wine

WINES FOR VALENTINE'S DAY

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Need an idea for a new wine to buy for your Valentine? Or a bottle to open with friends? I’ve put together a list of fun options worth checking out.

When I think of wine and Valentine’s, it’s: something sweet... perhaps? Something fizzy, something fun... definitely.

For bubbles, here’s a bottle that’s cheapy-cheap yet super tasty, plus it gets bonus points for its bright red sparkles and being under <$15: Casolari Lambrusco Di Sorbara. This juicy frizzante is Lambrusco from Italy, land of lovers and sparkling red wine. It’s got a hint of sugar, and would be gorgeous in a flute with a raspberry garnish. Perfect for a Galentine’s cocktail too!

If my Valentine were to pour something sweet, I’d ask for a Pedro Ximenez sherry, known in wine shops as ‘PX’ (plus, asking for a bottle of PX is like a secret handshake that tells the wine clerk how cool and knowledgeable you are). It’s sweet stuff, verging on luscious, made from grapes that have have been sun dried to almost raisins before pressing. PX can be paired with very sweet desserts, so don’t worry, it will hold it’s own. It tastes like brown sugar, toffee and caramel deliciousness, so would make a great team with sweet apple pie, sticky toffee pudding and the like. Expect to pay between $15 and $40 for a bottle, depending on the maker. I like the Lustau PX, it’s widely available too.

When you want to say to your Valentine, this is something special and so are you, pull out the Tawny Port. Think of the bright ruby red port you’ve seen before, then mellow it out in cask for 10 or 20 years until it’s smooth, silky and sexy. Think fireside, think warming up after a romantic walk on a chilly beach, or maybe the perfect way to cap off an indulgent meal… The Taylor Fladgate 10 year old Tawny offers an excellent value to flavour ratio. I was just gifted a Ramos Pinto 20 year old Tawny for my birthday, and if you're lucky enough to be my Valentine, you can have a sip! 

Happy Valentine’s Day to you, I hope you’re able to try one of these wines and share with the one you love. 

HOW TO PAIR WINE & FOOD

Which wine will pair best with a meal? Or, which meal will pair best with a wine? It’s the number one type of question I get. But it’s really not that complicated, I promise.

Think about how you would go about decorating a room. If you’ve watched Sarah’s House, featuring the lovely Sarah Richardson, you’ll know she always chooses her key fabric first, the one that has all the colors she’ll be working with. Then she chooses the paint and accessories to pop from that key fabric. I think you know where I’m going with this…

The ‘fabric’ in our case is the meal. When pairing wine, we always want to start with the food that will be served. That dish will give us all the key flavors and textures to pair with. Then we start thinking about, is the dish light, or rich? Is one flavor dominant, like lemon, or is there a blend of flavors like roast onion, herbs, and pepper? Is it rustic or elegant?

Next, choose your color. What color wine do you think will go best?

Body – do you need a heavier bodied wine or lighter one? This will lead you to cool or hot wine regions.

Flavor intensity is important. The wine should bring out the best in the food and vice versa, never dominate and overpower. This is where the grape you choose will play a big role.

Most important though, is to have the courage of your convictions…

If you’re ordering for the table, or have chosen the wine for a dinner party, don’t let them see your fear! I’m convinced 99% of their reaction will be based on how confident you appear. So remember: be confident, be creative, and as Julia Child said, “Never apologize”!

Here’s a fun Pinterest graphic that my talented friend Susannah of Feast + West created based on my top pairing tips {I recently wrote a series of Wine 101 articles featured on her site, be sure to check them out}!

 

YES WAY, PORTUGUESE ROSÉ

Portugal, not just the land where Port comes from! This little country makes some delightfully refreshing rosé wine, perfect for sipping in the Summertime.

Here are a selection that range from glou-glou (think pocketbook friendly, but tasty) to ‘had me at hello’. Bonus: if you’ve been looking for some hot weather wines that won’t knock you out, these range from only 9.5-12.5% alcohol.

Mateus Original Rosé (sparkling): There’s no other way to put this… If you bring this wine to a party, any snobs present will likely be secretly judging you :O. If you’re fine with that, enjoy! It’s tasty (think strawberries), Tempranillo rosé with a little sweetness and moderate alcohol (11%), the definition of cheap & cheerful. Perk: no one will feel guilty mixing a cocktail with this. Serve well chilled. ~$8

Aveleda Casal Garcia Rosé 2014: A crisp, yet off-dry and fruity (think strawberry & rhubarb) wine from the Vinho Verde area in the North of Portugal. Pretty label and bubblegum pink colour, perfect for the beach. Only 9.5% alcohol. ~$10

Casa Santos Lima Portuga Rosé 2014: A drier style, but still fresh and fruity (raspberry & strawberry) made from the Castelao grape. Would be delicious with grilled fish or lighter Summer pastas. 12.5% alcohol. ~$12

 

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+

WSET DIPLOMA DIARY: PHILIP GOODBAND, SPIRITS & GLOBAL BUSINESS

I'm becoming rather fond of this peach pouf

I'm becoming rather fond of this peach pouf

April passed in a blur of rainshowers followed by glorious Vancouver sunshine. Birds are chirping on those sunny mornings, and the lilacs are in bloom.

I was in Vegas earlier this month, followed by a two day session in Calgary on the global business of wine led by Master of Wine Philip Goodband. The class is prepping for both the Global Business as well as the Spirits units of the WSET Diploma, the last exams we’ll need to take before the big final comes up in January.

To prep for the Spirits unit, I visited the biggest liquor store in the city armed with quite a list of spirits and liqueurs to buy.  These will be used for blind tastings to help me prepare for the exam. I now have the best equipped bar on the block, but a bit of a shame because most of it will be used for practice and not for enjoying in a cocktail.

Tasting spirits, I must admit, is not quite as pleasurable as tasting wine! You know when you’ve got a rum and coke, and towards the end it may be a little hot out, and the drink is now mainly rum and water… well that’s a little like tasting watered down rum. We pour it into our ISO glass, check out the color, then water it down about 50% before smelling and tasting, so that we don’t burn out our nose and palate. The water can help bring out some of the aromatics too (before we spit it out). Mmmmm, watered down vodka and gin! The plus side is that studying the spirits is fascinating, lots for history buffs to love.

The big news for the month was that I was honored with a scholarship from Les Dames d’Escoffier towards my wine studies. What a thrill to toast the news with a glass of wine among such incredible women.

A fun event to dress up for, the BC Wine Appreciation Society (BCWAS) held a gala to celebrate their 10th year. I recently posted some incredible BC wines and wineries to look out for after tasting them at this event. If you’re a Vancouverite, this is the wine society to join. They are active with holding tastings and events, and a very friendly, jovial group.

My weekly WSET tasting group has been meeting on Mondays to taste a series of wine, totally blind. Often we have no idea where in the world the wines are from – is this white a Riesling from Germany or Oregon? Is this a Rioja or a Rhone Syrah? It makes for some interesting conversation! Do we have the courage of our convictions to stand up and declare what the wine is? Check out my instagram for pictures from these tastings, and my picks of the best wines from each group.

Cheers,

Rachel

WSET DIPLOMA DIARY: FORTIFIED, SPARKLING & BRUNELLO

The peach scrunchy is back on diary duty

The peach scrunchy is back on diary duty

With all the tastings, festivals, and prepping for exams, it feels like Spring has sprung up around me. In the garden, seeds I rushed to plant before heading to Calgary are already up and growing!

Vancouver Wine Fest happened at the end of February, one of the biggest wine festivals in North America, and it was just incredibly fun. The Australians held court, their wines featured, with wineries visiting from around the world. I was so impressed, in particular with the Aussie white wines. In a move away from cheaper Shiraz and the larger appellation ‘SE Australia’, they are focusing on terroir, and labelling from more specific sites – Hunter Valley, Clare Valley, Mornington, and even Tasmania (try the Jansz Tasmanian sparkle for something fun).

March was awesome – I was lucky enough to get a Champagne & sparkling tutorial from a professional Champagne judge. We tasted through a set of Cava, Prosecco, and Champagne to get her tips on preparing for the WSET Diploma Sparkling exam, under exam conditions – 8 minutes per wine (sounds a lot, but goes faster than you’d think!). Her best hint on how to tell if the wine is Champagne while tasting blind? The finish lingers in the very back of your throat, almost like a fine perfume.

Then the Brunello Consortium was in Vancouver, tasting their newly released 2010 vintage, and the talk of the town was how good a year it was. Lead by local wine writer Anthony Gismondi, we were thrilled to hear from 10 visiting winemakers from Montalcino. I was in Montalcino in 2013, and what a gorgeous place it is. A hillside town overlooking rolling hills of vineyards, stone walkways, and lots of charming cafes and wine bars. Plus, amid all the history it was strangely high-tech, almost every wine store had several fancy Enomatic wine dispensers. One had at least 50 different Brunellos and Rossos on offer. Load up a little card with credit, and you can peruse the wines selecting up to an ounce to be dispensed. I will be posting on my favourite 2010 Brunellos shortly.

All was not milk and honey though, there were two big WSET exams to contend with: Fortified and Sparkling. As I painstakingly recreated a 6 foot map of the world on the living room wall and filled in all the specs, I began to wonder whether it was a good idea doing both exams on the same day! Did I leave enough time to review?? Off to Calgary I went, and at 9 am on Tuesday, we wrote the Sparkling exam. A blind tasting included a Cava, an Asti, and a NZ traditional method sparkling which was very delicious. The fortifieds followed at 11 am. We had a Cream Sherry, a Maury, and a VSOP Cream. Very tricky, as the VSOP had the acid and length of a fine Madeira!

All I can do now is wait patiently for the 8 weeks until marks are ready, and hope that I was successful. Advice for WSET Diploma students: know your producers (Symington!), don’t procrastinate, and do more reading than required (the Christie’s Champagne Encyclopedia & Jancis’ Purple Pages were invaluable).

Cheers, Rachel

HOW TO WIN AT A WINE FESTIVAL

Yes, I did say to wear comfortable shoes, but... no birkies please&nbsp;

Yes, I did say to wear comfortable shoes, but... no birkies please 

Are you heading to a big wine tasting event?

Fight the overwhelm, check out my top 9 wine tasting tips for having an awesome time at a wine festival:

~Don’t drink everything in sight (despite the temptation), be discerning, try to read up a little on the wineries you want to check out ahead of time. I take a look at the wineries participating in the event, and make a list of 3-5 must try wines that I’m excited to sample. I head to those tables first, which helps me get oriented in the room and avoid being overwhelmed by options.

~Circle the floor once before you start tasting to get the lay of the land, plan your attack, make note of your favourite wineries.

~It’s more than OK to spit out the wine. It can be a long night, and there are many wines to try. Have a sip if it’s really delicious, but don’t be embarrassed to use ‘ye olde spit bucket’ or tip out your glass into it after you’ve had one sip – you don’t have to finish everything they pour for you. I spit out 99% of the wine – unless it’s mind blowing or 50 year old port 

~Eat a solid meal before the party. Pasta, bread, anything that will fill out the corners of your stomach. Food served at tasting events is usually of the bite-sized canape persuasion, there are lineups, and they are snacks not a substitute for a real lunch/dinner.

~Dress for success. Of course, you can wear jeans and a t-shirt, but this is a fun event to dress up a little. A cute dress, or nice blazer will really help you stand out as stylish. Leave the 3″ heels at home though, your feet will thank me. I opt for cute but comfy wedges or ballet flats.

~Be polite and friendly to the people pouring your wine, it can be a long event for them, especially as the crowd gets buzzing. Don’t forget to compliment the wines you love, you may even be talking to the person who made them!

~Once your wine glass is filled, step aside so others can reach the table. If it's busy, don't monopolize the table's host. If it's reasonably quiet, feel free to ask your questions about the wine (or grab a card from the table to look up later).

~Have a plan to get home safe. No drinkin’ and drivin’ of course. Plan your transit route, grab a cab/uber, or take advantage of the festival's hotel packages.

~If the table you want to visit is too crowded, head to the quiet booth you’ve never heard of before. I’ve tasted delicious wines and met interesting people just by being open minded about trying something totally new.

~Lastly, have fun and keep an open mind. Try a new grape, a new winery, a new region that you’ve never had before. I also challenge you to try a grape you’ve had before and not enjoyed. If you’ve completely written off Chardonnay, you could be missing out just because you had that one off-putting bottle, when another style may blow your mind!

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.

WSET DIPLOMA DIARY: FORTIFIED & SPARKLING

I save my peach flounced pen just for diary writing...

I save my peach flounced pen just for diary writing...

The past few weeks have been so busy, that while I still feel it’s nice to wish people Happy New Year, somehow it’s almost Spring.

Off on a plane I went, to an intensive weekend of preparing for both the Sparkling and Fortified WSET Diploma unit exams in Calgary. The days consist of sitting in quite a nice lecture hall with 20 other students, while a Master of Wine candidate reviews the study materials (fascinating, but an intimidating amount of information {memorize the villages of Champagne, the grapes they grow, the soil types etc}) and pours us many wines. The trick is that they are poured from a black sack, which handily obscures what the heck they are! Yes, if you want to cheat, you can peek to see the type of bottle, but I am steadfast in looking at only the wine as it pours into my ISO tasting glasses. I am a woman of principle. 

If you like port and sherry, you would have loved day two: tawny port, Amontillado sherry, old Madeira, vintage port, Rutherford muscat from Australia, and lots of Vins Doux Naturels (VDNs) from France. Personally, I love fortified wines and think they are some of the tastiest and most interesting wines to be had. The Sparkling unit, unfortunately, has reduced Champagne from an occasional luxurious delight, to “wine with bubbles” that I must taste repeatedly and pragmatically (LOL don't worry Champagne, I still love you). 

Don't tell the wine makers, but after a long day, one Non-Vintage Champagne can taste remarkably like a chardonnay-based Cava, and even like a NZ sparkling made with chardonnay and pinot noir. They’re all made using the same method, and feature similar grapes. It does lead to a bit of second guessing as the timer winds down, and I know I’m not alone in the class. Thank goodness for sparkling shiraz and Lambrusco, at least I can tell what they are right away! The shiraz tastes like sparkly jam, and the Lambrusco, gritty sour cherries (caveat emptor: I've had lovely Lambrusco’s, but not all are created equal). At least the vintage Champagne does taste distinctly of toasty, nutty goodness. I can’t wait till the exams are done, when I can celebrate and truly enjoy downing a glass of bubbly!

I was recently at a tasting in Seattle for Walla Walla wines, what a fun group of grapes to be drinking. The Walla Walla specialties are Syrah and Merlot, and there’s also some great Chardonnay and Riesling, but there are many, many types of grapes being grown. There were about 50 wineries pouring for an eager crowd of people “in the trade” (writers, bloggers, restaurant owners), and of course people that just wanted to drink for free. My favourites were easily Sleight of Hand Cellars, L’Ecole 41, and Watermill Winery (from the Oregon side).

One of the hazards of a tasting event is the spit buckets. Yes, spit buckets. You were probably taught as a child, like me, that spitting in a public place is not only rude, but disgusting. Against this conditioning, I am expected to spit a bright red substance a substantial distance into buckets sitting on a table, that are already quite full of other’s efforts. Yuck. Yet, if you don’t spit out the wine, you are looked at like a heathen that knows nothing about wine. And, you stand quite a chance of getting drunk (quelle horreur). Plus, people are crowding around you, sometimes jostling, and watching your technique… no pressure!

Despite the presence of spit-bucket hogs (the peeps that sidle up to the bucket, and block others access through various means), I was making a valiant effort with an inky syrah, trying in vain to keep my long locks from impeding the process, and feeling quite suave about it, when some wine splashed back up from the bucket to spray on my face. Yuck times 1000. Would it be chic or déclassé to bring my own personal spit solo-cup to the next event, I wonder?

Coming up this soon is the Vancouver Wine Fest, the largest wine festival in North America, and this year’s theme is Australian Shiraz/Syrah, where I hope to taste some delish Aussie sparkling and fortifieds too. Then, the big WSET exams loom closer. Very exciting stuff!

PS: The next enrollment for the Diploma Prep courses will begin in January 2017!

 

WINE TERMS YOU SHOULD KNOW

Let’s talk about some winemaking terms that you’ve surely seen on the back of the wine bottle or heard people chatting about, but may not be entirely clear on what it is they mean. Below we’re covering five of the most used technical or 'jargony' wine words and what they mean about the flavour of a wine:

Natural Fermentation

Fermentation is the process whereby happy little yeasts eat the sugars in the grape juice (must), and in turn produce alcohol, carbon dioxide and heat. The yeasts are naturally present in the winery and on the skins of the grapes, and find their way into the wine all by themselves; you will hear this called a “natural fermentation”. Natural Fermentation is popular in the low intervention winemaking crowd and in traditional old world wineries, and many believe it can impart more complex flavours to their wines.

The other school of winemaking will inoculate their juice with a batch of commercially made yeasts, which is more commonly seen, as it allows more control over the winemaking process including the flavours produced. Sometimes, a bit of both happens, a natural ferment topped up with some help from commercial yeasts.

The fermentation process itself can be done in stainless steel tanks, which are efficient and easy to clean, barrels (called a “barrel fermentation”), or even concrete eggs, which mimic ancient clay vessels and are thought to increase circulation of the fermenting must.

Malolactic Fermentation (Malo)

Have you seen a reference to “malo” on your wine label or heard the word at a winery? Malo is a process that happens towards the end of or just after the alcoholic fermentation is done. It is caused by a bacteria which transforms the sharp tasting malic acid present in the wine, into the softer, creamier tasting lactic acid (think of a tart green apple versus a creamy dairy flavour). Most red wines undergo this process, and it won’t necessarily be mentioned in the winemaking notes. Where you will see it is on softer whites such as Chardonnay, where a creamy, buttery flavour can be desirable. Crisp, aromatic whites, such as Riesling, are not likely to go through malolactic fermentation.

Methode Champenoise/Traditional Method

The “Champagne Method” (called the “Traditional Method” when used on non-Champagne sparkling wines), is how makers get the bubbles inside the bottle. This process is a labour of love responsible for the fine creamy bubbles we’ve come to expect from Champagne. Other wines that use this method are French Cremants, Cava from Spain, Franciacorta from Italy, and many new world sparklings.

My favourite new world sparkling wines are Blue Mountain’s Reserve Brut and Summerhill’s Cipes Brut, both from British Columbia. But don't get me started!

After the initial fermentation, winemakers fill the Champagne bottles with the wine, and a mixture of extra yeast and sugar. This allows a smaller second fermentation to happen inside the bottle. As the yeasts eat the sugar within the bottle, they produce carbon dioxide that is trapped and creates pressure that will cause bubbles to form.

The yeasts eventually die, undergoing autolysis (which is where they break down within the wine and give a delicious bread dough aroma and flavour). The bottles are allowed to rest in racks for quite a while, as they are turned a fraction at a time until they are nearly fully inverted, in a process called riddling. The yeast remnants collect into the neck of the bottle, until they are dipped in a freezing solution, and the frozen plug in the bottle neck is disgorged. Extra wine and sometimes sugar, a mixture called dosage, is added to top up the bottle before the cork is applied. With all this to get the bubbles, I bet you can understand why some sparkling wines are more expensive than others!

Brett (Brettanomyces)

This is one term you won’t likely see on the label, as some wine folk think it’s a bad thing, but you will definitely come across it in your glass and hear about it from your local wine nerd. Brett is a bacteria that is commonly known by the euphemism “barnyard”. I personally love a touch of the barnyard when I smell a wine, but for some it is off-putting, especially if it's a strong presence in the bottle. I've noticed a wide range of tolerances, for some, even a tiny amount of this smell and it's 'game over' while other people live for it. The Brett bacteria can be present all through the winery, and in small amounts add complexity, but in overwhelming doses is definitely considered a wine fault.

New Oak

You’ll probably have seen the phrase “new oak”, especially if you are a fan of new world wines. New oak refers to the oak barrels that wine rests in to mellow out before it is bottled and sold. When oak barrels are brand new, they impart a significant amount of flavour to a wine, with aromas like vanilla, toast, and spice. The time in new oak can also smooth out and soften harsh tannins.

Barrels are reused, but most of their flavour is given up in the first two years that they’re filled with wine. After the third year, they can still be used, but they would be called “inert” or “neutral”, meaning they are not imparting much oak flavour anymore. They do however, still have an important purpose for aging the wine: the wood allows a small amount of oxygen to interact with the wine, which will round out the edges on tannins.

You might also see a reference on the wine label to the type of oak used. The two major types of barrels are American and French (although barrels are made elsewhere too). American oak can give vanilla and coconut flavour, and French has a reputation for a finer grained wood which can lend a more elegant finish to the wine.

Barrels are a big expense for a winery, so they are often proud of their new oak. In more commercial grade wines, you can taste the use of cheaper oak chips or oak essence to attempt to replicate the flavours of a new oak barrel.

Hope this helps! Let me know of any other wine label words that you’ve come across below.