Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Ruffino Santedame Chianti Classico 2009 Wine Review - Natalie MacLean

Ruffino Santedame Chianti Classico 2009 Wine Review - Natalie MacLean

It's October 1st which means 30 days to Halloween and more importantly the Release date for 2013 Chianti Classico! Check out my review of this tasty Italian gem.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Understanding the Crus of Beaujolais.

This article was first seen on

Beaujolais is that light easy to drink wine made from the Gamay grape variety in the Burgundy region of France. On the label you can expect to see 5 different types of Beaujolais. If on the label you see just the single word Beaujolais you are purchasing the most basic wine type. If it says Beaujolais Supérieur it is still the most basic wine it has just reached a higher degree of alcohol so it will have a superior affect on your motor functions. If the label says Beaujolais-Villages the wine is blend from 38 villages in the area that make a higher quality wine. Then there is Beaujolais Nouveaux, this wine is released on the third Thursday of November which is only weeks after the grapes have even been picked. Beaujolais Nouveaux is like a preview of the vintage, and it is meant to be consumed within 6 months of it's November release date. Then at the top of the pyramid you have the 10 Beaujolais Crus. Each Cru is meant to show distinct characteristics, almost like how Actors' personalities are distinct. Here is my comparison of the 10 Beaujolais Crus with some modern day famous faces, to help make this wine region as easy to digest as the actual wine is. 

We will start with the most Northern Cru of the region St. Amour. This Cru reminds me of Ellen Degeneres as it is the lightest, and let's face it Ellen's sense of humour always lightens the mood. The Cru is in the transition area where Beaujolais turns into the Maçonnais (which is another one of Burgundies regions), just like Ellen made the transition from acting to hosting. The wine displays aromas of spiced berries, and has a distinct mineral flavour, making it great with Lamb.

Heading South to the Juliénas Cru. This Cru reminds me of Cate Blanchett  as no other Cru holds themselves to a higher overall standard. The region was named after the strong leader Julius Caesar, and Cate's breakthrough role was as another strong leader Elizabeth. The wine is spicier, and fleshier with a backbone that will keep it going over the years and is a great match for anything straight off the BBQ. 

Next up is the Chénas Cru, that can be compared to Leonardo Dicaprio, as Chénas keeps losing land to the top Cru Moulin-å-Vent just like Leo keeps missing his Oscar win despite numerous nominations. The wine may be losing land but the quality level is undeniable just like Leo's skills. The wine has earthy and floral aromas and has one of the longest lives of the Beaujolais Crus. It can be a great match for Chicken done in a cream and mushroom sauce. 

As I mentioned the Moulin-å-Vent Cru is at the top of the pack, so it seems pretty obvious to compare it to Meryl Streep as she is seen as the best. This wine is the most concentrated and flavourful of all the crus, with that much flavour this wine is strong enough to stand up to a grilled steak. 

Then comes Fleurie, the Cru that epitomizes the belief that Beaujolais is a joy to swallow. And let's face it Jennifer Lawrence is one of those people that is a joy to watch on screen or in a interview. She is so likeable, just like a Fleurie. The wine is silky and strong, and with great berry flavour. Match up the silky texture with a Paté or terrine. 

After Fleurie comes the prettiest of of the Crus, Chiroubles, both in wine style and in the aesthetics of the village. When I think of pretty actors there are so many that come to mind, it is sort of a prerequisite to the profession. But for this to work I need to pick just one so I'd have to agree with Ellen and say Jared Leto with those big blue eyes really is the prettiest just like Chiroubles. The wine displays floral and fresh red berry notes, that entice and seduce and can be a great accompaniment to Asian Cuisine

Morgon is the densest of the Crus which means it is the thickest and most full bodied, but when the term is used to describe a person it means someone of lesser intelligence. However, I do not wish to make a dig at someone even if it is a famous movie star. I want to compare Morgon to Mathew Mcconaughey not because I think he is dense but because Morgon is a fleshy juicy wine, and even when Matthew is wearing a shirt it seems like he isn't. There is just something fleshy about him. The wine ages distinctly and consistently much like Matthew's acting career. The wine has juicy dark cherry flavours to match it's fleshy texture, which goes great with Duck. 

Régnié is the new Cru on the block since it was only bumped up from Beaujolais-Villages level to Cru status in 1988. While most of the others received their Cru status in 1936. You can draw a similarity between newcomer stand out star from 12 Years A Slave Lupita Nyongo. They may be new but the talent is obvious. The wines are soft and forward with redcurrant and raspberry notes perfect with a Swordfish steak.

Coming into the Southern end of the Beaujolais Crus you have Brouilly . It is the largest Cru at 1200ha and therefore it seems only right to compare it to one of the biggest movie starts out there Brad Pitt. The wines from here have notes of blueberries and cherries. Try matching Brouilly with a Chacuterie plate

Finally within the Brouilly area is the Côte de Brouilly Cru. Surrounded by Brouilly vineyards the two must co-exist. Côte de Brouilly wines tend to be more elegant, and floral, the female counterpart to Brouilly. So obvious we compare Côte de Brouilly to Angelina Jolie if Brouilly is Brad Pitt. Pair it with soft cheeses like Camembert or Brie.

You can even take these pairing ideas one step further and match the Cru with the food then add a movie from the compared Actor for a great Friday evening. Happy sipping.

Kayra Tilsim Çalkarasi-Shiraz 2012 - Natalie MacLean

Kayra Tilsim Çalkarasi-Shiraz 2012 - Natalie MacLean

You can taste Spring in this Rosé

Friday, April 18, 2014

Beach, Bacon, and Booze Visiting Ölüdeniz, Turkey

This piece first appeared on Check it out for all things food and travel related.

So you've been travelling through Turkey for a few weeks now. Perhaps you've been educated by the lengthy role this country has played in history. Maybe you've been rendered speechless by the natural wonders. Definitely you've put on a few pounds, having indulged in all the great Turkish specialities. But maybe, just maybe you would give anything for a slice or two of bacon with your kahvalti (breakfast). If you are looking for a little slice of the Western world in this unique foreign country, the beach town of Ölüdeniz is perfect for the homesick Traveler. Most of the signs are in English in this small village in the Fethiye district. Tiki bars line the streets offering a variety of nightly specials like my personal favourite 2 for 1 Margaritas. Then there's the bacon. Not only does just about every brunch joint serve a traditional English breakfast but Ölüdeniz has it's own Porky's, so you can stock up on Pork products if you so desire. 

Once your bacon craving has been satisfied, it's easy to see why Westerners, and Turks alike flock here in the summer months. The beach called Belcegiz pronounced Beljehiz is where the Aegan meets the Mediterranean. The water is clear, warm, and a celeste turquoise blue. The sand is soft and white except for at the water's edge. Here there is a metre wide bench of stones, that add a great percussion to the crashing of the waves, but are not so kind to sensitive feet. I recommend water shoes, especially if you have kids with you. Access to the beach is free but there is a $5TL fee if you want the comfort of a beach chair or umbrella. 
Inline image 2

The beach couldn't be more relaxing, but if adrenaline pumping is more your style, paragliding off Mount Babadag will surely do the trick. The elevation is almost 2,000 metres, thats 6,400 feet up. It takes about 50 minutes to get to the top and another 50 to paraglide down, while you enjoy a view fit for the gods. Prices start at around $250TL which is about $120 US. You want to check for two things before booking with a company; 1 they offer insurance and 2 you are going to the very top of Babadag. Some companies only go halfway up which means you end up flying for only 10-15 minutes often for the same price as the 50 minute adventure. 
Inline image 3

Some other great activities available in the area include; day long boat trips that provide lunch, great views of the coast and the best swimming spots. Hiking the Lycian way. Rock climbing. Or try out a rejuvenating full body clay mask. Inline image 1

Vignamaggio Terre Di Prenzano Chianti Classico 2010 - Natalie MacLean

Vignamaggio Terre Di Prenzano Chianti Classico 2010 - Natalie MacLean

Have you seen the show DaVinci's Demons? That show with this wine that comes from the home of Mona Lisa is a great historical match.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 - Natalie MacLean

Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 - Natalie MacLean

Goethe's Faust may have been a tragedy but the only weeping you will be doing after drinking this wine will be in gratitude. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Saturday, March 15, 2014

5 Ways to Celebrate St. Patrick's Day with Wine

Well, it's that time of year to raise a glass, dress in emerald green and have an abashedly rip roaring time. Whether you are Irish or not, St Paddy's day always promises a good time. The traditional beverage choices are Guiness, Irish Whiskey, or any beer died green, but if you are a wino like me fear not there are options.

1. Go Varietal; Ok so no white wine in the world has that leprechaun green shade, but there are quite a few varieties that have a light green tinge to them. For example a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, or my favourite Austrian native Grüner Veltliner. But if French wine is all you drink try a Muscadet from the Loire Valley. Or maybe you are feeling adventurous this St. Patrick's day and want to try a lesser known wine type, give an Albariño from Spain a try. Bonus most of these wines have "green" flavours too like lime, green grass, and green apples, and they are very versatile with food. Which makes them perfect for any snacks that may be laid out at your local St. Patrick's day party. Don't forget how important a good base of food is when drinking copious amounts.

2. Spritz it up; A white wine spritzer is always a refreshing choice whether you opt for Sprite, Soda or Tonic water. Add a little splash of a green liqueur like Midori, Sour Apple, or Bols Melon and there you have it a green white wine spritzer that will put any green beer out there to shame. Some of my favourite wines to use as the base to a spritzer are Pinot Grigio, Riesling, or Chenin Blanc.

3. Think Environmentally; Many wineries are going green these days whether it be by farming organically, or biodynimacally. This is a great option if you are a red wine fan. You may not have the blarney colour but you can proudly say "I am helping to ensure my great grand kids will be able to get just as sloshed in the St. Patrick's days of the future because I am doing my part to help out the planet." Some great wineries that are "green" and can be found in most local liqueur stores include; Stratus, Kendall Jackson, Nicolas Joly, Concha y Toro, and Loimer.

4. Go Irish; It seems just about every Country in the world makes wine these days and Ireland is no exception. Downside the production is very small and you will no doubt have a hard time finding one to buy if you live outside of Great Britain. Most of the wineries are located in the South West part of the Island near Cork. White grape varieties like Sauvignon Blanc are more widely planted although you can find some red as well. Bunratty Castle, Longueville House, and Llewellyn are some names to keep an eye out for if you are committed to drinking Irish wine.

5. Embrace the day; Many don't realize that St. Patrick was actually from Britain, he brought Christianity to Ireland and that is why he is celebrated. But come on, for most of us it's a day to dress up, get a little silly, and have some fun. So do just that, enjoy this great holiday by drinking whatever floats your boat and make no apologies. Just be safe and don't drink and drive. Now let's raise a glass and toast "In all this world why I do think, there are 5 reasons why we drink: Good friends, good wine, lest we be dry, and any other reasons why."
Happy St. Patrick's day!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Monday, March 3, 2014

What makes a white wine great

The best white wines can have an array of fresh fruit flavours like a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, a creamy quality like a California Chardonnay, or a floral note like a German Gewürztraminer. Not only do the varieties offer an array of flavours but a Riesling depending on how it was grown and then fermented can range from sweet with a higher alcohol content to bone dry and with a bracing minerality. This range in flavours and textures is what makes the best white wines so enjoyable.  

White wines can be made with both white and dark grapes. This is possible because to make a white wine all you use is the meat or pulp of the grape. Without the contact of the skins the wine will remain white. Once the grapes have been pressed just the juice (also called the wort) will be put into tanks where fermentation will begin. This is the process of sugar turning into alcohol thanks to natural yeast present on the grapes although sometimes cultured yeasts will be added to ensure specific qualities of a grape variety are present. White wine may also go through one more type of fermentation known as malolactic. It is most commonly used with certain types of Chardonnay, it de-acidifies the wine, making it creamier and less bitingly acidic.  

Oak can play a part in a white wine's life just as it does for red wine but to a much lesser degree. Fermentation can be completed in large oak barrels without affecting the wine at all. The larger the barrel the less impact it has on the wine. However, if a white wine is aged in small oak barrels after the fermentation process is complete it can accomplish two things for the wine. One is to impart flavour into the wine with aromas of toast, vanilla, and butter. The other is to mature the wine by slowly exposing it to a small amount of oxygen. This is typically done again with Chardonnay, although some of the best white wines like Bordeaux's white superstar Sauternes spends time on oak.  

Minerality is a term often used to express some of the finest white wines of the world but what does it mean exactly? When a wine has minerality it is like an extension of the terroir. The minerals in the soil where the grapes were grown have been transported into the wine and can add a dimension of flavour that most love. The best way to describe what minerality tastes like is to think of what the stones smell like at the river's edge. A little metallic, kind of smoky in a flint way, fresh yet rich at the same time. Chablis from Burgundy is Chardonnay grapes grown in the region Chablis, and it seems to embrace the minerality of it's limestone terroir full heartedly. It is one reason Chablis is considered a great white wine and the minerality is what makes Chablis so great with oysters. 

The acidity of white wine is both a pro and a con. A con because it weakens the enamel of our teeth but a pro because acidity is what makes our mouth water and gets our appetite going. The acidity of a wine if properly balanced leaves your mouth feeling refreshed and thirsty for more like a tasty Italian Pinot Grigio. If improperly balanced it can leave you with heart burn and a feeling like your taste buds have been burned off. The finest white wines will all have a level of well balanced acidity to them. Without that refreshing zest the wine can be too flabby and round, boring in a sense. So stock up on enamel building toothpaste, because the acidity of a great white wine is mouth watering. 

White wines are not often blended unlike red wine unless you take into consideration sparkling wine. But there is one partnership that seems to be a match made in heaven. The blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc in the French sweeter style wine of Sauternes is legendary particularly those from Château d'Yquem. There are certainly white blends out there like Conundrum from Caymus Vineyards, but it is more likely to find a single varietal white wine. The best blends tend to be aromatic ones (wines with a powerful scent) like a Gewürztraminer and Riesling blend, or a Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc. Muscat also makes a great blending partner as on it's own it can be too sweet. 

Lighter white wines like Pinot Grigio should be served between 4º to 10º Celsius (40º to 50º F). While  fuller bodied white wines like Chardonnay should be served between 10º to 15ºC (50º to 60ºF). Tall thin glasses are best, although a Burgundy glass (bowl shaped) is recommended for fine Chardonnay, i.e. Chardonnay over $50. The thinner the glass the less there is to influence the way the wine tastes. Some tricks to chill a white wine in a hurry are an ice bath; where the wine is submerged in a mixture of ice and water. Another trick is a freezer jacket, where you wrap the wine in a cold damp cloth and place it in the freezer, just don't forget about the wine or you will have wine popsicles. 

The best white wines of the world can be aged just as long as the reds of the world up to 25 years. However for a white wine to age gracefully it is best to start with a high sugar and acid content as they act as preservatives. Most of the finest wines with great aging potential are either sweet like a Ice Wine or very dry like a Austrian Riesling. However the large majority of white wines are meant to be consumed within the first year and do not benefit from any aging. Those that are meant to be aged will typically have a Grand Cru type designation and will be above $100 a bottle. 

White wine once opened can last 3 to 5 days as long as you keep it in the fridge with a tight cap on it. There are many factors that decide how long a white wine has before it turns once it has been opened. A lower temperature will prevent the chemicals from destroying the wine hence keeping it in the fridge. Oxygen is wine's biggest enemy so keeping the cap, or cork on the wine will lengthen the wine's life, but the air pocket in the bottle is important to consider. A bottle that is almost empty will decline much quicker than a bottle nearly full. The amount of sugar in a wine will allow it to survive longer as well. A muscat will still be flavourful 5 days after opening, you may even get a week out of it. Have no fear if you have let a bottle of white wine sit in the fridge too long it can still be used to cook with as either a salad vinaigrette or a pasta sauce.

White wine can be a great pairing option for far more dishes than just fish. The important thing to consider is the weight or body of both the wine and the meal and match them accordingly. Full bodied wine with heavier dishes like an oaked Chardonnay with creamy fettucine. The best trick to help you figure out the weight of a dish is to think about how different types of milk feel in your mouth (not taste). For example how light skim milk feels, and how heavy cream feels. Another consideration for pairing is the sauce of a dish, lighter sauces are best with lighter wines. Higher acid wines like Pinot Grigio are great with salads, and Sauvignon Blanc is a treat with goat cheese as they both share a green aroma. Spicy dishes benefit from fruit forward wines like Austrian Grüner Veltliner. White wine can be paired with all types of food a Grand Cru Burgundy Chardonnay can even work with a surf and turf. 

The vineyards of the world grow between the latitudes of  30° and 50° in both hemispheres. The best climate is between 10º and 20 °C (50 and 68 °F). The perfect mixture of soil, climate, topography, and that human element are what makes a white wine great. Although the process can be duplicated there is that extra added element of magic that make some wines so much more valuable and therefore expensive then others. That element of magic can be the soil, it can be the perfect south facing slope or a winemaker with extreme care and attention to his land, the best have all three. The easiest way to think about an expensive white wine is to think about it like a famous piece of art. You collect them for the history of it, for the blood sweat and pain that the artist (winemaker) put into it. For the sheer beauty of them. There are great white wines for bargain prices, just like there are talented artists that are unknown. There are also mass produced copies of the great works of art just as there is mass produced wine. Although they may be much more affordable and certainly still enjoyable some of the magic is undeniably lost. If you can afford it the Picasso's of the wine world are well worth investing in if that is the type of thing you value.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Frank Family Blanc de Blanc 2008 - Natalie MacLean

Frank Family Blanc de Blanc 2008 - Natalie MacLean

A great sparkling wine the only thing that bugs me is that they use Champagne in the name of the wine but seeing as this is from Napa Valley I chose to omit that false designation reserved only for the fine French stuff.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Red Stuff

The best Red Wines can range from a light earthy Pinot Noir to a full bodied juicy Cabernet Sauvignon, and include everything in between. Whether you enjoy a bit more sweetness in your wine like that of a Zinfandel, or more tart cherry aromas like those found in Sangiovese. Whatever your preference there's a great red wine out there just waiting for you.

What differentiates a white wine from a red wine is how the wine is made. A white wine is made using just the juice from the grapes, in fact a white wine can be made from red grapes, however a white grape cannot be made into a red wine. . While a red wine is made using the skins, seeds, juice, meat, and stems of the grape. It is from the skin and meat that the colour comes from, and the seeds and stems are where the marjority of a red wines tannins come from. During fermentation red wines are left in contact with their crushed skins to extract as much colour as possible, while some are left in contact with the seeds and stem to extract as much tannins as possible. 

Blending a combination of grapes to make a wine is something done with both white and red wines, Champagne is a blend after all. But the most famous blend in the red wine world is a Bordeaux. The grapes permitted to be used in a Bordeaux are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Carménère. However Malbec and Carménère don't get much play in today's Bordeaux blends. The most dominant grapes used in today's Bordeaux depends on a variety of things but typically left side Bordeaux (Lafite, Haut Brion) is Cabernet Sauvignon dominant while right (Pétrus) is Merlot domainant. A red Bordeaux blend can also be known as Claret. But when those grape varieties are used to make a blend in another area of the world they are known as Meritage. Surprisingly blends are more common then you would think, especially when it comes to Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Typically laws dictate that there need only be 85% of a grape variety for it to be listed on the label so more often than nought when you choose a Merlot at the store it has 15% Cabernet Sauvignon blended into it. Winemakers do this because Merlot can be sometimes too flabby and boring on it's own while Cabernet can be too tough, blend them together and you get a delicious wine.

The myth that red wine is best served at room temperature comes from a time when room temperature was a Castle in France. Nowadays room temperature is actually too warm for red wines. For lighter fruitier red wines like Pinot Noir serve between 10º and 15º Celsius (50º to 60º Fahrenheit).  For more full bodied reds like Cabernet Sauvignon serve between 15º and 18º (60º to 65º). When it comes to the glass you choose for your red wine, I like to think the bigger the better, but you should never fill it more than halfway. This has to do with putting oxygen into the wine and helping it give off more aromas. More of a bowl shape is good for Pinot Noir, while a deeper glass with a smaller opening is good for Cabernet. Another factor in getting the best from your red wine is to choose a wine glass with a thin rim and clear glass. The thinner the rim the less to influence the way the wine tastes.

Decanting is really only necessary with a fine bottle of red wine, meaning minimum $50. It is done for 2 reasons. The first and most overlooked is to avoid sediment that may have formed in the wine over time and if not done properly will leave your red wine cloudy and gritty. The sediment comes from age so the older the wine the more likely a decanting is necessary. When decanting for sediment you want to hold a candle or flashlight by the neck of the bottle after the bottle has stood upright for a few hours and when you begin to see the sediment in the neck stop pouring and toss the inch of wine that will be left. The second and most common reason for decanting is to add oxygen to the wine opening it up and giving the wine more flavour. Some prefer to use their glass to do this, while others enjoy tasting the wine unfold and develop in the glass as they drink it. But for those who want ta more powerful and flavourful wine right off the get go the decanting should be done slowly and steadily try to aim the wine onto the side of the decanter so it splays out thus putting more oxygen into the wine.

The aging of red wines is also something reserved for the top tier of the best wines. Most regular red wines will not benefit from any period of long term aging, and actually tend to lose their desirability within the first few years. This includes many of the mainstream brands we can easily find, therefore most everyday wines you buy should be consumed without a second thought. But for those top 5% of the best red wines from the best wineries like Bordeaux, Burgundy, Amarone, Barolo, or Tuscany, or Napa Cabernet they can be aged 8-20 years easily. Keep in mind there is a limit to any wines life so a good rule of thumb is to not let it pass it's 30th birthday unless it is a fortified wine like Port or Madeira.

The amount of time a red wine will stay good in the bottle after you have opened it depends on a few things. First it depends on the amount of sugar in the wine the higher the sugar content the longer it will last. So digestif wines like Port will last longer than a Sangiovese. It also depends on exposure to oxygen. The amount of wine in the bottle, less wine in the bottle means a larger oxygen pocket so the wine will go bad faster. If you leave the cork off more exposure to oxygen, so try to keep it on if you are trying to make a wine last. Another factor in the longevity of wine is the amount of tannins in the wine. A wine with less tannins like a Pinot Noir will go bad faster while a Shiraz will last longer. A good rule of thumb is to keep it in the fridge as a cooler temperature will slow down the wine's destruction. A generalization you can loosely use as a guideline is an average of 3 days, maybe less for light red wines like Pinot Noir and more for bigger sweeter styles like Cabernet or Carménère.

The main factor that has led many physician's to believe red wine has health benefits  is from a natural phenol known as resveratrol. It can be found in many plants like Japanese knot weed but also in grapes. The health benefits include everything from heart benefits, and lower cholesterol, to anti aging, and cancer prevention. Studies are still being completed on th e long term affects of resveratrol but the important thing to remember is that moderation is best. A glass of red wine a day may keep the doctor away but a bottle will surely not be beneficial to your health. Resveratrol is found in both red and white wines but the amount in red is much higher. The verdict is still out on which red wine has the highest resveratrol content but the Valpolicella producer Tedeschi has taken up the research and believes the grapes surrounding the Valpolicella area naturally have a higher resveratrol amount, they have been researching ways to increase the amount in their wines as well. Meanwhile some tests have shown Spanish wines to have the highest amount, while others debate Pinot Noir. The best way to ensure you get a good dose of resveratrol; keep switching it up, try as many red wines as you can (in moderation). Although the verdict is not 100% of the health benefits, you can be certain your taste buds will be 100% happy.
The important thing to remember when choosing a meal to accompany that great bottle of red you opened up is to think about weight. The weight of the wine and the weight of the dish. What does this mean? Think about how skim milk, versus 2%, versus cream feels in your mouth. That is what light, medium and full bodied wine is like. Or a meal of fish, chicken, or beef can be like. It is not about matching flavours as much as it is about matching weight. The important parts that determine the weight of a meal is the sauce, and the fat content. The higher the fat content and the richer the sauce the bigger the red wine can be. Which is why the full bodied Cabernet with beef is a classic pairing. It is also for that reason that fattier fishes like salmon can work with the typically light bodied Pinot Noir.

 Most of the wines in the world grow between the latitudes of  30° and 50° in both hemispheres. Ideal temperatures are 10º and 20 °C (50 and 68 °F). But what makes a great red wine? It is a combination of soil, climate, topography, and a great winemaker at the helm. Why are some wines so much more expensive then others and are they worth it? The easiest way to think about an expensive red wine is to think about it like a famous piece of art. You collect them for the history of it, for the blood sweat and pain that the artist (winemaker) put into it. For the sheer beauty of them. There are great red wines for incredible prices, just like there are talented unknown artists. But the Dali, the Botticelli, the Monet of the wine world are well worth investing in if that is the type of thing you value.

Doluca DLC Sultaniye-Emir 2011 - Natalie MacLean

Doluca DLC Sultaniye-Emir 2011 - Natalie MacLean

Cappadocia is not only a very magical place to visit in Turkey, they also produce some great white wines; just like this one.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Pink Stuff

Is it white wine? Or is it red wine you serve chilled? Actually its a wine type all on its own. Rosé can range in colour from light copper to a beautiful deep magenta. It seems these days now almost every label has a Rosé in their portfolio, and you can usually find at least one option of Rosé on most wine lists. The hype behind this wine type has grown momentously over the last decade, and with good reason. You get the light fresh crispness of a white wine, with the intense fruit flavours and complexities of a red wine all in one bottle. Its like getting your cake and eating it too! Rosé goes by the name Rosato in Italy, Rosado in Portugal and Spain, and in English speaking countries it is sometimes called blush wine. There is sparkling Rosé, it can be bone dry, and can even be sweet. Rest assured you will find a pretty in pink partner. 

There are many ways to make Rosé, here are a few of the more frequently seen as well as the ones to avoid. The skin contact method sometimes called the maceration method, which is the most commonly used to make Rosé, does exactly what the name suggests. The must (unfermented grape juice) is left in contact with the grape skins to extract the colour from the skins. This usually only lasts a few hours to a day, and then the skins are discarded to avoid too much colouration. Whereas in red wine the skins are left with the must for several days, sometimes even weeks. Hence the darker colour. The Saignée Method, translated means the bleeding method is the process primarily meant to enhance the tannins and colour of a red wine. It is achieved by bleeding out some of the light pink juice during the pressing of the grapes creating a more intense red wine. That pink juice can then be taken and fermented on its own creating Rosé. This is the method used to make most Rosé Champagne. Vin gris, produces a very light pink wine although it is not grey as the name Vin Gris suggests. It is achieved by simply lightly pressing red grapes, there is no skin contact the only colour is what comes from the press, which is why it is so light in colour. This method is not often used but regions of Morrocco have gotten some traction using it, as has the French region of Lorraine pressed up against the Northern German border, where the Rosé is known as Vin Gris. Blending and decolourization can both be used to achieve a pink wine but neither are respected as methods of quality production. Blending a red and white wine together will achieve a Rosé, but the French disregard this method so much it is illegal, except for in Champagne where blending is a part of the history, yet most high end producers rely on the Saignée method to achieve their bubbly Rosés. Decolourization is done by adding an absorbent charcoal to a red wine. The charcoal absorbs the colour of the wine leaving behind a rosé, but many feel it absorbs the character of the wine along with the colour which is why is it rarely used to produce rosé. 

The popularity of Rosé seems like a modern trend but in actuality Rosés have been popular since the beginning. The red wines of the ancient Greeks and Romans were actually closer to a Rosé, as the winemaking methods used to make modern red wine were felt to leave the wine too harsh. Most red wines were left in contact with the skins for a short period of time leaving the wine very light in colour. Even the early Bordeaux clarets were much lighter in colour than they are today. Often times the wine was left in contact with the grape skins for only 1 day. Then after WWII Portugal released a sweet semi sparkling Rosé called Mateus and Lancers that went on to break sales records. It is still made today but in a drier style to meet popular demand. Then in the 70's when the demand for white wine exceeded that of red, winemakers began making white wine from red grapes by using the Saignée method. One batch failed to complete fermentation leaving the wine still pink and with a higher sugar content. The winemaker Bob Trinchero put it aside, but then tasted it a few weeks later and decided to release it. Sutter Home was the first to release the most poplar rosé wine to date; the White Zinfandel. This wine is the third most popular varietal in the U.S. and outsells regular red Zinfandel. 

Most critics agree that the best Rosés like most of the great wines in the world originate from France. The Provence region in the Southern Part of France is particularly well known for a dry light style with zesty rhubarb aromas. The grapes they use to make their rosés are Grenache, Syrah, Mourvédre, Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, and Tibouren, But Grenache and Mourvedre play the most dominant parts typically. The Southern Rhône Region of Tavel is also noted for great Rosé although it is has a bit more body and has a spicy berry aroma. Tavel rosé uses similar grapes to those from Provence Grenache, Cinsault, Carignan, Syrah, Mourvédre, as well as Picpoul, and Bourbelanc. Although these are the two best known Rosé regions of France there are many others that produce Rosé. The Loire makes a Rosé from Cabernet Franc. Bordeaux uses their classic grape varieties to make a Rosé, and of course everyone loves a pink Champagne. But France is far from the only place in the world to make pink wine. These days is seems every wine label from every corner of the globe has a pink wine, and every red grape variety has been tried as a Rosé.  With this many options it is hard to choose, but if you like the variety as a red wine you most likely will enjoy it as a rosé. With all these options it can be difficult to choose, but follow these general guidelines to aid you on your quest for a great bottle of Rosé. The lighter in colour the more likely it is a dry zesty style. The darker the colour, the more likely it is a off-dry style with strawberry aromas. 

Rosé wine is very food friendly, and with all the different styles available you can easily find a rosé wine for each one of your favourite dishes. For lighter drier style Rosés like those from Provence match it up with salads, seafood, and pastas, they are noted for being great with garlic based dishes. Light but slightly sweet style rosé, like the Portugese Mateus is great with asian dishes like mild curry. The ever popular White Zinfandel is great with spicier dishes. While full bodied rosés like those from the Southern Rhône and Cabernet or Merlot based Rosés can be great with barbecue dishes, or any meat based dish, like lamb or duck.  The styles of Rosé are a plenty as are the pairing options, so there is nothing to stop you from enjoying a rosé with dinner every night of the week. 

Rosé should it be served at the same temperature as white wine. Lighter in colour rosé wines should be served between 4º to 10º Celsius (40º to 50º F). While fuller darker rosé wines should be served between 10º to 15ºC (50º to 60ºF). The same goes for glass selection.  Feel free to use the classic white wine glass for a rosé, however you can find specific rosé glasses they tend to have a shorter bowl than red and white wine glasses. Look for a slightly curved design that flares out a little at the lip. This allows the wine's sweetness to be enhanced as the lip directs the wine right onto the part of your palate that experiences sweet. 

Rosé wine follows the same rules as white and red wine once it has been opened. Store it in the refrigerator with a tightly sealed cap. A higher sugar content means a longer life, and higher quality rosé also means a longer life. A week is the average amount of time before a rosé will start to taste off. But as with all wine don't forget to take into consideration the air pocket in the bottle.  A wine with only a few inches left in the bottle will turn much faster than a wine with just the neck gone. Weigh out all these factors to determine how long a bottle of rosé will last once it is opened. 

Almost all Rosé is meant to be consumed within the first 2 years after production, and gains nothing from being aged. However like all wine rules there is always an exception. Some producers in Spain have taken to placing rosé wine in oak barrels, and thus extending the longevity and complexity of the pink wines. Remember though this is a very rare exception, and 99% of rosé is meant to be consumed as young as possible. Therefore drink that Rosé up, the only waiting you have to do is for the fridge to help it reach the ideal drinking temperature.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Sweet Stuff; Dessert wines

Dessert wines can be red or white. The grapes can be fortified, frozen, left to rot on the vine, even turned into raisins before they are turned into wine. Some dessert wines just come from grape varieties that naturally have a higher sugar content. They are some of the longest living wines of the world and many have been made and praised by everyone from Royalty to Presidents. The methods of producing a dessert wine may vary but the end result is the same; you leave with a sweet taste in your mouth. 

The easiest and most straight forward type of dessert wines are those made from grapes that are naturally higher in sugar content like the Muscat variety. Muscat is the parent to a huge family, some of the more famous ones being the Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains used to make the lightly fizzy Asti wine from Piedmont, Italy. The wine region of Rutherglen in Australia has a 4 tiered classification system for the sweet grape. Muscat even has it's place in sweet fortified wines like certain types of Sherry and French vin doux naturelsThe aromas of Muscat range from citrus, rose and peach and for lack of a better word grape notes to fruit cake, raisins and toffee. They make great partners for citrus desserts. 

Fortified wines like Port, Sherry, Marsala, and Madeira, have dominated the after dinner drink for centuries. The fortification is usually achieved by adding a neutral grape spirit to the wine that stops fermentation retaining the sugar in the wine and raises the alcohol level in it. The neutral grape spirit is typically a form of Brandy. Originally it was done as a way to preserve the wine for longer, which is why some of these wines can age for decades even centuries before losing their flavours. The grape varieties used are unique to each type, Port for example allows over 50 different grape varieties in its production. Each type of fortified wine also has many styles ranging from dry to sweet. The many options and styles can keep you experimenting with fortified wines for years, but there are other types of dessert wines not to be ignored. 

A Late harvest wine, or Vendange Tardive in French, or Spätlese, and Auslese in German is a wine that is harvested late, very straight forward. However, once you leave a grape on the vine 2 things can happen to turn the wine into a sub-category of Late Harvest wine. They can develop a rot we elegantly label Noble rot, or they can freeze and become ice wine. The sweetness in all these wines is achieved by leaving the  grapes on the vine past harvest time, the grapes then begin to dehydrate and concentrate the amount of sugar present in the grapes, thus giving you a sweeter wine. Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris are typically the grapes you see used for late harvest wines. Each one with it's own unique characteristics, although most have a silky texture to them which makes them ideal with mousse, or puddings. 

The Noble Rot known as Botrytis cinerea is the home category of the most famous dessert wine from Bordeaux, known as Sauternes, and Château D'Yquem is said to make the best. They use Sémillion and Sauvignon Blanc grapes that have been affected by the noble rot to produce their world class dessert wine, noted for it's honey and hazelnut characteristics. But it stands to note that Hungary was the first in the world to use the sweetened grapes of Furmint, Yellow Muscat, and Hárslevelü, in their dessert wine they Tokaji. This wine was praised and loved by everyone from Beethoven to Louis XIV. Tokaji holds historical relevance as the world's first appellation controlled region. Germany and Austria are also renowned for using grapes affected by noble rot, and has 2 categories that differentiate the amount of sweetness in the wine. They are known as Beerenauslese (BA) and Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA). With TBA being the sweeter of the two. The noble rot wines are great with rich desserts like cheesecake. 

Ice wine first made in Germany where it is known as Eiswein is what brought Canada fame on the international wine stage. It is made by leaving the grapes on the vine well past typical harvest time and allowing them to freeze. The juice freezes in the grape concentrating the sugars giving you a sweet wine. By law the temperature must reach -8º C (17ºF) before the harvest of Ice wine is allowed to commence. Typically the harvest is done at night to ensure the temperature stays cool. Making Ice Wine is fraught with many potential disasters. If it does not get cold fast enough the grapes may begin to rot, fall off or be eaten by pests. If it gets too cold too fast the grapes are frozen solid and cannot be pressed. But if the conditions all align it produces a sweet wine that retains a refreshing acidity as well. Riesling is probably the most common grape used for Ice Wine, but in Canada the hybrid grape Vidal is often used as well. However, everything from Cabernet Franc to Gewüztraminer has been used to make ice wine. Germany may have been the first to make ice wine and Canada may dominate the market but Austria, U.S.A., and many other European countries are also making this frozen treat that goes great with fruit based desserts.  

Letting the grapes turn into raisins is another way to achieve a dessert wine. You remove the grapes and let them dry on racks, until they become raisins, very little water left makes for a sweet wine. Italy is the dominant user of this style to create their dessert wines. Tuscany uses it to make Vin Santo, Veneto to make Recioto Soave, and Recioto della Valpolicella.  But the French use this method to make Vin de Paille.  It is also sometimes the style of wine used as a starter that is then fortified and made into Sherry.  It is great with almond based desserts. 

You can also add sugar or honey to a wine in a process known as Chaptalization, it is extremely frowned upon and even illegal in the upper tiers of dessert wine classifications, but there are those that still use it all over the world. Germany has another method of adding sugar to a wine known as Süssreserve where just straight grape juice is added to the wine both to sweeten it and to dilute the alcohol after fermentation has completed. This method is again not popular among producers of quality dessert wine but provides a sweet product for a more affordable price. They are best enjoyed with sharp aged cheeses to help cut the sweetness. 

Dessert wines are potent and being sweet are usually enjoyed in small quantities, which means small glass ware. You can purchase specific glassware for each specific type, but a good general rule is a small glass.  The temperature to be served at is unique to each type of dessert wine, but another  rough guideline to follow the lighter in colour the cooler in temperature, the darker the closer to room temperature.

The great thing about dessert wines means that their higher sugar content allows them to preserve their flavours for longer once opened. Ice wines can last 2 to 3 weeks once opened if stored in the fridge and corked. Madeira has the longest life once opened  as it was made to last and already is fully oxidized. It can keep for years just watch out for evaporation. Vintage Port or Asti are the exceptions to this rule they are meant to be consumed within the first night or two after opening. However for the most part dessert wines have a opened life of a few weeks. Just remember to keep the bottle sealed, cool, and the more left in the bottle the longer it's life.  

Dessert wines tend to run on the expensive side due to the difficult and expensive production methods. It is said only a single drop of juice can be squeezed out of a frozen grape for ice wine, you can only imagine how many  frozen grapes it takes just to make a single bottle, even if it is a smaller sized bottle. Not to mention when you take into consideration the gamble winemakers take by leaving the grapes on the vine past the normal harvest date. The chances for losing an entire crop whether it be to weather or pests is doubled. Plus noble rot doesn't affect an entire bunch, so the pickers must make several passes through the vineyard to ensure they get only the most nobly rotted grapes. Then there is the fact that some dessert wines require years of aging before they are even released to the market, like a Sauternes with it's minimum 3 years of aging. Thus delaying the return the producer has invested in it, which also raises the price. A Dessert wine is like a Fabergé egg, difficult, rare and expensive, but they both capture incredible elegance and beauty in such small packages. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Wohlmuth Hochsteinriegl Sauvignon Blanc 2012 - Natalie MacLean

Wohlmuth Hochsteinriegl Sauvignon Blanc 2012 - Natalie MacLean

A perfect wine to drink while watching #Sochi2014 Alpine skiing this vineyard is just as steep as the slopes the skiers are going down. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Red Rooster Winery Meritage 2010 - Natalie MacLean

Red Rooster Winery Meritage 2010 - Natalie MacLean

Are you watching the Women's semi final Hockey today #Sochi2014? This wine is a perfect match as it comes from female winemaker Karen Gillis, and is a team effort wine with Malbec as the Captain.

Friday, February 14, 2014

CH 4 – Narration Exercise: Mandarin picking with the In-Laws

A sharp pain is spreading through my lower back, all thanks to the centre console of the car. I am 16 again on my way home from a party with 6 in a car meant for 5. Except I can’t follow the conversation, the music is definitely not Backstreet Boys, and there is no alcohol in sight. The reality is that I am 28, ridding home with my In-Laws after a day spent picking mandarins in the Turkish town of Sürmene. I think back to the beginning of the day that started out breathtaking but has led to holding my breath. 7 hours earlier the crystal blue of the Black Sea lay at the mountain’s feet, the air crisp and fresh with undertones of earth, and smoke. The sun had just topped the mountainside that ebbs and flows like a wave. The slopes are covered in tea bushes that look like giant dark green pillows. The varying shades of green are offset with a spattering of bright orange from the ripe manadarins. The houses are a mixture of wood and stone, nothing fancy, but sturdy and sound. The largest building is a Mosque with a blue dome, and when the call to prayer starts at 11am it echoes all through the valley. Here and there on the slope you can see people working the land. Some are burning pitch, most are women, wearing colourful head scarves and skirts that should clash, but they are as much a part of the landscape as the plush tea bushes. We climb a set of old stone steps littered with fallen mandarins up to the home of Cansu. A teacher with short choppy black hair and an easy smile. She works at the same school as my Father-In-Law. Her family has lived here for centuries, but now she only spends summers and weekends up here as it is too far from her job in Trabzon. She is the only one who can speak English. My Mother-In-Law Cevar has set herself up at a table outside and is gutting the small Hamsi fish that are very popular in Turkey. I sit down and pick up a knife in an attempt to prove that I may be foreign, but I am also helpful and not at all a sissy girl. I pick up the 3″ fish cut the head off, slice the belly open and pull the guts out. I glance over at Cevar expecting a nod of respect, but all I get is Mustafa, my Father-In-Law showing me how I to do it correctly. Mustafa thinks my inability to understand Turkish is in direct correlation to my hearing so he is forever shouting instructions at me. I refuse to stop until the 2 kilos of Hamsi are headless, intent on assuring my In-Laws of my worth. After the Hamsi are rinsed and the table cleaned up we sit down and enjoy some freshly squeezed orange juice, a crunchy cinnamon cake, and my all time favourite snack Börek. Börek is almost like a stuffed croissant but not quite as flakey. Cevar knows I love this dish and always makes it for me. Bellies filled up we all put a wicker basket with straps onto our backs and head over to one of the many Manadarin trees along the slope. It seems the trees have no owners and the fruit they bear belongs to anyone willing to pick it. By mid-afternoon the sun has disappeared into some clouds and two more teachers have showed up to help with the picking. We fill up the trunk of my In-Laws Ford Focus and head inside Cansu’s home to warm our hands around the wood fire stove. Dinner is Hamsi, salad, and more orange juice, and is followed up with several glasses of tea. I can now pinpoint this as the moment everything started to go downhill. The conversation seems to revolve around their work with Mustafa being the dominant player, he is the Principal after all. In this moment he reminds me of my husband who also tends to dominate conversations. I find myself smiling despite the encroaching boredom, wishing he was here to explain what the hell everyone is talking about. Cevar is not speaking very much. She does not work at the school and therefore is on the outs almost as much as I am. She glances my way and I give her a big smile trying to trick her into believing I am the most laid back daughter-in-law ever, even if it is a front. Cansu, however, is holding her own, energetically debating what I can only guess are educational reforms, since she is no longer keeping me in the loop. Perhaps she has used up all her English words. I really want to play CandyCrush but settle for memorizing a flower crochet picture instead. Finally we pack up and head to the car, and that’s when I realize pretending to be the laid back daughter-in-law has trapped me into sharing the front seat with Cansu, and a center console.

Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Brut Rosé Champagne - Natalie MacLean

Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Brut Rosé Champagne - Natalie MacLean

I splurged for this special occasion, funny thing is my husband doesn't really like bubbly wine so the gift is actually kinda for myself

Monday, February 10, 2014

Nk'Mip Mer'r'iym 2009 - Natalie MacLean

Nk'Mip Mer'r'iym 2009 - Natalie MacLean

Mer'r'iym means marriage, and this is one polygamous marriage of 5 grape varieties that actually works.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Monday, January 27, 2014

First night in Florence

Most moving part of my trip so far #Italy2013 Part of the Venice Biennal...

So I married a Turk Episode #1

10 Reasons you should start drinking Austrian wine

"Austria makes wine? Aren't they known for beer?" This is the typical response I get when I suggest an Austrian wine to a guest or a friend. My answer is always "Yes they make a great brew, but their wine is among the best in the world." And here is 10 reasons why you should give Austrian wine a chance.

#1 Purity. Yes, we all love a delicious piece of salmon dressed up in a delicate creamy caper beurre blanc, maybe even cooked on a cedar plank. But a piece of salmon sashimi is pure. It allows you to focus on the satin texture of the fish, to really taste just the salmon in all its glory. To me that is what stands out about Austrian wine, and in particular the wines of Rudi Pichler, a producer from the Wachau Valley. I have likened drinking his wines to being like diving into a crystal clear lake. Your mouth feels so refreshed and clean after a sip of his wines, it can be difficult to stop sipping. The texture of the wines, that is the way they feel in your mouth which is luxuriously silky smooth is not oily. The wine doesn't coat your tongue, like the way a piece of salmon all done up in a sauce can. It just glides over your mouth, leaving you with a impeccably pure finish. 

#2 Terroir driven. A word we see quite often in description of the world's finest wines. But many have a hard time wrapping their brains around the concept. I think of terroir perfected wines being like a pristine beach day.  You pack up the car and get out of the city in record time. When you arrive at the beach the weather is optimum, and there is hardly a single other person to invade your space. A light breeze is blowing, just enough to keep you cool, but not enough to blow the sand around, and there isn't a cloud in the sky. The ocean is refreshing yet still warm enough that you can stay and swim for as long as you want. Bonus there is not a jellyfish or stray piece of seaweed in sight. The drinks stay cold, the sandwiches sog free. You drive off as the sun is setting, an intense combination of pinks, reds, and oranges thankful for such a perfect day. A terroir driven wine is like that, it's as if all the factors in the universe (weather, soil, fermentation) have agreed to come together to create a consummate wine. A wine that tastes like a place not just a beverage. The Wohlmuth winery in the Southern region of Styria, is a great example of Austrian wines ability to capture that perfect beach day vintage after vintage, no matter how difficult it may be to farm the terroir. Wohlmuth is home to some of Europe's steepest vineyard sites a slope of 80º in some places. They are an average of 500 metres above sea level, and have a combination of rare red, grey, and black slate. It reminds me of a beach I was shown in Ragland New Zealand. I was convinced the van was going to topple over on the twisty mountain dirt road that took over an hour to navigate. When I finally arrived, I was rewarded with a stunning black sand beach coupled with beautiful big waves and framed by giant lush green cliffs. Wohlmuth is rewarded for farming these difficult conditions with wines of a incredibly unique spicy, salty character (hence all my beach references). When I drink a Wohlmuth wine I feel like I am standing/leaning right in the vineyard. 

#3 It pairs with...just about everything. Artichoke, and Asparagus. Pad Thai, and Peking Duck. Curry, and Cakes. Salads, and Seafood. Austrian wine can enhance just about any dish, due to its perfectly balanced acidity, and great fruit aromas. There is a wide variety of wine styles in Austria, but the friendliest grape for all the above dishes is the native Grüner Veltliner. The Knoll Winery in the Wachau has embraced this food camaraderie by opening up a restaurant right next door, perfectly situated along the Wachau bike trail. Loibnerhof-Knoll showcases the explosive, tight wines of this incredible producer alongside traditional Austrian cuisine. They are renowned for a Butterschnitzel ravioli with greaves, and when paired with a Emmerich Knoll, Grüner Veltliner Smaragd, the result will leave you unable to continue by bike. 

#4 Friends of the planet. Every winery I visited in Austria mentioned the care and consideration that they take to ensure a symbiotic relationship with nature. The Lagenlois producer Loimer is a leader in Austria when it comes to "Green Winemaking". He is the founding member of a local group called Respekt. The group's main focus being, yep you guessed it, respecting the land that gives them their crop. Loimer has adopted the ideals of fellow Austrian Rudolf Steiner's anthroposophy based bio dynamic practices. I think of bio dynamic practices being a bit like psychology for the earth. Now for this analogy to work, the patient (the earth) in this case is suffering from minor depression, nothing like Bipolar or Schizophrenia. Any Doctor will tell you exercise and eat right and your body will feel better, which takes care of the organic portion of the philosophy and analogy. But what about your mind? Some prescribe pills, some placebos, or in the bio dynamic case sometimes it involves an animal's horn. But sometimes we just need to feel someone is listening, that we are being heard to feel better. That is what I believe Bio Dynamics is at it's heart. Listening to the earth, and hearing what it needs to be happy, through the lunar cycles, and the changing seasons. The earth does not like herbicides, pesticides, or artificial ferilizers, they are like junk food. The earth prefers natural fertilizers like those that are imparted to the ground from Loimer's herd of sheep. Fred Loimer has been certified biodynamic for over 7 years now, which is perfectly displayed in his beautiful racy fruit driven wines.  

#5 Small producers. I have never been a subscriber to the belief that bigger is necessarily better. Especially when it comes to farming I think it is much more important to ensure quality over quantity. That is not to say that large scale producers cannot produce fine wine, but it's the difference between shopping at a farmer's market versus Cosco. I love getting a great deal at Cosco, on toilet paper and meatballs, but the chance to speak with the farmer and ask how his crop has been is invaluable. This small scale production and opportunity to speak directly to the winemakers was a factor that I noticed and greatly appreciated in many of the Austrian wineries I visited. It is also a big piece of the puzzle as to why Austrian wine is so divine. Let's take F.X. Pichler for example, a winery that has received massive praise from Robert Parker Jr. (he calls it the Romanée-Conti of the Wachau). This winery employs 7 people, 4 of which are F.X. himself, his wife, his son, and his daughter-in-law. They farm only 18 hectares of vines, while the largest producer in the world E&J Gallo have 16,000. The most surprising part besides their incredibly elegant wines is that F.X. Pichler does not proudly boast family owned and operated on their wine label. A term I have seen haughtily displayed by many wineries that I then have visited, and not a single member of the family appears to be present at the winery, or actually have anything to do with making the actual wine. So what does this small scale production yield? Well if you have ever tasted a F.X. Pichler wine you may find it is like putting on a Oscar de la Renta dress or an Armani suit. You feel sumptuously beautiful, while drinking their wines. You taste that every grape has been cared for, just like every stitch was carefully sewed. The wines have subtly balanced sugars, and a exquisite smooth texture, yes you pay more for this kind of attentiveness, but when you want to treat yourself, you may as well treat yourself like nobility.

#6 An opportunity to learn German. Sure the labels of Austrian wine can be extremely intimidating take the producer name Jurtschitsch, pronounced yur- schiche no matter how you twist your tongue it just doesn't seem to sound correct. However, it has been my experience that the more difficult something is the more you appreciate it. Jurtschitsch's wines are truly remarkable. Alwin Jurtschitsch and his wife Stefanie have done a great job of preserving the old traditions while ushering in the new technologies. Their wines have an intense bracing minerality, coupled with a clean and clear sense of terroir. So don't let the hard to say words scare you off,  you will be missing out on some seriously scrumptious wine. Instead take it as a opportunity to learn a bit of German. Here is a crash course to help you navigate some of the more common terms seen on a wine label. Erste Lage, or Smaragd = Grand Cru = really good wine.  Schloss = Castle. DAC= Districtus Austriae Controllatus= Regional designations like DOCG in Italy. Weingut= Winery. Wien= Wine but also Vienna. Niederösterreich= Lower Austria (largest quality wine growing area). STK= Steirische Klassik-Winzer= Styrian Classic Vintners. Eiswein...well I think that one is pretty self explanatory. I could go on forever, but this should be enough to help you navigate at the liquor store, and get you started on enjoying delicious fine wines like Jurtschitsch.

#7 Sauvignon Blanc. Yes, yes we all love New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, with its pretty pink grapefruit aromas, what's not to love. I am not going to debate on one being better than the other, but drinking only NZ Sav Blanc is like going into a DSW shoe outlet and trying on only 1 pair of shoes. Of course that one pair is fabulous but with so many other options why not try on a few more. The Southern part of Austria, pressed right up against the Slovenia border is where you can find that hidden pair of Jimmy Choo's marked down by %50. The single vineyard Grand Cru STK quality Sauvignon Blanc produced in this region will blow you away. It has an aging potential of up to 15 years, and prices for a Premiere Cru STK are about the same as a bottle of Kim Crawford. Spicy, and complex with aromas of currants, and tropical fruit. The two Kings of Sauvignon Blanc besides Wohlmuth (which I have previously mentioned) are Tement and Polz.  Neighbors that share the vineyard Grassnitzberg but in terms of style are like a pair of Alexander Mcqueen's and Louis Vuitton. Both make you feel beautiful, and luxurious, but Tement is like Mcqueen wild and exciting with its combination of cool fruit flavours, and a spicy heat, that leaves your mouth reeling from the sensation and begging for more. While Polz is like Louis Vuitton classic and elegant. The ancient coral reef that their signature Grand Cru comes from HochGrassnitzberg reveals itself to you through layers of exotic fruits, and has a lovely long lasting lemon finish.

#8 Grüner Veltliner. Another word that may intimidate your pronunciation ability, but really it sounds just like it looks. This Austrian native is the most commonly grown in Austria, it is food's BFF and is truly enjoyable to drink. The wine typically gives off stone fruit aromas and has a white pepper spice to it. The Schloss Gobelsburg of Lagenlois is one of the oldest wineries in the world, and that history has imparted a knowledge that has allowed it to make truly earth shattering Grüner Veltliner. It dates back to 1171 when the Cistercian monks first acquired the vineyards around Heiligenstein, and Gaisberg, although they did not take ownership of the actual castle until 1740. Much like what the Cistercians did for Burgundy, they did for Gobelsburg and Grüner. The Castle still belongs to the Monks but is now managed by Michael Mooseburger and his wife Eva. It can offer over 10 different Grüner Veltliner's ranging in style from decadent Eiswein to terroir perfected Erste Lage single vineyard sites; like Grub and Renner. If knowledge is power Schloss Gobelsburg is a Master when it comes to Grüner Veltliner. The expertise passed down from centuries of the Cistercians farming the land around the castle is well observed in the consistent quality of the wine, and each wines unique character, but the knowledge winemaker Michael Mooseburger brings to the label should not be overlooked either. Son to the founding member of the Austrian Sommelier Association, Michael has a pulse on what the market is looking for, and a quiet confidence in his unlimited knowledge of not just his vineyards but of wines from all over the world. Between tradition from the monks and an encyclopaedia of knowledge from Michael it's no wonder Schloss Gobelsburg is a superstar of Grüner Veltliner.

#9 Riesling. For wine lovers just that one word should be enough to convert you. Rieslings although commonly misconstrued as a sweeter style wine, when they come from Austria they are almost always bone dry. They can be a textural adventure of silk with such a powerful minerality to them you will wonder how fruit and soil can combine so deliciously. The light silky structure doesn't feel like a jacket for your tongue, more like a light brush of wealth. Riesling has this incredible crispness to it, like biting into a perfectly ripe apple. The acidity is powerful but never harsh, and the final product leaves you with a wine that has both power and elegant grace. Riesling thrives all over Austria but the Riesling superstar is the mountain Heiligenstein,with it's primary rock deposits some 250 million years old. Producers from the Kamptal like Schloss Gobelsburg and Jurtschitsch both have a small plot of vines on in. The Zeus of Austrian vineyards has been noted for its wine potential since the 13th century, time tested and true. If you see this name on a Austrian wine label grab it! But to be fair Heiligenstein is far from being the only great mountain for Riesling, the Wachau Valley has many great sites for Riesling as well, including Liobenberg, Kellerberg, Achleiten.The point I am trying to get across is that Riesling is a true delight to drink and I think Austria makes one of the finest examples of the grape variety, so you shouldn't miss out any longer.

#10 Co-operatives. I love when people work together, instead of competing and trying to cut the other down. Many Austrian winemakers share machines between producers, allowing small scale farmers to produce a wine without having to purchase an expensive wine press. There are almost 60 different wine making associations in Austria, that all work in sync to ensure the highest quality of wine is produced with the patriotic red and white seal. Heiligenstein as I mentioned is shared among several growers, which also allows you to taste a winemakers style in comparison to another from the same vineyard. This spirit of co-operation benefits all, especially the consumer. They are like Mathletes, a team effort that is always striving to not only succeed but to supersede all expectations and give us the best possible product by working together not against each other. Take the Vinea Wachau Nobililus Districtus. An organisation that includes some 200+ wineries all from the Wachau Valley, that work together to promote the Wachau on a whole. But they also hold themselves to an even higher level of quality than the already strict Austrian requirements. They even have their own 3 tiered wine designations. Steinfeder the lightest, Federspiel with a bit more character , and Smaragd the Grand Cru and most treasured of the vineyards of the Wachau.  Just like a Mathlete each winery has the challenge of meeting the strict requirements and answering the question correctly, but only by working as part of a team will they all flourish.

I hope this article has convinced you to start drinking Austrian wine whether it be the Native Grüner Veltliner, a Noble Rielsing, a Grand Cru Sauvignon Blanc or one of the other tasty grape varieties Austria makes that I didn't mention here. Don't let the names scare you off, and if worst comes to worst and you find you don't like Austrian wine well you can always fall back on their delicious beers.

Doluca DLC Grenache 2010 - Natalie MacLean

Doluca DLC Grenache 2010 - Natalie MacLean

Time to pay some wine tribute to my husband's native country of Turkey

Thursday, January 23, 2014

CH 3 – Original voice Exercise: Tea time in Trabzon

I’ve just sat down on a stool that feels like it belongs in an elementary school. The smell of sea, cigarettes and charcoal float through the air. The busy highway is directly behind me, the black sea directly in front. The two noises clash against one another, creating a havoc of whooshes.  All around me people are squatted down on these 2 feet stools, sipping from tiny clear tulip shaped glasses. They are drinking the Turkish equivalent for tea known as çay. Although it sounds exactly like Indian Chai tea, the flavour of Turkish tea couldn’t be more different. It has a brick like colour, with dark green leaves lightly floating on the bottom. It resembles orange pekoe in flavour, but sharper and tarter. It is not sweet at all, unless you add 2 or 3 of the individually wrapped sugar cubes, available in a glass jar on your table. There are three groups of people sitting around drinking their çay. Three young girls sit to my left.  Two are wearing multi coloured head scarves and long tan coloured trench coats. The third is dressed in Western garb right down to Ugg boots, and her dark thick hair flows freely.  All three have their bedazzled phones out and appear to be simultaneously texting and chatting to each other. The conversation moves very quickly with a flurry of hand motions. Their faces are full of a strength and attitude that even a girl from the Bronx would be hesitant to mess with. An old man in a wheelchair sits in front of 2 young men. They sit on the only normal sized bench, and they are all smoking. The conversation moves slower here, and when the old man speaks both young men listen attentively. He seems to be sharing an opinion with them, perhaps on politics. He holds out a hand, and seems to list an assortment of reasons why the answer to whatever problem they are discussing is simple. He shakes his head expecting full agreement from both young men. They respect the man in the wheelchair, it is obvious in the way their heads are tilted down, as if in deference. Finally there is a group of rowdy young boys, one of which has just joined the group. He goes around the circle to each boy and forcefully grabs their hand. They lightly touch their temples to each other on both sides and embrace.  The newcomer lights up a cigarette while the others follow suit, like a row of dominoes. They are all talking at once in a crescendo that rises and abets like the black sea waves in front of us. Their hands are out to both sides holding the boys’ arms on either side to them in what appears to be an attempt to hold the other down, while each one attempts to be the loudest and finally dominate the conversation. It is not violent in any way, in fact it is quite endearing. The way these boys laugh and touch each other is sweet. It appears as though they have been friends forever and have such familiarity they can all speak at once and somehow everyone will still be heard. These Trabzonians are undeniably loud, and full of passionate motions when they speak. But just like the iconic beverage we are all sipping on they are uniquely Turkish.