LCBO Vintages release – October 1, 2011

This week’s Vintages release features wines made with Syrah/Shiraz, one of my favourite grapes (along with several other varieties…).

My preference is for the wines made in those regions where the grape is called Syrah – typically Old World zones such as France but also New World regions like Chile and New Zealand. The duality of the name allows a certain winemaker license. For example, where the maker wants to communicate something about ripeness of fruit, extensive use of cold maceration and other techniques such as high-toast and new wood for maturation, you will find the use of the name, Shiraz.

I like Syrah for its varietal character.

On its own, it makes a beautiful wine for food and for ageing.  Wines made with the Syrah grape show black fruit, wet soil, black pepper and a smoked meat/savoury character when made in a low-intervention style.

In a blend Syrah provides dark fruit, complexity, tannins and acid to complement the high-alcohol, bright red fruit character from Grenache, and the weight, tannins and rustic personality of Mourvèdre.  In Côte-Rôtie, Syrah is fermented with a small portion of Viognier to deliver wines with softened tannins and heightened flavor.

In hot zones such as the Barossa Valley of South Australia, Shiraz is known for its concentrated black fruit, juicy acid, round tannins and flavours of chocolate, coffee and ripe blueberry.  While these wines are wonderful there is only so much one can drink – the alcohol levels are typically at or above 15% by volume and the intensity of the wines makes them often too powerful for most foods.

This grape has exceptional character and while we all have our likes and dislikes there is a Syrah/Shiraz for the palate of almost every red wine lover. There are a couple of such wines I recommend below.

There are two sub features in the release.  The first is a small selection of cellar-starter wines, made up of a cross-section of age-worthy wines from around the world.  The second feature introduces some wines that will be matches for your Thanksgiving dinner menu. I recommend a handful of these sub-feature wines.

This week we have a cosmopolitan selection of wines on my recommended list.  Enjoy!

Ontario, Niagara – VQA Niagara Peninsula Tawse Sketches of Niagara Chardonnay 2009

Since the winery was launched I have commended few Tawse wines because I find them typically over-oaked and expensive.  This wine seems to be an exception and perhaps a portent of things to come out of this flagship operation.  Less oak/less new oak has been used in maturation and the result is a fruit-forward, balanced wine for less than $20.00 per bottle. Citrus fruit aromas and flavours dominate and are accompanied by honeysuckle flower, green peach and green apple, spice, hazelnut, vanilla and light toast.  The finish is full and long.  This is a wine to serve with your turkey on Thanksgiving Day.

Extra dry, white wine – $19.95 per bottle (Thanksgiving feature wine)

France, Bordeaux – AC Bordeaux Le G Château Guiraud 2009

This wine is a distant cousin of the Sauternes from the château of the same name, at an elevated price for an AOC Bordeaux.  Despite its lowly appellation, this wine is anything but generic: it is a blend with 80% Sauvignon Blanc which shows the pungency of the variety but is balanced with the effects of 20% Semillon, ageing on lees and some maturation in old oak. It is complex, richly flavoured and food-friendly.  There is honey, gooseberry, ripe peach, lemon, herbs and orange zest on the nose and palate. The acidity is crisp and the finish is long.  Pair with a roast chicken.

Extra dry, white wine – $23.95 per bottle

France, Midi – Vin de Pays d’Oc Domaine les Yeuses Les Ėpices Syrah 2008

We can always count on the Midi to deliver wines at attractive prices.  The nice thing about the Midi of today is we can also count on those wines also delivering attractive flavor and structure.  This Syrah is a case in point.  It is as classically Old World Syrah as you can expect to find: deep in colour, medium in weight with black fruit, earth, black pepper and smoked meat.  You can’t beat this wine at this price or even $5.00 higher! This is a match for grilled meats.  Drink now and over the next 2-3 years.

Extra dry, white wine – $14.95 per bottle (Syrah feature wine)

Argentina, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza – Luigi Bosca Single Vineyard Malbec 2008

Here we have an age worthy, complex wine made from fruit grown on very old vines.  This is a more interesting Malbec than many of the wines we see from Mendoza and is a perfect wine to serve when you have roasted meats for dinner this winter. It has the red cherry fruit, stewed plum, smoke, herbs and dusty cocoa we associate with wines from Mendoza.  These elements are overlain with grainy tannins and bright acidity that lend structure and balance to the ripe fruit aromas and flavor.  The finish is long and smooth.  Drink now and over the next 3 -5 years.

Extra dry, red wine – $21.95 per bottle (Cellar feature wine)

South Africa, Coastal Region – WO Coastal Region Fleur du Cap Noble Late Harvest 2008

Made of a blend of Semillon and Riesling this is a value wine which will make a perfect substitute for Sauternes at your next dinner party – at a bargain price. The fruit was affected by botrytis cinerea and was handpicked just as for a Sauternes.  There is high residual sugar which is balanced by very high acidity so while the wine is sweet, it is clean and crisp on the palate.  It oozes honey, orange marmalade and orange zest, dried fruit and spice.  Complex and intense, this wine is a beauty.  Buy a few bottles to get you through your holiday dinners with family and special friends.

Sweet, dessert wine – $20.95 per bottle (375 ml)

The runners’-up this week are both from the Niagara region of Ontario.

Ontario, Niagara – VQA Niagara Escarpment Vineland Estates St. Urban Riesling 2009

Riesling is one of the defining varieties for Vineland, exploiting fruit from vines on the St. Urbans plot, vines that are over 30 years old. This wine is delightful with a light-in-body, light-in-alcohol, intensely aromatic and intensely flavoured character. It is off-dry but has zesty acid to provide a balanced accompaniment to grilled shrimps or coquille St. Jacques.  Flavours of lemon, green apple and honey abound with a light minerality in the background. The finish is long and crisp.  This wine will age nicely for the next 7 – 10 years, but can be enjoyed now.

Medium dry, white wine – $19.95 per bottle (Cellar feature wine)

Ontario, Niagara – VQA Four Mile Creek Coyote’s Run Red Paw Vineyard Pinot Gris 2009

I tasted this wine at the winery in August and considered it a highlight of the tasting.  Alsatian in character, it shows rich flavour, a soft mouth feel and a crisp and clean finish.  The nose and palate are reasonably complex and fruit-driven with brown apple, lemon, honey and spice along with a leesy background.  This is a very fine wine that should be consumed over the next year or two.  Serve as an aperitif or with a veal roast.

Extra dry, white wine – $17.95 per bottle

This week’s Collector’s Item is age able but can be also be enjoyed now.  Buy a few bottles and open one of them for each of the next three years to see how the wine evolves.

France, Northern Rhône –AOC Crozes -Hermitage E. Guigal 2007s

I would not normally consider a Crozes-Hermitage to be a Collector’s Item; this appellation is a poor person’s Hermitage and ranks, at best, as a serviceable wine that will cellar for a few years but usually not show notable improvement in character.  The Guigal shows more depth, structure and potential than your average C-H, hence getting my nod for your collecting consideration. There is plenty of Old World Syrah personality in this wine: blackberry, savoury elements, smoke, black pepper, wet earth, violet flower and herbs.  The body is mid-weight; it has grainy tannins and bright acid, along with a long, green finish.  This wine is intense, yet balanced.  A fine buy for cellaring for the next 5-6 years.

Extra dry, red wine – $24.95 per bottle (Syrah feature wine)

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2011.


LCBO Vintages release – June 25, 2011

Canada Day approaches and this weekend Vintages celebrates the upcoming event with a feature on Argentinean wines for barbecue season.  The usual Malbec suspects are included in the feature, along with some fine Torrontes whites and reds made with Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon. I think Argentina is making some good wines for very low prices but they don’t provide a great deal of interest after the initial fruit explosion.

There are two additional sub-features this weekend: Clean and Crisp whites and a selection of Canadian wines.

This release is a very good one, the first in a while.  There are many great values in all styles and price ranges.  It was a tough choice to select the top five, so there are some runners’-up this week. There were many feature wines to choose from and a couple made my recommended best value list.

Ontario, Niagara – VQA Niagara Peninsula Jackson-Triggs Entourage Silver Series Méthode Classique 2006

With the cool climate we enjoy in Niagara and the strength of our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir presence it is a natural that we would make fine sparkling wine.  This bottle is an example of this potential. This wine was aged in bottle for three years before disgorgement so it shows good biscuit, yeast character on the nose.  Aromas of citrus fruit promise more citrus on the palate and it is delivered along with a stony mineral backbone. Prickly mousse, lean acid and a long, dry finish make this wine an excellent value.  Well done!

Extra dry, sparkling wine – $22.95 per bottle (Canada Day feature wine)

France Provence, – AOC Bandol La Bastide Blanche Rosé 2010

I recommended a Tavel Rosé in the last edition of WVN.  Now we have a Mourvèdre-based Rosé from the neighbouring south of France region, Provence.  This wine is a pale salmon in colour, typical of Provençal Rosé.  It has better body and firmness than the colour might suggest – this is the grape variety showing its personality. Very dry on the palate with crisp acidity this wine is dominated by strawberry and herbal notes.  It has a long, clean finish.  Serve with salade niçoise.

Extra dry, rosé wine – $21.95 per bottle

Spain, Galicia – DO Rias Baixas Bodegas Martin Códax Salterio Albariño 2010

Here we have a perfect wine for summer sipping: a beautifully aromatic nose of stone fruit and white flowers is followed by a reasonably intense, fleshy, mid-weight palate.  Ripe peach, citrus, stony minerals, zesty acid and a long finish.  Very good wine for your patio entertaining – serve on its own or with grilled shrimp.

Dry, white wine – $17.95 per bottle (Clean and Crisp feature wine)

Australia, South Australia – Wynn’s Coonawarra Estate Shiraz 2008

Readers now know I shy away from South Australia Shiraz – too fat and flabby, verging on sweet, more chocolate than black pepper, more wood than savoury, etc., etc. Well then, let’s call this wine the anti-S.A. Shiraz.  It has very fine fruit expression, nice tannins, very good balance, judicious use of wood, sound structure, lots of spice and earth, minerals and a long, clean finish.  In a blind tasting it would be hard to pinpoint this wine as from South Australia.  A very good value which will age nicely for the next 3 – 5 years.

Extra dry, red wine – $19.95 per bottle

France, Languedoc – AOC Faugères Château Saint-Roch de Laurens 2007

Faugères is one of the many under-recognized appellations in the Midi region of France.  It is one of the most consistent regions in this diverse area, known for flavourful and robust blends made from Syrah, Grenache and Carignan (with smatterings of Cinsault  and Mourvèdre, depending on the producer. This wine is a perfect comfort-food accompaniment at a very good price, so you should stock up now for dinners on cold mid-winter evenings.  It has intense flavours, good concentration and yet it retains its Old World classiness – oodles of fruit, a bit of wood and plenty of herbal, savoury earthiness.  Run, don’t walk for this wine!

Dry, red wine – $18.95 per bottle

 There are two fine wines that didn’t quite make the A-list grade this week:

France, Bordeaux – AOC Graves Château Rahoul 2005

This is a very fine value from the excellent 2005 vintage: dried fruit, cherry, leather, juicy acid, grainy tannins and a long finish. Serve with a rib steak. Buy a case of this wine and forget about the 2010 Bordeaux Futures (see below).

Extra dry, red wine – $29.95 per bottle

Italy, Friuli –  DOC Colli Orientale del Friuli Torre Rosazza Pinot Grigio 2009

This is another example of the character and depth possible with Pinot Grigio when grown at low yields in a cool-climate zone.  There is plenty of intense green apple, minerals and juicy acid, which makes this wine a beautiful accompaniment for soft creamy cheeses such as brie and camembert.

Extra dry, white wine – $19.95 per bottle

 And finally, the Collector’s Item for this release:

Italy, Tuscany – IGT Alta Valle della Greve Poggio Scalette Il Carbonaione 2007

This is a relatively unknown icon from a very small IGT zone in the heart of Chianti Classico country. It is made with 100% Sangiovese  and was matured for 15 months in a mix of new and old French oak barriques.  This is a concentrated wine with bright red cherry and blackberry fruit, smoke, grainy tannins and plenty of acid.  It is finely balanced and has an elegant mouth feel.  This wine will improve in your cellar over the next 7 – 10 years.

Extra dry, red wine – $58.95 per bottle

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2011.

Matches made in the glass

I have been doing a great deal of teaching this winter and there is one area where students have shown special interest: the domaine of food and wine matching.

One of the reasons for this interest is obvious:  my students need to understand the principles, and be able to apply those principles, if they are to pass their exams.  The other reason is, many of these students are front-line staff in upscale restaurants and they need to be able to advise their clients on the wines that will best match their entrée selections – happy customers make happy servers…

Most students understand the classic matches:  Sauternes with stilton cheese, Bordeaux red with prime rib, smoked salmon and Champagne, etc., but they don’t know the rationale for these matches.  Step outside the bounds of the classics and they are generally stumped.

The students I work with are not unique.  Most wine lovers have a small repertoire of food and wine matches they rely on – and the converse: food and wine mis-matches they avoid – but they often don’t have enough experience to go beyond the boundaries of their narrow range of proven matches.

As I teach this material I have found it best to assemble some simple rules to help guide me – and my students – through the amazing realm of matching possibilities.  The goal is to expand our horizons by experimenting and hopefully, in the process, conclude that food and wine, properly matched, can enhance the enjoyment of both.

First, some simple rules:

  • Match the body and/or richness of the food with the body of the wine (such as beef stew with a full-bodied, tannic Aussie Shiraz)
  • Combine food with wines that share the same flavour intensity (try spicy Mexican food with Argentinean Malbec, or spicy Asian food with a pungent Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc)
  • Acidic foods should be served with acidic wines (pasta in tomato sauce matched with a young Chianti Classico)
  • Match sweet foods with sweet wines (such as crème brulée with a chilled glass of Icewine or a Vin Doux Naturel made with Muscat)
  • Chewy meats should be matched with high-tannin wines to allow the protein to soften the tannins (beef brisket with Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • Salty foods (olives, certain cheeses, oysters, salted nuts) should be matched with sweet or acidic wines to enhance the food flavours (for instance, stilton cheese and Port, oysters and Muscadet)
  • Pair oily/fatty foods with acidic wines (e.g.  Wiener Schnitzel with Riesling, grilled salmon steak with Grüner Veltliner)

These are some simple rules and they work!

There is a theme to the rules: match weight of food with weight of wine, match intensity of food flavour with wines of similar flavour intensity. Once you have achieved this level of matching refine further to balance texture (e.g. chewy or oily), and other elements such as acidity and sweetness.

Acidity in wines triggers saliva flow and this effect creates the juiciness I describe in many wines. One of the most notable effects food can have on wine is the match one gets when a high-acid wine such as a dry Riesling is properly paired with juicy roast chicken (where acid and fat trump a possible flavour intensity mis-match) or with grilled cold-water salmon (where the acid nicely reduces the fatty character of the fish). Proper matches such as these open doors to wine lovers and even inexperienced tasters begin to appreciate wines that they might otherwise consider too acidic.

if you don’t believe me, try this simple experiment:  open a bottle of extra-dry Riesling that is chilled but not too cold.  Have your entree standing by (for example a filet of grilled trout with some lightly-boiled baby potatoes au beurre).  Sniff, swirl, slosh and swallow a sip of the wine on its own.  Note the juicy freshness of the citrus aromas and flavours.  Note also the intensely-high acidity in the glass and the juices released by your saliva glands.  Clearly this is not a patio sipper wine.  Now tuck into your filet of trout with another sip of the wine.  Now note how much softer the wine is – and how much the flavours and texture of the fish are enhanced by the combination of the crisp and assertive wine and the juices in your mouth.  Sheer bliss!

Here’s another way of looking at matching.  This table provides a picture of the possibilities:

In my scheme green boxes represent the perfect match, an orange box means you should proceed with caution and avoid at all costs where you see a red box.  Note the versatility of sparkling wine (here I refer to a quality traditional method sparkler such as Champagne, Cava, a Crémant from France, or New World delights like the Gloria Ferrer in the last Vintages Release.

I hope this little primer helps you work through the complexities of matching.  More importantly I hope it gives you some cues for your own experimentation.


à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2011.