A Steal from Vintages

Friends!

Do I have a great bottle for you today! It’s from a recent Vintages release.  What is this “Vintages release” you may ask? At the LCBO, there are two sections: there is the general listing, which is the stock that is always available and takes up the biggest section of the store. Then there is the Vintages section, which offers more specialty wines. With the exception of Vintages Essentials, which tend to be the popular favourites of the Vintages section and are always available, the selection in Vintages is constantly changing. Every two weeks, it introduces 125 new fine wines from around the world. This is known as the “Vintages release,” and it is a pretty exciting time for wine geeks in Ontario. The LCBO even prints out a magazine to announce the upcoming release. It always has great pictures and interesting articles, followed by a list of the newly released wines.  You can pick up a copy about a week before the release at the LCBO, or read the digital copy online.

Now that we have that definition out of the way, let’s get on with the good stuff!

Yesterday we had a barbecue to go to, so we needed wine (obviously). A lot of people tell me that they drink only white in the summer and red in the winter, which I think is crazy talk. Why limit yourself to only half of the available wines based on the weather? Ok, I understand that with this insane heat lately, you maybe don’t want to be drinking a super heavy red. It just doesn’t have that refreshing quality one might crave when it is so hot and humid you start sweating as soon as you step out the door. What I have here is a wine I promise you will want to drink all year round.

May I present Langa Tradicion Centaria Garnacha.

langa

Back to the BBQ. We were having steak, and I just can’t drink white wine with grilled steak. That is one food that really demands a red in my books, no matter what it’s doing outside. So I went to the Vintages section and looked for something under $20. There are actually lots of bottles available in that price range, particularly in the new releases (check out this page from the Vintages magazine or peruse the whole list).

I ended up picking this Langa Garnacha, from the Catalayud region in northeastern Spain. Garnacha is the main grape grown in this region, but it is also grown in France (code name: grenache), where it is a main component of Côtes-du-Rhône wines. This grape may be thin-skinned, but packs a whole lot of flavour. It is typically heavy on the fruit flavours (strawberry, raspberry, cherry, but also black pepper and licorice) and tends to yield a high alcohol content. The Langa is pretty true to this benchmark. I jotted down the following tasting note at the BBQ:

– sweet spice, tobacco, blueberry, blackberry, black cherry, chocolate, pepper, licorice, smoke

– medium-full bodied, low tannin, high alcohol

The typical pairing for garnacha wines is grilled lamb, but it was fantastic with our deliciously fatty grilled steak. The smokiness of the wine went so well with the grilled meat, and the dark fruit flavours made it really difficult to put down. I am salivating just thinking about it. Plus, it was great without food as well. I am seriously considering running out and getting a case right now. If you are planning on doing the same, do it quickly! This wine was released over a month ago, so stocks are running low, and because it’s in Vintages, once it’s gone, it’s gone for good.

Let me know if you end up trying it and tell me what you think in the Comments! Also, if you want to get an email every time there is a new post on Wining with Mel, just click on the +Follow button at the bottom-right of your screen.

Enjoy!

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Tricky pairings #1 – Curry

Wine pairing is an incredibly complex topic. There is no way to cover it in just one post, and I will delve more into it in future posts, but let me give you a brief overview.

Mel’s take on wine pairing

The general goal is to find a wine that complements your food. You don’t want your wine to overpower the flavours of your dish, but you also want it to be able to stand up to the food. There are the well-known pairings: steak with a big, bold red like cabernet sauvignon, where the tannins in the wine help cut through the fat of the meat; or fish with a light, crisp white like sauvignon blanc. But these are just the basics. In my experience, these generic pairings don’t always cut it. What if your steak is being served with a flavourful chimichurri sauce, or what if the fish comes with a mango coulis? Then your tyical pairings would go right out the window. The trick is to identify the most powerful flavour component on the plate, and try to find a complementary wine for that, not necessarily the protein it is being served with.

A tricky pairing

This brings us to today’s topic: the tricky pairing of curry.  There are different types of curry and I must say that I am unclear on the differences. I just know that I prefer a Thai curry to an Indian curry.  Then, there are red, green, and yellow curries, all of which have a distinctive taste and tend to be served with different vegetables for some reason. If anyone can enlighten me, please feel free to do so in the comments. My focus today, however, is on the wine to go with these types of flavourful dishes.

Let’s break it down

In any curry dish, what is the most powerful flavour component? The curry itself, and its accompanying spiciness. Spiciness, along with tanginess and sweetness, is one of the most challenging flavours to pair with wine. Just imagine you’re eating a spicy chili. Is there a wine that comes to mind that you would want to drink? Probably not. Maybe a light beer, like a Corona or a Tiger beer, something refreshing. Or something with some sweetness, like an iced tea. What if we could find a wine that was similar? Perhaps one with the refreshing aspect of the beer and the sweetness of the iced tea?

 Suggestions

The other night we went to a friend’s house, where two different types of curry were being served. One was a tofu red curry, and the other was a vegetarian yellow curry with peas and potatoes. I sent my husband to the LCBO with instructions to get an off-dry or medium riesling from Alsace (FR) or Germany. He arrived at dinner with a bottle of Rethink Riesling, from the Mosel in Germany ($12.80 at the LCBO).

Re-think riesling

On the nose, it is unquestionably a riesling, with the typical citrus and vinyl aroma (not at all a bad thing in this wine). On the palate, the same citrus, plus a bit of peach and green apple quite refreshing with just a hint of sweetness. It didn’t do bad things for the food, and managed to stand up to the spiciness. That said, according to the bottle and the LCBO, it is a dry wine, with the website indicating 15 grams of sugar per litre. However, it also describes it as “off-dry & fruity”. Go figure. Next time, I would probably choose a sweeter wine. Sweeter wines tend to envelop the mouth a bit more, which would balance out and cool off the curry’s spice. With that in mind, a German or French gewürztraminer would also have been a good choice.

A Thai feast, paired with a German riesling.

A Thai feast, paired with a German riesling.

So that’s what I drank with curry the other night. What do you think? What are your preferred pairings for spicy curries? Shall we do a taste test soon?

Intro

I haven’t always been a wine snob. In my undergrad days at McGill, I never went to the liquor store. I was pretty lazy, and generally only went as far as the dep down the street, where cheap bottles of wine could be bought until 11 p.m. I remember thinking, even back then, that the wine was pretty terrible. But it was either that or jello shots, and the latter required advance planning, which is not my forté.

I suppose I truly began taking notice of wines and their intriguing differences when I lived in Buenos Aires, in Argentina. I was in the land of Malbec and I LOVED it. In fact, when I came home, that was all I drank. There was something about the plummy, rich taste (and accompanying staining quality leading to the unfortunate consequence of what I affectionately call “peasant teeth”) that made me feel like I was back in the land of steak and tango. The astonishingly low prices at the LCBO were also a bonus (Fuzion was my go-to at the time).

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Wine cellar at Norton winery in Mendoza, Argentina

Eventually, I grew tired of Malbec (it was pretty much all I drank for a year). A trip to France opened my horizons a bit and convinced me that I needed to try new things and maybe start spending a bit more than $7.95 a bottle. For years, I kept trying to find deals (i.e. wines that I liked for around $10). But I found that this price point still limited my trial-and-error tasting method. There just weren’t that many wines I liked for under $10, so each year I increased my price limit a bit more. These days, I still try not to spend more than $20 a bottle.

It may come as a bit of a surprise, but my personal wine turning point was actually losing my job in 2011. Winter was coming (yes, that is a Game of Thrones reference, just go with it) and I had nothing else lined up. What else was a girl to do but sign up for a wine course at the local college! It just happened to be part of one of the best wine education programs in Canada.  One course led to another, and it was all downhill from there, a snowball effect of wine snobbery leading to the recent acquisition of my Sommelier Fundamentals certificate earlier this year. That’s right, people. I am now fundamentally a wine snob.

This piece of paper has proven to be pretty powerful (please pardon the alliteration). Not in any major way—it’s not like my inbox is filling with Winery Translator job opportunities (my dream job, by the way)—but people in my circles who know about my diploma now ask me all sorts of wine-related questions. Questions like:

– What wine do you pair with spicy food?

– What is a good wine to bring as a gift that makes it seem like you spent a lot of money, but you didn’t?

– Does Ontario make any good wines?

– What’s so great about French wines anyway?

None of these questions have a simple answer. And I am by no means claiming to be an expert. But I do hope to answer these types of questions here, in a way that anyone can understand, even if wine isn’t your thing. For me, the point of this blog is simply to share my love of wine, and introduce you to the fabulous range of delicious wines available at reasonable prices. All too often, we get into wine habits, such as my aforementioned Malbec obsession of 2007. I hope this blog will inspire you to break those habits and try new things, whether you are a seasoned oenophile or your idea of a fine wine is Baby Duck.

Here’s to raising a glass together soon!

Mel

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