A Tiny Taste of Canada

March 24, 2010

Having spent the bulk of my wine-formative years outside of Canada I’m not as familiar with Canadian wines as I’d like. Nova Scotia is one of the 4 wine-growing provinces of Canada and by living here I’ve acquired some knowledge of wines produced locally, but little of the wines produced in the rest of the country.

For a variety of reasons (a topic for another post) quality wines from Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia are difficult to find in Nova Scotia.  I became acutely aware of this predicament after perusing the 2009 Canadian Wine Awards in Wine Access magazine. Of the (roughly) 1,000 wines reviewed, most were from Ontario and British Columbia and many were not available for purchase east of Quebec!

After sufficient sulking, I noted a few of the recurring award-winners and resolved to keep an eye out. Before too long I spied a couple of those wineries listed on a recent NSLC Port of Wines tasting – notably, the Okanogan Valley’s Sandhill (2009 Winery of the Year), and Niagra’s Thirty Bench. Off I marched to give them a try.

(Okanogan Valley, British Columbia)

2006 Sandhill Merlot

2006 Sandhill Pinot Blanc

The Merlot had notes of dark fruit (plumb), spice, vanilla, wood. Palate was full and round, but fruit and acid both fairly muted with bitter tannin.

The barrell fermented & aged Pinot Blanc was my favourite. Nicely integrated yeasty/buttery/tropical fruit (peach) nose. Medium-bodied with more peach, toasted nuts, and a lovely creamyness that ends with great acidity. Yum!

Thirty Bench
(Niagra, Ontario)

2007 Thirty Bench "Small Lot" Riesling

2007 Thirty Bench "Small Lot" Riesling (Triangle Vineyard)

2007 Thirty Bench Red

2007 Thirty Bench Red

The Riesling had a lovely yellow, golden colour. The nose was classic petrol, citrus and mineral. In the mouth, a light-medium structure, with sour green apple and a slight brineyness.  I was expecting a little more acidity here, but otherwise I liked it.

The Red was my second favourite of the afternoon. A blend of Cab Sauv, Cab Franc & Merlot.  Lots of green pepper and a little cassis and spiciness on the nose. Full-bodied and silky with nicely integrated spice, fruit and acid on the palate. Still maybe a little green and pretty tannic, but I still liked!

Insalata Tricolore

Insalata Tricolore

I once asked an Italian colleague of mine to teach me a phrase in Italian. “What is it you want to say?” She asked. “Oh, I don’t know…” I said, absent-mindedly collecting a fax from the fax machine, skimming its cover page.  “What about: One page, including cover sheet?” I asked. She peered at me peculiarly. “Una pagina includa la presente” was the reply. I repeated the phrase to myself daily until I perfected it. The opportunity to use it in a conversation never arose, sadly, but no matter. My interest in Italy had been sparked. Soon I’d go there, meet the people, taste that FOOD, and most importantly, the wine.

One of the first glasses of Italian wine I ever had was at a wedding in Tuscany. It was red, light-weight, tannic and fruity. I didn’t like it. My dining companion pointed to my glass and said “That, doesn’t matter so much. This,” he said pointing to my plate “is more important”. I would come to learn that this is the attitude most Italians have toward their wine (and toward wine in general perhaps) – that it is an accompaniment to food. And for the most part, Italian Wines appear to be made with that in mind. As the food differs from region to region, so too does the style of wines produced there.

When my Sommelier course moved onto Italy this week I was keen to get to the tasting portion. We covered only the North East this class and tasted 10 in all. Here are the first 5. (The next 5 I’ll list in a separate post: Tasting the “Top of the Boot” – North East Italy Part 2)

North East Italy - First 5

North East Italy - First 5

I must say, I prefered the whites over the reds here. But that could be down to style preference. Here are the notes (order is as pictured, not as tasted):

  1. 2007 La Spinetta Moscato D’Asti Bricco Quaglia DOCG – Pale straw colour w/ slight green tint, course bubbles. Floral and honeyed-fruit nose. Light-bodied, slightly sweet, pear fruit on palate. Bubbles dissipated pretty quickly, but very refreshing. I liked it (despite the low alcohol – 5.5%) $22 (SAQ)
  2. 2008 Bolla Soave Classico DOC – We sampled this along with the following Soave to note differences between bulk vs quality producers. Idea being that lesser quality Soave (i.e. this one) would have more detectable Trebbiano in blend. Colour was a pale gold. Fairly intense nose of nutty, ripe tropical fruit, citrus and some weird sulphur/smoke. Light and simple structure, melon with some bitterness and moderate acidity. Finish was pretty short and thin. $13 (NSLC)
  3. 2007 Inama Soave Classico DOC – Bright gold in colour. Same intensity to the nose as the Bolla but with more integrated nuttiness, tropical fruit and butter. Weightier than the Bolla, with a creamy texture, and tiny bit of petulance. Fruit and acid more subdued but balanced. $30 (NSLC)
  4. 2001 Pieropan Passito della Rocca, Passito del Veneto IGT Dark gold colour, and slightly viscous. Pronounced dried fruit/apricot on the nose with honey and nut. On the palate was (not surprisingly) sweet and full-bodied with more ripe/raisiny fruit and almonds. Fairly low in acid and a little “hot”, but I liked it anyway. (However, I think you can get better dessert wines for this price) $50 (SAQ)
  5. 2006 Masi Costasera Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG – Deep, dark ruby-red with very slight browning at edge. Lively, mature/ripe red fruit, smoke, vanilla, wood on the nose. On the palate, full-bodied, soft tannins, good acid with hefty spice/bite, raisiny fruit, a bit sweet & heady. Long finish. $43 (NSLC)

Bricco Quaglia

Sometimes a wine-tasting has no particular theme. Sometimes, it’s a French Sauvignon Blanc, an Aussie Chardonnay blend and a Chilean Merlot. And you know what? That’s OK. It’s all wine after all and, as my friend’s mother used to say, “It’s all going to the same place anyway”.

The themeless trio

The themeless trio

Aha. So I see you agree with me! (Otherwise you would not have kept reading.) OK, well, to continue in this low-brow vein, if there is a common thread here, it would be a very attractive price-point. All are under $18 at Premier Wine & Spirits. Here are my thoughts:

  1. 2008 Montpezat Sauvignon VDP D’OC $14.86
    For a French (Languedoc) Sauvignon Blanc, a very New World/NZ-style, I thought. Lots of grassy, citrus, tropical fruit notes with some minerality. Fairly thin through the palate but lots of acidity and tart fruit. Easily a summer sipping wine which wouldn’t necessarily need food.
  2. 2008 Water Wheel Memsie White $17.51
    An uncommon blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Roussanne. What results is something that whiffs of ripe apples/pear and lemon and tastes of much the same – though translates to green apple on the palate. Less acidity and more structure than the Sauvignon Blanc above. I’d have food with this, but nothing too creamy or rich. This was probably my favourite of the flight.
  3. 2008 Don Cayetano Merlot $13.09
    Definitely a New World, Chilean style Merlot. Full-on, slightly manufactured fruity/jammy nose with lots of spice. I have to say I’m not overly fond of this style, but that’s just preference. It probably could stay in the bottle for a while longer as it still tasted pretty green and stalky to me with lots of tannin that sort of took over everything else. In my opinion, the Montpezat Merlot I tasted a few weeks ago for $1 more is better value and a smoother style (if you prefer that).

The Portuguese wine selection in Nova Scotia is not exactly killer. So sparse are the offerings in our fine province that the region had all but disappeared off my wine radar. Until I’d heard that Vin Art had recently acquired an appealing assortment worth a gander! With my interest piqued, I hopped in the van and sped (ok… clunked)  off to Clayton Park with a couple of fellow enthusiasts in tow.

We spent an hour or so perusing and after much hmming and hawing, I chose a few bottles to purchase.  I haven’t tasted them all yet, but two have stood out so far – for value and flavour:

Lello Branco

Lello Branco 2008

Lello Branco 2008

Region: Douro
Varietal(s): Malvasia-Fina, Gouveio, Viosinho and Rabigato grapes
Notes: Very pale straw, almost watery colour. Slight sulphur initially, but then floral, peach, citrus on the nose. Clean, fresh, light-bodied, and more tropical fruit on the palate. Finished quickly. Drink young (now). Great sipper.
Food Pairings: I downed this with a chicken, prawn & chorizo Paella. It went well, but had the dish been any spicier the wine would’ve disappeared. I might suggest an even simpler/lighter seafood dish.
Price: About $18 at Vin Art
Meia Encosta Dao

Meia Encosta Dao Vinho Tinto 2007

Meia Encosta Dao Vinho Tinto 2007

Region: Dao
Varietal(s): Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz grapes
Notes: Youthful, bright ruby red colour. Intense, ripe black cherry, spice with some lovely earth, tar & leather notes. Medium-bodied, good acid, plump fruit and soft tannins. Very balanced. Slight bitterness at the end with really quick finish. Despite the finish, I really liked this!
Food Pairings: There is enough complexity/structure to hold up to say, roasted meat – cooked through. The smokiness/spiciness of the wine might be complimented by a bit of spice/pepper in a marinade or sauce. But nothing too heavy.
Price: About $15 at Vin Art

A Cult of Convenience?

March 6, 2010

A few months ago BBC 2 aired a documentary hosted by Philosopher Roger Scruton Why Beauty Matters. In it, Scruton explores the importance of beauty in our daily lives and its contribution to our overall well-being. He argues that Beauty is currently under attack by a cult of ugliness in art, architecture and music, and by the cult of utility of everyday life. And this, Scruton maintains, is bad for us.

Why? Because humans need beauty and uselessness. “Put usefulness first, and you will lose it. Put Beauty first and what you do will be useful forever”, says Scruton. Even Plato, we’re told, said that beauty was of a higher order, and that the world is understood primarily through our senses.

wine, plato & aristotle

Wine, Plato & Aristotle

So all of this got me thinking about wine.

Wine is one of those things that seems oddly out-of-place in our  modern, hustle-and-bustle, utilitarian world. Everything about it is slow, arduous, complex – from growing the grapes, to consuming the end product. It’s rather inconvenient business, but it is loved despite that – and maybe even for it. Perhaps because it satisfies, on many levels, our need for beauty.

Before I start philosophising on how wine might be the last refuge for ideals and beauty, I can’t help but wonder whether it too is being assailed by a similar plague: Convenience.

Let me first say, I am not against progress. But when the primary aim of progress is convenience, and in its quest replaces the very things we love about something , then I think we lose something important.

Screw Cap

Screw Cap Wine Closure (Credit: Time Inc)

Take screwcaps. They’re in many ways a practical improvement over the cork closure . They’re easier on the forearms, prevent TCA and cheaper & easier to produce. But… don’t you miss the cork? Isn’t the satisfying ritual of opening a wine bottle lost with a screw cap? Twisting that cap feels too trivial, or something… like cracking open a bottle of soda instead of something more deserving of our time and respect.

Same might be said for automatic wine-dispensing units, or FreshCase wine boxes – both designed to postpone oxidation and store larger volumes. It’s convenient to have an unending supply of wine on hand, and to know it will be fresh when you pour it. But, what about the beauty of a wine bottle? What about being able to see its contents, read the label and feel a connection with what you’re drinking?


The Enomatic (Credit: Grande Passione)

The Parker-Effect is another example of convenience overload. When wine retailers began displaying Robert Parker scores on their shop shelves, consumers started to buy wine based on his scores. Inevitably winemakers started feeling pressure to make wines that he liked – often irrespective of the growing and/or winemaking conditions available to them.

At what point does convenience start to degrade the very thing it’s trying to make more accessible?

These themes are not new. They’ve been argued and discussed by experts far more knowledgable than me. This post very much represents a personal opinion (and one that may actually bend a little once I transition into the industry myself). I consider myself practical, but I welcome inconvenience when it’s required and/or satisfies a higher need. Many things are going this way.  Food, for example, is slowing down – we’re cooking from scratch, buying local, doing away with packaging etc. Convenience, we are finding, is not always better.