Archive for August, 2009

New Zealand Red Wine Terroir

August 28, 2009

Better known by the tremendous success of its white wines,new zealand wine regions particularly Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand’s red wines are off the radar for the global market, with the obvious exception of Pinot Noir. The “heart break grape” has made its home in Martinborough, at the southern tip of North Island, and in Otago, in the southern end of South Island.

Central Otago has the only true continental climate in the country. Unlike the rest of New Zealand, its soils show heavy deposits of mica, schist and silt loams. Pinot Noir wines from this region have received accolades due to their purity of fruit, intensity and vibrancy.

Martinborough, in the Wairarapa region, also offers excellent Pinot Noir. Climatically is closer to Marlborough: maritime, cool and with less extremes of daily and seasonal temperatures. The top Pinot Noirs produced there exhibit richness and opulence.

Although little known, New Zealand also produces high quality Bordeaux and Rhone blends, mostly in Waiheke Island and Hawke’s Bay. The former is located in the Hauraki Gulf off Auckland. Its hilly terrain produces Bordeaux blends that have good reputation, though production is rather small.

Hawke’s Bay, on the eastern central coast of North Island, is the nation’s capital when it comes to Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. The Bordeaux blends produced there show finesse and restrain. Syrah is the new buzz, producing wines that are fresh, long and peppery, reminiscent of the northern Rhone reds.


Liberty School Portfolio

August 27, 2009

Thanks to Altovin International, a British Columbia based wine agency, I had the opportunity to try their Californian Liberty School wines. For the last few years, LS Cabernet Sauvignon has gained notoriety as a good pick in the 20-25 CDN bracket. I enjoyed it and can see why it is so popular. I tried their Syrah as well, but my high mark goes to their 2007 Chardonnay. Here my notes on these three popular wines.

Chardonnay 2007. $23.99. 13.5%. Bright nose with apple, dragon fruit, clarified butter. Nice, creamy texture, medium bodied, good acidity of lemony character. Alcohol well integrated, overall oak is subtle and the finish is long, riding on apple skin. A very good California style Chardonnay for the price.

Syrah 2007. $23.99. 13.5%. Purple legs, young looking wine. Green waft on the nose, pepper, cough syrup. On the palate a tad sour. Medium bodied, tannins angular. I am not ready to pick this Syrah yet.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2007. $23.99. 13.5%. Purple ruby robe, nice sweet nose with blackcurrant, spice and lavender. Medium body, juicy and soft. Good acidity and nice finish. Easy to understand why it is so popular.

Prazo de Roriz 2004, Portuguese Red Blend

August 11, 2009

Prazo de Roriz, a 2004 blend from Douro Valley in Portugal, is a beautiful wine that did not merit major accolades by the king of noses, mr. Robert Parker. I guess he is more focused on biggies, and this one is not. The character of this blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca resides in its mineral, earthy qualities, rather less robust body and its aromas of red cherries carried by a breeze in a deciduous forest. Wet stone, riverine scents, granit, all these elemental qualities wrap the red fruit. Medium tannins and a long finish with raspberry acidity. I loved it and let’s hope a new style is being ushered to the world of wine’s mainstream, with more personality withouth having to be a full weight champion.
Price (Everything Wine) 23.99, 13.5% alcohol.

Zinfandelis Part One

August 8, 2009

Oh the much ridiculed grape from California. The grape only Californians love. The grape that Vancouverites love to hate. Well, here they were, the Zinfandel ambassadors, those pesky Americans, full of sound and fury, full of grandiloquence, celebrating their beloved Zinfandel, spreading the good news, the word, as if spreading the gospel, perhaps, being Americans, that is the way they know well, fundamentalist Christian style, even when the subject is just wine. When the issue of Primitivo being the same grape was raised, oh yes, oh they reacted like zealous keepers of the faith. It was fun to watch.

Passion, passion, a word that was pronounced again and again by the speakers, winemakers, who came to Vancouver to show us that, yes, Zinfandel can, yes it can, and it certainly does, not to the degree they would like to, but yes, I enjoyed many of the Zins tasted and for sure, I can see it as great food wine.

British Columbians will resist Zinfandel for a while. They are stuck with the image of Zin being a sweet blush cheap wine. Humans resist new things, resist change, like no other species. British Columbian humans oh they love to hate America, they love to hate Americans and things American. Perhaps because there are no discernible differences between the two cultures, the only way to set themselves apart is by negation. Anyway, going back to the subject of interest. I am certain the gospel of Zin will eventually spread, taken by the hand of Vancouver’s cuisine, which is, surprise, Asian. Zinfandel is the perfect red wine to marry the spicy, sweet, tangy, hot dishes that come from Guangdon to Hanoi, from Bangalore to Bangkok, the whole arch of far eastern cultures.

For those who dare to try:

Ironstone 2007 Old Vine. Lodi. 14.5%, 19.99.
Simple, packed with red and dark berries, spice, medium bodied juicy, easy drinking.

Ridge Lytton Springs. 2006. 14.7%. 49.99.
A dash of Syrah and a bit of Carignan make this Zin very interesting, with beau coffeeish red fruit and great acidity plus a subtle vegetal streak. Delicious, but ay, there is the rub, fifty bucks.

Ridge Three Valleys 2007 14.3%. 39.99.
It doesn’t deliver like its older sibling. The acidity sags behind the fruit and the alcohol.

Robert Biale Black Chicken 2006. Napa Valley. 15.8 %. 84.99.
A fantastic Zifandel, with great acidity, beautiful balance and structure, elegant. The price, again, goes against it.

Robert Biale Black Chicken 2007. Napa Valley. 15.8 %. 84.99.
Not as bright as its 2006 partner.

Seghesio Home Ranch. 2007. Alexander Valley. 15.5%. 49.99
Full bodied, fruit forward, velvety Zin. Yes, despite the price.

Seghesio Cortina 2006. Creek Valley, N. Sonoma. 15.2%. 49.99.
A more astringent wine that its stable mate above, a more “Italian” feeling to it. High acidity bordering with unpleasant, but then, just not crossing that line, and making it very interesting, very challenging, with a long finish, one of the stars of the show. Yes, go and get one.

The Battle for Wine and Love, Parker Wins

August 5, 2009

BOOK REVIEW. 2008 by Alice Feiring. Harcourt.BattleForWineAndLove

After reading Alice Feiring’s book the first thing that comes to mind is that she is a journalist, not a writer. Basically what is an account of her own life and dislike of Robert Parker is “decorated” with half a dozen fictional characters that show very poor development. We never get to know enough of them as to justify their presence in the memoir, except as narrative clutches for a limping writer. She uses them when they are convenient to add body to an otherwise dilute section or sometimes are used as hinges to move from one scene to the next.

A big issue with this book is why, instead of writing a solid, serious book –given that she takes Parkerization in earnest- Feiring chooses to “spice it up” with her love life. Unfortunately for her, and for her readers, she fails in both accounts. For seven anodyne chapters Feiring prepares us for the narrative orgasm, her phone interview with Parker. To keep with the sexual metaphor, this would have been one of those occasions when after sex one thinks “I’ve had better”. The account of the interview feels manipulated, lopsided –in her favor- and shallow. One can only think “Robert Parker must be a retard”, which we know he is not. That is a trait to be found in other encounters she describes in her book, especially when she talks to wine people “from the dark side”. She always manages to convey a sense that she totally outsmarts them. However, in most cases –and if the exchanges are as she shows them- she fails to ask the tough questions, to press the weak points, sometimes because “I am shy” or because, as in the case of the phonterview with Parker, because she doesn’t want to ruin her shot at talking to him.

Feiring says very little about love. In fact, I don’t understand why she even uses the word love in the title of her piece. But we can summon a few strokes of what her love life may be like from the way she describes her encounters with men. She is not straightforward. She keeps a grudge but she won’t let it out in the open for discussion. She fails to show the other what she really knows and thinks of them. Who would like a lover like that? Not this man here, for sure. There is one line where she mentions that –during the second phone interview with Parker- she is wearing underwear (suggesting she was not on the first one) doesn’t come as sexy but it rather suggests that when she looks at a mirror, Feiring sees one hot babe. Eee-W! I thought when I read that line. Also, if this man is a person that Feiring dislikes so much, why the innuendo?

Another issue that I found annoying is the tone of the narrative. It is like it wants to be in Sex and the City style. The cloying, annoying, repetitive use of nicks, owl man, big joe, skinny, is over redolent of the super-popular TV show, but they belong there, not in a wine memoir which pretends, after all, to be serious. All in all, the book feels like Feiring couldn’t come up with a solid story line and figured that intertwining her wine stories with her love life was the patched-up solution. It obviously does not work.

In the positive side, she will wake up many people to the fact that wine is not as natural as they may think. That a lot of technology is used in winemaking, some of which may not be agreeable by all. She also gives good insight on the winemaking of Barolo, Rioja and the Rhone. Perhaps that is what Feiring should have used as a core for her book, rather than her insipid references to love and her obsession with Parker. It seems to me that in using the critic as a central theme, Feiring tried to get attention to a book, which without the constant reference to “the emperor of wine”, would have not merited major interest. And by the way, no, Feiring never saved the world from Parkerization. If at all, this attempt comes ten years too late to do anything about it.
To use Parker points, I score this book 81.

Zinfandel and Food

August 4, 2009

I’ve never been much into Zinfandel, the signature grape of California, now hotly contested by Italy and Croatia, both of which claim the paternity of the variety, as DNA tests show that Zinfandel is closely related -if it is not the same grape- to the Primitivo grape of Southern Italy and Croatia’s Crljenak.

If the grape’s DNA identity is confirmed, hell will be on its way, as many producers in Italy will call their wine Zinfandel if so they wish, putting serious competition to the Golden State’s exports to Europe. The issue makes Californian producers very nervous, and with good reason.

Whatever the case, at the last Everything Wine Zinfandel tasting I enjoyed several California renditions, which I will describe in a future posting. What I wanted to say on this one is that I found Zinfandel tremendously food friendly. We had it paired with a variety of cheeses, charcouterie, even spicy sauces and the deep red, fruity wine came out chin up from all the encounters.

ZAP, Zinfandel Advocates and Producers, an organization from California, claims that their beloved wine is the best red match for Oriental cuisine. After the tasting, I start to believe they may be into something. Although never had a big following in Vancouver, the large influence of Asian food here may well change that, as more wine lovers discover this affinity of Zin wine for Zen food.