Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Two great reads for wine lovers!

Once in a while there is a wine book that comes along that rings true to the wine lover. The writer is passionate about wine, and usually wine and food, and conveys his or her passion and makes the reader even more passionate about the enchanting subject of wine in all its glory!  Such a book was The Heartbreak Grape: A Journey in Search of the Perfect Pinot Noir by Marq de Villiers, published in 1993.  This non-fiction book is bound to appeal to anyone who fell in love with the movie, Sideways or is fond of Pinot Noir.  Titled the Heartbreak Grape because Pinot Noir is fickle and difficult to grow, and makes the winery owner and winemaker shed a few tears when it doesn't meet their high standards. Even in the traditional region where fine Burgundies are made, they only make really good ones three times out of every decade.  Furthermore, Pinot Noir  does not transplant very well. Unlike Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, there are only a few regions where remarkable Pinots are produced, Oregon being one. Written by Canadian author, de Villeirs, this little gem of a book recounts the story of Josh Jensen, who went to Burgundy to train to make Pinot Noir in the traditional way. Jensen then went to California and looked for a site  that had the same type of soil as Burgundy  where Pinot Noir thrives: limestone. Jensen built his winery Calera, planted his vines, grew his grapes, and made wine with love and by instinct rather than by sophisticated technology. Along the way you learn about grape-growing, wine-making, and the ups and downs of trying to tame a diva of a grape.

But I digress.  I really want to share with you my latest favourite read, Passion on the Vine: A Memoir of food, Wine, Family in the Heart of Italy,  by Sergio Esposito, published in 2008.  No I don't think Sergio is Phil's brother...maybe cousin.  Sergio was born in Naples, Italy and immigrated to New York in the 70's with his family. He originally trained to be a chef but ended up in the wine importing business in New York City. From there, he and his brother traveled regularly to the various regions of Italy (the famous northern region of Piedmont, the sweeping estates of Tuscany, the lush fields of Campania, the chilly hills of Friuli, etc.) to taste and buy wine, encountering  traditional wine makers, biodynamic fanatics, as well as modern technocrats. And in addition to learning about Italian wine, you learn lots about family, Italy, food, passion, and life. Like Marq de Villiers, Sergio Esposito is a skilled writer who not only can write about wine in an engaging way, he can spread his passion and joie de vie with you.  He is so contagious!  This, like the Heartbreak Grape, is a Must Read for anyone who sort of likes wine and more.  I found it in my local (Richmond, BC) library. Frances Mayer salutes the author by writing, "Esposito's glass is always half-full, when not filled to the brim, and always with something beautifully red and swirling and passionate, as re his words in this wine-adventure, story-memoir, deep-rooted; and the wines--perfect on the tongue, with a long finish." Not only is Esposito a great wine-lover and epicurean, he is a great story-teller. He makes you wish you were in the wine business and Italian! 
Passion on the Vine: A Memoir of food, Wine, Family in the Heart of Italy,  by Sergio Esposito, published in 2008.  A full-bodied book with lots of complexity and a delicious finish!
$17.50 paperback. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Cheap, Greek, and White

When I decide to make a Greek meal (tahini, Greek Salad, barbecued chicken souvlaki) my romantic side of me wants to open that one litre bottle of Retsina and savour all the intense flavours that a wine tasting like Pine-sol can add to feta cheese, rosemary, olives, garlic and onions.  My wine-lover side prefers to go for a compromise.  No pine-resin please but let's enjoy it with a Greek white. Voila! Boutari Kretikos 2009.  With a name like Kretikos, you hope its not made for cretins but it is made in Crete, the home of the Minotaur and early Greek civilization, For the longest time, Greece has had the reputation for making mediocre wine as well as being tax-evading and bankrupt. This wine should change your mind.

For $12,99, it is amazingly tasty. And for a 2009 white, it is still very fresh and alive; often inexpensive whites that are 2+ years old, have few acids left so they taste dull and lifeless.
Putting my nose as close as its been to Greece, I smell gentle lemon and rich pear aromas.The flavour matches the smell along with a perfumed ripe peach flavour.  Not too heavy on the alcohol (12%) with the fruit flavours accented nicely, here is a wine fit for the first week of Spring.  I can see myself after cutting the lawn for the first time, getting out my lawn chair, lighting the Weber coals on the barbie, and sipping a cool glass of Kretikos while my souvlaki marinates to perfection.  

Boutari Kretikos 2009, $12.99, 12%, Crete Greece
Light White, Recommended, $12.99, Cheap, Greek, and White

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Duo of Spanish Reds: Part Two

Now that you know from the previous post that Spanish reds are inexpensive and good, you will now learn that they are also moderately priced and great!!!  May I introduce, the Faustino V 2005 Rioja, a wine produced from Spain's premium red grape, the Tempranillo

Back in 1970 when I first caught the wine bug, I remember a wine critic speaking of how amazing Spanish reds were and he mentioned the Faustino I which today is in the $30's.  Back then it was $10 or so.  I have tasted that wine and it is remarkable but my budget usually grimaces at wines over $30 so I get seduced by the Faustino V which is $5 cheaper.  Despite the fact it is cheaper, it too is one remarkable  wine.!

For a six year old red, it still has a beautiful ruby colour. The bouquet is multi-faceted with cherries, vanilla, and a whiff of campfire and a subtle compost or terroir.  The flavour is rich in dried black cherries and enough barnyard to make you know you are savouring a real fine European red. The wine is simply smooth, elegant and has the balance between the grapes in  age (mild tannins) and youth (enough fruit and acid to make it tasty and refreshing, fruit and terroir, bouquet and has it all. All that and a tasty lingering finish to make you smack your lips.  This is my favourite red that is available and affordable and wonderful. I recently took it to a party where everyone was supposed to bring their favourite red and a tapas. I brought skewers of Spanish manchego cheese along with grilled red pepper, a green olive stuffed with anchovies (no they don't taste fishy!) and a slice of proscuitto.  There's a match made in Spain, in Rioja to be exact.

Faustino V Rioja Reserva $25.99, 13%, Spain, Available, Affordable, and Wonderful!!
Medium-Bodied Red, Highly Recommended $25.99 

A Duo of Spanish Reds: Atano Rioa Crianza Part One

Last year's Vancouver Wine Festival featured Spain.  And I not only became even more seduced by Spanish wine, but I willed my way to Spain. It helped that my wife also suggested the idea and we went for two weeks of Riojas, Cavas, tapas, paella, history, geography, culture, art,!  Spain is amazing as a wine producer because most of us are unfamiliar with the grapes and the wine regions. Rueda?  What is Rioja?  You mean that Sherry is actually a white wine?  And what blows me away is that you can literally go to liquor stores and buy a 2005 red wine for $25, sometimes a 2001 for $20!  Try that with almost any other country and (a), you can't find them in stores, and (b), if you can find them on the shelves, you are paying close to or over a hundred loonies!  So Spain is a bargain as well as an adventure.

Barbara Philip, one of the few Masters of Wine in Canada,  now in charge of European purchases at the BCLDB, chose an inexpensive Spanish red at this year's Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival's seminar, "Excitement in a Glass".  Barbara's choice was the 2008 Atano Rioja Crianza. For $12.99 for a 3+ year old red wine, this seems like a bargain.  And Barbara admitted it is too good for its price!  Wine fans in B.C. don't often get bargains like this, so please, don't up the price! 

It is an old style Rioja which speaks to Spain and Rioja, typical of the country and the region. There is the strawberry and earthy compost terroir in both the bouquet and the taste.  The tannins are soft and the wine is smooth, fruity in a suave and gentle way, and very appealing. 

Antano 2008 Crianza Rioja 2008
$12.99      13.5%
Medium Bodied    Highly Recommended

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Trio of Rieslings: Take Three

And now for something completely different!  No its not Monty Python, its the Pewsey Vale Contours 2003 Riesling from the Eden Valley in South Australia.  The Eden Valley is near the famous Barossa Valley and its there that a 75 year old vineyard produces the fruit that splashes into this wine.  This was Sommelier of the Year, Terry Threlall's choice at the Wine Festival's seminar on Excitement in a Glass earlier in March.

Like the Aussies themselves and the Land of Oz, Australian Rieslings are a breed apart from anything else.  While the previous two Rieslings were delicate, this is bold and brash.  Even though its nine years old, the acidity is still alive and vibrant, thanks in part to the nature of Rieslings and the fact that the Eden Valley is a cool climate area, Because of  the acidity, its a great match with seafood, a fact that Andrea Vescovi of Blue Water Cafe reminded us.  And then there's the typical Aussie fruit of lime and citrus and a squirt of petrol, kerosene, or diesel. Moderator of the seminar, wine educator Mark Davidson pleaded that it should be described as marmalade, but I think the petrol descriptor is more accurate, even if it scares the heck out of many consumers.  Aged Rieslings, from Germany and Australia, often have this 'crude' characteristic which is very appealing and a sign of a good R, once you get used to this acquired taste. A scallop ceviche and this beauty would be heavenly.  Just don't light a match...only kidding.

2003 Pewsey Vale The Contours Riesling: A Different Kettle of Riesling
Full Bodied Dry White: $33. Highly Recommended

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Trio of Rieslings: Take Two

My favourite Riesling is one I often feature in my Intro to Wine Classes, the Dr. Loosen Dr. L Riesling.  I am amazed at how many young female students cheer when I serve it, "It's my favourite wine!"  I am not young nor female, but it is one of my old standbys. For over ten years, this is often the favourite white wine of a ten wine tasting.  Even people who are red wine fans, can't believe how delicious this wine is.

Dr. Loosen makes wine in the Mosel, a small tributary off the major Rhine waterway where the fruit is hand picked off vines on steep hillsides. . Mosels are bottled in tall slender green bottles and have a more 'feminine' delicate quality to them. A gentle and suave aroma of apple and a hint of peach seduces your nose.  The flavour is deliciously balanced with those fruits and the crispness of the natural acids which gets your digestive juices flowing, desiring more wine and perhaps some appies to go with it!  Yes it is off-dry (1 out of 10 in sweetness), just enough to balance the tartness of the wine with a lingering finish that screams out, "I want more!" If you get really analytically, you can detect some refreshing minerality, perhaps a hint of slate where the grapes grow on those steep hills overlooking the Mosel. "Das is Gut" as they say in the Mosel.

Because of its fruity character and acidity, Riesling partners very well with many foods, including pork.  When I cook a roast pork or pork chops, I usually will pour some Riesling into the pan juices with a splash of chicken stock, along with a sprig of rosemary. Then when the pork is sliced and plated, a glass of Riesling will be the absolutely perfect partner.  The acidity of the Riesling will cut the richness of the pork and the gravy, and the fruity apple character of the wine will be the 'applesauce' which is always a great fit with pork.

Dr. Loosen Dr. L 2010 Riesling, Mosel, Germany, 8.5%, $18.99
Light Aromatic White; Highly Recommended

A Trio of Rieslings: Take One

Riesling is a tough sell, despite the high quality of the wine. Many experts consider Riesling to be the most noble of the noble white wines! Many consumers consider Rieslings to be sweet. Some are, especially the expensive ones but they have enough acidity to balance the delicious sweetness. Most Rieslings have a touch of sweetness in the form of unfermented Riesling juice added to counterbalance the natural high acidity of the Riesling fruit, so the wine is no longer tart. Many of us older wine lovers remember mediocre German wines, many which were cheap and not so cheerful, and had little or no Riesling in them.

I recently sat down with a panel of local sommeliers to learn of their favourite choices of Rieslings at this month's Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival, the finale of the festivals for that veteran art's group.  Sebastian Le Goff, a French sommelier who now works for the Cactus Club, chose a Balthasar Ross Riesling Kabinett Hattenheimr Schutzenhaus 2010. Now the long foreign name alone is somewhat problematic for wine fans to remember German Rieslings.  It is a QmP, which means a quality wine with special attributes, Kabinett is the first rung in a ladder of really good German wines that get this presigious quality.  It comes from the most prestigious region of the Rhine Valley, the Rheingau, and like many German Rieslings, it is low in alcohol, only 9.5%, compared with many white wines these days which have 13% to 14% alcohol.  Which means you can perhaps have another glass and it is the perfect luncheon wine. Expect the familiar apple aroma and flavour, fresh acidity with ample fruitiness.  Well balanced, light, and deliciously fruity. 

Balthasar Ross Riesling Kabinett Hattenheimr Schutzenhaus 2010 Riesling Kabinett, Germany. 9.5%. $23.99
Light Aromatic White; Recommended

Monday, March 5, 2012

Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival: Excitement in a Glass with Bubbles

Here was my last seminar I attended, bright an early Friday morning at the Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival. Take five of the top sommeliers and wine buyers and get them to choose ten wines from around the world that really excites their over-stimulated palates, and what do you get?  A wonderful tasting seminar at the 34th Annual Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival that ended yesterday, March 4th.
Sommeliers Who Chose the Wines
To kick start this very entertaining and insightful seminar hosted by Mark Davidson, we went to northern Italy. The Cantina Breganze Rosa di Sera Vino Spumante Extra-Dry was our breakfast wine which dazzled my taste buds at 9:30 in the morning. Sebastien Le Goff, a French trained sommelier currently works with Rob Feenie at the Cactus Club, planning their innovative wine program. Sebastian described this as the quintessenial breakfast wine; "Its like a fruit  salad for breakfast and is very pretty!" With pretty pink hues and its gorgeous rose petal and strawberry personality and gentle refreshing bubbles, who would disagree. Like most tasty bubblies, its a blend of white and red grapes: 75% Prosecco and 25% red Marzimino. Although the label  states it is Extra Dry, it actually is Off Dry. Dry sparkling wines are labelled Brut. Confused yet?  Basically it is a 1 out of 10 on the sweetness code. 

As a consultant in Asia Le Goff reports that Proseccos on tap is a huge trend in Asia where property is expensive and most restaurants can only feature two or three wines. The saving in packaging using a box rather than heavy bottles and the efficiency of serving, is usually passed on to the consumers.

Here in BC, this product is available in stores in a 750 mL bottle but expect to see it on tap at the Cactus Club where it should be approximately $6 a glass...very affordable.  Delicious on its own at any time of day, breakfast, noon, or night.

For something completely different, Terry Threlfall of Hawkesworth chose the Maisons & Domaines Hentriot Cuvee des Enchanteleurs 1998 Vintage Champagne. The good news is this is one heck of a complex and delicious aged Champagne, produced from only the top Grand Cru vineyards. Most champagnes are non-vintage, blends of several years, but Champagne houses choose about three years in every decade where the growing conditions are superb. And Vintage Champagnes receive longer aging on the lees in the underground limestone cellars, adding layers of character. The acidity is still fresh, even though its a dozen years old, but the maturity has made the wine's mouthfeel oilier with more body.The bouquet is full of toast and bread dough with fruit, and the flavour from the blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is elegant and complex with a long citrus finish. According to Threlfall, this is the kind of wine that wine people drink at home. If you can get it....its not availabe in BC and if it was it would sell for $200!  While you might wonder why I would bother wrting about some patrician wine, its to let you know that this is why the Playhouse Wine Festival is so exciting. You get to educate your palate on what the premium wines of the world are really like. plus sample wines you normally wouldn't be able to taste.
My 10 glasses, before I tasted and swallowed.