By Anthony Gismondi
(Listed in order of intensity)
SAUVIGNON BLANC (SO-vin-yon BLAHNK) – Sauvignon Blanc is another variety with a new persona. Now mostly under screw cap the excessively vegetative, grassy, canned asparagus notes have given way to a better-balanced wine with a predominance of fresh grapefruit, green apple, kiwi and far more mineral notes. Sometimes referred to as Fumé Blanc, it is grown best in France (Bordeaux and Loire Valley) in coastal Chile, New Zealand and South Africa. Its flavour can range from stalwartly grassy to sweetly tropical.
PINOT GRIS/GRIGIO (PEE-no GREE-zho/ GREE) – Known as Pinot Grigio in Italy, Pinot Gris continues to be a varietal wine with legs in B.C. Today the best Pinot Gris come from British Columbia, Northern Italy, Alsace and New Zealand. The French version, from Alsace, should not be ignored, but the style is richer and heavier and requires a serious food match. California is awakening but like Oregon has yet to produce much more than what might be described as Chardonnay look-alikes.
CHARDONNAY (shar-dun-NAY) – Modern-day barrel fermented chardonnay is coming off cooler sites and it’s getting fresher and leaner offering more integrated fruit and oak flavours with mineral underpinnings, well-managed lees and oak that all add complexity to the finish.
VIOGNIER (vee-on-NYAY) – The modern-day origin of the Viognier grape is in Condrieu, France but its latest revival is fomenting anywhere but the Northern Rhone. Tasty, attractive honeysuckle and mineral aromas mix with almost countless flavours: mineral/apricot, white peach, candied orange peel, kiwi, apricot, lime, honeysuckle, pineapple, honey and smoky vanilla to name but a few.
GEWURZTRAMINER (guh-VOORTS-truh-MEE-ner) – Gewurztraminer is making a comeback as fruity aromatic whites and inspired food pairings capture the public imagination. The allure of spicy floral, orange scented fruit with lychee nut fruit flavours has consumers thinking spicy Thai, Indian and Chinese dishes.
RIESLING (REES-ling) – A new generation of globetrotting German Riesling evangelists have put Riesling back on the global grape map. From the tangy and often lime-flavoured, Rieslings of South Australia to the mineral-flecked apricot, peach, lime and apple gems of Germany, to the nectarine and citrus of Canadian Riesling. Oh, and you can add just about any food to the mix to really enjoy Riesling.
(Listed in order of intensity)
PINOT NOIR (pee-no nwahr) – Hard to grow, thin-skinned, temperamental and ripens early. It’s not a survivor like Cabernet, Pinot needs constant care and attention and, in fact, can only grow in specific little tucked-away corners of the world. Its best qualities are fragile, delicate. It’s often about mouthfeel and that rich, silky, fruity, earthy, barnyard fruit that spills across your mouth. Sweet, round mouth-filling, you will know it when you find it. Flavours of strawberries, violets, with sappy undertones make it superficially easy to understand but difficult to get to know. The ultimate food wine.
SANGIOVESE (san-jo-VEH-zeh) – The signature red grape of Tuscany, it is the soul of Chianti and all its iterations including the impressive Brunello clone, the building block of Brunello di Montalcino and Rosso di Montalcino. Sangiovese can be both beautiful and complex offering fragrant, red fruit notes with bits of leather, plums and pepper. The palate is dry and elegant, the tannins modest with spicy fruit and liquorice notes. The bets can age effortlessly for a decade or more.
MERLOT – Modern-day Merlot, at least the stuff that gets drunk, is more likely to come out of Sonoma, Chile, Washington, British Columbia and Tuscan. There is something about Northwest Merlot that places it well above the norm. The fruit is rich and for the most part ripe. The tannins are soft, or at least fine-grained at the top end, and the flavours come with a supercharged, spicy savoury thread and just enough acidity to keep it lively on the palate. In a perfect year, Merlot produces rich, and sometimes voluptuous wine. The nose is often hedonistic. Look for ripe cherries and a minty all-spice undertone. After that, black plums and black raspberries dominate with just enough juicy cranberry fruit to keep the finish interesting.
NEBBIOLO (nehb be OH loh) – Two of Italy’s star wines, Barolo and Barbaresco are made with Nebbiolo. When it’s young, Nebbiolo can be full-bodied, tannic, and acidic and often, well, quite hard but with time and maturation it gains an elegance and richness that can be beguiling. From strawberries to tar and mint to mushrooms great Nebbiolo can live for decades.
CABERNET FRANC (cab-er-NAY FRONK) – Often confused with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc is the lighter of the two in colour although its stature in the glass can be the equal of cabernet sauvignon. It is often blended with cabernet sauvignon to bring finesse and a bit more roundness to the mix. Today, cabernet franc textures are softer and the wine more approachable (read drinkable) at a young age. Similarly, better ripeness gives the wine a richer mouthfeel and pushes its green herbal flavours into the background in favour of more floral, pepper, tobacco, raspberry, bell pepper, black cherry cassis and liquorice flavours. Cabernet Franc is spreading its wings outside of the Loire and Bordeaux’s Libourne region with numerous inviting examples from Ontario, B.C., Chile and Argentina.
CABERNET SAUVIGNON (cab-er-NAY SO-vin-yon) – In the Bordeaux region of France, it is considered the noblest grape of all. It is, in fact, the grape that makes fine Bordeaux wines. It can age well for decades. It is dark purple or ruby in colour, medium to full bodied, and has a beautiful array of intense aromas and flavours. Cabernet Sauvignon would be considered a dry red wine and blends well with Sangiovese, Merlot and Shiraz.
SYRAH / SHIRAZ (sir-RAH / Sure-RAHZ) – In its broadest context New World Shiraz/Syrah from Australia, Chile, California, Washington State, Argentina, South Africa and even B.C. offers intense peppery flavours of blackberries and damson plums. Mix that with smoky bacon, black pepper, mocha, coffee and vanilla flavours and you have a recipe few consumers can resist and many they look for in their coffee. In Europe, particularly the Rhone Valley, France, the flavours of syrah are generally drier and perhaps more tannic with more pronounced white pepper characters.