Sunday, 27 November 2011

Tasting Session #3

Tasting Session #3

For our recent third tasting session, we made the leap from whites to reds.  The theme for the session was affordable Italian reds.  The two winners of the evening, in my opinion, were:

(1) Folonari Valpolicella Ripasso Classico ($14.95)

            Easily recognizable as a Ripasso: rich, extracted dark fruit flavours (black cherry), with a smooth, silky texture.

(2) Matervitae Negroamaro ($9.85)

            Both the nose and palate were dominated by barnyard characteristics.  A simple, but enjoyable wine.

Negroamaro is a variety that I had not been exposed to before this tasting.  It is found primarily in southern Italy, where it is grown in both the Salento and Puglia regions (it is the dominant grape variety in the latter region). 

Oz Clarke describes it as a “rather odd-tasting grape” with farmyard and medicinal flavours.  It is often blended with Malvasia Nera to produce a higher quality wine.

Negroamaro is certainly a grape variety that I look forward to trying again in the near future.  The LCBO carries approximately twenty Negroamaro wines, all of which are under twenty dollars.     

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Tasting Session #1

The first tasting for our as-of-yet untitled tasting group occurred this evening.  The theme was Sauvignon Blanc.  On the docket were three wines that we hoped would give a good introduction into this distinctive variety:

(1) Le Courlis 2009, Sauvignon Touraine, Clos du Porteau ($14.95) [Loire Valley, France]

            An understated nose of cut grass that led to mineral and tropical fruit notes on the palate.

(2) Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Marlborough, Mount Riley ($15.95) [New Zealand]

            A wine that exemplified the variety New Zealand has made famous: cut grass, peach on the nose that carried over to lychee and herbaceous notes on the palate.  

(3) Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Sonoma, Et Cetera ($14.95) [California]

            A wine completely out of balance by its high alcohol content (14.2%): what little fruit the wine offered was completely dominated by the alcohol. 

Of the three, the crowd favourite was split between the wines (1) and (2).  Wine (1), perhaps, lacked the varietal characteristics that are often most associated with Sauvignon Blanc.  Other than the faint aroma of cut grass on the nose, it lacked any herbaceous qualities. The tropical notes, however, were an interesting surprise for a wine from the cooler Loire Valley region.  It was, in my opinion, the most elegant of the evening with well-balanced acidity and alcohol.

The Mount Riley Sauvignon Blanc substituted the minerality of Le Courlis for more pronounced herbaceous qualities.  It was an equally impressive wine, but one with a noticeable alcohol presence at 13.5%.  Based on my tasting experience, it was a wine very typical of many New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs at this price range.

The third wine was selected to give an example of a Sauvignon Blanc from a warm climate region.  Its high alcohol content, however, completely dominated the wine.  The alcohol heat was evident on the nose, with only a modest amount of fruit coming through.  The herbaceous flavour of the wine came through on the tip of the palate, but was soon easily dominated by the alcohol on the back.  Overall, it was the group’s least favourite wine.  It was telling that, with the bottles of the first two wines empty, this third bottle was still over half full.     


Saturday, 29 October 2011

Oak Chips

There is nothing glamorous about using oak chips.  Indeed, most producers do not go out of their way to advertise their use.  But the use of oak chips is somewhat entrenched within the wine industry.  The cost of oak barrels, at times, can necessitate the use of oak chips.  For instance, an average French (quercus robur) oak barrel costs approximately one-thousand dollars; an American (quercus alba) oak barrel, five-hundred dollars.  For entry level wines (e.g. wines under $15), the use of oak barrels is cost prohibitive.  Oak chips are used, instead.

I don't have any real problem with this - I expect that any oaked wine under approximately $15 will have used oak chips.  That being said, I do expect more from a more expensive wine.  Recently, I saw a $20 Californian wine at the LCBO that advertised on its label that it had used oak chips.  That seems, to me, like poor bang for my buck.  I did not pick it up.  On the other hand, I did purchase a bottle of the Dona Paula 2009 Estate Malbec at $17.95/bottle.  This less expensive wine had undergone barrel maturation in first, second, and third-use French barrels (33% for each) for eight months.  (I should note, however, that this was not mentioned on the bottle itself.  I, rather, gathered this information from the incredibly detailed tasting notes on its website.)

While the use of oak barrels vis-à-vis oak chips does not necessarily result in a superior wine, it does at least provide the appearance of being a superior wine.  And in an industry in which marketing plays a pivotal role in sales, I can think of no reason why one would advertise the use of oak chips - though, I do admire the transparency of doing so.

The Dona Paula Malbec had the classic profile of an Argentinean malbec: big cherry fruit with vanilla notes.  It could have been better or worse than the Californian bottle.  But I did feel like I was getting more bang for my buck.  And, at the end of the day, that can mean a lot to any consumer.