Andrea Pollock on Wine

Fall 2010


In This Section:

Big Alcohol Wines

A Chardonnay for Every Occaision

Guaging How Glassware Can Influence Tasting

Wine Bottles and What They Mean

The Makings of a Great Wine Taster

Loving Great Inexpensive Wines


Big Alcohol Wines
   originally published July 28th, The Northern View

Whenever I am checking out wines I take a look at the alcohol percentage of the bottle.  I have noticed that wines are creeping higher and higher with their alcohol percentages over the past few years.  About 15 years ago, around the same time we began educating the public about what constituted a standardized drink, the average alcohol percentage for a bottle of wine in North America was around 11.5%.  Try to find a wine with this percentage on the shelves of the wine retailers today and it might take you a while. 

High alcohol wines have been a huge trend over the past few years as more and more winemakers are looking to create big jammy wines packed with fruity flavours.  This jammy style of wine has become extremely popular in the new world wine regions like Australia and California.  We even see this influence making its way to Canada, where consumers are used to buying wines with big flavour, and domestic producers need to cater to this preference.

In order to get grapes that have lots of flavour, they need to hang on the vine longer and maximize their sugar and fruit character.  In the wine making process it is sugar that is converted to alcohol; so the more sugar in the grape, the more that there is to ultimately turn into alcohol.  As the winemaker still wants to create a wine with balance, there is more sugar that must ferment so that the wine doesn’t stay too sweet on the palate. 

And as this percentage of alcohol rises, the standardized drink mathematics don’t add up – something that liquor license owners need to keep in mind, as well as wine drinkers that may have at one time thought about driving after a glass.  But the extra alcohol isn’t all bad, it helps to stabilize the wine and prolong its shelf life and aging potential.  It also adds to the warmth of the wine during sipping and gives you those nice long legs on the side of the glass after a swirl.

This week my wine picks are a couple of big alcohol new world wines that I really enjoy.

Domaine de Chaberton Bacchus 2008 – 13.4% alc/vol [Fraser Valley, B.C.]

Floral notes surround a pleasant scent popping with fruit and it reminds me of fuzzy peach candies.  Sweet sugar on this palate, a great wine if you want bright stone fruit flavour, peaches and pears with a bit of lemony tartness.  95/100  $26 (Breakers Pub) (May 25, 2010)

Dancing Bull Zinfandel 2007 – 14.0% alc/vol [California]

Cloves, liquorice and even a little blood on the nose (don’t worry, not as scary as it sounds).  There are some nice jammy flavours that have a peppery heat on the finish.  Could pair nicely with a peppercorn cream sauce.  80/100  $13.99 (BC Liquor Stores) (May 26, 2010)


A Chardonnay for Every Occaision
   originally published August 11th, The Northern View

Chardonnay is one of the world’s most popular white varietals of wine.  There are so many different styles of Chardonnay to be found out there, and arguably, if you had to do away with all other grapes, you could still find a Chardonnay to pair with anything you might be eating.  There are oaked Chardonnays that can be big and buttery, there are un-oaked Chardonnays that can be bright and fruity, and there are even sparkling Chardonnays that can be refreshing and full of depth.

The last few years we have seen an onslaught of un-oaked Chardonnays hit the market.  Many of these wines had been there all along, but have been re-branded to highlight their un-oaked nature.  ‘Un-Oaked’, this one word gives you the consumer a great deal of information about what to expect on the nose and the palate of the wine.  This just means that the wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel and kept away from the barrel.  This particular style of Chardonnay produces more citrus styled wines that have a lighter body and fresher, fruitier drinking style.  There is usually a higher acidity in un-oaked Chards that can almost feel like effervescence when it hits the tongue.

Once you get into the oaked Chardonnays the flavour profile and mouth feel of the wine will change.  During the time that the wine sits inside the barrel there is a transfer of flavours; the wine will begin to develop flavours from the wood and from the char of the wood inside the barrel.  This can add smoke, vanilla and wood characters to the wine.  Barrel ageing can also add some other less desirable characteristics too, such as wet dog, mildew and rotten wood.  During the barrel aging process there is also a slight evaporation, another factor that helps to give a creamy texture of barrel aged chards.

Sparkling Chardonnays are very common; classically the true Champagne from the famed region of France is a combination of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  There are many blanc de blanc (white from white) sparklings on the market; sort of a newly posh term that describes that the white wine has come solely from the white varietals of grape.  With blanc de blanc sparklers they are usually made from Chardonnay grapes and will show citrusy, yeasty and oaky characters in the glass.

This week I have selected a great barrel aged wine that shows great flavour and a value priced Chardonnay that I tried recently.

Hillebrand Collectors Choice Chardonnay 2004 – 13.0% alc/vol [Niagara, Ontario]

Bright, beautiful straw colour, with a rich first nose – oaking, butteriness and subtle banana undertones with muted citrus.  Medium strength on the nose dominated with the fresh oak notes.  Great flavour, creamy butter and lemon with a little tang.  The oak has treated this wine great and gives it its unique characteristics.  This wine stands up to powerful dishes and pairs nicely with bacon, lemon, dill and cream sauces or sharp cheeses.  84/100 (Mar. 3, 2010)

Wild Horse Canyon Chardonnay 2007 – 13.0% alc/vol [B.C.]

Nothing too distinct or stand-out about this wine; there are other value wines that do give a bit more to look forward to in the glass.  Gentle citrus, a hint of light oak; there is a refreshing taste of lemon that is followed by a slightly bitter tinge in the aftertaste.  65/100


Guaging How Glassware Can Influence Tasting
   originally published August 25th, The Northern View

Glassware can play a huge part in the tasting experience of your wine.  The size, shape and style of glassware influences the aromas and their concentration, it will also control how the wine hits your tongue and flows over your taste buds and builds your taste sensation and profile of the wine.

I had the opportunity a few years ago to attend a tasting by Maximillian Riedel; it was a glassware tasting showcasing Riedel stemware and their custom made glass for each varietal of wine.  We had the chance to taste the same wine in six different makes and styles of glassware.  It was an amazing experience to see how much the flavours and aromas of the same wine would change based on the vessel.  Not surprising the Riedel stems delivered the most powerful noses and most enjoyable sips.  I bought my first set of Riedel glasses on the way home that night.  A good presentation for sure, but also a good eye opener, that I was missing out on some great flavours and aromas in all of my wines.

If the wine we are drinking is only as good as the glass, it stands to reason that anyone serious about their wine needs to make a modest investment in some truly excellent stemware.  You want to look for glassware that is thin that has a laser cut on the rim of the glass, not thick glass with large rounded rims.  This controls how the wine will hit the different flavour zones (sweet, bitter, sour) of your tongue.  It will deliver a more desirable flavour profile and sipping experience.  You also want to find an oversized glass, something 16 to 20 ounces, that lets you put your wine in and have lots of room to swirl.  Aeration helps to release the aromatic compounds and let the true nose of the wine show through.

The mix of wine glasses at my house is rather eclectic and by no means a full set.  But when I try a new wine I will often pour the wine into several different styles of glass and taste them individually; there are new aspects of the wine to be found at times and I find that so interesting.  Our senses are there to be entertained and for me, this is just one way to take advantage of that.

Sandhill Pinot Blanc 2006 – 14.0% alc/vol [Sandhill Estate Vineyard, British Columbia]

Great looking, great smelling, great tasting!  An enjoyable nose of sweet oranges, white onions and winter mint.  The flavour also delivers with a subtle sweetness and fresh citrus – like a great summer lemonade.  91/100 (July 16, 2010)

Sokol Blossor Evolution – 12.0% alc/vol [Oregon, USA]

Pineapple and mild citrus notes with a buttery backbone.  There is a small amount of effervescence that gives a nice bright, refreshing palate.  Very clean tastes; a great seafood wine that can compliment the citrus and buttery elements of the meal.  84/100 (June 14, 2010)


Wine Bottles and What They Mean
   originally published September 8th, The Northern View

There are so many things that I read into a bottle of wine just from its look.  Even the colour of glass that is used to make the bottle gives me a hint of what to expect from the wine inside.  The bottle shape can also tell you a great deal about the style of wine that you are about to drink.

Many, many years ago wine was being bottled in shaded glass.  Even if they weren’t aware of the more scientific significance at the time, the coloured glass added an element of protection for the wine, helping shield it from ultraviolet radiation and give it a better chance of preservation.  Different wine making regions began bottling their wines in the glass bottles that were most readily available.  At the time, different wine regions and countries produced very different styles of wine, but they were easily identified by the style of glass bottle in which they were presented.  As wines were being shipped and transported around the world, the make shift labels of the day may have fallen off and were not as sophisticated as today, yet still, you would be able to guess what the wine in the bottle was all about based on the glass package that it arrived in.

Germany used long slender bottles that peaked at the top, usually in a blue glass.  This was an indication of a German style white wine that was characterised with added sweetness.  French style chardonnays were packaged in the classic bowled bottle, much like the type of bottle that we expect to see when we think of champagne.  In this fashion, many classic styles of wine have their own characteristic bottle style that can help someone to identify them.  Take a quick look at the wines in the store today and they are still heavily steeped in tradition, you will probably notice that varietals like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling are usually packaged in the same style of uniquely shaped bottle.

So let’s say you see a bottle that is very untraditional, a weird combination of varietal and bottle styling, get prepared for a wine that is probably aiming to push some limits too.  It is a wine that is probably pretty modern and ready to play off certain strengths in the traditional styling and still add its own twist.  This week I have selected a few wines that have a classic combination of bottle styling and wine varietal, as you might expect, these wines also have a flavour profile that is quite traditional and regionally inspired.

Gehringer Brothers Classic Riesling 2008 – 13.0% alc/vol [VQA Okanagan Valley]

A little bit of apricot and nectarine mixed with some honey smells.  A sweet flavour with some initial freshness followed by a faint bitter finish.  A perfect match for bbq’d pork tenderloin lightly rubbed with spices.  80/100 (August 9, 2010)  $12.99 (BC Liquor Stores)

Sokol Blossor Evolution – 12.0% alc/vol [Oregon, USA]

Pineapple and mild citrus notes with a buttery backbone.  A small amount of effervescence that gives a nice bright, refreshing palate.  Very clean taste.  A great seafood wine that can compliment the citrus and buttery elements of the meal.  84/100 (June 14, 2010)  $20.99 (BC Liquor Stores)


The Makings of a Great Wine Taster
   originally published September 22nd, The Northern View

There are many things that come together to create a great wine taster; the most important of which is having a top notch palate.  It is your sense of smell and taste that are the most important in becoming an expert taster of wines.  Interestingly enough your sense of smell and your taste buds are at their prime between the age of 25 to 60.  During this time you are able to distinguish a huge number of tastes, as well as detect the intricacies of seasonings and spices.  You are also able to detect and identify a wider array of smells during this time.  Not to say that food will lose all its interesting characteristics and taste after the age of 60, but there are some things that can begin to stack up against your favour as you age.  In an effort to develop and save your palate for as long as possible there are a few strategies that you can employ:

No Smoking – smoking is the number one way to ruin your palate prematurely.  The detrimental effects of smoking are well understood today, cancer, emphysema, yellow fingers and stained teeth.  Sometimes people don’t pay attention to the fact that smoking can also be a detriment to your sensory skills like taste and smell.  The effect of smoking carries over into meal time, where your senses are dulled and overpowered by the flavour and coating effect of smoke in your mouth and nasal passageway. 

New Ingredients – you can’t identify things that you don’t know, so start tasting and smelling everything, especially new ingredients that you don’t usually eat.  And don’t just smell foods, smell everything – clothes, wood, plants, flowers, anything you can think of.  Wines contain more than just fruity smells; some wines can even have unpleasant odours like moulds, rotten wood, chemicals and urine.

Taste wines together – There is no better way to start learning about a particular grape variety than trying a bunch of different bottles all together; this gives you more opportunity to compare them and find similarities between them.  Try a Chardonnay tasting with friends, open 6 bottles of Chardonnay, each one different – you could try three that are aged in oak and three un-oaked styles.  The side by side comparison is much better than relying on your taste memory to help you figure out what you are tasting and smelling.

This week I chose a couple of wines with unique noses and flavour profiles that hopefully you will enjoy if you are looking for something slightly new and different.

Bitch 2008 – 15.5% alc/vol [South Australia]

This wine speaks to me on so many different levels... a warm spicy nose that hits the senses rather harsh because of the high amount of alcohol.  The fruit notes are bold and smell as though they have be mulled with spices over a low heat.  Very jammy warm fruit forward flavours can be expected.  77/100 (July 10th, 2010) $25.50 Cow Bay Spirits

Smoking Loon Viognier 2007 – 13.5% alc/vol [California]

Perfumey nose with juicy clean scents of mandarin, mangos and a big bunch of flowers.  A bright yellow colour that is very inviting.  The wine falls just a little flat on the flavour side; a dry palate with some mild tangy citrus and some bitterness on the finish.  78/100 (August 5, 2010)  $16.99 (BC Liquor Stores)


Loving Great Inexpensive Wines
   originally published October 13th, The Northern View

I love cheap wine!  And maybe I should rephrase this a little so that I still sound like some sort of a wine expert – so let’s just say that I love great inexpensive wines.  Having spent a few years working with wineries producing products in all the price point categories (cheap, moderate and expensive), I can honestly say that I am rarely impressed by an expensive or even mid-range wine when comparing them to their cheaper alternatives.

As consumers we are beyond spoiled; we have every grape varietal and wines from every country at our disposal.  We can try almost anything from the entire globe of wines at anytime.  This has started me making some harsh comparisons over the years.... young Canadian mid-range Cabernet blends versus old French Bordeaux for example.  Canadian wines have a hard time competing against the European wines at the same price traditionally, our vines here are younger and our climate is harsher, making it more difficult to get premium grape juice.  If you are looking for drinkability and not regional intricacies you will be able to fill your cellar or buy your date night wine for a fraction of the price.

You can find very well priced, good quality wines right now from Canada, Chile, Argentina and South Africa.  A lot of these wines are designed with North American tastes in mind – fruity characteristics, non-offensive qualities (such as heavy smoke or oak) and a bit of residual sweetness.  North American wine buyers are still a little less wine savvy than our European or Australian counterparts.  As Canadian consumers our tastes and buying patterns show that we look for value priced fruit forward wines that don’t have extreme flavour profiles.

This week’s choices focuses on wines that are obviously value priced and deliver in terms of a fruity, non-offensive flavour profile.

Peller Estates Chardonnay 2007 – 14.0%alc/vol  [VQA Okanagan Valley]

A familiar nose with lemon and grass cuttings, a bit of a weak nose that is very gentle.  Clean tart flavours of lemon and lime zest, a dry style that is easy to drink on its own, but would also match nicely with simple seafood or chicken dishes made without heavy spices.  87/100  (September 18, 2010)

Kendell Jackson Chardonnay 2008 – 12.5%alc/vol  [California]

A bouquet of young oak, cigarette smoke and lemon peel.  There is a bit of an initial hot sting on the tongue with this wine, but clean flavours do shine through, a bit of oak, oranges and limes.  84/100  (September 23, 2010)


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