VERSATILE SHERRY

When people enthuse about matching food and wine they usually refer to table wines in the range of 12 – 13.5 per cent ABV.

Yet fortified wines (sherry, port, Madeira, Marsala) have their right place in gastronomy.

Sherry in particular can be bone dry to deliriously sweet, and every shade of dryness and sweetness in between.

Port may be white dry or sweet, or red with a range of styles and recently, a lot of fine red table wines are being produced.

Madeira too can be bone dry (sercial) or super sweet.

The same is true for Marsala, invented and promoted by Woodhouse brothers from England.

Sherry has been particularly successful in England and a few producers still sale a lot i.e E.Lustau, Harvey’s of Bristol, Gonzales Byass, Sandeman, just to name a few.

Here is menu with matching sherry wines

Carpaccio of North Atlantic cod, brunoise of gherkins, lime vinaigrette and black Kalamata olives

La Ina, Gonzalez Byass

Crepe with smoked Norwegian salmon, guacamole, crayfish and spring onions

La Lidia Manzanilla,

Slices of Gulf of Mexico prawns drizzled with, extra virgin olive oil, lemon, and Maldon salt

Fino Jarana, E. Lustau

Bay of Cadiz supreme of turbot, prawns, almond sauce

Amontillado Escuadrilla, E. Lustau

Oxtail stew, mashed potatoes and ham

Emperatriz Eugenia Oloroso, E. Lustau

Hot chocolate soufflé, brown sugar and cacao powder, white chocolate mousse, mango jelly

Murillo Pedro Ximenez, E. Lustau

Many people think that a bottle of sherry, once opened, can be kept for months without suffering loss of taste. This is patently wrong.

Finos and manzanillas are both very delicate wines and must be treated like table wines; once opened consume the wine with the meal. If this is impossible decant the remaining wine into small containers and refrigerate. This way you can preserve it for a maximum of 48 hours.

Amontillado and oloroso styles are relatively robust, and can be kept for a few weeks once opened.( A month maximum). They should be at 16 – 18 C. This temperature range was standard in central Europe and often referred to as room temperature. In North America room temperature is rarely as low as 16, often more like 20 – 22C. In tropical countries room temperature may be as high 28 – 30. At these temperatures wines taste alcoholic and unpleasant.

Sweet sherries should also be enjoyed within four weeks of opening and at approximately at 18 – 20 C.

Sanlucar de Barameda is famous for its delicate manzanilla sherries, whereas Jerez de la Frontera wineries specialize in all other types of sherries.

E. Lustau specializes in almacenista sherries that are made an partially matured by individuals who sell butts (special barrels used in the region) to the highest bidder. The winery or trader ages the wine to maturity and bottles.

Generally, almacenista sherries taste better, are more complex, rarer, and more expensive, but represent true characteristics of fine sherries, and represent good value for those who appreciate fine wines.

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WINE GLASSES AND DECANTERS

Connoisseurs like to enjoy their wine in purpose-designed, clear, crystal, mouth-blown stemware. Admittedly, these glasses are fragile requiring very gentle hand washing. They are also very expensive. In most restaurants wine is served in either all-purpose, machine blown glasses that do little to enhance the aromatic and flavour characteristics of a well-made wine.

In some fine restaurants, management may decide to use mouth-blown stemware for expensive and rare wines.


Wine can be drunk from any drinking vessel, but clear glass has the advantage of being completely inert, and allows the taster the pleasure of enjoying the colour, clarity, and brilliance of the wine.

Tasters always rotate the glass to “liberate” the aromas and volatile compounds of the wine. Fine stemware is always thin, large and shaped specifically for wine from particular regions, i.e Bordeaux, Burgundy, Cotes du Rhone, Rhine, Piedmont, Tuscany, Tokay, just to name a few. There is also design differences for still, white, red and sparkling wine.

European glass manufacturers have devoted considerable resources and researched the best shape for each important type and style of wine.

There are specially designed glasses for different grape varieties i.e cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling, syrah, icewine, Sauternes just to name a few.

Generally, German and Austrian manufacturers excel in wine glassware design and manufacturing.

In all cases it is highly recommended that appropriate stemware be purchased to enjoy a fine bottle of wine. However, specially designed glasses will not make a poor quality wine taste better.

All stemware must be washed and rinsed properly to ensure the absence of soap residue.

Stemware is fragile and in busy restaurants breakage causes profits to shrink substantially.

Eisch, a small German glass manufacturer in Bavaria, after long and exhaustive research, developed a line of shatter resistant, relatively inexpensive glasses that are readily available.

More importantly, Eisch has also developed and patented a breathable glass with a patented design and glass treatment that allows the wine to develop in the glass. Within a few minutes after pouring the wine, it smelled and tasted as if decanted hours ago.

I tried this newly developed glass and compared it to the taste of a conventionally manufactured glass of same design. The results were in favour of the breathable glass. But more importantly the glass is reasonably priced.

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EXTRAORDINARY VALUE WINES FROM SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa is the continent’s most prolific and most famous wine producer.

The technology is advanced, and wine makers are passionate in creating enticing wines.

Chenin blanc, a white grape transplant from France, grows exceptionally well, as do syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and other varieties.

South Africa’s chenin blanc wines taste appealing, are fruity, well balanced, and offer exceptional value.

Here are a few available in Ontario:

White wines

Kloof Street Chenin Blanc, 2021

$ 19.95

Chenin Blanc, 2017, Radford Dale Vinum

$ 19.95

LCBO13338

Red wines

Syrah, 2021, Porcupine Ridge

$ 16.95

595280

Pitch Black, 2017, Warwick Prof Black

$ 19.95

24250

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CHATEAU PONTET CANET

This Medoc estate was classified as the top of the fifth growth in the 1855 Bordeaux chateau classification.

Jean Francois Pontet owned the 78 hectare chateau up to 1972.

All the wine produced was sold in bulk to negociants

The Tesseron family bought the chateau, and still manages it. Vineyards are now maintained as organic, and are composed of 63 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 32 merlot, and five cabernet franc. Under the management of Alfred Tesseron the quality improved, and today the grand vin of the chateau fetches much higher prices than its classification calls for.

The second label of the estate is called Les Hauts de Pontet Canet.

The best vintages of the 21 century are 2005, 2009, 2010, and 2015.

Pontet Canet’s grand vin in successful years are deep red, smell of ripe raspberries and strawberries, full bodied, layered, and deeply flavoured. The aftertaste is long and satisfying.

Enjoy with roast rack of lamb, grilled lamb chops, or medium hard cheeses.

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A FEW WINE TIPS

Summer is for enjoyment of wine in-doors and out-of-doors, but preferably in-doors. Wine is adversely affected by sunlight, as is beer.

Here are a few tips that will serve you well, not only this season but throughout the year.
When swirling wine, don’t lift the glass.

A simple waiters’ corkscrew is all you need to open a bottle enclosed with cork. Many whites from New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Argentina, and European countries come in screw-capped bottles.
When ordering wine by the glass in a restaurant, ask the bartender to open a fresh bottle.

Chill sparkling wines in a bucket of water with ice cubes and salt, or in the fridge for two hours. Never put a wine bottle in the freezer compartment for quick chilling.

Keep track of bad vintages from northern Italian, German, Alsace, Burgundian and Bordeaux wines to avoid disappointment.

“Corked” wines smell of wet cardboard, those oxidized look dull (reds brownish and whites brown), those affected by brettanomaycis “feral” are slightly bitter, those that smell like rotten eggs and cooked cabbage are chemically spoiled.

Most mid-priced wines today are ready to drink with a few weeks of “rest” in the cellar. Very few (good vintage Bordeaux, Napa Valley, San Louis Obispo reds, Barolos, Amarones, and vintage Ports), need cellaring.

Some cheeses enhance wine others do not! (Cream cheeses go well with fresh, acid-driven wines, chevre with dry sauvignon blanc from Loire or New Zealand, or South Africa, heavy reds with hard or semi-hard cheeses. Experiment to see what you prefer! Your taste buds will tell you.

Always use the wine you select to drink for cooking.

Most “house wines” in regular restaurants are poorly made inexpensive wines! Always ask the server to show you the bottle and make a decision accordingly. Better yet ask whether the management is willing to let you sample. The packaging of inexpensive wines, a few exceptions not withstanding, looks, well, uninspiring! You can tell with a little experience.

Never shake a sparkling wine bottle before or after opening! Chill it properly and hold it at 45 degree angle, undo the muzzle, grab the cork firmly, and turn the bottle back and forth!

Enjoy!

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THE WINE INDUSTRY OF RUSSIA

Russia, world’s largest country that stretches over nine time zones, has a short vegetation period, which limits successful viticulture.

South Dagestan is the only ancient grape growing district with a history of more than 2000 years.

At the beginning of the 17th century, vineyards were planted around

the region of Astrakhan to supply the royal household with grapes and wine.

Ancient Greek merchants started planting vineyards on the shores of Azov-, Black-, and Caspian Seas for wine production.

In the 1800’s, a Crimean sparkling wine produced by Prince Lev Golitsyn won a gold medal in the 1889 Paris Exhibition.

Phylloxera arrived shortly after 1890, French grape farmers and winemakers had to abandon their businesses.

After the 1917 Communist revolution, vineyards were collectivized and production goals changed emphasizing quantity rather than quality. Many collective vineyards switched to grape varieties that produced huge crops but delivered low quality fruit.

Russians prefer spirits (mainly vodka), and beer, but since 1990 the rich (oligarchs) have taken to drinking French, Italian, Spanish, Argentine, and other imported wines.

The eastern European palate (east of Germany and Austria) prefers off dry or sweet wines. Even today the wines of the Caucasus (Georgia and Armenia) taste off dry or sweet, albeit with high levels of acidity that counterbalances the sweetness to some extent.

Today, Cechnya, Dagestan, Rostov-on-Don, Crimea, Krasnodar, Gabardino Balkaria, and Stavropol are the main grape growing regions.

All are located between 43 – 47 north latitude. Around Krasnodar 193 – 233 days are frost-free.

Stavropol is the best agricultural region of Russia, along with Crimea, “acquired” recently by a political manoeuvre.

Several winery owners hired French winemakers and viticulturists to maintain existing vineyards, to improve quality, and find suitable land for planting.

All Russia Potapenko Research Institute for Viticulture and technology conducts research to create new cold resistant vine stock by crossing suitable varieties, i.e cabernet, riesling, pinot noir, and local varieties that are cold resistant. New varieties from research and experiments resulted in creating sibirkovsky, tsimlianski cherny, plechistic, narma, guliabi Dagestanski, vydvizhenets, and zala gyongye.

Rkatsiteli, originally from Georgia, a white grape, is the most popular variety planted with 45 per cent of all vineyard acreage, followed by aligote, riesling, clairette, traminer, silvaner, muscats, pinot gris, cabernet sauvignon, saperavi, merlot, palavai, tsimlansky, severnyi, cabernet severnyi, stepniak, fioletovy ranni, muscat derbenski, and other experimental varieties.

Chateau Le Grand Vostock, Preskovoya (Stavropol), Massandra, Tsimlanskoye Winery, Fanagoria, Novy Svet, Myshako and Abrau Durso are the best known and quality oriented wineries today and make their wines exclusively from their own fruit.

Still today, huge state farms (800 hectares and bigger) dominate the Russian viticulture. Bulk wines are transported to “factories” where they are refined, bottled and shipped to markets.

Russians predilection for sparkling wines is well known. Their largest production centres are Moscow (with a population of 20 million), Rostov-on-Don (16 million), St Petersburg (10 million), and Nizhnij Novgorod ad Tsimlyansk (9 million) each.

Abrau Durso specializes in sparkling wines created by the Champagne method, others use the Charmat technique, and yet others modified versions of it. Russian technicians developed a “quik” sparkling wine production method using four pressurized tank where sparkling wines can be produced in few days. Quality is said to be below acceptable western standards.

In the 1970’s U.S.S.R had 200 000 hectares under vines. When president Gorbatchev started discouraging alcohol consumption, mainly vodka, the foremost spirit of Russians, vineyard acreage dropped to 50 000 hectares.

There are now efforts underway to establish controlled appellation regions using indigenous grape varieties such as Sibirkovsky, Tsimlianski cherny, plechistic, narma, and guliabi Dagestanski.

Russia still imports bulk wine from a variety of countries including Algeria, Argentina, Chile and others for blending.

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2022 NEW ZEALAND ANNUAL WINE TASTINGNew Zealand’s wine industry established its fame on sauvignon blanc, then on pinot noir.While both still enjoy worldwide success, other varietal wines are appearing.From what I could taste, I must say there are some very encouraging signs that other grape varieties can compete successfully with any anywhere else.This fair featured approximately 200 wines.This tasting featured more varietal wines than ever before – e.g chenin blanc, riesling, gewurztraminer, gruner veltliner, tempranillo, chardonnay, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, and others.New Zealand wines tend to be dry, but now some appear to be off dry, and a few late harvest-style sweet.Another noticeable trend was the of sparkling wines.Listed are those that I scored 89+ and above.Most are special orders through Ontario agents.White winesBarrick Reserve Chardonnay, 2019, Solyan91+/100Chardonnay, 2018, Milton Road, Central Otago90/100Te Arai Reserve Chenin Blanc, 2017, Milton92/100The Fuder Chardonnay, 2015, Clayrin92+/100Sauvignon Blanc, St Clair89+/100L CB O General list $ 19.95Riesling Spatlese, 2015, Ostler91+/100 (sweet)Red winesSurveyor Single Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2017, Domain Thompson91+/100Pinot Noir, 2010, Auntsfield89+/100Estate Pinot Noir, 2016, Hans Family89+/100Left Hand Pinot Noir, 2018, Paddy Brothwick90/100Cottage Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2017, Burn92/100Pinot Noir, 2017, Rippon91/100Tempranillo, 2016, Trigtii89+/100

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MEDITERRANEAN WINES

All northern and some southern Mediterranean countries grow grapes and make wine.

France, Spain, Italy, and Greece are most celebrated of all.

This selection of wines from sunny vineyards in a handful of stops along the Mediterranean coast shows why these wines are so synonymous with summertime sipping.

The Mediterranean portion of France is a place of breathtaking beaches, seaside cafés and bohemian allure.

Driving along the rural roads in summer, you can feast your eyes on bright yellow fields of sunflowers back dropped by purple lavender hills. While best known for its world-famous rosés, the Mediterranean coast of France is also home to enchanting red and white wines.

Here is selection :

990 Fitou, 2019, Gerard Bertrand

$ 17.95

Nord Sud Viognier, 2020, Laurent Miguel

$ 15.95

La Forcadiere Rose Tavel, 2021, Domain Maby

$ 22.95

Italy

Not only does Italy feature several mainland wine-growing regions basking in Mediterranean sunshine, it also has two islands in the Mediterranean Sea itself. On the more southerly island of Sicily stands Mount Etna: the largest active volcano in Europe, along with ancient Phoenician, Greek and Roman archaeological sites.

Frapato Vittoria, 2019, Planeta

$ 22.95

Langusa Nero d’Avola, 2019, Feudo Montoni

$ 24.95

Greece

Perhaps more than any other, this is the place that comes to mind when we think of Mediterranean history and wine making.

Greece is home to a plethora of important archaeological sites and landmarks dating from the Bronze Age through the Middle Ages.

Le Nord Assyrtiko, 2020, Kir Yianni

$ 18.95

Spain

Not all Spanish wine regions border the Mediterranean Sea, but nearly all of them feel its influence.

The portion of Spain that does have Mediterranean coastline also features a thriving arts scene and rustic medieval architecture including a castle once owned by Salvador Dalí.

The wines of Spain are as diverse as the geography itself, but many of the reds are crafted using oak barrels, making them excellent accompaniments for barbecue, and are given extended ageing time in barrel and bottle, which allows them to mellow and become well suited for sipping on their own.

Vina Real Crianza, 2018

$ 16.95

1564 Natural, 2020, Siera Norte

$ 21.95

Seleccion Blanco, 2020, Borsao

$ 13.95

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RIOJA – ONE OF THE FOREMOST WINE PRODUCING REGIONS OF SPAIN

Spanish know how to live. They take their time to enjoy savour life’s moments.

A glass or two of is always enjoyed with a leisurely meal mostly set in the backyard.

This gorgeous northern Spanish wine region is home to some of the world’s best red wines.

Riojan wine makers have been producing wine for more than millennia under the shadow of Cantabrian mountains.

Rioja was the first Spanish region granted the designation of origin wine that stipulates the boundaries of the appellation, grape varietis, yields, aging requirements and more.

The red tempranillo is the most popular, and for white wines growers like viura.

Garnacha (aka grenache in France) , mazuelo, and garciano are some of the other varieties.

There are three sub-regions – Rioja alta, Rioja alavesa, and Rioja baja.

Alavesa is best known for its medium bodied reds whereas Rioja alta specializes in lighter wines.

Roasted leg of lamb is a specialty of the region, and goes best with wines from Alavesa.

Reseva labelled wines must be aged at least for 36 months in small ( 250 liter) barrels.

When Bordeaux was afflicted with the dreaded phylloxera, many wine makers migrated to Rioja and helped refine quality.

The L C B O offers some outstanding Rioja wines regularly such as

Corriente, 2018, Telmo Rodriguez

Vetive, 2018, Bodeags Ontanon

Rioja Reserva, 2016, Marques de Murrieta

Tempranillo, 2018, Beronia,

Elaboracion Especial Tempranillo, 2016, Beronia

Rioja Reserva, 2016, Beronia

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WINE TASTING 101

First there was water, then came wine, which was accidentally discovered in the cellars of a royal palace in the Caucasus region.

With the arrival of wine, complications manifested themselves. Alcohol levels change, the colour ranges from watery white to dark yellow or pale red to very dark and impenetrable. Wine can be sweet, off dry or completely dry.

Newcomers to the world of wine find the scene daunting, but you don’t need a dictionary or scholarly books!

Just think of that every expert or those who claim to be experts had to start somewhere. In North America 30 years ago the best selling wine was Mateus rosé – an off-dry wine with a little crackle and pleasant taste originating in Portugal.

Now, fruit-flavored wines like peach-, or tropical fruit Chardonnay or white Zinfandel, are much in demand with beginners who gravitate towards sweet or off-dry wines. These wines tire the palate after the a few months, you start looking for more nuance, complexity, lingering aftertaste and those that complement food i.e. acid-driven.

Taste buds “grow up”, and beginners start looking for pronounced and diverse flavours.

It is best to start with light white wines such as Ontario Rieslings, Pinot Grigio

a. k. a. Pinot Gris from northern Italy and France respectively, or Soave from Veneto, and go on from there.

For reds, best bets are fruity light red wines like Beaujolais, from France or Valpolicella from Veneto, Italy. Eventually you can advance to Merlot or other fruity wines, and then progress to blended or pure strong varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Syrah a. k. a. Shiraz, just to name a few.

You can educate your nose and palate by smelling herbs and spices, various kinds of ripe fruits, wet card boards (corked), or anything else to build up a smell memory. After all, much of what we taste is odour in the mouth.

Humans taste by inhaling and exhaling.

In fact the saying: “The nose is the sentinel of the mouth” is very true.

Tasting wine professionally is a serious activity. Amateurs mostly drink wine on a hedonistic (like or dislike) basis, but many non-professionals become quite enthusiastic about nuances of aromas and flavours. On occasion amateurs are better tasters than professionals.

Books have been written about wine tasting techniques and the type of vocabulary to use but this is mostly the domain of very serious consumers. (I will deal with the subject of serious wine tasting in Wine Tasting 201 and 301)

Wineries are acutely aware of the importance of packaging and label design, but what is even more important is the wine, not the package. Occasionally a poorly packaged wine may represent excellent value. If you do not know, ask the sales clerk, but be aware that get what you pay for. Bargains are rare.

Then of course you have to consider matching food and wine.

Unquestionably, this is a vast field and there are as many opinions as there are possibilities.

In general, you can pair light wines with light foods. For example, a grilled chicken breast with sautéed vegetables would be just fine paired with a light Riesling, or Soave Classico, or Pinot Gris or even un-oaked Chardonnay.

On the other hand, you will be better served with a heavier wine like moderately oaked Chardonnay and boiled lobster with drawn butter. A properly grilled (medium rare) steak with a well balanced Cotes du Rhone or Brunello di Montalcino is just heavenly.

If you like cheese, remember to match cream cheeses with light to medium bodied white wines, and semi-soft and hard cheeses with full-bodied flavourful reds.

If the food comes with a wine-flavoured sauce you can match it with wine in the sauce, providing of course the cook used a flavourful wine, which he/she should.

Storing wine is another matter that requites your attention. Buy wines at least a week before you intend to consume them. Store wines in a cool, dark, odourless place with no vibrations.

A damp cellar with a few racks would suffice. Never keep wines in your living room exposed to light, and wide temperature fluctuations.

If you want to spend a lot of money, you can buy a temperature -controlled cabinet, but you can also make do with an old refrigerator set to the warmest scale.

Most wines today are meant to be consumed within one or two years of harvest. A small percentage of wines are cellar worthy.

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