Nouveau LCBO release 2012 – What to buy

Did you know that the third Thursday of November each year marks the annual release of Beaujolais Nouveau wines?  This is recognized worldwide, often celebrated with parties and festivities. That Thursday is today and the LCBO released 10 Nouveau wines this year  including some classic examples of Beaujolais Nouveau and some interesting Nouveau examples made form non traditional grape varieties.

For those that may not know Beaujolais Nouveau is a very unique style of wine.  Beaujolais is a sub-region in the Burgundy region of France.  Wines coming from this area are made from the Gamay grape variety.  More specifically Nouveau wines coming from Beaujolais are their own unique style made from an extremely short maceration and fermentation process. The goal is to release the wines to the market extremely quickly following the harvest.  Hence on the 3rd Thursday of November we are seeing the 2012 wines.  The result is a light and fruity wine, sometimes with a hint of residual sugar, and no ageing.  The wines are meant to be consumed young… otherwise known as immediately.

Some other regions in the world are now making Nouveau style wines, including a couple releases from right here in Ontario.  This year the LCBO releases 10 nouveau style wines.  Lucky for me (and by association lucky for you) I have tried all 10.  Nouveau style wines are amazingly simple, so I am going to keep this blog post amazingly simple.  Below you will find what wines you should try and which you should not.

The Fool, Reif Estate, Gamay Nouveau, VQA, Niagara Ontario – $9.95
Recommendation: Consider it
Why? An appealing dessert like nose with some nice fresh strawberry. Nice Cran/Cherry on the palate.

Chateau des Charmes Generation Seven Nouveau, VQA, Niagara Ontario – $11.95
Recommendation: Must try
Why? A very impressive palate. Possibly the most full bodied release that the LCBO offers this year.

Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau, France – $13.95
Recommendation: Consider it
Why? Some nice acidity and decent length for a Beaujolais.  Even some soft pepper on the palate which was nice.

Catalans Primeur Syrah/Merlot, France – $9.95
Recommendation: Don’t bother
Why? Tasted and smelled like Banana medicine. You might like banana medicine, but not in your wine.

Jeanjean Syrah Primeur, France – $9.95
Recommendation: Consider it
Why? A bit too much bubblegum and candied fruit flavour, but a soft palate, nice finish, and easy drinking, which is enough to get a soft recommendation.

Duboeuf Gamay Nouveau, France – $8.95
Recommendation: Don’t bother
Why? Might be some value at $8.95, but very, very weak flavour.

Negrar Novello Del Veneto, Italy – $9.95
Recommendation: Don’t bother
Why? The bubblegum and candied flavours are far too strong.

Tollo Novello Rosso Terre di Chieti, Italy – $8.95
Recommendation: Must try
Why? Easily the best value of the group and one of the best wines.  Nice ruby colour with dark cherry and even some hints of smoke and pepper on the nose. Following that an impressive palate for $9.

Beaujolais Villages Nouveau, Joseph Drouhin, France (Vintages) – $14.95
Recommendation: Must try
Why? The most classic and typical Beaujolais of the group.  Candy and cherry on the nose  which carry through nicely on the palate.

Beaujolais Villages Nouveau, G. Duboeuf, France (Vintages) – $14.95
Recommendation: Consider it
Why? Likely priced a bit high but overall a pretty inviting wine and a fairly classic example of Beaujolais Nouveau.

Personally Beaujolais Nouveau is not my first choice.  It is a bit too candied and light for me.  However I have reviewed all of these wines objectively leaving personal bias aside.  If you have never tried a Nouveau style I encourage you to do so.  They are very unique and worth at least sampling.

– Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

Sommelier training for a wine blogger – what you need to know about the Loire.

What most people know and appreciate is there are some very key regions in France.  In fact some of the most important wine regions in the world are found in France.  You have Bordeaux, Burgundy, The Rhone Valley, and Champagne, just to name a few.  However one region that is hugely popular around the world, but I feel is a bit unappreciated in this market, is the Loire.  In the wine world it ranks up there with the other regions I mentioned, but for some reason it gets a fraction of the attention in this market.  I don’t often see it on wine lists and I visited an LCBO on Friday afternoon and only found a handful of bottles in vintages (to about 30 of each of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhone).  It is for these reasons that I found myself fortunate to be at the Toronto Sommelier Training on the Loire last Tuesday, at Loire Restaurant on Harbord St, just west of Spadina.

Make no mistake about it… I am not a sommelier.  I am trained in wine via WSET which is a strand of education differing slightly from the formal Sommelier programs (though in my opinion, equally as complicated) and I am a writer.  However as you are reading this post I think that benefits you, as I try to take a bit of a different approach than a sommelier might.  I try to normalize a complicated subject and help everyone understand and appreciate all wines and regions.  I try to provide key takeaways and recommendations and write as objectively as I can.  My job is not to create wine lists, a complicated role which involves food and wine pairing considering cost and consumer preference.  However last week I found myself in a room with Toronto’s top sommeliers learning about the nuances of the Loire from arguably the top sommelier Toronto has to offer, Mr. John Szabo (more on John in a moment).

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With that as the basis for this post… here is what you need to know about the Loire.

First, they make outstanding white wines.  In the eastern side of the region you get Sauvignon Blanc dominating with bottles that will be labelled Sancerre or Pouilly Fume.  Those are the classic regions of production, but the grape will be Sauvignon Blanc.  It is different Sauvignon Blanc than you’ll find in say New Zealand.  More mineral than perfume and more citrus than tropical.  Moving west you will also find the amazing wines of Vouvray (Chenin Blanc) and Muscadet (Melon Blanc).  The Vouvray’s are rich and vibrant white wines, whereas the Muscadet’s contain strong minerality and stone flavours.

Second, though I consider the white wines to be the biggest focus of the Loire they are also a classic region for red wines made from Cabernet Franc.  Look for bottles labelled from Chinon.  They are much bigger, bolder, and more tannic Cab Franc’s than we find in many other regions in the world.  Personally as a grape variety that not is typically one of my favourites, I prefer the Loire style of Cab Franc to most made elsewhere.

Third, they make high, high, high, acid wines.  Enough sometimes to make your mouth water for minutes after you taste them.  This has two distinct advantages. First they can be great age worthy wines, including the whites.  The acid will help the wine stand up over time and develop in the bottle.  Second the acid makes these wines outstanding food pairing wines.  Loire Sauvignon Blanc is possibly the most classic pairing with goat cheese and Muscadet is hands down the most classic pairing with Oysters and really most fresh white fish.  But even beyond those two examples there is a tremendous range of pairing flexibility with the Loire wines.  If you don’t have a huge wine cellar and find yourself constantly struggling in the kitchen with your wine and food pairing, the Loire offers some very safe bets.  It’s tough to keep enough of an inventory at home to properly pair with your everyday cooking.  Put at least one Loire white and one Loire red in your wine fridge and you’ll impress your guests and you’ll never be overly stumped again.  They might not always be the best or most classic pairing like some of the examples I gave, but they are versatile which is a key for home cooking.  Here we also uncover the key reason that this was a Sommelier training.

Finally, they converted me.  I knew the basics, but I was not the most knowledgeable of the region.  I have always loved Muscadet, but have been generally critical of Sauvignon Blanc and Cab Franc on multiple occasions.  Knowing those are two of the biggest grapes of this region had led me to obnoxiously avoid the wines.  Now I am converted.  The wines of the Loire are truly unlike any other in the world.  They are the benchmark for these classic grape varieties and everything else is either trying to copy them (many Ontario examples) or purposely differentiate from them (New Zealand) to create their market.  But the Loire is the benchmark.  It didn’t hurt that since they are excellent food pairing wines, the seminar was held over lunch at Loire Restaurant, a quaint little spot at 119 Harbord St owned by two wonderful gentlemen who hail from the Loire.  As you can guess, the food was outstanding and was paired perfectly.  It also didn’t hurt that the tasting and a full one hour PowerPoint training session, was led by Master Sommelier John Szabo who is hands down one of the best in the business.  John has a way of speaking about wine that I personally strive for.  He is one of the smartest wine educators I have come across but speaks about the subject with ease making it easy to understand.  He is also a talented story teller and is well travelled.  So he has stories to back everything he is speaking about which are unique and entertaining.  It was pleasure to finally meet him and take away a thing or two about the way he carries himself in the wine world.

So all Loire all the time?  I’m not sure I would go that far.  But I will keep one or two bottles in my fridge to help with wine pairing at home (which periodically I do struggle with, without reaching into the depths of the cellar).  I will also keep my eyes out for more Loire wines on Toronto restaurant menus, hoping that the sommeliers in the room took as much away from the seminar as I did.

– Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

My EURO 2012 (wine) Bracket

The EURO 2012 soccer tournament is officially underway.  What a great time of year for sports fans everywhere.  Like the World Cup, we are only treated to the EURO tournament once every 4 years, where anticipation and excitement culminate in 4 incredible weeks of soccer.  Loyalties to one’s home country are at an all time high.  Soccer fanatics are braced for triumph and defeat and debates over who will prevail are everywhere.  Then of course there are the office pools, where fans will do a copious amount of research to decide who will advance and eventually take the tournament.

Then there’s me…. You see I like soccer.  I don’t follow the game closely or study the players or teams, but I certainly enjoy the sport.  So once every couple years I get to enjoy quality soccer in the form of either the World Cup or the EURO tournament and I go along for the ride.  But as I just said I only “like” soccer… I “love” wine.  So like many others I decided to join my office pool.  I put my $10 down and submitted my bracket.  But unlike many others I did zero soccer research.  I don’t know a single player on any team.  I know which countries are supposed to be good, and I know which countries are perennial contenders, but none of that factored into my decision making at all.  I picked my entire bracket based on wine regions and my take on who is producing the best quality wine in Europe.

So ladies and gentlemen I give you the projected winner of the 2012 EURO soccer tournament… ITALY!!!

Let me break it down for you in true expert analysis fashion.

Coming out of Group A: Greece & Russia.
Group A is by far the lightest on quality wine producing regions but Greece and Russia emerge.  Admittedly I don’t have much knowledge or experience with Russian wine (Vodka yes) but I did a bit of research and they are 11th in the world in wine production.  Good enough for me to come out of a group that also features Poland (not even in the top 50) and the Czech Republic (32nd in the world, right behind Canada).  Not the toughest group to get out of.  Greek wine on the other hand is something we see in Canada from time to time.  They rank 15th in the world in total production and have three phenomenal and popular noble grape varieties in Assyrtiko (white), Xinomavro (red) and Agiorghitiko (red).  They are excellent food wines with Greek cuisine and you should expect to see more and more of them available in the Canadian marketplace in the years ahead.

Coming out of Group B: Germany & Portugal
The so called “group of death” is perhaps the toughest group from a soccer perspective.  With the 4th ranked (favoured in many circles) Netherlands team and 10th ranked Denmark in addition to Germany and Portugal.  From a wine perspective however, this is another no brainer with Germany and Portugal prevailing.  The Germans produce some of the finest Rieslings anywhere in the world and are universally recognized as such.  Plus they are now producing some interesting red wines with Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) emerging as their #1 red.  Portugal is another easy pick as not many countries can boast having an entire classification of wine style named after them.  Port wine is popular around the globe and comes from one of the oldest and most beautiful wine regions anywhere (The Douro Valley).  Sorry to the heavily favoured Dutch, but this one is no contest.

Coming out of Group C: Italy & Spain
If my bracket was based on Beer I would possibly have Ireland winning it all, but with all due respect to the Irish and the Croatians they don’t hold a candle to the wine regions of Italy and Spain.  Two of the 3 old world giants (along with France) Italy and Spain are dominant on the world wine scene.  Italy ranks second in terms of wine production and houses some of the most famous wines around from regions like Barolo, Chianti, Valipolicella and on and on.  Spain ranks 3rd in terms of wine production producing some of the finest Grenache and Tempranillo based wines anywhere in the world.  If I’m not mistaken these are also two pretty good soccer countries every year so perhaps this strategy is going to work out.

Coming out of Group D: England and France
France is an absolute lock to come of this or any group.  The #1 wine country in the world in terms of production.  With regions like Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne, France features some of the most established and recognized wines ever to be produced, commanding some of the highest price points.  So France is a done deal.  For the second seed however we have England, Sweden, and the Ukraine.  Believe it or not the Ukraine is actually the highest of the 3 in terms of total production at #19.  However none are really that well recognized for quality wine production.  So here is why England comes out of the group for me.  The English are some of the largest consumers of wine (#9 in the world), with many of the most notable wine critics being English.  Plus the WSET wine curriculum (which I happen to be a student of) is the most well recognized wine education around the world.  That curriculum is established and based in London.  Good enough for me.

The Quarter Finals:

Greece vs. Portugal
The classic old world Port wines versus what I would consider to be an up and coming European wine country in Greece.  As I mentioned above Greek wines can be of exceptional quality and may soon be more prevalent on the world scene.  But Portugal is a wine powerhouse.  Anybody who knows anything about wine has heard of Port which by law can only come from Portugal.  Unfortunately at this point in time the Greeks are nowhere near that status.  This one goes to the Portuguese.

Spain vs. England
Though for me England escaped the first round on an education technicality they have no business even being in a wine match-up with Spain.  This one goes to Spain in a blow-out.  The soccer equivalent of a 6-0 loss.

Russia vs. Germany:
See the Spain vs England clarification above.  The only difference being this one probably scores more like 8 or 9-0 in favour of Germany.

Italy vs. France:
Wow! This match-up would be reserved for the finals in any other wine based argument.  The two most powerful wine countries in the world, even if you expand this beyond just Europe, and I have them meeting in the second round.  You have Bordeaux, Burgundy, The Loire, Rhone, Champagne, Cognac, and the Languedoc facing off against Chianti, Barolo, Brunello, Valipoliocella, and Amarone.  As far as total wine production is concerned Italy and France jockey for the #1 and #2 spots every single year.  The same is true if you look at total exports and total consumption around the world.  Not sure which team is better on the soccer field but in the wine world this match-up definitely goes down to penalty kicks and extra penalty kicks at that.  It’s such a tough call I have no choice but to lean totally on personal preference.  Though I love French wines, I slightly prefer Italian wines.  I have declared Chianti (and the Sangiovese grape) to be one of my favourite regions anywhere in the world.  Plus as an added bonus I largely prefer Italian cuisine to French cuisine, and wine and food go hand in hand for me.  So the edge goes to Italy.

The Semi-Finals:

Portugal vs. Spain:
From a Soccer perspective this stands to be a pretty good game… I think.  Portugal is ranked #5 in the world and Spain is the top ranked team in the tournament.  So perhaps this wine logic is not such a bad way to pick a soccer bracket.  Here we have a classic old world match-up of neighbouring countries producing very similar wines in many ways.  The River Douro even extends into both countries with top wineries parked along the river on both sides of the border.  For me Portugal hangs its hat on Port wine as I have mentioned.  They do produce quality red and white wines, but they are not overly common in North America.  Spain on the other hand produces tons of quality wine and gets the edge on the world scene simply based on quality.  This is by no means a blow-out, but Spain is heading to the finals.

Italy vs. Germany:
Another absolutely classic match-up of two European wine powerhouses and I give full credit to Germany.  If you compared the two based on white wine and sweet wine then Germany wins by a landslide.  But as soon as you factor in red wine Italy dominates.  There is no question.  Plus once you have taken out France in a wine battle you are going to be tough to beat.  Italy is heading to the finals.

The Finals:

Spain vs. Italy:
So there you have it after a long and thoughtful deliberation process I have determined the two top wine producing countries for EURO 2012 to be Spain and Italy.  If I didn’t make this bracket based on wine but based on soccer, this might still be a pretty good final.  However based solely on wine it’s an excellent final.  I love Spanish Grenache and in terms of total bang for your buck you would be hard pressed to rival Spain, save maybe Chile and Argentina, but they’ll come up when we analyze the World Cup in two years.  But at the end of the day bias shines through.  Italian wines are the king of Europe in my eyes and for that they are officially towineman’s 2012 EURO champions!!

Side Note: Germany takes the consolation prize for third place with their victory over Portugal.

Stay tuned to the tournament to see how this plays out.  I will certainly post the results when the tournament ends on July 1st.

– Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman