semillon

REFRESHING AUSSIE WHITES FOR PATIO WEATHER

What do patio umbrellas, floppy hats, coconut scented sunblock and backyard bbqs bring to mind? If you’re a wine lover, it’s a crisp, refreshing glass of chilled white wine.

Here are a few selections from a country that knows how to rock the outdoor get together, Australia! They may be best known for their powerhouse Shiraz reds, but I think you’re going to fall in love with these distinctive, lively whites from some of the oldest family wineries in the country.

Next time you head to the wine shop, seek out the Aussie section for these tasty bottles:

‘The Money Spider’ Roussanne 2013 – d’Arenberg

Rumour has it, if the tiny money spider crosses your path, money is soon to follow. This zesty, zingy wine is vibrantly full of lime and honey blossom. If you’re into NZ Sauv Blanc, give this little number a try! $17+

Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2013 – McWilliam’s

Made from high altitude grapes, which helps capture bright acidity, and concentrated crisp green apple and pear flavors. If you’re into Chablis, give this zinger a chance to delight you at your next picnic. $18+

‘Museum Release’ Marsanne 2008 – Tahbilk

Not too many people have had the chance to taste a Marsanne-based wine, a bit of a shame really, as with a little age like this 2008 release, it has incredible mineral, peach & melon, plus a nutty, toasty richness. Perfect for a leisurely glass on a chic patio. $21+

‘Vat 1’ Semillon 2011 – Tyrrell’s

This lux sipper is perfect for bringing to a fancy BBQ, a total crowd pleaser with hints of lemon, lime and a hit of popcorn richness from bottle aging. Pair with some shrimp kabobs and you’re golden! $35+

BEST OF VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL WINE FESTIVAL #VIWF 2015

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I’m just back from the first day of tasting at Vancouver Wine Fest. The Savour Australia room is open from 230-5 for people in the trade (writers, wine buyers, restauranteurs), and it’s a nice chance to cruise the room and take advantage of the smaller crowds before the evening sessions which can get a little crazy… like 10 people deep at the table crazy.

What shocked me today is that I have more whites than reds to recommend. When you think of Aussie wine, don’t you immediately picture a juicy, jammy red? The whites were gorgeous; lively, great concentration and distinct flavours. I didn’t stick to just the Aussie’s though, I perused the entire hall, so there are wines below from Spain to New York state. The items I’ve listed below are either delicious, unique and delicious, or hard to find and delicious. 

Here, in no particular order at the whites I think you’ll enjoy:

~Mionetto Luxury Cartizze DOCG is a flagship Prosecco. It was creamy, with light mousse, apples and lemon. Not tart, overly foamy or aggressive like some Proseccos can be, this is the Champagne of Prosecco (sorry, I had to say it). $40-50.

~Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon 2007. I tried this, and couldn’t believe how rich and creamy the mouthfeel was. Then I learned that the wine had aged for 8 years, and yet somehow manages to taste bright and fresh. It’s a mouthful of mineral and lime goodness, but oh that texture is sexy. This wine is unlike any Semillon you’ve had before, seek it out! $50.

~McWilliams Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2013. So maybe I just love saying Tumbarumba, but this tasty Chard shows how vibrantly acidic yet balanced Aussie whites can be. A little apple and some oak, with creamy lees notes, just lovely. $20-30.

~Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch Chardonnay 2012. My favourite Chardonnay of the day was this wild fermented beauty from the Victoria region of Oz. It had a voluptuous and silky texture, and flavours of yeast, and lots of fresh fruit. Quality doesn’t come cheap though… $40-50.

~Brotherhood Sparkling Chardonnay. This New Yorker sparkler was very tasty indeed, and hails from America’s oldest winery established in 1839 in the Hudson Valley. We hear a lot about NY wines, but don’t get a chance to taste too many. Crisp, dry but not too dry, delish. $20.

~Devil’s Lair 2012 & The Hidden Cave 2014 Margaret River Chardonnay. Here’s a pretty pair from the far West coast of Oz, perfect for tasting together. The The Hidden Cave is unoaked, fresh, vibrant Chardonnay and the Devil’s Lair has seen some goodly oaking, and is perfect for someone who loves Cali Chard but wouldn’t mind a little more refinement. No oak vs. oak – you be the judge! The Hidden Cave $20-30. Devil’s Lair $40.

Sweeter Stuff:

~Goldtropfchen Auslese Riesling 2011. For those who like a little sugar in their bowl, this Mosel Valley beauty balances tight acidity with the perfect dose of sweetness, and the Riesling aromatics we all love (a little diesel, honeysuckle, stone fruit). $30-40.

~De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon 2011. From pretty Riverina comes this botrytis (“noble rot”) affected sweetie. This is lighter and brighter than I expected, full of apricot, orange peel, whiteflower honey, and some vanilla. $30 for 1/2 bottle.

~Taylor Fladgate 1965 Very Old Single Harvest Port. What can I say about this one? I didn’t spit it out, that’s for sure. It is a gorgeous golden cinnamon brown, and smelled of sweet tobacco, brown sugar and Christmas cake. Seek this out and savour (there was no one at the stand at the beginning of the show, but by last call it was a wall of elbows). $300.

~Gonzalez Byass Apostoles VORS 30 Yr Palo Cortado. If you don’t already love Sherry, give this a try. It just sings on the palate with a luscious undercurrent of briny sea smoke, and a layer of spicy, sweet baking spices. I bought a bottle of this one to put away for a rainy day. $35 for 1/2 bottle.

Reds:

~Cleto Chiarli Grasparossa di Castelvetro Amabile Lambrusco. Call me crazy, but I wasn’t keen on tasting five Lambruscos today. But wow, am I glad I did. This table is completely unique in the tasting hall. Ranging from lighter rose style Lambrusco, to this Amabile (sweet) style, every glass was smooth, sultry, with mild rounded tannins. Just plain elegant (not in the pejorative sense). None of that grittiness that can come with the territory. The Amabile is chilled before fermentation is completed to keep some residual sugar in the bottle. It’s not overtly sugary, there’s just enough to offset the keen acids, and highlight the smooth cherry notes. $30.

~Peter Lehmann 1885 Shiraz 2013. The vines that made this wine were planted in hot Barossa Valley in 1885, and they are giving concentrated, lush, ripe wine even today. The nose on this wine was plush, spicy and had lots of brambly fruit. This is a bottle to open by the fireplace for an evening of relaxed conversation and contemplation. When I think of good quality Aussie Shiraz, this is what it should taste like. $50.

~Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz 2012. This is from McLaren Vale and it’s rich, ripe, with toasty mocha and plenty of black fruit and spice. Bonus, it’s ready to quaff now! $30-40.

#VIWF has got something for everyone - let me know if you have a favourite that I missed.

HOW TO FIND A NEW GRAPE TO TRY (BASED ON WINE YOU LOVE)

Hey, sometimes it’s nice having a routine. You know, get home on a Wednesday night, put on some PJ’s and pop the same old merlot while you cook dinner. It’s comfy, cozy, familiar, and for sure it’s going to taste great.

But you only live once, and there are so many delicious grapes out there that you could be missing out on (#grapefomo - it's real).

I’m here to issue a challenge: Try A New Grape

Find your usual go-to grape below (they’re listed in order from light to more powerful flavour-wise), and check out the alternate I’ve suggested for you.

Next time you find yourself in the shop or at the wine bar, I double dare you to try something new!

If you usually drink: Pinot Grigio Try: Pinot Gris

Yes, these are absolutely the same grape. I’m not trying to trick you! There is a stylistic difference between the more acidic, crisp and neutral Italian Pinot Grigio, and the softer, fuller bodied but still racy Pinot Gris. You’re going to find the Pinot Gris has riper flavours of lemon and peach, and will often carry a whiff of honey. PG is such a food wine, it’s going to go great with everything from cheeses to spicy take-out. The regions to look out for are Oregon (I LOVE Willamette Valley) and Alsace in France.

If you usually drink: Sauvignon Blanc Try: Gruner Veltliner

When you think of Sauvignon Blanc, do you picture New Zealand? I know I do. The classic NZ Sauv is distinctly grassy and herbal, sometimes with green pepper, elderflower and gooseberry flavours, and is deliciously juicy. OK, so now I totally feel like a glass of the stuff. But I want you to try something new, a funny little grape called Gruner (pronounced “groon-er”). Gruner’s had a hot moment among sommeliers, so you should be able to find one by the glass no problemo. Expect a fuller bodied white, with citrus flavour and a little white pepper spice. The country to look out for is Austria, and make sure you ask for a dry Gruner as some have residual sugar (aka are off-dry).

If you usually drink: Chardonnay Try: Semillon

Where my ABC’ers at (Anything But Chardonnay)? Keep moving, peeps. For those who love the Chard, you know it can make everything from refreshing un-oaked lemony goodness, all the way to buttery vanilla bombs. I personally don’t mind a distinct oak flavour, although wine snobs will rue my lack of sophistication! I want you to try Semillon, which produces ripe, fuller bodied wines with honeyed citrus flavours. The home base of Semillion is Bordeaux, France, where it’s often blended with Sauv Blanc (and makes the cult sweet wine Sauternes). Look to Australia (Hunter and Barossa Valleys, and Margaret River) for lusher, quaffable dry examples.

If you usually drink: Riesling Try: Chenin Blanc

If you’re a true Riesling evangelist, nothing I say is going to make you jump ship to another varietal. Heck, it’s my favourite white grape. I love that it can produce incredibly refreshing, zesty wines with a distinctive white flower andpeach/nectarine aroma, but with it’s high acidity is also capable of making some of the best sweet wines in the world. Think mouthwatering honey, orange peel, and a distinct petrol smell when it ages. I’m putting forward Chenin as an alternate. Look to France’s Loire Valley for Chenin, from Savennieres for a dry style or from Vouvray for sweet. Chenin has bracing acidity, and can have a pleasing minerality. Let me know if you like it!

If you usually drink: Gewurtztraminer Try: Viognier

Gewurtz (‘guh-werts-tra-meen-er’) is one of those grapes that I pray is on a blind tasting exam. It’s got a lovely rosewater and lychee perfume that is unmistakable. However, it can be an acquired taste, as its strong aroma and full body can be overpowering for some. If you love the Gew, I want you to try Viognier, also a full bodied wine with pleasing bouquet. Viognier also has this incredible waxy texture that I adore, and flavours of nuts, stone fruits, and honeysuckle. Both Gewurtz and Viognier tend to have lower acidity (that mouth puckering effect), and can have higher alcohol than other whites. Viognier’s classical home base is Condrieu in France’s Northern Rhone Valley, but that area can be a bit spendy. Look to British Columbia, California, Australia, and Argentina for thriftier options.

If you usually drink: Pinot Noir Try: Tempranillo

Pinot, the darling of the movie “Sideways”, totally has my heart. If there was a perfume I could buy that accurately captured its enticing strawberry, cherry, forest floor and leather scent, I would bathe in it. Pinot can range from the elegant and “restrained” reds of Burgundy, to the riper and more accessible wines of New Zealand (Central Otago) and Oregon. Not that it will replace your beloved Pinot, but Tempranillo (“tem-pran-ee-yo”) can also claim an intoxicating perfume of cherries and tobacco. Look for luscious examples from Ribera del Douro or Rioja in Spain (watch out for these aging terms on the label: Crianza are youthful and riper, the Reserva/Gran Reserva have less overtly fruity flavours).

If you usually drink: Merlot Try: Carmenere

Ahh, plummy, ripe and plush Merlot, why do people neglect you so? Nothing goes so well with a pleasant evening as a nice glass of easygoing Merlot.  That being said, why not give Carmenere a try? Both of these grapes call Bordeaux home, they’re like kissing cousins, really. Chile is where you’ll find the Carm, some of it from very old vines, where it produces a deeply coloured wine with smooth, plump red and black fruit flavours.

If you usually drink: Syrah/Shiraz Try: Mourvedre/Monastrell

Syrah and Shiraz are two sides of the same coin, the same grape done in different styles. Syrah can be lighter in colour, more restrained, with more chewy tannins, and finds its home in the Rhone Valley. Shiraz, the fruitier, riper, chattier of the two is famously produced in Australia and California. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone dislike a Shiraz, they’re just so unrepentantly jammy and tasty. I want you to give Mourvedre/Monastrell a try. Again, these are different names for the same grape. Mourvedre calls Southern Rhone home, and Monastrell lives in Spain. They’re stylistically closer to Shiraz, with peppery, meaty, mocha, and blackberry notes. Look for approachable examples from Eastern Washington State, Valencia, Yecla and Jumilla in Spain, and the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France.

If you usually drink: Cabernet Sauvignon Try: Pinotage

When I picture Cab Sauv drinkers, they’re in a cozy, masculine den, a roaring fire, smoking cigars after dinner. This powerhouse, known as the “King of Grapes, makes some incredible wines, with good acidity, full body and noticeable tannins. It has black fruit flavours, and sometimes you can catch a whiff of mint or eucalyptus on the nose. Cab’s often blended with Merlot to soften it up, and if you’re in Napa Valley and hear someone say “it’s a Bordeaux blend” that’s exactly what’s going on. Cab lover, I want you to give Pinotage (“pee-no-taj”) a try. Although Pinot Noir is Pinotage’s parent, they are very different, which you’ll learn as soon as you encounter it’s bold tannins. This grape finds its epicentre in South Africa, and makes dark, spicy, black fruit, and mocha wines that can have a neat licorice finish.

If you usually drink: Zinfandel Try: Nero D’Avola

Zin, you’re another one of those grapes where I’ve never had a bad glass. Perhaps it’s because you thrive in hot sunny climates, where getting ripe is not a problem. Zin has smooth velvety tannins, bold black fruit flavours, and mocha and tobacco notes. It’s home is Lodi, California, and is also found under the name Primitivo in Puglia (heel of the boot), Italy. I want to steer you towards Sicily, where you’ll find Nero D’Avola (“the black grape from Avola“). This is another full-bodied, heat loving grape that’s going to give you soft plummy spice flavours of with a little more acidity than your Zin.

Whew! We made it through. Now I want to know, what’s YOUR go-to grape, and what’s new to you that you’re most excited to try?