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Noble Grape Challenge, Red Wine

Getting to Know the Nebbiolo

It’s time for another installment of the Noble Grape Challenge. Last episode we jumped into the world of Sangiovese, and today we stay a little while longer in Italy to get to know the Nebbiolo.

 

About the Noble Grape Challenge

Wine Folly created the Noble Grape Challenge as a way to learn the spectrum of wine flavours found in red and white wines. Taking nine reds and nine whites, we’ll go through them from lightest to darkest, learning about the key characteristics and flavours of each.

 

Characteristics

First of all, can we just take a second to appreciate the name, Nebbiolo? Say it with me now – nnnnnneeebiooooooooolooooooo. So good.

Nebbiolos are most commonly from the Piedmont region in Italy. But what we do we know about Italy? They like to blend! So, Nebbiolo is commonly used in blends like Barolo, one of the more famous Italian wines out there. Also, I find it interesting that Nebbiolo is considered a noble grape when other regions have had trouble creating high quality wines from it – but I guess being noble is about how great the wine is, not how easy the grapes are to grow.

 

To try out Nebbiolo I tasted Enrico Serafino Barbaresco.

(I want to note that I found it very tough to find a wine that was purely a Nebbiolo and not some sort of Italian blend. I eventually found this bottle which, admittedly, is out of my everyday wine price range. But, in the interests of fully committing to the Noble Grape Challenge, I decided to splurge. Plus, it looked like a good wine and a nice treat.)

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Tasting Notes

I’ve never had a Nebbiolo before, so this is a complete adventure for me. I’ll have to use the other things I know about wine, along with the research I’ve done, and trust my palate and my own tastes, which is what you should do every time you taste too.

My first observation: wow, is this ever light in colour! You can see the entire glass under the wine! This wine is super transparent, which isn’t something I usually see outside of a Pinot Noir, though, to be honest, I tend to favour big reds that often look like ink in my glass.

This wine also looks a little brownish at the edges, which isn’t surprising considering the only Nebbiolo I could find was from 2010, and wines start to get some brown in colour as they age, especially around the edges.

The wine had been in the glass for a while before I got to smell or drink it, and I’m happy it had a chance to open up. I found the nose to be earthy, with a bit of spice and some vanilla. Overall very soft and smooth.

I found the flavour pretty similar to the nose – smooth, spicy on the finish, with some tang/tannin/acidity, which is a common neb trait. I also found it quite big and full-bodied, which isn’t surprising knowing that Nebbiolos are common players in a Barolo, but was surprising given how lightly coloured the wine is. This wine is definitely keeping me on my toes. I was disappointed not to get any smoke from this particular Nebbiolo, knowing that’s also a common trait. I love me a smoky wine.

 

Bottom Line

So, what do I think of this wine? I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either. I drank it over a few nights and was disappointed that it didn’t mellow much over that time – I think I was hoping the tannins would settle down, which they didn’t. I liked the full body in the flavour but the acidity got in the way of true enjoyment. If I’m going to buy a big red I’ll steer more toward something from Chile or Argentina. That being said, if you like Italian wine (and can afford $20 a bottle) then I would recommend this wine.

I do want to note the cork. The wine had crept halfway up – wow! This is a often another sign of age, or sometimes of a bad seal. I’m happy this bottle found its way to me before the wine crept all the way up, since it would have meant the end of the cork and therefore the end of the wine. Luckily I managed to save it first and give it a good home.

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Are you familiar with Nebbiolo? What do you think of it?

 

Next up – Tempranillo! Olè!

Red Wine

The Elevated Experience of Wine and Friendship

My friend Cori came over the other night. Our plan was to have some dinner and watch some tv and, wonderful friend that she is, she supplied a bottle of red wine that she’d brought back from a trip to Italy last fall.

She and her husband had been traipsing the Italian countryside and found a resort in Tuscany to stay at for a couple nights. Since it was November the resort was mostly deserted (turns out people don’t usually stay in Tuscany in the rainy autumn), which worked out for the best because Cori and husband were treated to a lovely time by the Italian couple who run the place. Neither owner spoke English so things like ordering dinner and general conversation proved challenging. But! One thing they did manage to work out is the buying and consumption of good, cheap red wine and made on the premises. At four euros a bottle, who could resist?

And so Cori brought a bottle home. And shared it with me. And it was awesome.

The front of the bottle

The front label. So fancy, so Italian!

Back label, complete with impeccable English description. Intriguing, considering the couple who made the wine didn't speak a lick of English!

Back label, complete with impeccable English description. Intriguing considering the couple who made the wine didn’t speak a lick of English.

The wine was a blend of Sangiovese, Colorino, and Malvasia and produced in the Chianti region. To my knowledge I’ve only ever had Sangiovese, so this wine was an exciting introduction to some new varietals.

Cori had some trepidation about drinking this wine again, which I completely understood – the last time she had this wine was so special and different from her normal life. I’m a big believer in how the circumstances of enjoying a bottle affect your impression of it. Whether the wine is new to you or not, what you ate (or didn’t) as you drank it, whether you had a good or bad day, who you drank the wine with – all these things can change what you think of a wine.

Yep, looks like red wine...

Yep, looks like red wine…

Luckily for us, this bottle delivered. It was an interesting new experience with Chiantis – I found it fairly light in terms of body, and had a great soft flavour.. It was so soft and mellow, with some vanilla and something giving it some fruitiness, though I couldn’t tell which fruit (more homework is obviously needed where chantis are concerned!). It’s interesting to note that the flavours and texture I got from the wine aren’t typical Chianti flavours. I wonder if that’s because there was some Malvasia in there mixing around with the more common Chianti varietals of Sangiovese and Colorino.

Despite the slight deviation in flavour, I really loved this little bottle and am now indebted to Cori for sharing such a great experience with me. Knowing the story behind the wine made it special, as did knowing Cori wanted to share it with me because she knew I’d appreciate it.

Wine + friends = <3

Wine + friends = <3

Thanks Cori! Next time I’ll have to share a wine that has special meaning for me.

Red Wine, White Wine

The Truth About Blends

I don’t love blends. If you’ve been here before you know that, but I never really took the time to explain why – until now.

Let’s be honest here: blends aren’t all bad. Places like France and Italy blend so much they don’t even tell you the varietal on the label, and they must be doing something right. Right!?

Wines from these two countries tend to label their wines by region or appellation, and drinkers are expected to know the grapes common to that region and even the blends commonly used there. Wine is such big business that I wouldn’t be surprised if each winery’s blend information was locked away in a vault somewhere, only to be shared with the head wine-makers.

Let’s take the Bordeaux region in France as an example. Red wine from the Bordeaux is almost always made with some kind of blend of the same five grapes – Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Carmenere. Each grape brings something different to the wine and there’s more leeway than you’d think in terms of bouquet, flavour, and even aging potential.

Thanks to Pierre LANNES on flickr for this photo.

Thanks to Pierre LANNES on flickr for this photo.

But! I only learned this after doing some research. I have never seen a bottle of Bordeaux that identified the varietals used, much less the percentages.

I don’t like blends because they make it difficult to learn wine simply by tasting. How is my novice palate ever going to know the characteristics of a grape (much less what I like and what I don’t) with so many varietals at play in my glass?

Drinking blends means you have to trust the wine-maker, and when you’re a casual a drinker or a new one that can be a big gamble. Who do you trust when you don’t have the knowledge to know when they’re talking smack?

This is why I tend to shy away from blends. It’s only in the last few months, as I’ve gotten to know more French wine, that I’ve learned more about blending – which regions of the world regularly do it, what grapes they use, and so on. My ultimate goal is to know each varietal well enough to easily understand what each brings to a blend, which will probably mean doing a lot more homework both on single-varietal wines and then on blends.

See what I mean? Blends are complicated! Deliciously, wonderfully, complicated.

Red Wine, Sparkling Wine

There’s No Place Like Home

I recently went home for the weekend to celebrate my Mom’s birthday. She’s celebrating a milestone birthday this year so I made an extra effort to go home – and also because I had a feeling that my Stepdad would pull out some delicious wines from his cellar to mark the occasion!

Weekends like these are always a treat – it’s great to see my family, nice to celebrate a special occasion, and a big treat to taste wines from the cellar. My stepdad has been collecting for years and has great taste, which means I have the great pleasure of tasting amazing wines I would not at all be able to afford, even if I found them.

We kicked off the weekend in fine fashion with these lovely wines:

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double our pleasure!

double our pleasure!

We didn’t make it to that second bottle of La Playa, but believe me that both wines were delicious and went very well with the cheese and baguette we noshed on and the hoisin-glazed salmon we had for dinner.

Of course, this was all preamble to the big celebration the next night.

We started the party off with some Champagne – ooh la la!

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Despite singing the praises of other sparklings I do have to admit that I love Champagne – the bubbles are smaller, which makes the wine positively effervescent on my tongue. Seriously, there is truth to this famous quote about Champagne, “Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!”*

From there we moved on to a lovely sparkling from Kew winery in Niagara. I thought this wine was quite lovely and plan to add the winery to my list of places to visit on my next Niagara trip.

adorable label

adorable label

A couple of glasses of bubbly in and it was time to move into the dining room for the main event!

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even our table decor is wine-y

On deck was shrimp remoulade to start and then roast lamb, cauliflower gratin, roast potatoes, and broccoli, all to be accompanied with three French reds pulled from the cellar.

not pictured - my drool

not pictured – my drool

On further label inspection we noticed that all three wines were GSM blends (Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre) which worked out very well – this blend is my mom’s favourite! Happy birthday to her!

DELICIOUS

DELICIOUS

The first red was a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and it was my favourite of the night. The flavour was so smooth that it had a velvety quality to it – something I don’t taste a lot in wines I come across, but a trait I love.

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The second red was another Frenchie, and I thought this one tasted more like a typical GSM. It was hearty and confident in flavour and I found it slightly tannic but not so much that it gave me that mouth-puckering sensation. My mom and I compared the first two wines a bit and realized that, while I favoured the first one, she liked this one better. Just goes to show how personal wine can be – different strokes and all that!

Even though I don’t have an individual pic of it, we did manage to open the third bottle. However, after the Champagne and the sparkling and the two other reds and the delicious food (including birthday cake!) I don’t remember much from this wine except that it had good body and that I liked it. This might possibly a shame, but at the end of the day it was still enjoyed!

All in all it was a very enjoyable (and delicious) visit home. It’s always good to take some time to enjoy the things you love – in my case, food, family, and wine!

one of the corks from the weekend - great colour!

one of the corks from the weekend – great colour!

 


Have you treated yourself to any special wines lately?

Noble Grape Challenge, Red Wine

A Noble Trip to Italy

It’s time for another installment of the Noble Grape Challenge. Last episode we got to know Merlot, and today we’ll get acquainted with that old Italian grape, Sangiovese.

 

About the Noble Grape Challenge

Wine Folly created the Noble Grape Challenge as a way to learn the spectrum of wine flavours found in red and white wines. Taking nine reds and nine whites, we’ll go through them from lightest to darkest, learning about the key characteristics and flavours of each.

 

Characteristics

Before we talk about the wine, let’s talk about the word – Sangiovese. It doesn’t look English, does it? In fact, you might think it looks straight-up Italian – and you would be right. This is your first clue that Sangiovese is a special varietal.

Sangiovese is really only grown in Italy. It’s one of the few varietals that is so scarce beyond its ‘home’ location. But! Before you go feeling all sorry for the little Sangiovese grape, let me tell you that there’s actually a big variety of it within Italy, which means its bouquet and flavour can vary quite a bit depending where in Italy it’s found. That’s the second clue that the Sangiovese varietal is a special one.

 

To try out Sangiovese I tasted Farnese Fantini Sangiovese IGT.

Very New World style label - I like!

Very New World style label – I like!

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Tasting notes

As you can see, it colour is pretty gentle. It’s not super clear like a Pinot, nor is it completely opaque like a Malbec. It’s got a nice red colour and is a little orange-y along the edge, which I’ve read is a typical marker of a Sangiovese.

I found it difficult to get much off the nose of this wine, which I always find disappointing. After I left it in my glass for a while (almost an hour!) I started to smell some candied fruit, and a bit of cookie, actually. You know the classic vanilla Girl Guide cookies? I smelled those. Weird, I know.

The flavour was quite full. I got a fair amount of fruit (cherry, I think) off the top and a bunch of oak on the finish. In fact, the aftertaste was a bit like lickin a tree. Jury’s still out on that sensation.

 

Bottom Line

Despite being disappointed by the nose I quite like this wine. It goes down easy, and might just be my next go-to pick for a party or dinner with a friend. And, the best part, it was under $8! I was wary of the price and but decided to take a chance, and I’m glad it paid off.

 

Have you tried Sangiovese lately? What did you think?

 

Next up in the NGC: Nebbiolo – if I can find it!

Noble Grape Challenge, Red Wine

The Soft and Sensuous Side of Wine

It’s time for another installment of the Noble Grape Challenge. Last episode we explored Grenaches, and today we get to know our new friend Merlot.

 

About the Noble Grape Challenge

Wine Folly created the Noble Grape Challenge as a way to learn the spectrum of wine flavours found in red and white wines. Taking nine reds and nine whites, we’ll go through them from lightest to darkest, learning about the key characteristics and flavours of each.

 

Get to Know Merlot

Merlot often gets a lot of hate in the wine world, which isn’t something I agree with. Merlot will always have a place in my heart because it was the first varietal I got to know when I started getting more serious about wine. Don’t expect to hear me muttering these words any time soon.

Merlots are pretty middle of the road in terms of body, which is probably part of why they get a bad rap. I think the medium body makes a Merlot quite approachable, especially since it’s often accompanied by a really nice softness on the palate. Soft and versatile – that’s Merlot to a tee.

Merlot grapes are grown a lot in France, California (and Washington State) and Italy. Since France and Italy like to blend their grapes I found it a little challenging to find an affordable bottle that was a good price, but I eventually settled on one from California.

Flavours vary depending on whether the grapes were grown in a warm or cold climate, but for  California Merlots the flavours that tend to stick out are red berries (raspberry, cherry) and some chocolate flavours (mocha, cocoa). I like that Merlots have both zing and depth in their flavour.

 

To try out Merlot I tasted Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi 2013 Merlot.

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Tasting notes

The colour is red with some brownish undertones, and is more opaque than the wines we’ve tried so far in the Noble Grape Challenge. The nose has a bit of wood and smoke on it, which I always love smelling. The flavour was very smooth and inviting – the typical Merlot softness is definitely there. There’s a bit of zingy tannin on the finish, which I’m not a fan of, but overall I like the flavour. I didn’t finish the bottle for this tasting so I’m hoping that the natural oxidation that happens when you open a bottle will help mellow the zing.

 

 

Bottom Line

It’s in line with what I expect from a Merlot, and it’s a good wine for the price. If you’re looking for something that’s a step up I would recommend checking out something from Robert Mondavi Winery (as opposed to the Woodbridge line) or Beringer.

 

Have you tried any Merlots lately? What did you think?

 

Next up in the NGC – Sangiovese!

 

Noble Grape Challenge, Red Wine

I Say Grenache, You Say Garnacha, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Wine

It’s time for another installment of the Noble Grape Challenge. Last episode we explored the delicious world of Pinot Noirs, the lightest red wine on the spectrum. Today we take a step up in terms of body and meet our new friend, Grenache.

 

About the Noble Grape Challenge

Wine Folly created the Noble Grape Challenge as a way to learn the spectrum of wine flavours found in red and white wines. Taking nine reds and nine whites, we’ll go through them from lightest to darkest, learning about the key characteristics and flavours of each.

 

Step up and meet Grenache!

Grenache (aka Garnacha en Español) is grown mostly in Spain and France and is used more often in blends than on its own. In fact, I had a tough time finding a solely Grenache wine to do this tasting! I found lots of Grenache/Syrah and a fair bit of Grenache/Syrah/Mouvedre (good old GSMs!), by far the two most common Grenache blends I come across. I actually quite like Grenache blends but wanted to isolate it for the purposes of the Challenge.

Grenache wines are a step up from Pinot Noirs in terms of body, but is similar in colour, often looking quite red and ruby-ish. Common flavours include strawberry and cherry and can be a good introduction to tannin – the thing in wine that makes your mouth pucker and leaves it feeling dry – because it has some but not so much that it would be off-putting to a newbie. As far as what to drink it with goes, I would pair it with anything you would have candied strawberries or cherries with.

 

To try out Grenache I tasted Beso de Vino Old Vine Garnacha.

IMG_0789Cute label!

 

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Tasting notes

It certainly looks like a Grenache, I can actually see the design of my curtains through the wine! My novice nose smells cherries and something else with some weight or earthiness that I can’t name. The flavour is definitely a step up in terms of body from our old friend Pinot Noir, and I definitely taste those mouth-puckering tannins, though not as strong as I’ve tasted in other wines. I also taste a bit of cherry, but find it a bit tough to get to other flavours because of the tannins.

 

Bottom Line

It seems representative of the Grenache varietal, but I think the flavour could be more well balanced. A decent if not truly satisfying buy.

 

Have you tried the Beso de Vino Old Vine Garnacha? What did you think of it?


(Next up in the NGC – Merlot!)

Beer, Red Wine

With A Little Help From My Friends

Last week was my birthday, and I had some friends over last weekend to celebrate. And my friends, lovely people that they are, know me so well that they treated me to some great gifts – of wine!

 

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Graffigna Grand Reserve Malbec 2011

I love the big personality of a Malbec, and think South America does them really well. Since Malbecs tend to have strong flavours and a lot of body I will probably have this wine with something with a similarly strong flavour, like a steak or a hearty stew. Or maybe I’ll just savour it on its own.

 

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Nicolas Laloux Les Chais 770

(I couldn’t actually find a link to this wine – curious!)

This one looks like a blend, but I am still interested to try it. To be honest, I am always interested in trying wine, since every bottle, every sip brings me closer to knowing what I like and being able to pinpoint more accurately what I’m tasting. The friend who gave me this wine gave me a 1 litre bottle, so I might need some help finishing this one!

 

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Chateau Marjosse 2010

‘Wait a minute,’ you might say, ‘this one doesn’t say which varietal it is!’

Well, you’d be right. Many French wines don’t state the grapes used to make their wines, and it’s not because they are trying to hide something from you – they actually expect you to know! This wine is from the Bordeaux region, which means it is most likely a blend of some combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and, in rare cases, Carménère. I am particularly excited to taste this wine because I’ve been on a bit of a streak educating myself on French wines, and also because I’ve also heard that 2010 was a good year for Bordeaux wines. (A good year basically means that the powers that be in the wine world have deemed wines made from grapes picked in that year to be particularly well-made. Yum!)

 

I was also given some beer and cider. I know, they’re not wine, but beer can be just as complex and interesting – not to mention delicious!

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[left to right: St. Bernardus Abt 12 quadrupel (Belgium), Cremant Cidrerie St-Nicolas (Quebec), La Trappe quadrupel (Netherlands)]

I have to admit, I love beer, and have a particular weakness for quadrupels, so I’m excited to try this beer. I’ve seen it in the shop and always wondered what it tasted like, and am grateful to my friends for treating me to this delicious-looking Belgian quad!

One of my friends brought one bottle of this cider for me, and one for us to enjoy at the party. I was a little wary because I am not usually a fan of sweet things, but this cider was light and crisp in addition to its sweetness – I found it completely delicious!

I’m excited to try this beer too! Quads tend to be strong in flavour and usually have a higher alcohol content (about 9%, as opposed to about 6% of most other beers), which can turn some people off, but I find them complex and completely satisfying.

 

As you can see, my friends really spoiled this birthday girl. If you’re looking to try new wines asking for them as gifts for an occasion like a birthday is a great opportunity!

 

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