Picture Burgundy in the 1700’s. The French revolution was happening, existing systems were being upended, public figures were being overthrown, lots of change happening everywhere. It doesn’t seem that different from now, actually.
But in some ways it was a totally different time from today. The world of personal brands and social media and content being king was so far from the thoughts of those French peasants. After all there was another king they were worrying about.
And yet, even then, those old Burgundians knew the value of hitching your star to something special.
Over the years (and through my wine learnin’) I’ve built up a pretty badass vocabulary to talk about wine. Some words are just so appropriate I’m glad I can now call on them when I need to, and some are just so freaking wacky that I get a kick out of using them to remind myself that wine shouldn’t be all snootiness and pretension.
Some of my favourites include:
- Damson plum – a very specific (and very satisfying) descriptor one of my former classmates liked to use
- Garden hose – a weird descriptor that is sometimes the only appropriate word to describe a Reisling
- Pizza dough – that fresh, raw, kind of wet doughy smell you get sometimes from traditional method sparkling wine
- Fresh earth/forest floor – things I would probably never actually want to taste, but things I nevertheless love in a good Pinot Noir
Weird, right? There are so many commonly-used words and phrases to choose from. It’s pretty fantastic! As a word nerd I love finding just the right combination to describe a wine so that it makes perfect sense (I’m better at it some days than others. Sometimes all I can come up with is: is tastes like… wine?).
There is, however, one word that is not welcome in my personal wine lexicon. It is vague and nondescript and, really, completely useless.
It might sound shocking to some, but I had no interest in learning about climate until studying wine. Astounding, right??
In short? Climate is everything (well, along with soil). Don’t believe me? Let’s look at Chardonnay and you’ll see what I mean.
The Chameleon Grape
Chardonnay is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world. It also grows well in a large variety of climates, which is part of why it’s so popular.
Put Chard in a cold climate and you get lots of citrus and green fruit. Omit oak treatment or lees contact and it’ll also pick up minerality (flint, chalk, gravel) from the soil it’s grown in. Great examples of cool climate Chardonnays include Chablis and, in my opinion, Ontario.
Put Chard in a warm or hot climate and things change a LOT. Citrus and green fruit give way to stone and tropical fruit. Peach, pineapple, melon and mango are all fair game in a warm weather Chardonnay. There also isn’t as much minerality but there does tend to be more oak treatment, I’m guessing because the wines aren’t as subtle and delicate and can take the stronger flavours that oak imparts. Oak would leave flavours like vanilla, coconut or banana in its wake, further adding to the difference between warm and cool climate Chardonnays.
And all that based on the climate. Makes you wonder how climate affects people…
I think the Ontario wine industry is going through some growing pains.
Last week an article was published about wine in Ontario generally and about the province’s appellation system specifically. It was… not kind. The article was hard hitting in its critique of how wines are evaluated and forceful in its push for change.
I was impressed and intrigued.
One of the most opaque and frustrating things I ran into when I first got into wine was the wide range of prices for seemingly similar bottles. Why the hell is one bottle $12 when another is $30? IT MAKES NO SENSE.
I mean, it does make sense, but only after learning more about how grapes are grown, wine is made and the history of the places each wine comes from.
In an effort to help explain (and hopefully not go totally off the rails), here are some reasons why some wine is so dang expensive.
It’s a big, busy week here in Toronto. Our annual film festival, TIFF, is in full swing. Celebrities and filmmakers alike are descending upon our fair city, and local film buffs are losing their shit over it all. Even one of our daily papers is getting in on the fun.
Last week the Toronto Star ran a wine article offering pairing suggestions with films that have premiered at the festival. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Back before I was a true wine devotee, I was an eager and slightly naive university student studying theatre and English literature. While some people might think having a degree in English essentially amounts to a degree in bottled air, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in university and have become more and more grateful and proud of my degree as time passes.
Among other things, my degree taught me how to read pieces with a critical lens, to think of how context affects a work, and how to write coherently and effectively. As I’ve gained time and experience to fully digest all the learning I did in university I’ve started to realize that the things I learned are actually a great way to treat all things in life – wine included.
Let me explain what I mean.
Ok. Let’s talk about points systems. And why I hate them.
We’ve all seen them. So-and-so thinks X wine is a 90, but such-and-such only gave it an 85. Scandal! How will that wine ever recover from such embarrassment??