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d’Arenberg, The Footbolt, 2010

Shiraz
d’Arenberg, The Footbolt, 2010
McLaren Vale, Australia

d’Arenberg has been crafting wines for three generations and is certainly considered a benchmark producer in McLaren Vale.

The McLaren Vale region lies just outside the city of Adelaide in South Australia. It is particularly famous for both Shiraz and Grenache.

It is inky black with a shade of purple at the rim, which is the sign of youth in red wine. The nose is a powerhouse of dark black fruits, sweet spices and vanilla. The palate is so rich and full, dense and concentrated, in a full bodied style. There are all the hallmarks of quality here – intensity of aromatics, concentration of flavor, balance between the tannins, acidity and alcohol, and lovely long length.

Food and wine pairing: For those who enjoy a full bodied red wine this can be sipped by itself, but it pairs best with red meats and hard cheeses.

Spanish Whites

I was pleasantly surprised to find some very good Spanish white wines because this isn’t the country’s forte. When I think of Spain it is the stunning reds of Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat that spring to mind.

But the value for money of these whites was excellent and I liked the blends of indigenous varieties combined with the classic international ones. The Albarino variety is definitely worth checking out.

White Burgundy

I was excited to taste a range of top class white Burgundy. To me, when you get a good one, they are the best Chardonnays in the world, hands down.

Why? Great white Burgundy can have a level of complexity and depth that you rarely find in other Chardonnays. They are also usually drier and more minerally on the palate than most New World wines, with a natural acidity that dances across the palate.

The top appellations to look for are Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet. It’s often a good idea to cellar these wines for a few years, and I would also consider decanting them. Also, don’t serve them too cold, and remember they can be a beautiful way to end a meal with some soft cheeses. When these wines are on they’re some of the best white wines in the world.

Chablis

If you don’t like big oaky Chardonnay then maybe Chablis is the ticket. This region, in the northern reaches of Burgundy, makes the most minerally, crisp and lean Chardonnays on the market.

The colors are always pale and the green tones not only indicate youth but can possibly lead you to a Chablis. The nose can be very light and delicate, without much intensity or definition. I always hated Chablis in blind tasting exams because of their neutrality. But the best wines show more intensity, a purity and focus, with notes of wet stones, lemon rind, and granny smith apples.

The palate is always bone dry, with many of them in the light to medium body camp, and defined by this chalky mouthfeel and vibrant acidity. At their best these are stylish wines that are elegant and refined, without any oak, or obvious signs of it. If most Australian Chardonnay is like Dolly Parton then Chablis is more like Kate Moss, minus the coke.

If you go big and buy the Grand Cru wines then make sure you cellar them for at least 5 years before opening them. Great Chablis can cellar 1-2 decades, or more.

Wines of Alsace

Alsace never fails to impress. For me, this is the best white wine producing region in the world for Riesling, Gewurz and Pinot Gris.

ALSACE RIESLING

The Rieslings are very different from German Rieslings in that they are always higher in alcohol, fuller in body (medium to med+ bodied usually), and sometimes bone dry. The acidity is more marked, and sometimes can be bracing, but in the best wines it is a vibrant thread giving life, energy and longevity to the wine.

Weinbach is a favorite, Trimbach’s top wines are exceptional but there are so many others and you don’t have to spend a bomb to get a lovely wine. They are great by themselves or with spicy samosas or spring rolls to get the party started.

ALSACE GEWURZTRAMINER


If only Gewurz had a different name I’m sure it would be much more successful as a grape. Don’t even ask people in the wine industry to spell it. It gets butchered.

Pfaffenheim is a producer that consistently shows well in my tastings. I love the Grand Cru for about $30. I went to visit them a few years ago. It’s a co-operative, with hundreds of members, because there are so many small growers in Alsace with less than a hectare of vines. People often look down on co-ops but this one is top notch, producing excellent quality and lots of it. They generously gave me a Vendange Tardive Gewurz to take home – absolutely stunning and a shame we don’t get more VT here.

The response from Liquor Boards is typically that it doesn’t sell well enough. But that is flawed. If it’s not available in the first place then it can’t sell and a complete portfolio offer should be the goal in a Monopoly system. In fact, the selection at the LDB in several categories is lackluster so check out the private stores as an alternative.

A Taste of Italy

Chianti Classico

When you see Classico on an Italian wine label, it means that the wines come from the original wine producing district, which is typically the best area. I always find it amazing that hundreds of years ago the original vine growers knew which were the best areas.

Tasting Chianti without food is heavy sledding. These wines were meant to be drunk with food, and particularly pasta in a tomato sauce, which reduces the acidity in the wine. A nice lasagna would be the perfect match.

Sangiovese is the predominant grape in most, if not the exclusive varietal. You can often tell these in a blind tasting because of their combination of dryness, crisp acid, medium to high tannin, and a slightly bitter flavour of black cherries and earthiness. Monsanto is my favourite but you can find dozens in the $20 – $30 range that hit the mark.

Nero d’Avola
This is the most important black grape of Sicily, and takes its name from the town of Avola. The wines are sometimes compared to Syrah, but really it is unique and I find them more acidic and tannic than most Syrah.

Southern Italy is the source of large volumes of wine, usually at very low prices. But producers such as Cusumano have elevated the quality to new levels, along with much higher prices. If you want to try something a bit different then give this grape a whirl.

Barolo

“The King of Wines, the wine of Kings” is often used to describe this classic area in Piedmont that products muscular wines from the Nebbiolo grape.

Barolo is also a controversial place because some producers, the modernists, have changed production techniques to create softer wines that are aged in small barriques. The traditionalists are outraged by this, and you can imagine the heated exchanges between stubborn Italian winemakers.

Barolo, to me, is a wine with only moderate color, usually showing an orange garnet shade at the rim. This is not just because the wines usually have 5 years of age before they reach the market, but because Nebbiolo has this characteristic. The nose is typically very rustic, with gamey and leathery aromas, and often described as smelling of tar and roses.

The palate is described as full bodied but I don’t see them that way. They are more medium to full, and a far cry from Barossa Shiraz or the weight of a rich Sonoma Zin. They are always very dry, chewy to the point that the wines are not for everyone, and the best have layers of flavour such as tobacco, leathery tastes, and barnyardy notes.

What I like most is that they have character and individuality. When you buy them consider decanting them for an hour or two, and most of them need at least another 5 years cellaring. The classic match is osso buco.

California Pinot Noir

Certain parts of California are making gorgeous Pinot Noirs and the best wines are certainly on a par with the finest New World Pinots. The Russian River in Sonoma is all the rage, Carneros is another cooler area that produces excellent wines, and the Pinots from Santa Barbara inspired the movie Sideways.

I like these wines because I’m going off the barnyardy aromas of some red Burgundy. I’m getting more into wines with freshness, softer tannins and a touch sweeter fruit. Compared to red Burgundy, California Pinot is usually marked by darker colors, fuller body, higher alcohol, and a spicy flavor to the red berry fruit. Hugh Johnson, who just turned 70, must have lost his marbles when he recently said California wines were not sophisticated.

But different nationalities can have different tastes and most European palates prefer drier wines with firmer tannins. “More structure old boy”, as Hugh would say. Whereas in Oz and North America we generally prefer fruitier wines that are not quite so lean. I remember when I worked in Bordeaux we would sell all the thin, disgusting reds to the Germans, who lapped them up. The same wines never found a buyer in the States.

Washington State Meritage

Our neighbors to the south are increasingly coming out with flashy, expensive wines. There’s usually an impressive story behind each one, such as The Long Shadows project where Allen Shoup has assembled the cream of the international winemaking community to create their signature varietal wines in WA. So, for example, you have Michel Rolland making a Merlot.

There’s no question that WA makes some gorgeous wines and I’ve been a huge fan of wineries like Betz and Woodward Canyon for years. They are, frankly, light years ahead of the Okanagan and a lot of it has to do with more expertise amongst the winemakers and grape growers.

But the price of some of these new showy wines is astronomical – with many of them ranging from $65+ and up. Are they worth it? I say no. You can get so many great wines for much less than that. And these expensive WA wines often seem to be cookie cutter with the same massive amounts of concentration, almost black colors, fruit flavors that border on the sweet over-ripe style, and enough alcohol to power the UK World Cup soccer team.

Nice to taste, but not worth buying, unless you just don’t really care about value for money in which case fill your boots.

Good Value White Wines for Spring

There are dozens of white wines under $20 that offer excellent quality for the price. I love Sauvignon Blanc for just sipping by itself on the deck and Chile and New Zealand offer plenty of great value wines. Look for Marlborough on the label of Kiwi wines and the Casablanca valley on Chilean wines. These are the most respected regions.

The best value Rieslings come from Germany, Alsace, and Australia. Often German Rieslings can have a touch of sweetness, even at QbA level, and pair well with spicy food. Rieslings from Alsace are much drier, with crisper acidity and citrus flavors. Australians love their Rieslings too, but these can be extremely dry and only for those who like crisp, steely, austere wines.
Pinot Grigio from Italy will usually run you less than $20 a bottle and these are easy drinking wines. They mainly come from the cooler reaches of northern Italy, in Trentino Alto Adidge and Friuli. They are dry, light to medium in body and always marked by crisp refreshing acidity. Try them with scallops and crab cakes, or simply on their own. Pinot Gris is also the most planted white variety in B.C., so there’s no shortage of options from our own backyard and many of them are impressive quality for the price.

Gewurztraminer is under-rated and, as such, many of them are under-priced. It’s partly to do with the tricky pronunciation of the grape. But don’t let that put you off because these can be sublime, especially from Alsace and B.C. They can be very floral and tropical, smelling of roses and exotic fruits, and usually full bodied and heady.

When it comes to Chardonnay, look to Chile and Australia for real bargains. These are consistently well-made and economies of scale allow for attractive pricing. California is another option, as well as some entry level white Burgundies and wines from the south of France. If they are oaky then try them with richer foods, such as roast chicken.

The list could go on, given the multitude of other varietals lining our shelves, but we’ll leave the rest for another time. Oh, don’t forget Spanish sparkling wine, known as Cava. Now that’s a deal.

Douro Reds from Portugal

The wine world is excited about the quality of dry table wines coming out of the Douro valley. Why? With the decline in sales of Ruby Port the producers have to get creative and follow the market demand for dry red wines.

Some stunning wines have been produced. Barca Velha was the original benchmark, but now there are about a dozen producers who are becoming well regarded, and none more so than Quinta do Crasto. This is a dynamite producer and I consider the wines to be on a par with the some of the better wines in the world. And they could become some of the very best…
One of the issues that has hampered the success of Portugal has been the use of indigenous grape varieties with unfamiliar names. Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cao don’t exactly roll off the tongue. But this is now becoming a strength, an unique selling point, as some wine lovers tire of the standard repertoire of Shiraz, Cab, Merlot etc…

Expect these wines to be a bit rustic in the mid price range, and usually showing some chewy tannins, in a medium to full bodied style. They are a far cry from Napa Valley polished fruit bombs. Think steak on the BBQ or spare ribs.

Some of my recent favorites is Quinta Dos Quatro Ventos, Douro, 2005

This wine should be decanted for 1-2 hours. Quite deep in color with extraction from core to the rim of the glass. Good intensity with floral notes, more depth than the other wines, and a toasty charred oak wrapped in blackberries. Dry, full- in body, with good richness and weight, plenty of tannins to give structure, and nice overall balance. It would improve with cellaring for 2-4 years but decant it, let it open up, and then torch it with a leg of lamb.

Chilean Carmenere

In 1991, Chilean grape growers were told that many of their vineyards were not actually Merlot, but a different grape variety called Carmenere. You can imagine the phone calls…

After a quick meeting with the Marketing department, the wineries decided that Carmenere should become the signature grape of Chile. After all, nobody else grew it, except for a few small pockets of vineyards in Bordeaux where it originated.

After some false starts, it seems like Carmenere is now producing very high quality wines. The best are deep in color, with aromas of black cherry and an herbal note, like fresh cut grass. The palate is dry but very fruity in a typical Chilean style, a touch jammy, but with medium to high tannins, quite full in body, and plenty of richness to the mouthfeel.

I think the varietal has the potential to make outstanding wines, although it may be hard to beat Argentina’s Malbec and California’s Zinfandel as signature varietals. But I was very impressed with the quality of the wines from Vina Maipo, Arboleda, and Tamaya. But if you want a superb wine then try Montes Purple Angel. That’s worth buying.