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.
Several weeks ago I was at my friends Anna’s and Martha’s place for dinner and Martha had told us that, due to some recent slowing down in the wine consumption department, she had a number of older bottles in her cellar that she feared might be past their prime. Instead of doing what I would do (which is to open them anyway and call it a lesson in wine tasting) Martha gave me and another guest each a bottle on our way out. I can’t say enough about Anna’s and Martha’s generosity, and this is was just another example.
Case in point – a 1999 Bordeaux!
A Cotes de Castillion, to be exact. An 80%/20% blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, harvested in 1999 and bottled in 2001.
I am a lucky wino.
Last Thursday I decided to open it. I had gotten some bad news the day before, had the next day off, and was feeling suitably Christmas-y – all good reasons to open a good bottle in my books.
Deep and dark and surprisingly still ruby-coloured. I expected to see more of a garnet or rusty red colour but only saw a hint of it on the edges.
Pretty generous amounts of gorgeous red fruit (strawberries, raspberries, currant and plum) along with some leather (probable sign of age) along with some vanilla, cinnamon and clove (signs of oak).
Holy tannins! This wine was still surprisingly grippy for it’s age, which makes me wonder what kind of smack in the face it doled out in its younger days.
That being said, the fact that I didn’t find it highly tannic is probably a sign that it’s had time to calm down a bit (wines are like people, they mellow as they age).
Acidity is still pretty strong too. The wine was bright and juicy for sure. It faded as the wine opened up, and started tasting a little flat as soon as the second glass, but I was still impressed with how much acidity was still there.
There wasn’t much fruit left on the palate (mostly tannin, acid and leather) which is probably the truest sign of age my novice palate noticed.
This wine was really nice. Did it have age? Yes. Would I argue if someone thought it was a little past its prime? No. It might not have had the oomph it once did, but it was still thoroughly enjoyable. On reflection, and considering how close it is to the holidays, I probably should have saved it to share with my family (sorry, parents!) but this bottle had been tempting me for weeks, I couldn’t resist it any longer.
Thank you thank you thank you to my friend Martha for giving me this bottle. I have no idea whether it would have been up to snuff for you but it certainly brightened my week.
Canadian Thanksgiving was last weekend and, as I usually do on long weekends, I went home to Kingston to visit my family and yes, to drink a lot of wine.
Either because I come with all these food and wine ideas, or because my parents take my visits as an opportunity to indulge, it ended up being a multi-day food and wine affair. Either way, I’m happy!
This year especially I had a lot to be thankful for. It’s been an eventful year, both for my family and for me personally. I’ve struggled to find direction in my career and to feel like I’m making a positive impact on the world around me, which is partially why I started this blog. This year my family has been faced with illness and adversity in a much larger amount than we all wanted or are used to. It’s been a year of struggle but also one of gratitude. Suffice it to say, I now have a fuller appreciation for the good things in life.
My own ongoing personal struggles make it all the more sweeter when I visit home, and the holidays are the epitome of that. For three days I cooked, relaxed, vegged out to real estate shows on tv and enjoyed the company of my family. It was a wonderful respite from regular life.
Of course, wine was also involved – why else would I be talking about it here? Below is a brief recap of some (just some!) of the delicious wines we sampled over the weekend. In addition to all the other things I have to be thankful for this time around, I am also grateful for my stepdad’s generosity in sharing these wines – they all came from his cellar.
Double the pleasure, double the fun!
Graham Beck’s sparkling wine is my stepdad’s favourite, and is quickly becoming mine too. It’s from South Africa, which is really not a place that comes to mind when I think of ‘places that make good sparkling wine’, but I’ve had and loved other wines there so it’s not totally outside the realm of possibility. The wine itself is light and dry, with tiny little bubbles that make the wine float around in your mouth. The flavour is subtle and goes with just about any food you can throw at it. We had it with cheese, baguette and (as if that weren’t indulgent enough) some foie gras mousse made with black truffle. Thanksgiving got off to a great start, you guys.
This label is so Old World.
We had this little gem at the beginning of dinner, with a parsnip, apple and leek soup I made the day before. My stepdad asked me what I thought would go well with the soup and I suggested something that had depth and body, that would stand up to the fullness of the parsnip flavour. He chose this Chardonnay and I think our efforts worked out wonderfully. It’s solid creaminess was a great counterpoint to the earthy sweetness of the soup.
Chateau Malescot St. Exupéry. 25 years old, no big deal.
It’s just a little dusty – it’s still good, it’s still good.
The baby of the red bunch.
After the soup it was on to the main event! We had a veritable feast of turkey, garlic mashed potatoes, mashed turnip with carrot, roasted brussels sprouts, and of course, stuffing and gravy. It doesn’t seem like much now that I’m writing it out but believe me, my belly was FULL.
The two French wines were amazing. They both came from sub regions of Bordeaux (Margaux and Médoc, to be specific) and, as you can see from the labels, had been resting in the cellar for quite some time. I always get a kick out of thinking of how old I was when an older bottle was created. I was still in single digits when these wines came into the world!
Both wines were just lovely. The Potensac had a beautiful ruby colour, a bit of pepper and fruit on the nose and a smooth, slightly peppery and medium-bodied flavour. The Malescot was similarly medium-bodied and so, so smooth, but I tasted a bit of smoke on the finish with this one. Both were a bit mellow (on account of their age) but had retained much of their vim and vigor. It was a huge treat to taste them.
The Chateau Malescot St. Exupéry cork. Good thing we opened it! That wine was slowly but surely making its escape.
The third wine came to us from Napa Valley. It was a Meritage, which is a fancy way of saying it’s a blend of Bordeaux-style wines but isn’t actually from Bordeaux. Long story short, Bordeaux (well, most of France, really) is incredibly protective of their wines and winemaking processes and have barred other regions from making the same kinds of wine and calling it ‘Bordeaux’. This is why you’ll see wines made in North America being called ‘Meritage’.
The Stonehedge was also delicious, but I admit that by that point in the evening the wine and tryptophan had gotten to me – I have no notes from this wine. I do remember that it’s body and flavour was in keeping with the other two reds we’d been drinking, which further proves that my stepdad is no slouch when it comes to wine choices.
In the immortal words of Julia Child, ‘bon appetit!’
A Thanksgiving for the books, I think. How was yours?
Bordeaux, France, aka Gorgeoustown. (image from SuperCar-RoadTrip.fr on Flickr – click through for more info)
I recently had dinner and caught up with my friend Cat. I first met Cat during my first year of university where we were both fresh-faced and over-eager campus student leaders.
The last time we saw each other was last November when I was visiting New York City. We met up and wandered around the Union Square market, toured Eataly (where Cat bought a big and slightly scary-looking octopus) and where Cat showed me her favourite wine shop – Appellation Wine & Spirits. They were having a tasting, she said, and added that the staff there were so friendly and their stock so interesting that this shop had become a regular ritual for her. Turns out she was correct on all counts. I was sad to leave that wonderful place but ultimately both me and my bank account were happy it isn’t my local wine shop.
Us, pretty much. And by that I mean we’re both Meryl.
In case you couldn’t tell, along with being a good friend, Cat is a fellow wino. We had a great time last November talking about and enjoying wine and it was then that she first told me about her dream to one day become a winemaker.
Fast forward to last week, when we got together. We spent the evening catching each other up on our lives and our wine journeys. I told her about this blog and some of the plans I’m mulling over and she told me about the soul searching she did while walking the Camino trail. Always a doer, walking the trail led her to realize that learning to be a winemaker was a much more pressing and insistent goal than she originally thought. So, she left her corporate job in NYC to begin this new adventure, and will shortly be moving to none other than Bordeaux to begin a combined MSc/MBA in the wine industry. And, wouldn’t you know it, Cat has started a wine blog to share this new chapter.Talk about exciting!
Needless to say I’m impressed and very excited for her. Cat has always inspired and motivated me and this new adventure is no different.
It’s nice to have a wine buddy, someone who is learning like I am and who I can share my hair-brained and novice questions and comments with (What the heck is the deal with appellations?? Does this taste like school chalk to you? Yes, this tastes like a Merlot, but that’s all I’ve got!).
This will be Cat and I in our old age. Ok fine, it’s us now.
Catching up with Cat has also left me thinking more about my own wine-related ambitions, and the personal journey I’d like to take. I find myself renewed when it comes to writing and learning about wine and pushing myself to always taste with intention. For the past few months I’ve be mulling over the decision to enroll in more structured courses. Would they be too easy? Too difficult? To what end would I take them, or would it be purely self-indulgence? But then again, wine is a wonderful thing, and who couldn’t use a little self-indulgence every so often?
Well, I’ve decided that next January I’m going to take a WSET course and see where that takes me. Sometimes you have to jump and do something without knowing what use it’ll be later.
I have, of course, already begun looking up flights to France, because who wouldn’t want to visit their wino friend in wino Mecca? Happy trails and safe sipping, Cat!