in fact, fail the blind tasting, I would take it again.

After that, we had the written.

The first part was 50 multiple choice questions. I whipped through that pretty fast. There were maybe 5 or 6 questions that I wasn't sure on and had to make an educated (not wild) guess but, overall, I was really confident.

The second part was the written test - the most feared part of the evening. I do not intend to rewrite the test if I fail so I put all my effort into this difficult section.

For reasons of not wanting to piss off WSET, I will be very general about the four questions.

The first question was about a famous German wine. I think I did well on that although there were parts where I was reaching for an answer. There were labels to interpret, varietals to describe and winemaking processes to discuss and I certainly didn't get everything but I think I did pretty well.

The second question was about a wine area in the US. Most of the questions I found pretty easy except for one table that you had to fill out that related to its geography and environment.  Still, I did quite well, overall.

I thought I would do really well on the third when I found out it was an area in France. Unfortunately, some of the grapes that they focussed in were ones that I wasn't solid on so I did just OK on this section.

The final section dealt with sparkling and fortified wines. The syllabus on the course does say that they will be examined in the written questions so I am glad that I studied this area. I think this was my best section.

I answered every question to the best of my ability, even if I had to guess or make up what I hoped was the answer. I did not have a question where I couldn't write anything, much to my relief.

It was a pretty fair test, overall, and I think I passed - but three months from now, when I get the results, I will know.

Afterwards,  a bunch of us (the people in the photo) went to the St. Regis Hotel for a drink - a place I probably haven't been in for 35 years as well! We talked about keeping the tasting group going and doing one in January which I think is a brilliant idea.

Back at the pub, the server asked what I wanted. I thought of all the different wines we had tasted and learned about over the past 15 weeks. We had sipped and spat around the world with some wonderful, strange and new wines. I pondered my choices.

So what did I order?

A beer!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Final Thoughts Before the Big WSET3 Exam - Wines from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa - WSET 3.12, 13 and 14

Taking a Beaujolais Nouveau break between studying.

I've been so busy studying the last few weeks that I'm a bit behind. My exam is on Wednesday - two blind tastings, 50 multiple choice, and 4 essay questions.

And, no, I don't think I'm ready.

But we shall see, soon enough!

The last two weeks were a bit of a whirlwind of mock blind tastings, mock questions and looking at a variety of wines. Last week was Port, Sherry and Fortified Muscats while the week before was Sparkling. They were interesting and I did try some good wines but we tended to rush the actual tastings too much to allow for time to practice. I may cover some of those wines down the road but not right now.

This entry, I want to cover the last actual wine class - Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

But first... we tried a simple red for the blind tasting that night - a 2018 Georges Du Boeuf Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau ($20). I have to say that I really did enjoy this slurping wine made from Gamay. It was great to taste the bubble gum, cinnamon, and banana that is characteristic of carbonic fermentation - that's when the fermentation vessel is kept oxygen free and the grapes start to ferment from their insides. They split open and then the whole mess is pressed and continues to ferment until ready. Tannins? Nope! Structure? Nope! Super easy drinking? Yup!

South Africa has some very hot climates but thanks to cooling currents from the ocean and higher altitudes, they also have a lot of wine production. One of the biggest grapes is Chenin Blanc which can be sweet or dry. The one we tried was a 2017 Cape of Good Hope Van Lill and Visser Chenin Blanc ($36). This youthful wine (and that was tricky - I thought it might age) had notes of grass, lemon, vanilla, toast an green apple. It was a dry wine with a long finish and high acid (characteristic of Chenin Blancs) and was rated as Very Good.

The other South African wine we had was their signature grape, Pinotage. Someone, a bunch of years ago, decide that, since it was too hot for Pinot Noir in South Africa, they should cross it with a hardier grape - say, Cinsault (also called Hermitage in South Africa).  They came up with what some call a franken-wine, Pinotage. It's got a bad rap - as many don't have the best taste - however, I have tasted a wonderful one in the Okanagan made my Stoneboat - but that's another story. The one we tried was a 2016 The Grinder Pinotage ($16). I would rather have another bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau, thanks. This did have a lot of aromas - cranberry, cherry, chocolate, coffee, gamey - and on the palate the coffee and blueberry tastes were rather intense. With high alcohol, it had medium acid, intensity, and body with a pretty short finish. I didn't mind it so much during my WSET 2 but now, it was just Acceptable.

A wine down under from a land down under.

Actually, Australia produces scads of wine and most of it is from the South East part. It's a hot country but there are lots of cool breezes to moderate the areas that grow wines that need moderating. Our first wine from Australia was a 2014 Mitchell Clare Valley Riesling. On the nose, it was, "WOW PETROL!" There was also rubber, pear, green apple and wet stone but I had a hard time getting past that petrol smell. On the palate, it was dry like most Australian Rieslings and had apple and spice - probably from lees stirring - as well as high acid, high alcohol, a medium finish, and a pronounced intensity of flavours. That petrol smell is a great indication that this is a developing wine tat could age a long time. It was rated as Very Good.

We had a Very Good Hunter Valley Semillon - which is an interesting wine. It is a rather neutral wine in its youth but develops amazing flavours of toast, nuts and honey. The one we had was a 2011 Tyrrell's Vat 1 ($68). I struggled with the notes on this - but there were notes of grapefruit, peach and brioche as well as some toast and honey. It had medium alcohol and medium plus intensity on the palate as well as high alcohol and a fairly strong finish. This wine could age for 10, 20, even 30 more years!

I do like a tasty Cab Sauv, as you may or may not have noticed from my blog. I love Bordeaux wines and I love Meritage blends from the Okanagan and I love big California Cab Sauvs. Well, add to that ones from Coonawara in Australia which may be hot but, man, they make great wine. We had a 2014 Yalumba "The Menzies" Coonawara Cab Sauv ($99). It was wonderful! On the nose was black currant, black plum, smoke, barnyard, black pepper, menthol and eucalyptus. On the palate, there was also spice and tobacco. This dry wine had strong tannins, high acid, high alcohol, almost full body, a medium plus finish and a pronounced intensity. It could definitely age for awhile and it was rated Outstanding - maybe a good splurge?

Australia has been famous for it's big, bold Shiraz wines - and so we tried a 2015 Glaetzer "The Bishop" Shiraz from the warm Barossa Valley ($51). This had some good aromas including blueberry, vanilla, pepper and black plum as well as an overall jammy taste. I don't mind a little jam but it does take it away from the "Outstanding" category. On the palate there was blueberry and charred wood as well as medium plus tannins and acidity. This wine was fine to age with its long  finish and strong intensity of flavours and was rated as Very Good. 

There are also more restrained Shiraz wines form Australia but we didn't try one  in class. 

Finally, we went to New Zealand. It's not a huge place but they make a heckuva lot of wine. On the cooler South Island is where Marlborough is - and that means, Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand's most famous grape. We tried a 2017 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc ($36).  This wine had lots of green fruit, asparagus, grapefruit, and lemon on the nose with similar tastes on the palate. It had high acid, medium body, medium alcohol, and a pronounced intensity of flavour as well as a longish finish. This was a youthful wine and, like most Sauvignon Blancs, didn't have any ageing potential but was still a Very Good wine. 

Also from Marlborough, we tried a 2017 Villa Maria Pinot Gris ($22) which was OK. I also struggled with this one a bit but there were notes of peach, apricot, lemon, honey and floral aromas. This was an off dry wine and had high acidity, medium alcohol, as well as medium intensity and finish. Not suitable for ageing, this wine was rated as just Good. 

Finally, we had a wine, also from the South Island, but away from the effects of the ocean. From Central Otago we had a 2016 Matua Pinot Noir ($42 - pretty label award). This was a pretty standard Pinot Noir with red cherry, cranberry, and strawberry notes. It was mostly medium although it had a longish finish. Overall this was just a Good wine - and definitely not worth the price. 

Well, that's it for my WSET 3 classes. All that's left is the test. I have been studying hard and have these things to say on the three parts. 

The blind wine tasting: This all depends on my palate - some classes I have been bang on and some I have been right off. I need to focus on the aromas and tastes rather than trying to jump to conclusions and try to figure out the varietal. 

Multiple choice: I think this will be my strongest part. I have gone over the book many times as well as flashcards from me, my son-in-law Dan, and online cards. I have a very good general knowledge of wines of the world. 

Essay questions: This is my big worry. Even doing the few practice ones online, I find that I can't always think of everything that a question asks - and sometimes I draw a blank. I spent time today doing comparative analysis of the same grapes from different countries so I am hoping that will help me study for the last few days. 

I keep remembering what my classmate, Sarah, said during our tasting group and, again during last week's class - at the end of the day, we have learned so much about wine, tasted some fantastic wine, and met some wonderful people. 

But, damn it, I really want to pass!

Wish me luck...

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Come Together ... Right Now. ... Over Wine...

Red wines from our tasting nigh

I'm actually a bit behind in my WSET blog but I had such an enjoyable time this week, I thought I'd blog about a recent evening.

I was invited to a wine tasting evening with some of the people from my WSET class. Here's what comes to mind:

As the big test date looms nearer (less than two weeks), I have become more and more focussed on memorizing facts, practising questions, making charts and maps, and recording myself talking about important information and then playing it back.

Thursday night was a big break from that - and a reality check. Wine is not just about learning and memorizing information - it is about the social aspects of getting together with people, having a few drinks, talking, laughing and enjoying each others' company. Yes, we tasted and talked about the wines and commiserated about our mutual trepidations of the upcoming test but we also talked about each others' work and lives and history - the wine was a part of the evening but it was not the only part of the evening.

To paraphrase one member of the wine group, at the end of the day, we have learned so much about wine, have been exposed to so many wines, have a much improved palette and nose, and have made friends with a bunch of new people.  I want to do well on the test, but I've already had a rewarding experience, regardless of the result.

A great group of wine-experts-in-training.

There were four others in the group; Sarah, who sits beside me during my WSET class and is originally from London, Greg and Marilyn, also in my class, who are part of the family that owns Deep Roots Winery in Naramata, and Andrew, a very knowledgable wine-o-phile who was able to procure our wines for the evening. I really enjoyed spending the evening with these people and also enjoyed sipping and discussing the wines.

The first wine was a bit of a treat. It was a 1994 (yes, I said, 1994!) Moulin Touchais Coteaux du Layon Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley ($57 on Vivino). This was a highly acidic, intensely sweet wine with tastes of honey, candied apricot, orange zest, almonds, and some earthiness like mushrooms, probably from botrytis. This Chenin also had the distinctive aroma of lanolin or wet wool. It was an amazing wine to start with but, because I was driving, I ended up dumping some of it in my spit cup (ugh!). Definitely an Outstanding wine. I really have grown to enjoy sweeter wines like this because they are balanced with the strong acidity - as opposed to stick sweet wines I had when I was younger like Baby Duck or Calona White.

The first wine was a bit of a teaser and we just enjoyed it without doing a serious tasting. Our second wine was the first real taste. I sort of sat back and watched what others did during the first two tastings but spoke up more after that. I actually guessed (in my head, of course) that this wine was a Torrontes but never said anything - so much for showing off. This was a 2015 El Porvenir Laroum Torrontes from Cafayate which is in the Salta region of Chile ($30). This had aromas and tastes of citrus fruits like grapefruit and lemon as well as peach and apple. It also had non-fruit aromas of fresh grass and honeysuckle. This youthful wine was medium in intensity, acid, alcohol, body and length and was rated as a Good wine which was ready to drink but not suitable for ageing. And, to be fair, Andrew did help us narrow down the wine varietal before I made my amazing guess (that I kept to myself).

Next was another wine that I guessed correctly after Andrew's coaching, again, in my head (what a chicken!).  This was a 2017 Granbazan Albarino Etiqueta Ambar from Rias Baixas, Spain ($40). I really got pineapple on this wine as well as stone fruits like peach and apricot. Unfortunately, I got a bit of vanilla on this which means I was fooled as this wine did not have any oak on it. When I taste a white wine, I am always trying to taste if there is vanilla or toast on it which is a product of oak ageing - and I seem to find it far too often! There was a floral aroma as well of orange blossom that some of the other tasters got but that I missed. I struggle with floral aromas and I probably should find some of these flowers in the next 10 days before my test! This light bodied wine had medium plus acidity, medium plus intensity, medium alcohol and a medium plus finish. Seafood would be a wonderful accompaniment to this wine and, although it is not suitable for ageing, it is ready to drink and is Very Good.

Every now and then, there is a wine that is so recognizable that I can place it immediately. The bubble gum, banana, and red liquorice aromas are unmistakably a Beaujolais Nouveau - in this case a fresh 2018 Louis Max ($20). This is a low tannin, medium minus body wine that's not strong in intensity and does not have a long finish but it is FUN to drink! I really like this style of wine, even though it is not exactly loved by some wine experts. It is easy to slurp back and is friendly enough to go with food that is really casual. Andrew completed his WSET test earlier this week and a Beaujolais Nouveau was the red wine for the blind tasting. I would be so happy if that were the case for our test! This wine is definitely ready to drink and should not be aged. It was a Good wine.

The next wine was a tasty one - a 2015 Klinker Brick Old Vines Zinfandel from Lodi, California ($40). I actually guessed this one too, but, wonder of wonders, I actually said something!  This had aromas of black currant, blackberry, blueberry, pepper, tobacco, cedar and jam. I thought there were some tertiary aromas of mushroom but that didn't seem to be the consensus of the group. I looked on Vivino later and some people did think there was some tertiary aromas like leather so I really am not sure if this was developing or not. This full bodied, high alcohol wine had a medium plus intensity of flavours and a medium plus finish and deserved a Very Good rating. Could you age it? I thought you could but who knows?

The last 'official' tasting wine was a 2014 Chateau de Jau Jaujau Cote de Roussillon red wine blend from the Languedoc Roussillon region of France ($48). We didn't know this was a blend which showed up in our differing notes. Some of us tasted black fruits and some red fruits and some both. On the nose, I found red plum, blueberry, and blackberry as well as black currant leaf, and cedar. This wine had medium plus body, a medium plus finish, and a medium intensity of flavours. A Very Good wine, it was a blend of Syrah, Grenach and Mourvedre. It was suitable for ageing - but was a bit pricey.

Greg and Marilyn brought a wonderful wine for our final, informal tasting. It was a 2014 Deep Roots Naramata Syrah (I think Greg said it was around $40 when released but there's none left now!).  I was asked, earlier in the evening, what my favourite wine was - I really do like Bordeaux so I went with that initially - but, having this wine, I was reminded that Syrah is another one of my favourite wines - especially Syrah done right - which this was. There were aromas and tastes of blackberry, blueberry, and black plum as well as smoke, tobacco, and a bit of leather. There was also some pepper on the nose. This wine was lovely - full bodied, strong intensity of flavours, and a wonderful long finish. I would rate this Syrah as Outsanding and could probably age for a few more years.

As we sat around and chatted and sipped from the remnants of wine, I reflected on how enjoyable an evening I had. We made some progress on our tasting and we discussed some of the more frightening aspects of our looming test but, by far, the most important thing was a group of people coming together over a common interest and having a great time doing it.


Thursday, November 22, 2018

Half the World in an Evening? Preposterous! Wines of North and South America - WSET 3.11

This week's map homework - nice map but maybe on blank paper next time?

This week's readings were insane - all of North and South America!

How the heck am I going to remember all of this info?

With just four weeks to go, it's pretty intimidating. Not at all like WSET 2.

In the mega-wine week, we covered bits about Canada, Oregon, New York, and Washington but spent most of our time looking at California, Chile, and Argentina.

Yes, we did leave out lots of areas but I guess those are the main ones.

The first wine we are going to look at, however, came all the way from the Okanagan, Mission Hill. We tried a 2016 Mission Hill Reserve Viognier ($22). This youthful wine had peach, melon and ginger spice aromas. On the palate, it was a really medium wine with medium acidity, body, intensity, and finish but did have high alcohol (just). It was rated as a Good wine and one that was good to drink now but not suitable for ageing.

I've already done a whole blog posting about our trip to the Willamette (rhymes with, "Damn it") Valley in Oregon - if you are interested in that, it is here. We tried one wine from there - a 2015 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir ($48). This wine had aromas of red cherry, red plum, smoke, vanilla, and perfume. On the palate, I also tasted some leather. This wine had medium body, medium minus tannins, medium plus acidity, and a long finish. It was balanced, complex and pretty intense and would garner a Very Good rating.

If you want to try an outstanding wine from the Willamette Valley, try the 2014 Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve that we had on our trip to Oregon. Although it cost close to $100, my wife and I opened a bottle we had squirrelled away from the trip last weekend and it was an intense, wonderful wine. I might have to buy it again, despite the hefty price.

On to California.

Courtesy Wine Folly
California was the most detailed area of the night but also the one I related to the most since I've actually been to Napa. Napa is just one of the wine counties that includes, in the North Coast, Sonoma and Mendocino as well. There are also many AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) which are the smaller wine area inside the region.

Napa County is probably the most highly regarded region with a multitude of different AVAs. The wines here are expensive and prestigious. For example, there's Los Carneros which extends into Sonoma and is famous for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay - both still wine and high end sparkling. Three big AVAs that are famous for Cabernet Sauvignon are Stags Leap, Oakville, and Rutherford, although wines from these areas are super pricey. St. Helena and Calistoga AVAs are home to Cab Sauv, Syrah, and, California's grape, Zinfandel.

Zinfandel is a tricky grape - it ripens unevenly so it has to be hand picked but when it dries a bit and turns into a bit of a raisin, it is concentrated, full bodied, with wonderful red and black fruit as well as liquorice.

Sonoma County is the other big region with AVAs such as Russian River (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), Dry Creek Valley (Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc), Alexander Valley (Cab Sauv), and Sonoma Coast (elegant Chardonnay and Zinfandel). The area of Sonoma County is actually bigger than Napa.

Mendocino County includes Anderson Valley which is very cool and is home to aromatic wines like Riesling and Gewürztraminer while Mendocino AVA has full bodied Cab Sauv, Zinfandel, and Syrah.

The Central Coast hosts the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA (elegant Cab Sauv), cool Monterey (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), Pablo Robes AVA (Cab Sauv, Merlot, and Syrah), and Santa Maria Valley (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay - concentrated fruit and high acidity).

The last area we checked out was the Central Valley. This is a mostly flat area that is hot and dry and is a lake of cheap jug wine. However, the Lodi AVA has cooling breezes from San Francisco Bay and has some of the oldest and best Zinfandel vines in California. I would LOVE to try a Zin from Lodi!

So, let's look at the Zinfandel we did try! It was a 2015 Ridge Dry Creek Zinfandel ($74). This wine burst with aromas of black plum, cassis, raspberry, violet, vanilla, and liquorice. On the palate, there was also tobacco and plum - both red and black. It was a high alcohol wine with a long finish and pronounced flavours as well as medium body and tannins. Due to its lower tannins, it was not considered suitable for ageing but it would definitely be a wine to drink now! Although our instructor rated it as Very Good, I would have to go with Outstanding.

We also tried a 2013 Darioush "Caravan" Cab Sauv from Napa Valley ($89) and it was spectacular. It had aromas of black plum, cedar, forest floor, earth, black pepper, black currant, and coffee. On the palate, this developing wine had addition tastes of tobacco and mushroom. It was a high alcohol, high acidity, medium plus tannin wine with a pronounced intensity of flavours and a long finish - a classic Napa Cab! We rated this wine as Outstanding.

Before we leave North America, we did try a wine from Washington State - if you are interested in that blog entry, it is here. I would definitely revisit that area, as I would with Oregon. The wine we tried in class was a 2013 K.Vintners Syrah from the Columbia Valley ($67). This was another really enjoyable wine with black plum. black currant, white pepper, cedar and leather on the nose. This developing wine had cedar, blackberry and cooked fruits on the palate and was a high tannin, high alcohol, medium plus body, medium plus intensity, high acid wine. It was a bit astringent with the high acid as it could have been a little more plush or ripe. This was rated as a Very Good wine with ageing potential.

For such a skinny country, Chile has a fair number of wine regions to know. First, though, the grapes that are grown there. Cab Sauv and Merlot are big grapes in Chile as well as their signature grape, Carmenere. An interesting thing about Carmenre is that it is originally a French grape that fell out of favour after Phyloxera hit. Meanwhile, in Chile, thanks to being surrounded by ocean, mountains, desert, and ice fields, Phyloxera never came there. Wine growers in Chile thought they were growing a lot of Merlot but realized that it tasted different than other Merlots. That's because it was Carmenere!

White grapes of Chile are mainly Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

The regions of Chile are hard to remember so I will just review the four big areas - Coquimbo (Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Chardonnay), Aconcagua (Carmenere, Syrah, Cab Sauv and some Sauvignon Blanc), Central Valley (Cab Suav, Syrah, Carmenere) and Curico and Maule Valleys (Carignan). The smaller areas to watch for when you buy wines from Chile are Casablanca, San Antonio, Leyda Valley, Maipo, Cachapoal Valley, and Colchagua Valley.

We tried just one wine from Chile. It was a Carmenere and, if you want to revisit the Carmenere in a blog post that I thought was amazing, the link is here. This one was a 2016 Calina Carmenere from the Central Valley ($24). It definitely tasted of red fruit such as cherry, plum and cranberry as well as red liquorice. It had a certain herbaceousness about it that detracted from the overall flavour. It hit all the medium spots in acid, tannins, body, etc. and was just rated as a Good wine.

There is so much to learn about Argentina but I will just hit the things that relate to the wines I tried. First, the white grape that Argentina is famous for is the Torrontes grape. It is an intensely fruit and floral grape and is definitely and aromatic grape. It is found in a number of areas including Mendoza, San Juan, La Rioja and Salta.

We tried an 2015 El Porvenir Torrontes from La Cafayate in Salta ($22). I had a difficult time deciphering the aromas of this one so I will go with the group's descriptors. On the nose were honeysuckle, melon, elderflower and orange blossom aromas in a pronounced intensity. On the palate it was dry with medium plus acidity, medium body, finish and alcohol. This 'drink now' wine was rated as Very Good.

The black grape from Argentina that is their flagship grape is Malbec. This deep purple, oaked grape is grown in Argentina more than anywhere else in the world. If the flavours are extracted gently, it can be a very elegant wine with floral aromas and spice. It can also be blended with Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc, and Petit Verdot. I have had lots of Malbecs before form Argentina and have not been overly impressed by them.

The last wine we tried, however, did impress me. It was a 2014 Bramare Malbec from the Lujan de Cujo in Mendoza ($67). Name a black fruit and it was there. I loved this wine. Black plum, blueberry,  black currant - and more. It was definitely oaked with lovely cedar and tobacco but it also had that ageing flavour of barnyard, mushrooms, and earth. It was our last wine of the night so I just leaned back and sipped the contents of my tasting glass - no spitting with this one! This full bodied wine had intense  aromas on the nose and pronounced flavours on the palate. This wine was balanced, had length and was complex, deserving an Outstanding rating.

Now, back to my studying!

Friday, November 9, 2018

How do you say. "Oh, crap!" in Spanish. WSET 3.10 - Spanish and Portuguese Wines

Courtesy Art of the Table
Things started off pretty well....

I sat down at this week's class and Lynn, the instructor, handed back my blind tasting note - which I nailed - and the mini quiz - which I mostly nailed.

I was feeling pretty damned confident!

Then we did the first tasting.

It was two whites, one from Spain and one from Portugal. After Lynn described some of the characteristics of each one, I smugly came to the conclusion that the first wine was an Albarino and the second was a Vinho Verde.


Oh, crap.

The first wine was actually 2017 Aveleda Vinho Verde from Portugal ($15). It had a fairly complex flavour profile with pear, lime, orange blossom, melon, wet stone and a floral component on both the nose and palate.  This low alcohol, high acid wine had a little bit of spritz which was hard to detect initially since it was a bit of a surprise. This was a blend of mostly Loureiro and Alvarinho grapes.  A 'drink now' wine, this was rated as Good and would go well with cooked or fried white fish.

The second wine (that I thought was not as good) was actually a great Albarino from Spain - it was a 2017 Terras Gauda Albarino from Rias Baixas ($40). This had aromas of peach, apricot and pear and also a savoury or cheesy aroma - maybe even cream cheese. It had extended lees stirring which gives it that cheesy smell. There was similar fruit and savouriness on the palate along with grapefruit. This was a high acid, medium alcohol wine with a medium plus finish (not short, like I thought!). It was balanced and complex so would be rated as Very Good and could be aged for a bit.

Spain is a country with a big wine growing area but most of the vines are spread out so they get enough water. It just can't compete with Italy or France in the amount of grapes grown. There are a variety of climates in Spain with the main difficulties being either too much rain (on the coast) or not enough rain.

The big grape here is Tempranillo. This thick skinned, medium acidity grape is popular on its own or with other grapes. It's grown in Rioja, the Ribera del Duero, Navarra, Toro, and La Mancha.

Another big grape is Garnacha (Grenache). This high alcohol grapes is one that loves the heat and ripens late. It is usually blended with other grapes such as in Rioja, and Navarra. It is also grown in Carinena, Calatayud, Priorat, and Ribera del Duero.

Monastrell (also known as Mourvedre) is a great grape for the heat as it has quite a thick skin and ripens late. It is grown in the Levante area which includes Valencia, Jumilla, and Yecla.

There's also other black grapes such as Graciano (blending grape),  Mencia (a fresh fruit grape grown in Bierzo), and Carignan also known as Carinena and also known as Mazuelo.

Albarino is a popular white grape that is a thick skinned, high acid grape with stone fruit and citrus fruit. It is found is the northwest region of Spain.

Verdejo is the other bigger grape that is used a lot in sherry. It has melon and peach flavours, similar to Sauvignon Blanc, which it also happens to be blended with fairly frequently.

Our next two wines were, in fact, both Tempranillo wines from Spain. I would have been happy to drink both of these wines all night long.

The first was a 2008 La Rioja Alta Reserva Tempranillo ($75). This medium garnet wine was the more delicate of the two with tastes and aromas of red cherry, plum, strawberry, fig, toast, pepper, cedar, mushroom and leather. The finish was long, the intensity was high, and the wine was balanced and complex. An Outstanding wine that could easily age a few more years.

Not only was the first one great, the second was, in my opinion, even better! It was a 2011 Pintia Tempranillo ($104) from the Toro region of Spain. This wine was high in tannins and had flavours and aromas of smoke, black plum, blackberry, black cherry, violet, forest floor, cedar and leather. This wine was high in acidity, high in alcohol, had pronounced intensity, and had a long finish. Another Outstanding wine that could age for years!

I felt that I had redeemed myself with the Tempranillos. I nailed some of the flavours and aromas down and was started to feel smug agin. Then we had the next two wines. One was a Monastrell (Mourvedre) and one was a Mencia. I like Mencia - in fact, I've had three or four bottles. I tasted several at the Wine Festival in the spring! I KNEW my Mencia - I even recommended it to my table mates! I also remembered how tannic the Mourvedre was from Bandol so I thought it would be so easy to figure out which was which. The first one I thought was all black fruit and tannins so was the Monastrell and the second one was all red fruit and lower tannins so was the Mencia.

Wrong again.

Oh, crap. Again.

The first was 2016 Alvaro Palacios 'Petalos' Mencia from Bierzo, Spain ($46). It had aromas of red fruit, savoury, and roast coffee. It had only medium tannins and medium plus acidity with a long finish. It was rated as Very Good.

The second was a 2015 Juan Gil Monastrell from Jumilla ($33). This is the one that had the black fruit as well as vanilla on the palate. It had full body, high tannins, and a medium finish. This was a Good wine.

I'm usually a bit shaky on my tasting notes for white wines but I don't usually struggle so much with reds. I don't know what happened - possibly I decided that the first one was a Monastrell and that coloured the rest of my tasting. I've also listened to podcasts where wine experts have admitted to getting it wrong a bunch of times and that's their job!

Oh well, c'est le vin. On to Portugal.

Portugal doesn't just make Port! It makes lots of wine and many form the 5 varietals that make Port. They are Touriga Nacional (high quality, great flavour, high tannins), Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca, and Tinta Cao.

There's also the wine grapes that made the previously mentioned Vino Verde - Loureiro, Arinto, and Alvarinho (same as Spanish Albarino).

There's a ton of other grapes (like Spain, like Italy), but I think we'll just focus in our last two tastings.

The first was 2015 Cabriz Touriga Nacional and others blend from the Dao region ($22). This ruby wine had both red fruit (red cherry, cranberry) and black fruit (blueberry, black currant) was well as savoury notes. This was a mostly medium wine that was rated as Good and was suitable for drinking now.

The final wine was a 2015 Quinta do Crasto Touriga Nacional Reserva and others blend from the Douro region ($54). This was a purple wine that tasted of black fruit including blackberry, forest floor, barnyard, toast and leather. This wine had medium acidity, medium plus tannins, and high alcohol with a medium plus intensity of flavours and a beautiful long finish. This wine was rated as Outstanding.

So, after a rather mediocre tasting night, I felt a little disappointed but I don't think you can accurately taste every wine that's put in front of you. Even the pros get it wrong. Luckily, for the WSET blind tasting, you don't have to guess the wine, just describe it. My challenge is to try to avoid jumping to conclusions when I taste the wine. If I think in the first three seconds, "This is a Chardonnay," I'll probably be hooped.

Oh well, time to study some more.

How do you say, "Oh, crap!" in Spanish?

"Oh, mierda!"