Sunday, May 20, 2012

Value Wines under $20 (Review)

Wine! We all drink it, but do any of us really know why we choose the wine we choose, or what makes a quality wine, or why we like it? Is it because of the name, the price, the location of the vineyard, or is it simply because we are attracted to the label on the bottle? For Lola and I, the latter is often the case. We don’t know a whole lot about wine, and so when we are browsing the aisles at our local LCBO, we are often drawn in by fancy designs and bright colours. The marketing world knows us too well! But is this really the best way to choose a wine? I think not!

So we decided to broaden our knowledge of the winery world, and we signed up a wine tasting course at the LCBO. We chose the “Value Wines under $20” course, because let’s face it…we may want to seek out quality, but we don’t want to empty our wallets in the process.

In the end, the course turned out to be quite informative (for us novice wine drinkers) and lasted just under 2 hours. The instructor took us through 6 wines that she considered were the best bang for our buck. We were able to taste each one, but not before first assessing their appearance and aroma.

Little did I know that you shouldn’t base the quality of the wine just on taste. You should always assess its colour first after pouring your glass only one-third full (so I guess filling the glass right to its rim is a no-no?). You then want to look deep into the glass and hold it on an angle against a white backdrop, which helps you to determine the wine’s colour. Apparently, you want the wine to be clear and to reflect light well, since wine begins to shift in colour as it ages.

When assessing a red wine, the spectrum ranges from ruby, to garnet and finally to brick red. Obviously the more mature the wine, the darker it is. White wines also vary in colour over time and range from almost water white, to pale straw and to golden yellow. As you can see, I learnt a whole new spectrum of colours that night!

After considering its colour, you then need to follow your nose! With your fingers on the stem of your glass, gently swirl the wine and inhale the wine’s aroma. You should then try to identify the scent of things in the context of something you already know, like the smell of a fruit or flower. Luckily, the instructor handed us each an aroma wheel at the beginning of class, which kept my scent vocabulary sharp and ever-flowing! I was able to throw out words like “oaky, nutty, spicy, fruity, yeasty, vegetal, chocolately, etc” ….who knew there were so many descriptive words for smell!

Now the final step was clearly my favourite…tasting the wine. They had supplied each of us with a spittoon to spit out the wine after tasting, but let’s just say, our spittoons were still dry by the end of the night! Now when tasting the wine, you should only drink a small amount, and as you do, you should breathe in through your mouth, and swish the wine around to capture its flavour. After swallowing the wine, you should then breathe out through your nose, which helps to pick up on the wine’s finish.

When judging a wine’s taste, you should think about its sugar, acidity, tannin, body, and overall finish. What is the degree of sweetness? Do you find it acidic? One way to judge the acidity is by the amount of saliva that builds up under your tongue…the more acidic, the more saliva. And what does tannin mean exactly? I was just introduced to this word, which was described as a bitter, puckery or drying sensation that you experience when there is a high tannin content in the wine. It was also compared to the flavour of steeped black tea. Additionally, you need to consider the body of the wine. What is the weight of the wine on your palate? Wines without a lot of body are often described as thin or lean, while those with too much body are referred to as fat or heavy. Finally, after judging the basic flavours and feel of a wine, you need to assess the finish, which is the lingering sensation after you swallow. The more mature the wine, the longer the aroma should linger. If it lasts less than 2 seconds, than it can be described as a short finish.

Now as I mentioned, we were able to assess 6 different wines during the class: 1 champagne, 1 white and 4 reds. Based on the above criteria, I judged each wine and gave them each an overall rating. I’ve put the wines in order from my most to least favourite.

Cave Spring Riesling Dry VQA Ontario
Pale straw
Rubber and citrus (lemon/lime)
Light body with med acidity, sweet apple, nice finish 
Mirassou Pinot Noir California
Ruby red, thinned-skinned
Vanilla, cherry, oak with hints of butterscotch
Light/med body, med acidity, fruit forward
Red Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon Washington
Garnet red
Dark fruit (plume, blackberry), oak
Full body, a lot of tannin, low acidity, dusty
Louis Bouillot Perle d'Aurore Rose Bourgogne
Pale pink, mini bubbles moving fast
Fruity, cranberry, yeasty
Light body, med acidity, green apple, pleasant finish
Tommasi Ripasso Il Sestante Veneto
Ruby red
Floral (violet), cinnamon, dark fruit
Med body, rich, low acidity, a little tannin, spicy
Juan Gil White Label Monastrell Spain
Ruby red, transparent
Oaky, vanilla, black fruit (blackberry)
Med tannin, med body, rich feel, spicy, oaky, dark fruit, low acidity (goes well with food)

So hopefully, like me, you have learned a little bit more about wine. Feel free to impress your friends by throwing out some random descriptors like, ‘this wine has “excessive tannin” or “a nutty aroma”! I will definitely be whipping them out this weekend as my friends and I sample my number 1 and 2!

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