Friday, July 11, 2014

for the love of grape

Pinot Blanc, you are the pedestrian of grapes, the progeny of unlikely parents: the worshipped and adored Pinot Noir and the obscure and ancient Gouais Blanc.  Never given the premium sites, never the grape a winemaker would call a pride and joy, but you, Pinot Blanc, are one of my loves. Yes, that's right. In Jancis Robinsons' words, you are 'gently, rather than demandingly appealing,' and that suits me just fine.

In Alsace, Pinot Blanc is the stuff of everyday wines, sometimes mixed with it's cousin Auxerrois. Or, as is the case with this bottle, sometimes just left to be on its own. And we know from the label that this bottle is 100% Pinot Blanc grapes all of which have come from the Clos de la Tourelle site - which belongs to Chateau Ollwiller, now a cooperative of winemakers but where vines have been growing since the 13th century.

In the glass this is full and rich but balanced nicely with a crisp finish. Yum, with a minerally, smoky, apple nose. $16.95. It was part of a Vintages release and while I don't know about the rest of the province, there is still quite a bit of it floating around Ottawa.

Other Pinot Blanc wines to try: Konzelman from Niagara; Dunavar from Hungary; Gray Monk from British Columbia.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

how to read a wine label in alsace

I know, it seems like a simple thing: reading a wine label. Nevertheless, I was a little confused while in Alsace (sometimes it doesn't take much). I wasn't sure about the difference between village and vineyard on the wine labels. I wondered if Grand Cru were labelled differently than non Cru bottles. Can more than one winemaker have vines on a Grand Cru site? Can winemakers in one village make wine from a site in another village? And how do I know if what is in the bottle is sweet or not (hint: you need to drink it to find out)?

So, what looks pretty straight forward isn't always.

The Winemaker: is the person(s) or cooperative or nègociant who made the wine.
The Designation: is really just to signify if the wine is a Grand Cru, which means the grapes come from a site that has been designated Grand Cru. After centuries of watching what goes on in the vineyards these are the best of the best in terms of growing sites in the region. All the grapes in a bottle of Grand Cru must have come from the vineyard noted on the label.
The Vineyard: is always listed on a bottle of Grand Cru and may be on non-Cru bottles (if the grapes came from one exceptional site), but not necessarily (the grapes may have come from more than one site).
The Village: is not always on the front of the bottle even if it is a Grand Cru. Sometimes it is listed on the back label, and not usually attached to the village like on this label..
The Grape: 100% of the grape noted on the label is what's in the bottle. If it is not a Grand Cru bottle, the grapes may have come from differing sites (unless the site is listed on the bottle).
The Vintage: (not in the picture) is the year the wine was bottled.

 Note the wine village and the general wine region in fine print at the bottom of the label

Words like Réserve or Particulièr show up on labels and can mean any number of things: that the wine was made from select grapes from a prized (but not Grand Cru) site, or perhaps aged for a time in old oak.

Domaine on a label means only grapes from the winemaker's vineyard are allowed in the bottle.

Clos just means that the site where the vines grow is enclosed, probably with stone walls; this usually means an older site with older vines.

Vineyards and winemakers may be in different villages, so a winemaker in Barr can make wine from grapes grown on a grand cru site in Dambach-la-Ville. This is why sometimes knowing the difference between a village and a vineyard site helps a little when reading these labels.

Some winemakers do not use the Grand Cru designation on their labels. Basically some people are not happy with the way the designation is managed and feel they have a long enough history - designations only happened in 1975 - that their reputation allows them to stand apart. For example, neither Trimbach, nor Hugel and Fils use Grand Cru on their labels, but much of their wine comes from Grand Cru sites. In recent years however, regulations have been tightened in order to provide a better guarantee of quality.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

something fictitious

A short piece of mine has been included here:

It's kind of a little thrill to see it lined up next to all that other nice writing.

Thank you Near To The Knuckle.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

they help get the good stuff to our lips

As a wine blogger, as someone who likes to not only drink wine but also think about what's in my glass, compare, contrast, and take copious notes about what's in said glass, I sometimes get invited to wine tastings where I get to do all of those things in addition to happily chat it up with other like-minded people. It's a perk. There's nothing better than drinking wine with other wineaux geeks. It is one of the things I miss about attending wine courses.

So, a week ago, when an email showed up in my inbox, and when I saw that I had a blank, empty spot on my calendar at just the right time, I responded with a huge YES to taste some of the vineyards represented by the Trialto Wine Group.

Wine merchants are one of those not-so-secret secrets about which you may or may not know. Before taking a sommelier class I certainly didn't know that it is quite possible to order wine direct from a wine rep; the only stipulation is that you order by the dozen. And they often have wines that are not available through the LCBO.

I chose two of my favourites of the night to bring to you here. They are both available at the LCBO.

This Argentine Chardonnay is at Vintages in the LCBO now. It's ripe and full but without a heavy buttery tone; more like ripe melon and apple pie drifting on a current of toasty aromas followed by a clean mineral finish ($19.95).

To be released on June 7th: this French blend - Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot - in a Spanish bottle is like ripe, berry heaven set amid a field of violets. A spicy, liquorice-tinged finish leaves you feeling like you could drink A LOT of the stuff ($21.95 from Mas Elena if you can't read my poor photography). It's organic!

The night was hosted by 10fourteen Bar and the food was great; there were sliders, and cheese and charcuterie, and croquettes, and delectable things on crostini. 10fourteen does a $5/glass 'Discover' special on Monday evenings. The perfect thing to kick-start the week.

If you'd like a run-down of all the wines on the table at the tasting, go see Bethany's post at Second Ferment.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

how to get to a vineyard in alsace

If you live in Canada, then you'll have to take a bus, a plane, a train and perhaps a minivan, but once you are there, the vineyards and the villages where they grow appear like something from a storybook. Red roofs nestled between the verdant hills of the Vosges are scattered about as though they were tossed from the palm of a giant. Castles perch like oversized birds atop the highest peaks. This was our introduction as we watched the elusive string of wine villages whizz past the train window while we sipped beer.

Ahhhhhh, we were in France.

A few days later, after we had overcome jet-lag and wandered the cobblestones of Strasbourg and drank lots of great coffee and filled ourselves with pain au chocolat we decided it was time for our first trek towards the Route des Vins d'Alsace."Vineyards to roam through and wine cellars to discover" says the official Alsace tourism site. Hmmmm, well not exactly. After a train, a bus and a thirty minute walk we were informed at Zind-Humbrecht to make an appointment and come back. Thankfully, there is a village cave.

The next day we took a train to Colmar - a pretty, largish village that is the 'heart' of the wine route in Alsace. We discovered that any tasting rooms that call themselves Colmar-based are driving distance away and Colmar is really more of a commercial centre than a wine town and the museum that is supposed to be in Colmar is, yes, only accessible by car.

 Oh well, we had our fill of wine and charcuterie and rolled on back to Strasbourg for dinner.

The next day we took the train and a bus, but this time to Ribeauvillè - a pretty, smallish village - where, hooray, it was possible to wander in and out of tasting rooms at will. On the way back to Strasbourg we made ambitious plans to cycle the next day.

And then the next day it rained... a lot.

We looked at art and had a boozy lunch.

It's hard to have a bad time when you are in France. FRANCE! where there is Munster cheese, white asparagus, foie gras, choucroute, and for $20 you can buy a fine bottle of Grand Cru Riesling. The selection of Crèmants to be had was a delicious pre-dinner dilemma that I am mourning this week.

When it was still raining on day four we opted for a tour and voila! Florence came to our rescue.

The three of us wended our way in and out of picturesque wine villages. Dave and I sipped enough white wine to be truly tipsy by eleven in the morning while Florence filled our heads with Alsatian facts and lore. She is truly lovely.

Tasting line-up at Domaine Bachert

In the cellar at Louis Sipp

If you are like me, and in the name of relationship preservation you have no desire to be reading maps and driving along winding, narrow roads filled with traffic and confusing roundabouts, then I would suggest doing a bus-hop from wine village to wine village, staying along the way, or cycling. I'm sure if you called ahead to some of the wineries, you could get into a wine cellar or two. Or you can have the charming Florence drive you around.

We never went back to Zind-Humbrecht.

But we would definitely go back to Alsace.