Thursday, August 17, 2017

Camp Wine - Tasting in a Tent

Pyramid Lake, Jasper National Park
Oh, how times have changed.

It didn't seem that long ago when having a drink while camping meant cracking open a six pack or passing around a flask of 'camp scotch'.

It seems that my friends and I have all become a bit more refined - or at least we think we are. During my last camping trip to Jasper National Park in Alberta with my three friends, we drank mostly wine, especially when the day's activities were done and we were sitting around in the mosquito tent, relaxing.

I, admittedly, contributed to the wine focus by bringing along wine tasting info based on the WSET 2 tasting sheet I used for my course. Just Google "WSET tasting sheet" to find out what we used to taste the wines. The tasting sheet is extremely useful because it gives everyone the same vocabulary when you taste something in a wine. Sure, there really isn't apple or peach in a glass of white wine, but there are flavours and aromas that are similar to apple or peach and that's what you are trying to figure out.

One member of our group brought 3 bottles of Pinot Gris. I really enjoy a good bottle of Pinot Gris, especially when it is crisp, fresh, and fruity, and has those apple, pear and/or peach flavours along with a bit of honey. On a recent trip back east, I made the mistake of ordering a glass of Pinot Grigio (my wife didn't feel like wine for this meal). Pinot Grigio is the same grape as Pinot Gris but it is much more neutral in style. The wine I had was flat and watery and tasted nothing like the wonderful Pinot Gris's that I have had, such as Fort Beren's Pinot Gris.

All of the Pinot Gris's that we had at camp were good - the had some complexity, were balanced and expressive as a Pinot Gris. What made a difference, though, was the next day.
As we were trying both a red and a white each night, we didn't finish the Pinot Gris that we had opened each night and put it in the cooler (on ice) until the next day. Out of the three Pinot Gris's that we tasted, only the Pfaff Pinot Gris from Alsace still tasted good the next day. The other two completely lost their fruitiness and we were left with a harshness and acidity that was not balanced. They went from good wines to almost unacceptable.
I was especially disappointed with the Summerhill Organic Pinot Gris as I am usually quite impressed by their wines. However, this one was just ok when fresh and was actually unacceptable after a day on ice. But the Pfaff, I would definitely buy again!

Our go to place in Jasper was the Jasper Wine Cellar. The owner and other employees that we met were great to talk to and they did suggest some good wines - and we did some selections are our own.
 I was excited to see a Pinotage from South Africa in the Jasper store. The only straight up Pinotage that you can buy in BC from South Africa is The Grinder (which I thoroughly enjoyed) but I wanted to try another example. This did not disappoint. The Niel Joubert 2014 Pinotage had the same hints of coffee but not quite so strong. Pinotage is such a full bodied, flavourful wine and I was so pleased to have another really good one. This one was less in your face which made it a bit more pleasant to drink.
The one selection that was the worst, for a number of reasons, was the Chateau Meric Bordeaux. I was truly excited about this wine (~$25) as it was from the Graves region and I had had a nice Chateau Callac a few weeks ago, also from Graves - so imagine my disappointment when we opened this bottle and tasted a wine that was watery! The aroma had been a bit promising with dark fruits and tobacco on the nose but when tasting the wine, the fruit taste disappeared and the wine just seemed to taste like water and tannins. It was a huge disappointment. I'm not sure if there was a fault or if it was a bad year but all four of us were unimpressed by the wine.
Happily, on our next trip to the Jasper Wine Cellar, the woman suggested a different wine - just $15  - but also a Bordeaux. The 2015 Chateau de Courteillac actually had the type of wine (Merlot-Cab Sauv) on the label, which is kind of unusual. However, the wine tasted very nice - plummy with red and black fruits and a nice tobacco hint with medium tannins. It was sooo much better than the Chateau Meric!
Probably the best selection was the Layer Cake Zinfandel. No, this isn't your grandma's White Zinfandel, that hideous, candy-like embarrassment to rosé. This Zinfandel is deep red, rich, full bodied and tastes wonderful. Fun fact -  in Italy, it is usually referred to as Primitive, not Zinfandel. There were medium tannins and just the right amount of acidity as we tasted berries, black cherries, and pepper. It was a bold wine and I will definitely buy this one again. I would rate it as a very good wine.

Despite the fact that we were drinking out of lucite glasses, we enjoyed tasting - and drinking - this wide variety of wines of the week that we were camping. It really added to the experience to swish and swirl the wines (not a lot of spitting with this group) and being thoughtful tasters made this a very rewarding experience. I am much more likely to remember the wines that were great and the wines that were awful after tasting - dare I say - mindfully. It also adds to the overall enjoyment of drinking wine. Finally, it sure makes camping a lot of fun!

Monday, August 14, 2017


Recently, I had the very fortunate opportunity to go to Checkmate Winery in the Okanagan. Situated in Oliver, it is a very small winery owned by Mission Hill. The word on the street is that Anthony Von Mandl, owner of Mission Hill, wanted to further the already very good reputation of Okanagan wines with a passion project.

I was very fortunate to be able to be part of a private tasting and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

The winery is small at this point. There is a tasting area, shop floor and aging cellar - none of them that big but all having state of the art technology. There is also a pop up tasting room under construction that hadn't opened yet but had almost all of the necessary parts including wine fridge, counter, etc. as well as fantastic views. If not open yet. it should be open soon.

For our tasting, the woman from Checkmate set up a tasting mat with a variety of different wine glasses on the corresponding spot with the wine's name.

She then proceeded to pour - and rather generous pours.

The first type of white was Chardonnay. All of the wines have a chess themed name. They were similar in taste but also different. I didn't take tasting notes but the wines were all very nice. I particularly like the Queen Taken Chardonnay - it had some nice peach and even pineapple tastes to it and had a super long finish. However, at $125 a bottle, I resisted purchasing the bottle.

As a special bonus, the woman brought out a bottle of Bear Move. This wine was not actually ready to sell yet - close but not close enough - but she was happy to let us taste it. It was wine that was left outside in a vat to ferment and age (I believe) and a bear managed to wander over to the container it was contained in. Apparently, the bear knocked off the top of the container and was scared away by the strong gases (CoO2?) releasing out of the container. The staff then found bear paw prints and nose prints on the container the next day and thus became Bear Move. It was a very interesting Chardonnay - and had an almost wild taste to it! It's hard to explain in terms of taste but I have never had a Chardonnay quite like it! Unfortunately, I haven't seen it on sale but have my fingers crossed that it will be available before the summer

The other type of wine that the winery does is Merlot It was amazing that one winery can make so many different types of Merlot that taste similar but different. All of these were $65 so after tasting them all, I chose a 2013 End Game that I promptly stuffed in the cellar when I returned home. This had a hint of vanilla, some nice plum and currant tastes, and a wonderful long finish.

I would have liked to have one of each of the Chardonnays and the Merlots and then do some tasting with friends at home, but the budget just wasn't there. I would strongly suggest taking advantage of the tasting room when it opens. This is a different kind of winery and well worth a visit.

If only that bear wine would hurry up and be available...

Friday, August 4, 2017

Bottle of white, bottle of red - wine to accompany a nice steak

Fresh off the heady results of my WSET 2 Exam, I thought it was time to start blogging about wine again. I've got to keep those tasting skills up, after all.

I had selected a nice rib eye steak to barbecue for last night's dinner. I turned on the barbecue, and took a look at what we had to drink. Luckily there were a couple of happy choices waiting for us, both from the Okanagan.

In the fridge was the last bit of a great white wine we had opened the previous night so I poured a couple of small glasses of Tinhorn Creek's 2015 2Bench White.

I bought this wine as part of their Canada 150 special - 3 bottles of 2Bench Red and 3 Bottles o 2Bench White for around $150 which was a great deal.

The 2Bench White was still delicious even after being opened the night before. There were aromas and tastes of peach, pear and an amazing apple taste with this wine. The flavours were all quite strong and were balanced with a hint of sweetness that was like honey. The wine was very crisp and refreshing. At $30 a bottle, it's not a cheap wine but definitely a pleasing wine.

We slowly nursed our small drink until the steak was ready. While it sat on the counter, resting, I opened a bottle of The Hatch's Hobo Series 2015 Cabernet Franc.

This was another amazing choice - there were strong flavours of black currant, dark plums, cranberries and medium minus tannins as well as definite tastes of tobacco, leather and a bit of smoke. But the real magic happened when I had the steak with the wine. These two were made for each other! This Cab Franc was definitely up to the challenge of the a big, bold steak.

I am so impressed with Cabernet Franc - something that the Okanagan does extremely well - as it can be a great wine to drink on its own and a wonderful wine to pair with BBQ meats like steak, lamb and game.

If only I had a glass of port to finish off!

Monday, July 31, 2017

WSET Level 2 Exam - The Results Are In!

It's been a while.....

School had to end, then we were off on a trip to Eastern Canada for a couple of weeks

Then a fishing trip and a couple trips to Kelowna.

Of course, during all that time, I drank wine. Not only did I drink wine, but, thanks to the WSET course, I really tasted what I was drinking.

There was Pinot Noir from Ontario, Port flights at the Chateau Laurier, Prosecco for Canada Day and magnums of really nice Italian wine at my daughter's engagement party. And I took the time to try to really taste what I was drinking.

I have recorded some information on some of the wines that I tasted - I certainly recorded a star rating at minimum in the Vivino app and will blog about some of these at a later date - but today was a special day.

I received a call that Canada Post was at the door of my building with a package. I rushed down to the front door, wondering what it was. There, in the postie's hand, was a large, flat envelope. It was from Fine Vintage, the place where I took my WSET course. It was my exam results.

After thanking the man, I rushed back upstairs and showed my wife the unopened envelope. Although I've given my share of tests and exams as a teacher, it is rather rare for me to write them and, as I showed my wife the envelope, she commented that my hands were shaking. I guess I was a little excited!

When you write the WSET 2 exam, there are four possible outcomes - Fail (below 55%), Pass (55% - 69%), Merit (70%-84%), and Distinction (85% and above).

I was confident that I passed the test. I studied pretty hard and knew my information well.

I thought that I had a pretty good chance of passing with Merit. There were some tricky questions but I really thought them through.

I thought there was a slim chance that I passed with Distinction. There are only 50 questions so if you have 8 wrong, you've missed Distinction and I already knew of one question where I was wrong.

I carefully opened the envelope and slid out the paper.

I passed with Distinction with a mark of 96%!

I let out such a yelp! It was beyond my expectations!

Now, time to crack open a nice wine and really really taste it!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Blueberry Bliss!!! An amazing martini!


As summer approaches, sometimes there is room for a beverage that isn't wine. Like a frosty beer or a chilled drink.

My wife and I have been working on this one the past few summers and I think we have it down now.

This is a martini drink so dust off those martini glasses, grab your shaker, and prepare this wonderful drink.

In a shaker combine:
- half a shaker of ice
- 3 ounces of blueberry vodka - we use Stolichnaya
- 1 ounce of Triple Sec - the one in the rectangular bottle is preferred
- top up with Blueberry Pomegranate juice (the Pom stuff is all we drink)

Shake it for a while - try to make it to a minute (anticipation makes this length of time difficult).

Pour shaken drink into 2 martini glasses and enjoy.

This also can make a nice cocktail drink by adding this to an old fashioned glass or a tall glass and adding ice. It lasts longer, isn't quite as strong, but is a bit less - impressive!

Now, where did my shaker go?

Yes, that's my authentic Starfleet Academy shaker...

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Big Test - WSET 2 Exam

The past nine weeks of my WSET course came to a close this past week.  It was exam time!

It was an interesting time - instead of our usual classroom with tables of 5 which promoted lots of discussion, it was a more traditional setting where desks were arranged in rows, in groups of two. I sat on one of the side rows and, like most of the group, was on my own for the first part of the class.

The 'S' in WSET stands for 'spirits' so, before the exam, we did some tasting and talking about spirits.

We covered - and tasted  - all of the biggies; cognac, armagnac, rum, Scotch whisky, Irish whiskey, vodka and tequila. When tasting, the WSET book says to mix one part water with one part alcohol. In practice, our instructor, Dave, had us add just a capful of water to a half ounce of liquor.

I was quite happy to swish and spit all of them - except for one. There was a nice Bowmore 12 year old Scotch whisky that I had to drink every drop of!

By the way, Scotch is spelled whisky while Irish is spelled whiskey. Dave gave us this way to remember - just think - the Scots are too cheap to give it the extra letter!

From an old exam - the answer is C!
After a short break, we returned to the room and began our exam. I don't want to give anything away, so I won't give that much info about what was on the exam. There were 50 multiple choice questions from all over the WSET textbook, some I had seen before in the zillion practice questions I had done, and some that were new to me (what the heck is a gyropalette?).  Most frustrating were the questions that were strangely worded or had double negatives - they seemed to be testing problem solving skills rather than knowledge.

From an old exam - the answer is A!
So, how did I do? I do not know! Even though we filled out scantron bubble sheets, the actual tests have to be sent to London (England, not Ontario) and marked there and then sent, probably by schooner, back to Canada and then, after the folks at Fine Vintage sort out what comes back, you get your results and certificate. This should take about 8 weeks! Yes, 8 weeks!

The pass mark is 55%, merit is 70% and distinction is 85%. I am going to boldly make a prediction (hopefully not like my bold wine assessments that were completely wrong) about where I finished. I am certain that I passed. I also think that it is a pretty safe bet that I passed with merit. There is a chance that I passed with distinction but that is definitely not for sure. There were probably 10 questions that I was uncertain about and used my best guesses. If I was right with even half of them, I am in. Of course, there's the other 10 questions that I am sure that I got right - although maybe.....

 From an old exam - the answer is 1, 2, and 3!

Now the waiting begins.

In the meantime, I will use this blog to comment on wines that I try and experiences I have relate to drinking wine. If there is a wine that you would like me to try, put that in the comments - otherwise, I will continue to work my way through my wine education.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Any Port in the storm - really! WSET Class #8 - Part 2

After my dismal Sherry tasting - dismal because I really did not enjoy it - we had a break and then went on to try Port.

Before this class, I really didn't know the difference between Sherry and Port. It all seemed the same to me. But after this week's class, I have a better idea of the differences between these two fortified beverages. More importantly, I now know which one I like...

Port is usually made with black grapes and is alway fortified during the fermentation. Why is that important? The fortification interrupts the fermentation so there is always residual sugar left over. That means that Port is always sweet. And, it can also be really, really good!

Our first Port was a Tawny Port. Tawny Ports are a mix of red and wine Ports and are aged 10, 20, 30 or 40 years - so they are ready to drink when you buy them. The one we tried was a Ramos Pinto 10 year old Port that cost $39 (already, you can see the price differential between Sherry and Port). It was medium tawny in colour - which is sort of a red-brown colour - the older the port, the lighter the colour. It had medium intensity and had chocolate, cherry and prune aromas on the nose. On the palate there was, in addition, plum, jam and cloves. It was off dry with medium acidity, medium body and a medium finish. I didn't write down the overall rating so, from what I remember, I would give it a Good rating.

The Sherries we tasted before the break all were given a Very Good rating by Dave but I did not like any of them. I am not a sweet wine lover but this first Port was pretty good! I quite enjoyed it and like it much more than any of the Sherries.

The second Port was even better! It was a LBV (Late Bottle Vintage) Port The Port is made from wine from the same year (in this case, 2011), and is aged 4 to 6 years in casks. It is ready to drink when you open it and sometimes has sediment so may have to be decanted. After it is opened, you should drink it like wine, because it is only good for a couple of days.

We tried a Fonseca Port which was unfiltered (so had to be decanted). This $33 bottle had 20% alcohol - which is the same for all Ports - had medium minus intensity on the nose and had aromas of cherry, pepper and a medicinal smell. On the palate, there was black cherry, liquorice, and other black fruit. It had medium acidity, medium tannins and was off dry. I would rate this one as Good as well. A great pairing with cheese and chocolate.

The final Port was a Vintage Port - these must be decanted and are the best of the Ports. They are made from the best grapes and are only made in the best years. The one we had was a W. and J. Graham's 2011 Vintage Port. It was deep ruby and had medium plus intensity on the nose. There were many different black fruits on the nose including black currants and black berry. On the palate there was raisin, kirsch, and a wonderful jamminess along with spices. There was a lot going on there but it was hard to pick out some of the tastes because it was rather complex. It had medium tannins and medium plus acidity and was an off dry wine with a long finish. This wine was $109 and was Very Good - maybe even Outstanding.

I never thought of myself as a Port drinker but this changed my mind. It was an amazing wine. One of my group, Rajen, said that it was either his favourite or second favourite wine that we had tasted in the course! The only problem I see is that you have to consume it in a day - that's right - a Vintage Port should be decanted for a couple of hours and then consumed on the day you open it!

We finished off with two Sweet Fortified Muscats. The first was a Vin Doux Naturel from France (naturally).

The first was a 2015 Domaine de la Pigeade Muscat de Beaumes de Venise worth $35 for a half bottle and was pale, gold and clear. It had medium intensity on the nose with perfumed aromas of apple, pear and stone fruit. On the palate, there was additionally lychee, pineapple and vanilla. It was a sweet wine with medium plus acidity, medium body and a medium finish. Dave said that this one was near the end of its life as Muscat de Beaumes de Venise should be consumed when young.

The second was a Rutherglen Muscat (from Australia this time) and was the second sweetest wine there is, the first being PX Sherry.

Campbell's Rutherglen was $27 for a half bottle and was 17.5% alcohol. It was clear and medium amber in colour. It had medium intensity on the nose with aromas of stone fruit and tropical fruit.. On the palate, I tasted syrup - plain and simple. Being lusciously sweet, it was difficult enough to figure out what the tastes were besides syrup and sugar but this wine was über luscious! It was rated Good but I did not enjoy how syrupy sweet it was. It made my teeth hurt!

So, looking back on the class, I found that I didn't like Sherry at all, actually like Port - and loved Vintage Port, and didn't like sweet fortified Muscats all that much because they were so sweet. I know that Port is sweet, but not overly sweet and Port is sweet enough to counter the alcohol taste.

Now, back to studying - I have an exam to write next time!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

She-e-e-rrry......... Sherry Baby! WSET Class 8 Part 1

Tuesday was my penultimate wine class - time to get nervous! Next week is the big exam!

This week was all about Sherry and Port.

Sherry is made from white grapes only. The alcohol is increased by adding more alcohol after fermentation. In taste, that means that it can range from bone dry to really sweet depending on what is added. Our instructor noted that Sherry has a bad image, thanks to its own marketing strategy of many years ago. While trying to carve out a niche in the liquor market, Sherry was touted as an old lady's drink and the old ladies bought it in droves.

Unfortunately, nobody else did. And the old ladies were not a market that was going to last forever.

Now that Sherry has this old lady associating, it has definitely affected its appeal - but has kept the prices down....

Dave, our instructor, really likes Sherry - thanks to his initial introduction to it in a WSET course. When he was running a liquor establishment - not sure if it was a store or restaurant - one summer, he bought a case of Sherry to sell to customers as he extolled the virtues of Sherry. At the end of the summer, the case was gone - he had sold one bottle to a customer and had bought the other 11 and taken them home!

After trying three different types of Sherries, I have to say that, although I really enjoyed the aromas of the different Sherries I tried, I did not like the taste of any of them. I am pretty open to new tastes, especially with alcoholic beverage, but I really did not enjoy any Sherry. I will go over what I had, though, with ratings provided by my instructor, rather than me.

First was the rather inexpensive ($20) Tio Pepe. This pale, gold Sherry was a Fino - which is the youngest type of Sherry. A natural yeast called flor forms on the top of the barrel when it is fermenting (and the alcohol percent is about 15%) and this prevents any oxidation. It had a great aroma, smelling of vanilla, cloves, nuts and prunes and was medium intensity. On the palate, was a different story, It had some pretty interesting tastes as I detected green pepper, stewed fruits, biscuit and prune. It was dry with medium acidity, medium body and a medium finish. It was reminiscent of 'Almonds' and was rated Very Good.

Next was a Lustau Amontillado Sherry which is the next level in Sherries. This pale, amber, clear Sherry has a higher alcohol than Fino because it is fortified with spirit so the flor dies and the Sherry becomes somewhat oxidized. It can be dry to medium and this one was dry. On the nose it had medium plus intensity and aromas of walnuts, vanilla, honey, figs and sultanas. On the palate, there was also caramel and hazelnut and medium acidity, medium plus finish and a medium plus finish. This wine was $22 for a half bottle and had 18.5% alcohol. This 'Hazelnut' Sherry was rated Very Good. 

Our final Sherry was a Lustau Oloroso - think 'O' for 'Oxidized'. It is aged from seven to 30 years and is the best of the Sherries. Don Nuno was $26 for a half bottle and was medium amber in colour. It had medium intensity on the nose where I noticed raisin, jam, fig, vanilla and a hint of smoke. On the palate there was also prune, raisin, cloves, honey, and Christmas cake! It was another dry Sherry with medium acidity and a medium plus body. I thought the this 'Walnut' Sherry had a long finish and was rated Very Good. 

I was hoping to have a better appreciation for Sherry but, no luck. It smelled so good but despite the complexity of tastes, I didn't enjoy it. 

What about Port? 

You'll just have to wait until my next blog post!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sweet Barrel-O-Wine! WSET class #7 - Part 2

Hmm - it seems that Class #7 has a Neil Diamond focus; first it was Cracklin' Rose (well, Cracklin' Champagne ) and then Sweet Barrel-O-Wine (rhymes with Sweet Caroline?).

The second half of the class looked at sweet wines - not my favourite, but important, all the same.

First, the lesson. There are a few ways that you can make wines sweet.

Interrupting the fermentation is the first one we looked at. This can be done by removing the yeast, fortifying the wine (like adding sulphur dioxide or alcohol) which is what they do to Port and to fortified muscats like Muscat de Beams de Venise.

The second way to sweeten wine is to add a sweet component to the blend. One way is to add unfermented grape juice (süssreserve), like in a German liebfraumilch, but the juice has to be made of the same type of grape as the wine. The second way is to add sweet wine. One famous one to add is called PX with stands for Pedro Ximenez which is a super sweet, almost honey-like wine that is used for sweet Sherry.

The last way to sweeten wine is to concentrate the sugars in the grapes. This is done by using dry grapes, either on the vine, like late harvest wines (e.g. spätlese) or letting the grapes dry on racks, etc., until they are like raisins which concentrates the flavours in wines such as Recioto (made form Corvina grape) or PX - the sweetest wine of the world. Another way to do this is by using noble rot  where grapes are in a damp area and develop a specific type of mould. The mould attack the grape and causes it to shrivel. This has to be done with grapes that are highly acidic and thinned skin.  The final way to concentrate sugars is freezing the grapes to make Ice Wine!

Our first wine was from Pantelleria which is an island that is south of Sicily. This wine (I believe it was a Recioto) was deep amber in colour and had medium plus intensity with aromas of raisin, fig, prune and a bit of floral. On the palate, it was nutty, raisin, vanilla, sultanas, and a jammy hint. It was sweet (almost lucsious) had medium plus acidity, full body, and a medium plus finish. This wine was rated as Very Good and was a Passito di Pantelleria made by Donna Fugato ($40 for 375 ml).

The second was a Noble Rot wine. It was from Vouvray (which is in the Loire region) and was made with Chenin Blanc.The colour was medium gold and it had a medium plus intensity on the nose, with aromas of raisin, earth, and lots of stone fruit. On the palate, there was jam, plum, fig, fresh fruit and, again, an earthiness. It was a sweet wine with high acidity, medium plus body and a medium plus finish. This 2005 wine from Nectar Moncontour was also rated as Very Good and cost $72 for 500 ml.

Next up was a Tokaji wine - our instructor's favourite wine! It was medium gold in colour and had medium intensity on the nose with aromas of marmalade, peach, apricot and tropical fruits like mango. On the palate, it had flavours of tech, pineapple and apricot jam with an earth flavour. It was a sweet wine with high acidity, medium body and a long finish. Tokaji wines are rated on sweetness by puttanyos which range from 3 to 6 - this one had 5 puttonyos. This 2009 Tokaji from Chateau Dereszla had 11.5% alcohol,  cost $50, and pairs well with veal and chicken.

The final wine was soooo sweet. If you like sweet wines, this is the one. It was medium gold in colour, and had a medium plus intensity on the nose with aromas of raisin, lychee and pineapple. It was a lusciously sweet wine (the level above sweet is officially called 'luscious') and had tastes of pineapple, raisin and apricot. There was high acidity, full body, and a long finish with 7.5% alcohol. This was a Mission Hill Reseve Riesling Icewine from 2014. It pairs well with cheese and costs $56 for 375 ml.

I definitely learned a lot about both sparkling and sweet wines during this class of my WSET. I was able to pinpoint the tastes that makes sparkling Champagne so desirable and I have an understanding of how sweet wines can really vary.

Our next class deals with Port and Sherry - two wines that I am not all that familiar with. Time for some more learning!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Tiny bubbles! WSET Class #7 - Part 1

Ah, bubbles.

They tickle your nose, and stimulate your palate. Too much imbibing and there's silly behaviour or at least a headache in store.

But that was our first half of WSET class tonight - bubbles, bubbles, and more bubbles!

We first looked at how bubbly wine is made - and basically there are three ways.

First is the traditional way - and this is how they make champagne. Grape juice is fermented and then the wine is blended (in Champagne, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) and placed in bottles where more yeast and sugar is added to begin a second fermentation. That is when the winemaker goes through the tedious job of turning or riddling the bottles (the 'remuage') a quarter turn every day. The sediment collects at the neck, the wine develops yeasty, bready characteristics, and then the neck is chilled and the yeast and sediment is ejected from the bottle and the bottles are topped up and that's it.

Second is the transfer method. The second fermentation happens like the traditional way but the wine is just dumped into a big tank and the yeast and sediment is filtered out. No need for riddling, but not quite as good as the traditional method.

Finally is the tank method where, basically, everything happens in giant tanks. This is how wines like Prosecco are made.

Which reminds me.... when we were in Rome, we spent a day doing a wonderful cooking course where our group prepared an appetizer, salad, pasta, main course and dessert. It was wonderful! I remember when we were eating, we had some Prosecco after the pasta. Our chef instructor said something like, "The reason we have Prosecco is to open up your stomach so that it can receive even more food." And it worked!

Our first two wines were a couple of sparkling wines.

The first was a Henkell Trocken - a very famous sparkling wine. It was clear lemon pale in colour and had a medium intensity on the nose with aromas of stone fruit such as pear as well as a floral aroma. On the palate, it had aggressive mousse. This means that the bubbles were quite strong - you really want them creamy rather than aggressive. Again, there were flavours of stone fruit and apple. It was off dry, had light body and medium plus acidity, and a medium minus finish. It was merely Acceptable, had 11.5% alcohol, and was $15.

The second was the real deal - Champagne. And not just some everyday fizzy plonk....  It was pale lemon and clear and had medium intensity on the nose with aromas of lime, grapefruit, biscuit , bread, lees and croissants(!). On the palate, it had similar tastes and also the desirable creamy mousse, was dry, had high acidity and medium minus body. It also had a medium plus finish. This was a Premiere Cru from Pierre Glimonnel et Fils, was a blanc de blanc (which means it was made of only Chardonnay), had high acidity and cost $80. I would rate this one Very Good.

I can appreciate the bready taste of champagne but I'm not sure that I really like it. That led to our next two wines, one a sparkling tank wine and one a more natural wine.

This one was my favourite "opening the stomach" wine, Prosecco. It was pale, lemon and clear.
It had medium minus intensity on the nose with of citrus and stone food. There was also some floral aromas. Tasting on the palate, there was a creamy mousse, stone fruit, lime and medium plus acidity, off dry, light body and a fairly short finish. Overall it was Good wine made by Gabriel by Adriano Adami in the tank method and cost $30. 

Our final wine for this blog was a Pares Balta Brut Cava. it was pale, lemon and clear on the nose and was made with the xarallo  grape. There was medium plus intensity with aromas of bread, pastry, apricot, and, yes, rubber! On the palate was a creamy mousse with similar tastes to the nose as well as peach and smoke. It had medium plus acidity, medium body and was dry. A medium plus finish topped it off!

It was interesting to taste the bready, biscuity taste of the nice Champagne or Cava. Unfortunately, I am quite happy with a wine without that bread taste. However, I now know what to look for if I ever doe this again!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Franken-wine? A Pinotage from South Africa

Is it Franken-wine?

Pinotage is a hybrid grape that is mostly grown in South Africa (although Stoneboat makes a nice one in the Okanagan). It is a hybrid of Pinot Noir and Cinsault (also called Hermitage) and was developed because South Africa just doesn't have the ability to grow Pinot Noir that well, because it is so hot. This grape was the result, but I think it is more of a distinctive grape, at least from my first tasting.

Why try Pinotage? Well, it was actually a homework assignment for my WSET class - and I love this kind of homework!

Yesterday was a busy day, however, so when my wife went shopping, I asked her to pick up a bottle of South African Pinotage. There was only one kind available at the local liquor store and I don't think it was the fanciest bottle in existence.

It was a 2015 The Grinder Pinotage that cost a staggering $13.99. Would this be another Yellowtail?

In appearance, it was medium ruby and clear. On the nose, it had medium intensity and had aromas of plum, red liquorice, jam, and coffee (just like the label!). On the palate there was also black pepper, leather and tobacco, and a bit of an earthy taste. It had medium plus tannins, light body and medium plus acidity with a medium finish. 

Trying to evaluate it was not easy, even after going through the tasting. I quite liked it, despite its cheap price, as it was different and paired well to the steak and mushroom dinner we had. It seemed balanced, had OK length, had pretty good intensity, was fairly complex and as far as expressive, I don't know - I haven't had enough Pinotages to tell if it is expressive of not. It was definitely Good but I'm not sure if I would call it Very Good.  Good plus?

I would like to try another Pinotage for comparison, but when I looked on the BC Liquor Store website, there were only three listed and two were blends. I might have to make a trip to the private liquor store...

Overall, I enjoyed this one. It did have a coffee aroma, as promised by its name and label description, but it didn't overwhelm the wine. I liked the design of the label as well! My wife wasn't as thrilled with it - she said that it was OK but didn't stand out for her. However, she didn't think it was terrible - certainly no kin of Frankenstein's monster....

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Final Reds - WSET Class #6 - Part 2

After our break (where I chomped down the rest of my poké from Pokéritto) we looked at some different reds from Italy, again, and then a couple of other places. These were all different grapes and it was interesting to compare all of the tastes. I didn't feel so off base this week and that feeling continued for the second half of the class. 

We were not quite finished with Italy as our next wine was a Barbera grape from Alba - and is touted as practically the opposite to super chewy Nebbiolo. It is a very food friendly wine and usually comes form Asti or Alba and that is why it is called Barbera d"Alba or Barbera d'Asti. 

The particular one that we tried was a 2014 Barbera d'Alba from Paolo Conterno.  It was a pale ruby wine with medium intensity on the nose and aromas of red currant, cranberry, cherry, plum and white pepper. On the palate, it was dry, with low tannins and a light body and flavours of red fruit, plum, vanilla, and smoke. It had a medium finish and was in that tricky area between good and very good. This $24 wine was certainly drinkable but not quite as good as the next one. 

And where was the next next one from? It was a 2010 Taurasi made by Le Masciare and was also Italian. It was made with the Aglianico grape which is often called the "Nebbiolo of the south" as it is made in Campania. The Taurasi DOCG is the top wine made from Aglianico in Italy. 

This wine was  deep ruby, and had medium plus intensity on the nose with aromas of blackberry, blueberry and black cherry. On the palate, it was dry with high tannins, high acidity, and full body and tasted of black fruit, aged fruit, wet leaves, smoke and tobacco (full disclosure - I didn't actually taste the wet leaves - nor have I yet to this date...).  It had a medium plus finish and was rated as Very Good and cost $50.

The next one was my favourite of the evening. I'm not sure if the rest of my group felt that way but I really liked it. It was deep ruby in colour and had, to me, a pronounced intensity one the nose with baked fruit, plum, prune, black cherry and a hint of cinnamon. On the palate, it had medium tannins, hi acidity and full body and tasted of raising, jam and cherry. It had a medium plus finish and I rated it as Outstanding but our instructor, Dave, insisted that it was merely Very Good. 

It was a Rioja Reserva from Spain. Rioja wines are rated by age; Joven (under a year), Crianza (at least two years), Reserva (at least 3 years) and Gran Reserva (at least 5 years). This way, if you buy a Reserva, you know that it is ready to drink now! Rioja wines are at least 75% Tempranillo.

This particular Rioja was a 2011 Marques de Murrieta Reserva Rioja and cost $45. I am really going to have to explore some more Rioja wines!

The last wine of the night was from Portugal and was from Douro. That is the only region of Portugal that we really have to know and the main grape is a Portuguese variety called Touriga Nacional. It is the signature red grape of Portugal. 

It was a 2013 Niepoort ($40) made in the Douro Valley and was a deep purple in colour. It had medium intensity and black fruit such as blackberry, black cherry, and plum on the nose. It had black fruit on the palate as well with the addition of cloves and black pepper with high acidity, medium body and high tannins. It was also rated as Very Good. 

I'm a little sad, now that we have finished exploring so many red  and white wines. According to my outline, we have sparkling and sweet wines next week and I don't think I'll be as excited as I have been over the past 6 weeks. Then it's fortified wines which I am also not a huge fan and finally spirits - and then the exam. I will, however, continue to practice my WSET style tasting as often as possible and share what I can on this blog. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Now that's Italian! Italian wines from WSET Class #6

Tuesday night's class marked the two thirds mark in our course of nine classes. It seems like time is accelerating - both at my job and at the WSET course!

Ah, Italy! It just seems last week (not two years ago) that my wife and I were spending time in Rome, walking the streets, sampling the food, admiring the amazing variety of ancient wonders, and drinking the wine.

You can have at least some of that experience here - you can cook yourself a wonderful meal, watch a great Italian movie, and sip a Pinot Grigio or a Nebbiolo as you recapture your great memories.

Cin cin!

Tonight's class focussed on a variety of wines but the first half looks at Italian wines.

We started with the whites. Italian whites are, for the most part, pale lemon in colour and tasting of green fruit. There are not a lot of differences between the different white varietals but that made it only more interesting as we proceeded to blind taste two different Italian whites and a Spanish one.

First things first, though - I discovered that Italy has over 1000 indigenous grape varietals. In Soave the grape is Garganega and in Gavi it is Cortese. Trebbiano is the most widely planted grape in Italy but you don't often see it on its own. There is also Verdicchio from Castello di Jesi.

Our first three wines were white wines - one was a Pinot Grigio (lighter than the French interpretation of the grape called Pinot Gris), one was a Soave (Garganega grape) and one was a Spanish grape called Albarino which is the signature white grape of Spain.

It was a pretty good evening for our group - and even for me! We were pretty much bang on with our assessments of the wine - or at least, that's how I remember it! The first wine was a 2015 Tolloy Pinot Grigio which was - well  - pale lemon in colour. It had a medium minus intensity nose and smelled of underripe peach and pear. On the palate, it was dry with high acidity and a medium minus body. I tasted the same fruit with a bit of grapefruit and lemon. It had a medium minus finish, was from the Alto Adige area (famous for Pinot Grigio) and cost a mere $20. It was rated Good.

Next was a better wine.Pale lemon in colour, it had medium intensity on the nose, lemon, grapefruit and apricot on the nose with a definite floral aroma. On the palate, there were the tastes of citrus, grapefruit and lemon and it had a dry taste (drier than the Pinot Grigio) with high acidity, light body and a medium plus finish. It was balanced, intense, complex and expressive and therefore earned a rating of Very Good. It was a 2015 Pieropan from Soave (made with Gargenega grapes)  priced at $29. 


The final white of the evening was a Pazo Senoran wine made with the Albarino grape which is the signature white grape of Spain! It was (surprise) pale lemon in colour and had medium intensity on the nose. There were aromas of ripe apple and pear, stone fruit and nectarine. On the palate, it was dry with medium acidity. medium body, and flavours of peach, white pepper, melon, and grapefruit. It had a medium finish, was rated Very Good, and this fabulous wine costs $37 

Switching to reds, we looked at a  famous Italian area. The first was a Chianti (made from Sangiovese grapes) from Castello di Bossi. It was pale garnet in colour and had a medium plus intensity on the nose with aromas of cranberry, cherry, violets, tea, and spices. There were similar flavours on the palate including red fruit such as plum, and high acidity, medium plus body, and medium plus tannins. The finish was medium and the overall rating of this $33 wine was Very Good. It was a pretty nice wine but paled compared to the next one.

This was a 2010 Uccelliera Brunello (di Montalcino), also made from Sangiovese grapes, and made south of Tuscany.  This was also medium garnet and was also clear. It was medium intensity on the nose and was very complex on the nose - red currant, raspberry, red cherry, plum, fig, cloves, spice and smokiness were all apparent. The palate also had plum, back currant, leather and tobacco. This dry wine was high in tannins, high acidity, full body with a fantastic long finish. I would rate this $100 wine as Outstanding. And a great way to finish off our wines of Italy!