Andrea Pollock on Wine

Summer 2010


In This Section:

The Flaw of Fortune of Wine Diamonds

Choosing the Right Bottle

Good Cellaring Techniques at Home

Going Green With Your Wine Collection

Summer is a Great Time for Sangria

Helping to Deal With Overconsumption

The Flaw or Fortune of Wine Diamonds
   originally published May 5th, The Northern View

It is a wine phenomenon that not everyone has seen, a tiny collection of diamonds in your glass as you finish a sip.   Some people call them diamonds, others call them wine stones; and sometimes they are mistaken for wine sediments that come from the tannins or lees in the wine.  Wine stones have a sandy texture and look like small shards of glass.  They show up quite colourless and sparkly in white wines, they can also develop in reds and appear like broken bits of ruby or a heavier shade of garnet. 

Because wine stones are not that common it leads many people to believe that they are a wine flaw.  It’s true that these crystals have kept the wine from being aesthetically perfect.  It can also be unpleasant to the palate and your tooth enamel if a swig from your glass pulls them into your mouth.  Luckily however they are neither harmful nor do they ruin the wine.  The diamonds are formed naturally by compounds that are present in the juice of the grape.

The juice of the grape contains tartaric acid; there are also naturally occurring potassium and calcium ions within the grapes.  The longer the grape has to hang on the vine and ripen, the higher the concentration of tartaric acid, potassium and calcium.  Together these two compounds can combine to form tiny particles of salt.  In unfermented grape juice these salts dissolve quite easily.  As the juice is fermented to alcohol the salts begin to create sediments and fall out of the wine; this happens because alcohol cannot dissolve the salts as well as the juice.  Temperature is also a factor in the extraction of these salts; at cooler temperatures the wines will eject more of these tartaric crystals or diamonds.  It is common practice these days for many winemakers to super chill their wines before bottling, so that these crystals can be extracted and filtered out.

We end up with wine diamonds in our glass most often when two things have happened – first, the grapes used to make the wine have had a long time to ripen and second, the winemaker has decided not to shock the wine with a drastic drop in temperature (which some winemakers would argue destroys the character of the wine).  At the store and in our homes before we drink our wines, they are usually left to sit in cooler temperatures that help them to age properly; this is the kick start that helps the tartaric crystals to fall out of the wine.  To me the wine stones signal the sign of an artisan wine that has a distinct story to tell.  I have found diamonds in many nice bottles, and rarely in poor ones.  While I don’t think that wine diamonds are a flaw, I still prefer to decant my wine when I find them.

Peller Estates Private Reserve Merlot 2004 – 13.0 alc/vol [Niagara, Ontario]

A nice undercurrent of earth with some fruity notes of cranberry and currants.  You might even get a toasty hint of chocolate.  Light bodied with gentle tannins.  A slight hint of brown colour means this wine is passing its prime; time to get into the newer vintages.  Loads of wine diamonds and sediment in this wine – remember to decant your bottles.  $20.10 (LCBO)  81/100 (Mar. 21, 2010)

White Bear Sauvignon Blanc 2008 – 13.5% alc/vol [Okanagan, B.C.]

A modest nose that doesn’t have much power; a balance of ripe melon and breezy grass.  This wine has a bit of a short finish, leaving you wanting more.  A sweet part of this wine is knowing that 15% of the profits are donated to sustaining the Northern B.C. rainforest.  A nice wine that is perfect with a B.L.T.  $12.99 (BC Liquor Stores)   80/100 (Apr. 18, 2010)


Choosing the Right Bottle
   originally published May 19th, The Northern View

I spend a lot of time looking at bottles of wine, reading their labels, debating which one of them I will treat myself to when I have decided that tonight deserves something special.  I know my menu so this is the finishing touch, I head to the store and always spend far too long making up my mind as to which wine is for me. I can peruse for the better part of an hour, on those trips I suffer from such poor decision making ability that I usually end up with a small collection of wines that I have to plan meals around for weeks. 

On most trips budget is the biggest factor, I leave the house knowing what I want to spend.  If I plan to spend $15 versus $25 there is a completely different set of criteria that I employ in my picks.  I tend to take more risks when I am working with a smaller budget, and it bothers me quite a bit less knowing that I didn’t spend the majority of my wine budget on a mistake.  I seem to end up with a healthy amount of wines I consider to be great buys, a couple of real gems that soon take a permanent place in the cellar, and some flops that will never be purchased again.  If I plan to purchase a more expensive wine I play it a little safer, I choose varietals that I often enjoy and then try to find a great example of it from a prominent region or artisanal producer.  I want to see a great example of a wine style that I usually love.  I pay attention to the vintage year and the rest of the winery line up that might be featured with it.  And unfortunately for my more expensive wines, they are always being compared against my army of lower priced great picks that just show tremendous value.  I have tasted $50 bottles that don’t stand up against a $17 rival; the price of a bottle has never guaranteed its quality.

 The real test comes when I get home, from the way the bottle is opened to the first whiff and then on to that final drop.  I enjoy, I critique, I get into my wine and I gauge how good a choice I made.  These days I keep a record of the wines and taste, their vintage, my thoughts and I even score my wines based on a price versus quality system out of 100 points.  A score of 70+ shows wines with good value and a decent flavour profile, wines that score 80 points or more are very nice wines showing exceptional value.  On the rare occasions that I score a wine with 90 points or more, you can bet that this wine is an absolutely fantastic buy with a beautiful flavour profile and there are a few more bottles being kept in my cellar for a special night. 

Brazin (B) Old Vine Lodi Zinfandel 2006 – 15.0% alc/vol [California]

The nose sneaks up on you, a bit of peppermint, a bit of spearmint, a cheeky combination of red fruits and earth.  The palate shines on this wine, a sweet jammy sip reveals juicy plums, raspberry and a dry smoked oak finish.  Truly a remarkable wine; I also like the bottle styling and believe this wine will appreciate nicely as a cellaring candidate.  83/100 (Apr. 27, 2010)   $29.99 (BC Liquor Stores)  

Bear Flag White Wine Blend #1 Non-vintage – 13.0% alc/vol [California]

Smells like a backyard bbq, with grass and warm air and a big bowl of fruit salad – oranges, mango, peaches next to fresh cut flowers.  A pleasant dryness with a little tang – nice melon and orange aftertaste.  This is my first great pick for the summer, keep a few of these around if you are looking for a crowd pleaser when entertaining.  90/100 (Mar. 27, 2010)  $13.09 (BC Liquor Stores)  



Good Cellaring Techniques at Home
   originally published June 2nd, The Northern View

Most wines are made in a drink now style.  This means that there is little benefit to aging these wines to improve their flavour profile or drinkability.  In fact, aging of drink now style wines could have you sipping a poorer product because the wine will quickly pass its’ peak stage after only a few years.  There are so many things that factor into the ageing of a bottle; some wines can pass their best states after only a few months or weeks if they are stored improperly. 

Proper cellaring doesn’t necessarily involve building an elaborate space and spending lots of money, a modest cellaring spot can be found in likely any home.  The place should be dark, dry and with a consistent temperature between 4 and 10 degrees.  A basement corner is all that you need, some bricks and 2x4’s can make for rustic shelving and suddenly your cellar is born. 

Much like the damage that sunlight can do to your skin over time, sunlight will damage wine with UV radiation.  The wine will brown and sour; it is quite undesirable and the affected bottle probably shouldn’t be consumed.  Be careful of where you keep your wines even for a few weeks if you like to have them lying around in the kitchen, these UV effects can manifest in very short periods of time in delicate wines.  Even when the visible effects aren’t present, UV radiation can deconstruct other components in the wine that will affect sensory details like taste and smell.

Dry spaces are also important, moulds and mildews can develop very easily in wines with cork closures.  Aggregate closers and screw caps can also be a problem in wet environments, which is why damp areas should be avoided all together.  Finally the temperature must remain constant and cool.  Heat, even room temperature (around 18 to 22 degrees) is enough to prematurely age wines, once again amplifying the browning effects.  Wines stored to warm will also have a cooked fruit smell with unbalanced sugar and acidity.  It is also important to make sure the space is not too cool; temperatures too low will kill the wine.  If the wine freezes it will stop the ageing process dead in its tracks, giving that sad little wine no where to go but down.

Chosen this week are two wines on different ends of the spectrum.  A white wine that will easily fall victim to improper cellaring and should be consumed and enjoyed before the year is out.  The other is a red wine with great cellaring potential because of its depth and structure.

Arrogant Frog Ribet White 2009 – 12.5% alc/vol [France]

Fresh cut grass and a mixture of popping tropical fruit, expect a fresh cool palate with a slightly tart and tangy lemon flavour.  What makes this wine is the flinty hints that hit the olfactory senses intensely with clean clear smells.  The mango and rough pineapple scents are hints for a perfect pairing – try this with a fresh halibut cheeks and a simple pineapple and mango salsa mixed with a little cilantro and rice wine vinegar.  93/100 (Apr. 22, 2010)  $12.99 (BC Liquor Stores) 

Root 1 Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 - 14.0% alc/vol [Chile]

A full on nose and flavour of young leather.  There is a lack of fruit on the palate, the bitter notes dominate with earthy undertones complementing.  There is even a gritty texture – this wine can stand for some decanting and an hour or two to open up and let the heavy leather smell subside.  This needs rare meats with jammy flavours.  88/100  (Feb. 14, 2010)  $14.99 (BC Liquor Stores)  


Going Green With Your Wine Collection
   originally published June 16th, The Northern View

I have been thinking about writing a green article for a while, wanting to open peoples’ eyes to the environmental impacts of our wine consumption.  It seems that everywhere we look today that green is a lot more than just a colour, it is a way of life.  Buying things that are green can feel good, a sense that you are doing your part and reducing your carbon footprint.  At the same time there is also a social pressure and responsibility to make smarter choices and choose products that are better for the environment and everyone around.

It seems that when it comes to our wines that this green revolution is only recently underway.  Let’s face it, the traditional wine vessel with a glass bottle and cork closure is far from green, even though that glass is recyclable there have been other more eco-friendly products out there for us to use.  From screw caps to tetra-paks, the wine industry is delving into alternative packaging.  There is also a big push at the vineyard level to practice organic farming and sustainable practices that help to keep these wine growing areas healthy and viable for years to come.

It was only a few years ago that I heard many wine snobs lamenting about the screw cap, and the alternative types of packaging that had been growing in popularity.  Oddly enough some of these same individuals will invite me over now, only to open a screw-top wine... and suddenly, when I open a tetra-pak at my house, they don’t seem to shun the wine the same as a few years ago.  This wasn’t an easy transition for the winemakers of the world and it is still a challenge to convince some die-hards that a $40 or $50 bottle is worth the price when it has a twist top.  There is something classic and romantic about uncorking a bottle of wine; it is this sense of tradition that has kept many wineries using corks and cork alternatives.  Unfortunately this industry shift away from natural cork is an example of how environmentally irresponsible wine drinkers have been in our recent history – cork is no longer a sustainable resource.  It can take twenty years or more for a cork tree to reach maturity and be harvestable.  The glut of wine worldwide has put a lot of pressure on this industry and to keep pace with demand and there has been a serious deforestation of cork trees.  These days cork is in a state of shortage, pushing up the price and levelling off of demand – people understand that it is more affordable and responsible to use other alternatives.  You can plan on seeing more alternative closures in our future.

Along with alternative closures there is a wider range of alternative packages that have hit the mainstream market.  The tetra-pak is like a juice carton for your wine, typically sold in a 1 litre format.  This tetra-pak material is 100% recyclable and also a lot more fuel friendly; it can take about 5 full tractor trailers to ship 1 million glass wine bottles to a winery and only 1 tractor trailer to ship 1 million tetra-paks.  There is also less breakage and less energy used to recycle this product too.  It is probably going to be a while before you see classic Bordeaux’s being served up in a modern day juice carton, but they are pretty easy to adopt if you are looking for fun, inexpensive picnic wines that travel well.

For decades the Australians have been the global leader of alternative packaging for wines.  Still today the Australian market is the most accepting and embracing of the alternatives; they are also leading the way in bottling more expensive wines with twist caps.  So this week, in the spirit of going green with your wine, I have chosen a couple of great Australian reds to help support the worlds’ most environmentally conscious vintners.

Layer Cake Shiraz 2008  (14.9% alc/vol)

Black cherry and strawberry, a bit of bubble gum, rich cloves and fresh turned earth all meld together in the nose.  The wine is throwing a bit of sediment and has a slightly purple hue, two things that are indicative of a young wine that could stand to lie down in the cellar for a few years.  Regardless, this wine has fresh fruity flavours, is just lovely to drink and has mild tannins with a medium finish of plum and wood chips.   76/100

Potts Family Bleasdale, Langhorne Crossing 2007  (14.0% alc/vol)

A warm jammy scent of mixed berries with a bit of liquorice.  The palate is gentle with red fruits and very light tannins that give a short finish.  This would compliment red meats served alongside mushrooms very nicely.  80/100

Summer is a Great Time For Sangria
   originally published June 30th, The Northern View

With the warm weather it isn’t too often that I think about quenching a hot afternoon thirst with a room temperature glass of red.  However, I do think about a fresh fruity glass of wine, juice and big chunky pieces of fruit, maybe even spiked with a little liqueur.  Sangria is the name of this type of concoction, and was originally a Spanish libation that is now popular throughout the world.

One of the best things about sangria is that there are no rules, really.  You can find all kinds of classic recipes that will spell it out for you and limit your imagination.  You can even find pre-made versions bottled up for you in the store – yuck!  But the absolute best sangria is one that takes shape in the moment and changes from batch to batch.  I like using a really light easy drinking wine, some fresh fruit juice, a nice liqueur (or two!) and some chunks of strawberries and pineapple.  Sangria is fun, it’s almost impossible to mess up, and tastes just wonderful on hot day.  Even though we can say that the best sangria has no rules, there are still a few things that you can do to make sangria a little bit better for your discerning taste buds:

Choose low acid juices – there is already a good amount of acid in a wine, fruit juices also contain quite a bit of acid.  The sangria will make you pucker and leave you with pretty bad gut rot if you have an overwhelming amount of acid.  The good news is that there are many low acid juices for sale these days in the local supermarket.  As a last resort, if you can’t get a hold of a low acid juice, or you notice that the sangria is a little too acidic, you can always add a bit of sugar to balance it out.  Sugar and acid balance each other; you can use natural sugars like honey to stay a little healthier.

Don’t spend money on expensive wines – let’s face it, mixed with juice, fruit and liqueur, the wine isn’t going to show as its true self anyway.  Inexpensive reds are usually lighter bodied, low tannin and fairly plain in flavour – these are great sangria wines that can build the backbone of the drink, giving a chance for the fresh ingredients to shine through.  Low tannin wines are key – this means choosing wines that have a very light body and very few of the gritty fibres that dry your mouth.  Tannins are quite bitter, the opposite of the effect you want in good sangria; tannic wines can also leave sediment in the bottom of the punch bowl, ruining your pretty presentation.

Choose the right fruits – some fruits don’t look so good in the punch bowl after a little while, like bananas or peaches.  The reason that some fruits don’t work is because the acids in the batch of sangria will eat away at the flesh of the fruit, turning it brown and making it look bad.  You also need to choose fruit that have a similar colour to your sangria, because most fruit will pick up the colours in the rest of the drink – just absorbing it over time.  Strawberries, cherries, grapes, blueberries and raspberries are good choices; oranges, pineapple and kiwi can also stand up well after a little wine bath.

This week a couple of inspiring recipes that hopefully you will embellish and make your own:

Two Oceans Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc 2008 – 11.5% alc/vol [South Africa]

A really chill sparkler that is great mixed with peach juice, orange slices and a little Malibu rum.  A very refreshing bubbly drink, and yes, sangria can be made with white wines too.  83/100, $11.99 (BC Liquor Stores).

Naked Grape Merlot – 13% alc/vol [Canada]

An easy drinking red with a light body and neutral red fruit palate that makes a great sangria wine blender.  Try this with fresh blueberries and raspberries, some fruit punch and a bit of Smirnoff blueberry vodka.  86/100, $8.49 (BC Liquor Stores).


Helping to Deal With Overconsumption
   originally published July 14th, The Northern View

It is almost impossible to indulge occasionally on wine and remain immune to the hangover.  Compared to hard alcohols, the wine hangover doesn’t have to be a result of quantity (even though it can); surprisingly a harsh hangover can come from only one glass of wine.  This is because of the types of components that are found in wine and there are several that play a large role in leading to a hangover.

The first and most obvious way to suffer from a hangover is from over-consumption.  When we drink more alcohol than our bodies can metabolize, we become intoxicated – impairing our judgement, motor function and reasoning ability.  It also taxes the internal systems of the body, putting your organs into overdrive at the same time as you begin to dehydrate your system and make it less able to cope.  Alcohol acts as a diruretic, basically sucking water out of the cells of your body and reducing cellular and metabolic capabilities.  Knowing this, it doesn’t mean that we have to avoid alcohol all together, it is just an indication that we need to do a good job of managing these effects.  The best way to keep a serious hangover at bay when we may have over-consumed alcohol is to drink equal amounts of water as alcoholic beverages in the night.  The extra water in your system is very much needed and reduces the dehydration effects that can make you feel tired, worn out and sick the next morning.  So try to drink as much water as you can before going to bed.

The next ingredient that helps to create a wine hangover is sugar.  Sugar amplifies the dehydration effects of alcohol, because the body is so busy metabolising the alcohol, the sugar in the wine can hit your system pretty hard.  This is especially true if you are trying a sweet white wine or dessert style wine that has a lot of excess sugar to begin with.  The primary effect of the sugar hangover is a pounding headache; the sugar dehydration targets your brain and unfortunately your internal organs.  So if you enjoy consuming sweet wines or sugary cocktails, you have a little bit more to watch out for.  The best way to combat and even prevent the sugar hangover headache is to flood your system with vitamin C.  Now, you can use tablets if you want, but the best and most readily available vitamin C comes from fresh ingredients; so after a late night out on the town, come home and eat an orange, or have a big glass of fresh juice loaded with vitamin C, your brain will thank you.

There is another ingredient in wine that will amplify the hangover effects, and it’s sulphur.  Sulphur makes its way into the wine at the vineyard, where sulphur dust is sprayed on the crops to keep insects, moulds and mildews at bay.  Grapes aren’t washed and cleaned before being crushed, so there is a good amount of this sulphur that will make it into the grape juice before it even ferments.  Additional sulphur can also be added to a wine during the clarification process, so it’s almost unavoidable.  There are many people who have adverse reactions to the sulphites in wine because they can give almost instant migraine or allergic reaction.  Sulphites are present in both red and white wines; high amounts of sulphites combined with sugar and alcohol can also give someone symptoms of food poisoning (this is more pronounced if you have eaten seafood).  Luckily there are low sulphite wines out there, you just need to pay attention to the wine label and choose wisely.

The selections this week are a couple of great white wines that you should enjoy responsibly and hangover free.

Undurraga Sauvignon Blanc 2009 – 12.5% alc/vol [Chile]

Very nice nose of pineapple and lime with a hint of flinty minerality.  A very dry, refreshing palate with a good amount of acid.  The flavours fall a little short, with a taste that reminds me of lemon soda water.  78/100  $12.99 (BC Liquor Stores) (May 26, 2010)

Blasted Church Hatfields Fuse 2008 – 13.5% alc/vol [Okanagan Valley, B.C.]

Sweet, sweet smell on the nose – fresh husked corn, oranges and flowers.  A bright popping nose that layers these smells.  A dry taste with citrusy notes and a nice aftertaste that lingers.  Tried this with a medley of seafood and couldn’t have been more pleased with the combination.  82/100  $17.99 (BC Liquor Stores) (May 20, 2010)

 Peppered Baseball Steak with Lemon Prawns

Check Out This Recipe

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