Archive for April, 2009

Wine 101: Value Wines

April 28, 2009

There is a lot of talk these days about stretching your wine buying dollars. Magazines and specialized publications -both printed and online- offer lists of “great value”, giving high points to wines that in different circumstances wouldn’t merit a comment. The practice is suspicious. True, you can find adsc08118 reasonable wine for little money, let’s say 9.99. But that is about it, and making the leap to saying that such wine deserves 89, 90 or 91 points is a huge stretch. In general, wines under 15 dollars offer little finesse, and even when they can be good sips all on their own, that is as far as they go. Some are just non-descript products, that even when they carry a varietal label, well, they could actually pass for any grape. Not to say that these wines are bad; many are of acceptable, or good quality, given the price.
There is a noticeable increase in quality when you hit the 18-25 dollar segment. Wines included in this group will show more complexity and better quality, which can be evinced from the nose itself. Past the 25 dollar mark, and particularly between 30-35 dollars, there is an exponential gain in quality and you can have wines that will leave truly satisfied. Nothing wrong with buying value wines and great bargains, but no need to fool ourselves.


Great Sales at Everything Wine

April 24, 2009

Finally Vancouver has a wine store as it deserves. Everything dsc00459Wine in North Vancouver (998 Marine Drive) carries close to 3000 labels from all over the world. To add to the large selection, in itself a true treat in our wine thirsty city, wine sales are offered every week, sometimes with discounts as large as 8 dollars. The vintages room is a temple of wine and it is worth the visit even if you don’t plan to fork out more than 50 dollars for a bottle. The store also offers a 5% discount on purchases of 12 bottles, which can be a mix of your favorites. As if that were not enough, there are daily free tastings between 2 and 5pm. Some days, particularly Fridays and Saturdays the tastings are conducted by the winemakers themselves. Go online and check out the selection, but even better, come on in and check it out.

Wine 101: Varietals und Blends

April 22, 2009

argentina-604Who doesn’t know what Chardonnay is? Or Cabernet Sauvignon? These two are highly recognizable grapes, which are commonly sold all on their own, as varietal wines. Meaning that the predominating -or exclusive- grape variety in the bottle will be the one shown on the label.

Blends involve varying amounts of different grapes that may have been fermented separately or together. The archetypal blend is the French Bordeaux style, which usually includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and/orCabernet Franc. This successful style has been replicated virtually in every wine region in the world, and it is known in North America as Meritage.

In blends, the winemaker seeks to highlight some characteristics of a particular grape, or to polish off edges, to add structure, lift up the fragance or the acidity, in order to work a final product that will better the outcome of the individual varieties.

Varietals are easier to approach, because they showcase typical characters like fruit and aroma. They tend to be more “extrovert” than blends, in which the winemaker intends to achieve something more complex,  more subtle and elegant. It could be said that varietals are more about the grape and blends are more about the winemaking.

Examples of red blends are Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot, Grenache-Shiraz-Mouverdre, Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz. For whites we have Semillon-Chardonnay, Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc among others.

Cabernet Franc with Little Oak

April 21, 2009

Not nearly as popular as its better known relative -Cabernet Sauvignon- Cabernet Franc is slowly gaining more adepts. The grape yields wines of medium body and marked herbal character when made in its home, the banks of thealluvia Loire (Chinon) or in cool areas, including Vancouver’s own wine backyard, the Okanagan. Just like Chardonnay or other grapes that offer different flavors and aromas depending on the weather where they are cultivated, Cabernet Franc does the same and this example from Uco Valley, in Argentina,  is a delicious one.

Doña Paula, a winery well known by Vancouverites for its Malbecs, brings its Alluvia Cabernet Franc, a scrumptious drink of tremendous inky crimson that saturates the nose with spice and floral aromas.  It is bigger than its cool weather counterparts and its fruit stands out a lot more, due to the minimum oak treatment. The vibrant red fruit and  a touch of vanilla do not mask the quintessential herbaceaous streak so typical of the variety.

Product: Alluvia

Variety: Cabernet Franc

Vintage: 2006

Winery: Doña Paula

Origin: Valle de Uco, Mendoza

Alcohol: 14.5%

Price: 19.99 (was 25.99 when introduced)

Recommended? Absolutely!

French Bargain

April 21, 2009

For those who scour shelves in cold beer and wine stores in search of the ultimate recession-proof wine, here a priceless tip. Gotta try this  Chardonnay from the Pays d’Oc which brings a tag of 18.99 Cdn in some private wine shops. But rejoice, oh wine lovers, you canfrench_chard buy it for 12.99 at Everything Wine in North Vancouver (

What do you get for your buck? Besides a pretty, classic looking French label, you will drink a creamy, tongue coating Chardonnay. Those who think “nothing with oak” must try it for the management of oak in this Chard is very skillful, adding to the wine but not choking it.  Oak flavors are present but not overpowering the pineapple and lemony flavors in this tasty broth. The finish is long and sticky, almost like the sensation one has after eating almond ice cream.

The trip to North Van is worth and make sure you get a minimum of two bottles. You will come back for more.

Product: French Tom Chardonnay

Winery: Barton & Guestier

Origin: Pays d’Oc, France

Alcohol: 13.5%

Recommended?  Of course!

Price: 12.99-18.99 depending on where you buy it.

PasSo Doble 2007, Italo-Argentinian Red Blend

April 20, 2009

Argentina meets Italy in this inexpensive yet flavorful red. Not that they haven’t met  before, given that half of Argentineans have last names finishing in tutta, tutti, chini, gini and chetto. Batistutta, Maradona and Caniggia are prime soccer player examples of Argentinean graftings on Italian rootstock, to use wineology terms. Here the two countries meet in the winemaking field, thanks to Italian wine powerhouse Masi. The big winery plays with archetypal Italian Corvina grapes -grown in Mendoza and partially dried- blended with archetypal Argentinean Malbec, to give a medium body broth of  rich ruby color and even richer nose. Coffee, dry plum and wooden tones dance against a conspicuous -almost South African- gamey background. Good acidity and soft tannins lead to a long, convincing finish.

With this wine reminiscent of the Italian tradition -even the label has a marked tano style- we are reminded that Argentina, with its vast lands amenable to viticulture will continue to surprise us for a while.

Variety: Blend. Malbec, Corvina, Merlot

Vintage: 2007

1081Origin: Mendoza

Winery: Masi Agricola

Alcohol: 13.5%

Price: 17.99 Cdn

El Escondido, Tempranillo from Argentina

April 18, 2009

El Escondido TempranilloFor those who thought Tempranillo can only come from the land of bullfighting, Franco and Flamenco, this Argentinean broth, a gleaming ruby red that gives off a field of strawberries and other red berries that I do not dare utter. You get the idea. Or you don’t. Medium+ juicy body with the palate splashed with the aforementioned fruits  (both the allowed and the forbidden) followed by a very long expansive finish. Lovely at 26.99, pair with a chorizo laden seafood paella or just on its own, a powerful sip. Salud!

Product: El Escondido (the hidden one)

Variety: Tempranillo

Winery: Don Domenico

Vintage: 2005

Origin: San Juan, Argentina

Alcohol: 14.3%

Agent: Patagonia Imports

Recommended? Highly

Vancouver, Pre-Yellowtail Era

April 18, 2009

A lot has changed since the cold, miserable morning of June 1993, when I arrived from Lima, Peru, as a new immigrant. Back then the city was still a bit towney, the traffic downtown not nearly as crazy as it is today, there were no drive-by shootings, no dead people on the streets after gang battles and all my alcoholic interests were centered on the one hundred and one microbrewery beers my new home had to offer.

I had no idea that the Liquor Distribution Branch, aka “the liquor store” governed the consumption and distribution of alcoholic beverages. One boring Sunday I walked to my local outlet to get some beer and to my consternation I found it closed. I learned the hard way that if you wanted alcohol for the weekend you’d better get your behind in gear and purchase your beers, vinos and liqueurs on Friday night or Saturday, only until 6pm.

Anyway, digression dismissed, I ended up finding a selection of wines that -although compared to what you find today was liliputian- blew my mind, as in my home country the best stocked supermarket or liqueur store did not carry anything from Australia, South Afrika or New Zealand. France, Italy and Germany were poorly represented, usually by the most nefarious concoctions of disreputable quality (cheap Liebefraumilch was the summit of German wines) and the California “section” showed the pregnant-belly shaped 3 liter bottle of Carlo Rossi.

My first achatte of wine was a bottle of Jacob’s Creek, Shiraz, at 12.99. Back in the time it seemed to me a small fortune and after drinking the wine with amazed delight I wrote a long letter to my brother -a wine lover himself- telling him of my remarkable experience.

Posterior visits to the liqueur store saw my consumption of beer decrease, as I tried more and more wines, although my first wine phase was almost entirely Australian. I used to buy Gato Negro Cabernet Sauvignon, at the time a whopping 13.99 for a 1.5 liter bottle, which was my party wine.

Once or twice I had some French wine, a Perrin et Fils, I believe, and I wasn’t very impressed. My friends never touched wine, except for special occasions, when I cooked. It infuriated me when they didn’t bring the brands that I asked them to buy and showed up with nondescript plonk that they acquired in order to save a buck or two.

That was Vancouver’s wine scene at the time, with a skinny Australian presence, an even thinner Chilean and South Afrikan stock and a non-existent Argentinean legion. Happily, today we have massive amounts of imported wine from all over the world, good to satisfy the connoisseur and the penny pincher alike.

Cheers to that. With wine, that is.