Andrea Pollock on Wine

Spring 2010

In This Section:

An Introduction to the World of Wine and Sparklings

Cellaring Wine

The Olfactory Evaluation

Sweet Wines

Red Carpet Wines

Two Grapes Might be Better Than One


An Introduction to the World of Wine and Sparklings
   originally published February 3rd, The Northern View

My love affair with wine started over a decade ago – while studying in University.  Like most novice wine drinkers, at the time I found I only enjoyed sweet white wines and sparklings – they reminded me of the childish fruity cocktails and beer bongs I was used to.  Before the end of my university career I had completely changed course, wine was now my drink of choice and I was getting more and more familiar with all different styles: sweet whites, dry reds and everything in between.  Only a few years later I had an opportunity to work for a group of Niagara region wineries – I spent the next three years living and breathing wine.  This was the time of the Canadian wine boom, over 50 new wineries were born during this time and the face of the Canadian wine industry was changing forever; with our wines becoming more prestigious and respected throughout the world.  The last few years for me has been an adventure, travelling across Canada, exploring and learning about our native foods and wine.  When I arrived this past summer to the west coast, I knew that I would have a chance to see new grapes, new winemakers and undoubtedly some new products that just never seem to make it out of British Columbia.  I couldn’t be more excited, even though there is sure to be lots of hard work tasting wines ahead of me.

So without further ado, my first piece for you is about sparkling wines.  They made me fall in love years ago, and it is a great place to start our journey together. 

Sparkling wine is like the little black dress in every girl’s closet – an absolute essential and the go to selection when you just don’t know what else to wear.  It’s crisp, it’s clean, and it’s also the perfect palate cleanser.  So for those difficult to pair meals or ingredients (like asparagus), sparkling wine is your best choice.  It might be a little unconventional to serve with a main course, but I try to live on the edge these days.

There are many types of sparkling wine out there as there are with any style of wine; however, there are many different ways to make sparklers and each method produces widely different characteristics in the finished product.  There is CO2 pumping, much like making a pop; CO2 is injected into the wine as it is being filled into bottles.  This method is inexpensive and will only produce effervescence for a short period of time – think baby duck.  Then there is the cuvee close method of making sparkling wine, where a second fermentation is performed on a large batch of wine.  The second fermentation naturally produces effervescence and it is contained by keeping all the contents sealed under pressure.  From this large tank wine is filled into the bottles.  This method produces much higher quality sparklers than the CO2 way, they have smaller bubbles which feels better in the mouth and a more natural profile if you are trying to find a better value version of a classic champagne.

The final style of sparkler is created in the classic champagne method, where the second fermentation takes place in the bottle and the spent yeast cells are disgorged (extracted) before the final corking.  There are still many variations of this process, with how long the fermentation is left to take place, how the yeast cells are disgorged and even how the champagne is finally topped up before being corked.  This more traditional method of making sparkling wine delivers smaller bubbles and an everlasting effervescence.  I often find true champagne method sparkling to have a buttery, almost oak aged flavour.  The difference is quite pronounced when you try a true champagne next to a cuvee close style sparkling – very easy to pick out the crisp clean flavours of a champagne against the tininess of the cuvee, an unfortunate side effect of the bulk method of production.  

Henkell Trocken Rose – 12.0% alc/vol

Pink sparkling is a new fad for the wine world, with most producers interested in producing their own variation on the recipe to enter the market.  This is a nice dry style with clean fruit tastes, try it with smoked salmon or cranberry and walnut crusted warm brie.  A combination of pinot and gamay noirs.  $14.49 (BC liquor stores)

Trius Brut – 12.5 alc/vol            

 If you can find it, this Ontario wine is absolutely wonderful.  A true champagne method sparkling made from chardonnay and pinot noir, aged for at least one year before release.  Smooth oak notes with a bit of citrus, this is beautiful with strong cheeses and artisan breads alongside herbed or browned butters.  $24.95 (direct from Hillebrand winery)      



Cellaring Wines In Your Home
originally published February 17th, The Northern View

Over the past few years I have been cellaring wines in my home.  My collection has contained as much as 700+ bottles with a wide range of ageability.  I have trucked my wine collection with me across the country, always making sure that they were protected from the sun, the temperature was right, and they weren’t shaking around too much.  The collection these days sits around 70 bottles, but fortunately they are the some of my most treasured wines.  There is an added pressure these days to start making times for nice meals and special menus because many of the whites in my collection are at, or potentially past their peak.  After seeing a few of my white collection pass their prime I started dipping into the rest of my early vintages just to check and see what was going on.

For me this meant opening one of everything.  As much as I thought at first that it was a great excuse to start drinking some pricey bottles, it wound up being a fabulous reminder of each ones subtle characteristics, and how I could create some wonderful pairings for the next bottle I open.  Even more surprising was the quality, luckily now I have a window of time to enjoy them and no loss of investment.  I did have 14 bottles of a once great Ontario baco noir that went skunky, but I try not to think about that.

Now I look to start replenishing my cellar; I need different varietals so I have lots to choose from and modestly priced wines since I have a very tight budget.  I usually make a first trip out to purchase a variety of wines in the price range that suits what I am looking for; from these I pick one or two that I can work into my regular rotation of recipes.  I hope to find a great wine under $13 for my anytime wine, something under $25 for date night, and anything more expensive is just for special occasions usually purchased at a special tasting, winery property or event.

Michael David 7 Deadly Zins (2006) – 14.5% alc/vol

More than just a catchy title, this wine has great ageing potential for wine lovers looking to make a modest investment.  Such a familiar nose, one whiff reminds me of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia where I first tried this wine a few years ago; cherries and cloves with a full bodied jammy flavour.  Serious heat and spiciness on the finish will lessen over time improving the total experience; cellar now for special occasions in 2013.  $25.90 (BC liquor stores)

XOXO Shiraz Cabernet – 13% alc/vol

I love filling my cellar with great buys like this that I know from experience can stand up to some cellaring.  It’s not big or bold, but this light unpretentious wine is great for an everyday bottle that doesn’t make me or my wallet cringe to open; still showing well after 2 years of cellaring.  Mild raspberry with sweet pepper on the nose, mild pepper and berry jam on the palate, perfect with red sauce pastas, toasted tomato sandwiches and anything dressed in balsamic vinegar.  $9.99 (BC liquor stores)


The Olfactory Evaluation
originally published March 3rd, The Northern View

Too often I will find myself well into a glass of wine only to realize that I really haven’t tasted much of anything.  It isn’t that the wine is flavourless, or that I am a bit of a lush that takes big swigs, but more often than not it is because I haven’t spent the time understanding the bouquet of the wine yet.  It’s our olfactory senses that are responsible for a great deal of the enjoyment we get out of a wine.  In fact, often times what may be perceived as the flavour or taste of a wine really stems from our ability to smell. 

Picking out the subtle scents in a wine is a difficult task most of the time, there are lots of things working against us.  The everyday smells that dull our senses mean that over time we often need visual cues to help identify or even detect smells at all.  When it comes to describing wines there are limitless possibilities of flavours and noses to distinguish between and find in our wines, rushing the olfactory evaluation means that many of us I’m sure have consumed a whole bottle of wine without ever having noticed its true potential. 

The best way to get the most out your bottle is start using some proper tasting techniques that help to breakdown the evaluation process so that smell and taste can be experienced separately.  To start, your glass should only be filled one third of the way up, so there is room to swirl the wine.  The swirling effect oxygenates the wine helping it open up and release the aromatic compounds that will fill up the bowl of the glass.  After a few good swirls put your nose inside the rim of the glass, take one deep sniff or three or four short sniffs, then remove your nose and consider the aroma.  This is considered to be the ‘first nose’ which is your first impression of the aroma.  A repeated swirl and sniff will provide the second nose, which is usually quite different than the first.  The second nose has a moment more to oxygenate and open up, releasing more heavy compounds; your sensory memory also helps you to identify the prominent smells more quickly and seek out smells that you didn’t catch the first time.  Before ever having tasted the wine a few good sniffs can give an impression of what we hope to expect on our palate.

The most important part in the end is just slowing the whole experience down and trying to appreciate more aspects of the wines we drink.  You may even one day find yourself sniffing a wine more than sipping because it just smells so wonderful.

Audacia Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 - 13.5% alc/vol

This beautiful South African wine is a limited release with beautiful depth and character that is hard to come by.  A big bouquet of chocolate, figs, cinnamon and toasted vanilla spills out of this wine.  I recommend decanting the bottle and letting it rest for about 30 minutes; this is initially smooth to drink, but the extra time lets the flavours and sediment settle.  Be sure to use big bowled glassware that gives you lots of room to swirl and oxygenate the wine before sipping.  Try this with fire charred steaks or a dark chocolate ganache dessert.  $19.99 (BC liquor stores)

Henry of Pelham Baco Noir 2005 – 12.9% alc/vol

This relatively unknown varietal is an Ontario specialty, and Henry of Pelham Winery is the primary producer of this grape in the Niagara region.  A deep ruby red colour, this wine packs a bit of punch with a peppery nose, raspberry jam flavours and a bit of heat.  The 2005 season wasn’t particularly great for Ontario, but this winter hearty varietal still shows well in spite.  $15.00 (BC liquor stores)


Sweet Wines
   originally published March 17th, The Northern View

I have a real soft spot for sweet wines; it coincides nicely with my other weakness of Canadian wines.  Canada is particularly well suited to growing sweeter white varietals.  Globally we parallel Germany; climatically we sit with similar latitudes and weather conditions.   Naturally the old world varietals that made Germany successful wine makers are robust enough for growing here in Canada too.  Best known for their sweet wines, German winemakers and the Qba (Germany’s equivalent to the VQA) even condone the addition of pure sugar to their wines in order to continue the winemaking traditions in the preferred sweet style.  Learning from these masters, consumers and winemakers seeking the best in Canada should look to the sweet whites as they are a specialty.

I have seen many German varietals grown throughout Canadian wine regions; the most prominent are Rieslings and Gewurztraminers.  In lesser quantities Bacchus and Chasselas are up and coming German classics that have great potential.  In Canada these varietals have had success because they can cope with the harsh winter temperatures, cold snaps and less sunshine.  These white grapes are usually left to hang on the vine until a bit later in the season – in the case of the dessert or ice wines they require a late harvest where grapes are picked only after certain conditions have been met.

At the vineyard the winemakers will leave the grapes hanging on the vine until late in the season giving them a chance to maximize their sugar production.  Other techniques are sometimes also used, such as allowing the grapes to dry or raisin up slightly before pressing them for juice – once again increasing the sugar content of the grape juice.

The wine making process is essentially the conversion of sugar into alcohol thanks to an active ingredient added at the right time, the yeast.  The yeast will convert sugar into alcohol until all the sugar is used up, or the winemaker will step in to stop the fermentation from taking place.  The sugar that remains in the wine after the fermentation (if there is any) will determine the sweetness and sugar count of the wine.  This is where we derive the sweetness scale that will rate wines as a 0, 1, 2, and so on.  Zero being the driest, and the higher the number, the higher the sweetness.  Just to give you some perspective, most sweet wines to taste would be a 2 or 3 on the scale, icewines or dessert wines could have a sugar counts upwards of 24.

Lorch White Label Riesling 2008 – 12% alc/vol

This is a very nice example of a German Riesling that is very typical of what you would expect from the region.  A good amount of residual sugar in this wine keeps a sweet palate that rates between a 2 and 3 for the sugar count.  Expect the classic Riesling flavours out of this wine, sweet mandarin, honey and apricots.  This is beautiful with roasted sausage and scalloped potatoes.  $18.01 (BC liquor store)

Okanagan Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2008 – 12% alc/vol

At under $12 this is a great buy for someone who likes a gewürztraminer that is a bit more sweet than spicy.  Mild honey and fresh mandarin flavours contrast the lemony herbaceous nose.  A perfect pairing for wonton soups dressed with green onions or a Thai style dish with a bit of heat and gingery flavours.  Residual sugars in this wine and the muted spice notes leave this wine with a sugar count of 2.  I recommend picking a few of these up while they are still such a great value.  $11.99 (BC liquor stores)

Red Carpet Wines
   originally published April 7th, The Northern View

Movie stars, celebrities and professional athletes can sell clothes, cars, soda pop and these days they even sell wine.  Francis Ford Coppolla, Mario Andretti and Madonna are just a few of the high profile individuals getting involved in the wine business.  Of course there are all different levels of involvement – some celebrities allow a winery to use their name in return for royalties (Gordon Ramsay, KISS and Carlos Santana).  Other celebrities have started vineyards strictly for their own personal use (David & Victoria Beckham, Johnny Depp and Sting).   And then there are the celebrities who get involved with their winery – the marketing, the blending and the selling - they retail their wines to connoisseurs like us.  Over the past few years consumer studies show that the celebrity wines category has seen more growth than the industry average.  It shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anybody, because these stars are already in the spotlight and have ample opportunity to draw attention to their new ventures.  Even on the store shelves, the celebrity name can grab your attention and make you feel more familiar and comfortable with a wine compared to its also untried and unknown competitors.

Another interesting thing to know about celebrity wines is that they fetch a much higher price than their competitive equivalents.  Take some time and compare the prices of celebrity labels to wines that are made in the same region by other producers – the celebrity status of the bottle often times lead to prices that are 10 to 30% higher.  Although they are more expensive than their regional counterparts, there is a good investment to be had for serious wine collectors.  The value of the celebrity cellar wines will appreciate much quicker over time.  A good vintage and a couple to five years of proper cellaring and your celebrity bottle could be worth up to triple its selling price.  And don’t worry, even if some of the bottles in your cellar are attached to a celebrity with a serious scandal or completely tanking career – there is probably still some really good grape juice inside that might help you to cope.

For lovers of Canadian wines, you will be happy to know that celebrities here at home are also using their fame to help get Canada noticed in the world of wines.  Wayne Gretzky, Mike Weir and Dan Ackroyd have all begun wineries in Ontario.  Here in British Columbia the star of the original 90210, Jason Priestly, is part of the ownership group for Blackhills winery.  The involvement of these stars in the wine industry has introduced a number of their fans to Canadian wine, and wines in general.  Wine sales in Canada continue to increase year after year, while the share of beer sales gets smaller – consumers are shifting their drinking habits and preferences. 

One thing is for sure, over the next few years we will continue to see the number of celebrity wines and wineries grow in both number and popularity.  I wonder if someday I will sit down to enjoy a beautiful liver dinner with a bottle of Anthony Hopkins ‘Hannibal’ Chianti?

Greg Norman Coonawarra Cabernet-Merlot 2004 – 14% alc/vol

A pioneer in the celebrity wine-making arena, Greg Norman Estates has been expanding their vineyards throughout Australia and California wine making regions since the 1990’s.  This is a gorgeous, velvety wine with a bouquet of leather, sweet smoke and humidor.  On the palate black cherry, blackberry and pink peppercorn round out the silky tannins; even with a high percentage of alcohol there is very little heat.  This shows well with a rack of lamb or a prime rib entree alongside roasted garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed beets.  A great candidate for cellaring, for collectors who can show restraint and can save for nearly a decade – I had the privilege of opening up 2000 Coonawarra Cab-Merlot at Christmas with family in 2008, it was one of the most wonderful wines I have ever had.   - $28.00 (BC liquor store)

Dan Aykroyd Chardonnay 2006 – 13% alc/vol

Very typical of an affordable Ontario chardonnay, this wine is fermented in stainless steel and then oak aged for a short period of time before being bottled.  Granny smith apple and lime zest scents with a tangy peach flavour.  Chardonnays are quite common with this profile and lend themselves well to broiled chicken dishes with grilled vegetables.  Pick one up if you are curious about Niagara wines as this is a perfect regional example.  The grapes come from a number of different vineyard sites and are VQA Niagara.  $13.99 (BC liquor stores)


Two Grapes Might Be Better Than One
   originally published April 21st, The Northern View

Interesting labels, unique names and just plain weird wines always grab my attention.  It’s a competitive marketplace and wine globe out there so many producers need to try new things, take risks and use creative marketing to sell their wine.  Clever marketing can even be attributed to selling a bad product occasionally. 

What we don’t hear for the most part are the wine catastrophes that happen at the vineyard level of a winery from time to time.  There are bad years, planting and picking mistakes, pressing and blending faux pas.  Unlike other businesses the amount of product that a winery has to sell is in limited supply – imagine if 10% of your ‘inventory’ didn’t ripen properly and did not have enough residual sugar to produce a wine in your typical style.  The last thing you do is throw that juice away – you take risks, you improvise and hopefully you can innovate.

Most of this responsibility lies with the winemaker, who is really in charge of making sure there is good wine to sell.  It has to look good, taste good and smell good.  When a single wine might not be able to cut it on its own, a winemaker may try to blend it with a different wine to cover up its flaws.

The blending process for winemakers can be a very lengthy process.  Some winemakers will go it alone, others will work with a team, blending different quantities of the same grapes together and then tasting to find the ideal combination.  The great part about the blending process is how there is opportunity to showcase unique characteristics to individual grapes side by side in the same glass.  In the unfortunate case of a wine gone bad – the blending process is one way to still use inferior product by putting it together with a different varietal that can mask the bad wines flaws.  An example would be a wine that is drinkable but has an off smell – this wine on its own wouldn’t showcase well and a winery might not want to attach its name to it, but if it is blended with a very aromatic varietal, a varietal that will dominate the nose of the pairing, it will make the flaw less detectable and salvages a significant investment.  The same strategy can be used for wines with a poor taste; for example, in white wines a poor taste can be easily hidden by sweetness and sugar – good white varietals for this would be Gewürztraminer or Riesling.  The sweetness dominates the palate and tires the taste buds, so the bitter components appear weaker in the aftertaste.

Jackson Triggs White Merlot – 11.5% alc/vol

I was surprised by this wine, expecting sorry to say, unbalanced fruit and tannin; however it delivered a very balanced approach with an enjoyable dryness.  Don’t pick this up expecting something sweet like your classic white zinfandel – this is more in the style of a gamay noir rose with no excess sugar or sweetness.  Delicate strawberry and young, tart cranberry flavours that matches nicely with fruit salad or poached white fish alongside a mango salsa.  $7.99 (BC liquor stores)

Cats Pee on a Gooseberry Bush Sauvignon Blanc 2008 – 12.5% alc/vol

Ahh, the ever delightful and appetizing scent of cat’s pee!  Umm, what?!  While the name is a little distasteful for some and hilarious to others, it is hardly an accurate representation of the aroma of this New Zealand bottle.  A musty citrus and hint of diesel are the backbone of this wine, with dry crisp flavours of tart lemon and straw.  Try this with soft shell crab cooked in sea water with drawn butter on the side, also great with simple pastas dressed in olive oil and fresh herbs prepared with mild vegetables like zucchini, blanched spinach and snap peas.  $16.00 (BC liquor stores)


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