Albariño: My Favourite Summer Wine

An impromptu visit to the beach this evening was rounded out with a a glass of this refreshing Albariño and it got me to thinking about what wines I like to drink on a hot summer day.

In the summer Provençal Rose is great, German Riesling is delicious and mineral cool climate Chardonnay hits the spot and lets not forget about bubbles, but when I have my choice, I reach for an Albariño! This wine from the North-Western part of Spain is the predominant wine of the region and is also prominent in Portugal where it often is a major blending partner in the Vinho Verde blend. For me though nothing beats a single varietal Albariño from Rias Biaxas.

While there are five distinct microclimates that cause the wine to develop flavours ranging from citrus to mild tropical fruit. Despite this, they are in my experience all crisp and refreshing with the aromatic complexity of Viognier and the crispness of Riesling. Recently I’ve had a couple of interesting examples from Uruguay and California but nothing so far has compared to the Spanish version. I haven’t personally taken the time to do a deep dive on the region in terms of tasting, climate, viticulture and other characteristics.  The main reason being the incredibly limited quantity of Rias Biaxas Albariño available through the Newfoundland Liquor Corp. For this reason I’ve focused on other regions with more selection to pick from.

IMG_1789The Paco and Lola Albariño featured in this article is a solid readily available example from the 2014 vintage. Something I was actually a little weary of given the fact that this wine is oft considered to be best within the first two years. In this case the wine was still fresh and lively but with an ever so slight, and I mean ever so slight touch of honeyed character. This wine is a match made in heaven for just about all shellfish but I’m personally dreaming of this with some atlantic lobster or diver scallops.

The wine displays primarily stone fruit character with peach and apricot being at the forefront of the palate but there’s also a distinct smell of orange zest and honeydew melon. Further notes of honeysuckle, wet rocks and a touch of saline character round out the profile. Pleased that this wine has avoided the premature oxidation so common in Albariño that are more than a couple of years old.

Do you have a favourite Albariño? What are your thoughts on this grape? Let’s get social and talk about wine!

Cheers,
Ben

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Beaujolais Cru and the Natural Wine Movement

A glass of Beaujolais in celebration of a French victory yesterday! Wish it could have been a glass of Barolo in celebration of an Italian one, but that was never going to happen this time around. I thought I’d share with you all some of my thoughts on Beaujolais Cru and discuss a bit about the popularity and interest in these wines. So here it goes!

The Gamay grape and Cru Beaujolais in particular, for the last several years, have had a strong presence in the hearts, minds and glasses of many sommeliers and avid wine enthusiasts. However, a quick look at your local bottle shop or grocery aisle shows that their is still much work to be done to put these wines in the hands of everyday consumers. With lots of these wines in that sweet spot between $15-20, it’s a little surprising that we don’t see more people drinking good Beaujolais/Gamay. image1 (1)

While there may be a whole variety of reasons for this I think one of the main reasons has to do with the way in which the wine is produced and the philosophy of many of the winemakers. Many winemakers who have chosen to grow Gamay make an effort to perform as little manipulation as possible on their grapes, with some even brave enough to leave sulfur out of their wines altogether. Many reading this will know that I’m eluding to the natural wine movement. For those that don’t, the movement and the wines of a select few Beaujolais producers in particular, were the catalyst for a movement, or shall we say a revolt against overproduced, manipulated and frankly predictable wines.  The movement in and of itself is contentious, because let’s face it, there’s a lot of bad “natural wine” out their for people to dislike.

So where am I going with this? The praise of cru Beaujolais by publications like the NY Times, LA Times, Le Monde and many others, along with hype from top restaurants have put Beaujolais on the map in a big way, yet it still dwindles well behind Pinot, Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah and many others. So why is it that Beaujolais has failed to take off in the astronomical way that Pinot Noir did after the film Sideways, or California Cabernet after The Judgment of Paris. Perhaps we haven’t hit peak Gamay yet, there’s no doubt some damage control is required, Beaujolais Noveau may still linger a little to fresh in some of our memories.

Nevertheless, I think that there’s also something else at play here. With a plethora of good press, thoughtful blogs and restaurants praising and serving the wine it’s a little mysterious, at least to me, why this style of wine hasn’t had more success. Firstly, it’s a great, cheaper alternative to Pinot Noir, one of the most expensive and difficult wines to produce. It’s also more readily available than the best French Pinot Noir. It’s a little puzzling why these wines haven’t just sky-rocketed in popularity amongst the average consumer. I mean lord knows there’s more than enough sommeliers/wine nerds on Instagram, myself included, shouting from the rooftops about this topic. It will be interesting to see if the Gamay grape continues to trend upward in popularity, or if it will settle somewhere in the middle.

I hadn’t until now considered the best Beaujolais Cru wines to be part of a counter-cultural movement. Although I had felt a shroud of mystique surrounding many of the best wines of the region. Yet, after asking and discussing with self-proclaimed natural wine lovers and sommeliers alike, who their favourite Beaujolais producer is. At least 80% of them provided me with one of the following names: Lapierre, Thevenet and Foillard (3 of the 4 members of the “The Gang of 4”). Not one of these winemakers is out in the spotlight hard-selling their wines as natural, yet they’ve become the shiny objects, or unicorns, if you will, of natural wine. I’m not shitting on natural wine and I’m certainly not shitting on any of these producers, they’re some of my favourites, but it has caused me to step back and reevaluate what Beaujolais Cru I’ve been drinking. I continue to wonder if the wines of the Cru’s are not seeing as much success because of their association with natural wine and its poor press, at times, or if in fact the complete opposite has happened and this why they are having as much success as they’ve had.

I feel I’m left with more questions than answers. The natural wine movement has provided much polarization in the wine community as a whole. I don’t consider myself to be on one side or the other but I do find the commentary interesting to watch. Beaujolais for better or worse is part of that. I wish for the continued success and affordability of Beaujolais Cru. I’m interested to see what happens to the quality and cost of this regions wines in the coming years, as well as how natural wines in the region evolve.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about Beaujolais Cru wines, as well as about natural wines. Are you for or against them? Do you drink natural wines exclusively? Let’s get social and talk about Gamay!

Cheers,
Ben

 

The Judgment of Bordeaux

As I sit here drinking a reasonably priced and delicious bottle of 2012 Chateau Teyssier, a tasty and affordable Right Bank Bordeaux, I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for this wine region and its behemoth Chateau’s. While still widely purchased and drank, even enamoured about when talking about the best wines of the region, it’s not hard to notice the steady decline in interest from sommeliers, the increased quality of Bordeaux style blends in other wine regions globally and the general lack of interest from a younger generation who feel, and rightfully so, that the wines of Bordeaux are just damn expensive. 7789086112_IMG_9525-2

Factoring in that Bordeaux is a maritime climate with distinctly different quality levels from vintage to vintage and then consider that the top vintages go for double the price of the poor ones and all of a sudden it’s clear why the average person doesn’t drink Bordeaux on a regular basis. We all want to drink good wines, interesting wines and ones that go well with food but when it comes to Bordeaux that’s just not attainable for most of us. We all see the bottle wizards online posting the most divine 1961 Haut Brion or 1982 Chateau Latour and that’s great that these people are able to drink this bottled history, but for the rest of us who’re not buying cellars at auction for reduced prices, or seeking out that perfect provenance bottle from the chateau, Bordeaux, especially aged Bordeaux just isn’t plausible. In recent years 2014-2016 wine quality has been up considerably. En primeur has even rebounded, given the quality of wines in 2015-16, which helped overall sales. Nevertheless, I question if it will be enough to lure a younger generation of wine drinkers towards the region. Let’s not forget that the majority of Bordeaux wine drinkers now are our parents and grandparents who grew up with far more affordable prices for these wines, even when inflation is taken into consideration.

While many Bordeaux wineries continue to invest considerably in new technological solutions for their often vast vineyards, many other high-cost wines have gone back to basics. That means hand-picking grapes, organic/biodynamic practices and low-intervention in the winemaking process. To be fair, the difficulty of managing organic/biodynamic vines in Bordeaux, where disease pressure is high, does present problems and this is a part of the reason why so few have adopted this style of viticulture. image1

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not suggesting that Bordeaux wines will disappear entirely or that there’s not a market for them, but I do question and wonder where the region is going and if they will be able to retain such success well into the future. The Judgement of Paris showed that the wines of Bordeaux are not invincible, is a new judgement on the quality of Bordeaux wines imminent? Let us not forget that “Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.” Is Bordeaux doing enough to change with the times?

What are your thoughts on Bordeaux? I personally really enjoy the style of a lot of Right Bank Bordeaux wines, such as the Chateau Teyssier, which is affordable, delicious and great for short term drinking. That being said I think they’re falling behind when it comes to a young generation of drinkers with more selection than ever to choose from. It will be interesting to see what changes if any will be required for Bordeaux to stay at the forefront of global wine quality and sales.