Oct 102013
 

Log onto Local Wine Events on any given day and a long list of wine tastings, seminars and similar events will appear. But, if you really want to learn about a wine region, the best introduction is to truly immerse yourself in it.

Aside from scheduling the requisite vineyard visits in Bordeaux, visitors to the region also have the opportunity to take classes in the heart of the city at a number of different places, which cater to varying levels of knowledge.

L’Ecole du Vin
The most logical place to start is l’Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux (Bordeaux Wine School), which is run by the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB) and conveniently housed at Maison du vin de Bordeaux. The Bordeaux Wine School offers introductory seminars as well as in-depth workshops.

In the two-hour, Introduction to Bordeaux Wines class, students are presented with a general overview of Bordeaux, inclusive of climate, soils, grape varieties and wine production, followed by a guided tasting of a dry white wine, two red wines and a sweet white wine. These classes are scheduled from 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM on Mondays through Saturdays (€35/person) and are a perfect way to begin the day and establish a good baseline of regional knowledge.

l'Ecole du Vin

Photo Credit: Tracy Ellen Kamens

A more intensive option, geared for wine professionals, is a three-day long program that incorporates lectures at the Maison du Vin and structured vineyard visits. The School’s intermediate offerings generally encompass two days, inclusive of seminars, tastings and a meal. Participation in these more advanced programs start at €350/person and often requires prerequisite knowledge and experience.

Max Bordeaux Wine Gallery
At Max Bordeaux Wine Gallery, enomatic machines span nearly the entire store, which claims to be “the only place in the world where you can taste the top 50 Grand Crus Classes.” Open Monday through Saturday from 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM, visitors can simply choose to purchase a tasting card (minimum €25 +€3 deposit) and taste through a variety of samples.

Bordeaux Enomatic

Photo Credit: Tracy Ellen Kamens

However, tasting workshops are offered on Tuesdays from 7:30-8:30 PM for €35/person, with private tastings arranged for groups at a similar fee. This basic option includes a tasting of two to three Grand Cru wines, with the theme changing monthly. On our visit, we tasted a dry white from Pessac-Léognan and two reds – an older Left Bank wine and a young Right Bank wine. The store also presents a First Growths Workshop that features three First Growths and costs €85/person.

Millésima 
Another interesting and equally educational option is leading Bordeaux wine merchant, Millésima. Millésima’s premises date to 1840 and are home to over 2 million bottles of Bordeaux. The merchant offers 30-minute guided cellar visits to its vast warehouses and its “Imperial Library,” which houses over 10,000 large format bottles of top Bordeaux wines.

Bordeaux Warehouse

Photo Credit: Tracy Ellen Kamens

In addition to taking the tour, visitors can choose to participate in one of seven tutored tastings, presented in French, English, German or Spanish. Tasting sessions are by appointment only and start at €100/person, depending on the type of tasting selected and the time of day (evenings and weekends are more expensive than weekday visits). The introductory Initiation to the Wines of Bordeaux guides participants through a dry white (Château Latour Martillac 2007 Graves Pessac-Léognan blanc Cru classé), a Right Bank red (Château Grand Corbin Manuel 2005 Saint Emilion Grand cru) and a Left Bank red (Château Peyrabon 2005 Haut-Médoc Cru bourgeois).

Among the more complex (and pricier options) are a horizontal tasting of 1998 Right Bank wines and a horizontal tasting of wines from the vaunted 2000 vintage. And, if guests want to purchase any of the wines they’ve seen or tasted, Millésima’s on-site shop offers 400 wines and is open weekdays from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. 

Jun 262013
 

Riesling holds a special place in the hearts of many in the wine trade. From sommeliers to wine buyers to collectors, ask any of them what varietal they prefer to drink, and chances are that many of them will tell you: Riesling (that and/or Pinot Noir). That includes me.

Consumer Perception

Unfortunately, Riesling suffers from a slight image problem. Blame it on Blue Nun if you wish (which, by the way, didn’t have a Riesling varietal wine until recently), but many American consumers view it as a sweet wine their grandma drank (if she wasn’t drinking beer). California producers perpetuated the problem by making off-dry Riesling wines in the 1970s and 1980s. Not that there is anything wrong with sweet wines. I love them myself, but global tastes have migrated toward a drier style in wines in general (mostly).

Enter the wines of Alsace. Alsace is a region in France on the border of Germany which specializes in wines made from German varieties, such as Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Sylvaner. Most Alsatian Rieslings are almost entirely dry (i.e. no detectable sugar). The folks at the Wines of Alsace felt that it was a grave injustice to this noble variety to pigeon-hole it as “sweet” wine.  True, it can produce off-dry versions, but its innate acidity paired with Alsace’s unique location typically yields a dry, mineral-driven Riesling.

The Truth about Riesling

To combat this perception, The Wines of Alsace have published the infographic below. When I asked Louise Jordan at Teuwen Communications why they decided to take this approach to promoting the wines of Alsace in the U.S., she had the following to say:

The reason we created this infographic is because the majority of consumers still think all Riesling (not just Alsace) are sweet. And that simply is not true. We were also addressing the idea that consumers have a hard time understanding what exactly IS sweet. That is why we wanted to compare it to other beverages that are not typically thought of as sweet, such as skimmed milk. It is to start a dialogue about where Riesling is placed in the consumers’ minds, but also so they understand what is going on in their mouths when they taste something actually a lot sweeter than the average Alsace Riesling.

She goes on to state that every single wine or grape variety infographic she has seen from a whole range of sources always puts Riesling in the off-dry or sweet category. She makes a point that this is just simply not the case for all Riesling and a disservice to consumers when over-simplified all the time.

You might be as surprised as I was by the sugar level in these beverages. It’s an interesting concept, and one worth exploring.

For those interested, beginning in July, fans can submit their favorite dry Alsace Riesling and food pairings to @drinkAlsace using the hashtag #TryDryAlsace on Twitter for the chance to win two Riedel Grand Cru Riesling glasses. The contest will conclude July 31st with the announcement of a winner.

Riesling Infographic

Credit: Wines of Alsace

Jun 142013
 

My first visit to Okanagan Valley wine country was a surprise in many ways. For starters, I had no idea it was as big and spread out as it is. It essentially spans a distance of roughly 110 miles from north to south. That’s basically about the same distance as San Jose to Calistoga in California or Baltimore to Philadelphia for you east coasters. Needless to say, we couldn’t see all of it. Also, while not technically official, the area has seven distinct growing regions:  Kelowna-North Okanagan, Kelowna-Mount Boucherie, Summerland-Peachland, Penticton-Naramata, Okanagan Falls, Oliver/Golden Mile and Black Sage/Osoyoos. The last two sit on two prominent benches (long, relatively narrow strips of relatively level or gently inclined land that is bounded by distinctly steeper slopes above and below it). The wineries from these two benches have formed Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association.

Oliver Osoyoos Vineyards

A view across the valley in the Oliver area.

What makes these areas unique, other than the aforementioned benchland, is that they are the furthest south of the Okanagan appellations, and therefore the warmest. Their Uncork the Sun (#uncorkthesun) marketing campaign illustrates that quite pointedly. In addition, it sits at the most northern tip of the Great Basin Desert, so is reasonably dry. All of these conditions make the area ideal for growing wine grapes, especially red ones. In addition, the area is steeped in history and tradition, with First Nation peoples residing here for thousands of years. In fact, today the region is home to North America’s first native owned and operated winery – Nk’Mip Cellars.

Road 13

Road 13 showing two definitely distinct architectural styles.

Several wineries from the Oliver Osoyoos area hosted the attendees of the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference. We began our visit at Road 13 Vineyards, where several other wineries were also present to pour their wines. The winery itself won the “most unique architecture” award in my book. It was bizarre blend of Disneyland-kitsch and modern grace. The first in the form of crenelated walls and drawbridge, the second with a sleek building with contemporary lines and plenty of windows. I was told that the castle-like portion was a legacy of the previous owner, so I could look past it. The views from the winery, however, were stunning.

I tried several wines at Road 13, but the three that stood out were the following:

Road 13 2009 Home Vineyard Sparkling Chenin Blanc – Originally names Golden Mile Cellars, Road 13 is located on… wait for it… Road 13 in Oliver, BC. It’s owned by Pam and Mick Luckhurst. Mick is a rough-and-tumble sort. A man of few words, he apparently let’s his wine’s speak for themselves. This one in particular was quite amazing in it’s freshness and complexity. I could have drunk it all day. Bonus: it’s sealed with a crown cap, which lends it a few points of coolness in my book. http://road13vineyards.com

Maverick Estate Winery 2011 Sauvignon Blanc – I met winemaker Bertus Albertyn as he was pouring his Sauvignon Blanc for us bloggers. A South African by birth (awesome accent, by the way), he moved to BC in 2009, He’s made wine in South Africa, France, California, and Italy. I could tell. His SB was everything an SB should be. It was graceful and elegant, with nicely floral aromatics. Everything was in harmony. Definitely a highlight wine for me. https://secure2.shadowfax.bc.ca/maverick/scms.asp

Hidden Chapel Winery 2012 Blushing Bride Rose – The winery was named after a “fairy-like, made-to-scale miniature chapel” in the back of the winery property that was built by the former owner’s son-in-law. The winery was started by Lanny Kinrade and Deborah Wilde, and appears to be a family affair. The wine was fruity, off-dry, and under $20, which means that it would be a crowd pleaser. http://www.hiddenchapelwinery.com

tinhorn creek

Bloggers were greeted with more wine at Tinhorn Creek.

While we enjoyed our time here, it was off to Tinhorn Creek (which was supposed to be a surprise, but someone let the cat out of the bag) for dinner, and of course, more wine.

Tinhorn Creek was started by Kenn Oldfield and Bob Shaunessy in 1993, and is still run today by Kenn and his wife Sandra. They have two vineyards, one on the Golden Mile where the winery is, and one on Black Sage Bench called Diamondback Vineyard (one guess why they named it that). In addition to the winery, there is a restaurant called Miradoro on the property (where we ate dinner that night). It seems that there are several wineries who also have restaurants. a la Europa style. Executive Chef Jeff Van Geest served us a chilled cucumber gazpacho, mixed paella, and hot chocolate with churros. All in all, a very good meal.

The wines poured at the dinner included the following:

  • Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2Bench Rose
  • Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2Bench Red (standout)
  • Covert Family Estate Rose and Amicita
  • Rustico Farm & Cellars Zinfandel (standout)
  • Castoro de Oro Viognier
  • Church & State Viognier
  • Platinum Bench Gamay (standout)
  • River Stone Pinot Gris

I’ll be honest, by this time, it was all starting to become a blur and the day wasn’t over by a long shot. What I can say, without reservation, is that Sandra and Kenn Oldfield are some of the best people and hosts I’ve ever met. Granted, Kenn had to watch the shop most of the time, while Sandra was off playing nanny to a bunch of bloggers, but it was a definite highlight of the weekend. Oh yea, and her wines aren’t bad either. I pretty much liked everything they poured.

Spirit Ridge

View from the rooftop at Spirit Ridge.

We ended the evening with a lovely rooftop reception at Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa. It’s a joint venture between Bellstar Hotels & Resorts and the Osoyoos Indian Band. It’s also the home of Nk’Mip Cellars, mentioned above, which is a joint venture between the same band and Constellation Brands. You could really see the desert here and the views from the rooftop were stunning. We enjoyed more wines from the Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association while we kicked back and enjoyed the scenery and the company of our compadres.

All in all, the wines of Oliver Osoyoos delivered hard on quality. While I didn’t get to try all the wines from the area, the wines I did try were either totally solid or rocked my world (have I used that expression already?). Now, if I could only figure out how to get them in the States…

Jun 112013
 

I returned this week from a visit to Penticton, British Columbia, which was the location of the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference. Penticton is at the heart of the Okanagan Valley Wine country. As noted in an earlier post, I’d never been to this particular area and knew very little about it. But, wow, what an amazing place.

Okanagan Valley Wine: View from Tinhorn Creek

Having grown up outside of Detroit, I’ve had a lot of, um, exposure to Canada and Canadians. Since the drinking age in Canada is 19, Windsor was calling my name long before I could legally imbibe in this silly country. In addition, I’ve recently discovered that the Canadian influence over the dialect of my home town is more profound than I knew, eh. It’s also probably why I like gravy on my fries (which I recently discovered, when you add cheese curds is a traditional dish called a poutine). And the people are the loveliest, most polite, and friendliest bunch you will ever meet.

Okanagan Valley Wine: View from Penticton Lakeside ResortTo be frank, however, I had rather low expectations before the conference. I don’t know, I’d only tried Okanagan Valley wine a few times since the stuff is so damn hard to come by in the States (more on that in a later post). What I had previously sampled was okay, but nothing special. And not knowing anything about the region, I figured it was some backwater that happened to have some vineyards. Boy, was I wrong.

The sheer beauty of the place was enough to make me stand up and take notice. Nestled against a series of very deep, and very blue lakes, Okanagan Valley wine country is the stuff of which postcards are made. The vineyards rest on benches, terraces, and steep slopes at the foot of the mountains that surround the valley. Crystal clear air and water abound. We stayed at the Penticton Lakeside Resort, which was easily the prettiest place that has ever held a Wine Bloggers Conference. In fact, Okanagan Valley is one of the most beautiful areas I’ve been.

Okanagan Valley Wine: First Nation DancerThe history and culture of the Okanagan Valley is quite rich. The valley is the traditional home to the Okanagan First Nations people, an interior Salish people who lived in an area that ranged from the head of Okanagan Lake down into Washington. Various bands still call the area home. They appear to live well together with the non-native Canadians, and there seems to be a mutual respect that has developed. First Nation land includes not only casinos, but vineyards as well.

The winemakers somehow capture this beauty and culture  in their wines. They a stunningly clean and fresh, with just a touch of desert terroir minerality. Regardless of the variety (or varietal), the wines have a pureness that is both compelling and comforting. All but a few of the wines I tried from the area were either solid or rocked my world. There wasn’t a stinker in the bunch.

There is so much to cover, that it isn’t possible for me to cover everything in one post. I’ll be breaking it up into multiple posts for readability and suspense. Stay tuned for more from Okanagan Valley.

Jun 012013
 

AntinoriAmazing day yesterday in Chianti Classico.

We started with a visit to Antinori‘s stunning new world headquarters and winery in Bargino.  Half space ship, half homage to Mother Earth, it’s a futuristic vision of wine, combined with a museum of over 25 generations of Antinoris.

And the wines were just what you would expect from Piero Antinori: sleek, stylish, and impeccable–all presented by a very professional and enthusiastic staff.  This place sets a new standard for winery experiences in Italy.

And then to Mazzei, where Francesco Mazzei himself regaled us with stories of Philip Mazzei and Thomas Jefferson’s early viticulture in Virginia. He then tasted us through a magical selection of wines that were focused, concentrated, and full of finesse.

A hard act to follow.

Mazzei vineyardsDinner that night was an experiment in the new event center for Chianti Classico: the Santa Maria Monastery in Prato.  Here we watched demonstrations by seven female Michelin-rated chefs cooking dishes matched to Chianti Classico wines.  All great–but we were too polite to push our way through the throngs to get much food.

No worries.  After a brief discussion, the hosts set up a table for us in a quiet room of the monastery and served us three of the dishes:  a chicken-liver pate with mandarin oranges; a spaghetti with bread crumbs and diced anchovies; and a two-part dessert of cheese cake over a layer of toasted pistachios and a base of chocolate mousse, and a ball of stunning sour-cherry gelato over a bed of chocolate ganache.

Nice way to end a memorable day.